September 3, 2014

Ethiopian Lutherans Sever Ties with ELCA

chess board

On Feb. 7, the ELCA News Service reported that “the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) is severing its relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Church of Sweden and ‘those churches who have openly accepted same-sex marriage.’”

The EECMY has been associated with the Swedish church for over 150 years and with the ELCA for more than 5o years.

As a result of the split, EECMY churches will no longer serve communion to pastors and leaders of these church bodies, nor will they receive communion from them. Representatives from these groups will not be invited to preach or participate in any spiritual ministries in EECMY churches.

Representatives from the denomination expressed sorrow and dismay over this schism. The article notes that the ELCA consistently kept its Lutheran companion churches informed about the process that led to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly decisions, which included the adoption of a social statement on human sexuality. When the decision was made, they wrote to the EECMY to express the commitment that they would not impose their actions but would respect the policy and practice of the Ethiopian church.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop said, “Our own statement on human sexuality acknowledges that the position held by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is also held by members of the ELCA. We are not of one mind, but we are one in Christ, in faith and in baptism.”

chess boardHanson also indicated that he hopes for reconciliation, stating, “Reconciliation is not an option. It is given in Christ, and we stand ready to engage with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus on what this gift of reconciliation might mean for us now.”

* * *

As I have said on this blog before, I respect the way the ELCA has gone about this matter, taking a different approach from other mainline groups that is not always appreciated. Recognizing the deep divisions that exist between brothers and sisters in the same faith community about these issues, the denomination sought to produce decisions that would intentionally include people from conflicting sides within a broader context of Christian truth, morality, and love.

Of course, sometimes when you try to walk a middle ground like that, you make everyone unhappy.

Nevertheless, I think it is worth the effort. After all, if we have to choose, which is the greater theological value: taking a stand against certain forms of sexual practice, or making a commitment to maintaining unity in Christ and persevering in trying to work out our differences? I want to side with Bishop Hanson here. I’d like to think we could be one in Christ, faith, and baptism without necessarily being of one mind about every issue. To withhold communion or refuse to take communion over such a matter seems over the line to me. We are either Christians or we are not.

However, the EECMY made their choice.

Comments

  1. I fully understand the decision by the EECMY.

    The ELCA has thrown overboard God’s Word in favor of more “gracious words”.

    The ELCA isn’t a snow-white as some mary believe in that entire process. They set things up and changed some rules (beforehand) to insure that things went their way.

    I say this as a member of an ELCA church, who has actively engaged in this battle and similar ones (with the ELCA) for 15 years.

    • Steve, of course there were politics and maneuvering involved. No matter what the outcome, that would have been the case. I’m saying the decision they came to was unique among mainline groups and I happen to think it’s not bad as an attempt to keep all parties in the discussion.

      • “Keep all parties in the discussion?” What kind of a “theological value” is that? It’s as if they have the ability to make these controversies stop being discussed. They have taken a hard position on this issue, they’re not playing to the middle and giving each side a fair shake. Really, that can’t be done. You can’t not have openly gay clergy and not have openly gay clergy at the same time. It’s one or the other, and the ELCA has made their decision.

        • Miguel, I think it is a valuable theological value when Scripture commands us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The list of things that follow that express our “oneness” have nothing to do with our views of sexual practices and everything to do with true doctrine of Christ, faith, and salvation.

          And yes you can have openly gay clergy and not at the same time. Any and every ELCA congregation has the right to decide for herself.

          • Changing historic doctrine to suit a progressive agenda is hardly “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” Keeping all parties in the discussion is nothing. All parties are still having that discussion, regardless of what the ELCA decides for itself. This is not about sexual practice; this is about the intelligibility of Scripture. Keep reading in Ephesians 4: don’t forget verse 14 and 19.

            I understand that not every congregation is required to have a gay priest. What I meant by that is a denomination cannot simultaneously approve of them and disapprove of them. They have taken sides, and any claim to be in the neutral “middle ground” is meaningless posturing.

          • If I gave the impression that the ELCA is “taking the neutral middle ground” that is not what I meant to say. Clearly, the General Assembly of the denomination opened the door for a different understanding of same-sex partnerships. But they didn’t just do this because a bunch of people said, “We don’t care what the Bible says, we want our way.” Some perhaps. However, I honestly think that many are convinced they are making a “biblical” and theologically sound decision here based on their interpretation of Scripture. Why not give them some credit for standing up for “biblical values” they support that have grown out of their own study and prayers? Just because you have come to a different conclusion and think your evidence is unimpeachable doesn’t necessarily mean you are being “biblical” and they are not.

            As I said in another comment, I think the evidence from tradition is stronger and more difficult to handle.

          • The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada found a middle ground when it came to having women as elders. Each congregation, upon a 2/3rds majority vote could choose to have women as elders. Without the vote, the status quo would remain (no women elders). Congregations that felt strongly about have women as elders could vote to do so. Congregations that felt strongly the other way could choose not to do so.

          • Michael, I admire their attempts to maintain peace over the issue. But it still remains that through this option, the denomination does approve of women elders, insisting that it is congruent with Scripture while not making it a normative requirement for dissenters. But it’s not exactly saying “some of my friends see it this way, some of my friends see it the other way, and I agree with my friends!” I’ll give the CMA enough credit to say they are certainly not allowing something that they believe is contrary to scripture.

          • What about 1 Corinthians 5?

          • Mike, then what’s even the point of belonging to a denomination, if every congregation gets to decide for themselves what they want to believe?

          • Alan you have asked the 6 million $ question for Protestants. Where is authority if we all subscribe to different interpretations? That has plagued us for over 500 years now.

          • Chaplin Mike, you have hit the nail on the head. People are interpreting scripture for themselves to fit whatever agenda they want. This is a very poor way to read scripture. Even most pro gay leaders don’t even discuss scripture anymore. They see this as a love and justice issue. But we all know that the Lord see’s love and justice different from the world. I agree that you can’t have a yes and no in the same church. More beating a dead horse with endless indaba won’t cure the problem.

          • CM,
            The same sort of question should have bothered members of both the RC and EO churches in 1054 CE at the Great Schism, and did bother members of the RC church when two different popes were elected by the same college of cardinals in 1378 CE: where is authority?

          • @Miguel,

            The denomination was essentially divided on the issue, close to 50/50. After debating the issue for 25 years, they finally agreed that the only way to stay united as a denomination was to agree to disagree on this particular issue. The compromise got signifcant support from both sides of the debate. The C&MA emphasizes the Missionary in its name, and I think that staying united to advance the Gospel was more important than dividing over this issue.

            @Alan F. There are many things that the denomination holds as important. Seeing a world being reached for Jesus Christ would be at the top of the list. Other important items are listed in the statement faith. Of note, the Statement of Faith says nothing about Calvinism or Arminianism either. Both viewpoints are acceptable, though most of the leadership would tend towards the Arminian side of the spectrum. The statement of faith (in Canada) says nothing about Pre or post millenialism, though most would tend to be pre-millenial.

            There are a number of other reasons to be belong to a denomination, including the authority and accountablility structures that they bring.

          • “Miguel, I think it is a valuable theological value when Scripture commands us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” ”

            This is how I have seen this’ work.’ Church Body X carries out long ‘discussions’ before jettisoning some ancient and scriptural doctrine or practice. Then when others don’t agree and are forced by their conscience to take a stand against this new position, they are accused of laying the axe to the root of Church unity.

          • This middle ground approach in the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada is over. The Egalitarian forces were never going to be satisfied with that, and it was changed this past Summer. They will not impose women elders on all churches, but as a denomination, the decision has made made ordain women.

            DSY

      • Chaplain Mike,

        My point is that the ELCA’s maneuvering was for the purpose of limiting some of the voices in the discussion.

        I have seen evidence of such maneuvering and can put links here that point out these tactics that affected the outcome.

        • Steve I believe you. You should read about the things that went on to approve the Nicene Creed.

          • Right.

            It’s just tough when people say they care and say they are open to your concerns, when they really aren’t.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            It is certainly true that Chicago (i.e. the ELCA hierarchy) decided that they wanted the convention to approve gay clergy, and hence it happened. While in theory the ELCA is a bottom-up organization, in practice the central office controls the agenda and usually gets its way, if not the first time through. I, unlike most of my Lutheran brethren in this commenting community, strongly support this particular decision. There have been other decisions I did not.

    • And who defines what the issues are in God’s word? Trying to define them only leads to more division amongst denominations.

  2. Communion/Eucharist: The action that is supposed to reflect (some would say “effect”) the unity of the Body of Christ is instead the greatest and most visible divider of the Body of Christ.

    • I.e., who you will or won’t take communion with tells who you consider to be or not be a Christian.

      • I was in a Lutheran church this fall. The liturgy was beautiful and very meaningful. I was greatly looking forward to sharing in communion. However, the bulletin noted that only those who believed in “the real presence” should come forward for communion. I was excluded because of my belief, and it left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

        • LCMS I presume?

          • There is nothing on their website or bulletin (if I remember right) to identify which denomination. It was Trinity Lutheran in Gardnerville, Nevada. Perhaps someone else knows.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

            Yes, it’s Missouri Synod according to the bottom paragraph on their home page.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I have seen similar notices in ELCA churches. I also don’t think it necessarily inappropriate. I used to hold this as the best wording, on the principle that if we don’t agree what is happening in the eucharist, it is incoherent to partake of it together: like two people sitting on a sofa, watching two different television sets with the sound blaring. In my mellow old age I have come to give more honor to the notion of communion as hospitality: the sharing of a meal, albeit a symbolic one. My congregation, if I recall the wording correctly, invites all baptized Christians, and I now think this the better choice. But I still respect the other option.

        • I’m having a hard time thinking of a better criteria for exclusion than belief. You are a person that believes that Christ does not come to us in the supper. Since we are people who believe that receiving the body of Christ is harmful in that instance, why should we want to give you something that scripture says brings judgement? Nobody is saying that you are not a “real Christian,” but only that you are a Christian who believes a false teaching that is harmful. The idea that every table ought to be open to every professing believer is a product of the tradition that believes it’s just a symbol anyways.

          • Miguel, please see below. As a seminary grad, I am fully aware of how Lutherans interpret the Lord’s supper. I have read and studied much about it, and simply disagree. But I would certainly allow someone with your view to partake in communion in our service. To do otherwise strikes me not only as ungracious but rather dangerous in view of the Spirit’s concern for the unity of the body.

          • The vast majority of seminary grads I have known are utterly incapable of representing the teaching of another tradition with clarity and accuracy. Most were given straw-men to bolster their rejection of those silly incorrect people of other churches. Heck, I know too many who can’t even represent their own tradition too well. But those who hang out around here do seem to be a refreshing exception from that.

          • Miguel and others…can I make a confession? There was a time this past fall where I took communion at an evangelical church when I didn’t believe. I felt pressured to because I realized when all “believers” went forward I was afraid of being singled out. So I went forward and ate the communion.

          • Oh no Eagle! It’s too late for you now! The unforgivable sin! :P
            On a serious note, I didn’t realize the pressure to conform in that rite was so strong. I suppose it can depend on how its done: I’ve abstained in plenty of Catholic churches (and partook when I shouldn’t have), and nobody seemed to even notice. But thanks for sharing your experience. Evangelicals aren’t really going to make a stink about you receiving the grape juice, though. It’s just grape juice.

        • Funny, as a non-Lutheran, when I visit an LCMS church and can’t receive the Eucharist, it makes me feel great about the church. I like that they have standards and that they take the Eucharist seriously. Given that they don’t know me from the man on the moon, it makes perfect sense to me that they don’t allow me to receive the Eucharist.

          • But I could have received it without question if only I subscribed to their interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. It’s not like it was restricted to only members, or only those who were known to be living a godly life.

          • My LCMS church limits it to confirmed Lutherans. I like that. I don’t see much middle ground for communion – its either a sacrament to be taken seriously, or it is just a symbol, in which case all should be welcome.

        • We have the same statement in our LCMS bulletin each communion Sunday and in fact it was discussed in our adult ed class last week. If I understood it correctly (as a new Lutheran of 3 yrs.) to allow Baptists, Reformed, etc. to commune with us would actually be harmful to them because by not believeing in the real presence they would be bringing a curse upon themselves. I admit that statement kinda blew me away….and I intend to ask this pastor for clarification. But in the meantime, maybe some of experienced Lutherans here could help me understand it. In addition, the bulletin statement only SOMETIMES includes the phrase “baptized Christian”, but I think that’s also a requirement. I’ve told our sons they shouldn’t partake, and in fact have pretty much quit inviting them to accompany us on communion Sundays. Consequently they rarely, if ever, come anymore.

          That said, the strangest communion requirement I’ve personally experienced was at a URC church we attended for several months. Formal membership in either a Reformed or Presbyterian church was required. NO Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Non-denoms, etc. could participate.

        • Not sure where to put this comment, but I always thought that if it were really true that “not discerning the body of Christ” meant what people say it means, than we would be seeing a lot more dead and sick people in churches – seriously. I agree with Eric and Daniel here. With this particular instance, I just can’t see a good reason to stick with the traditional position. Tradition is fine, and I think considering tradition is worthwhile is good, but to paraphrase N.T. Wright, if we can’t ever look back on tradition and say that it was wrong and needs to be changed, than we’re essentially saying that no real reform is ever possible in the Church.

          • I’ve wondered exactly this myself. I intend to look into it more, but I believe that passage may be either spiritualized or limited to a first century phenomenon, kind of like the shadow of the Apostles healing people. But it’s a good question to raise.

        • The Catholics have a closed communion, I have ranted and raved about that here, especially when people point to Catholicism as being an answer. I have a cousin who was divorced 30 years ago and re-married and she is barred from taking communion. And this is from an Irish Catholic family. It seems as if all forms of Christianity have their divisive issues….

          • She could get an annulment, I don’t think it costs too much. Or join a Lutheran church, which is a lot freer with forgiveness than Rome and its many hoops.

          • Eagle, the LCMS is closed communion; the ELCA (synod that both Chaplain Mike and I belong to) is not.

            I have never understood the rationale behind closed communion, but equally, I see it as a pointless thing to argue about.

        • Beats some SBC churches. If you have not been baptized by an SBC pastor you are not eligible.

      • No it doesn’t. Scripture does not say that. Instead, it does say that it is possible for believers to NOT rightly discern the body of Christ in the supper, and that this is harmful (1 Corinthians 11:29).

        • Miguel, the “body of the Lord” in that verse rather obviously refers to the church, not the nature of the communion bread. This hearkens back to verse 22 (“do you despise the church of God”), and fits with the fact that body is mentioned but not blood. And does anyone really think Paul had theological disputes about the exact nature of the communion in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians? Where is that in the context? On the contrary, the whole passage is about abuses of the Lord’s supper in that some were being selfish and divisive (see verses 21, 22, 33, 34.)

          • Strong argument. However, I’d add that your “obvious” interpretation was hardly that obvious for the first 16 centuries. I’m just giving you the traditional position. I’ll try to look the passage in context and see how your points fit.

          • Paul didn’t have “the exact nature of the communion in mind”

            Of course he didn’t, because all understood it to be Christ’s body and blood. The idea that it wasn’t physically present was rejected as a gnostic heresy, and never became popular until post-reformation humanists like Zwingli adopted a rationalistic approach.

          • Miguel, here are a couple quotes that might help. The first is from the Pillar Commentary on I Corinthians (which I think, along with the NIGTC, is the top-shelf series in English):

            “The reference to participating in the Lord’s supperin an unworthy manner must be understood in light of the context, where the Corinthians were practicing the supper in a way that humiliated other members of Christ’s body. To eat and drink in an unworthy manner is to eat and drink in a way that demeans, humiliates, or disrespects other members of Christ’s community…
            11:28–29 Verses 28–34 are tied together by their constant reference to the motif of the judgment which comes on the church for the members’ failure to treat each other as is appropriate for those who constitute the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. To sin against the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27) is to sin against the new covenant established by Christ’s body and blood, calls down judgment on oneself and on the community, and thus is to be avoided at all costs (vv. 28–34). Since Paul clearly believes that the Corinthians have in fact been sinning against Christ’s body and blood and have brought judgment on themselves, he explains what needs to be done to correct the situation and to avoid inciting further judgment.
            Paul warns that Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. To examine oneself and to discern the body of Christ do not merely mean, in this context, to solemnly recognize that the bread and cup represent Christ’s body and blood rather than being mundane food and drink. To examine oneself means to examine one’s compliance with the covenant as reflected in their ways of relating to other members of the community and to discern the body of Christ must include recognizing that those other members of the community represent Christ himself (since they have also been united with him) and must be treated as people for whom Christ chose to give up his life and to shed his blood. ”

            The other quote is from New Bible commentary (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer& G. J. Wenham, Ed.):

            “In this particular context the unworthy eating of the bread and drinking of the cup has to do with their attitudes and actions towards each other, especially the needy who have suffered acute embarrassment. Attention is being drawn to their status and circumstances in the meal, in a community where these social divisions were meant to be abolished in Christ (cf. 1:30). They are therefore guilty of sinning against, or possibly on the grounds of, the body and blood of the Lord. 28 All must test or examine themselves before they participate. In this context, the examination has to do with attitudes of a party spirit and lack of compassion towards the ‘have-nots’. 29 Failure to recognize the body of the Lord, i.e. the body of believers (cf. 10:16), can only invoke personal judgment.”

            Of course, these men may be wrong, but it seems to me they make a good case.

            Lastly, to argue that this interpretation was not taught before the 16th century would require a rather exhaustive knowledge of pre-16th century interpretation of I Corinthians. So I’m not sure we should base our decision on that.

            Peace

          • Thanks Daniel. I look forward to going through your references.

        • That depends upon what the meaning of the phrase “the body” refers to. 1 Corinthians 11:29.

          Commentators are divided (rightfully so, in my opinion) on whether Paul is referring to their not recognizing that the bread and wine are really Christ’s body and blood (or at least some “special” kind of food and drink), or their not recognizing and treating all those assembled as fellow members of the one body of Christ, which was the basis of his harsh words to them in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 as well other parts of 1 Corinthians.

          I tend to go with the latter.

    • The church doesn’t judge who is a Christian, it considers a person’s public confession. If you publicly confess your rejection of the physical presence, for example, how loving would it be for us Lutherans to give you the sacrament when we understand Scripture to teach that receiving the body and blood without recognizing the body and blood is dangerous and can cause harm?

    • It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t hold his disciples to some sort of standard before having communion with them, for otherwise he would’ve never given it. One of the guys was about to betray him, another was going to deny him three times, and all the rest were going to bolt for cover out of fear. Communion standards seem pretty much man-made to me.

      • I agree. But then, so is pretty much all church practice. It is theologically informed, but it is still man made. I’m not sure how that invalidates a church’s practice, however.

        • I don’t think it invalidates a church’s practice and tradition, but it should serve as a warning to a church which has let that practice and tradition become a stumbling block to others. In other words, if that tradition and practice has attained a Pharisitical nature.

          • I agree to an extent. But after all, this whole post is about how the practice and tradition of the church is a stumbling block to gay clergy. The issue is not whether a tradition or practice is a stumbling block, but rather why it is, and whether such a state of affairs necessitates change.

  3. Steve Newell says:

    MC, you are creating a false dichotomy in doctrinal standards and unity in Christ. They cannot be separated. It is the ELCA that has changed its doctrine and is no longer consistent with the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia.

    When a church body moves from the historic teaching of the Christian faith, they are the cause of disunity. I also find it interesting that it is those who try to remain true to historic Christian teachings that are asked to comprise not those who moved away.

    • +1

    • First, this was not a “doctrine” issue but a statement on social and ecclesiastical policy. I can see taking lesser steps such as not participating in mission efforts together or setting limits on recognizing clergy. I don’t think using Communion as a tool to separate from those with whom I disagree on such issues is appropriate.

      • Romans 16:17-18 would deny more than just altar fellowship. Communion is not a “tool” to separate, but it is a Person to unite. You can’t redefint that unity to mean whatever you want it to be.

      • When God has said and yet a Church body states that “God has not said…” that’s grounds for a cut off communion. I believe in an open table, but I could not participate in ministry with a congregation that flatly denies what scripture has so clearly stated in multiple occasions.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        As has been said a lot recently in today’s posts, “all theology is Christology.” I the case of the “moral theology” of human sexuality, the NT writers were pretty clear that human sexuality was to be expressed in marriage, which was to serve as a picture or type of two theological concepts. Most explicitly, human sexuality via marriage is to be a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Less explicitly, but no less true, human familial relationships serve as a type of the relationships of the persons in the Godhead.

        While the PB of the ECLA might not see this, I guarantee you that to the bishops in EECMY, the change from the church’s position-from-antiquity on homosexual relationships is a theological and Christological issue because of these types. I know that is the case for us ACNA Anglicans vis. the Episcopal Church’s stance on human sexuality. To us, this isn’t primarily a social issue; it is deeply theological on grounds of Christoligical and Ecclesiological pictures as well as on issues of biblical exegesis and fidelity.

  4. Regarding the split, everybody knew it would happen. The EECMY told the ELCA back in 2010 it couldn’t walk the path the ELCA was going. Now, there being absolutely no chance the ELCA walks back its decision (and really, I don’t see how it can be said it walked a middle line at all, when nobody on the liberal side of the issue is unhappy and hundreds of congregations left the ELCA for the NALC and LCMC), the EECMY is just being honest and doing what it said it would do. It can’t confess that the ELCA properly preaches the Word and administers the sacraments, when for example, they hold to inerrancy and the ELCA does not. So it is good that they are being honest and disassociating. Honest fellowship is better than a false, feel-good fellowship that seeks to minimize what are significant disagreements about what Christ and the Apostles taught.

    The African Lutherans are pretty awesome though, and it’s encouraging to see them sending missionaries to communities where we pale German Lutherans have a hard time forming communities. Here’s one new mission in Seattle: http://www.messiahseattle.org/mekane/mekane.htm

  5. To place the burden of divisiveness on the Ethiopian church is so hypocritical! The ELCA is the one who accepted a new doctrine, and demands the extended community not have a problem with it. Despite Hanson’s posturing, he is the one creating doctrinal division, just like Schori and the Episcopal church. This is the same trajectory of all the mainlines: leave traditional theology by the wayside, and paint anybody who objects to this as needlessly schismatic. You cannot demand organizational unity without doctrinal unity, because it reduces the meaning and the value of the organization. Sure they’re still Christians. So were many of the early heretics. But they are Christians who do not believe God’s word. This is not a matter of interpretation: mainlines progressives freely and openly question scriptural authority. This is a non-negotiable for those who believe in the Word.

    “Reconciliation is not an option. It is given in Christ, and we stand ready to engage with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus on what this gift of reconciliation might mean for us now.”

    Baloney. They will reconcile only so long as it means not giving up their progressive innovations. Their bottom line is gay clergy, Ethiopia’s is the authority of scripture. The ELCA is not even walking close to the middle ground: they represent the far left end of “Lutheranism.” Who exactly are they making unhappy on the left fringe?

    “Making a stand against certain sexual practices” vs. “maintaining unity in Christ” is one way to spin the positions. The former is more like “making a stand for the clear teaching of Scripture and church tradition,” and the other is “maintaining organizational unity while gutting its substance.” That is the real conflict here. I see no reason why we can’t “work out our differences” without altar fellowship. IMO, that provides greater incentive to work towards doctrinal consensus. Open tables means that the doctrinal agreement isn’t really necessary OR important.

    Obviously Christianity will never be of one mind on all issues. But we are most certainly of one mind on very many (the Ecumenical creeds), and on this issue of sexuality, the church has always had one mind. We are all called to have one mind, the mind of Christ. You cannot have this mind and reject his word.

    • I don’t agree with the limited view of Table fellowship in the LCMS, but I heartily agree with the argument you have presented here.

      • I’m not gonna lie, our closed communion is a hard doctrine for me to wrap my head around. Generally speaking, the practice of confessional subscription means I trust the teaching o my church, even as I continue to learn it more fully and investigate its faithfulness to scripture. I’m looking forward to digging deeper on this issue, but for the time being, what I do know seems to make sense to me (coming from a background that rejected this teaching).

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          One of the things that has me so intrigued about our (ACNA’s) current and recent discussions with the LCMS folks toward possible full communion is how rare it is for LCMS to do so!

          • I am rather excited about that dialogue, as the ACNA is a group I seriously considered before becoming Lutheran. I believe this would be historically unprecedented, but in all honesty, Anglicans would have to give the Lutheran view of the supper a try if this is going to go anywhere. I’m just saying, in this tradition, it really does all come down to that one issue. It’s the big issue that separates us from the PCA folks too.

          • From what I understand (as a postulant in the ACNA), the main difference between Lutheran and Anglican views on Real Presence is that Anglicans are less likely to nail down exactly what it means. Anglicans are also less likely to demand strict adherence to the doctrine in order to accept someone at the table. However, at our last clericus meeting for the Diocese of Cascadia (Pacific Northwest) the Bishop presented in the Customary a statement intended for parish bulletins very similar to one I’ve seen in LCMS churches. Something along the lines of if you’ve been baptized and recognize the presence of Christ in the supper…etc., etc.

          • Last I heard, Anglicans are actually the most diverse on this particular topic. Many in the Anglo-Catholic group practically believe transubstantiation, whereas the more evangelical wing tends to be somewhat Zwinglian even. I’d like to know where the ACNA falls in that spectrum.
            I think Lutherans would generally object to the phrase “nail down exactly what it means.” I think the only thing we really try to nail down is that it cannot be nailed down: He’s really, actually there, but the “how” cannot possibly be explained (hence our problem with transubstantiation).

          • While some Anglo-Catholic groups may hold more of a Transubstantiation view, this is against the 39 Articles of Religion which clearly state:

            Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.The Body of Christ is given, taken, eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten is Faith.The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshiped.

            However, earlier in the same article it states:

            The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

            This view seems to be more limited than the Lutheran view, but I think most Lutherans would be comfortable with it. But this view is also more restrictive than what your average Anglican is comfortable with, if it is set up as a test to qualify for communion. Modern Anglicanism is far more ecumenical than confessional Lutheranism. But with Episcopal polity, thus saith the church about the sacrament.

    • I never thought I’d say this….but the evangelical church I am exploring is looking good. As long as I don’t deal with Young Earthers, End Times or Neo Cals! :-P

      • Eagle, good for you! I hope you remember that you will find something to deal with no matter where you go or don’t go. Learn your lessons and keep moving up. God bless your journey!

    • I agree. The ELCA congregation that my wife and I attend has been under the understanding that it could in fact continue in its policy of restricting gay clergy from the role of public ministry in the church. Our new Pastor, who is not gay , however announced last Sunday that he had invited Pastor so and so that morning to preach and administer communion to us. Well, Pastor so and so, is our communities most outed, open gay ELCA pastor, who is also looking for a job. No advance information about this invited guest, no discussion, no anything. And I will tell you, any questioning of what our Pastor chose to do and inject into this congregation will be met with the exact response mentioned above by Miquel, that if you disagree with what he did, then you are the one trying to divide the body of Christ, you are the one who is narrow and lacks love.

    • +1

    • Nicely said Miguel.

  6. Miguel, you are on quite a conservative roll today. I see you have strong opinions about this issue and I can appreciate that. I would urge you to remember, as I reminded Steve above, that even the “ecumenical creeds” came from political processes that were filled with maneuvering and intrigue. Our sinful fingerprints are all over every decision we make as individuals and churches.

    I obviously am not as cynical about the ELCA decision as you are, and that is because they gave congregations the choice. I can be a pastor in an ELCA church and hold the same position you do, and I know some who do. It was not imposed from above as in the Episcopal Church. The decision also upheld the special nature of marriage between men and women, spoke strongly about sexual ethics and against promiscuity and other immoral practices, and gave churches the opportunity to affirm only same sex relationships that were lifelong partnerships.

    I am not convinced that “Scriptural authority” stands or falls with the positions we take on this issue. The evidence is not nearly so clear as people might imagine. Your argument about tradition is much stronger and is one of the reasons I still am not fully convinced by more progressive positions.

    I also disagree that “open tables mean that the doctrinal agreement isn’t really necessary OR important.” Open tables mean we are all sinners, all wrong about a lot of things, and all safe only in the grace of Jesus.

    • Everything comes back to one’s view of Scripture. Errant or not? It’s very easy to find unity among if one admits God’s word might be errant, as who’s to say who’s views are right or wrong? But if one says it’s inerrant, then unity will be much harder to come by.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Declaring an interpretation of scripture with which one disagrees as taking scripture to be “errant” is a peculiarly unhelpful strategy, if actual communication is the goal rather than recreational polemics. One of the most frustrating aspects to me is the kneejerk assumption that this decision is simply the product of loosey-goosey feel-good apathetic conformity to popular culture. It is a theological conclusion deriving from arguments with scriptural foundation. You might disagree with it, and I respect that. But refusing to admit that the argument even exists is simply lazy.

        • You’re missing my point. I’m not saying any particular interpretation of Scripture is errant. I’m saying the churches that teach as doctrine that Scripture itself is errant have an easy time finding unity with each other, and will have a very difficult time finding unity with those holding to a inerrant view.

          If you’re arguing the ELCA bases its views on sexuality on Scripture alone, you’re wrong and you should go read it’s report. It essentially acknowledges its view cannot be based on Scripture alone.

          • I believe you could think through your position a little more carefully, Boaz. At best, it seems like you are missing a major premise. You see, the issue is not with inerrancy, but with authority. I live in Kentucky, and I certainly don’t think all of our laws are inerrant. I don’t even think they are all good. But I do think they are authoritative. Be careful that you are not presuming the usual (false) premise of inerrantists, that veracity is a function of accuracy.

    • I can give this much: I do appreciate that the ELCA allows for local option, which is especially important in an Episcopal system.

      • The concept of the local option bugs me, immensely. It is something the ACNA practices with regards to women in the presbytery, at least for now as they explore women in ministry. But how do you have unity in a church when some parishes are led by people whom other parishes (or even dioceses) say aren’t Biblically qualified?

        • No, I’m with you there. However, if the denomination is going to decide to allow what I do not believe, I at least appreciate that they don’t require me to convert.

          • “I at least appreciate that they don’t require me to convert.” …but in the ELCA, they are and they will. It will be their way or the highway. In a 60 mile radius of where I live I have seen in happen 3 times in the last 2 years.

          • Thanks for the inside scoop. I think most people who realize this will leave and re-affiliate.

    • Closed, semi-closed or open?

      One’s practice will be related to what one views communion as being.

      * If one views communion as being similar to a covenant meal like the Passover, then one will likely restrict it to those who are in covenant with Jesus, however one so defines being a member of the household of faith. The tradition in The Didache has restricted communion in view. Also, Luke’s account of the Last Supper seems to have Jesus making His covenant only with and for those who are at table with Him. (But as noted in my other post, the original wording of Luke’s account is difficult to determine.)

      * Even if regarded as a covenant meal in which communion is restricted to those who have embraced Jesus and His New Covenant, thereby usually excluding non-believers and children who have not yet professed faith in Jesus and/or been baptized, Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 seem to me to allow for the participation of the unbelieving spouses and underage children of believers, should they wish to partake, and Jewish custom was to include children in the covenant feasts and holy days:

      12 I (not the Lord) say to the rest of you: If a brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and she is willing to live with him, he must not abandon (Or divorce) her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is an unbeliever and he is willing to live with her, she must not abandon (Or divorce) him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified because of her husband (Other mss. read (her/the) brother). Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. (ISV)

      * Some may wish to restrict communion because of the warning in 1 Corinthians 11:29:

      29 because whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That’s why so many of you are weak and sick and a considerable number are dying (Lit. are falling asleep). (ISV)

      However, commentators are divided (rightfully so, in my opinion) on whether Paul is referring to their not recognizing that the bread and wine are really Christ’s body and blood or at least some “special” kind of food and drink, or their not recognizing and treating all those assembled as fellow members of the one body of Christ, which was the basis of his harsh words to them in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (as well other parts of 1 Corinthians).

      * If one views communion as being an extension of Jesus’ fellowship meals with followers, sinners, harlots, tax collectors, and any who wished to learn about or enter the Kingdom, or of His feeding of the multitudes, then it could be open to all who are present and wish to partake. Also, Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts of the Last Supper seem to differ from Luke’s account in having Jesus making His covenant “for many.”

      Read it all here: http://theoblogoumena.blogspot.com/2012/06/thoughts-on-communion.html :)

      • Did Jesus have any fellowship meals with sinners, tax collectors, etc. who refused to repent and rejected his Word?

        I also don’t see why the interpretation of 1 Corinthians that not recognizing body is about “not recognizing and treating all those assembled as fellow members of the one body of Christ”, really gets passed a closed view of communion. If there is significant division over what the church is, one group isn’t recognizing the body. Rome says not submitting to the Pope is not recognizing the body. Lutherans would say the church is defined by those who properly preach the Word and administer the sacraments. One of those two is not properly recognizing the body.

        From a Lutheran perspective, those who improperly preach the Word and administer the sacraments, or belong to a church that does so, are not recognizing the body of Christ, (though they would not say they were by that fact excluded from it). One can be a saved Christian while making a mistake about the church.

        • He did offer the supper to Judas.

          • True, but that raises a host of other issues. Judas was a special case: “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” But he was also “doomed for destruction.”

            He was chosen personally by Jesus, and numbered among his disciples, for the role he played. So whether Judas is an example for all communicants depends on whether Judas drank the body and blood to his judgment or his salvation? Maybe Christ’s giving him the body and blood suggests Judas was not lost to eternity, in which case I would agree with your argument. But if he drank to his condemnation, we would not want to offer the body and blood to others for their own condemnation. That Jesus gave it to Judas, who was doomed, would suggest we should not give it to those lest they be doomed as well.

            Regardless, the role of Judas is a hard place to base doctrine on.

          • …and he did receive the judgement of God. I think that argument plays into our hand.

          • I’d like to think Satan left him and he repented, but I know that’s a hard position to support with Scripture.

        • boaz:

          If anyone thinks the Scriptures and church history give a clear and cut-and-dried view of how the Eucharist is to be regarded or celebrated or partaken of or participated in, they haven’t read enough. My few blog posts on the subject – the one I link to above and the others on my blog labeled/tagged “communion” or “eucharist” – contain some of my musings on the subject, one that has dogged me for some time due to my wanderings in and out of sacramental churches.

          • I’ve read quite a bit of early church fathers on the eucharist, and I don’t see any basis in them to think anything like the current Reformed or Baptist view was ever accepted. There is much more support for the Roman Catholic view of communion as a participation in the sacrifice than there is for Reformed or Baptist views.

            I’ll check it out though, I like to be challenged!

          • I should today receive this book from Garry Wills:

            Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

            http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112294/gary-willss-why-priests-reviewed-kevin-madigan#

            I’ll be interested to read Wills’ history of the Eucharist. As for myself, I’ve read Dix, Bradshaw, The Didache, original ancient liturgies, etc., etc.

          • Ugh, Garry Wills. Does he still call himself Catholic?

            Here’s Irenaeus:

            He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.4461
            3. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made,4462 from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?

            http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vii.iii.html

          • I don’t care what Wills calls himself. I’m interested in his research and arguments. Poisoning the well won’t dissuade or influence me. :)

      • One’s practice will be related to what one views communion as being.

        Darned skippy! And this is why closed communion is only the practice of the churches who believe, teach, and confess that they are actually consuming the flesh and blood of Christ. I don’t see non-sacramental churches practicing closed communion. In fact, often you are lucky if the practice it at all!

        • Miguel….You have been doing a bang-up job of trying to explain the rationale behind closed communion. As a Catholic, your arguments are saying essentailly the same things the Church teaches me! In fact, it reminds me of my son , baptised, confirmed and rasied RC, who became high church Anglican in college, and then came with his whole parish into the Catholic expression this last year!

          Clearly the other issues of apostolic sucession and authority are stumbling blocks to other sacarmental expressions who beleive in the Real Presence—-but you sure sound closer to the Tiber than to those breaking away from truth for the illusion of “justice”.

          And the only analogy I can think of is that those who believe in the Real Presence approach communion like the Jews approached the Ark of the Covenant….facing the livng God. Those who believe otherwise are saying “We have a box just like this at our church and anyone can come and look at what it represents. Why are you meanies so uptight about who looks at YOUR symbolic replica?”

          If you cannot believe you are facing God, please stay in your seat instead.

  7. CM, I agree with one sentence you wrote: “we’re either going to be Christians or we’re not.” we’re either going to obey (and teach) the clear commands of scripture, or we’re not. I agree with you that Christians shouldn’t have to be in agreement on every single issue. However, that doesn’t mean we get to simply pick and choose the parts we want to obey and those we don’t.

  8. I don’t know that it is possible to have a discussion of this issue that does not devolve into anathemas cast willy nilly. Part of the failure of communication is the unwillingness to cede any legitimacy to the other party in the debate. I don’t think the ELCA rejects the authority of scripture any more than the EECMY would make sub-humans of those with same sex desires – which is the dichotomy we end up debating more often than not. The ELCA should very well have understood that it was taking a path that other Christians would not be willing to walk. It’s been very clear, too, that scripture – albeit a reading that doesn’t date back 500+ years – was authoritative in the development of its social statement and policy adoption. It remains to be seen if that reading will stand the test of time.

    Certainly the sharing or turning away of the sacraments to others is a strong statement, especially in the Lutheran tradition. It is not to be taken lightly. That said, let us continue to love and pray for each other when we walk apart. We are all born children of a fallen humanity and we struggle as best we can to live the Gospel.

    • I thought anathemas were always hurled.

      I consider this kind of thing to be inside baseball and since I”ve stopped being Christian (and was never Lutheran), I no longer consider it worth my while to discuss. So I’ll just stop with mentioning the appropriate verb for anathemas (hurl).

      • “I thought anathemas were always hurled.”

        I’m colored by the post-Wayne’s World use of “hurled.” ;)

        Presumably though, however one chooses to address the term, declaring another to be formally cursed and consigned to damnation should leave all parties sickened.

    • Good thoughts, great conclusion.

  9. Chaplain Mike,
    As you know, the Anglican Communion, of which as an Episcopalian I’m a member, has been struggling with this issue in a very public way for some time now. Although the Anglican Communion has held together to the present, that is mostly, I believe, the result of the episcopal polity that all the Communion members hold to as part of the instruments of communion. I fear that whatever unity the many domestic and international Lutheran denominations have been able to establish to this point will erode more quickly exactly because your polity, as Lutherans, does not exert enough centripetal force to preserve even a superficial unity when there is such passionate disagreement about an issue like this one. But even if the unity of the Lutheran churches dissolves more quickly, the Anglican Communion won’t be far behind in disintegrating. This issue is dynamite. And that’s why I agree with the position of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who, though personally wanting to see the full inclusion of GLBT people in every facet of the church, nevertheless criticized the ECUSA for unilaterally breaking with the catholicity of the church by ignoring long-standing tradition in appointing an openly practicing gay bishop before communion-wide consensus for change could be reached. He understood that such unilateral actions could only tend to break apart the unity of the church when the mind of the church is so divided about an issue, and he considered the unity and catholicity of the church to be of very great value, even greater value than his own strongly held opinion in this case, precisely because the change undertaken was in opposition to long-standing church tradition and biblical interpretation. The visible unity of the church started shattering at the Great Schism and has continued ever since. The changes implemented by the ELCA and the ECUSA will only add to the momentum of that shattering. What we are left with, at most, is a highly attenuated spiritual unity that the non-believing world neither sees nor cares about. And when we remember that according to the Scriptures Jesus desired the unity of the church precisely so that those outside the fold might see and believe, we should be ashamed.

  10. And Chaplain Mike, my sympathies; you’ve really kicked hornet’s nest with this one.

  11. I blush and hide my face when I admit that I come from a “Christian” tradition that demonized homosexuals and had nothing but harsh rhetoric and “graceless hopelessness” for any and all who had strayed in this manner. In “standing up against sin” we have been guilty of running over people. The Lord has been patient with me, and as I have met homosexuals I have come to discover that they are people made in the image of God who possess redeeming values common to mankind. It is with kindness that the Lord leads men to repentance, and it is therefore with kindness that we should treat all people, for He desires all to come to repentance.

    Although I do not understand all the intricacies of Lutheran polity, I believe that the Ethiopians did the right thing. It cannot be good to say that homosexuality is good, or to allow clergy to be engaged in the practice. If the prevailing wisdom in the church states that our fathers were mistaken for the last 2000 years concerning this practice, how much longer will it be before other practices such as fornication, drunkenness, thievery, and a host of others are seen to be mistaken interpretations of the Scripture? How has two millennia of Christian unity on this topic so suddenly been discovered to be so utterly mistaken? Were our fathers that blind? Are we so enlightened in this present age?

    I thank all of the imonks for their contributions to my spiritual formation. I cannot adequately express in word or deed the help that you all have been to me in the past year or so. I hope that you all receive these words as coming from a heart that is not condemning . . . I think that all of you would agree that Jesus is gracious when He dies, for example, a compulsive liar. He is gracious when He forgives that liar. He is gracious to give that liar His Spirit and entrance into His Kingdom. He is gracious to walk with that liar, to be patient with that liar, to graciously forgive that liar day after day when he is tempted to lie and even succumbs to his old habit. I am confident this is Jesus’ practice with the believer (whatever his/her sins) and I am equally confident that it is the pattern that the followers of Jesus should emulate. I am just as confident that Jesus would never have condoned lying – especially to a compulsive liar. Is it ever gracious to condone any sin?

  12. “Is it ever gracious to condone any sin?”

    Exactly.

    It is not.

  13. It’s never gracious to misspell your own name, either. :D

  14. Ok, I’ll try this comment one more time. (too long for mod?)

    Our sinful fingerprints are all over every decision we make as individuals and churches.

    Indeed. Which makes the question not how was the decision arrived at, but is the decision correct?

    I suppose my reaction is not necessarily from the position itself as it is from the type of evasive rhetoric used to support it. I’ve kinda developed an allergic reaction to liberal equivocation that causes me to react with diarrhea of the mouth. It’s not that any single sexual law is the lynchpin on which the authority of scripture stands or falls. I’ve listened to the other side, and I’ve given them a fair shake. Their “reasoning” drives me insane. They gather all the “clobber passages” and have a turkey shoot with their straw men. Then they follow a strict, 3 step process: shoehorn ambiguity into the Greek/Hebrew etymology, reinvent the historical circumstances with shady support at best, and cap it off with the death of 1000 qualifications. This literally makes it impossible for the Bible to condemn anything. Seriously, give me one core doctrine of the faith that cannot be “Biblically disproven” using this hermeneutic.

    The reason I am cynical towards the ELCA is because it is cynical towards the text of Scripture. It’s not that I believe that this approach was given by dictation from Satan. But given the extremes of “Hath God really said?” and “fear and trembling,” this line of reasoning leans so far towards the former that, as a person who wants to hear the Word of God and believe it for eternal salvation, I find it to be nothing more than glorified rationalization. It is linguistic nonsense that neuters Scripture of the ability to correct sinful man’s natural inclinations. I don’t care if people arrive at these convictions as the result of personal prayer and study: That does not justify a lie, anywhere, anytime, ever. Good intentions are not a substitute for sound doctrine.

    Scripture is not so cryptic that it cannot communicate simple ideas clearly. Truth be told, it is my reason that finds this teaching so offensive, not my purity of doctrine. Just as the incarnation gives new meaning and legitimacy to being human, so inspiration gives meaning and legitimacy to written and verbal communication. I refuse to play the post-modern relativist “well since we can’t all agree, then who’s to say that only one of us is correct?” game. Where there is disagreement, at least one dissenting party has to be wrong. In my little world, the law of non-contradiction is the highest authority to which even God must answer. I think that is a “box” that He willing places himself into.

    • Reminds me of the Anglican Church of Canada:

      1) A pervasive hermeneutic of doubt
      2) Obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate. The laity are too dumb to catch it.
      3) Top it all off with the claim that the ultimate christian value is tolerance
      4) Therefore anyone who holds to historic Christianity is intolerant

  15. Si !

  16. Sigh. Well, nobody’s raising the contrary voice to the turrent above. So I guess I will.

    1. With great gusto, the conservative argument has now been raised in most posts above, and there is much shouting to this effect: You either take scripture seriously or you don’t. Obviously my way of interpreting scripture is the only valid way. Therefore, those arguing for inclusivity or recognition of same-sex civil unions/marriages (etc) don’t love Scripture.

    Well, that’s one argument—and it has to be built, it’s not self-evident. But I would like to point out that while there’s always a certain danger in the “progressive” camp of innovating too much or developing ideas wrongly, there is also an argument that can be made for needing to develop Christian ethics about sex that take Biblical principles and things we now know about sexuality seriously, if we are to get orthopraxy. If we reflexively assume that our received formulations are fundamental truth, to the point where we are ignoring other increasingly clear truths that are not academic trivia but very important personal and biological realities for people with souls, then we could end up with something both false and destructive. To me, refusing to allow conversation on this topic is the equivalent of plugging one’s ears, shutting one’s eyes and shouting one’s creed over and over. It’s a divorce of faith from reason. I won’t do it. And you might not agree with that decision on my part….But realize, I’m not just ignoring Scripture. I’m trying to take it seriously by applying it correctly.

    2. The “conservative” camp proclaims that it feels thrown under the bus; you’ve been forced, you say, to avoid communing any longer with this or that denomination over this controversial issue.

    However, I will point out: 1. I have absolutely no problem breaking bread with you. It is you who do not wish to break bread with me. So, which of us just withdrew from the room, and went home? Perhaps you are right to do so, I cannot tell you to run against your conscience …. But please, do not claim that I picked up my marbles and marched off. You made the decision: own it.

    3. The majority perspective on point 2 pretty much explains why a theological traditionalist with progressive views of gender such as myself–or anyone not lining up on the sabre-rattling issues–would wind up in the mainline. For most people in this thread, there is clearly not much room for discussion to take place without lines being drawn in the sand. Not only does that mean there’s not a place at the table (possibly in terms of sacrament, mainly in terms of metaphor) for me, if I were plain about my current thoughts on some issues, but also that I need to be alright with drawing these lines against others.

    The more comments like this I read, however much respect I have for the person doing the writing, the more I realize that I’ve probably done well to join the mainline. I don’t have the stomach for these theological fist-fights. They are sometimes necessary, but they rarely help anybody.

    4. Even if the ELCA compromise position is not the ultimate fix, Chaplain Mike isn’t just flaking out in suggesting compromise or at least mutual toleration. He’s asking whether there is enough shared ground to allow some diversity in practice & whether our unity means something. Incidentally, the solution he is discussing at least doesn’t mean one camp or the other forcing a violation of conscience on the other.

    Anyway, thanks Chaplain MIke for raising the question.

    I’m going to go crawl back under my rock now!

    • I need to try harder if I come across as “yelling.” It’s very hard to argue for any kind of limit on doctrine and practice within the church without coming across as being harsh.

      • I don’t perceive it as yelling, exactly (though rereading the post I do see that my verb usage implies this understanding) or trying to be mean. My point is that the content of some of the arguments is problematic: specifically, the characterization of the progressive side as throwing out Scripture and tradition wholesale (and therefore impossible to negotiate with or commune with). Once the debate has been set in those terms, dialog becomes very hard to achieve. And there are both intensional and unintentional casualties of that fact.

        • Hmmmm…. I never considered that line could be a conversational non-sequittur. However, since the cards have already been played, which would you propose is the way forward? Shall we return to hermeneutical fencing with the issue at hand, or proceed to agree to disagree and debate over how we live with the disagreement?

          • I think the issue is living with disagreement (or not), since I don’t think full agreement on the issue of concern is going to come about easily or overnight.

            Of course, the issue of “living with disagreement” is of controversial too and I am not going to turn blue trying to convince you–I appreciate the gravity of the question. I’ll just say that particularly when an issue is this difficult, some toleration makes sense to me (ironically, the murky issues are the ones nobody can leave alone), particularly when we are dealing with issues that aren’t in the Nicene Creed. So I’m more comfortable with the current ELCA stance.

          • Danielle….I can hear your sincerity, and am sorry you have sensed nothing but anger. Speaking for myselfe, it is frustration…

            I ask you to consider this…..I agree that humankind has evolved in understanding of ourselves and the universe over the last 2000 years. I grant that many behaviors and workings of the solar system and its inhabitants has been clarified. I grant this 100%.

            What I cannot understand, however, is the belief that GOD HIMSELF had an imperfect understanding of human nature and behavior, and that in the 21st century humans are more enlightened and evolved than our own Creator, who showed and told us who He was and what was important. Jesus had no qualms with calling sin…..and yet now we know better than “I AM” about ourselves???

          • Patti, I understand the viewpoint. I think you get part of what I am saying as well. I would like to mention, however, that I don’t see “nothing but anger” in what is said–and I’m sorry if I am giving that impression. Anyway, my quibble is with the content of the argument that describes the “progressive” camp as completely off the theologoical map. It seems to me that even those who occupy opposite ends of the spectrum on this specific issue may still have a great deal in common that is important and precious. I find it unfortunate that when both sides debate gender issues, that fact is sometimes obscured.

            Likewise, I understand the argument for non-fellowship over the issue and I appreciate where you are coming from. I just don’t think this issue raises to that level of importance, and as someone who falls between the camps, the more mutual hostility there is the more dissonance for me. (Not that my particular case should matter.)

          • “… and yet now we know better than “I AM” about ourselves.”

            As a sidenote, I just want to say that I understand this concern & that I do not mean to belittle it in any way. As I see it, the difficulty is that we are left having to figure out how to mesh Scripture with what we see around us. I do not trust my own judgement fully (not at all!), but I likewise worry that failure to take seriously the world as it appears to be under observation–and asserting received principles like the other data isn’t even there (esp. since my interpretation of the past is likewise interpretive)–is risky as well. There’s got to be some kind of dialectic.

            Likewise, I do not take lightly the need of established interpretations to guide and correct our thinking…I’m usually a stodgy traditionalist … but I am concerned, and therefore cautious, about the implications of “traditional” beliefs on homosexuality for real people. If I hesitate to venture into the dangers of liberal argument on that point, I am equally hesitant about the harm I may do in failing to question my original views.

            Ultimately, I don’t think the church (let alone the heavens) will stand or fall on this issue. Important as it is. In the past 2000, years, we’ve been stuck in worse dilemmas.

  17. Danielle, I appreciate your thoughful reply, and could very successfully argue for the progressive views on gender and sexuality….really, it is not a matter of not understanding, but of disagreement with the conclusions. On the surface ( and I am sure to all who do not follow the Judeo-Christian God) it seems trite to be concerned about what goes on in the bedrooms of consenting adults. [ I feel the data is available to argue against abortion even from a scientific worldview....but that is a separate issue linked to the value of human life, not sexuality per se..]

    AND I understand that homosexuality has been with us for a long, LONG time….and it has been tolerated with a wink and nod in many societies. It has never, though, until the last few decades, been viewed as one of many options for living a productive life and creating a family….because same-sex contact canNOT produce a child. Only through adoption or reproductive technology can a child be added to a homosexual union.

    IMHO, what God and nature are showing us is that only hetrosexual unions can produce babies, technology removed. THIS is how the human race works, and outliers were tolerated, but never held up as analogous to “the real thing”. Christ placed great value on the physical and emotional life-giving union we call marriage. The homosexual unions that exist can be many things, but a “marriage” they are NOT….and Speaking this truth in love is a Christian duty. We call any of the seven deadly sins by another name, but it does not change the death-dealing influence of the sin.

  18. Something like 30 years ago when I attended an ECLA church, I was refused communion at a Missouri Synod church. It still rankles. In fairness, my pastor said that their pastor probably would not have done this but I asked the person next to me. It is a painful experience.

    Tom Wright mentions in passing as the sort of problem bishops face, an old woman who would bring her cat to church and give it half her communion wafer, believing it to be the reincarnation of her recently deceased husband.

    If I were forced to attend church now and was given the choice between one practicing closed communion and one tolerating in love a lonely and wacky old woman with a cat, it would be a no brainer for me. Jesus was excoriated for his table fellowship. I am old enough to remember two public drinking fountains side by side for white and colored. It’s all the same.

    The Spirit of Jesus struggles to cross the Sea of Doctrine..

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      I think that this issue also brings out two divergent views of church fellowship. The first view – the one that seems to have been espoused by the ELCA, though I hope Chaplain Mike will correct me if I’m wrong – sees church fellowship as something that we must create, something that we must reach for through love, harmony, and so on, so forth. According to this view, it is the Ethiopian Church that has done the separating, and they must repent of their lovelessness. The second view, however, sees church fellowship as something that either objectively exists or objectively does not, depending on whether the two churches are agreed on matters of faith and doctrine. Dialogue and discussion are not meant to CREATE fellowship, but rather to test and determine whether fellowship already exists. According to this view, it is the ELCA that has separated themselves by turning to follow false teaching, and they must repent of heresy.

      This, of course, is somewhat of an idealization – I’m assuming for the purposes of discussion (not to mention because of charity) that neither denomination was responsible for bringing things OTHER than faith and doctrine to the table; personal quarrels, vendettas,etc. But I think it gets across the basic question quite well: do we create fellowship between churches through efforts of love and feelings of unity, or do we recognize already-existing church fellowship, created by the Spirit through unity in truth?

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      Dang it. I’d meant for that to be a stand-alone comment, not a reply to yours. Sorry. :p

      I was, however, going to point out that Jesus was excoriated for eating and drinking with sinners – NOT for sharing Holy Communion with them. The Supper is a very, very different meal than the kind that you and I can have around the dinner table.

      As far as the Spirit crossing seas of doctrine is concerned – I was under the impression that the Spirit was coming to lead us into truth? And that Jesus repeatedly denounced those who didn’t follow His teaching? And that the Apostles frequently give commands to separate from false doctrine? Why is the working of the Spirit opposed to a concern for correct teaching?

      • As to correct teaching, if you have read this far, you must realize that easy answers only come if you are looking from a limited context. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Jesus didn’t answer in words and Pilate didn’t recognize what was right in front of his eyes. The Jewish priesthood had their own answer. Where does that leave you and me? I’ll follow Jesus as best I can and let the pundits thrash out their differences. Chaplain Mike didn’t point out that the thrashing leading up to our Nicene Creed was literal and occasionally fatal. You may differ but I don’t look on that as the working of the Spirit..

        • Aidan Clevinger says:

          I agree that the answers are not “easy”. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t present. Nor does it mean that they shouldn’t be sought after in the Scriptures. Not only would we have to jettison the words of Jesus if that were the case, but the entire apostolic doctrine is gone. In Acts, the believers are said to have devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Why – if truth is impossible to find and cannot be held to? In the epistles, the Apostles repeatedly rebuke heretics and admonish pastors to do the same. Why – if truth is something that can’t be known?

          As far as the Nicene Creed is concerned: no, the violence associated with it was not the work of the Spirit; yes, the confession of the faith contained in the Scriptures was the work of the Spirit.

  19. EricW, thanks for the heads up on Garry Wills latest book. I just ordered it and look forward to his perspective and research. If he has a fault, in my view it is his treating the Eastern wing of the church as if it didn’t exist. I always enjoy your own take on things here.

  20. I think part of the problem with closed communion is it runs into a false view of what church worship is. The church assembles for the purpose of receiving Christ’s word and his body and blood as a community. Worship is for the congregation, it is not primarily for outsiders. Outsiders are welcome to worship with us, of course, but we want to bring them into the community and get to know them before confessing unity with them by communing together.

    Those most offended by closed communion seem to see worship not as primarily for the congregation as a community, but as a mission tool to reach out to outsiders. Worship is more like going to a lecture or concert or other event for the public. So yes, it would be offensive to be invited to an open house and then be told you can’t stay for hors d’ouvres.

    If you see worship as a family meal, it’s easier to understand why one would not invite oneself to eat with them until they get to know you better. It’s bad manners, especially if you are inviting yourself to eat with them while at the same time saying you don’t like their food.

    • Yup. And that second view is the product of Revivalism, which dominates the Evangelical scene and is the root cause of the Seeker Sensitive movement. When the point of worship is to emotionally move unbelievers to choose Christ, of course denying them the symbolic grape juice is getting in the way of the Gospel. But if Christ is actually in the bread and wine, giving it to an unbeliever at the very least confirms them in their unbelief, which in the end leads to damnation.

    • The “problem with closed communion” is that it fails to discern the body of Christ by excluding other Christians. See 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee, NICNT.

  21. ^ this!

  22. Praise the LORD for the faithful church in Africa.