April 16, 2014

Wilderness Update

I have had thoughts lately again about vocational matters in my life. A number of different circumstances have come about in which I’ve considered making a few changes — nothing related to my full-time employment at this time, but to things which may determine direction in the future. These kinds of situations come up a few times each year, and when they do I have to take some time to think about them, talk to my wife, consider various ways certain choices might impact our family, get counsel from people I respect, and so on.

One of the searches that has been ongoing throughout my ministerial career has involved denominational affiliation. For some reason, I have never been able to connect to a group and serve within that organization. My early Christian experience discouraged that, as I ministered in the non-denominational world. When I went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, they were affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America, and one of the reasons I chose Trinity was because at that time I was attracted to the denomination and hoped to have them issue my credentials. To make a long story short, it never happened for a variety of reasons. We ended up moving to the Indianapolis area and becoming part of a non-denominational “community church” movement. I served in churches in that movement for thirteen years, and was ordained through my local congregation.

Even during those years, however, I had this nagging question. I longed to be part of a faith tradition that went deeper than the last church plant. I did a small bit of exploration, talked to a few people, but never seriously pursued anything during those years because we had a stable ministry and we were crazy busy raising kids and just doing life.

Then came my severance from local church ministry, my involvement in hospice chaplaincy, my acquaintance with Michael Spencer (who faced similar frustrations throughout his career), our decision to join a Lutheran church, and this ongoing trek through the post-evangelical wilderness.

We’re still there, but it may be time to make some decisions.

I am not going to talk about what those decisions might be at this point. But I do want to talk a little about some of the thinking that I have been doing in preparation for making choices.

Ever since I have become a member of an Evangelical Lutheran Church, I have had people ask how I could do that. In spite of some my free-thinking, contrarian ways, I have always been known as a fairly conservative person. I take the Bible seriously, and have always seen “learning, loving, and living the Bible” (a mission statement I developed for one of my churches) as central to who I am and what I’m called to do in life. Yet some people see that as incompatible with membership in a church or denomination like the ELCA. I guess they would see them as too “liberal” for a Bible-believing Christian. This came up again this week in the comments to our post on Scot McKnight’s book.

(Some of that is just plain misunderstanding, but some of it, I think, grows out of a failure to understand what I want to write about in this post.)

All of this has led me to do some thinking about how I view the Church, denominations, and local churches. Here is a summary of what I’m concluding:

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. This confession from the Nicene Creed is my confession. There is only one Church. There are many expressions, but one Body of Christ, one Bride, one Holy Nation, one People of God. Wherever I serve and live out my vocation in life, it will be for the building up of God’s Church.

I believe there are streams of tradition within the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. There are pre-denominational streams of tradition. Broadly speaking, we can identify the eastern and western traditions. At the Council of Nicea, the preeminent eastern bishops were from Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. Rome led the west. Today we can speak generally of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as the primary representatives of those pre-denominational streams.

There are also the Reformation churches. Again, broadly speaking we list the Lutherans, the Reformed churches, and the Anabaptists. Protestant and evangelical churches down to the present day arose from this stream of tradition.

However, I must also mention that during the past 200 years there has been such an explosion of congregations and groups growing out of the Revivalist awakenings, especially in America, that they have become a legitimate third category of church tradition. This is what we broadly call “evangelicalism” here on Internet Monk. What is important to note is that they are only tangentially related to the “historic” churches — which is what I call the churches in the first two streams of tradition.

I believe that each tradition serves as a broad umbrella under which there is a spectrum of belief and practice. In a recent discussion, one of our commenters decried the fact that “Lutherans” are all seen by some as believing and practicing the same things. This is simply uninformed. There are many different kinds of Lutherans. The ELCA would be on what some would call the “liberal” end of the spectrum, but they are nevertheless Lutheran and Christian. There are more conservative churches — The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) — and churches at the far end of the conservative spectrum, for example, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, which broke off from the Wisconsin Synod (very conservative) because they viewed them as not conservative enough. I had one of their pastors as a patient once. He would not let me pray for him because he did not believe my ordination was legitimate. He only believed in having fellowship with those who believed exactly as his group did.

Here is a key thing to understand: ALL traditions contain a spectrum of belief and practice, nevertheless the individuals, groups, and churches along that spectrum within the tradition may be (should be, in my opinion) considered legitimate expressions of that tradition.

Don’t ever let someone tell you, “This is what Catholics believe,” and take that as a statement of what ALL Roman Catholics believe. Of course, there is a Catechism, and the current Pope is a conservative. But Hans Küng is also a Roman Catholic, and so is Garry Wills. The Roman Church is not monolithic! It is not divided into denominations, but it has a variety of orders that view and practice the faith differently. And though the official position of the church is pro-life, and it views homosexuality as a sin, there are RC groups like DignityUSA which represents LBGT Catholics, and Catholics for Choice, groups made up of legitimate Roman Catholic Christian believers. And I have found that doctrinal and moral emphases vary from parish to parish in Roman Catholicism every bit as much as they do from one Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or evangelical church to another.

So then, I am starting to conclude this: What is most important is that one aligns with a tradition.

The reason I can feel comfortable in the ELCA is not necessarily because I think the ELCA is a perfect denomination, with all its theological and organizational “t’s” crossed and “i’s” dotted. Rather, I can feel comfortable there because it is a legitimate expression of the Lutheran tradition. The elements of that tradition that attracted me — Luther himself, justification by grace through faith, Word and Table worship, a love for the Bible, glorious music and hymnody, a strong emphasis on pastoral ministry, the theology of vocation for all believers — I can and do find all these things within an ELCA congregation.

Are there things I don’t like and don’t agree with? Yes. But I can’t see any of them binding my conscience or inhibiting my ministry, no matter where or at what level I might serve.

Some of you have asked, “Well, why don’t you consider joining a group like the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod?” I have a great deal of respect for them as another legitimate expression of the Lutheran tradition. However, if I were ever to make a decision to seek vocational ministry in the LCMS, there would be things that would bind my conscience and not allow me freedom to serve. For example, seven day-creationism is the official position of the LCMS. I think you know what I think about that. That is not equivalent to the homosexual issue in the ELCA, which is an issue of practice and left to the discretion of each local congregation. In the LCMS my ability to teach the Bible according to my beliefs would be constrained at the outset.

I think, on the other hand, that I could affiliate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, understanding that it too is flawed and that there will be many aspects of the group with which I disagree. But I also believe that it is a legitimate expression of the Lutheran tradition and one in which I could serve freely, retaining freedom of conscience to teach the Scriptures and participate in the life of the church.

• • •

I think what I have decided is that I am a Lutheran. For the past couple of years, when people would ask me about my faith and church community, I would say something like, “I’m a Christian and right now I attend a Lutheran church. I’m not sure if that is where we will ultimately end up, but we like it for a variety of reasons, and it is an oasis in the wilderness for the time being.”

I think what I would say today is, “I’m a Christian, and I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition.”

 

Comments

  1. Nice seeing this post. I and my family are going through a post church wilderness, looking to settle somewhere but so far not finding anything comfortable. I am just glad i am not alone.

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    I appreciate this and respect your journey of faith. I would comment on this:

    “Don’t ever let someone tell you, “This is what Catholics believe,” and take that as a statement of what ALL Roman Catholics believe. Of course, there is a Catechism, and the current Pope is a conservative. But Hans Küng is also a Roman Catholic, and so is Garry Wills.”

    I won’t tell you “This is what Catholics believe,” but I will tell you, “This is what the Catholic Church teaches.” And against that standard can be judged an individual Catholic’s beliefs. And it can be determined whether what they believe is inline with the Church’s teachings or not.

    The current Pope is “a conservative” in the sense that he believes and professes all that the Catholic Church teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. But really that is just another way of saying he’s Catholic.

    Now then, there are Catholics who don’t believe all that the Church teaches, and they are Catholics with a moral dilemma, at one and the same time affirming (by being Catholic) that the Church is who she says she is, the Church guided by Christ into all truth, while at the same time disbelieving that she has been guided into all truth by Christ. Some might call that “a tension.” I would call it “a contradiction.”

    Not trying to strike a polemic note here, but I am pushing back against the possible implication that Catholicism is fragmented in its teachings like Protestantism is (and therefore that is not a differentiating factor for the Catholic Church against Protestantism).

    • Chaplain Mike, I see what you are searching for and will pray for you to be led. Devin, Well said.

    • Devin, I hoped you would comment and what you said is what I anticipated. I would agree that the Catholic church is not fragmented in its teachings “like Protestantism is,” and that there is a unity of Catholic teaching on the official level. That has kept the Catholic church able to handle the very real diversity that it has always experienced under the umbrella of the official organizational line. But I would argue that each tradition could say the same thing. All Lutherans look to the Book of Concord and the Augsburg Confession and confess them along with the ecumenical creeds as their official teaching. The ELCA statement of faith says:

      This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledging as one with it In faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

      This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.

      In other words, there is an “official” Lutheranism, just as there is an “official” Catholicism. However, on the ground there is much diversity along a spectrum of beliefs and practices.

      I am not arguing that all Protestants have an official standard. But I would say that there is the same dynamic within each major tradition. And that is why I am suggesting that it is vitally important for one to align with a tradition as a fundamental commitment, rather than just to look at denominations or churches, which tend to show more distinctions in faith and practice.

      • You could add that Lutherans consider themselves to be Catholics, who have been excluded by the Roman bishop, and that our confessions explicitly say we will return to the Catholic church if permitted to preach justificatio by faith alone. Just fix Trent!

        • Or maybe fix your definition of justification. You’re welcome back. The Tiber isn’t that wide.

          • From what I heard at Gethsemani in the preaching, we are not far apart at all.

          • Catholic in practice is often very different from what’s on the books. Catholics often tend to have a very good undertanding of simul justus et peccator, especially the saints!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The Tiber is narrower than the Adriatic, and I keep hearing in these comments from ex-Evangelicals who swam the latter.

          • Kind of off-topic, but is there a prevailing opinion among Lutherans or Catholics about the Joint Declaration on Justification?

      • One rather large difference: the Catholic Church has a functioning hierarchy. There are bishops responsible for everywhere. They can enforce discipline. If you choose not to obey, you aren’t Catholic. That’s what happened to Hans Kueng. He decided to dissent and lost his license to teach as a Catholic theologian.
        You mentioned Catholics for Abortion and Dignity. Both are under lots of censure from most bishops because they dissent from Catholic doctrine and dogma.
        There are arguments and differences you can have and be in good standing, just not on dogma or doctrine. Unlike Lutherans where there are some that accept women bishops, some ignore Luther completely and some won’t even talk to others. From your descriptions there doesn’t seem to be any official Lutheranism.
        The Orthodox Churches have a different situation with autocephaly where they have huge disagreements with each other and with the Catholics.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Anne,

          The differences between the autocephalous “canonical” Orthodox churches have nothing to do with dogma and doctrine and therefore are not “huge”; they are mostly cultural, some driven by pettiness. Some keep the “old” calendar, some the new, but this does not necessarily interfere with the status of being in communion with one another.

          All of the differences between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox boil down to the view of what the Church is. If anyone is interested, the best book I’ve read on this is “Church, Papacy and Schism” by Philip Sherrard (get the 3rd edition, purple cover). It’s a slender volume but lays things out very clearly.

          I don’t know about elsewhere in the world, and I’m certainly open to correction, but recently I read something that pretty well explains the Orthodox situation in the US:
          1. There are the “canonical” churches, affiliated with the 14/15 autocephalous churches worldwide. The fact that we are not one national church is contrary to our canons; this is in the process of getting fixed but will probably take a couple more centuries.
          2. There are splinter groups that have broken off for reasons other than dogmatic differences but are serious enough for them to not be in communion with the canonical churches.
          3. There are groups that have the word “orthodox” somewhere in their names, that arose outside of the canonical 14/15 and have never had any connection with them; these are usually people who are attracted to Orthodox tradition and monasticism but want to do things their own way. Interestingly, the Evangelical Orthodox (P. Gillquist’s group) started out as one of these, and nearly all of them ended up coming into canonical churches.

          Our lack of Christlikeness accounts for all the real problems we have. Lord, have mercy!

          Dana

          • Amen, Dana. Well said.

          • Dana, you are right. Most of the disagreements seem to be cultural and related to being official state Churches. There are, however, doctrinal disagreements between some of the recognized (not splintering) Orthodox groups on matters of faith and morals such as abortion, divorce, etc. They walk out on each other at meetings fairly frequently. I expect all these problems to be solved, though by about 2547.

          • Respectfully, Anne,

            The canonical Orthodox churches do not have any disagreements as to matters of faith and morals. Like Catholics, some Orthodox push against those teachings on faith and morals, and even knowingly sin in them, but this does not reflect a change in dogma and doctrines. The view of all the “recognized” Orthodox churches in these situations is that these people should repent, struggle – like all of us need to – to forsake besetting sin, and be united once more to the sacramental life of the Church.

            Sadly, the reasons people walk out at meetings, or form “splinter” groups that anathematize canonical Orthodox, have to do with issues of pride of place, or issues with the (blessed!) calendar.

            Dana

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Autocephalous” — sounds like a medical condition or a monster movie title.

        • While Hans Kung cannot be considered a Catholic theologian–he is still a Catholic and a priests. While people are censured for divorce and remarriage, or obtaining an abortion, or supporting women priests, they are still Catholic.

      • Well, Mike, I’m glad you aren’t tired of me by this time.

        I take your point about the Lutheran denominations subscribing to the various confessional documents. However, I would argue that, when pressed, Lutherans would concede that these documents are fallible, since the sole infallible rule of faith is the Bible.

        And since these are fallible documents, their statements could be substantially revised at any time. Further, as fallible documents, creations of men (however smart and faithful), they cannot bind the conscience (which the Bible can, being God’s Word).

        I won’t get too philosophical here, but interested readers can check this blog post out for a more in depth explanation of this fundamental difference in the Catholic and Protestant paradigms: http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2010/06/bad-arguments-against-magisterium-part.html

        Thanks for tolerating me!

        • It seems as if the Catholics do not take seriously the claim that the Bible can “bind the conscience.” For example, John 15:26 says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. But I guess if you’re Catholic, you can just tack whatever junk the pope comes up with onto the Bible and call it infallible.

          • Batman,

            Um, wrong. If you are referring to the Filioque, that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father, you are entering into a deep and subtle area of theology, one in which 1) the Eastern Orthodox have come to agreement with the Catholics in two ecumenical councils and 2) the Pope has said the Creed without the Filioque. So you are painting with too broad a brush in making this accusation.

    • I have to back up Devin. Martha was correct to clarify last month when I expressed MY thought that perhaps Jesus had earthly siblings…that was MY rationale, not Church teaching. While I can express my differing thoughts, it was wrong of me to suggest that the Church’s teaching are up to each Catholic to like or not like.

      Pro-Choice Catholics, sexually active homosexual Catholics, Catholics who deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist…..are not alternative expressions, they are expressing NON CATHOLIC views. One can be Catholic or not, but one cannot pick and choose the doctrine one likes and does not like. The term Devin was tactfully avoiding was “Cafeteria Catholics”, who pick and choose from the menu. Not an option.

      There may be better or worse music, homilies (preaching), and traditions at Mass, but Catholic is CATHOLIC. The Church does not change with fashion, culture, or social norms. Please do not imply that doctrinal chisms are accepted or tolerated. There are other churches, but the Catholic faith is not a buffet of choice.

      • …and second what Anne said. No one is forced to be Catholic, but you accept the Magistarium or not.

      • Jack Heron says:

        But the Church has had ideas that are wrong in the past. Obviously that doesn’t mean the ideas it has today must necessarily be wrong, but it must show that dissent is sometimes right. I see what you mean about ‘Cafeteria Catholicism’ in the sense of ‘I like this, I don’t like that’, but what about in the sense of ‘I believe this is the One Church, but it’s currently making mistakes on a couple of minor issues’?

        • I saw Cafeteria Catholcism quite often…it’s quite popular and happens often. There’s criticism of church hoping in Protestant circles, but I knew Catholics growing up who attended certain perishes for certian Priests.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Cafeteria Catholicism is jsut the Catholic version of church-hopping.

            Just like “Mary Channeling” is the Catholic version of flaking out.

        • Jack, by ideas do you mean doctrines or practice?

          Eagle, my least favorite thing: Cafeteria Catholicism. Bad catechesis and some idea that we get to determine what the Lord said. Plus, priest hopping. I don’t mind boring, I just want faithful.

      • Pattie, I am not saying that anyone can or should be allowed to pick and choose doctrines as from a buffet table. The situation you describe exists in all church traditions. There are dissenters. There are free thinkers. There are those who don’t toe the party line. Some may be more conservative than the official positions, others more liberal. Some may sanction practices personally that the Church does not. This is reality, and always has been, and every church tradition must deal with it.

        All I am saying is that the level of tradition is a more fundamental commitment than some of these issues. If I were a committed Catholic, but struggled with some of the Church’s teachings, and maybe even came to some different conclusions, it would not necessarily make me non-Catholic. It would raise issues that I (and perhaps the Church) would need to work out.

      • Same with Lutherans; we are just more explicit about it. Catholics talk about separating onself from the church by sin or believing falsely. Lutherans agree with that, and say that’s what the medieval popes did, and to the extent the Rome continues to follow those bad teachings, it’s separated itself from the church.

        If you don’t teach the Gospel, you aren’t a Christian church, whether you call yourself that or not. The definition of Church, for Lutherans, is any place where the Word is properly preached and the Sacraments correctly administered. So, there are probably lots of Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, etc. churches that are all in fellowship, without being joined by a corporate entity. That’s because fellowship is created by the Spirit, not chosen and decided by agreeing to authority or signing constitutions and bylaws.

        • bz…..would you please re-work your first paragraph . The last sentence jumps from present to past tense a few times not leaving exactly clear, at least for myself, what you are truly wanting to say. You then pick up with the statement: if you don’t teach the Gospel, you aren’t a Christian Church whether you call yourself that or not……so, what message are you trying to convey?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There may be better or worse music, homilies (preaching), and traditions at Mass, but Catholic is CATHOLIC.

        “You can shoose your friends. You can’t choose your relatives.”
        – President Jimmy Carter regarding “Billygate”

        The Church does not change with fashion, culture, or social norms.

        And according to Chesterton, this is why the Church keeps soldiering on, regardless of social or historical changes. Because when you weld your faith to some fad or fashion or conventional wisdom in a historical place and time, you fix it to that place and time. And age into “So Day-Before-Yesterday” along with it. The Present has a way of becoming the Past before you know it.

      • They are expressing non-Catholic views–but they are still Catholic. The Church, I think rightly, sees itself as a family and cutting off an argumentative/difficult brother or sister is a painful last resort. They might be asked not to go to Communion–but they are Catholic. They may be told that they cannot teach as a Catholic theologian–by they are Catholic. They may be excommunicated–but they are still Catholic.

  3. God bless you, Chaplain Mike.

    I love saying, “I am a Lutheran”.

    We’re in the ELCA looking to leave it.

    We’re looking at LCMC or possiblt NALC. Leaning more towards LCMC.

    • The Lutheran Spectrum, Liberal to Conservative:

      ELCA –> NALC/LCMS/AFLC —> TAALC / LCMS —-> ELS / WELS / Laestadians —-> CLC / microsynods

      The more liberal groups are in fellowship with liberal presbyterians, methodists, episcopalians, etc, and no longer hold to the confessions as a clear statement of scripture. NALC / LCMS etc are still mainstream liberal on most issues except for on homosexuality, though there is a broad spectrum and greater congregational freedom. The more conservative are very pietist.

      • I think you meant LCMC instead of LCMS in your last sentence.

        • Correct! Lutherans are too in love with acronyms!

          • Can you translate that for those who don’t know what yo are saying? I wasn’t taught this in the mega fundgelical church….

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Lutherans are too in love with acronyms!

            You’ve never had to read Microsoft documentation, have you? They’ve exhausted all possible three-letter combinations!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            P.S. Does anyone else pronounce “LCMC” as “Lick Mick”?

            (Still more pronounceable than “GLBT” or “GBLT” or “GLBTQ”…)

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I would add that I’m not sure the LCMC is in it for the long haul. It was essentially created as a haven for Lutheran congregations leaving the ELCA, and this in turn was largely because ELCA rules require that an exiting congregation go to some established Lutheran church body. There is nothing stopping a church from then leaving the LCMC, and it isn’t at all clear to me that the LCMC is really a coherent body. All this really means is that LCMC congregations agree that they don’t like the ELCA. We can generally assume that the gay thing is part of this, but this isn’t a much to establish a permanent church body. In practice these congregations can run from very traditional Lutheranism to this place: http://www.joyonline.org/, which has only the thinnest thread of Lutheranism.

          I strongly suspect that the LCMC will either be gone in ten years, or will be a small body with a very different mix of congregations in it than it does today.

          • I’m part of a group that left an ELCA church and formed a new LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) congregation a little over a year ago……I don’t think we are as flakey as that. It is different greatly from the ELCA in hierarchy—-there are no bishops (no magisterium) and very few workers in the national office. So there is more room for variations from church to church.
            NALC has chosen to structure more like the familiar way the ELCA is, although their belief statements are in line with LCMC. bz, I think you got the spectrum about right.
            We’ve had both LCMS (more conservative than us) and Evangelicals join us, and it has been a very good exercise to include all, but to explain what the LCMC is and stick to it.
            Just because we are a different expression doesn’t make us fly-by-night.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Fly by night isn’t how I would put it. I am personally sympathetic to the LCMC. I am not a fan of church hierarchy, especially in the bloated form the ELCA has, and I firmly believe that a congregation generally has the right to leave a church body if it so chooses. (The exception would be if it is financially tied to the church body, such as a mission church often is.) I also recognize that ELCA congregations looking to leave, and looking for some place to go, don’t find the choices tempting: hence the formation of the LCMC.

            On the other hand, in the vast majority of cases the reason for leaving the ELCA was the gay issue. Yet no church is forced to call a gay clergyman, any more than any has ever been forced to call a woman. So the issue isn’t that they would be forced to do anything they didn’t want to do. It is that they are unwilling to be in a church body where other churches are doing these things. In other words, the problem is not that the ELCA doesn’t offer a big tent. It is who these churches are willing to accept as tent-mates.

            If these formed a single coherent faction within the ELCA, splitting off en masse, then I would expect the new church body to be stable, though unlikely to have much growth potential. But that’s not what I am seeing here. I see a very disparate group with two things in common: disagreement with the ELCA on gays, and unwillingness to coexist with churches they disagree with, at least on this issue. The first seems a weak tie to hold them together, and the second suggests the potential for finding other matters to disagree with. Take at look at that link I provided earlier: http://www.joyonline.org/, and see if you think they are a good fit.

    • Steve,

      Do you see a problem with the fact that you love to say “I’m a Lutheran,” with 1 Cor. 3, where one says “I follow Apollos; and another, I follow Paul.” I once asked this of a Calvinist friend who proudly displayed a banner on his blog that said “I’m a Calvinist!”

      Do you think Luther would be happy that people were calling themselves Lutheran?

      I intend these questions honestly.

      • Josh in FW says:

        What about “I follow the Bishop of Rome”?
        [pls read with playful sarcasm]

        • Hi Josh,

          Hahah! Yes, though we don’t call ourselves Petrines. The overt self-identification with one particular Christian–and, it should be said, one whom no one considers protected by God from error–seems particularly objectionable.

      • Lutherans didn’t choose the name Lutheran, in fact, Luther rejected the label. We’d prefer to be called Evangelical Christians, but that label has been corrupted too.

  4. I say young earth and no women’s ordination are easier to put up with than theological liberalism. I don’t know if thinking people can ever find a denomination where they completely agree with everything it says. We have to make concessions in terms of priorities. Creationism is at the bottom of my dogmatic totem pole. Scriptural authority, however, is near the top. You don’t have to preach 7 day creationism in order to be in the LCMS: You could always just avoid the topic, right?

    • Miguel, I’d be in trouble day one.

    • “Creationism is at the bottom of my dogmatic totem pole.”

      You really haven’t seen how Ken Ham has affected this issue. Many (most in some areas?) churches have picked up his theme that if you don’t agree with 7 literal days then you really might not be a Christian and can’t be trusted to be around the real folks or you might spread your contagion.

      • Right. It’s not just a preference in a manner of looking at Genesis; it’s become a frame of mind, a hermeneutic for interpreting the entire bible, and with that comes so many pre-conceived and uncompromising ideas. Ken Ham has forced the issue, but it started well before him.

      • I’m just not seeing Ham as a really influential mover in the LCMS. I understand his influence, but conservative Evangelical Lutherans are either to pre-occupied with the Book of Concord or the Purpose Driven Life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And so Christ gets thrown under the Young Earth Creationism bus — again!

  5. I have many friends in the LCMS. But I could never go there after having been taught and lived a Christ ALONE faith. Inerrant Bibles. No women pastors. Closed communion. 3rd use of the law.

    Sure they know what the gospel is (better than most).

    But they throw too many fences up around it for my liking.

    • Well, ELCA has a flip side to all your objections the the LCMS: Unauthoritative Bibles, openly gay pastors and accepting of non-Lutheran ordination, no practical theology of communion (at least, if they can share with the UCC), and open refutation of God’s law.

      LCMS churches are not REQUIRED to teach the 3rd use of the law. In fact, many of us openly challenge it. Closed communion is also not a requirement. Biblical inerrancy is rarely discussed: The Augsburg Confession sufficiently upholds the authority of Scripture, therefore we don’t necessarily need to quibble over the finer details about the accuracy of its transmission. We don’t ordain women pastor, but we do ordain women deacons, recognizing their place in the work and ministry of the church. In other words, we’re not necessarily hard right complimentarians.

      You’re right about having lots of fences. It is sort of reactionary to those who would have none. The ELCA has no problem removing the fence called “orthodoxy.” I would have less fences in our group, but if you know a little about the history of our group, we prefer to err to the right as a defense against open leftism.

      • The Bible is authoritative because of the Word…and nothing else.

        I have hung out with my LCMS pastor friends and lay people, and they are great. Except for their Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word, and there I draw the line.

        I love the freedom in a centerist Lutheran tradition and right now it looks like (with their faults) the LCMC is the best thing going for our congregation. But we still have much discussion and a vote or two to take and that may take us a while.

        • As the LCMS is separating itself entirely from the ELCA in cooperating in external matters, hopefully we can work with LCMS and NALC churches to pick up the slack on care ministries. We are in talks with the Anglicans on these issues.

          Actually, President Harrison’s recent remarks at the dialogue are a pretty good introduction to the current state of the LCMS:

          http://www.wmltblog.org/2011/10/president-harrisons-open-forum-for-the-anca-lcms-dialogue/

        • Steve,

          Where in this logic do you disagree:

          The Bible is God-breathed. God cannot lie. Therefore the Bible is inerrant.

          ?

          • Josh in FW says:

            Personally, I’m willing to accept the definition of inerrancy meaning that the Scriptures in their original manuscripts are without error. Of course, that leaves 3 major issues. 1) the fallibility of man’s interpretation of scripture, 2) we don’t have a complete collection of original manuscripts, and somehow we (Christians) had to decide what was and was not scripture. These issues seem to necessitate referencing Tradition up to a point. Now I’m stuck trying to decide which Tradition to follow: Antioch, Rome, Canterbury, Wittenburg, Geneva, or Dallas (DTS). At least I’ve narrowed down my options. :-)

      • Believe me. I am no fan of the ELCA. We have had virtually nothing to do with them for a decade.

        • Can a dear Luthern PLEASE explain (A) the acroymns and (B) what the differences are?

          • Pattie,

            This is quick and very basic because I have to go out. I’m sure others will have better explanations.

            ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The largest Lutheran denomination and very liberal…ordaining openly gay clergy and supporting left wing politics (oftentimes at the expense of the gospel). Has moved towards an Episcopal understanding of ordination. (pastors must be ordained in historic succession) Yuk. (my commentary)

            LCMS- The second largest Lutheran denom. Pretty conservative. No ordaing of women. Believe in an inerrant text of Scriptue.

            WELS – Wiconsin Synod A conservative Lutheran denomination (I don’t know very much about their particulars)

            Lutheran Brethren – Another, more conservative Lutheran denomination (not familiar with particulars)

            LCMC – Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ A more centerist Lutheran denomination. More congregational. No bishops. Ordain women. No openly gay clergy.

            NALC – North American Lutheran Church – More centerist. No openly gay clergy. Has bishops.

            That’s a quickie view from my perspective.

          • I tried posting one, but lost to the interwebs.

            Here’s a good list: http://www.pastorzip.org/uslutheranlinx.html

      • 3rd use of the law is confessional, but its misunderstood because Calvinists screwed it up. It exists as a fact because redeemed Christians use it in determining how to live. Third use is simply a map. Third Use is not a motivator like Calvinists use it. THe only motivator for good works for Lutherans is Christ’s suffering and death, the Gospel.

        Also, the LCMS’s non-ordination of women is not a statement about society or social issues; it reflects Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. It’s a loaded topic, but it’s exaclty the metaphor Paul uses in Ephesians 5 AND it teaches justification by faith alone. Christ is the “boss” of the church just like the husband is the “boss” of the house: they sacrifice everything, even their life, to protect it. The husband labors to give everything the wife needs to live for love for her (not merit!), just as Christ labored for the church on the cross. Women faithfully receive good things from her husband, as the church should receive grace and forgiveness from Christ and avoids seeking them elsewhere. In church, women as hearers of the pastor reflect that relationship that the male has the role of giving in love and the woman the role of faitfhully receiving.

      • You know, Miguel, the “liberalism” aspect varies greatly in different parts of the country. The primacy of the local congregation keeps many churches pretty conservative, at least in the Midwest. Like Steve said about his church, many congregations just don’t have a lot to do with the denominational level.

      • David Cornwell says:

        ” Unauthoritative Bibles, openly gay pastors and accepting of non-Lutheran ordination, no practical theology of communion (at least, if they can share with the UCC), and open refutation of God’s law.”

        Wow, broad brush! I really don’t understand the term “unauthoritative Bibles” at all. Does that mean it isn’t the the KJV? Or does it mean that the bible is authoritative in theory only for evangelicals of every stripe? The proliferation of denominations and practices and teachers seems to make it clear that “authoritative bible” is rallying point that means very little in actual practice. The real authority seems to lie in whatever teacher or denominational leader is doing the interpreting.

        One of the problems with evangelicals has been its biblicism. Although I haven’t read it yet, Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, has written a book entitled “The Bible Made Impossible” in which he makes the argument that evangelicals need to move away from biblicism to a wider horizon grounded in Christology. A review of this book can be found at patrolmag.com.

        • We reviewed that here too, David.

          • David Cornwell says:

            I must have missed it somehow. Thanks.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Actually I didn’t miss it at all because I had a couple of comments on that post. Wait till you’re my age and you might forget what you wrote yesterday!

        • This is not an issue of Biblical interpretation. Many liberal theologians don’t bother finding their views in Scripture with hermeneutical gymnastics. They simply agree that conservatives have interpreted Paul correctly, but Paul’s opinion is in no way binding upon them. I do not mean that if you interpret differently than me, than you’re a fake. It’s just some hard lefties just plain don’t care what the text says. Its only a suggestion to them.

      • “Unauthoritative Bibles”

        Please expound on this. With some example.

        • As above, liberal theologians do not always agree that scripture is authoritative. They feel free to simply disagree with it instead of finding their views in it. If something in Galatians doesn’t suit their fancy, well then, that’s just Paul’s opinion.

          • But which bible translations are unauthoritative?

          • I never mentioned translations. I was talking about the fact that while conservatives harp on inerrancy, liberals throw out Biblical authority altogether, regardless of which version they are using. I’m not a translation nazi. My preference is NRSV.

    • Steve, sounds like we are in a similar place.

      • I think so, Chaplain Mike.

        We had a very nice gentleman, Barry Anderson (who happens to be on the Minnesota Supreme Court, and also a Lutheran layman) come and speak to us here in So. Cal., about LCMC and the differences between them and NALC. Interesting talk. I’ll try and post it on my blog in day or two in case anyone might be interested.

  6. Chaplain Mike,

    I’m happy whenever somebody embraces justification by faith alone and recognizes as true the Lutheran claim that its related doctrines of christian freedom, Christian vocation, two kingdoms, real presence, salvation through baptism, etc. are the correct teachings of Christ through the Apostles in Scripture, and true heirs of the church fathers Augustine, Chrysostom, etc.

    But the ELCA is so full of abuses that can easily destroy or prevent true faith, like denying Christ’s virgin birth or resurrection or miracles, wholesale abandonment of Christian sexuality, embrace of everything worldly; and explicit confusion of the Gospel for liberal political goals. These are all evils that lead to false security or despair. Further, the many abuses that exist in the ELCA are easily used by Catholics and Orthodox to discredit the Gospel and the Reformation, or by Evangelicals to discredit the Gospel as contained in the sacraments and liturgy.

    Have you looked into the LCMC, NALC, or AFLC? While I think they still get a lot of things wrong, you are much less likely to find extreme abuses that are permitted in the ELCA in those synods, and they don’t have the issues that you can’t agree with the LCMS about. (Though I think the issues you have with the LCMS are issues tainted by Evangelicals, and Lutherans understanding of creationism, inerrancy, etc. are different and much less important).

    • bz, I hear you. But you know, I had a discussion with my brother in law recently. He is choirmaster in an Episcopal church. I was asking him about some of the schism in that group, and he put it very wisely, I think, when he talked about taking the long view with regard to some of these immediate conflicts. All traditions have been through periods of doctrinal inaccuracy, moral lapses, unfaithful leadership, and so on. It takes a great deal of wisdom to know when to weather the storm and remain faithful and when the ship is actually lost. That’s why I think faithfulness to the tradition rather than the denomination is more foundational. That can see us through turbulent times and enable us to maintain our testimony to Christ and the things that matter most while others are screaming at each other and either focusing on silly issues or wasting energy splitting off and starting new endeavors.

  7. Chaplain Mike, I too say ““I’m a Christian, and I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition.”” I have hesitated to making a fuller commitment, needing fuller agreement from my spouse.

    As a former Baptist, one tradition of the ELCA congregation I currently attend is the modified congregational nature of church governance. At least in this church, this tradition of leadership sharing between church council, the congregation, and the pastor is extremely refreshing to me.

    Honestly, I don’t agree with every decision in every church in the ELCA or at the denominational level, but I don’t agree with every decision in any other tradition either.

    I rest in communion with my local congregation.

  8. I find this part interesting: Unless a church’s leaders are democratically elected by the congregation at large, I find quite often that what the leaders believe, and what the congregants believe, are two different things. Sometimes the laity is more conservative; sometimes the clergy. But rarely can I say that I know what a church believes simply by reading its statement of faith. Because the church isn’t solely the leadership.

    Of course, when the laity determines the faith statement, at that point I don’t necessarily know what the leaders believe either. They conform for the sake of their position, but what they personally might believe tends to likewise vary from the faith statement. (Or so I kept discovering in my youth pastors.)

    In any case, saying that you identify with a tradition, rather than a denomination or a faith statement, seems a lot more honest than saying, “I’m from this denomination” or “I’m of that church.” It’s not a fully-definable label, but unless we’re talking a second-year theology student who doesn’t yet know what parts to question, since when do people neatly fit into fully-definable labels?

    • As for faith statements, we’ve found in the last year of looking for a pastor, that the same terms and phrases can mean greatly different things to different people!

  9. As far as ordaining women to be pastors, or not, we believe it is a ‘gifts’ issue. And we also believe that in Christ there’s no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek.

    And I do believe that there is something in LCMS founding documents about the Bible beling innerant in it’s text and that that is official doctrine. Although, I could be wrong.

  10. So I have this recurring “nightmare” in which before all is said and done I am being dragged, kicking, screaming and protesting from my conservative evangelicalism into the Luthern tradition….. (sigh…)

    • LOL :D

      It’s not so bad. In fact…it’s great! Freedom! Real freedom if you don’t let them get you bogged down in any add-on’s to Christ.

    • That is the only way Lutherans will accept you into the church. Nobody would ever “make a decision” to be Lutheran, or walk into a Lutheran church “by their own works or merits.”

  11. Denominational affiliation is not only, or even primarily, about belief. It is about identity. That’s why people naturally gravitate to the larger ones (because smaller identity groups offer fewer social advantages) and older traditions (because these tend to be more reliable, and are also associated with larger groups). And that’s why you place so much emphasis on having a convenient denominational label, so you can say “I am a _______”

    To paraphrase (and riff on) the article, don’t ever let someone tell you, “This is what Christians believe,” and take that as a statement of what ALL Christians believe. What you see as streams of historic Christianity, are not so cohesive as you suppose. Most Catholic and Orthodox theologians would say that Protestants have departed from their ancient sources by placing themselves beyond the authority of bishops, for example. Of course you don’t think that matters (or else redefine the office of “bishops”), but then how can you turn around and insist on the creeds or the biblical canon (none of which came from Jesus)?

    • All questions have not been answered, Blake.

      I accept the Creeds and the Biblical canon because I believe the church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1Tim 3:15).

  12. Sheesh. If Jeff’s last post stuck a knife in my chest, this post is twisting it deeper still!

    #strugglingwithauthority&tradition&ministry

    • Sean, I was hoping it might provide some guidance for you. The bottom line is: I think it is vital to align oneself with a tradition. In my view, that makes things much simpler.

      1. Align with a pre-denominational tradition: Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy
      2. Align with a Reformation tradition: Lutheran, Reformed, or Anabaptist.
      3. Align with a Revivalist tradition.

      What I have decided for myself is: (1) I will not align with a Revivalist tradition because in my view they have separated themselves from the historic traditions (1 & 2); and (2) I view myself as a Reformation Christian and find Lutheranism most compatible with my beliefs and with the practices I deem important.

      • Well, those categories definitely help make the map more navigable, so thank you indeed for that.

        You know what’s crazy though? Your last sentence. Because it really is up to our choices at the end of the day, isn’t it? And I will have to choose daily to follow Jesus, no matter which stream I end up in.

        • “I will have to choose daily to follow Jesus, no matter which stream I end up in.”

          True for us all Sean! Well said!

        • Sean,

          Not to plug my book, but allow me to plug my book by recommending it to you.

          We have all discovered Jesus, thanks be to God, and so we want to follow Him. But what if the Church He founded is discoverable as well? What if He continued to guide her through history, protecting her doctrines from error, so that all men could know the truth?

          Just as you would not be afraid of being limited or having your freedom confined in choosing to follow Jesus (knowing that He knows what is best for you), so in discovering His Church, you would not be confined. Just some thoughts to consider.

          • Devin,

            If the one Church (as you describe it) exists, it is most likely the Orthodox Church. Rome split off from the majority of Christianity in a power-hungry move to make Rome the most important wing of Christendom.

            So with your logic, Christ guided the Catholic church into all of its gross injustices and murders in the name of God? Did Christ guide all those priests to molest little boys? Did Christ guide the pope to cover that up?

  13. CM…

    I’m glad things are moving for you. I have no idea where I am or will end up. But I’m glad you seem to be finding your way.

    • Eagle, You may have no idea where you are but Jesus knows exactly where you are and He is right there with you every step of the way with all the Love His Heart holds for you.

  14. We have sure made things complicated. I totally agree with the post and, too, wasted a number of years in the Evangelical Free Church and different baptists churches. How I wish I had found a liturgical church early in my life and stuck with it.

    I have found a “home” in an Evangelical Covenant Church. Like their emphasis on pietism and that whole, unified mission of the church without trying to prioritize evangelism and service ministries. Also find their full acceptance of women in ministry and avoidance of inerrancy refreshing.

    I know its not perfect, but it feels like home.

  15. Those of you who read the comments regularly here may know that I call myself “not a very good Catholic.” I know for many Catholics, with that statement I am saying “I am not a Catholic.” But I hope they are incorrect. I was raised Catholic and I learned to love Jesus to the extent that I know and understand Him. I love the Mass, the prayers, the saints, the Bible, the music, the Church calendar, and so much more within the Catholic church. When I have attended other churches, there is much that I appreciated about them, but I always felt something missing.

    All that said…can’t I still be Catholic and do what Jack Heron said above, thinking that the Catholic church may be making sone mistakes on some issues? Surely we Catholics do not think that throughout history, the Catholic church has always done everything correctly. If the Church got “things” wrong sometimes, couldn’t that still happen? The Church is made up of people and so far, I have seen no perfect people. Imperfect people make mistakes. It’s that simple. And believe me, I do not think I am smarter than the bishops of the Catholic church, but I understand that sometimes tradition, politics and other matters get in the way of making what may actually be the choices that are most Jesus-like..

    I think I will remain Catholic until and if they throw me out. But I hope that does not happen!

    • Margaret Catherine says:

      Joanie- Good Catholic or bad Catholic, you’re an honest Catholic. We could use more in that category too.

    • Glenn A Bolas says:

      I think there’s a difference between believing that the Church has dropped the ball on certain things at different points in its history (up to and including the present) and believing that it has taught fundamental errors authoritatively that have compromised the Faith. The more I read about the history of the Church here in China, for example, the more I believe that the Church’s demand back in the eighteenth century that all Chinese converts renounce devotion to their ancestors and stop celebrating Qingming was a catastrophic mistake borne from wilful cultural ignorance. On the other hand, I would never have become Catholic at all if I hadn’t first satisfied myself that the Church’s claim that the Spirit has protected it from distorting or undermining the Gospel were legitimate. Infallibility of the Church, unfortunately, does not exclude stupidity of the Church (or tactlessness, prejudice, bad management and any number of other things of which it and, let’s be honest, we its members too, are guilty).

    • On the Catholic discussion, I think I have no right to jump in, since I am not Catholic. But from an outsider perspective, I find the position you take on dissent/diversity within Catholicism to be a little puzzling. I understand that there is official teaching, that is defined with extreme specificity, and that the Pope and bishops have the authority to interpret tradition and define current teaching. It is one of your strengths — I think it makes you unable to deal with certain kinds of short-term problems, but it is a definite strength.

      And yet, Catholicism has always defined itself as wide tradition that included those things believed everywhere & by all, something above evangelical bickering — you Christianized Europe by baptizing entire tribes and worrying more about their practices than in making theological doctors of them — and your tradition is built partly out of the dissent of theologians and saints in the past, some of whom were censored or who might, with a few misteps or a different birthdate, could have excommunicated or killed. So, obviously the tradition and its formation involves some faithful contention. This is why I am not surprised to see authority treated so earnestly (esp by bishops, as that is their job), but I am surprised to see statements that imply a censored theologian or dissident layperson who nonetheless keeps showing up to mass their whole lives in somehow not a Catholic.

      I am likewise puzzled by the idea that Hans Kung or a practicing homosexual Catholic who doesn’t bail on the church are “not Catholic.” I understand completely that judgment that they are not heterodox according to current teaching, or that they are raising disciplinary questions. Of course they are. But they not only emerged from the tradition, they are also staying, despite how uncomfortable it is. (I mean, seriously: is there anything more Catholic than being a gay man who refuses to leave the church?) In some cases, their heterodox ideas or their dissent expresses their catholic beliefs (albeit interpreted in a way you don’t like). I am reminded, in other words, of a couple of posts in response an article about the German theologians who recently served a list of concerns to the Pope:

      Poster 1: Why don’t they just join the Church of England!
      Poster 2: Probably because they are German Catholics?

      Anyway, as I said, I speak as an outsider. But if I ever do convert, it will be because people like Joanie are in the church.

      • BTW— by the “position you take,” I do not mean Joanie, but the discussion higher up. I moved the post when I realized that the discussion was continuing further down the page. But I didn’t edit…. :p

      • Kung is a Catholic and a priest. Some people think he’s not a very good Catholic–but the Church still claims him. From my experience the Church is very reluctant to kick someone out. A theologican might get questioned and challenged–but it’s very rare to get kicked out.

        • Thanks for your responses, Margaret Catherine, Glenn, Danielle and Rick. I appreciate them.

      • Danielle-

        Briefly to reply on the issue of how someone can still claim allegiance to a Church, and be considered not apart of it.

        There are such things as automatic excommunications. Depending on an action performed, or a teaching espoused, a person can by virtue of such actions and/or teachings automatically incur excommunication upon themselves. This does not mean they are “out of the Church” per se- rather, they are barred from receiving Sacraments, and must be reconciled by a Bishop.

        In certain cases (depending upon the gravity of the action/teaching), a person can throw their self out of the Church. To use an example, Arius- he was a priest who taught that Christ was not fully God. This teaching was heresy, and he thus was considered outside the Church. When brought to the Council, he refused to recant; at this point, he was declared anathema. When *that* happens, a person is more-or-less thrown out of the Church, and they are considered as among those who are unbelievers.

        I hope that all made sense, and helped.

  16. I don’t know if it has been done or not, but it might be interesting to do something along the lines of people posting some of their beliefs, inparticular the ones that they think bar them from fitting in to an official denom or tradition, and see if the other readers can help find them a home.

    • You mean like the Belief-o-matic from beliefnet.com?

      • If I remember correctly Belief-O-Matic thinks I am either Quaker, Orthodox, Catholic! In that order. Then it guesses mainline Protestant. The combination is funny, but it probably does detect undercurrents in my thoughts.

  17. Mike, while you were gone Martha wrote a post “Top Ten Things People Hate About the Catholic Church” and I mentioned closed communion as one of my peeves.
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/top-ten-things-people-hate-about-the-catholic-church/comment-page-1#comment-611336

    In a followup comment below it I recalled your saying that closed communion would be a deal-breaker to your joining the LCMS, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Was I correct? Here you’ve mentioned 6-day creation as one of your peeves. Any comment on communion?

    Still waiting for Martha to write an article on transubstantiation.

  18. Mike, thanks for this post. I have been wrestling with very similar issues all this last month. It is interesting to see where you have been coming down. I am not too sure yet, but I am increasingly seeing the wisdom in settling one’s self into a broad tradition and setting out to have a lively, productive, faithful dialog within it. When we back up beyond the pet debates of any moment, the broader sweep of the richer and longer traditions is really striking. It is humbling too: to realize how many people have shaped it, and how one’s own efforts are drop in the bucket. The church is the faithful multitudes, not me, specifically.

    I do have a passion for nailing everything down and getting everything “right,” but it also seems that in churches in which dotting every i and t is important, there is a huge rush to focus on whatever one issue is a point of disagreement between person A and person B. Difference is threatening. It has to be dealt with. *Some* differences are of course vastly important, but this kind of constant anxiety and policing can distract immensely from the real question: what are fundamental ideas we share, the ideas that define Christianity and our tradition? How can we live them? How can we discuss them as spiritual siblings? How can we wait in hope on God and how can we become more like Christ? There is room for debate here, but not for fear.

  19. Let me get this straight…you cannot belong to one denomination in good conscience because they uphold a biblical account of creation? However, you can belong to another denomination in good conscience even though they ordain homosexual clergy and are pro-abortion? I see. I will no longer be reading anything you write, as you are extremely confused about what is important to God.

    • You misunderstand, Yolanda. I could easily belong to an LCMS congregation as a member. The rub comes when I consider the possibility of vocational ministry within such a denomination. Ordination requirements are stricter than membership requirements. If I were ever to be a pastor in an LCMS church, my ability to teach the Bible and accept everyone at the Lord’s Table would be constrained by the official interpretations of the denomination. That would not be a fit.

      And I want to stress again, when you say “they” ordain homosexual clergy and are pro-abortion, you are now painting with too broad a brush when speaking about a denomination that itself includes a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices. The churches where I am are very conservative.

      And by the way, even the official ELCA social statement on abortion is not “pro-choice.” It is probably nuanced enough that it offends both sides in the debate.

      • Even the conservative LCMS generally avoids getting involved in political fights over abortion or gay marriage. It will tell a person who performs or has an abortion they need forgiveness, but it won’t say, vote for politician X because he’s pro-life (even though 80% of LCMS is very republican). Heck, it’s a constant fight between pastors and congregations to get the flag away from the altar.

        Scripture is pretty clear that the church’s role is to preach the Gospel, and not get involved in politics. Luther gets credit for it in the two kingdoms doctrine (which he had a lot of trouble actually following!), but it’s sad that two kingdoms is seen as a Lutheran doctrine and not the universal position of all Christians.

    • textjunkie says:

      Your loss, Yolanda. Chaplain Mike is a deep man with a heart that yearns for God.

    • “uphold a biblical account of creation?”

      Many of us feel such a statement as this is a misreading of Genesis.

      But many of us around here (as best I can tell) also feel it is Hok for someone to have this understanding as long as they don’t make it a requirement for church membership / communion / being a Christian / whatever.

  20. textjunkie says:

    This is fun reading through your thoughts on this, CM. :) I think I’m with you on all your bolded statements–though I’m in that horribly apostate Episcopal church (tongue firmly in cheek), which thinks of ELCA as just a little too conservative for comfort. ;) Which is odd, because I was raised firmly fundamentalist (before that became a bad word), though not of the purity sects (I was allowed to drink alcohol and coffee, read fiction and dance, for example). If we’re going to err anyway, err on the side of compassion…

  21. Chaplin Mike ~ you have probably shared your story before here on IMonk but I would be interested to learn how you became acquainted with Mike Spencer. Also, did you have a chance to visit with Denise while you were away and if yes, how is she doing?

    Thanks.

  22. Josh in FW says:

    Thank you for providing the 3 categories (Historic, Historic Reformed, and Revivalist). Your categorization is helpfull for me as I try to navigate the many issues of ecclesiology.

  23. I too say ““I’m a Christian, and I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition.”” My LCMS congregation is such a loving, welcoming church, but it stands on very solid, Biblical tradition that gives real guidance through the generations. Grace is is preached. We tend to have a lot of fun serving our neighbors. God is good.

  24. Lot’s of great comments on this thread and many have mentioned “freedom” (including myself).

    This is well worth a bit of time and everyone can benefit, even if they do agree with all that is said here. But it is all about Christian liberty:

    http://lcmarchives.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/martin-luthers-treatise-on-christian-liberty-2/

    Enjoy.

  25. I meant to say, ‘even if they do NOT agree with all that is said…

  26. One more Mike says:

    On the occasions I attend church, I go to a small, probably conservative (but I don’t hang around enough to find out), ELCA congregation. I go because of open communion, beautiful liturgy, and no one asks me what I do for a living. Any church that openly accepts gay and women clergy is a brave group in these days when American christendom is increasing conservative, exclusive and unloving. I don’t know how the people in this particular ELCA church feel about the issues dividing the ELCA, and I don’t care as long as they don’t screw with me. It’s kind of sad that the reason for going to a church is because they don’t screw with you, but that’s where we are in “Christian America”.

  27. Chaplain Mike, what do you think of churches(independent or not) that have been influenced by Robert Webber and are trying to intentionally become more “ancient future” in practice. How would you place them within the three streams that you talk about?

    Thanks!