Letter to my congregation—
on why I believe we should leave the ELCIC
Mark A. Chappell
January 10, 2012
Dear Family and Friends at Bethany Lutheran Church,
I would like to address the issues we are facing as a result of this past summer's National Convention. So let me just start with this, my family is no longer comfortable with the doctrinal direction and view of scripture that’s being presented by the ELCIC. We feel the leadership of this organization has compromised the authority of the scriptures. We feel that the ELCIC has strayed away from traditional Lutheranism and Orthodox Christianity. Rather then standing apart from the norms of society, it has embraced and is conforming itself to society. This we believe is a grave error.
This is Anita’s home church, she’s been here her whole life and it’s been my church for nearly 25 years. We were married here and our children were baptized here. Many of our friends and family are here. That makes this all the more difficult.
I was not raised as a Lutheran, but in the past few years I have been increasingly convinced that every true Christian is a Lutheran. The problem is that some people just don’t figure that out until they get to heaven. I think that might be part of the reason why eternity is so long… it’s just gonna take that long for God to straighten these other folks out. Now I say this jokingly but I say it because I am exceedingly impressed with the theology of the Lutheran Confessions.
We worship through Word and Sacrament. Luther tells us that God speaks to us in two words. First He gives us the Law to lay bare and humble the proud heart and then He speaks the soothing Gospel to revive that penitent heart. Christ and grace are given to us in confession and absolution. We have the water of Baptism and in it Christ and grace are given to us, we receive the bread and wine in Communion and with it Christ and grace are again given to us. How do we know this? Luther reminded us that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and Luther tells us we know this because God told us this in His Scriptures (Word) alone!
We cling to this faith. And what is faith? Faith is nothing more then believing in the promises that God has given us in His Word.
The fundamental problem we face today is not gay marriage and the ordination of homosexuals, the problem is the interpretation of scripture. We face the same argument that Luther faced at the time of the reformation, it’s the same argument the Apostle Paul faced when he traveled through the Greek cities and it’s the same argument Adam faced in the garden.
“Now the serpent was more crafty then any other beast of the field that the Lord had made, He said to the woman, Did God really say, "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Did God really say, "believe in Christ but be circumcised?" Did God really say, "you can make your own way to heaven by works and indulgences?" Did God really say, "therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh?"
Since the dawn of time the argument has never changed. The serpent has always asked “Did God really say...?” And every time his goal was to plant the seed of doubt, doubt that says the scriptures cannot be trusted. The ELCIC is of the opinion that their interpretation of scripture makes the adoption of its social statement on human sexuality and the motions for same-sex marriage and ordination of homosexuals perfectly acceptable. Many of us, on the other hand, feel that the ELCIC has ignored the clear teaching of scripture and in adopting these motions have, in fact, turned away from scripture and in doing are in violation of their own constitution. So we are at an impasse! I am fully prepared to say that I could be wrong, but until I’m convinced by scripture and sound reason, I cannot and I will not relent in my belief that the ELCIC is on a dangerous slippery slope. Regardless, my family is no longer comfortable with what we see happening in the ELCIC and we will leave the ELCIC.
Last year at our conference convention, Bishop Ron, talking about these issues, stated that if these motions were ratified at the national convention, the ELCIC would be a church in error. But, he also said that throughout the ages there has always been a measure of error within the church. I can accept that premise. No church is perfect. In his September Pastoral letter, he said that in July the ELCIC had changed forever. I agree, it has and that change, for many people, represents one change, one compromise with scripture, one shift in doctrine, that has just gone too far.
Bishop Ron asks us to take the local option. That we should declare our position and make it public, and hopefully have this done prior to being approached to perform a same-sex blessing, and that this preparatory action should be sufficient in law. Now, that is comforting, comforting to know that if we declare our position we should be safe from possible legal repercussions. That to me should be an enormous red flag that tells us to flee from this.
You will be told that these issues will not affect us here at Bethany. However, if we as a congregation stay in the ELCIC but take the position that we are not in favor of these motions we will in effect be a congregation in opposition to the doctrinal policy of our own national church. How can a church stand when it allows for two opposing views of doctrine? It can’t and by trying to do so it makes God a liar. There can be only one truth and to suggest otherwise is illogical and I think disingenuous. Before this summer’s convention, our council voted to oppose this doctrinal shift as we felt it was without scriptural or confessional support; the vote, I believe, was unanimous! If we now give in to the pressure tactics, capitulate and do nothing, we in effect say everything! We say it doesn’t matter! Doctrinal integrity, adherence to the authority of scriptures, it just doesn’t matter. If we just go along to get along, hiding behind the local option, we say, we have our own believes about this and we don’t care what the national church practices.
If we adopt this local option statement we will effectively endorse the National Church position. The local option does not even allow us at Bethany to say that marriage is a covenant ordained and sanctioned by God as a union only between one man and one woman. With this local option we are saying that marriage, as our “National” Church defines it, can be a union between two men or two women, but we just aren’t going to do that here. So with that we become hypocrites. We claim to hold to a certain standard here and turn a blind eye to what we actually regard as wrong elsewhere.
The Reverend Lothar Schwabe suggests that the "Strategists in our National Church seem to hope that traditional good Lutheran Theology is not a priority in many of our congregations and that our people are willing to change anything. A sociological analysis of our congregations may reveal that the true glue that holds many of our congregations together is not theological but sociological. Many of our members go to church to feel good. They are happy to see their friends on Sunday. Our members are not that interested in traditional Lutheran Theology as long as they have a pastor who has good social skills and is friendly. Most members would rather tolerate such a change toward a Revisionist Theology than cause their congregations to be upset." I'd like to prove the good Reverend wrong, prove that we do care about our Lutheran Theology and that we won't stand quietly by the wayside and watch it be twisted and perverted into something that it is not.
If we do nothing, then going forward every time our national church compromises the scriptures to appease and accommodate this or that interest group, the world out there laughs at us, not just at our national church, it laughs at us all. We are becoming just like the world, what is left that sets us apart from the world, are we now to just conform to the lowest common denominator of societal norms? The ELCIC has become an organization that seems more concerned with political correctness, being admired and accepted by the world then having the courage to confront the real issues.
A.W. Tozer spoke to this malady that has beset the modern church, he writes, “Religion today is not transforming people; but rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending down to society’s own level, and then congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender.”
The base problem is that the ELCIC does not treat scripture as the inspired Word of God, they might say they do, but in practice they do not. To them, it may contain the Word of God, but “you know” it is so full of errors and contradictions that it’s hard to know what to believe. This view of course leaves it open for attack from every front. They have taken the bible and looked into it, they’ve consulted, they’ve discussed its meanings. Then these learned Bishops and Councils have put it down, and placing themselves in authority over it they ask that age-old question that reaches all the way back to Genesis Chapter 3, when they ask, “Did God really say…”.
They have placed themselves and their agenda above scripture. This Revisionist Theology needs to be confronted and condemned and rejected. Four hundred and ninety four years ago, a German monk saw error being perpetrated on the church, and Martin Luther had the guts to stand up to that Bishop and his councils. If we wish to continue to call ourselves Lutherans we owe him the respect of defending both the church that bears his name and the Scriptures that he risked his very life defending. On this I challenge our Synod Bishop, our Pastor and the leadership of this congregation.
Martin Luther writing to a friend (Georg Major) said the following:
“Whoever regards his doctrine, faith, and confession as true and certain cannot stand in one stall with others who teach false doctrine or are agreeable to it, nor can he continue to speak sweet words to the devil and his followers. A teacher who is silent over against error and nevertheless pretends to be a true teacher is worse than an outspoken fanatic and by his hypocrisy does greater harm than a heretic, so that no one should put confidence in him….
Luther had great love for the Word of God, and in his commentary on Galatians he wrote this, “we should learn to regard the majesty and glory of the Word greatly and highly; for it is not so insignificant and trifling as the fanatics of our time think, but a single tittle [of it] is greater than heaven and earth. So here, we do not care anything for Christian unity and love, but we directly make use of the judgment seat, that is, we curse and condemn all those who pervert and corrupt the majesty of the Word even in the least; for a little leaven leavens the whole lump. [Gal. 6:9] But if they will let us have the Word wholly and unmutilated, then we will not only keep love and peace with them, but we offer ourselves gladly to be their servants and to do all they ask of us.”
Let us do as Martin Luther says, “Let love do what love is supposed to do, let love suffer, let love give, let love show charity even to your enemy, but, let faith stand firm and never back down even a tiny bit about doctrine, doctrine which is not ours but God’s which He gives to us by His Word.”
On these issues before us I hold to an opinion opposite to that of our Pastor and some of our council members; let me ask one thing of you. Don’t take my word on these issues and give the same cautionary care to the word of those who hold to the opposite opinion; we are human and prone to error. If you want the truth on these issues seek it where it can be found. Read your Bibles - search out where it speaks on the issues of marriage and sexuality. What does God say in His Word? Luther also dealt with a similar dilemma of interpretations. He suggested that when caught between two interpretations we should “grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned then you are. For you are to deal with scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you to wantonly turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.”
We have two options from which to choose, and then a second decision. First, are we as a congregation comfortable with the scriptural view being put forward by the ELCIC that would allow the church to bless same-sex marriage and for the ordination of homosexuals? If yes, then there is no problem, we stay, we don’t even need the local option and life proceeds. However, if we are not comfortable with this scriptural viewpoint, then we have a decision to make. Either we stay, take the local option, wait, and hope for the best, or we conclude that the ELCIC has broken from the traditional view of scripture at which point I think we need to seriously consider finding a church body that more accurately represents God’s presentation of the scriptures. In my view the ELCIC has already left us, we now need to find a church body that represents our faith accurately.
Thank you and may God guide us all as we make decisions on the future of our congregation,