Rev. Dr. Lothar Schwabe

24 January 2013


photo of Dr. SchwabeThe influence of the Christian church on our society has reached the level of insignificance. Those reading the Religion page of their local newspaper rarely read about any events in their own denomination. What church leaders have to say is simply irrelevant for the majority of our population.

The influence of the Christian church on our society has reached the level of insignificance. Those reading the Religion page of their local newspaper rarely read about any events in their own denomination. What church leaders have to say is simply irrelevant for the majority of our population.

  • the gender issue,
  • a lack of commitment to mission,
  • dwindling memberships,
  • our grandchildren staying away from worship services,
  • shrinking financial support.

Now another crisis is looming in Christianity that is far more divisive than the gender issue that severely strained the relations of Christian churches. “Progressive Christianity” is on the rise. Progressive Christianity is a movement that denies the doctrine of original sin and that Jesus died for our sins. Rather than presenting Jesus as the Saviour who died for our sins this movement presents Jesus only as a role model for Christians, as one who stood up for justice and cared for the poor. The Jesus of Progressive Christianity is not the only way to God but one of many ways.

The rise of Progressive Christianity is challenging the core beliefs of faithful Christians, including Lutherans. Progressive Christianity appeals to some because of its emphasis on reason and social action.

While in its teachings denying the validity of Article II of the constitution of the ELCIC Progressive Christianity is making inroads in the ELCIC. It is being advertized on the website of an ELCIC congregation which advertizes itself as a Progressive Christian Community.

Some readers may respond that only a few pastors of the ELCIC have turned away from our confessional faith as articulated in our constitutions. There may also be an additional group of pastors who privately sympathize with the teachings of Progressive Christianity because in their seminary studies they were already exposed to theologians who stated Jesus did not intend to save us from our sins. Still the majority of ELCIC pastors will currently preach and teach in accordance with our Lutheran Confessions. So, why should I be so concerned now?

What happens in a human body if there are only a few cancerous cells and the immune system tolerates them? Most human bodies contain cancerous cells. It only becomes dangerous if the immune system fails to deal with them. Social systems behave very much like organic systems. The evolution of a significant change always begins with a few who are committed to change. You can predict the future of an organization by how it reacts to such change agents. Toleration inevitably leads to acceptance.

Those who have studied the art of futuring know the importance of observing small trends and assessing their momentum. Progressive Christianity is gaining momentum.

Based upon current trends I predict that a significant theological paradigm shift is coming to the ELCIC and that such a shift will lead to another exodus of congregations and pastors. Many ELCIC pastors use the Living the Question DVD series as an instructional tool without objection by their bishops. This DVD series promotes a theology that denies the core values of our ecumenical creeds as imbedded in the constitution of the ELCIC.

There is nothing new about people who believe what is being taught by Progressive Christianity. What is new is that we have ELCIC bishops who tolerate such teachings. At least two bishops have been alerted to one of his pastors embracing the teachings of Progressive Christianity.

The Social Gospel and the Unitarian Church have been around for a long time. But, when we founded the ELCIC, we decided to be a confessional church and place Article II on the “Confession of Faith” in our constitution(s). If we tolerate the teachings of Progressive Christianity we will put an end to the confessions of our church. At this time the teachings of Progressive Christianity are tolerated in the ELCIC.

In my opinion it would not be sufficient to advise followers of Progressive Christianity in the ELCIC to tune it down a bit because the time is not yet ripe and it is not politically wise to introduce another controversy so soon after the gender issue. The ELCIC needs to be very clear on where it stands. Pointing to our constitution while not enforcing it will not do! It is also not sufficient to advice those concerned to contact Progressive Christianity pastors directly (Matthew 18) rather than bringing this issue to the attention of bishops. The critical issue is how our bishops as the defenders of the faith deal with such heresies.

The ELCIC has to decide if it is still a confessional church.

Epiphany 2013

Note: For an example of an ELCIC pastor preaching that Jesus did not die for our sins go to www.pastordawn.com, click on SERMONS, scroll down quite a bit to Good Friday, “Jesus did not die for our sins”. The audio begins with a hymn, just advance to hear the sermon.