Few times in life have I found myself completely at a loss for words to adequately describe an event and recapture it for the reader or hearer. No “words” can capture the happenings of the weekend of Nov. 16-17 with the first meeting of the Theological Advisory Board of the WordAlone Network and the subsequent conference entitled, “The Reformation at the Crossroads.”
With no preconceived notion of what was to be accomplished in their first meeting of the minds nor a set agenda or process, they proceeded as a global fellowship of Lutheran Christian theologians who shared a common confession and were willing and able to proclaim it together. There seemed to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that each had been individually called by God to a corporate task of confessing the faith in these uncertain times.
Each engaged in the discussion and debate and offered his or her own gifts and specific areas of expertise that resulted in the writing of the “Admonition for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church.” It was the offering of this work to the people gathered for the conference that will stand as a moment of primacy for all of my days and certainly marked history in the making.
With the members of the theological board standing behind him, Dr. Steven Paulson read the admonition in front of the large gathering. There was complete silence in the hall as all listened intently. Then came the final words “ . . . already paves the way to idolatry.” At its conclusion, this forceful document elicited a spontaneous standing ovation and many tears.
These happenings witness to the fact that no amount of political maneuvering, no anticipation of others’ intentions or any smooth moves will bring any resolution to our current situation. They resonate with the fact that it will be the pure proclamation and confession of the faith that will ground us in our Lutheranism. We in the ELCA find ourselves at the “Crossroads of the reformation,” which looks a lot like a dangerous intersection. We have put ourselves smack-dab in the middle of it.
Our Lutheran neighbors across the globe now are becoming aware of the position in which the ELCA placed itself with the passage of Called to Common Mission, (CCM) the full communion agreement with The Episcopal Church USA. The international Lutherans witness to the vast differences between CCM and the other ecumenical agreements such as The Meissen Declaration and The Porvoo Common Statement. These European ecumenical agreements with the Anglicans do not require ordination into an historic episcopate as does CCM.
Unlike them, CCM mandates the historic episcopacy, a human institution, and thus creates another necessity for the unity of the church over and above the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. This is a fundamental contradiction of the common confession that all Lutheran churches have made. This is a matter of international concern especially as ecumenical discussions and agreements continue across the globe.
Many outside WordAlone believe this whole thing is over or should be. For the sake of peace and unity, they say, we should just let this one go. One group of pastors, in an effort to move on, even signed a letter in opposition to the work of the Network and included the following paragraph:
Now that the ecumenical decisions have been adopted by the ELCA, we feel that the church has spoken and feel called to move to other important mission challenges. All of us are concerned to emphasize within our congregations all those ministries that build up the body of Christ. Now that the ecumenical decisions have been adopted, we feel that it is important to live fully in those decisions. This is not to say that everything spoken and done by the church is to be accepted without reflection and evaluation. It is to say that the church has undergone a long process that has resulted in decisions. We feel it is important to live with those decisions at this time while we explore the other mission challenges.
To live with “one” decision, made by “one” assembly that took “one” Lutheran Church (ELCA) out of line with all of our other Lutheran neighbors and which threatens our other relationships with other Protestant churches is neither safe nor wise. At this critical time in history we are to be reminded by this paraphrase of Luther: unless we are instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—with consciences captive to the Word of God—then we cannot and will not recant (or move on), because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience Luther spoke these words almost 500 years ago in the face of a church leadership that placed politics above proclamation, structure above scripture and words above the Word. He stood smack-dab in the middle of an intersection depending only on the Word of God. There he stood, he could do no other . . . neither can we.
Prayerfully consider the “Admonition”, and I urge you to sign it and share it widely with your neighbors across the church.