Saturday, July 17, 2010
(To the Reader)
I admit that something just said "Enough already!" as I read Mark Hanson's (Presiding Bishop of the ELCA) release regarding the Gaza strip. This came only days after news that the Tanzanian, Ethiopian and Chinese church leaders would be engaging in ongoing, private conversation with him regarding their concerns with the ELCA's actions last August at the churchwide assembly. Bold public witness based on the Word of God and the historical, confessional Christian teachings were met with an invitation to continue to engage in deep conversation in private behind closed doors. Even if money on or under the table is not in this particular mix we all should be concerned that those leading vibrant, growing Lutheran churches across the globe are in danger of being indoctrinated by those bearing a false gospel.
Mission and support dollars are already being used to coerce the inclinations of member congregations. Such strong arm tactics seem to be in store for any who stand in opposition to the ELCA leaders. Once again, the clear Word to resist the tempting call of mammon that demands allegiance, loyalty and obedience to itself and not to our true God must be proclaimed.
None of us can serve two masters. Jesus warned us clearly about this in the gospels (Matthew 6; Luke 16). When a Christian fellowship morphs into a partnership, then to a business relationship, then to discussions regarding the things that make for institutional unity and peace, the alarm should sound.
The Tanzanian Lutherans are my family. They taught me how to be a pastor and they let me serve in a church, country and culture that not only "allows" for a Biblical worldview but lives it. That isn't the case because it is a "Christian nation," but because it is not. The Christian Lutherans in Tanzania received the Word of God in Jesus Christ from our missionaries. That Truth has given them life and salvation in Him alone and they are not ashamed of Him or His name.
Islam is all around them in addition to many other religions. Demon possession is a reality that no one tries to dismiss as impossible, pre-enlightened thought or mental illness. Spiritual warfare is real and engaged in appropriately by preaching, teaching and confessing Jesus as Lord over life and death, this world and the next, Crucified and Risen. They don't mess with the truth. We now are the ones sorely in need of such missionaries and evangelists in this emerging pagan land.
So "enough is enough" and the time to stand up according to the true Spirit of God as revealed in His Word is now. Your Heavenly Father has not given you a spirit of timidity. It is His temporal adversary who demands this type of silent, even cooperative, obedience. I share portions of an open letter Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, not in order to stir the pot (which would not necessarily be a bad thing in these apathetic days of conformity) but to give "some" of you hope, knowing others will enraged by my words.
There are those of you who have ears to hear the Truth of God's Word, eyes to see His creation through a Biblical worldview and a conscience truly captive to His Word not the sinful self. You, like a growing number of other Christians-some of them Lutheran-know what it means to be in this world but not of it. More than ever before, you don't seem to "fit." The post-modern understanding that there is no absolute truth outside of the self is not understandable to you. You struggle with yourself wondering if it is just you that thinks things have radically changed and not for the better. You may be among those who don't recognize the message of your "church" as anything like what you grew up with. You don't understand what happened to the basic fabric of society that seemed to be common sense and good order. You don't have any trust in your leaders in church and society. You wonder why nobody says or does anything to push the proverbial pendulum back at least for the sake of the children who must navigate themselves through all this relativity, plurality and uncertainty. To even note your concern out loud would make you some sort of negative, judgmental, fundamentalist, fanatic fuddy-duddy. You would be labeled a sexist, racist, hate filled, homophobic, name calling "Pharisee" or worse. You are left wondering why you, the one being called the names, the one being judged, the one being put down are accused of what you are experiencing at the hands of the loving, tolerant, accepting, non-judgmental Christians. The irony of the repeated experience confirms that you are out of sync.
You aren't crazy. It is happening and you are not alone. Your sense that a spiral downward is in motion for church and society is not your exclusive personal opinion and to say so does not automatically make you a naysayer. On this earth it seems that the only group actively speaking out is doing it in song---many of our country music singers have had enough too. They sing out what many conceal down deep within.
Because your hope is in Jesus Christ alone you need to hear, here and now, that you do not struggle alone. Hope that you do not stand alone. Hope that you aren't the only one who thinks our church and our society are spiraling downward. Hope that others want to not only acknowledge the problems but engage in faithful solutions. Even when all seems to be confused or lost, know that Jesus Christ is your only hope and all that you need.
I share the following excerpts from a letter written the first week of June, 2010:
Dear Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop, ELCA
I have just read your politically motivated statement about the situation in the Middle East. My gut, my head, my heart and, most importantly, my faith require from me a long overdue, direct response to your manner of leading the ELCA and to the unfinished business you have with me personally.
While you involve yourself in every international crisis, deliver new revelations contrary to God's Word regarding His created order and preside over a once mainline, now sidelined, denomination in complete free-fall, many wait for some of that "proportionality, peace, and justice" that you continue to "talk" about but fail to engage in or to live. Your type of talk is not cheap but is costly in the way it is damaging the witness of Christian Lutherans and other Christians in an ever-expanding infectious manner.
Unknown to many is the ongoing persecution of countless pastors, families and local churches who have dared to stand up and confess the historic, Biblical faith of the church passed down from generations before. You and the other elected leaders do so through private meetings and passive-aggressive actions that involve unjust terminations, recalled mission grants, tainted call processes and threats against pension and property, to name just a few examples, none of which are marks of the faith or of followers of Jesus.
This is your doing and you must now, as elected leader, shoulder the blame along with the other 60+ bishops who cooperate under your heavy hand. Though all will be held accountable for their actions, myself included, I wonder if you will enjoy as much the final "stage" at the end of time when you face your Lord as you seem to revel in the present limelight. Your perpetual people pleasing and your personal cries for justice and unity ring out like those of the false prophets of old for . . . "peace, peace" but there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6)
"Peace, unity, mission, love, grace, gospel" . . . words you use repeatedly apart from their Biblical meanings, are therefore devoid of true content and only carry a false message of hope in self and sin not in our Savior. The religion you preach, teach and confess is based on your own self-revelation of social justice, equality and rights which have not been the basis of the Christian faith for 2000 years. We have rightly, over the ages, referred to those faith groups that add another new revelation to the Scriptures as cults. How is the revelation of the new thing that God is doing in our midst any different?
I have no more patience with this false teaching and destructive action. But who am I to protest? I am just a country pastor unintentionally "on leave from call." Over the years I have had the opportunity to serve as a missionary in Tanzania and in three calls here in the states. For the last decade I've been elected and re-elected to lead a lowly group of Christian, Lutheran confessors called WordAlone Network, now WordAlone Ministries.
I am nothing. I am no one. I have been treated as such by you and yours. How dare I question you and your ways? Who am I to question your judgment, your leadership? You have power. You have position. You have international voice and exposure. I have none of those and for that I thank God, literally, because they would perhaps tempt me to believe that any of this was about "me" or my importance or my personal opinions.
A word of caution: don't continue to make the mistake of underestimating what and whom it is you oppose with your words and deeds. It is not me. It is not WordAlone or LCMC or LCORE. You are at odds with the only "Head" and "Shepherd" the true Christian Church has ever had. If I did not believe that to be the case then I would not have continued for the past 11 years as one of the voices opposing the ELCA leadership's words and deeds.
So while it is not about me, I have now witnessed too much of what has happened to others to "wait" any longer. Because I have personally suffered under your wayward leadership and know what is real and true, I am duty bound, as a follower of Jesus Christ, as a baptized believer in Him alone and as a called and ordained minister of His true church (both hidden and revealed) to uphold the Holy Word of God and the confessions of the Lutheran church, to now, most reluctantly, respond and submit to my present, personal calling to expose the true nature of leadership in the ELCA.
The time has come for someone--unfortunately me--to step up, no matter what the consequences are for doing so and call, "Foul." I intend to bellow like an over-padded umpire in this, my attempt, to stop the exportation of this false gospel and new religion you have presided over and imported into the ELCA and beyond.
I personally have grown weary of waiting for your repentance and public accountability. I have patiently prayed for you and others in the ELCA to come to terms with what you are doing to old pastors, young seminarians, local churches, faithful preachers and international leaders. The confusion and chaos that has resulted is your doing. However, you continue to try to point fingers at others for being the "schismatics" (myself included) while you ignore the words of the Scriptures that remind us that confusion comes from those who preach "another gospel" though there is not another gospel. (Galatians 2).
The Lord has put the writing and sending of this message on my heart in such a burning fashion since you persuaded confessional, Christian, Lutheran, international leaders to engage in "ongoing conversations" with you on a private basis. Then today you address the crisis in the Holy Land as one who seems to have wisdom regarding those things that would make for peace.
I sadly remember the comments of some of the bishops upon their return from an expensive trip to the Middle East. They were "surprised" by how deep the divisions are. Surprised? The whole of Scripture tells the story of the land, the covenant, the blessing, the enmity, the pruning and the grafting.
Surprised? People of the Word are not surprised and know that our Jewish ancestors were blessed to be a blessing while their children still struggle with that identity each day. Those who are held fast by the Word of God know that as Christians, we have been grafted on to the tree and any position of power or arrogance in these matters is unfaithful to our very nature as Christian children of our one Heavily Father who claimed us in Jesus Christ.
You have presided over the importation of a new anti-Biblical revelation into the ELCA and you actively engage in exporting that false gospel through the LWF and the news media. You should be the last person to be called to speak to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. One should get their own house in order by rediscovering its firm foundation in the Word of God, living, spoken and written, before attempting to bring order to another.
This public news release about the Middle East converged with the recent release regarding your desire to engage in "ongoing conversation" with the African and other leaders "in private," to sound a clarion call for me to act.
So this simple country pastor of 25 years cries, "Foul!" I add, "not if I have anything to say about it" will your influence spread to other international Lutheran churches. The ELCT (Tanzania) is one of my home churches and I know what happens in private behind closed doors in "deep conversation" with you and the bishops who serve you and not their crucified and risen Lord.
Our one and only Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead in order to save sinners from themselves, not to deliver them over to their sin and away from Him and His forgiveness and life-changing grace. Those who preach, teach and confess otherwise should not be in positions of authority and allowed to continue the exportation of this new social religion to the mission fields where we once brought the "Good News" as revealed to us in the Bible and embodied in Jesus Christ Himself.
If it is the last ministry that I do on this earth, I will actively preach, teach and confess according to the power of the Holy Spirit that works through and in the written Word, not in opposition to it. Many have risked and given their lives in order to impart this pure, absolute Word of Truth and no post-modern, politically correct, social activism is going to persuade those of us still living by a daily portion of His grace and forgiveness to remain silent or to attempt to cooperate any longer.
Under your leadership the ELCA has become embroiled in the worst internal conflict in its history. Congregations and members have become like sheep without a shepherd, scattered and led astray. That is not the work of the Good Shepherd but of His temporal adversary, the Wolf in sheep's clothing and his hirelings. The Word of God is neither confusing nor duplicitous. It guides and comforts by killing and making repentant, forgiven sinners alive again. To be raised up in Jesus Christ is to put off the desires of the flesh, not to surrender to them, and to be given a measure of self control, like daily manna from above, that makes possible serving our Savior and our neighbor, not the self.
The call to feed and tend His sheep is a mandate not a request. Those who abandon His flock to the sheep stealers are hirelings themselves. The Bible is a clear Word. It interprets itself and has its way with sinners by its own God given authority. Lutherans and most Christians have believed and understood this for years. Now you and your court theologians try to convince the innocents in the pews, the generations to come and those yet to hear God's Word, that this is not true. You openly proclaim that Scripture lacks clarity and is unable to address this present age with authority. This is blasphemy against God, His Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.
I may be nothing but a lowly, Minnesota born, mother of four, Lutheran pastor who wears cowboy boots and has friends in low places, but I know what and who is the Truth. He owns me. He bought me with a price, His life, and in this life I will not rest until His Word is preached and His sacraments are administered rightly in His name and the name of His Father.
You may continue to work and witness publicly and privately as an elected leader of a human institution that calls itself church, but others will gather by twos and threes in His name, and there He will be in the midst of them. Others . . . individuals, families and churches . . . will find the faithful and free pastures of new and faithful churches like LCMC. Jesus' own know His voice and they will follow. It may not be a majority, perhaps only a remnant, but they will not bend their knees to another god and a false gospel.
May God our Heavenly Father have mercy on you and bring you to repentance for what you continue to do in "His" name--knowing even the use of "Heavenly Father" is problematic to you and yours. God help us all.
I intend to release this email publicly within the week.
In repentance, bound by and captive to the Word of God not to my own sinful conscience or that of my neighbor,
Jaynan L. Clark
President, WordAlone Ministries
April 16, 2010
The controversy fired by the Minneapolis assembly vote ratifying practicing homosexual pastors has exposed a major change in the office of the bishop carried out by the ELCA. The bishops themselves have compounded the difference. The net effect leaves congregations and pastors objecting to the Minneapolis vote without voice or standing. The bishops arrive in parishes not to give an ear to both sides but to enforce the Minneapolis vote. According to numerous reports, they are not shy about using force in the process.
Traditionally, the bishops have been thought to hold three responsibilities. The first appears in the oath of office, in which bishops—like all pastors—promise to preach and teach the word of God according to the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The second, going by the usual assumptions, would be to represent and serve the synod electing the bishop and funding the enterprise. Thirdly, the bishops individually and collectively serve the national church.
While the traditional assumptions have been left in place, in actual fact the ELCA has turned the office over. The bishops are still elected according to the procedures provided in the synods and they still officially are supposed to serve pastors and congregations, particularly at the point of call. But like the national assembly’s voting delegates who upon election have no further accountability to those who elected them, once the bishops have assumed the office they do not represent either the pastors or the congregations. The third part of the office crowds out the other two: the bishops become officers of the national church who serve to implement the church’s plans and policies. Accordingly, their oath of office has been redefined: they preach and teach the word of God according to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions as interpreted by the national church. By the same token, they serve the congregation as directed by the national church council and the presiding bishop.
This redefinition of the bishops as officers of the national church has been reinforced by the bishops’ own circling of the wagons. According to several estimates, they spend one-third of their time away from their synods, working together for the “churchwide.” A series of decisions has put them at the front line in the challenges that have faced the clergy and the congregations. Under such pressure, they have learned to rely on one another, developing strong friendships in the process. Mutual reliance and loyalty have forged the bishops together in a powerful bond. Keeping in regular touch through a private internet sight, their first reference is to the presiding bishop and one another. Several of the bishops have spoken directly of their fear of risking their standing with the others.
The effect of this reconfiguration and the entrenchment that has gone with it has shown up in the controversy following the Minneapolis decision. Early in the spring last year, sensing possible trouble, the bishops asked the church council for modifications in the proposal presented in August. This request failed. At least ten of the bishops have confided their opposition to the change in visions and expectations in favor of practicing homosexuals. But with rare and still quiet reservation, those who were hesitant have been pushed along by the biggest majority of the bishops, who voted in favor.
By several reports, neither national officials nor the bishops anticipated the force of the reaction to the Minneapolis vote. If the congregations had gotten their say, they would have most likely looked for a way to be nice to practicing homosexuals without compromising the authority of Scripture. Unrepresented, out maneuvered and outvoted, many congregations have reacted with fury against both the advocates and the strident opposition. Given the biblical word, given the Sixth Commandment, practicing homosexuality should never have become an issue. Consequently, objecting congregations have punished the national church and the synods financially. The result has been extensive layoffs and cutbacks across the boards.
Instead of driving a search for peace, however, the strong reaction to the ELCA’s errant leadership has made the bishops all the more determined to enforce the Minneapolis decision. There are some real exceptions—genuine, God fearing bishops who love Christ Jesus and will mix it up with sinners any day. But generally, the bishops are scared of what is unfolding and so quick to resort to coercion. There have been reports of open hostility, verbal abuse, intimidation, threats and punishment. So, too, some parishes that have scheduled votes to leave the ELCA tell of their bishop patrolling the parish, looking to qualify inactive members to tip the vote in favor of staying. In such circumstances, both sides lose.
Whatever the truth of these reports—usually it is a little less dramatic—they are enough to show the importance of being careful. Those who stand with the biblical word on sexual matters, who therefore stand with the largest majority of Lutherans and other Christians throughout the world, are in the ELCA a minority without standing. If like Luther, your conscience is bound by the word of God, you can’t count on either the bishop’s respect or encouragement. Rather, you have to expect that no matter what your previous relationship, the bishop regards you as a problem to be solved and will use the office accordingly.