By Linda C. Hoops
A statement released March 23 addresses the decisions on human sexuality made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at its 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
Titled “Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions,” the 10-page statement was prepared by a task force appointed by Synod President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick. At its August 2009 assembly, the ELCA resolved to recognize “lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” and to authorize ordination into the pastoral ministry for individuals living in such relationships.
In an e-mail memo to pastors introducing the statement — available at www.lcms.org/?16740 — Kieschnick encouraged them to share it with congregation members and others, “given that two ‘Lutheran’ church bodies have taken such markedly different positions on a matter of great significance.”
The document first looks at the two church bodies’ differing views on the authority of Holy Scripture and the resulting difference in their understanding regarding human sexuality.
“Some believe that the Bible’s relevance to contemporary moral questions is not decisive, arguing that what the Bible says is culturally bound, conditioned by the limited understanding of its human authors,” states the document. From this perspective, the biblical references that condemn homosexual acts as sinful “are of limited relevance today.”
According to the task force statement, the 2009 ELCA decisions are based on a view of Scripture that leads to the conclusion that “so long as differing moral perspectives on homosexual acts are held in good conscience, other Christians and the church ought to respect the validity of a variety of perspectives.”
In contrast, the Missouri Synod’s view of Scripture’s authority holds that “God is their primary author and every word of Scripture is His word.” It also holds the Scriptures to be “understandable and truthful in their plain or simple meaning and that no other writing, understanding, or experience may call into question that meaning.”
This view, states the document, “leads us to affirm that where the Bible speaks clearly regarding matters of human values, conduct, or behavior, such teachings may not be denied or qualified, but must have continuing relevance in every era of the Church.”
Human sexuality “must be understood in the context of what God, our Creator, has revealed in the Scriptures about marriage. The Bible reminds us that God created man and woman for one another,” and being united in marriage, this union “may also result in the procreation of children.”
“Such a view of marital sexuality can only be heterosexual in nature,” states the document. “The LCMS believes and teaches that same-gender genital sexual activity — in every situation — violates the will of our Creator and must be recognized as sin.”
Yet, believing all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), the Missouri Synod has joined with the other 33 member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in affirming its concern for the “pastoral care of homosexuals.” In a statement unanimously adopted at its meeting last summer in Seoul, South Korea, the ILC stated that, “we declare our resolve to approach those with homosexual inclinations with the deepest possible Christian love and pastoral concern,” while recognizing that homosexual behavior violates God’s will and is sinful.
The task force statement discusses the potential for the ELCA’s decisions to affect “involvement in inter-Lutheran cooperative relationships and activities with the ELCA.” It calls for distinguishing “between joint participation in Word and Sacrament ministry” and “cooperation between churches in matters of physical need,” and then lists five questions to help LCMS congregations, districts, and other organizations determine whether to continue inter-Lutheran cooperative projects.
The third section of the document discusses “Lutheran identity” and what it means to be a Lutheran today. The report notes that the foundational document for the ELCA’s approval of same-gender sexual relationships describes itself as a “distinctly Lutheran approach” to human sexuality.
However, “any purported distinctiveness which minimizes biblical authority or isolates us from the church catholic’s consensus regarding homosexual activity is sectarian and a departure from what makes Lutheranism truly distinctive,” the statement reads.
“We pray that our brothers, sisters and friends in the ELCA, and any others who have departed from this biblical and Christian understanding, would reconsider — even now — their actions,” the statement concludes.
The seven members of the task force that prepared the document, in alphabetical order, were Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR); Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; Dr. Dean Nadasdy, LCMS fourth vice president; Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, director of church relations — assistant to the LCMS president; Rev. Larry Vogel, associate executive director of the CTCR; Dr. Dean Wenthe, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; and Dr. John Wohlrabe, LCMS third vice president.
The document will be printed in its entirety in the 2010 convention workbook.
Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Posted April 14, 2010