Throughout the writings of Martin Luther, we find his use of what is hidden and what is revealed. One comes to an understanding that this is no cosmic game of hide and seek but the Theology of the Cross and presence of God hidden and revealed in the crucified and risen one, Jesus our Lord.
Though as Lutherans we acknowledge this to be the way God chooses to “work” and be revealed to his own children, we also recognize that the church can not afford to invest in practices and agendas that are hidden and later revealed, for they become the work of deception and control. As sinners we must work in the light and reveal what we are up to from the very beginning or we quickly find ourselves in the dark.
Years of hidden agendas and backroom agreements among a handful of church leaders, when revealed, have proven to be neither biblical nor confessional. These dark dealings have brought about the need for a movement such as the WordAlone Network to work for the renewal, reform and theological reflection within the ELCA and to resist these kinds of changes.
One possible example might be the current “agenda” of pushing licensed lay ministry across the 65 synods that might seem like a celebration of the priesthood of all believers. At first glance, it appears hopeful in the current climate that’s resulted from the passage of Called to Common Mission (CCM) and a historic episcopate becoming the standard practice for ordination in the ELCA. But ask yourselves this question: Are not licensed lay ministry and CCM at odds with each other, even mutually exclusive? Quite a while ago at a synod council meeting, I brought this concern to the pastor currently serving as bishop in my home synod and he responded that supporting CCM and licensing laity are not mutually exclusive positions. After extended bantering back and forth between ourselves like children —“Yes they are.” “No they’re not.”—He, in utter frustration, said, “The Episcopalians do license lay members, they just ordain them first.” The silence in the room was deafening.
CCM and what it has imported into the Lutheran Church is ultimately not a clergy issue, but is primarily about the laity. It does not act “for good order” but rather mandates human tradition that qualifies the gifts given in baptism and requires ordination done “properly” for viable ministry. So why push licensing lay ministers now? Will the ELCA in a few years “just ordain them” as deacons and “Voila!”—the three-fold ministry is in our midst and becomes the standard?
Time will tell and all things hidden will be revealed, but let it be said that the machinery is being well-oiled for the adoption of the three-fold ordination practice of the Episcopalian Church to become our own and we will truly have “grown into” our full communion agreement and beyond.
Any question why the WordAlone Network needs to keep growing and has its work cut out for it? Any question that the need to resist is a current directive? Any doubt that a bishop elected to serve outside an historic episcopate is a necessary step toward revealing what has long been hidden from our eyes?
“Hidden and revealed” works well to the glory of God in Jesus Christ, but for the institutional church it can be nothing more than a deceptive and destructive game of hide and seek.