The Southwestern Washington WordAlone Chapter is active and moving forward to meet the challenges facing our churches and congregations following the actions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America at its 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago.
With the passage of the resolution urging synods and bishops to “refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining” pastors living in same-sex relationships, and further suggesting that bishops exercise the same restraint with congregations that call persons in such relationships, there has been an expected reaction from those who are concerned about the future of the ELCA. As a result of this assembly action there has been a welcome uprising of support as our WordAlone chapter members and WordAlone supporters prepare to withstand any changes in “Vision and Expectations” and “Definition and Guidelines for Discipline,” which set ordination and ministry standards.
I am convinced that our WordAlone chapter and the many other chapters and churches throughout the United States are not alone in planning and preparing for potential adverse moves by the churchwide assembly in 2009 that would dramatically weaken the biblical foundations of the ELCA. The continuing loss of members and churches in recent years must be curtailed or stopped. The question raised by some of us: Is this, or has it been from the very beginning of the establishment of the ELCA, the continuing and deliberate plan of our ELCA churchwide leadership to bring about changes that violate the instruction and authority of the Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions? It would appear to many of us that the passage of the ill-advised resolution in the waning hours of the churchwide assembly in Chicago may be a sample of what is to come.
The Southwestern Washington WordAlone Chapter held an important meeting at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Wash., hosted by Pastor Steven Rieke, this past August inviting area ELCA churches, pastors and interested congregational members to hear about the work and plans of our chapter and the WordAlone Network. Our board planned for an attendance of 20, plus or minus 10, but welcomed an enthusiastic audience of more than 60 people. I am impressed that we are building a cadre of ELCA pastors and congregational leaders who are standing boldly for the divinely inspired authority of our Scriptures and adhering faithfully to the Confessions of the church.
The evening program, moderated by our chapter chairman Pastor William Johnson, included remarks by Andrea Cook, sophomore at Santa Clara (Calif.) University, regarding her experience as a voting member of the churchwide assembly; comments and observations by the Rev. Ron Hoyum, assistant to the bishop of the Southwestern Washington Synod; and a presentation by our featured speaker, Pastor Gary Jepsen of Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Puyallup, Wash., on his brilliant and perceptive essay, “Openness, Tolerance, and Love – The New Legalism.” His essay and others can be found on the WordAlone Network website. The presentations and agenda announcements were followed by timely questions and answers with discussion and responses from a panel of presenters.
An announcement regarding the Institute of Lutheran Theology’s live online Internet course titled “Scripture and Interpretation – A Confessional Hermeneutic for Preaching and Teaching” taught by Prof. Jim Nestingen, professor emeritus of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., was distributed. This course finished in mid-November. Utilizing the broad and far-reaching potential of the Internet provides a captivating way to strengthen our academic approach to instruction on the authority of the Scriptures and Confessions of the church, and at the same time was taught by one of the great academic and theological minds in higher education of the ELCA. Prof. Nestingen is familiarly known as the “chief catechist” of the Lutheran church.
As a result of our meeting at St. John’s Lutheran, Pastor Rieke, with the technology available at his church offered this first online course via the Internet by the newly established institute.
A major, all-day meeting in the Northwest was held at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 20. Our featured speaker for this occasion was Nestingen.
A major objective of the Oct. 20 meeting was to hear Nestingen on the condition and current status of the church. His presentations in the morning and afternoon were followed by a distinguished panel of pastors and church leaders from our area. The panel with Nestingen included Pastor Victor Langford of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Seattle, also a member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee; Pastor Gary Jepsen of Pilgrim Lutheran in Puyallup, Wash., and host Pastor Jonathan Sorum of Emmanuel Lutheran. We believe the question and answer period that followed the presentations by Nestingen and panel members produced positive suggestions and recommendations in preparing our plans and strategies to meet anticipated or proposed actions that will challenge our churches in the year ahead and on to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
I acknowledge that the church has always had it full share of trials and controversies over the ages. Thanks to our infinite and all-knowing God, the church of Christ and His Word—today as in the past—will stand firm and will prevail against any attack by those who would attempt to add, subtract, change or falsely interpret its Truth. I believe, however, that we are witnessing a critical period in the history of many mainline churches, and, not least of all in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Now is the time for those of us who believe His inerrant Word to stand up and be counted for the authority of Scriptures (law and Gospel), our church Confessions, the Book of Concord, and the historic and traditional standards for which we Lutherans have been known.
The current secular culture of our country seems to influence and dominate too much of our church and political life with an apparent rush to the easy and comfortable way out of any crisis. A secular, humanistic worldview permeates our schools and institutions of higher learning. A gospel of worldly prosperity and selfish social demands seems to thwart our Christian goal in living to carryout the expectations of the great commandment and restrains us from directing our praise and worship to God alone and outreaching with love to the less fortunate.
We continue to pray for unselfish love and service to others as we seek to change the prevailing cultural trend and pursue that which is truly holy and righteous. I believe it is our responsibility as believers in Christ and His Church to impact and influence the prevailing secularized culture rather than the converse.
Renew, reform and reflect – not only ourselves—but also the church, too!
God uphold us, and strengthen us as we seek to do His will.