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Letter to my congregation

by Pastor David A. Grindberg (St. Mark Lutheran Church, Storm Lake, Iowa)

September 30, 1999

This is a letter that a pastor in Iowa sent to his congregation explaining his "State of Confession" in regards to CCM.

Dear Friends,

Many of you have seen the Storm Lake Times article regarding a new ecumenical agreement between the ELCA and Episcopal Church USA. This agreement, entitled Called to Common Mission (CCM), passed at our Churchwide Assembly by a mere 27 votes (2/3rds majority was needed for passage). The Times article correctly indicated that I disapprove of CCM. That is why I’m writing to you today. I'd like you to know why I cannot accept this decision and how I intend to proceed.

First let me say that I desire a strong ecumenical relationship with the Episcopalians. Consider our work locally. Saint Mark’s association with All Saints Episcopal Church has been a great blessing!!! At the center of this relationship is Christ. With Christ as our foundation, we have established our unity in Gospel and Sacraments. To agree in this way and live together on this common ground, is to be free of historic difficulties, difficulties that account for centuries of separation. In Storm Lake, such freedom has fostered a joyous celebration of the distinctive gifts that nurtures our respective churches.

Unfortunately the ELCA has chosen a course that forgoes this pattern. According to CCM, Gospel and Sacraments, the only two essential signs of Christian unity, are not enough to create oneness. In addition to these essentials, we must now receive the Historic Episcopate (The Historic Episcopate refers to a tradition which goes back to the ancient church, in which bishops already in the succession install newly elected bishops with prayer and the laying-on-of-hands. In this practice new bishops are installed/ordained by three bishops in historic succession. This is to insure the transmittal of the Historic Episcopate. Also pastors can be ordained only by these bishops. This will insure that pastors receive the same benefit.).

Use of the Historic Episcopate implies that bishops are required to make pastors. For the ELCA, this requires a constitutional reordering that makes the church a 'from the top down' structure, gives bishops and pastors greater power, and clearly communicates that salvation proceeds from God to church to believer (rather than God to believer to church). As former American Lutheran Church Bishop David Preus has said, "such ordering is inherently hierarchial and undercuts the understanding that the church is a priesthood of believers. A second ordination into the ranks of bishops cannot but be perceived as an institutional elevation. The perception that the church is a caste system with bishops at the top, lesser clergy in the middle, and laity at the bottom is inevitable."

CCM indicates that we don’t have to believe in this practice, we just have to do it. Yet refusal to comply, even on grounds of conscience, puts one in violation of the ELCA constitution and thus subject to church discipline. Again let me restate that this measure passed by only 27 votes. Put simply, Called to Common Mission is the wrong way to do the right thing.

At this point you may be asking, why is this such a big deal? All we are doing is adding another essential. Yet I believe that adding essentials change the character of our witness. In the church, after all, essentials are authoritative matters of salvation. If they are not, then they should not be essential. Pastor Gary Gilthvedt has written eloquently on the subject. He says:

"...In the New Testament Jesus' teaching, his gospel, his Word, is given to his believers, with the instruction to carry his message into all the world. We are promised that this gospel has within itself the power to bring salvation to us and to others. Only his Word has this power. We believe this Word belongs in a special category of divine and sacred things..."

"In the New Testament Christ's instruction to baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an instruction about a necessary ingredient in salvation. Why is it necessary? Because he said so. He said it, we do it. Because it is a necessary thing we guard it in the category of essentials."

"In the New Testament Christ's gift of himself in the Lord's Supper is conveyed by his command again: "Take it, eat it, drink it, do it in remembrance of me." Because he commanded this for his church we guard it in the category reserved for holy, irreplaceable, essential matters."

"Precious few things are in this category: Jesus' Word...Baptism in the Name of the Trinity, the Lord's Supper. Nothing else belongs here. Nothing else may intrude. This is the faith, as we believe and understand it...These things Christ commanded..."

This raises the question, are we about bishops and pastors or are we about the Gospel? To me, the answer is clear. Basing Christian unity on anything other than Gospel (the living Word) and Sacraments (the visible living Word) is to misplace the center of our faith. vIt trusts human rites, institutions, and ceremonies to provide a oneness that only Christ can furnish. It makes human additions to the list of divine essentials, thus elevating those additions to be authoritative matters of salvation.

It is for this reason that I cannot in good faith accept the ELCA's decision. As far as the synod goes I have been forced into a posture of resistance. For the short term, this means that:

  1. I've ended my giving to the ELCA. I will support other benevolent organizations (including area ministries and Saint Mark Lutheran Church).
  2. I've submitted my resignation from all Western Iowa Synod (WIS) boards/committees.
  3. I will attend only those WIS/ELCA activities that foster collegiality.
  4. If a candidate for ministry comes to me and wants to be ordained without the benefit of the Historic Episcopate, I will see to it that he/she is ordained and help him/her find a call.
  5. I will not 'invent' a crisis. However when faced with a decision that presents itself as a 'matter of conscience', I will disobey.

There is also a positive side to my posture of resistance. I have no doubt but that God will use this decision and the agitation it has created to bring about a long overdue renewal. Movement in that direction has already begun. Across the country pastors and laity will gather to discuss the direction of the church and potential avenues for reform/renewal. On October 23rd at 1:00 p.m., Iowa will hold it's regional meeting. This meeting will take place over the ICN distance learning centers. I want to invite all of you to attend.

Please understand that I do not take these actions carelessly or thoughtlessly. You know me well enough to know that I do not shift with prevailing winds or withdraw support over frivolous matters. I find myself at this place because I believe that these are issues which run to the heart of our faith. As I stood in the back of the Denver assembly hall and watched the results come in, I remember the strangest feeling come over me. For the first time in my life, I was a stranger and a foreigner in the church.

Let me close with a story. The Thursday after the Denver Assembly, I went to All Saints for our weekly communion service. It was Father Sanderson's turn to preside. In all of this, Peter has been a wonderful ecumenical companion. My faithful brother rose to the occasion again that day. When it came time, Peter called me up to the altar and asked me to preside with him. In unison we spoke the communion liturgy and blessed the elements. Then we fed each other the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Far removed from the divisiveness of CCM, this was an act of ecumenical unity that I will never forget. Gathering around Gospel and Sacraments, and not CCM, is where we should direct our ecumenical energies.

I know that this letter may raise many questions. If you have concerns about my position/actions or wish to discuss the issue further, please contact me


Rev. David A. Grindberg

David Grindberg pastors at Saint Mark Lutheran congregation in Storm Lake, Iowa.