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"How did we get in this mess?"

Dr. Jeffray Greene (Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of La Habra, CA)

Date Unknown

Dr. Jeffray Greene offers these thoughts on the impact that developments from recent American Lutheran history have had on the ELCA's understanding of biblical authority.

Leave or stay, we need to move back from our key-hole view of what’s going on and look at the big picture.

God has provided us with our ‘world view’ - the historic Word Alone (WA) principles we attribute to Luther. They are God’s principles, not Luther’s, but it’s the name that sticks with us (Lutheran). The WA world view understands that Scripture is more than just writings, documents, stories, principles, proverbs, wisdom, or any other descriptive we or others might attribute to them.

Over the past few decades a silent onslaught against the WA principles has been raging and we’ve been ‘nice’ and not fought against the problem. At best, we’ve attacked a few of the symptoms - like getting all upset at the sexuality study, or saying no to the ordination of deacons. We have been guilty of taking a ‘key-hole view’ of our situation, but now is the time to step back and look at the big picture. That picture compels us to ask: “how did we get in this mess?”

The twentieth century is one that has seen us wrestling with the ‘authority’ of the Word. Our institutions of training have adopted a critical method which in some (many?) cases has stripped Scripture of it’s ‘authority’ and leaves it as a figuratively central book, without understanding its integral part in the transformation of a believer’s life through faith-filled study.

The battle over the ‘authority’ of Scripture has taken two paths thus far in the Lutheran movement. Both paths have a common starting point and neither are faithful to our Word Alone heritage.

In the seventies, LCMS had an upheaval which gave birth to Seminex. The battle that created the split in LCMS was really one over the ‘authority ’of Scripture. The result was a splinter group who would become a primary catalyst for the formation of the ELCA.

It is of equal importance for us to see the reaction of LCMS that came out of the great wound which birthed Seminex. The ‘official’ polity moved from her historic conservative moderate position to a more reactionary stance. They have been moving toward a complete intolerance of varying viewpoints and have become suspicious of others who aren’t exactly like them. Such intolerance has given birth to a new legalism which drives the official circles of the ELCA and LCMS even further apart.

The ELCA was pushed forward by this group of exiles from LCMS who desperately wanted legitimacy. Stung by their rejection, they merged with a new church who fully adopted their highly-critical view of the Word. At this point, as one who was subjected to the anger, hatred and malice of Seminex professors who were intolerant of my WordAlone view of Scripture and who told me it was their goal to eradicate such ‘fundamentalism’ from the church, I understand clearly some of the implications of the Seminex mess I’m talking about and its implication for the church. (I interpret the use of ‘fundamentalism’ as it was spoken against me in this context to mean WA, and not the Bible thumping legalism we often associate with the use of that word - which I neither adhere to, nor find helpful in proclaiming the Gospel.)

I am further perplexed as I see increasing numbers of Seminex folk coming into positions of influence and power – way beyond their proportionate numbers from the merging bodies – in the ELCA. Please understand I am not a conspiracy nut, but I have been wondering for a long time where our insane agenda of self-destruction has been coming from and offer this as one possible source.

Looking at the whole picture of who we are and why we’re here, it seems as though we have let a very angry mob become quite a powerful constituency of policy-makers who lead our church. I also see a seething animosity toward LCMS which I don’t understand unless I see the anger coming from someone with a former LCMS connection.

The point of these observations is not to blame a particular group, but to realize that if we have been driven by a group of angry misplaced Lutherans, then the majority of Lutherans who formed the ELCA have been betrayed by those few who would dictate the future of our denomination by their own needs for affirmation. Martin Marty is a classic example. A once reasonable and respected theologian grows increasingly more vituperitive as time passes.

Looking at the picture from this viewpoint, I understand an equally unacceptable leadership style in Barry’s LCMS reaction to the denuded ‘authority’ stance of the ELCA. I believe he’s also reacting to this same infected wound which came from Seminex. I think that’s why LCMS cannot be the answer for ELCA churches who think about leaving; and in the same way the ELCA has never been an option for LCMS churches who are frustrated by Barry’s reactionary way of ‘doing’ church.

We need to step back from all of those important issues we’ve been discussing and seek to understand the big picture before we determine what specific things we will need to decided upon as we get back to being the church of the Reformation.

“Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth; unite my heart to fear Thy name. I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Thy name forever. For Thy lovingkindess toward me is great, and Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Shoel. O God, arrogant men have risen up against me, and a band of violent men have sought my life, and they have not set Thee before them. But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. Turn to me, and be gracious to me; Oh grant Thy strength to Thy servant, and save the son of Thy handmaid. Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it, and be ashamed, because Thou, O Lord, hast helped me and comforted me.” Psalm 86:11-17