Letter from the Director for April 2017
LUTHERAN CORE: FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
A LIVING HOPE
Peter begins his first epistle by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1: 3) During this Holy Week season – as once again you travel with Jesus from the upper room to the garden to the cross and then to the empty tomb – may you receive God’s great mercy, experience a new birth, and rejoice in the living hope that we have because of Easter.
I am looking forward to being with the congregation of Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau, Wisconsin. I will be speaking at their Maundy Thursday men’s prayer breakfast, and then preaching at both of their Maundy Thursday services. On Good Friday I will be giving the message on three of the seven last words at their noon until 3 PM service. I am very grateful to Pastor Steve Gjerde, vice president of the board of Lutheran CORE, for the invitation to spend these sacred days with the congregation. Rob Kittel, treasurer of Lutheran CORE, and Jim Speckhard, volunteer office person, are both active in the leadership of the church.
Pastor Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE
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ARE YOU ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN LOVE?
DO YOU HAVE A FAITH THAT CAN WEATHER THE STORM?
On Sunday afternoon, January 8, the historic Pioneer Cabin tree, a thousand-year-old giant sequoia in California’s Calaveras Big Tree Park, fell to the ground and shattered on impact. A tunnel that had been carved into the trunk in the 1880’s made the tree famous and attracted visitors, but ultimately it was a major part of the cause of its demise. With the gaping hole in its trunk, it could no longer support the growth at the top, had less ability to resist fire, and, with the shallow root system that is typical of sequoias, it was unable to withstand the rain that flooded the park.
As I read about that tree, I thought, What are the dynamics in the church today which weaken people’s ability to sustain and support growth, resist the fires of tragedy which will happen, and survive the storms which will come?
In his first letter to his young friend Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “Certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1: 19) Paul certainly knew what it was like to be in a shipwreck. What factors today lead people to suffer shipwreck in their faith?
Matthew 7 records Jesus’ famous parable of the wise man and the foolish man. Concerning the house built on sand (probably the sand of a desert wash which is dry almost all of the time), Jesus said, “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7: 27) Storms will come. Even the storm of the century will come once a century. What kind of theology, and what kind of teaching and preaching will and will not enable people to weather the storm?
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “I pray that . . . you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3: 16-17) Whether you are a pastor, a church worker, or a lay member of a congregation, you have a ministry. Is your ministry – what you say and do and how you live – strengthening people in their inner being, bringing Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, and helping them be rooted and grounded in love?
In my February letter to you, I told of hearing a sermon on Easter Sunday, where the preacher first told of the women who came to the tomb looking for Jesus. He then said, “Wherever you find people doing good, there you find Jesus.”
Easter is about God’s great victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. How could God’s greatest act for our salvation be reduced to people’s doing good? As I become older I am less able to do as much good. Plus, when the needs are so great, how could I ever do enough good? How can a faith that is based upon not what God has done, but what I need to do, enable me to weather the storm?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain, our faith is futile, we are misrepresenting God, we are still in our sins, those who have died in Christ have perished, and we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15: 14-19) How could I ever think that something as life-changing as the resurrection of Jesus can be reduced to people’s doing good?
The end of last year I heard a prominent ELCA theologian – one who is often on the speaking circuit – say in a presentation about the letters of Paul, “Whenever Paul talked about justification by faith, it was always within the context of racial reconciliation.” Now I would agree that racism is wrong and racial reconciliation is important. I agree that being in right relationship with God gives me the power to become and needs to lead into my being in right relationship with other people. But how could I ever think that the way that God in His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to be reconciled to Him and to be accepted and declared by Him as righteous through faith in Jesus Christ is not something to value, give thanks for, and experience life change because of in and of itself, but instead only is a context for pursuing racial reconciliation?
With the big, gaping hole in the middle of its trunk, the giant sequoia fell. Built on the sand, the foolish man’s house could not withstand the storm. People of God, are you rooted and grounded in love? Do you have a faith that can sustain spiritual growth? Do you have a faith that can weather the storm? Pastors, are you preaching Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and coming again, so that your people are rooted and grounded in love, have a solid basis for sustaining spiritual growth, and can weather the storm? For as we all know, storms will come.
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WHERE WILL OUR FUTURE PASTORS COME FROM?
For me two of the most powerful and convicting passages in Scripture come at the end of the book of Joshua and then also at the beginning of the book of Judges.
Joshua 24: 31 says, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.” Almost the same words are said in Judges 2: 7.
But then it says that Joshua died, and all the leaders who had served with Joshua died. And then Judges 2: 10 adds these sad words, “That whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”
There was a smooth transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Joshua, and all the leaders who served with him, had experienced the Lord’s delivering them from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, the daily provision of manna, the water from the rock, being guided and sheltered from the hot, burning, desert sun by the pillar of cloud, being reassured of God’s presence by the pillar of fire, and the conquest of the Promised Land. So that generation worshiped, served, and obeyed the Lord.
But it was inevitable that eventually that entire generation would die, and the generations that followed them would not have experienced firsthand God’s great acts of delivering and providing for them. And so the following generations did not serve the Lord, because they did not appreciate what the Lord had done. All of which resulted in the chaotic time of the period of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21: 25)
A generation who faithfully served the Lord. A generation who believed that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions rightfully interpret the Bible as the Word of God. A generation who took seriously the moral and ethical standards of the Bible. A generation who believed that fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, rather than addressing every social and political issue that comes along, is our Lord’s prime purpose for His Church. A generation who built up the Church, who started and established congregations, who built church buildings and paid for them, who founded various educational and social service agencies – that generation is retiring, has retired, or already is in God’s presence in glory. What is going to happen now? What will be the values, priorities, basis for motivation, sense of mission, and foundational theological understandings of those who will be leading the church in the future? In many ways it feels like we have come again to the period of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
How much better than the situation that developed after the time of Joshua is the plan that Paul set forth for providing for future leaders and teachers for the church. As Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” (2 Timothy 2: 2) From Paul and many witnesses to Timothy to faithful people to others as well, Timothy was to make sure that the Gospel was always passed on from one generation to another.
Somebody once said, in any one particular part of the world, “The Christian faith is always only one generation away from extinction.” We know that “built on the Rock the Church will stand.” “The gates of hell will not prevail.” (Matthew 16: 18) Someday there will be a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, that will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7: 9) The Church will endure no matter what happens to any one particular congregation, Christian organization, or church body. But don’t we want to be among those who will be faithful and who will faithfully pass on the faith to the next generation, who will faithfully pass on the faith to the next generation, and so on?
If any of those thoughts resonate with you, please be praying for the Summit on Pastoral Formation, which Lutheran CORE will be holding on Wednesday, June 21, at Grand View University in Des Moines. We will be gathering a group of leaders from several different Lutheran church bodies – ELCA, LCMC, LCMS, and NALC – to begin wrestling with the question – What can we do to raise up, support, nurture, and sustain a whole new generation of Lutheran pastors who love God, love people, and will be Biblical and orthodox in their theology and evangelistic/outreach-oriented in their perspective and practice?
And as you pray, may we suggest that you consider giving an extra gift to Lutheran CORE – over and above your current giving – in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to help cover the expenses for this strategic gathering which is intended to help ensure that in the future there will be pastors who will preach and teach the Gospel that we are saved by grace through faith.
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WEEKLY DEVOTIONALS AND SERMON STARTERS
Please remember that weekly devotionals, written by three members of the board, can be found on the blog, which is accessible through the home page of Lutheran CORE’s website, www.lutherancore.org. Two of us are writing devotionals based upon one of the following Sunday’s readings. A third person is writing devotionals based upon one of the previous Sunday’s readings in the Missouri Synod lectionary series. A link to these devotionals is then posted on a number of different facebook and twitter accounts.
Please help us get the word out about these resources. It is our desire that they be an inspiration to all who read them and also a source of ideas, thoughts, illustrations, and images for pastors as they prepare for the following Sunday’s sermon.
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Please consider a gift to Lutheran CORE in support of the summit which will be held on June 21 in Des Moines to begin wrestling with the question, How can we raise up a new generation of Lutheran pastors who will believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and who will be committed to fulfill the Great Commission? We estimate the cost for the day to be around $11, 000, which includes travel and housing expenses for the ten church leaders from different Lutheran church bodies who will be participating plus the seven members of the board.
Your gift to Lutheran CORE – in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – will help ensure that in the future there will be pastors who will preach the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
Please detach, enclose your gift, and return to us at –
Lutheran CORE, P. O. Box 1741, Wausau, Wisconsin 54402-1741
Or, if you prefer, you can give online by going to the home page of our website, www.lutherancore.org and designate your gift for the pastoral summit
Please find enclosed my gift. I want to help make sure that in the future there will be pastors who will preach the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
CORE Response to “Naked and Unashamed”
This is Lutheran CORE’s response, dated April 2017, to the “Naked and Unashamed” movement, which has come out of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. CORE is doubly concerned because it is unaware of any response from the administration and faculty of the seminary, the ELCA Council of Bishops, and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton rejecting or distancing the ELCA from this movement.
RESPONSE TO “NAKED AND UNASHAMED”
ELCA PASTORS AND SEMINARIANS NOT ASHAMED
TO REVEAL BLATANT AGENDA
In 2009 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly rejected as normative the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage as it approved changes to policy and practice which allowed for the endorsing of and ordaining persons in publicly accountable, “lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.” There is now a movement within the ELCA which would reject any definition of marriage as normative for sexual relationships.
Known as “Naked and Unashamed,” this movement was started by seminarians at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and since then has been reaching out to other pastors, leaders, and seminary students in the ELCA who share their beliefs and values. Their purpose and agenda are clearly revealed on their website, www.wearenakedandunashamed.org, which contains such statements as the following in regard to current ELCA policy and practice –
- “The limited and hierarchical focus on marriage and family life over alternative forms of relationality is oppressive, preferential, manipulative, and culturally irrelevant to the variety of healthy sexual, emotional, contractual, and/or romantic expressions that could be part of an appropriate Christian lifestyle.”
- “Life and liberty are being oppressed in the pressure for church leaders to be in marital relationships, or otherwise abstain from all sexual intimacy.”
- “Marriage is not the only healthy relationship model within which sexuality can be safely enjoyed.”
As seminarians and pastors who have recently been ordained, they are objecting to “overt policies and direct questioning during the ELCA candidacy process that disallow sexual intimacy, cohabitation, and committed relationality outside of civil marriage.”
What can those who hold to the traditional, Biblical view of marriage as a life-long, committed relationship between one man and one woman, and even those who hold to what was approved in August 2009, which allowed for the ordaining of persons in publicly accountable, “lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships,” now expect? Based upon experience of what happened before, we can only expect that those who wish to reject marriage altogether are going to pursue their agenda relentlessly until they achieve their goals, and once they do so, then all conversation is to stop and anyone who still advocates for the traditional view, and even the approved-in-2009 view, will be criticized for being disruptive, divisive, schismatic, and trouble-making. That is what happened during the time leading up to and since the August 2009 decisions. Why should we expect it to be any different this time?
Never is there any Biblical basis given for this group’s thinking. And why would we expect that there would be? Just as the documents that were approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009 were based not upon the Bible, but upon psychology, sociology, and the dynamics that build trust between and among people, so this group is arguing for their desired changes on the basis of such vague reasons as “the common good,” the fact that they are “healthy” and “life giving,” “the plethora of stories we hear,” and “our values and lived experience.”
Even in their use of the phrase, “Naked and Unashamed,” this group is turning its back on the Bible’s description of God’s judgment and mercy. Adam and Eve were described as “naked and unashamed” before their distrust of God’s word and their disobedience. Their transgression caused them to be ashamed, to hide, to clothe themselves in fig leaves. Their self-justification was their primary clothing. When God sent them out of Eden, He gave them something better. He did not send them into the world “naked and unashamed” to make a “fresh start” of things. Rather He clothed them even more fully – with the skins of animals who died in their place, as a forerunner of Jesus who would die in our place and whose blood would be shed to cover our sins.
According to the Lutheran understanding of the Bible, God gives us a “fresh start” in baptism. Spiritually we go into the water naked. Our old, sinful, deathly self is drowned in Jesus’ own death for our sake. And when we rise in the power of His resurrection, we are immediately clothed in white robes that signify that we are more fully clothed in the righteousness, purity, and holiness of Jesus Himself. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 4, in our redemption in Christ we are not unclothed. We are more fully clothed!
This group’s website claims that the ELCA’s teaching, expectations, and documents surrounding sexuality are “heteronormative, white-centric, economically oppressive, and non-Lutheran.” Standards of monogamy, commitment, and chastity are deemed oppressive and demeaning. Ideals of faithfulness and purity are rejected. Biblical norms of “life together” are dismissed as the invention of elite, wealthy, and white Europeans. This group asserts that other cultures have different understandings of sexual good. In so doing, they are not only ignoring the very staunch standards for sexuality of our African fellow Lutherans, they are also ignoring the stringent sexual ethics of the Old and New Testaments, which certainly are neither elite, wealthy, white, nor European.
Those who thought and hoped that the decisions of August 2009 to accept same gender relationships if they are publicly accountable, lifelong, and monogamous would be enough, would satisfy those who were pressing for changes, and would be as far as this issue would go, should be alarmed to read on this group’s website that they reject those decisions because of the way in which those standards define what is a “decent and acceptable marriage in the ELCA.” They reject the 2009 decisions because they say that “acceptable same-gender relationships must look the same as acceptable heterosexual relationships.”
The documents of this group even give a place for advocating for polyamory (multiple partners), as evidenced in these statements.
- “This is what we are pushing back on: the idea that one person in your life must be the one whom you trust the most, and with whom you simultaneously work together financially, domestically, sexually, emotionally, and parentally.”
- “There exists in the ELCA multiple positions on (several different relational patterns are listed, including polyamory). We lift this multiplicity up and demand that its full diversity be recognized within the Christian lifestyle in our church.”
There is no sense of marriage as based upon our creation as male and female, and as given its most perfect expression in the model of God’s faithful and permanent love for His people and Jesus the bridegroom’s love for the Church, His bride. Rather this group says that “understanding and practices of marriage, relationality, and sexuality also change over time, and must be understood as contextual.” There are “many possible forms of ‘Christian’ relationality, just as we see diverse forms of Christian worship.” To see different expressions of sexuality as no more significant than the difference between traditional and contemporary worship would be absurd if it were not so alarming.
This group makes absolutely no mention of the long-standing and profound Biblical linkage between sexual sin and idolatry. At the risk of being gross and offensive, I would refer you to an article entitled, “My clitoris keeps my faith alive,” posted on the “Stories” page of the “Naked and Unashamed” website. A seminary Ph. D. student writes, “My clitoris became a gateway to the mystery of God’s presence. . . . My clitoris became more than an organ of pleasure, but a piece of heaven within me.”
How is this different from the pagan sexuality and fertility cults of the Canaanites, which the Bible clearly condemns? This is idolatry, making a god out of part of my own body. This is what the apostle Paul described in Romans 1: 25 as he talked about those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
Any faithful member of the ELCA should be absolutely alarmed to see this kind of thinking coming out of one of the ELCA seminaries. Our concern for the future should be in overdrive, as we realize that our future pastors are being exposed to this kind of thinking during their seminary training. Since this group is focusing especially on sexual ethics for pastoral candidates, are they saying that if a pastor or pastoral candidate has sex with a prostitute, it is okay, as long as s/he is respected as a sex worker? Are they implying that if a congregation is not able to pay within guidelines, then a pastor or pastoral candidate is free to sell sexual favors to supplement income – again, as long as it is done in a healthy, life-giving, respectful, and mutually beneficial fashion?
This past February we were all reading and hearing with great alarm about the Oroville Dam in northern California. Because of unusually heavy rains, the dam’s main and emergency spillways were significantly damaged, prompting the evacuation of more than 180, 000 people living downstream. Those who oversee the Oroville Dam would be grossly irresponsible if they were to not take any and all necessary measures to repair the damage and ensure the future integrity of the dam. Will the leadership of the ELCA – the Presiding Bishop, the Church Council, the Council of Bishops, those who oversee the ELCA’s seminaries – say, “Enough is enough; this has gone too far; this is not what was voted on and approved at the Churchwide Assembly in 2009”? Or will they allow the damage and the erosion of Biblical values to continue – at probably an ever increasing rate?
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE