LETTER FROM THE DIRECTOR – JUNE 2017
Dear Friends of Lutheran CORE –
The June 2017 letter from the director will be in two parts. This first part is coming to you as we anticipate the summit on pastoral formation, which is only a week away. You will receive the second part after the summit, as we share with you ways in which God blessed our time together.
A week from today, June 21, the board of Lutheran CORE will be gathering at Grand View University in Des Moines with ten invited participants from four different Lutheran church bodies to wrestle with the question –
How can we best raise up, nurture, and support a whole new generation of Lutheran pastors who will be Biblical and confessional in their theology and evangelistic/outreach-oriented in their perspective and practice?
We are very grateful to all the friends of Lutheran CORE who are praying for the gathering. We also wish to thank all those who have given a gift in support of this event.
On the day of the summit we will be distributing information about the summit through posts on the blog on the home page of our website, www.lutherancore.org. Each blog post will then go out on Facebook and Twitter, so that you will be able to follow the progress of the discussions. Also, a member of our board will be recording the audio and posting it as a podcast on his blog. A blog post on our website will then be created, which will have a link to the audio post on his website. Please join us through electronic media and follow along with the discussions as they take place on the day of the summit.
Recent events have convinced me even more of the importance of this gathering. Every orthodox Lutheran should be alarmed over the movement that has risen out of the student body at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Taking the name “We Are Naked and Unashamed,” this group rejects marriage by any definition as normative for sexual relationships. There are some who would dismiss our concerns by saying, “It is only a group of seminarians who are promoting this.” We would respond, “But the list of signers also includes many pastors and other ELCA leaders.” And even if it were only a group of seminarians, just the fact that so many seminarians are advocating for ELCA approval of sexual intimacy and cohabitation outside of marriage should cause great concern for the future of the church. And the fact that we are not aware of any statement from the administration of the seminary, the Council of Bishops, and/or Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton rejecting this movement should also cause great concern. A link to the website of the movement can be found here (LINK), while a link to Lutheran CORE’s response can be found here (LINK).
If that were not enough, a recent letter from the president-elect of United Lutheran Seminary, formed by the merger of the ELCA seminaries in Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, should also raise concerns.
A link to that letter can be found here (LINK to pastoral-letter-from-president-elect-latini). Dr. Latini’s May 5 letter does contain some Biblical and theological language, such as “On the cross, Jesus cried out, ‘It is finished;’ ” “Through Christ, we have been reconciled to God and one another by the power of the Spirit;” “In baptism, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection;” and “In Christ, all things hold together.” But beyond that it sounds like a compilation of all the typical ELCA phrases, priorities, and agenda items. There is no sense that under her leadership it will be a priority of the seminary to raise up pastors who will know and love the Bible, know the Lutheran confessions, and are prepared to lead and care for local congregations. Instead the priorities are to train people who will value diversity, work towards genuine equity, and include marginalized groups. Prior to being elected as president of United Theological Seminary, Dr. Latini has been associate dean of diversity and cultural competency at another seminary. It sounds like she will be pursuing the same priorities as she writes, “Cultural competency is the intentional commitment and active engagement in unlearning racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of bias institutionally and individually.” She does make it sound religious – and even Lutheran – when she says, “Peacemaking, nonviolence, and cultural competency can be understood and practiced in light of the theology of the cross.” But she also reveals her priorities when she writes, “When we hear God’s YES, we stand in solidarity with those who suffer most under oppressive systems and structures.”
Now I for one am all in favor of peacemaking, nonviolence, and standing in solidarity with those who suffer under oppressive systems and structures. I totally agree that what we believe must impact what we do and how we live for our witness to have any credibility. But I know that when I personally entered seminary, I did not know the Bible and the Lutheran confessions well enough so that I did not need a seminary that would teach me the Scriptures and how the great Lutheran theological writings help me to understand the Scriptures. Also, during the forty years that I served as pastor of a congregation, I needed a whole range of skills beyond peacemaking, nonviolence, and cultural competency.
I think of the apostle Paul and his letters to churches. Even more so as Paul was reaching out to the Greco-Roman world, he was encountering people who did not have any idea at all of the story of God’s accomplishing His great work of salvation through the history of the nation of Israel and the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So in his preaching and letter writing he first had to teach the people the basic essentials of the Christian faith. Typically in his letters he spends the first half or so talking about what is true, what we should believe, and what God has done, and then the second half talking about what is right, how we should live, and what we should do.
If we lived in a day when everybody – all members of churches, all people whom our congregations are seeking to reach, all seminary students, and even everyone anticipating attending seminary – already knew the Bible and the Lutheran confessions, it would make sense to focus seminary education on peacemaking, nonviolence, and cultural competency. But in a day when most people do not know the basics of our faith, and members of our churches and even many people preparing for seminary, have only a limited knowledge of the Bible and the Lutheran confessions, then seminary education needs a different focus.
We certainly pray for Dr. Latini as she begins her work as president of United Lutheran Seminary. And we also pray for the leadership, faculty, and student body of every one of the Lutheran seminaries. But we also pray that God will use the upcoming summit on pastoral formation to begin a new movement of raising up pastors who know, love, value, believe, and obey the Bible and who are committed to helping people come into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Blessings in Christ,
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE