LETTER FROM THE DIRECTOR – FEBRUARY 2024

RUNAWAY TRAIN

A pastor colleague recently wrote to me regarding the ELCA – “The question remains as to whether this progressive freight train has any brakes at all.”  I replied, “Absolutely not. The ELCA has no brakes and feels no need for brakes.  The ELCA is bound and determined to go – at an ever-increasing speed – in the direction in which it is going – no matter what.

The ELCA reminds me of the 1976 film “Silver Streak.”  Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor star in this story of a murder on a train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago.  After the engineer is killed and a toolbox is placed on the dead-man switch to keep the engine running, the Silver Streak becomes a runaway train.  The back part of the train is uncoupled in an effort to trigger the brakes, but the front part retains enough momentum due to the locomotive’s being at high throttle.  The film ends with the Silver Streak’s roaring into Chicago’s Central Station (is the city of location mere coincidence?), destroying everything in its path until the brakes finally take hold. 

With the appointing of a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church (CRLC), combined with the recommendations of the DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) audit which the ELCA spent who knows how much money on, the ELCA is like a runaway train.

An article by ELCA pastor Kevin Haug in the March issue of CORE Voice will tell more about the DEIA audit and what pastors, lay leaders, and congregations can expect.  Here I will present my review of the latest report from the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church.   I will be analyzing the Summary statement from the Commission’s November 30-December 2 in person meeting.  A copy of that Summary can be found HERE.

I would like to begin by thanking ELCA pastor Ryan Cordle for his article regarding Critical Race Theory and the Commission.  A link to his article, which appeared in the January issue of CORE Voice, can be found HEREWhat he wrote helped me tremendously in formulating and clarifying my thinking.

On January 16 the ELCA’s Grand Canyon Synod (the synod in which I am rostered) hosted a Listening Session where two members of the Commission gave a summary of their work followed by an opportunity for those attending to share concerns and ask questions.  During the session I made the comment that based upon the language of the resolution from the 2022 Churchwide Assembly which directed the Church Council to create the Commission and upon the fact that twenty percent of the members of the Commission – seven out of thirty-five – are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leaders and/or officers at their place of employment and/or influence, I am convinced that the purpose and intent in creating the Commission is to re-structure the church according to the principles of critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology.  I was told by one of the members of the Commission that there is no pre-determined outcome for the work of the Commission.

After reviewing the summary of the November 30-December 2 meeting of the Commission, which is available on the ELCA website, I then wrote to the two members of the Commission, stating that I did not see how they could make the claim that there is no pre-determined outcome.  I included the Bishop of my Synod among those who received my email.  After thanking them for providing the Listening Session, I wrote, “I would say that the resolution that led to the formation of the Commission as well as the summary of the meeting of the Commission are literally saturated with critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology.”

I then wrote the following to support my point.

* * * * * * 

I will begin with the resolution.  This resolution includes the words, “being particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism.”  Those are very significant words.  They reflect the position that racism is not just something that some people think and do.  Rather imbedded into the very nature of our society are structures that privilege and empower certain races (white people) and disempower, victimize, and marginalize all other races (BIPOC people).  The ELCA is therefore saying that it is not enough to just be non-racist – to not use racist language.  We must be anti-racist.  We must break down the structures that empower some and dis-empower everyone else.  The report of the “Dismantling Racism” internal committee on Day 1 takes this concept even further.  According to that committee, it is important that all of the work of the Commission “is completed through an intersectional lens of dismantling racism.”  Those also are very significant words.  According to the concept of intersectionality, the various systems that privilege and empower some and victimize and disempower everyone else are so intertwined and interconnected that all of these systems need to be dismantled, whether they be white supremacy, male dominance, agism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, heteronormativity, or whatever.

The only specific instruction that has been given to the Commission is to “dismantle racism.”  Nothing else is of prime importance.  The new church is to be structured not first and foremost so as to position it to fulfill the Great Commission.  Rather it is to be structured first and foremost so as to position it to dismantle racism – as well as every other system of oppression that is interconnected with racism.  The summary of the three-day meeting shows how this top priority of dismantling racism is being pursued and implemented.

  • On Day 1 Judith Roberts presented on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Status survey responses from all ELCA synods. I did not see any other area where responses were sought for and/or obtained from all synods. 
  • On Day 1 the Commission “voted on and passed language that clarifies the mandate of the CRLC as being focused on governance.” At the Listening Session that I attended several people expressed deep concern for their congregation’s long-term viability.  You did say that the focus of the Commission is on governance.  I wonder how many members of ELCA congregations, once they hear and understand that, will feel that the ELCA is not concerned about the issues that are important to them.    
  • On Day 1 the “Why and What” internal committee reviewed the completed DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility) audit and discussed “how the recommended edits affect the current purpose statements.” Again, as with the DEI status survey responses from all synods, no other survey responses were solicited and received and no other audit was completed.  All of which shows what is important and what is not.
  • I have already mentioned the great significance of the “intersectional lens of dismantling racism” language of the report from the “Dismantling Racism” internal committee on Day 1. This same committee has also analyzed “how racism is embedded within the current structures of the ELCA.”  If systemic racism needs to be dismantled – along with all the other systems of oppression that are interconnected with systemic racism – and systemic racism exists throughout the ELCA, then we should not be surprised if in the end the Commission will recommend dismantling the entire ELCA.
  • On Day 2 Judith Roberts was back to present the executive summary from the Task Force for Strategic Authentic Diversity. With all that is being said, I assume that the belief is that Strategic Authentic Diversity will never be achieved by the method that the ELCA has been using from the beginning – having and requiring quotas.  Rather Strategic Authentic Diversity will be achieved only by dismantling all interconnected systems of power imbalance and oppression. 
  • On Day 2 three people presented on the ELCA Churchwide Office’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility audit. As I remember from the Listening Session, the ELCA is so proud of itself for being the first of its kind of organization to complete a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility audit.
  • On Day 2 Vance Blackfox’s presentation on marginalized leadership movements and racial equity in the ELCA again shows the concerns, values, and priorities of the Commission.

So what are we to make of all of this?  I can see only one possible conclusion.  There is a pre-determined outcome to the work of the Commission – and that is to create a whole new church that will be structured according to the principles of critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology.  The Commission has been appointed to create a whole new church that will be positioned not to fulfill the Great Commission but to be in the forefront of a massive cultural movement to create a whole new society based upon (dare I say it?) Marxist ideology.

* * * * * *

I then ended by thanking them for hearing my concerns.  I sent this email on Friday, January 26.  I have received a very gracious response from my bishop.  As of February 4 – nine days after sending the email – I have heard nothing from the members of the Commission – not even the courtesy of an email like, “Thank you for attending the Listening Session and sharing your concerns.” 

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VIDEO MINISTRIES

“THE BLACKWELL COMPANION TO NATURAL THEOLOGY”  

Many thanks to Ken Coughlan, Media Director, Director of International Programs, and Staff Counsel for Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Joppa, Maryland (NALC) for his review of The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland.  A link to Ken’s video review can be found HEREA link to our You Tube channel, which contains reviews of nearly three dozen books as well as a dozen CORE Convictions videos on various topics related to the Christian faith and life, can be found HERE

According to Ken, this volume is an almost 700-page collection of essays from the brightest minds in the field on the subject. However, for any Lutheran the first question we have to answer is whether Natural Theology has a place in the Lutheran tradition in light of Luther’s views on the limitations of human reason.

In this review, Christian apologist Ken Coughlan first gives a brief outline of the specifically Lutheran question to help you decide whether further exploration of the book is in line with your theological convictions. He then describes the book’s approach as a whole and gives a summary of the pros and cons for particular audiences. This work is not for everyone, but it can be a valuable resource for its intended audience.

For more material from Ken, please check out his website – kencoughlan.org

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May the Lord bless you as you begin your Lenten journey.

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director Lutheran Core

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com   




Letter from the Director – December 2023

YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO GOD

This Christmas season we hear again what the angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all people: To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  The fact that God would make an announcement like that to some shepherds helps us understand the true meaning of Christmas.  For no one thought much of shepherds.  Shepherds lived out in the fields – with animals.  Shepherds had no power and no prestige.  And yet God’s messenger-angel came with the greatest of announcements to some shepherds.  

A Savior was born for some shepherds.  The announcement of His birth was first given to shepherds.  What can that mean for us today?  I can think of three things.

  1. YOU MATTER

The fact that the good news of the birth of Jesus was first given to some shepherds means that no matter how insignificant you may feel and think you are, still you matter to God.  All throughout the Bible we see God’s honoring and blessing and using people whom the world would overlook and ignore.

For example, five thousand men, plus women and children, had stayed all day to listen to Jesus.  At the end of the day they were hungry, but no one had thought to bring any food, except for one young boy who had five small rolls and two small fish.  It was not much, but it was enough.  Jesus took that small amount and from that small amount fed the many.  And God is always doing that, isn’t He?  He takes what we give to Him and then makes it into more than enough.

When God wanted a mother for His Son, He went to a small, insignificant village called Nazareth where he found a young peasant girl.  And when God’s Son was born, He was born not in one of the best of hospitals, surrounded by a team of the best medical professionals.  Rather He was born in a cave.  And then He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.

And when God made His birth announcement, it was first made to some shepherds.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If God cares about sparrows and lilies, then He certainly cares about you.”  If God values shepherds, then He certainly values you.

And we need to hear that, don’t we?  That God cares about us and values us.  That we matter to God.  People who are lonely and/or depressed during this holiday season need to hear that they matter to God.  People who are spending their first Christmas alone – without a certain loved one – need to hear that they matter to God.

We all need to hear that we matter to God, for we all have known feelings of rejection.  We all have experienced being put down and left out.  But at Christmas time God says, “I made My announcement to some shepherds, and I make My announcement to you.  A Savior is born for you because you matter.”

  1. LIFE MATTERS

I can imagine those shepherds sitting around their campfire many nights wondering if their lives mattered and were worth anything.  “What difference does it make,” they might have asked themselves and each other many times, “whether we take care of our sheep or not?”

And maybe you also wonder, “What difference does it make whether I get up in the morning and go to work every day and/or do the things I do every day?”  Do you feel like your life is just one endless cycle of things that really do not matter?  Do you wonder whether your life is really worth living?

But when God comes and makes His announcement to some shepherds, He is also saying to you, “Life matters; your life matters; your life is My gift to you.”  Therefore, live every moment of it to the fullest.  Your life does matter to God.

And every life matters to God.  It is impossible to live – even for a few moments on this earth – and not influence somebody in one way or another.  We are all always influencing somebody – either for good or for bad. 

Life matters.  Your life matters.  Lives of kings and lives of shepherds all matter.  We all matter and are important to God.

  1. FAITH MATTERS

I believe that these shepherds were men of faith.  In fact, I believe that they had a deeper faith than many of the religious leaders of the day who went to the synagogue or to the Temple every day.  I believe that these shepherds believed in and were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. 

When things got especially tough.  During times of poverty, enslavement, trial, and exile, I believe that these shepherds, along with many others in Israel, would think about the Messiah and would remember God’s promise that some day the Messiah would come.

And so they would pray over and over again, “God, may the Messiah come, and may he come today.”  They prayed that prayer for hundreds of years.  And many times they must have wondered, “Is our faith really worth anything?  Does God really hear our prayers?  Does God remember and keep His promises?  Is the Messiah ever going to come?”

Down through the years there must have been some who quit praying, who quit believing.  But when the announcement of the angels came to some shepherds, God was saying, “Faith matters.  Your faith is not in vain.  I am a God who hears and remembers and keeps His promises.  And now the Messiah has come.  I have kept My promise.”

And how about us?  Sometimes we grow weary.  Sometimes we wonder if it is worth it to go to church and to work so hard in the work of the church.  Especially when so many others, including many members of our own family and many of our friends and neighbors, do not go to and are not involved in church.

But then we think of the faith of the shepherds, and the faith of so many others of God’s people down through the ages and at the time of Jesus’ birth, and with them we say, “Amen, come, Lord Jesus.”

Yes, you matter, life matters, and faith matters.  The announcement of the angels tells us that, like the shepherds, we are important to God.  Hark, can you hear the angels sing? 

* * * * * *

VIDEO MINISTRY

VIDEO BOOK REVIEW – “THE SURPRISING REBIRTH OF BELIEF IN GOD”

BY JUSTIN BRIERLEY  

Many thanks to ELCA pastor Kevin Haug for his review of Justin Brierley’s book, “The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God.”  Every day we are reminded of all of the chaos in our world and of the total inability of the human race to live in peace, so this video is a most needed and appropriate review for December, when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.  A link to Kevin’s video can be found HEREA link to our YouTube channel, which contains nearly four dozen videos, can be found HERE.

 Kevin writes – Host of the Unbelievable podcast on YouTube, Justin has noticed a change in those whom he invites on his show.  Very few militant atheists engage anymore, and they have been replaced with atheist/agnostics who are very sympathetic towards the Christian faith.  Not only that, many of them argue that the Christian worldview provides the basic foundation for Western Civilization.  Some have even converted to the Christian faith. These include scientists, artists, journalists, and scholars.  Brierley wonders if the outgoing tide of Christianity is about to change – that people will start returning to the church because it has the capability to provide what secular culture cannot: meaning, purpose, and a comprehensive view of reality.  Brierley ends with some pertinent advice for the church.

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May the Lord bless you with His hope, love, peace, and joy during this Christmas season.

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com

 




Letter from the Director – October 2023

SINCE GOD IS FOR US

I am a Phoenix Symphony groupee. I feel very fortunate to live in a metropolitan area that has a symphony orchestra of the quality of the Phoenix Symphony. On September 30 I went to a performance which featured Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” HERE is a link to a video of that composition.

Even if you are not a fan of classical music, I am sure you recognize its dramatic opening, entitled “O Fortuna.” It has been used dozens of times in movies, TV shows, commercials, and even football games. The major theme of this mighty work is the unpredictability of life. The Roman goddess Fortuna and her “wheel of fortune” make sure that the outcome is always outside of our control. The text is based upon a manuscript by the same name that was compiled between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The concert notes for the evening said that the theme “clearly resonated with the medieval authors who lived in a violent, disease-ridden world over which they had so little control, just as it resonated in Orff’s Germany in the grips of the Nazi regime on the march toward war, and still resonates amid today’s disorienting turbulence.” The piece ends with the same pounding timpani and spine-chilling choral harmonies as it began. “O Fortuna” – the fateful wheel of fortune is still spinning recklessly and out of control. It is a profoundly moving and disturbing musical composition.

My wife often accuses me of anticipating the “worst possible scenario.” I told her that “Carmina Burana” is worst possible scenario on steroids. But then, because I am a Lutheran pastor, it got me to thinking of the way that Martin Luther viewed God and the world before he discovered the Gospel. If God is an angry judge whom I am completely unable to satisfy, then how could I have a view of life and the world that is any less frightening and any more hopeless than the perspective of “Carmina Burana”?

But fortunately Martin Luther found in the writings of the apostle Paul the Good News that we can be “justified by (God’s) grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3: 24). Instead of feeling and fearing that the world is against me, God is angry with me, and life is out of control, I can say with the apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8: 31). None of the powers of this world “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 39). Therefore, we can be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” because we can know for sure that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15: 58).

I am thankful to God for the Reformation. Because of the Gospel and Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel I do not have to approach life with the attitude of “Carmina Burana.”

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ABUSE OF POWER IN THE ELCA’S METROPOLITAN CHICAGO SYNOD

In my Summer Letter from the Director I gave a very detailed account of how Bishop Yehiel Curry of the ELCA’s Metropolitan Chicago Synod committed egregious acts of abuse of power, threatening, bullying, and intimidating against a retired pastor rostered in another synod and lay leaders of a congregation in that synod. A link to that letter can be found HERE.

As I communicated in my August Letter from the Director, on March 15 I wrote to Ms. Judith Roberts, senior director for ELCA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and co-convenor of a task force for addressing the disciplinary concerns of leaders of color. A press release dated March 10 had told of how her task force had made a presentation to the February 28-March 4 meeting of the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops. I told her about the situation with Bishop Curry and St. Timothy Lutheran Church. I described how leaders who are not people of color had been bullied by a synodical bishop, who is a person of color. A leader of color had been the perpetrator rather than the victim of harassment and discrimination.

The next day she wrote back. She said, “Thank you for sharing your concerns, and we will certainly take them into account. The Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously; if you believe that a synod bishop has engaged in misconduct, please direct that concern to the Presiding Bishop.”

I knew that I could not write to Bishop Eaton right away. I had to wait until after the three sons of the former pastor who had been maintaining the property and providing leadership and stability for the congregation were safely out of the parsonage. When they were safe, I sent an account of the events at St. Timothy to five ELCA leaders – Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton; Imran Siddiqui, vice president of the ELCA; Tracie Bartholomew, chairperson (at the time) of the Conference of Bishops; and the two members of the task force who made the presentation – Judith Roberts and Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod. I never heard from any of them.

After an October 4 news release told about a follow up report from the task force to the September 26-30 meeting of the Conference of Bishops, I again wrote to Ms. Judith Roberts. I told her why I had not written right away and then said, “I never heard from anyone, even though you said that ‘the Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously.’ And now that Bishop Curry has been elected chairperson of the Conference of Bishops, I doubt that there is any chance that I will be heard.”

I then added, “The only conclusion I can come to is this. Even though the ELCA claims to be an organization that pursues justice, it does not wish to hear and will not hear anything other than the preferred narrative. Even though the ELCA says that it wants to reach out to those on the margins, it will not reach out to those whom it has marginalized. Even though the ELCA desires the role of speaking truth to power, it refuses to realize where it is the power that truth needs to be spoken to.”

I concluded, “The October 4 news release said that your task force has ‘considered a process for community healing and grief.’ The ELCA has caused great grief. It does not seem to have any concern or interest in helping to bring about healing. The recent events in the Sierra Pacific Synod give the impression that it is only if enough people are able to create a big enough groundswell for long enough that the ELCA will stop and take notice and deal with where it has caused great grief, pain, offence, and damage.” I then thanked her for hearing my concerns.

I am very glad to be able to share that on October 12 I received a very cordial response from Ms. Roberts. She said again, “Any concerns related to a synod bishop and issues of abuse are to be directed to Bishop Eaton.” Therefore I will write – again – to Bishop Eaton. Stay tuned.

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VIDEO MINISTRIES

HERE is a link to our You Tube channel. In the top row you will find both our Video Book Reviews as well as our CORE Convictions Videos on various topics related to Biblical teaching, Lutheran theology, and Christian living. You will find these videos in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent. In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos. Many thanks to Pastor Nathan Hoff for his CORE Convictions Video, which we are featuring this month. A link to his video can be found HERE.

A SIMPLE WAY TO PRAY

by NATHAN HOFF

Martin Luther described a simple way to pray in a letter to his barber, Peter. It is a spiritual treasure: https://ms.fortresspress.com/dow…/R2R_ASimpleWaytoPray.pdf.

In this video Pastor Nathan Hoff gives us a tutorial in the Way of Word and Prayer, which is part of the spiritual practices at his congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in San Pedro, California. As very young children we learned to speak by listening to our parents. In the same way Pastor Hoff and the people of Trinity Lutheran use the Moravian Daily Text to respond to God’s Word in prayer. In this video he shows us how he used the Scriptures passages for September 20 as an example of first hearing the Word of God and then praying. The Moravian Daily Text can be found at www.groundupgrace.com.

Eugene Peterson encouraged this form of praying when he said, “Prayer is answering speech.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer agreed when he added, “We do not pray from the poverty of our own hearts, but from the riches of God’s Word.”

In addition to serving as pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Nathan has taught extensively at such places as Mount Carmel Ministries in Alexandria, MN, Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute, Master’s Institute Seminary, The Awaken Project, and the World Mission Prayer League.

More information regarding Trinity’s Rule of Life, which includes a commitment to the Way of Word and Prayer, can be found at www.trinitysanpedroorg/rule of life.

Grateful for the Gospel,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com




Letter from the Director – August 2023

WILL YOUR CHURCH BE NEXT?

There are three things that I would like to say as follow up to my last two articles about two ELCA congregations where their respective synods used paragraph S13.24 in the ELCA’s constitution for synods as justification and empowerment to take over and close a CORE-friendly congregation and to claim to have the right to the property of a former-ALC congregation that had taken its first vote to disaffiliate from the ELCA. 

The first one is this: It could happen to anyone. S13.24 empowers a synod council to “take charge and control of the property of a congregation” if “the membership of a congregation has become so scattered or so diminished in numbers that it cannot provide required governance or . . . fulfill the purposes for which it was organized” and if the synod council determines that it needs to take this action “to protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.” Since telling the story of two congregations – one in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and one in the Southwest California Synod – I have been informed of situations in other synods where the synod council has taken similar action against congregations. And in none of those situations has the membership of that congregation become “so scattered or so diminished” or has the property of that congregation become in danger of “waste and deterioration.” Rather in each situation either the synod did not like the direction of the ministry of the congregation (it did not line up with the ELCA) or the synod wanted to grab the assets of the congregation before that congregation were to leave the ELCA. In one situation the synod council took this action against a congregation even though the synod committee that was charged with reviewing the situation did not find sufficient reason for the synod council to do so. 

It is important that people know what this kind of total takeover entails. In one situation the synod closed the congregation. In another situation the synod demanded that the congregation turn over the deed to the property. In a third situation the synod appointed a group of trustees to have full and complete authority in regard to the assets and business affairs of the congregation. In other words, the congregation’s elected leadership is completely disempowered.

It is my opinion that we are going to see an increasing number of examples of synod councils’ using (mis-using) S13.24 to close, take over, and/or seize the properties of congregations. As synods continue to experience a decrease in their number of congregations and a decrease in the financial viability of congregations, they will experience a decrease in income from congregations. And with the severe shortage of pastors, synods will not be able to provide all congregations with a pastor. So what will they do? I believe they will take over and close congregations, get the number of congregations down to the number of available pastors, sell buildings and properties, and thereby accumulate financial assets that will enable them to continue to advance their radical, leftist agenda for years to come. 

Because synods are taking this kind of action against congregations whose membership is not scattered or diminished, and whose property is not in danger of “waste and deterioration,” this kind of takeover could happen to anyone. Will your congregation be next?  

The second thing I want to say is this. I continue to be absolutely astounded at how quickly the ELCA is departing from Biblical moral values, confessional Lutheran theology, and a Biblical concept of the mission of the church. Once the dam broke, it did not take long for anything holding back the floodwaters to be completely washed away.

In my Summer Letter from the Director I wrote about St. Timothy Lutheran Church in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago. This was the location for Lutheran CORE’s annual Encuentro festival for bi-lingual and Spanish language ministries. The bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod threatened the supply preacher (who also was the coordinator of the Encuentros) with discipline and possible removal from the ELCA clergy roster if he did not immediately cease his ministry there. And the sons of the former pastor who were maintaining the property and providing stability and leadership to the congregation were evicted from the parsonage (and have since then moved out of the area). 

Within a few short days after the removal of confessional Lutheran leaders, what is happening at that congregation now? Under the guidance and with the permission of the two Latinx pastors who were appointed by the synodical bishop, a neighborhood group that makes use of a South American psychoactive and entheogenic brewed drink called Ayahuasca is holding weekend-long gatherings in the church building. In case you are not familiar with it, Ayahuasca is used both socially and as a ceremonial or shamanic spiritual medicine among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. Its use has recently spread to North America and Europe. This drink creates altered states of consciousness and psychedelic experiences which can include visual hallucinations and altered perceptions of reality. Before the weekend-long event a shaman blesses the space, which once had been the location of a Christo-centric Lutheran ministry. 

How could one possibly justify the holding of this kind of alternate spiritual experience on the property of a Lutheran congregation? According to one of the Latinx pastors who was appointed by the synod to lead and serve the congregation, the people of South America who make use of Ayahuasca were oppressed by the Conquistadores and their religions and culture were marginalized if not destroyed. Therefore, we must be hospitable to them today. Certainly we need to be welcoming and hospitable to all people. But I cannot imagine the Old Testament prophets saying to the Canaanite people, “We have oppressed you ever since we moved into this land. We have marginalized if not destroyed your religions and culture. Therefore, we will invite you to set up an altar in the Temple.” What that synod-appointed Latinx pastor is doing sounds consistent with the “Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which was overwhelmingly approved by the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. After declaring that “we must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion,” that document then states that our main role as Christians is to love and serve our neighbor. In other words, as followers of Christ we have nothing unique to offer. And if we have nothing unique to offer, why not invite a shaman to bless the space, which once had been the location of a Christo-centric Lutheran ministry, and why not offer Ayahuasca-induced altered states of consciousness, psychedelic experiences, and visual hallucinations, instead of introducing people to Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and who came that we might have life and have it abundantly?

The third thing I want to say is this. As expected, the ELCA has absolutely no interest in hearing any voice other than its own.

As I wrote in my Summer Letter from the Director, I was very pleased to hear back – and in a very timely way – from Judith Roberts, senior director for ELCA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and co-convenor of a task force for addressing the disciplinary concerns of leaders of color. I told her about the situation with the bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and St. Timothy, and how in this situation a leader of color was the perpetrator rather than the victim of harassment and discrimination. She wrote back –

“Thank you for sharing your concerns, and we will certainly take them into account. The Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously; if you believe that a synod bishop has engaged in misconduct, please direct that concern to the Presiding Bishop.”

I waited until after the three sons of the former pastor who had been maintaining the property and providing leadership and stability for the congregation were safely out of the parsonage. Then I sent an account of the events at St. Timothy to five ELCA leaders – Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton; Imran Siddiqui, vice president of the ELCA; Tracie Bartholomew, chairperson of the Conference of Bishops; and the two members of the task force that made the presentation to the Conference of Bishops – Judith Roberts and Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod. I never heard from any of them.

* * * * * *

VIDEO MINISTRIES

HERE is a link to our You Tube channel. In the top row you will find both our Video Book Reviews as well as our CORE Convictions Videos on various topics related to Biblical teaching, Lutheran theology, and Christian living. You will find these videos in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent. In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos. This month we want to feature two videos.     

WHO GETS TO EAT? ISSUES OF ADMISSION TO THE LORD’S SUPPER

BY ERIC W. GRITSCH

REVIEWED BY FR LAWRENCE (LARRY) RECLA

Many thanks to Fr Lawrence (Larry) Recla STS for his review of the book, “Who Gets to Eat?” by Eric W. Gritsch. Pastor Recla is a retired ELCA clergy now serving an Episcopal Church. He is also Dean of the Florida Chapter of The Society of the Holy Trinity. HERE is a link to his video review. 

Pastor Recla writes, In the 1970’s several seminarians at Gettysburg Seminary wanted to have their children receive Communion. The Reverend Dr. Eric W. Gritsch became the center of what some would call a controversy. “Who Gets to Eat?” is my editing nine lectures and printed essays from the late 1970’s as well as other original materials into a format more suitable for reading in a book. Dr. Gritsch invites us to a reasoned debate with the presentation of the various historical positions the Church has practiced and espoused. He has the integrity to include all positions, not just those supporting his conclusions. While I am at some divergence with some of his conclusions, I am convinced that everyone, clergy and laity, would be informed and humbled by attending to his presentation. Some might even be convinced to the contrary of their initial inclinations; all would be the more respectful of others’ conclusions.

REFRESHMENT AND DELIVERANCE: THE MUSIC OF FAITH

BY WILLIAM DECKER

Many thanks to William Decker, retired ELCA deacon (and formerly an associate in ministry), for reminding us of how music will always play an integral part in human life, and this includes the music of faith. HERE is a link to his video, which underscores the amazing role that music has played in Christian congregations.

The author introduces the video with some pivotal theological insights from Martin Luther. In his own writings, Luther spoke the words of a true musician, giving to music his “highest praise” next to theology’s fundamental truths about the Christian life. The video ends by emphasizing the place that Christian hope embodies in each of us as we sing the Lord’s song.

In between these theological pillars, the author then looks at a variety of practical ways that our congregations have sought to worship God through music: that is, through the choir, summer worship, the organ, instrumentalists, and traditional hymns. His video is based on a little more than six decades of congregational experience.

Bill Decker recently retired as the musician at Messiah Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, IL after more than four years. He has sung in children’s and adult choirs and his college’s Chapel Choir. He plays the piano, writes a bit of music, and is a novice at the organ.

* * * * * *

May the Lord bless you, keep you, make His face shine upon you, be gracious to you, look upon you with favor, and give you peace. 

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com




Letter from the Director – Summer 2023

WE ARE ALL VULNERABLE

There have been many occasions when someone who is a member of a congregation that is still in the ELCA has shared with me, “I have told my pastor about my concerns, but the pastor tells me that all those things happening in the ELCA will not affect us.”  I tell them that it is only a matter of time until your beloved orthodox or more moderate pastor will retire or resign and take another call.  And even if you are among the congregations that are fortunate enough to be able to find another orthodox pastor, what about the next time you will be looking for a pastor?  There are only a limited number of orthodox pastors remaining in the ELCA – and we thank God for every single one of them – and that number will only continue to decline.  Plus we know of situations where a synod used a change of pastors as an opportune time to move in and bring the congregation in line with ELCA beliefs, values, and priorities.  Every orthodox congregation still in the ELCA is potentially only one pastor change away from disaster.

And now we have in the ELCA’s Metropolitan Chicago Synod a striking example of the alarming fact that every orthodox congregation still in the ELCA is potentially only one synodical bishop election away from being swooped in on, becoming the victim of a hostile takeover, and being shut down.  Such was the case with the former (now closed by synodical action) St. Timothy Lutheran Church in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago.

VIBRANT MINISTRY

For several years St. Timothy was the location for our annual, fall, Spanish language and bi-lingual ministries Encuentro.  These Encuentros had been Lutheran CORE’s best way of reaching out to and providing a valuable resource for the ELCA.  It was hosted by an ELCA congregation, a majority of those attending were ELCA, and a majority of the presenters were ELCA.  Over the years presenters have included ELCA pastors, theologians, and even a national ELCA staff person.  While drawing primarily ELCA congregations and presenters, the Encuentros were an inter Lutheran offering to congregations and church leaders.  We were delighted a few years ago when newly elected Bishop Yehiel Curry of the Metro Chicago Synod attended a portion of one of our Encuentros.  We warmly welcomed him and we were highly encouraged when he said that he saw himself as bishop for the entire synod.  We never expected what would eventually happen.

The Awes brothers – Joel, David, and Tom – are sons of the former pastor, Robert Awes, who served the congregation from 1981 until the time of his death in 2015.  His widow and three sons continued to live in the parsonage after he died.  His wife died in 2017.  One of his sons, Joel, was serving as president of the congregation.  He and his brothers were maintaining the property and leading the congregation.  Once the site of a vibrant English-speaking ministry, the congregation pre-COVID was making significant progress in reaching out to the Latino community.  COVID brought all that to a halt, but during the last several months the congregation had been able to resume their outreach to the neighborhood.  Among their ministries is the Uncle Charlie program, a monthly social and devotional gathering for adults with special needs, most of whom live in urban group homes on Chicago’s north and west sides. 

After the death of their father, the Awes brothers contacted the Metro Chicago Synod about their need for pastoral leadership.  The only person the synod could provide did not speak Spanish.  The Awes brothers knew that that would not work because they wanted to reach out to their primarily bi-lingual and Spanish speaking neighborhood, so they contacted a bi-lingual ELCA pastor whom they knew from other associations.  Pastor Keith Forni is now retired, but at the time he was pastor of First/Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Joliet, Illinois.  He began providing bi-lingual pulpit supply at St. Timothy with the awareness and implicit encouragement of the former bishop of the Metro Chicago Synod.  He drove ninety miles round trip on most Sundays to lead an afternoon worship service at St. Timothy after leading bi-lingual and English-speaking services in Joliet in the morning.  Former Bishop Wayne Miller would often ask regarding a ministry site, “Is there green in the stem?”  There definitely was green in the St. Timothy stem.  The leaders of St. Timothy were open to being coached in bilingual neighborhood ministry.  They found in Pastor Forni the needed skill set, given his forty-plus years of experience in such contexts. 

In addition to frequently preaching and presiding at bilingual services of Holy Communion, Pastor Forni –

  • Expanded the Uncle Charlie devotional experiences.
  • Curated and gathered needed resources for bilingual Lutheran worship, outreach and Christian education.
  • Initiated sidewalk outreach to the dozens of parents and students going to and from nearby Nixon Elementary School.
  • Led the development of the Thursday Together / “Jueves Juntos” Family Bible Study themed events.
  • Provided pastoral leadership for the community at a prayer vigil following the murder of a two-year-old boy by a gang member’s stray bullet a few blocks from the church.
  • Arranged for a VBS & Service team visit by an Ohio ELCA mission partner congregation.
  • Built up cooperative relationships with area organizations including the Walt Disney birthplace, where some after school events could take place.

St. Timothy became the host site for the annual Spanish language ministry Encuentros which Pastor Forni coordinated.  Lutheran CORE began sponsoring the Encuentros after Pastor Forni became a member of the board of Lutheran CORE.   

THREATS, BULLYING, AND INTIMIDATION

But all that changed in January 2023 when Bishop Curry invited Pastor Forni to his office “regarding St. Timothy.”  When he arrived Pastor Forni was presented with an as yet unseen agenda critical of his service as supply pastor.  Bishop Stacie Fidlar of the ELCA’s Northern Illinois Synod (the synod in which Pastor Forni was rostered) also appeared at the meeting, having made no contact with Pastor Forni prior to that moment.  Pastor Forni felt totally ambushed.  There was absolutely no expression of appreciation for his thirty-six years of faithful ministry in the ELCA plus six prior years in the LCA – all years in Hispanic Latino bilingual contexts.  Rather he was threatened with discipline and possible removal from the ELCA roster if he were to stay any longer than two more weeks with the congregation where he, along with other available bilingual clergy and lay worship leaders, had been providing pulpit supply over a course of seven years.    

Pastor Forni quickly concluded his ministry, as he had been ordered to do.  On his final Sunday there were a couple representatives from the Metro Chicago Synod present who offered a few perfunctory words of thanks for his ministry as supply pastor.  But they spoke in English only in the presence of the predominately Spanish speaking assembly. 

Bishop Curry did not need to be nasty.  He could have thanked Pastor Forni for his years of faithful service and then told him that the synod council had decided to move that ministry in another direction.  If the bishop had taken that approach, Pastor Forni certainly would have been totally cooperative.  But Bishop Curry does not function that way.  He operates by threats, bullying, and intimidation.  Equally disappointing was the fact that Bishop Stacie Fidlar of the Northern Illinois Synod was not willing to tell Bishop Curry to back off and not threaten someone rostered in her synod.  No resistance was given to a bishop who operates by threats, bullying, and intimidation. 

After the absolute fiasco that occurred in the Sierra Pacific Synod, when former bishop Meghan Rohrer removed Pastor Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez as mission developer of a Latino ministry on Our Lady of Guadalupe Day, an action which caused major uproar throughout the ELCA, it was absolutely astounding to me that another synodical bishop would commit such a grievous act of abuse of power.

COMMUNICATION WITH ELCA LEADERS

I read with great interest an ELCA news release dated March 10, 2023 about the February 28-March 4 meeting of the Conference of Bishops.  In that publication it said that the bishops “received a report from the task force addressing the disciplinary concerns of leaders of color.”  It also said that “the task force is expected to make recommendations regarding the current process for discipline, consider a process for community healing and grief, and make recommendations for an office to receive complaints of harassment and discrimination.”  I wrote to the two people who made the presentation, Judith Roberts, senior director for ELCA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and co-convenor of the task force, and Bishop Paul Erickson of the ELCA’s Greater Milwaukee Synod and a member of the task force.  Here in part is what I wrote:  

“The events that transpired in the Sierra Pacific Synod over a year ago certainly sounded the alarm as it brought to our attention the fact that there are times and situations where leaders of color are not treated fairly.

“I am also very aware of another situation in another synod where the synodical bishop, who is a person of color, has been bullying, intimidating, and threatening to discipline a rostered leader who is not a person of color and who is rostered in another synod.  This same synodical bishop is also bullying congregational leaders who are not persons of color.

“As you and your task force do your work, I would hope you would remember and make provision for the fact that –

Leaders who are not people of color can also be the victims of harassment and discrimination 

Leaders of color can be the perpetrators rather than the victims of harassment and discrimination.”

I never heard from Bishop Erickson.  The next day I heard from Ms. Roberts, who wrote –

“Thank you for sharing your concerns, and we will certainly take them into account.  The Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously; if you believe that a synod bishop has engaged in misconduct, please direct that concern to the Presiding Bishop.”

I deeply appreciate the fact that she would write back, and in such a timely way, but after the inexcusably long time that Bishop Eaton took before she responded to the disaster in the Sierra Pacific Synod – and even then, I am certain she responded only because she absolutely was forced to – it did not all blow over and go away as she had hoped – I wondered what chance did I have of ever being heard – let alone responded to – about the situation at St. Timothy.

But to get back to the story at St. Timothy.

ABUSE OF POWER

The next two Sundays the people of St. Timothy were deeply disturbed that the person who had been bringing them God’s Word and providing pastoral leadership and care had been so abruptly removed – and without consulting them.  Several of them wrote to Bishop Curry, advocating for Pastor Forni.  When they were told that the synod would be bringing in a couple Spanish speaking Latina pastors they asked for more time to grieve and process their emotions before the synod would replace Pastor Forni.  They were assured by an assistant to the bishop that they would be given more time.  But it did not turn out that way.  The following Sunday Bishop Curry and around a dozen people from the synod came in, took over the service from the elected leadership of the congregation, and held a congregational meeting afterwards.  At that meeting Bishop Curry said that he had visited a couple times during the meetings of the Uncle Charlie program (which simply is not true) and, in order to discredit and undermine the Awes brothers, he suggested that there may be charges brought against the Awes brothers from former members, but he would not say from whom or what those charges might be about.  Again, threats, bullying, and intimidation – this time combined with not telling the truth.  Certainly not the behavior that one would expect and hope for from a bishop.

Over the next several weeks the engaging and personable Latina pastors endeared themselves to the Spanish-speaking and bi-lingual congregation.  Then they went around the Awes brothers to recruit some of the people to serve on an advisory council for the congregation.

NO RESPECT, REGARD, OR APPRECIATION

The next step came on May 4, when the Awes brothers received a “Demand for Possession and Notice of Termination – 30 Day Notice” from an attorney representing the synod.  They were informed that their tenancy of the parsonage would be terminated on June 30, 2023.  Again, absolutely no concern for them, no expression of appreciation for what they had been doing for many years to maintain the property and keep the congregation and its ministries going.  Just an abrupt eviction notice.  We were wondering about challenging the legality of that notice, in light of tenants’ rights in the city of Chicago and the fact that the letter stated that the synod was “the owner of the manse and church” and it gave the wrong address for the parsonage.  But the following day, on Sunday, May 5, the congregation was given a letter from Bishop Curry.  That letter told of a decision that had been made by the Synod Council to “exercise the power of S13.24 of the synod constitution to ‘take charge and control of the property of a congregation of this synod to hold, manage, and convey the same on behalf of this synod’” if “the Synod Council determines that the membership of a congregation has become so scattered or so diminished in numbers that it cannot provide required governance or that it has become impractical for the congregation to fulfill the purposes for which it was organized” and if “the Synod Council determines that it is necessary for this synod to protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.”

Therefore, the letter continued, “St. Timothy Lutheran Church is now closed” and will be replaced by a “new Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community, San Timoteo.”  (It is interesting that the name San Timoteo had been used interchangeably with St. Timothy in neighborhood outreach for six-plus years.)  The letter said that the congregation had the right to appeal this decision to the next Synod Assembly.  But with the way in which the Awes brothers had been undermined and circumvented, what chance would they have?

Joel Awes, former president of the congregation and son of the man who had been pastor for thirty-four years, was telling me what it felt like on that Sunday.  There was absolutely no recognition and expression of appreciation for the thirty-four-year ministry of his father.  There was no celebration of the work of that congregation over the previous one hundred nineteen years.  There was no sense that anything of value had been done by anyone since the congregation was founded in 1904.  There was just a blunt statement from the bishop, “St. Timothy Lutheran Church is now closed.” 

Any ministry that does not line up with ELCA beliefs, values, and priorities should realize that it may be only a matter of time – perhaps only one bishop election away – before the synod will come in with a wrecking ball, knock them over, and shut them down – all while showing absolutely no respect, consideration, or valuing of anything done by the people of previous decades.

Just think about it.  Let this sink in.

A synod that claims to be on the side of the oppressed has become the oppressor.

A synod that claims to be concerned for the homeless has thrown three brothers out on the street.

And what is scary is that we are all vulnerable.

QUESTIONS

If I had the chance to talk with Bishop Curry, there are several questions I would like to ask him – 

  1. You said at a meeting with the congregation of St. Timothy on February 19 that it is against ELCA policy for a pastor to be able to serve as interim pastor, transition pastor, or do pulpit supply outside their own synod.  Where is that policy in writing?
  2. If that is ELCA policy, why would Bishop Miller (former bishop of the Metro Chicago Synod) have allowed Pastor Forni to be transition pastor at St. Timothy? What about other situations where ELCA pastors have been interims and/or provided pulpit supply outside the synod where they are rostered? 
  3. Since Bishop Miller allowed Pastor Forni to be transition pastor at St. Timothy, why did you threaten to bring charges against Pastor Forni for merely doing what he had been allowed to do?
  4. What ELCA policy or provision empowers you to threaten to bring disciplinary charges against a pastor who is rostered in another synod – especially when the bishop of that synod says that she has no charges to bring against Pastor Forni?
  5. Since you see what Pastor Forni and the Awes brothers had been doing as so grievous, out of line, and inappropriate, why did you wait so long to take action and why are you taking action now? If Pastor Forni’s serving as pulpit supply had been acceptable to you for several years after you were elected bishop, how did it become unacceptable?
  6. On Saturday, February 18 the congregation was told by your assistant, Pastor Kathy Nolte, that she would honor their request for time to process their shock and grief over the abrupt removal of Pastor Forni before scheduling any meeting with the synod regarding interim pastoral leadership.  And yet the next day you and around a dozen other people from the synod showed up and took over the proceedings of the congregation.  Why the change, and why were they not told ahead of time? How is the congregation now to trust and have confidence in any communication from the synod?
  7. On Sunday, February 19 you said that you had attended two Encuentros, including the entirety of one of them, and a couple sessions of the congregation’s Uncle Charlie program.  That simply is not true. You did attend a portion of one of our Encuentros, and you were warmly welcomed, but the director of the Uncle Charlie program does not remember a time when you attended one of their sessions.  When you attended a portion of one of the Encuentros, you said that you were bishop of the entire synod.  We were very grateful for and greatly encouraged by your comment.
  8. On Sunday, February 19 you said that there are a couple former members of the congregation who may bring charges against the Awes brothers, but you could not say who those former members are and what those charges might be.  Making a statement like that is manipulative, bullying, unfair, and inappropriate for a leader in Christ’s Church. 
  9. Paragraph C9.06 of the ELCA’s Model Constitution for Congregations states that an interim pastor is appointed by the bishop of the synod with the consent of the congregation or the congregation council. You did not have the consent of either the congregation or the council to appoint an interim pastor. You removed the congregation’s pulpit supply pastor without even consulting with the congregation and/or its leadership. Paragraph 9.31 of the ELCA Constitution for Churchwide says that congregations have authority in all matters not assigned by the ELCA Constitution and Bylaws to synods and the churchwide organization. By your words and actions you have completely dismissed, discounted, disregarded, and ignored the integrity of a congregation. 
  10. Through this whole process you have shown absolutely no regard or respect for and you have expressed absolutely no appreciation to Pastor Forni for his ministry at St. Timothy, and to the Awes brothers for their maintaining the property and ministry of the congregation. Is that typical of how you fulfill your role as Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod?
  11. On the day that a letter from you announced that St. Timothy is now closed, you showed and expressed absolutely no appreciation, respect, or regard for anything that anyone at St. Timothy had done during its life as a congregation.  You expressed no appreciation for the ministry of Robert Awes, who served the congregation faithfully for thirty-four years.  Does that complete disregard, ingratitude, and insensitivity reflect your attitude, opinion, and feelings about everything and everyone that pre-dates you?   
  12. After former bishop Meghan Rohrer was pressured to resign when their overstepping of authority was exposed after their removal of a Latinx clergy person from his congregation and the ELCA clergy roster without due process, we were surprised that yet another ELCA synodical bishop would negatively impact another bi-lingual ministry without notice. Knowing that the ELCA is 96-97% white, ELCA church leadership wishes to encourage ethnic ministries.  How do your actions support rather than work against this goal and priority?   

What is scary about this whole situation is the fact that something like this could happen to any orthodox congregation still in the ELCA.  Potentially it is only one synodical bishop election away. 

In the ELCA we are all vulnerable. 

* * * * * * *

VIDEO MINISTRIES

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find both our Video Book Reviews as well as our CORE Convictions Videos on various topics related to Biblical teaching, Lutheran theology, and Christian living.  You will find these videos in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  This month we want to feature two videos.     

MISSIO DEI – THE MISSION OF GOD

by Pastor Tom

Many thanks to Dr. Tom for his video discussion of Missio Dei – the Mission of God.  Here is a link to his video.  Pastor Tom has been active in global mission for many years.  In addition to being pastor of an NALC congregation in Illinois, he works with the organization Awakening Lives to World Mission as Director of their Heart for Mission Ministries.  In that capacity, he focuses on the countries of Laos and Thailand, which is a part of the world where he served for many years before returning to the United States.  In addition, he works as co-director of the Global Lutheran House of Study at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he also teaches a number of courses on Lutheran Theology.

Pastor Tom from Northern Illinois emphasizes that Missio Dei is God’s mission.  It is not my mission or my church’s mission.  God is the initiator.  He sends us on mission.  He entrusts us with His mission.  He created the Church to do His mission.  We have the privilege of participating in God’s mission.  We are called to embody His Kingdom and to reflect His character to those around us.

Unfortunately, we can distort God’s mission.  We can lose sight of God’s purpose of mission.  We can try to make it our church rather than Christ’s church.  We want to do our mission, not Christ’s mission.  If a church focuses on internal matters, it loses sight of God’s mission.  We must begin with a big mindset.  A church that has a real heart for global mission will also be more involved in local mission.  As a congregation, when we focus on God’s mission rather than our own mission, we see the fruit of our faith. 

MODERN PAGANS SEEK TO ISOLATE A “SUBVERSIVE” RELIGION

A REVIEW OF “PAGANS AND CHRISTIANS IN THE CITY:

CULTURE WARS FROM THE TIBER TO THE POTOMAC”

by the Rev. Dr. Douglas Schoelles

Many thanks to NALC pastor Doug Schoelles for his review of this book by Steven D. Smith, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego.  Here is a link to his review.  A longer summary of his video can be found here.

In this book Smith argues that the current societal and legal conflicts are a renewal struggle of Paganism to “reverse the revolution Christianity achieved in late antiquity” that brought an end to “the merry dance of paganism.” Smith makes the distinction between the immanent religion of paganism and the transcendent religion of Christianity. Modern pagans resent the all-encompassing Christian standard of truth and morality as an oppressive limitation to the desire to live as one pleases. Pagans want to remove the accommodation of religion as practiced by our secular government and courts and banish any reference or preference for transcendent religion. Ultimately, he asserts the Pagan City, aka the State, must have people’s allegiance above all other powers or influences. Ultimately this means that people devoted to a transcendent religion must be marginalized and excluded from public life, by force if necessary. 

* * * * * *

May the Lord continue to bless you, keep you, watch over you, be gracious to you, and give you peace. 

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com




Letter From The Director – April 2023

My Heart Will Go On

On April 14, 1912, at 11: 40 PM ship time, the British passenger liner, the RMS Titanic, hit an iceberg, which caused her hull plates to buckle inwards in a number of places on her starboard side, and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea.  Over the next two and a half hours the ship filled with water until just before 2:20 AM ship time, on April 15, 1912, when she broke up and sank with over fifteen hundred people still on board. 

One hundred years later – April 15, 2012 – was a Sunday.  In fact, it was the Sunday after Easter.

That day I preached a sermon entitled, “My Heart Will Go On.”

I am sure you recognize that phrase as the title of the main theme song of the 1997 blockbuster movie, “Titanic,” a fictionalized account of the sinking of that great ship.  It starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as members of two very different social classes who fall in love aboard the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage.

Recorded by Celine Dion, the song “My Heart Will Go On” quickly became the number one song all over the world.  The fact that that song became Celine Dion’s greatest hit, one of the best-selling singles of all time, and the world’s best-selling single for the year 1998, I believe shows a deep longing in the human heart.

On the Sunday after Easter, April 15, 2012 – one hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic – I shared with the congregation during the sermon that I could imagine the disciples – after the resurrection of Jesus – gathering together many times and sharing thoughts and feelings very similar to the ones that are expressed in Celine Dion’s song.

“Every night in my dreams I see you, I feel you.
That is how I know you go on.
Far across the distance and spaces between us
You have come to show you go on.

“Near, far, wherever you are 
I believe that the heart does go on.
Once more you open the door and you are here in my heart 
And my heart will go on and on.”

In one scene in the movie, as the ship is sinking, Leonardo DiCaprio says to Kate Winslet, “Do not let go of my hand.”  Kate Winslet replies, “I will never let go.”

And the resurrected Jesus says the same thing to us today.  “Do not let go of my hand” and “I will never let go of you.”  Therefore, because of Easter, like the original disciples, we too can say, My heart can and will go on.

First, because of Easter, your heart can and will go on BECAUSE YOUR PAST CAN BE FORGIVEN.   

Have you ever been halfway through a project and then wished that you could start out all over again?  A lot of people are living their lives that way.  They get halfway through life and then they wish that they could start out all over again.

We have all done things that we wish we had not done, said things that we wish we had not said, and thought things that we wish we had not thought.  We all have regrets.  We all carry a heavy load of guilt.

A lot of people cannot move on with the present and the future because they are stuck in the past. Some guilt and/or regret has them all tied up.  They are allowing a former relationship to mess up all their current relationships.  They are saying, “I guess I am just going to have to sit out the rest of my life.”  They are carrying around this huge emotional baggage, and they are wondering why they are so unhappy.

The apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2: 14, “He erased the record that stood against us with its legal demands; He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Jesus nailed all your sins to the cross.  He paid for all your guilt.  Which means that you do not have to pay for it anymore.

He was nailed to the cross so that you can stop beating yourself up.  He wants to – and He can – forgive your past.  He can cancel all of your debts – all of your emotional debts, relational debts, and spiritual debts.  He can cancel them all.

Like a bill that has been paid, once it has been paid, you can forget about it.  The same thing is true with your sins.  Once God has forgiven it, you can forget it.  It is like when you pay a bill online.  Once you have paid it, you can get a receipt for it.  If anyone says it has not been paid, you can show written proof that it has been paid.  The Bible is written proof that the debt for our sins has been paid.  Why would anyone not want to be a follower of Jesus if for no other reason than just to have a clear conscience?  Because of Easter, your heart can go on because your past can be forgiven.

In our First Reading for Easter Sunday, in Acts 10: 43, Peter is at the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion.  He says about Jesus, “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

Paul wrote in Romans 8: 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Jesus.”   

Did you ever have an Etch-A-Sketch?  What can you do if you mess up the picture on an Etch-A-Sketch?  You can flip it over, shake it, and then turn it right side up again, and there you will have a clean slate.  The cross is God’s Etch-A-Sketch.  He wants to and He can give you a clean slate.

Because of Easter you can know for sure that every single thing that you have ever done wrong can be completely forgiven.  There is therefore now no condemnation.  Jesus did not come to rub it in.  Rather He came to rub it out.  Jesus said in John 3: 17, “I did not come to condemn the world; rather I came to save the world.”  He wants to help you.  He wants to change you.  He wants to give you a new beginning.  Because of Easter, your heart can and will go on BECAUSE YOUR PAST CAN BE FORGIVEN.

And then second, because of Easter your heart can and will go on BECAUSE YOUR PRESENT CAN BE MANAGEABLE.

Several years ago I was driving on one of the southern California freeways during the middle of the day when all of a sudden my windshield started getting pelted by dozens of little objects as if it were hailing.  But the sky was clear.  Then I thought that maybe I just got hit by a bunch of gravel that came flying off of a truck in front of me.  But there was no truck in front of me.

Then I realized that I had gotten hit by dozens and dozens of bees.  There were splattered bees all over my windshield and mangled bee bodies on my windshield wipers.  I must have run into a swarm of bees.  I was just glad that I was not riding a motorcycle with my mouth open.

And the truth of the matter is that you never know when you might run into – or get run into by – a swarm of something.  Much in life is unmanageable.

Somebody once said, Maturity is when you figure out that you do not have it all figured out. Maturity is when you realize that you cannot control everything that life is going to send your way.

Faith is realizing that you cannot control everything in your life, but God can. So why not look to God and ask Him for His help.  Let God take charge of your life.

Many people say, “My life is out of control.  I feel powerless in my situation and powerless to change my situation.  I feel powerless to break a bad habit, save or sever a relationship, get out of debt, or get on top of my time, my schedule, and/or my finances.”

We all need a power that is greater than ourselves and that is outside of ourselves.  You were never meant to live life on your own power.  The Bible says in Ephesians 1: 19-20, “How incredibly great is His power to help those who believe in Him.  It is the same mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead.”

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead can help you rise above, deal with, and face your problems.  The same power that God displayed in the resurrection of Jesus two thousand years ago is available to you in your life right now.

We do not know what the future holds, but we can know who holds the future.  Even if it is out of our control, it is not out of God’s control.  He can give you the power to face it and deal with it.

In the Gospel writer Matthew’s account of Easter Sunday morning the angel says to the women (28: 5), “Do not be afraid,” and Jesus says to the women and the disciples (28: 10), “Do not be afraid.”  But we all have many reasons to be afraid.

John mentions three people in his account of Easter Sunday morning – Mary Magdalene, Peter, and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,” who is generally considered to be the disciple John.  Each of them had reason to feel that their life was out of control.

Mark 16: 9 describes Mary Magdalene as the one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.  How those demons gained access to her life – and what kind of destructive affect they had on her life – we do not know.  But before she met Jesus her life must have been out of control.

Peter had real issues with lack of impulse control, and John must have been a real hot-head, because Jesus called John and his brother James the Sons of Thunder.  Yes, all three of these first witnesses to the resurrection before meeting Jesus were living lives that were unmanageable and out of control. 

The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4: 13, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”  No problem is too big for God.  No situation is hopeless if you turn it over to Him.

The Bible does not say, I can face all things through the power of positive thinking.  Nor does it say, I can face all things if I get myself sufficiently all psyched up.  Rather it says, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Because of Easter, your heart can and will go on BECAUSE YOUR PAST CAN BE FORGIVEN and BECAUSE YOUR PRESENT CAN BE MANAGEABLE.   

And then, third, because of Easter, your heart can and will go on BECAUSE YOUR FUTURE CAN BE SECURE.   

One of the universal problems that we all have is death.  Everybody is going to die.  Someday I am going to die, and someday you are going to die.  Only a fool would go through life not preparing for something that is inevitable.

Will Rogers once said, Worry must really work because almost nothing that I worry about ever happens.  But death happens – sooner or later – to everybody.

It just does not make sense.  But so many people get so busy with the here and now that they do not stop to think about and prepare for what is 100% certain to happen.

A group of children were asked to write down what they believed about death.  An eight-year-old wrote, “When you die they put you in a box and bury you in the ground because you do not look so good.”  A nine-year-old said, “Doctors help you so you will not die until you pay their bills.” Another nine-year-old wrote, “When you die, you will not have to do homework in heaven unless your teacher is there too.”  And then a ten-year-old said, “A good doctor can help you so you won’t die.  A bad doctor sends you to heaven.”

The truth of the matter is that every one of us will die.  But many people do not want to think and/or talk about it.  But still, there is a deep, universal, human longing to know, “What is going to happen to me after I die?”  Because of Easter, your heart can and will go on because you can know for sure what will happen to you after you die.

Because of Easter, your future can be secure because if you believe in the Christ of Easter, then you can know for sure that you can and will spend eternity with Him.

Because of Easter, your heart can go on because YOUR PAST CAN BE FORGIVEN, YOUR PRESENT CAN BE MANAGEABLE, and YOUR FUTURE CAN BE SECURE.  Why would you not want to give your life to and live your life for the Christ of Easter?   

I pray that you experience the depth of God’s love and the joy, hope, and power of the resurrection during this Holy Week.

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com




Letter From the Director – February 2023

THE WRONG QUESTION:  

A REVIEW AND EVALUATION OF A FORMER ELCA SEMINARY PRESIDENT’S THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS   

The second reading for the Sundays of the Epiphany season have been coming from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  As we begin our Lenten journey it is good to be reminded of what Paul said in the first chapter of this letter.  For those who are being saved “the message about the cross is . . . the power of God” (1: 18).  Tragically, Paul also talks in that same chapter about people who find the message of the cross to be “foolishness” and “a stumbling block” (1: 23).  That kind of a view of the cross is running rampant today.    

I wrote an article for the May 2022 issue of our CORE Voice newsletter about the fact that many within the ELCA and other liberal/progressive, mainline denominations reject the teaching that Jesus died in our place for our sins.  Instead they make Good Friday into the supreme example of Jesus’ bold political protest against the Roman empire, even unto death.  And now we need to follow Him as we join in the work of dismantling empires and all other oppressive, political and social power structures.  According to this view, Jesus’ death on the cross does not provide for our salvation.  Instead it merely tells us what we need to do.  A link to that article can be found HERE.

One of the examples I gave was a Huffington Post editorial by the Rev. Dr. David Lose, former president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now part of United Lutheran Seminary) and author of “Making Sense of the Cross” (published by Augsburg Fortress).  Here is a LINK to his blog.

Is God Angry At You? A Good Friday Reflection | HuffPost Communities

In this article I will give a detailed analysis of what Dr. Lose has written.  My argument will be that Dr. Lose is asking the wrong question.  The right question is not, Is God angry?  Instead, the right question is, Is sin serious?

I begin by commenting on some language that Dr. Lose uses in the second paragraph, where he makes the claim that the one who led us astray in this matter was the eleventh century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury.  According to Anselm, the god-man Jesus became our substitute.  He saved us “by voluntarily substituting himself for guilty humanity and (receiving) the punishment for sin we deserve.”  According to some proponents of so-called Progressive Christianity, a perspective like that makes God into some kind of Cosmic Child Abuser.  The loving Son offers Himself in order to satisfy the demands of the mean Father.  But that is not the way it happened.  It is not that Jesus volunteered.  Instead it is that God provided the substitute to die in our place.  And that was not something that Jesus came up with in order to satisfy the mean and demanding Father.  Rather that had been God’s plan from the beginning (1 Peter 1: 20). 

In the third paragraph Dr. Lose criticizes the view that Jesus died for our sins on the basis that it is “so terribly rational.”  He says, “You can understand it in legal terms. . . . Or you can approach it in accounting terms. . . . Either way, all the pieces fit.”  But arguing that something is “terribly rational” and able to make “all the pieces fit” is a not valid criticism.  Being “terribly rational,” able to make “all the pieces fit,” and capable of being explained in legal and/or accounting terms does not mean that something cannot be true.

The apostle Paul often explains the meaning and significance of the cross in legal and/or accounting terms.  For example, in 2 Corinthians 5: 19 and 21 Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them,” and, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in turn we might become the righteousness of God.”  Christ took our sins upon Himself, and God credits Christ’s righteousness to us.  Part of the brilliance of Paul’s theological mind is his ability to explain salvation and the cross in legal and accounting terms.

In the fourth paragraph Dr. Lose makes the claim that the view that Jesus died for our sins “begs several huge questions.”  Among those questions are “Why should one person’s punishment – even if that person is the Son of God – count for all others?”, “Doesn’t that essentially negate the idea of personal responsibility?”, and “If it’s true that Jesus has endured punishment for all sins that have been or ever will be committed, why wouldn’t we be motivated to sin all the more knowing that the penalty has already been paid?”

The only way that I can fathom someone’s asking questions like these would be if they do not realize the seriousness of their own sin.    

Paul clearly states in Romans 6: 23, “The wages of sin is death.”  Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18: 24-27 about a man who owed ten thousand talents.  A talent was worth more than fifteen years’ wages, so ten thousand talents would be worth more than 150,000 years’ wages.  That would be an impossibly huge amount ever to be able to repay.  I think of a young pastor whose wife gave birth to a child shortly after he graduated from seminary.  Because of the child’s severe health issues, their medical bills soon soared to over one million dollars.  The young pastor said that without very good insurance the bill could never have been paid.

It is only someone who does not realize the seriousness and dire consequences of their own sin that would ask questions like the above.  It is only someone who does not realize the seriousness of owing an amount equal to more than 150,000 years’ wages, or a recent seminary graduate who does not realize the overwhelming burden of having medical bills totaling over one million dollars, who would be so ungrateful as to say, “Why should someone else’s paying the debt count for me?”, “Now I am relieved of all personal responsibility,” or “Now that my huge debt has been paid I can go off and spend lavishly.”  

In the fifth paragraph Dr. Lose asks, “Can you really call it forgiveness if someone else had to pay?”  Dr. Lose’s argument is that “Forgiveness is releasing someone’s debt, not distributing it to another.”  The problem with that line of argument is that someone always has to pay the debt – either the person who owes the debt, someone who pays the debt on behalf of the person who owes the debt, or the one to whom the debt is owed.  In Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18 the man to whom ten thousand talents was owed would have ending up himself paying the ten thousand talents if he were not going to be able to collect the ten thousand talents.  Somebody always has to pay. 

In the seventh paragraph Dr. Lose responds to those who say that Jesus died in our place for our sins but then try to soften the blow by saying that it was out of love that God sent the Son to take the beating we deserve.  Dr. Lose insists that in that line of argument “the fact remains that God can’t act toward humanity in a loving way until blood has been shed.”  Could God have forgiven sin without the shedding of blood?  Who am I to say that God could not have or what would be impossible for God?  The point is this.  God has a standard, a way He does things, a way by which it happens.  Paul tells us in Romans 3: 24-26 that God put forth Christ Jesus “as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood . . . to show his righteousness . . . to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.”  God is both just and justifier.  God sets the standard.  God consistently maintains and acts according to His standard.  But then God also meets the requirements of His standard.   

Dr. Lose makes the comment in the eighth paragraph, “The major problem with this understanding of God and the cross is that it enjoys relatively little support from the Biblical witness.”  If by “this understanding of God and the cross” Dr. Lose means the understanding that God is angry and vengeful and Jesus needed to do something to satisfy and placate Him, then that is true.  There is no support for that view from the Biblical witness.  “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3: 16).  But if “this understanding” is the understanding that Jesus died in our place for our sins, there is ample Biblical support.  For example –

Romans 5: 8 – “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

1 Corinthians 15: 3 – “Christ died for our sins” (a teaching that Paul identifies as “of first importance”).

Ephesians 1: 7 – “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” 

Hebrews 9: 26 – “He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  

1 John 2: 2 – “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Revelation 1: 5 – “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood.”

How could we interpret the Gospel writer John’s recording of John the Baptist’s saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29) as anything other than Jesus’ being the one that the whole Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing to when the sins of the people were transferred to the lamb and the lamb died in their place?  Why would Jesus have chosen to give His people the Lord’s Supper within the context of a Passover meal if He did not view Himself in terms of the Passover lamb who died in place of the first born and whose blood protected the family?  The Gospel writer Luke also supports this interpretation of seeing Christ in the Old Testament when he tells us that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets (Jesus) interpreted to (His friends on the road to Emmaus) the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24: 27).

Also in the eighth paragraph Dr. Lose puts forth the strange argument that Jesus’ death on the cross could not have been necessary for forgiveness of sins because “Jesus doesn’t wait until after his sacrifice on the cross to offer God’s forgiveness.”  That is true.  Jesus did offer forgiveness, and Jesus got into trouble for offering forgiveness, before the cross.  But the reason why Jesus was able to offer forgiveness before the cross was because He would be dying for us on the cross.  The reason that the Old Testament sacrificial system worked and that it was the means through which forgiveness could and would come to the people is because that is the means God provided and that means looked forward to Jesus.  “In his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3: 25).  The means of offering and providing forgiveness before the cross were powerful and effective because of the cross.  

I would certainly agree with Dr. Lose in the ninth paragraph that “Jesus didn’t come to make God loving but because God is loving.”  But if you follow his line of reasoning, then the only reason why Jesus died on the cross was because “the political and religious authorities put Jesus to death to quash the hope he created and retain their power.”  According to Dr. Lose, the cross was not part of God’s plan from the beginning.  Rather “the religious and political authorities . . . crucified him for daring to declare the unlovable beloved and the God-forsaken saved” (thirteenth paragraph).  Was the cross central to the fulfillment of God’s plan, or did the cross happen only because of opposition to God’s plan?  The way you answer that question is crucial.

Dr. Lose also says in the ninth paragraph that God’s vindicating Jesus’ message by raising him from the dead is “something notoriously underemphasized by substitution theologians.”  I completely agree with Dr. Lose that the resurrection of Jesus was a vindication of Jesus and His message.  Dr. Lose is right that the resurrection of Jesus is a demonstration that “self-giving love is more powerful than hate and that God’s promise of life is stronger than death.”  “God in Jesus joins us in absolute solidarity by taking on our lot and our life, even to the point of death, and at the same time promises that death does not have the last word; that, in the end, life and love win.”  All that is true, but that does not mean that Jesus did not die in our place for our sins.  Rather what it does mean is that there is more involved.  The story of God’s work for our salvation does not end with the cross.  It continues to the resurrection – God’s winning the victory over sin, death, and the devil. 

Dr. Lose concludes in his final paragraph, “The penal-substitution theory promotes the seductive illusion that we know just how God works and can therefore determine who enjoys God’s favor.”  And yet the problem according to Dr. Lose is that “pretty much whenever you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you’ll find this God on the other side of the line.”

The implication here is that those who believe that Jesus died in our place for our sins see themselves as in and others as out.  The accusation is that they believe that Jesus died for them but not for others.  That is an unfair characterization.  What do the Scriptures say?  “God our Savior . . . desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2: 3-4).  If that is God’s desire, then that needs to be our desire as well.  “While we were still weak . . . Christ died for the ungodly.”  “While we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5: 6, 8, 10)  The three words weak, sinners, and enemies describe all of us. 

It deeply disturbs and concerns me that someone who has a theology of the cross like Dr. Lose’s would have been the president of an ELCA seminary. 

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VIDEO MINISTRY

HERE is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find both our Video Book Reviews as well as our CORE Convictions Videos on various topics related to Biblical teaching, Lutheran theology, and Christian living.  You will find these videos in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  This month we want to feature a video book review by NALC pastor Brian Hughes and a CORE Convictions video by NALC theologian Robert Benne.

A REVIEW OF “SPEAK OUT” BY BRIAN HUGHES   

Many thanks to NALC pastor and Lutheran CORE board member Brian Hughes for his video review of the book “Speak Out” by Father Michael Breen.  A link to his video can be found HEREBrian writes concerning the book –

“My wife and I were coached by Father Mike and Sally Breen as he was developing the content for this book.  That was several years before it was published and rereading it for this review I was reminded of how impactful it was and still is.  The effectiveness of my preaching dramatically improved, making it easier to contextualize Law and Gospel in ways that were unexpectedly received.

“At the time of publication Karen Heist, our discipleship pastor who was also coached with the content, introduced it to the laity in our church and the results were astonishing: rising comfort level for sharing the Gospel at work and in their neighborhoods (with great stories in the process; the coin of a discipling culture) as well as doing so in public worship.  Cogent and impactful messages from lay leaders signaled to the entire congregation that our embracement of building a discipling culture had been worth it.  Pastors I’ve coached have told me it revolutionized their preaching too and completely changed their understandings of how to communicate outside the pulpit.  Buy this book.  Read it.”

“LUTHER ON VOCATION” BY ROBERT BENNE

Many thanks to Robert Benne, professor of Christian ethics at the Institute of Lutheran Theology, for his video on what Martin Luther taught regarding vocation.  A link to his video can be found HERE. 

According to Luther, all Christians, not just the clergy, have a calling or vocation, and all callings are equal in religious and moral significance.  The only difference is in function.  Every person is called by God to work in the world, fulfilling their calling gladly and conscientiously as they serve the neighbor.  This teaching had great historical affect as it unleashed unprecedented commitment and energy to worldly work in the Western world.  It gave everyday activity a religious significance.

With Luther’s concept of vocation, work is no longer just a job or occupation.  Instead it is a calling and summons from God that gives great purpose and meaning to life. 

A CRITIQUE OF THE WWW.ALTLITURGIES.COM WORSHIP RESOURCE BY CATHY AMMLUNG

The March issue of CORE Voice will feature another fascinating and insightful CORE Convictions video by NALC pastor Cathy Ammlung.  In the meantime HERE is a link to her video, in which she powerfully and effectively argues that “however well-intended this resource is as it addresses some legitimate concerns, its fatal flaw is that Christ is not the Center.”

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May the Lord bless you as you begin your Lenten journey. 

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 




Letter From the Director – December 2022

ARE YOU READY FOR CHRISTMAS?

Editor’s Note: This Lightstock image used for this post is described as a “Fresco painting of the Nativity, from the chapel of the Shepherd’s Field in Beit Sahour (a suburb of Bethlehem), the traditional site of the angelic annunciation to the shepherds.”

Are you ready for Christmas?  By that I do not mean, Do you have the tree up, all your shopping done, the presents wrapped, and the cards sent?  Rather I am asking, Are you really ready for Christmas?  Are you prepared for the arrival of God’s Son? 

Luke 1:  5-7 tell about an old Jewish priest by the name of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. It says that they were “righteous before God, but they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.”  They had no children, and the days for their hoping for a child were long gone.

In those days people believed that God would close the womb of a woman if He was mad at her.  So a barren woman was a disgraced woman.  Elizabeth was forced to live her life as though she had a sign hung around her neck that said, “God is mad at me.”  And even though Zechariah did not have quite the same kind of social stigma to have to deal with, still he had to live with the deep disappointment of having no child to carry on the family name. 

Do you feel like Elizabeth?  Is there something in your life that makes you feel ashamed or inadequate?  Do you feel like Zechariah?  Are you facing some deep sorrow or disappointment?

Well Luke tells us that while Zechariah was performing his priestly service in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to enter into the Holy Place in the Temple and burn incense there.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  While he was in the Holy Place, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (verse 13) 

What do you mean, “Your prayer has been heard?”  What prayer?  If it was a prayer for a son, Zechariah had probably stopped praying that prayer a long time ago.  Zechariah might have even forgotten about that prayer.  But God had not forgotten.  What prayer were you praying a long time ago?  Maybe you have even forgotten about that prayer, but God has not forgotten.

In verse 18 Zechariah responds, “How will I know this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  Well the angel Gabriel did not like that response, and so he said, “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (verse 20)  Zechariah comes out of the Temple unable to speak.  A few days later he returns home.

Verses 24-25 tell us, “After those days Elizabeth conceived and for five months remained in seclusion.”  She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when He looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” 

So here is Zechariah, a priest, a righteous man who knows God and who serves God.  But Zechariah has some spiritual growing to do.  When God gave him a wonderful promise, he did not believe that promise.  He doubted and underestimated God.  Zechariah is a prime example of a person who has known God for a long, long time.  He goes to church.  He is involved in church.  He does all the right things at all the right times in all the right ways.  But when God comes along and challenges him to grow to a new level of faith, he is not ready.

In contrast there is Elizabeth.  Zechariah cannot speak.  Elizabeth can speak, and when she does speak, she speaks about God’s grace and mercy to her and of how He has taken away her shame and disgrace.  She did not become bitter.  Rather she kept on serving and praising God.  Elizabeth was far more ready for Christmas than Zechariah. 

Zechariah was not ready for Christmas because he did not believe that God could step into his life and answer some long-forgotten prayer in a totally unexpected way.  How many of us are like Zechariah?  If we were to be honest, we would have to admit that deep down inside we are deeply disappointed with God.  And so, like old Zechariah, we keep on doing what we are supposed to be doing, but we really do not believe that God could and would step into our lives and do something that would bless us in unimaginable ways. 

If that is you – if you no longer believe that God could and would step into your life and work in your life in an amazing way to bless you, then like Zechariah you are not ready for Christmas. 

But the same God who sent an angel to Zechariah.  The same God who sent a heavenly host to startle some shepherds and tell them about the birth of a Savior.  And the same God who put a wonder in the sky to catch the attention of some star gazers, that same God has some very interesting and wonderful and amazing ways of getting through to you. 

God has a way of sending you a word of hope to remind you that life is stronger than death, light is more powerful than darkness, good will prevail over evil, and joy is deeper than disappointment.  All of which is at the heart of the message of Christmas. 

The question is, Are we prepared for all that?  Do you believe that God can work in your life in ways that you would never imagine to take away everything that is negative and disappointing in your life?  If you do, then you are ready for Christmas. 

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COMMISSION FOR A RENEWED LUTHERAN CHURCH:

A DISASTER IN THE MAKING

In my August 2022 letter from the director, which I entitled “The Revisionists Have Completely Taken Over,” I wrote an evaluation of the ELCA’s 2022 Churchwide Assembly.  A link to that letter can be found here.  Among the most significant of the actions taken was a resolution which directed the Church Council “to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church” which would be “particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism” and which would “present its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.”  We noted that the resolution seemed to make dismantling racism the main mission of the church.  We also observed that once you know the makeup of the commission, you will know the outcome.

In light of that fact, we have been watching carefully for any official word from the ELCA regarding progress in creating that commission.  The official word came in a November 16 news release reporting on the November 10-13 meeting of the Church Council.  A link to that news release can be found here

Before I comment on the makeup of the commission, which is the subject of the third paragraph of the news release, I would like to make a few comments regarding a very interesting statement from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in the second paragraph.  There Bishop Eaton is quoted as challenging the ELCA to “try as best as we can and as faithfully as we can to remain true to the gospel, but somehow find a way to speak and act in the cultural vernacular.”  If you cannot do both equally well, which one prevails – remaining true to the gospel or speaking and acting in the cultural vernacular?  With the way Bishop Eaton phrases it, speaking and acting in the cultural vernacular seems to prevail.  She then makes reference to Martin Luther’s translating the Bible into German so that “people could receive it in their own language.”  I cannot imagine that for Martin Luther speaking and acting in the cultural vernacular would take precedence over remaining true to the gospel. 

In the third paragraph it states that “the commission will consist of up to 35 voting members, to include at least 25 % people of color or whose primary language is other than English and a goal of at least 20 % youth or young adults.”  At least that is better than the position of many who had been driving this process and who did not want this whole matter to be minimized or buried by being referred to the Church Council.  Those people have made it very clear that they do not want any white male over the age of sixty to be allowed to have anything to do with the process.

At least this is better than that, but think about it.  At least 25% of thirty-five would be nine, and at least 20% of thirty-five would be seven.  Nine plus seven is sixteen.  At least sixteen out of the thirty-five members of the commission (just two short of a majority) will be people of color, people whose language is other than English, or people under the age of twenty-five or thirty (depending upon how you define young adults).    How representative of the ELCA is that?  There is no concern expressed for Biblical and theological awareness and no concern for whether these people would understand what it takes to create and run an organization the size and complexity of the ELCA. 

What would happen if your congregation’s council were to decide that a commission that would develop recommendations for totally redoing the structure and mission of your congregation were to be at least 45% people who do not represent the vast majority of your congregation?

As one member of our board said, What would have happened if the Council of Nicaea had been made up according to the requirements of these quotas?  Would we have had such a profound theological decision that defined and preserved orthodoxy?  Or what would have happened if the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 had been comprised according to these quotas?  Would we have had a decision which resolved the issue at hand and advanced the mission of the church? 

The third paragraph states that “nominations will be received from synod councils or synod executive committees as well as through an open nomination process” and “the Church Council’s executive committee will present a slate of nominees at the council’s April 2023 meeting.”  But I have a feeling that a lot of the decision has already been made in regard to who will be the people of color and people whose language is other than English who will be on this commission.

The third paragraph ends by stating, “The council also referred to the commission the question of changing the denomination’s name.”   There are many who would like to see the word “Evangelical” removed from the name of this newly reconstituted church.  The claim is that the word “evangelical” is associated in the minds of many people with right-wing, racist, white-supremacy fundamentalists.  

We will keep you posted.  One can only hope, when this new church is reconstituted, that congregations will be given an opportunity for an “easy exit” because this new church will not be what they had signed up for in 1988.  

I also want to comment on two of the bullet points in the section which begins, “In other actions.”  Under the second bullet point it says that the ELCA Church Council “scheduled for 2024 the initiation of a task force for reconsideration of the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.  Ever since that social statement was approved in 2009 we have known what would eventually happen.  Sooner or later the ELCA would renounce its promise to recognize as legitimate and valid traditional views of human sexuality.  It would only be a matter of time until the ELCA would renounce its commitment to provide a place of dignity and respect for those who hold traditional views.  No one should be surprised.  What is interesting is that the ELCA is minimizing the significance of this massive breach of trust by not even beginning the process of creating a task force until 2024, one year before the next Churchwide Assembly.  What the ELCA values it gives abundant time and energy to.  For something it considers to be of minimal significance, it does the opposite.

And then under the sixth bullet point it says that the Church Council “adopted a continuing resolution establishing council advisory members to include . . . a representative of Reconciling Works.”  The use of the word “include” as well as the fact that the Church Council “also approved revisions to the ELCA Church Council Governance Policy Manual to include reference to advisory members,” would seem to allow for the possibility of additional “advisory members.”  I will be writing to the Vice President of the ELCA to ask how it was decided that a representative from Reconciling Works would be an advisory member and whether there will be any consideration given to a provision for a representative from a group with traditional views, such as Lutheran CORE, to be one of the advisory members.  In the January 2023 issue of our newsletter CORE Voice I will give a copy of my letter to the vice president and let you know whether I have heard anything. 

 * * * * * * *

VIDEO MINISTRY

Each month we feature two videos – the most recent addition to our video book reviews, and a recent addition to our CORE Convictions videos.  The CORE Convictions series is designed particularly for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  We now have seven videos in our CORE Convictions series.  Many thanks to Dr. Robert Benne for his video on “Martin Luther on Vocation.”  His video will be featured in February 2023.

This month we want to feature a video book review by Kim Smith and a CORE Convictions video by Pastor James Hoefer. 

“THE AWE-FULL PRIVILEGE: THIS THING CALLED PARENTING”    

Many thanks to Kim Smith for her review of the book, “The Awe-full Privilege: This Thing Called Parenting” by K. Craig Moorman.  Kim hails from Maryland and is completing her third and final term on the board of Lutheran CORE.  A link to her video can be found here.

Pastor K. Craig Moorman is a Lutheran pastor in the NALC and is also on the board of Lutheran CORE.  He lives in Mt. Airy, MD.  He is a mission developer and is married with five children all of whom are now adults in their 20s and 30s.  One of the most remarkable things about Craig and his wife, Nancy, is that allfive of their children are Christians and have a deep and abiding relationship with Christ.  In his book, Craig writes that in claiming a “deep and abiding relationship with Christ, we are telling the rest of the world that we will build our lives on this reality.”

This book covers parenting from soup to nuts–from marriage to the culture wars impacting our lives, to the need to stand in the gap and be the gatekeeper—protecting the hearts of our children. He has chapters on parenting, chaos, managing time and things, being wonderfully made, what home should be, and the critical components that are key to serving the Lord with integrity and faithfulness.  He also writes about wisdom and where to look for it.  And he writes of the need to persevere and hold your family together at all costs.  He boldly discusses our societal ills and how to combat them.  And he ends with challenges that will help us start a Christ-centered revolution in our own homes.

Craig’s book will go a long way in helping you raise your children to be Christians—in more than name only.

“THE PERSON AND WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?”

Many thanks to AALC pastor James Hoefer for his very clear and complete explanation of the work of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  A link to his video can be found here.

Just before His ascension Jesus told His disciples, “Don’t do anything until you receive the Holy Spirit.”  There was a good reason for that.  Without the Holy Spirit we cannot believe, we cannot love as God wants us to love, we cannot experience the freedom of being the person God wants us to be, and we cannot live the abundant life God wants us to live.

James expands on the five verbs that Martin Luther uses in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.

First, CALLS.  The Holy Spirit calls us through the Word of God, the voice of Jesus.  We experience true freedom not when we make choices, but when we realize that we have been chosen.

Second, GATHERS.  The Holy Spirit gathers us into the church.  It is not that we join a church.  Rather it is the Holy Spirit who adds us to the Church.  The Holy Spirit gathers us into groups of believers and into the Kingdom of God, which is bigger than any one denomination. 

Third, ENLIGHTENS.  The Holy Spirit uses the means of grace to do His work in our lives – baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Bible as the Word of God.  This is a process that goes on throughout our lives.

Fourth, SANCTIFIES.  Like a dentist who will not stop until every problem has been found and fixed, so the Holy Spirit finds and fixes everything in our lives that needs to change.  Using another image of our day, the Holy Spirit upgrades us with a whole new operating system.  We begin to see the Fruit of the Spirit develop in our lives as the natural result of being continually filled with the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, KEEPS.  The Holy Spirit guards and protects us with all the spiritual armor of Christ. 

Pastor James then concludes this video with a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s anointing power and new operating system.  He prays that God will empower our lives with His Word, His gifts, and the very life of Christ inside of us. 

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May God bless you with all the hope, love, joy, and peace of this Advent and Christmas season.

In Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com




Letter From The Director – October 2022

IT SHOULD NOT SURPRISE ANYONE

It should not surprise anyone that a movement is developing to get the ELCA to commit a massive breach of trust and to eliminate any provision for traditional views and those who hold them.

In my August letter from the director I told about some of the more significant actions that were taken by the 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  One of the most alarming was the overwhelming approval of a resolution “to authorize a possible revision of the social statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” which “reconsiders the church’s current concept of the four positions of bound conscience.”  (These four positions can be found on pages 19-21 of the 2009 social statement.  They provide a way for there to be a place of respect for traditional views and those who hold them.  A link to the document can be found here.)

At least there were a few people who spoke against this resolution, and 12% voted against it, but still it should be obvious to all that the days of the ELCA’s claiming to honor bound conscience and to provide a place for those who hold traditional views are over. 

In my August letter I wrote that I am certain that the ELCA actually never intended to honor traditional views.  The language regarding bound conscience and the four positions was placed within the 2009 social statement only to obtain enough votes to get the social statement approved, and even then it was barely approved.  One needs to look no further than the ELCA’s total embrace of ReconcilingWorks and its choice of keynote speakers for the 2018 youth gathering to realize that confessional Lutherans with traditional views are not welcome.

But how will it happen?  A recent statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) suggests a possible path.  This organization describes its mission in this way.

“Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries organizes queer seminarians and rostered ministers, confronts barriers and systemic oppression, and activates queer ideas and movements within the Lutheran Church.”    

On September 7 this organization released a document entitled “ELM Churchwide Assembly and Bound Conscience Statement.”  A link to the full statement can be found here.

In this document they say, “The ELCA must address our sins of racism and ‘bound conscience.’”  It then says, “As Lutherans, we confess our participation in these systems, yet we continually fall short in the ways to overcome these systems of oppression.”  “Sin” and part of the “systems of oppression” – that is what Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is challenging the ELCA to join with them in calling traditional views of human sexuality. 

I am sure that no one who had been paying attention thought that bound conscience was anything more than temporary.  In some places it was ignored right from the beginning.  What is new here is explicit language with which bound conscience might be repudiated and the means by which it might be done – through a public apology by the Churchwide Assembly and the Presiding Bishop.

The statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries describes recent times when the ELCA has made a formal apology.

  • “In 2019, the Churchwide Assembly adopted a formal letter of repentance to commit to examine the church’s complicity in slavery, and to acknowledge ‘the ELCA’s perpetuation of racism.’”
  • Also in 2019 the ELCA made a formal apology to the African Descent community.
  • “At the 2022 Churchwide Assembly, Bishop Eaton formally apologized to the worshipping community of Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina for both individual and institutional racist harm done to the congregation & the Latine community.”

And now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is calling upon the ELCA to make a similar apology to the LGBTQ+ community.  Their document states, “Queer people in the ELCA deserve an apology and behavior consistent with repentance for the harm caused by ‘bound conscience’ and policies like ‘Visions and Expectations.’”  “Vision and Expectations” is a document that was approved by the ELCA Church Council in 1990 to describe what the church expected of its leaders but then removed from use by the ELCA Church Council in March 2020 because its more traditional views and expectations were “a source of great pain for many in the ELCA.”

Bound conscience and traditional views are now a sin – on the same level as racism and other forms of systemic oppression.  What should alarm every Lutheran with traditional views is the fact that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries always gets what it wants.  They wanted the ELCA to remove the word “chastity” from its revised version of Definitions and Guidelines so that ELCA public theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber would be able to remain on the clergy roster while bragging about her sex life with her boyfriend (to whom she is not married), and they got what they wanted.  If Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries gets its way (which they always do) sooner or later – maybe in 2025, maybe in 2028 – the ELCA will officially repent and apologize for permitting pastors and congregations to teach and live according to what the Church has been teaching for two thousand years.

But while the ELCA grovels and repents as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries tells them to, do not expect them to repent for breaking their promises to honor and provide a place for traditional views and those who hold them. 

In my August letter I also wrote about another resolution that was approved by the Churchwide Assembly which should cause great alarm for confessional, traditionally minded Lutherans.  The assembly voted to direct the Church Council “to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church” which would be “particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism” and would “present its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.” 

The question naturally arises, Who will develop this revised version of the 2009 human sexuality social statement and possible reconsideration (rejection) of the four positions of bound conscience?  Also, who will be appointed to this “Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church”?  You can be sure that those who have been driving the process to get things to where they are today have been busy, working to make themselves the dominant factor in the process.  Many of these people have said that they do not believe that any “white male over the age of sixty” should be allowed to have anything to do with the process, and the Statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries urges “the committee tasked with reconsidering ‘bound conscience’ to include ‘new, young, and diverse’ voices and those that have been most harmed by ‘bound conscience.’”  The ELCA has made it very clear that high on its list of priorities for the coming years is to reach “one million new, young, and diverse people.”

The ELCA Church Council is scheduled to meet November 10-13.  We assume that among the actions taken will be the appointment of people to the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church and the task force to review and revise the human sexuality social statement.  We all know that once you know who is on the committee, you know the outcome.  We will keep you posted. 

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VIDEO MINISTRY

Each month we feature two videos – the most recent addition to our video book reviews, and a recent addition to our CORE Convictions videos.  The CORE Convictions series is being designed particularly for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  We now have five videos in our CORE Convictions series.  Many thanks to retired AALC pastor James Hoefer for his video on “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.”  His video will be featured in December.

This month we want to feature a video book review by Pastor Chris Johnson and a CORE Convictions video by Pastor James Lehmann.    

“LIVES AND WRITINGS OF THE GREAT FATHERS OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH”

Many thanks to Chris Johnson, LCMC pastor and secretary of the board of Lutheran CORE, for his review of this book, which is edited by Timothy Schmeling and Robert Kolb.  A link to his video can be found here.

Pastor Johnson begins by reminding us of the phrase, “If we can see farther, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”  He sees this statement as true in many areas of life, including theology, and as well illustrated in the biographies and writings of twenty-one theologians who came after Luther from the 1550’s to the late 1600’s.

Some of these men were educators, some were brilliant systematic theologians, some were preachers.  Some were known for their poetry, their hymnody, or their devotional literature.  They served in many different ways, but they were all very gifted and dedicated to the Christian faith as understood by the Lutheran Confessions.   

Some were known for their polemical style, which is quite understandable since they lived during tumultuous times.  They faced many challenges and endured great suffering, such as during the Thirty Years War and from the plague.  Many experienced deep pain and sorrow from the death of several family members. 

They fought hard battles, were attacked on many sides, and suffered great losses.  They lived during a period of Lutheran history that we often ignore.  But according to Pastor Johnson, it is a great gift to us to get to know them and what they did.  They were men of faith who were dedicated to the Lutheran Confessions.  We would do well to learn from them as to how they persevered and remained true to the faith no matter what. 

TEACHING THE FAITH TO CHILDREN OF ALL AGES 

Many thanks to NALC pastor Jim Lehmann for his video, a link to which can be found here.  According to Pastor Lehmann, teaching the faith to children of all ages “may be easier than you think.  It does take discipline to make disciples.  It starts before a person can understand the language of faith and continues when language may be lost.  Join me for some ideas.”

The temperatures are cooler here in Arizona, and the Sonoran desert is lush and green from the summer rains.  No wonder the Snowbirds are returning.  We are constantly being reminded of God’s goodness.  May you also experience His blessings.

In Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com  




Letter From The Director – August 2022

THE REVISIONISTS HAVE COMPLETELY TAKEN OVER:

 A REVIEW AND EVALUATION OF THE ELCA CHURCHWIDE ASSEMBLY

The ELCA held its Churchwide Assembly August 8-12 in Columbus, Ohio.  The gathering sent a strong message to confessional Lutherans with traditional views – You are not welcome.  In this article I will list several ways in which the decisions that were made and the events that took place communicate that message loud and clear.    

First, the resolution concerning human sexuality that came from the Memorials Committee early on in the gathering was bad enough.  The assembly voted overwhelmingly, without discussion, and with no concerns expressed “to authorize a social statement reconsideration to revise Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009) so that its wording reflects current church understanding, church policy, civil law, and public acceptance of marriage of same-gender and gender non-confirming couples.”  It was obvious where this was headed, and it took only two days to get there.  Towards the end of the week a resolution came through the Reference and Counsel Committee “to authorize a possible revision of the social statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” which “reconsiders the church’s current concept of the four positions of bound conscience.”  At least there were a few people who spoke against this resolution, and 12% voted against it, but still the days of the ELCA’s claiming to honor bound conscience and to provide a place for those who hold traditional views are over. 

I am certain that the ELCA never intended to honor traditional views.  The language regarding bound conscience and the four positions was placed within the 2009 social statement only to obtain enough votes to get the social statement approved.  One needs to look no further than the ELCA’s total embrace of ReconcilingWorks and its choice of keynote speakers for the 2018 youth gathering to realize that confessional Lutherans with traditional views are not welcome. 

David Charlton, vice president of our board, has done a powerful analysis of the possible (even probable) implications of this action. 

  • Candidacy committees and seminaries will no longer need to pretend to work with traditional candidates.  They can reject them outright.
  • Seminaries will be able to openly purge any traditional professors who remain, in the name of ELCA policy.
  • Synods will no longer need to work with congregations who do not want to call LGBTQIA+ pastors.  These congregations can be told, “Either call an LGBTQIA+ person or you will get no pastor at all.”
  • It will be difficult for a pastor who holds traditional views to move to a new synod or a new call.  A bishop will be able to refuse to recommend a pastor for a new call if that pastor is unwilling to do same sex weddings.
  • It will be easier to sue congregations for not doing same sex weddings.

Second, during the days leading up to the assembly there was much conversation about calling for a restructure of the governance of the ELCA.  I read comments from many people who believed that the Memorials Committee’s original recommendation to refer the memorials from synods to the Church Council was an act of deliberately stonewalling their efforts.  Some even talked about a showdown at the assembly.  By the time of the assembly the Memorials Committee had changed its recommendation – to one which directed “the Church Council to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church” which would be “particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism” and would “present its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.” 

One could hope, when this new church is reconstituted, that congregations will be given an opportunity for an “easy exit” because the new church will not be what they had signed up for in 1988.   There is even talk about removing the word Evangelical from the name of this new church.  The claim is that the word evangelical is associated in the minds of many people with right-wing, racist, white-supremacy fundamentalists.   

Prior to the assembly I read much criticism of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton – some of it even very severe.  Some were calling for her resignation or a vote of no confidence because of the way she initially handled the situation with Meghan Rohrer and Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina.  Bishop Eaton survived the assembly (though she did test positive for COVID on the morning of the final day – we pray for her quick and full recovery) and she demonstrated throughout the week her great giftedness for presiding over a large and complex gathering.  But I definitely got the impression that she was not setting the course.  The relentless revisionists were, and they have completely taken over.

Third, the whole assembly was a powerful example of the amount of damage that can be done to and the depth of embarrassment that can be created for a large organization by the foolish and self-centered actions of just one person.  It felt like the specter of former bishop Meghan Rohrer and their termination of Nelson Rabell on the Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe hung over the entire week.

Fourth, Bishop Eaton’s apology to Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina was deep and thorough, and the response of the representatives of the congregation was incredibly gracious, but it should be noted that Bishop Eaton apologized only on behalf of the ELCA.  She did not apologize for herself.  It is a whole lot easier – and a whole lot less painful – to apologize on behalf of a large group of people rather than on behalf of yourself.

During the apology she said, “Part of the body was disconnected; the body was not whole.”  She also promised to be “committed to listen to voices that have traditionally been marginalized.”  But what about another part of the body that is disconnected?  What about other voices that are being marginalized – the voices of those who hold traditional views?  During and after the 2009 Churchwide Assembly Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson reached out to those who were feeling alienated by the actions that were taken (even if it was only for the self-serving reason to preserve the organization).  I have not heard of any effort – nor do I expect to hear of any effort – to reach out to those who feel disconnected and marginalized, even more so now because of the vote on the human sexuality resolution.  We are just too few in number and we are seen as insignificant.  Unlike Pastor Rabell and Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina, pastors and congregations who hold traditional views do not have well-positioned, powerful, and credible people to advocate for them – and to do so relentlessly – until finally something is done.

Fifth, the overwhelmingly positive vote on the Land Back Memorial is another example of ELCA inconsistency and hypocrisy.  The assembly fully supported a resolution which, among other things, called upon the ELCA to “support creative programs of restorative justice in partnership with Indigenous people, including, but not limited to, whenever considering a transfer or sale of real property, including returning land (and any structures built on it) after satisfying any financial obligations, to the appropriate Native nations, and when direct return is not feasible or not desired by the Indigenous people, to return the proceeds from the sale of the land to the ELCA Native American Ministry Fund or other local Indigenous led ministries or organizations.” 

Several months ago I wrote a letter to the bishop of the synod in which I was rostered before I retired.  In that letter I said that if that synod truly believes that the land now occupied by the synod offices and all of the congregations of that synod is stolen land, then they are morally obligated – whenever they close a congregation and sell the property – to return at least the value of the land to indigenous persons, and if they do not do so, then they would be complicit in the stealing of land.  The problem is that the number of congregations in that synod and the size and vitality of the remaining congregations are so diminished.  Therefore, that synod needs considerable funds from the sale of buildings and land of closed congregations to balance the budget. 

Will the ELCA truly want to return land and structures to Native nations if the ELCA is struggling financially, or is virtue signaling something the ELCA does only when it does not cost too much?  Also, will the ELCA be willing to return the land and structures of congregations that had to pay a very high price to leave the ELCA?  And if those congregations no longer exist, will the ELCA be willing to give the land and structures (or the value of that land and those structures) to other church bodies which better reflect the beliefs and values of those congregations that paid a very high price to leave and/or were decimated by the persons whom the synod sent in?

Sixth, those who hold a pro-life position should be deeply disturbed by the action that was taken to archive a number of social policy resolutions. In the ELCA social statements cover broad frameworks and are intended to help God’s people think about their faith in the context of social life.  Social policy resolutions are a much narrower and more focused category of social teaching.   

The idea behind archiving a social policy resolution or social statement is to say that that document is no longer relevant to the ELCA’s mission, does not have continued significance for society, and is no longer congruent with ELCA social teaching.  The ELCA’s abortion social policy resolution states essentially the same thing as the ELCA’s 1991 abortion social statement, and it has now been archived.  It has been ruled as not relevant, not still significant, and not still congruent with ELCA social teaching.  It is only a matter of time – perhaps at the 2025 churchwide assembly – until the ELCA’s abortion social statement also will be ruled as not relevant, not still significant, and not still congruent.  After all, as one person said recently, “The ELCA’s abortion social statement was written in the 1900’s.”  I do not remember any explanation of the meaning and significance of archiving prior to the vote to archive.  If anyone who holds a pro-life position happened to be present, there is a good chance that that person would not have understood what just happened. 

Seventh, there was a lot of strange spirituality and even the worship of other gods during the assembly.  The opening focused more on the original inhabitants of the land than on Jesus, and the welcome from the bishop of the host synod focused more on the rivers that flow through that synod than on Jesus.  And the prayer from a member of the prayer team during the vote on the human sexuality resolution was particularly strange.  First, Bishop Eaton needed to be reminded of the importance of having a prayer even though voting had already begun.  And the wording of the prayer was completely irrelevant. A member of the assembly prayer team read from her i-phone an invocation to Mother Earth and Father Sky, concern for all the creatures of the earth, and repentance for our not recycling enough.  The only possibly relevant phrase was, “Help us to dance together,” but even considering that phrase relevant is a stretch.  The thinking seems to be that if we pray prior to a vote, then the outcome of the vote must be within the will of God. 

Eighth, one might wonder how so much groveling, repenting, and apologizing by the assembly could possibly be uplifting for the voting members.  The reason is that they were groveling over, repenting of, and apologizing for what other people have done and not for anything that they have done or ever would do.  A definite characteristic of the whole Woke Movement is an arrogant self-righteousness.

Ninth, in an article entitled “Major Disaster on Its Way,” published prior to the assembly, I wrote of my concern regarding two constitutional amendments that would be considered.  A link to that article can be found here.  The first amendment, which removed proclaiming God’s love for the world from the role of rostered leaders and essentially made them social justice advocates, was originally voted on in 2019.  This amendment was part of a block of amendments that were ratified overwhelmingly.  A motion to ratify previously approved amendments is not open to debate.  ELCA parishioners should not be surprised if their pastors do not preach about Jesus, but instead are only social justice warriors.   

I was glad to hear considerable concern expressed regarding the role of the ELCA’s colleges and universities as described in the other amendment.  Many felt that the deletion of a certain paragraph from the constitution weakened the church’s connection with those institutions and diminished their Christian witness.  A slight majority voted to approve, but it did not receive the required 2/3rds, so the amendment failed.

Tenth, it was good to see certain issues addressed – such as the evils of racism and abuse of power, the need for fair and adequate compensation for all rostered leaders, and the issue of seminarian debt.  And there were four times when the proceedings made me chuckle.

  • When Bishop Matthew Riegel of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod responded in the words of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a motion to eliminate the breaks in order to give more time to the consideration of the memorials.  He said, “If we do not satisfy the lower level needs, we will never be able to self-actualize.”
  • When a voting member who made a motion to table the Land Back Resolution was told that a better way to go would be a motion to postpone debate until a fixed time or when certain conditions have been met.  His response was, “I have no idea how these rules of whatever work.”
  • When Bishop Eaton said to Bishop Riegel, “I have learned not to doubt you.”
  • When a voting member spoke to a certain resolution, using all the right woke phrases but not making any sense.  Bishop Eaton had a very pained and confused look on her face as the voting member was speaking and then said, “Thank you.”

The “Embody the Word” Bible studies prior to the assembly culminated on the second day with a theological presentation by Anthony Bateza, associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College.  He talked about the importance of trust, the lack of trust today, and the question of how do and can we become people who can be trusted.  He told of his having to undergo surgery and physical therapy after tearing his ACL in a skiing accident.  He said that he needed to learn to trust his own body again.

Even more so than ever before – with the motion “to authorize a possible revision of the social statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and reconsider “the church’s current concept of the four positions of bound conscience” – the ELCA has totally obliterated any reason why anyone with traditional views would ever trust the ELCA.  The damage to the body is irreparable.  Far more than an ACL has been torn. 

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VIDEO MINISTRY

Lutheran CORE is always looking for ways to take our ministry to the next level and expand our work of being a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans.  Our most recent new effort is to expand our video ministry.

For about two years we have been posting on our You Tube channel a new video book review on the first day of every month.  Many thanks to the Lutheran pastors and theologians who have been recording these reviews of books of interest and importance. 

We are calling our new video ministry CORE Convictions.   This new video series is being planned particularly for those who are looking to strengthen and renew their Christian faith. We believe that these videos will be a valuable resource for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos – Book Reviews and CORE Convictions.  Here is some more information about two of the most recent videos. 

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BOOK REVIEW – “THE HOLY SPIRIT AND CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE”

Many thanks to Dr. Paul Hinlicky, professor emeritus at Roanoke College in Roanoke, Virginia, for giving us a review of Simeon Zahl’s book, The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience.  Here is a link to his review. 

Prior to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, during the early years of Reformation theology, part of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer was seen to be the giving of a new heart, new emotions, a change in one’s desires.  This book helps regain that emphasis.  Faith is not just a matter of intellectual conviction.  It is also something that strikes home for us personally.  It changes us and what we love. 

Grace can be an abstraction – simply the idea that God is merciful and loving.  Instead grace needs to be and can be a concrete experience of the merciful Jesus Christ, who finds His way into our hearts through the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit.  

CORE CONVICTIONS

We now have four videos posted in our CORE Convictions series –

  • “Defending Christian faith and morality without being a nasty jerk or a defensive Bible thumper” by NALC pastor Cathy Ammlung
  • “Jesus is the only way to salvation” by Russell Lackey, campus pastor at Grand View University (ELCA)
  • “Teaching the faith to children of all ages” by NALC pastor Jim Lehmann
  • “What does it mean to be Confessional?” by NALC pastor Jeffray Greene

More videos will be posted as they become available.  Here is a summary of Cathy’s video.

DEFENDING CHRISTIAN FAITH AND MORALITY

WITHOUT BEING A NASTY JERK OR A DEFENSIVE BIBLE THUMPER

Many thanks to NALC pastor Cathy Ammlung for this video on how to share the Christian faith and moral values in a hostile environment.  Here is a link to her video.

In this video she discusses what Christians can do to prepare for and engage in conversations on difficult topics like abortion.  Cathy does not give answers or talking points.  Instead she counsels the viewer on leading with the love of Jesus and doing the hard work that provides solid information, insight, and confidence.  Finally, she walks the viewer through some of the tactics for argumentation and activism that were formulated by Saul Alinsky and that are being used by many people today who oppose Christian faith and moral values.  It’s less threatening when you know what’s going on!

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Thank you for letting me share regarding these issues.  May the Lord continue to bless you.

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com