Once You Know the Makeup, You Know the Outcome

If there ever will be a time when that old adage will be proven true, it will be with the ELCA’s thirty-five-member Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church.

This commission was formed in response to action taken by the ELCA’s 2022 Churchwide Assembly.  The assembly 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.”  

Later communication from the ELCA Church Council stated that the commission should be made up of at least 25% people of color or whose primary language was other than English and 20% youth and young adults.  Keeping in mind that the membership of the typical ELCA congregation is older and white, this means that the commission will not represent the ELCA as it is but the ELCA as those who are leading and driving the process want the ELCA to be. 

The thirty-five members of the commission have been chosen and have met once (in mid-July).  Their biographical paragraphs can be found on the ELCA website under www.elca.org/future

As I read the bios there is no doubt in my mind that the commission is made up of people of great experience and expertise.  I have no question about their ability.  My concern is with their passions and priorities.  Reading their bios and remembering that these are the people who have been chosen to reshape the ELCA, one realizes that in a very short time the ELCA is going to be radically different from the church body that was formed in 1988. 

This is a very capable group.  It includes –

  • Two synodical bishops
  • One seminary president
  • Three ELCA college and seminary professors

Members of the commission have held such positions as –

  • President of the ELCA Latino Ministries Association
  • Assistant general secretary for international affairs and human rights for Lutheran World Federation
  • Top leaders of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
  • Chair of the Lutheran Campus Ministry Network
  • A person who has been chair, vice chair, and secretary of the board of trustees for Portico Benefit Services
  • Executive Director of South Carolina Lutheran Retreat Centers 
  • Member of the board of trustees and treasurer for Lutheran Outdoor Ministries
  • President and chief executive officer of Mosaic (a social ministry agency which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and other diverse needs)   

Thirteen of these people have held positions within their synods or have served on the ELCA Church Council. 

I was glad when I read comments from two of them.

  • One said that “he hopes the perspectives he brings from his law practice and his work on synod and churchwide constitution committees will help him spot obstacles and identify solutions in our governing documents.”   
  • Another one (one of the co-chairs) described himself as having “a penchant for good governance and organizational structure.”

But beyond that, reading the bios I became more and more deeply concerned.  I see this group as creating a new church body whose primary focus will be not on fulfilling the Great Commission but on social justice, LGBTQ+ and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion activism, and where men will continue to play a diminishing role. 

For all of the talk about the equal participation of women in the church, the ELCA Church Council and this commission are obviously not concerned about the equal participation of men in the church.  The commission is made up of twenty-one women and only fourteen men.  Women outnumber men by 50%.  And there are nearly three times as many women of color on the commission as men of color.  Of the eleven people of color (eleven out of thirty-five or nearly one-third of the commission), eight are women and only three are men.

Three of the members of the commission are assistants to synodical bishops.  But in each case their focus is on social justice issues and anti-racism, not on any of the other functions and ministries of a congregation.  As an example, one of the members is assistant to a bishop for communications and development, but in his bio paragraph he celebrates the fact that he “has successfully centered social justice and advocacy in all aspects of communication and community engagement.”

Seven out of thirty-five (20% of the commission) hold positions of leadership within LGBTQ+ activist organizations and/or mention that they are in a same-sex married relationship.  Please note:  This is not saying that only 20% of them are in favor of LGBTQ+ issues.  Rather it is saying that 20% of them see their being an LGBTQ+ activist as among their most prominent qualifications for being on the commission.  These people include –

  • A Proclaim chaplain with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries 
  • Someone who has consulted with numerous synods supporting LGBTQIA+ cultural competency
  • An ordained deacon at a Reconciled in Christ congregation
  • The convenor of a synodical Reconciled in Christ ministry 
  • The director for Pride in her company’s LGBTQIA+ Business Resource Group 
  • Someone who has served as director of community relations for a non-profit corporation that serves the support and advocacy needs of transgender service members
  • A board member and former co-chair of ReconcilingWorks 
  • Someone who since the age of six has “stubbornly refused to conform to society’s expectations” and whose self-description is a “genderqueer lesbian” who “seeks to bridge binaries and transgress borders”

Equally alarming is the fact that seven out of thirty-five (again 20% of the commission) hold positions of diversity, equity, and inclusion activism in their place of employment and/or leadership.  Again this is not saying that only 20% of them make decisions and take actions based upon the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Rather it is saying that a full 20% of them see their holding positions of diversity, equity, and inclusion activism in their places of employment and/or leadership as among their most prominent qualifications for being on the commission.  These people include –

  • A senior diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant in local government
  • The chief diversity officer for a religious health organization who has received two certificates in diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • A former diversity/cultural competency consultant in the non-profit sector 
  • The convenor for a synodical resolution on authentic diversity and inclusion 
  • Someone with over thirty years’ experience facilitating and training for intercultural equity leadership and organizational change 
  • Someone who conducted discussions about race and diversity at the 2015 and 2018 ELCA youth gatherings 
  • A person who is vice president of diversity and inclusion at one college after being director of diversity and inclusion at another college  

This final person shows the great extent of her passion for and experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion as she writes that she has “facilitated several workshops on privilege and identity, creating inclusive learning environments, and the basics of diversity and inclusion.”  In addition she has “served as a keynote speaker on topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and has “completed a year-long fellowship with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.”

Following the principle that “once you know the makeup, you know the outcome,” it should be painfully obvious and clear what this group is going to come up with for the shape and mission of a fully reconstituted Lutheran church.  We will keep you posted.

Severed Foot Faith?

Choices, choices and AdChoices. Our hyper-consumer culture overwhelms us with all the choices we can make to please our whims. For all the hyper-individually focused advertising that is pushed at you, you as a person are lost. You are just a consumer whose only value is what you can spend.

Our Adchoice mentality affects our faith. We say we can be spiritual on our own with a custom order Jesus on our terms. This consumeristic spirituality caters to our self-centeredness. The whole “ME and Jesus” private relationship is not biblical, but blasphemous. This misguided, “Me and Jesus” spirituality not only runs counter to scripture, but even more, it degrades God’s saving work. We are redeemed as we are part of God’s people. Our ultimate communal expression is communion where we are joined to Christ and one another (1 Cor 10:17). Certainly, a self-centered spirituality will not require us to participate seriously in a church community.

If you revel in being a severed foot cut off from the body of Christ because us other Christians stink and you are more holy than us, I am offended! Who are you not to grace us with your unique embodiment of sinfulness? Who are you to think you can have Christ without us? Who are you to withhold the work of the Spirit in you to bless others for God’s glory?

The Way of Christ is not about and cannot be just a personal relationship with Jesus. Our faith has been handed down through the faith community. We are individually members of the body, the Church, but there is no severed foot faith separate from the body. The weakness of this self-centered faith in the United States is apparent from the weakness of individuals to pass along the faith.

Following Christ is not a private individualistic affair. Yes, you are to have a personal connection to Christ. While we do have our personal and solitary times with the LORD, we are baptized and called to exercise our faith in God by how we live with one another. We are to meet together to encourage one another in the faith, rather than flying solo to be picked off one by one in spiritual warfare. (Heb 10:23-25) If even the Son of God needed a small group of disciples to do faith with, why would we think we can sever ourselves from the body and be okay?

That we are to follow Christ with one another is abundantly clear throughout the New Testament (see below). We worship together. We experience life and salvation together. We are bound together. In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (1 Cor 12, Rom 12:5). So, we forgive one another. We bear one another’s burdens. We share God’s love with one another. We are to be devoted to one another in love. We are to honor one another above ourselves. Rather than slacking, we are encouraged to do more and more life together as God’s people.

Don’t be a sinner alone.  You are redeemed by Christ to belong to His people, not to go life alone. To be clear, if you are doing faith as a severed foot without fellow sinners, you are unbiblical and disobeying Christ. So as baptized Christians joined to the Body of Christ, actively engage your spiritual life by living it out in the temple of God’s people (1 Pet 2:4-5). Embrace the Spirit-given blessing of belonging to the family of God.  Come join your brothers and sisters in Christ so you may more powerfully grow in knowing Christ in your life.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give y’all a spirit of unity with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together y’all may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 15:5-6)

Your servant in his Church, Pastor Douglas

(See Jn 13:34, Rom 12:10, 13:8, 1 Cor 3:16-17, 12:12-14, 2 Cor 13:11, Gal 5:13, Eph 4:2, 4:32, Phil 2:5, Col 3:13, 1 Thess 4:9, 5:11, Heb 3:13, 10:23-25, 13:1, 1 Pet 1:22, 1 Pet 3:8, 1 Pet 5:5, 1 Jn 1:7, 3:23, 4:11-12)

On Christian Nationalism

Santino Burrola recorded a video and posted it to TikTok.  He was fired from his job at a grocery store for the offense.  What did he do wrong?  Inappropriately filming someone in the restroom?  Dancing in the aisles while on the clock?  No.  He recorded thieves stealing from the store.  He peeled aluminum foil off the license plate of the get-away vehicle so that it would become visible.  Hoping that the culprits would be caught, he posted the video, and at least one of the thieves was caught.  For his actions in trying to stop people from stealing, he was fired.

The store cited its policy that employees should not interfere with people shoplifting to “minimize the risk to our associates.”[i]

If you read the title to this piece, you may be wondering how this story relates to Christian Nationalism.  It doesn’t seem to tie in at all.  Please bear with me, and I will try to show you how.  There is a Christian Nationalism which should be rejected and condemned vociferously, but there are also some thoughts and ideas which are labeled “Christian Nationalism” in an attempt to smear those who offer them as well as to dismiss those ideas without having to engage them and understand why they are held; and those thoughts and ideas directly relate to the Santio Burrola situation.

First, we must define Christian Nationalism.  There is no firm definition, at least that I have found.  In our postmodern society, this is par for the course.  The muddier we can make definitions, the more we can apply or deny them to a given situation, group, or movement. 

But I don’t play those games.  Muddying the waters only sows confusion and chaos.  Therefore, you do not need to guess my operating definition of Christian Nationalism.  It is this: The belief that God has given the U.S. a special blessing and destiny, and that to be American means to be explicitly Christian.  Therefore the United States should impose the Christian faith upon its population in public life including in its understanding and application of the law.  Many would call my definition too limited, and they would like to add several caveats to it including the following:

  • The U.S. was established to be an explicitly Christian nation.[ii]
  • That Christianity should have a privileged position in society.[iii]
  • That it provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.[iv][v]

I reject these caveats and additions, and I explain why below. However, I also believe it is important for Christians to unequivocally reject and condemn the definition which I have set forth. Why?

For two substantial reasons: First, Christianity is invitational, not impositional.  Plain and simple.  Nowhere does Jesus ever suggest that anyone be forced to become a Christian or follow Him.  In fact, when people reject Jesus, He lets them go.  He doesn’t zap them.  He doesn’t punish them.  He allows them to walk away to follow their own whims.  He focuses His attention on those who do accept the invitation to follow Him. 

Faith in Christ does not come by forcing people to follow Jesus.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God and having one’s heart transformed by the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This is our only and sole weapon of transformation and bringing of the Kingdom of God to earth.  Imposing the Christian faith by fiat does not change a heart, and the times when it has been tried have led to disaster.

Secondly, the Kingdom of God is in the world, but it is not of the world.  Martin Luther writes about this eloquently in his short piece Temporal Authority: To what Extent it Should be Obeyed, “What would be the result of an attempt to rule the world by the Gospel and the abolition of earthly law and force? It would be loosing savage beasts from their chains. The wicked, under cover of the Christian name would make unjust use of their Gospel freedom.”[vi]

The Kingdom of God operates by grace, and those who enter into it have no need of temporal law.  The Law of God is written upon their hearts, and so they actually go above and beyond what temporal authority calls for.  However, as Luther states, there are very few true Christians, so temporal law is necessary to curb sin. 

Those who seek to impose the Kingdom of God by following the belief of Christian Nationalism do not fundamentally understand Christianity, and, perhaps this is why, as the authors of Taking America Back for God found, the religiously devout do not adhere to those beliefs.[vii]

It would appear that a rejection of Christian Nationalism on these terms would be satisfactory, and we could simply bury the subject altogether; however, we cannot.  The topic actually becomes a bit muddier when one considers there are people within society, and within the church, who use Christian Nationalism as a pejorative towards those who believe that a) the United States was founded upon Christian principles and b) that Christianity should have a privileged place in society. 

Let me state unequivocally before I continue, I do not believe that Christianity should have a legally privileged place in society.  That is both unconstitutional in the U.S. and would actually fall under Christian Nationalism; however, when I speak of a privileged position in society, I speak from understanding two things: 1) That, as a Christian and particularly a Lutheran, I believe that all temporal authority comes from God, and 2) without grounding the fundamental rights of humanity as well as both values and morals, in a transcendent[viii] reality/worldview—specifically a reality/worldview that also allows respectful disagreement alongside those rights, values and morals—then a society will descend into chaos and eventually fall.  Explanation is in order.

In the United States, it is understood that every individual human being is endowed with certain rights, and the founders of our nation stated clearly in the Declaration of Independence, those rights are self-evidently endowed by the Creator.  One must ask oneself two questions: 1) Where did this idea of fundamental human rights come from? and 2) Why say that they are endowed by the Creator?

The answer to the first of these questions is: fundamental human rights including that each human had inherent value and worth came from the Judeo-Christian tradition.  This is not a made up claim.  You can read the histories and practices of ancient civilizations and find that only within the Judeo-Christian tradition does one find that each and every person has worth and value; each and every person is created in the image of God; each and every person is allotted certain protections no matter if they are an insider or an outsider.  Here is the pertinent question: can a society hold onto fundamental beliefs when throwing out the very belief system that brought those beliefs into the world?

The answer to the second of these questions is: they are endowed by the Creator because if they were endowed by society or the government, then they can be taken away at the whim of society or the government.  Rights that are endowed by the transcendent can only be removed by the transcendent.  Rights that are endowed by the immanent[ix] can easily be removed by the immanent.  The reason the Civil Rights’ Movement in the U.S. was successful is that an appeal was made to transcendent rights which superseded laws that society had implemented.  Without such transcendence, one could have simply said, “The majority has spoken.  Your rights are granted by the state, nothing more.”  There would have been no counter argument.  Another pertinent question: Can a society which removes the underpinning of human rights from a transcendent Creator maintain human rights for everyone? 

The answers to these two questions begin pointing us towards the reason Christianity should have a privileged place in society. However, there is one more addition that must be made.  Christianity not only ensures fundamental human rights and grounds those rights in a transcendent reality, it also provides a moral framework which allows for disagreement and respect towards those who hold different positions.  Christians understand that we treat fellow Christians as family–this language permeates the New Testament, but what about those who are not in our Christian family?  They are our neighbors, and we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves–love being agape, the Greek word for a self-sacrificial love which calls for sacrificing ourselves for the sake of our neighbor.  There is a further call to love one’s enemies–again using the same Greek word.  Hatred and demonization of enemies; of the other; of someone outside one’s preferred group, is forbidden within Christian thought.  Is there another philosophy or religion which goes so far? 

Certainly not the godless, postmodern society which is rapidly gaining ground within our culture.  Postmodern thought has removed the idea of transcendence and has made everything immanent, and, unfortunately, even some within the church buy into this particular philosophical framework.  It is much to society’s detriment.

Let us return to the opening story of this article: Santino Burrola and his subsequent firing for wanting to stop thieves.  What philosophy/worldview undergirds the idea that thieves should be allowed to take goods unchecked?  What philosophy/ worldview undergirds the idea that those who seek to stop stealing should be punished?  It’s not the Christian worldview.  It’s not the worldview which undergirded the United States from its inception.  There is something else at play.  There is another stream of thought which is being privileged. In this case, it is the postmodern worldview/philosophy which somehow has accepted theft and demeaned those who try to stop it.  It would seem self-evident that privileging this philosophy/worldview is not good for society in the long run.  In fact, it will lead to chaos. 

As the great Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterson once said, “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”[x]  A culture or society which does not believe in God, or at least have human rights rooted in a transcendent Creator, will then become capable of believing anything including that theft should be allowed and those who seek to protect another’s property should be punished.

It would behoove those who try to lump those who strongly adhere to the beliefs that the United States was founded upon Christian principles and that Christianity should have a privileged place in society to understand why we say such things and not simply dismiss us by pejoratively calling us Christian Nationalists.  We’re not.  We’re Christians, Lutherans, and citizens who love our country and what it stands for.  We want our country to be a place where justice, fairness, and freedom thrive.  We are convinced that in order for this to happen, we must have a shared understanding of human rights, values, and morals; and we are convinced by history, philosophy, and faith that this will be impossible without this being grounded in a transcendent reality which allows for disagreement.

Is there a better grounding than Christianity?  I don’t think so.

[i] https://www.cbsnews.com/colorado/news/king-soopers-employee-fired-video-theft/

[ii] https://sas.rutgers.edu/news-a-events/news/newsroom/faculty/3406-religious-nationalism

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7996

[v]  I do not deal with this caveat in the article as it is not a theological point; however, this Pew article (https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/10/27/views-of-the-u-s-as-a-christian-nation-and-opinions-about-christian-nationalism/) shows that even within the African-American and Hispanic communities a majority of members of those communities support the statement that the founders of the U.S. meant for this to be a Christian Nation.  Not only that, the majority of African-American Protestants believe that the U.S. should be a Christian nation.  This caveat is actually not based in reality, but is based in an attempt to simply discredit Christian Nationalism by tying it to white supremacy without actually dealing with any arguments.

[vi] Luther, Martin. Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed.  Luther’s Works Volume 45. P.91.

[vii] https://learn.elca.org/jle/taking-america-back-for-god-christian-nationalism-in-the-united-states-and-andrew-l-whitehead-and-samuel-l-perry/

[viii] Something that is above and beyond or outside ourselves and this universe as we know it.

[ix] Those things found within the universe as we know it.

[x] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/44015-when-men-choose-not-to-believe-in-god-they-do

Churches Without Property

In 1998, I moved with my wife and my 3 year old son to Pembroke Pines, Florida.  I was sent there to start a new congregation in an area of Broward County that was located between I-75 and the Florida Everglades. 

It was an exciting time, but also a little frightening.  Would I have what it takes to knock on 5000 doors?  Would I really be able to gather enough people to form a worshipping community within six months?  Would this group of people be able to grow enough in numbers and giving to officially organize as a congregation?   

The answer to each of those questions was yes!  We held our first worship six months after I arrived in Pembroke Pines.  There were over 100 people there on the first Sunday.  Two years later, we voted to become a congregation, with over 100 members.  Not only that, but our congregation was multi-cultural, reflecting the area in which we were located.  Finally, we had lots of children and families.  Each week, over a third of the congregation was under the age of 18.

Everything was going as planned except for one thing.  We had been unable to purchase property on which to build a place to worship, hold Sunday School, adult Bible studies, and have an office.  On three occasions, we almost made it, but something fell through.  To this day, 25 years later, that congregation still has to rent space every Sunday to hold worship and Sunday School.

Why was it so difficult?  There were several factors.  Broward County was running out of land.  The cities had reached the edge of the Everglades and could go no further. What land remained was at a premium.  In addition, all of the land that remained was covered in muck.  To develop a piece of property, you had to “de-muck”, which means to scrape off all of the muck until you reached limestone. Then you had to re-fill the land with suitable soil for building.  At the same time, you had to set aside a third or more of the property for wetlands mitigation.

However, that’s not the primary reason it was so hard for a congregation to buy property.  The real reason that it was difficult was that the local municipalities, along with the county government, did not want any more churches.  You heard that right.  Churches were not wanted because they didn’t add to the tax base.  Furthermore, I suspect they were seen to be sectarian and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community.  All of the things normally done by churches and synagogues could be done just as well by the schools, libraries and public parks, it was thought.

Why do I drag up the past?  Because I thought at the time, and still think today, that what happened to my congregation 25 years ago may be a preview of what will happen to many congregations in the 21st Century.  As church attendance drops, as more people identify as having no religious affiliation, and as the Church is seen more and more to be regressive and hateful, I expect government to seek to limit the freedom of the Church. One way to do that, among others, is through zoning and land use laws.  That’s what was used in Broward County.  Keep congregations from buying property and building facilities, and you limit their influence.

A further reason that I think this might be the future for many congregations is the growing denominational conflict which many of us have already experienced.  Over the past 25 years, Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists, among others, have learned again and again that they may have to choose between faithfulness to the Word of God and owning property.   Sometimes, when that happens, there are enough people who have been “de-churched” to form a worshipping community.  Often, however, all that remains are Christians who have no church.  I have spoken to faithful Lutherans, who on being de-churched cannot find an orthodox Lutheran congregation within a reasonable driving distance. 

Unless we have a model of how to “do Church” without property and buildings, many faithful Lutherans will remain de-churched.  When I first faced this problem 25 years ago, there wasn’t a model available to me for doing mission without property and a building.  I had to do the best I could. 

At the end of the 20th Century, there were two primary models with which I was familiar.  The first was the pastor centered model.  The second was the program centered model.  Both of those depend on a congregation owning property and facilities.  In the pastor centered model, the congregation gathered each week for worship and fellowship.  The pastor did ministry to and for the members in the building owned by the congregation.  (Evangelism consisted of the pastor visiting individuals in the community.)

The program centered model also required property and facilities, but more than what was owned by a pastoral centered congregation.  It was through the varied programs that the congregation did ministry to its members and reached out to the unchurched.  The better the programs and the more varied, the more people could be reached.  More than one called pastor and multiple lay ministers were required to run the programs of the congregation.  In order for all of this to happen, however, adequate facilities were a must.

When I was a pastor developer, property was key to the viability of a new church.  Generally speaking, the pastor developer was expected to locate more than 5 acres for purchase.  That’s because the goal was for new congregations to grow beyond the pastor centered model to the program centered model.  You’ll need more than 5 acres to build the facilities to sustain a program centered congregation.  On more than one occasion, I heard of a mission congregation that was shut down because it couldn’t find enough land.  In spite of what was said about “the Church is not a building”, buildings were considered essential.

I fear that if the Lutheran Church in the 21st Century follows that model, it will be difficult to plant enough new congregations to reach the thousands of un-churched Lutherans in North America.  Even less will it be adequate to do the kind of mission that is required in our post-Christian society.   What models do we have for starting new congregations today?  What models do we have for a time when there are not enough pastors?  Not enough land?  Not enough facilities?  Do we simply say, “Starting a new congregation here is not a viable option?” 

Of equal importance is the question of how to grow a congregation.  What alternatives are there to the traditional Sunday School model, with accompanying Children’s and Youth programs?  Can a program model of ministry be replaced by a disciple making model?  Are there creative ways to raise up pastors and lay ministers in places where a pastor can’t be afforded?  We need answers to those questions if we want to do mission in the 21st Century. 

Prevailing Against the Gates

“Alderaan? I’m not going to Alderaan. I’ve got to get home. It’s late. I’m in for it as it is.”

Name that movie.  Name that scene.  Anyone with even a passing interest in the Star Wars franchise knows this one. It’s a pivotal moment.  Obi Wan asks Luke to come along, inviting him on a journey. It’s the beginning of Luke’s heroic journey; it’s a term penned by Professor Joseph Campbell who traced such stories through history, all of which followed a certain pattern and all leading to a central task: prevailing against darkness. 

George Lucas conferred with Campbell while writing the first three movies of the series.  Maybe that’s why most aficionados consider them the best of the nine. I find it ironic that when I first saw that movie, I looked like the kid being given a light saber.  Now I’m the white-haired old guy saying, “Hey, come along this way…” and for what it’s worth Luke’s first response is basically, “No thanks old man, I’ve got to get home and work on some evaporators.” In short order Luke experiences the loss of his aunt and uncle, crosses the threshold of Yes and with Obi Wan goes down into the valley of the spaceport.  Lucas knew what he was about.  The imagery was subtle, but followed the ancient pattern, down into the valley of the shadow of death with an outcome unknown. 

At our August board meeting of Lutheran CORE, our executive director Dennis Nelson led us through a bible study on the trip to Caesarea Philippi and the question, “Who do people say the son of man is?” Dennis offered a quick survey of Simon’s response, a look at the meaning of being given the keys and what that might entail, and then an insight into the gates, the gates that will not prevail against the rock. Then Jesus gave Simon his new identity, role, and assurance, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

The thing is that gates don’t take territory.  They don’t advance against an intruder.  They attempt to hold back an incursion.  Their role is to block that which is outside, like an opening in any good boundary regulates what can come in and what will go out.  Why can’t these gates prevail?  I sat there and soaked in that insight.  Of the many times I had explored that text, I asked who is Jesus in a pagan culture, what does it mean to be given the authority and therefore the power of the keys to bring life and the promise of forgiveness and eternal life?  What did it mean that Peter had a sufficiently robust relationship that he could endure the challenge of being compared to Satan and standing behind? And as our walk with Jesus becomes more personal, what does it mean that we find ourselves more open to being challenged in our brokenness and sin (sin that the Gospel may release)? And then Dennis brought up the idea of prevailing against the gates.  That invigorated a lively conversation around the table. 

What does it take to prevail against those gates, not merely hunker down and survive, but prevail?  Not in a militaristic sense, but certainly with a recognition that the church was founded to be movemental, to advance into new territory, to train and equip those who would bring the Gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and all the ends of the earth.  How are we doing with that in our own contexts?  Were any of us trained to lead a movement?  Are we prevailing? Most of us were taught to preach, teach, bring comfort to the homebound and hospitalized, baptize the children, marry the silly romantics, bury the loved ones of the grieving. 

What if prevailing is more than that? In these times that often feel like we are traversing down into the valley of the shadow, what tools did we miss in seminary that we need for the journey? If you can find a copy of the book In The Valley of the Shadow by Hanns Lilje, it’s worth a read.  Lilje was a contemporary of Bonhoeffer—he survived his experience in the camps, later became a Bishop and wrote a catechism for adults.

Drawing from the disparate training of those on the Board, friends of CORE and others we will likely recruit, we are working on providing tasters on topics we didn’t learn in seminary.  During my brief stint as an assistant to the bishop in the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod, I was called to manage first call theological education as part of a team for region 2.  Since I like to be data driven when it comes to providing training and support, I got all our first call pastors together, asked how it was going, and what do they think they missed?  I heard an earful.  So many things.  And that was twenty-five years ago. 

Since then, we’ve experienced the sexuality wars, the worship wars, the decline of Christianity numerically in the US, Covid, rising racial tensions, massive rejection of the faith by a younger generation (half of GenZ claiming to be agnostic or atheist)[i], family brokenness splashing out onto all the mediating structures of society including the church.  Etcetera. These tasters could be provided live on Zoom and recorded for later viewing.  We could interact via a social media platform as we figure out how to use what we’re learning.  Some of the topics being considered are:

  1. visionary leadership, the power of casting a vision and how to do so
  2. how to reach multiple cultures in our contexts including how to maintain core values amid an influx of new members
  3. how to be a church that can reach new people, a look at everything from Celtic models to multi-generational faith formation
  4. how to mobilize faith for mission and ministry within the congregation and in the mission field of their daily lives
  5. managing conflict and boundaries
  6. creating healthy staff teams
  7. creating leadership pipelines for disciples who know how to make disciples, for small groups and missional communities
  8. balancing personal life and strengthening the emotional side of pastoral life
  9. worship, preaching and leading transitions to discipling culture church
  10. developing a giving church and a church built on prayer

In the months ahead we will test a number of pilot offerings to see if we are on the right track.  If any of these topics are interesting to you, please let us know. If there are other areas of stress send us a note about that also.

The gates of hell shall not prevail “for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.” All of us in leadership in the church heard the call, crossed into the journey, and now find ourselves on paths unknown to destinations unchartered.  May we do so while knowing that Jesus’ love is always supporting us, and his hand is guiding us. 

[i] https://www.aei.org/articles/perspective-why-even-secular-people-should-worry-about-gen-zs-lack-of-faith/#:~:text=Pew%20Research%20repeatedly%20found%20that,boomers%20and%20the%20Silent%20Generation.

Pockets of Hope

When I think of Baltimore, I often think of my early childhood home with a large magnolia tree in the front yard and a tall, hemlock pine in the back, where my siblings and I used to climb and play amongst the branches to our hearts content. I think of the cookies my sisters and I would sell in the neighborhood without supervision, pulling our bright red Flyer wagon full of a variety of cookies behind us. I was only 6 when we moved away, but I remember, even then, after being robbed multiple times and my brother being held up with a gun when he was 10 for his bike, that I felt fear.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear negative statistics about Baltimore and I came to see my siblings’ and my childhood experiences there in a new light. Amidst all the negative media coverage, it’s easy to believe that Baltimore continues in a downward spiral and there isn’t much hope.

This year, from the first day of City Mission, I had the phrase “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” on my heart. As an athlete, I’ve always preferred sprinting over distance running and that’s true in other aspects of my life as well. The Lord has taught me a lot of patience through the years and, through seasons of burn out, He’s taught me to pace myself more and rely on Him instead of trying to make change happen all on my own. So when this impression came to my heart, I didn’t question it. Looking back now, it feels like a gift from the Holy Spirit because He knew how much I needed that reminder.

I’ll be honest…It felt heavy seeing a woman come through a food pantry with her face apparently beaten and her eyes red and to watch as they called a volunteer over because she couldn’t walk through by herself. Then overhearing another volunteer reminding her “I’m only a phone call away, okay? One phone call and we can get you out of there.” It feels heavy when you walk into a tent city, hidden from the road, and see kids running around, documented or not, with people passed out on the ground (you hope it’s not worse than that) and you learn that some of these individuals used to be businessmen and women, lawyers, police officers, etc. – people who hadn’t spent all of their lives at the bottom. It feels heavy knowing that a stone’s throw from one of the churches we partner with is the sex trafficking hub of the city. It feels heavy when a woman graduates from a recovery program and dies after running into someone she once did drugs with; one last hit and she was gone… just as she was beginning to rebuild her life.

One evening someone in the group shared that these churches, ministries, and organizations that we partner with in Baltimore are like “Pockets of Hope.” It felt like the perfect description. That’s truly what these places are.

Because of these “Pockets of Hope,” we also experienced joy and immense encouragement, not just heaviness. We got to see how much good happens on a daily basis to help people in need, some desperately so. One of these places, after operating solely as a food pantry for a while, decided to expand and offer a deeper level of care through education, job resources, clothing distribution and more. We toured a large warehouse that is going to be an additional extension of their non-profit organization. It is so exciting to see their vision for the future and to think of how many lives will be touched there.

It’s a joy working together to be the hands and feet of Christ. Going out as a team and partnering with those who are already aware of needs in the city and who are actively giving of their time and resources is both encouraging and helpful to us as we try to make the most of our time there. These “Pockets of Hope” are essential to the mission there. Without them, not only would we become discouraged and overwhelmed, we would be in over our heads. It’s in these places that we’re given a tangible reminder that God truly is at work—whether we see it or not. We’re not there to fix everything, we’re not there to jump in and take over. We’re there to walk alongside, to plant seeds, to water seeds, to give a word of encouragement, a smile, or a hug.

The phrase I mentioned earlier, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” served as a subtle reminder to me to let go and free my heart from the burden of expectation of wanting to see certain results and change happen, in order to embrace being a part of what God is doing right in front of me. I really felt free to do that.

As I’ve continued to think about this phrase, I’ve realized how much it really applies to all of life and ministry as a whole. If we’re in this for the long haul, pacing ourselves and living out our callings through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, is essential. Our hearts were never meant to carry the burdens of the whole world. Many of us are often weighed down from the burden of too much news from all over the world, to the point where our discouragement becomes immobilization and we end up doing nothing. It’s just too much.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” My prayer is that we would take this to heart. When we give those burdens to God, we free ourselves up to be a vessel for good instead of being so consumed with worry and anxiety that we can’t be effective at all. When we leave it in God’s hands, it frees us up to allow His love, joy, hope, peace and other fruits of the spirit to take up residence in our hearts and flow out from there. That is such an essential part of being the hands and feet of Christ because those are the things that point others to Christ – the fruit of His spirit within us.

We go, we speak, we care for others and act as His hands and feet, we love, we encourage, we speak the truth… and then we need to let God do the work of the heart. The Holy Spirit changes hearts, not us.

It is such an honor to partner with these “Pockets of Hope” in Baltimore – from recovery programs, to food distribution centers and churches in the heart of Baltimore that are out there every day reaching out to the lost. We are so encouraged and excited by what God is doing in this city and are blessed to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Mother Teresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.” Her response to that? “Do small things with great love.”

That “small thing” is significant and may have a bigger impact than you or I could ever imagine.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to do infinitely more than we might ask or think.” -Ephesians 3:20

Images were provided by Teresa Dubyoski.

ELCA Moves In and Takes Over

In my Summer Letter from the Director I told in great detail the disturbing story of how Bishop Yehiel Curry of the ELCA’s Metropolitan Chicago Synod threatened, intimidated, bullied, and abused power in order to gain control of a CORE-friendly congregation that was doing its best to reach out to its bi-lingual and Spanish speaking neighborhood with the love of Jesus.  A link to that letter can be found here.  That bishop and synod council used chapter S13.24 in the Model Constitution for Synods as a way to move in and take over the congregation. 

I recently become aware of another situation where the synod council of another ELCA synod – Southwest California – used the same constitutional provision to seize the property of a congregation.  As a former ALC congregation, according to the ELCA constitution, Faith Lutheran Church of San Dimas, California should have had no problem keeping their property as they voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA and join another Lutheran church body.  But that synod council used chapter S13.24 of the Model Constitution for Synods, along with rejecting the legitimacy of LCMC as a recognized Lutheran church body, to claim to have the right to the congregation’s property.  My concern has only grown greater as I wonder whether these are two isolated incidents or is this a pattern – an intentional strategy – that we will see continue to unfold throughout the ELCA.

In part the relevant constitutional chapter reads as follows –

S13.24 – The Synod Council, itself or through trustees appointed by it, may 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. . . .

d. 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.

e. The Synod Council determines that it is necessary for this synod to protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.

The congregation shall have the right to appeal any such decision to the next Synod Assembly.

The way in which Bishop Curry and the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Council used this provision to gain control of a former ALC congregation and its property I described in my Summer Letter from the Director.  Here I will tell how the Southwest California Synod Council used the same provision to justify demanding the deed to the property of another former ALC congregation. 

Six years ago Faith Lutheran Church in San Dimas, California, was a thriving congregation led by a very gifted, hardworking, faithful, committed, and orthodox pastor.  I would say he was one of the best.  After his retirement the congregation struggled as it had an extremely difficult time finding another pastor who would be appropriate for them.  Attendance and involvement dropped and the preschool had to close during the COVID pandemic.  Finally, after two years, they did find a pastor, but that pastor turned out to be a disaster.  Later they discovered that that pastor had embezzled funds from a former congregation.  (That information was shared as public information during the discussion at the synod assembly.)  Attendance dropped even further, many of the positions on the congregation council remained vacant, and the congregation had to request forbearance on the loan for their beautiful new sanctuary. 

Needing help with their situation, the congregation entered into a Synodical Administration arrangement with the synod.  This arrangement is described in S13.25. of the Model Constitution for Synods, which says, “This synod may temporarily assume administration of a congregation upon its request or with its concurrence.  Such synod administration shall continue only so long as necessary to complete the purposes for which it was requested by the congregation or until the congregation withdraws consent to continued administration.”  Three local ELCA pastors were assigned to the congregation to help them through their difficult times.

But the real turnaround for the congregation occurred when they invited a non-Lutheran new church start to begin meeting on their property.  With the presence of the other congregation and the dynamic, outreach-oriented leadership of the young, evangelical pastor, new energy came to the place.  The synod continued to be unable to provide the congregation with a suitable pastor to call – or even a supply pastor or an interim pastor that would be appropriate for them.  I understand from a former member of the executive committee of the synod council of that synod, that of the approximately one hundred congregations in that synod, forty-two of them are without a pastor.  Because the synod could not provide a pastor, the ELCA congregation asked the young, dynamic, energetic, outreach-oriented pastor of the new, non-Lutheran church start to provide them with pastoral care and leadership.  The non-Lutheran pastor would lead the ELCA congregation’s traditional, liturgical service at 9 AM and then the new church start’s contemporary service at 11 AM.  The ELCA synodical bishop, seeing how the Lord was blessing the ministry, agreed to the arrangement. 

The problem came when the congregation voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA and join LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ).  As a former ALC congregation, they should have had no problem keeping their property.  But the synod council accused them of joining LCMC only as a way of getting out of the ELCA with the intent of then joining this non-Lutheran group.  The young, dynamic, energetic, outreach-oriented, evangelical pastor of the non-Lutheran church start offered to take courses in Lutheran theology so that he would be better equipped to provide pastoral care and leadership for the Lutheran congregation, and he was also mentored by a retired ELCA pastor, but that was not sufficient.  The synod council said that the congregation can leave the ELCA, the congregation and the non-Lutheran new church start can rent the church building from the ELCA, but the congregation must surrender the deed to the property to the synod.  The congregation appealed the decision to the synod assembly which is how I became aware.  The appeal was decisively denied. 

During the discussion at the synod assembly it was revealed that after the congregation voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA, the synod council changed their relationship with the congregation from Synodical Administration (S13.25), which is voluntary and temporary, to Synodical Preservation (S13.24), which is involuntary and permanent.  (It is interesting that the president of the congregation said that they did not know that the synod had taken that action and changed the terms of the relationship until six months after the change had been made.)

The synod council used chapter S13.24 of the synod’s constitution to argue that demanding the deed to the property was something they needed to do and had the right to do in order to “protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.”  But the congregation’s property was not in danger of “waste and deterioration.”  Energy had returned, attendance was up, the preschool had reopened, the congregation was able to resume payments on the loan, and people were again involved in ministry and willing to serve in positions of leadership.  The synod misused this provision in the constitution because they did not like the fact that the congregation was moving in a different direction – and in a direction which was working out better for them.  In fact, a pastor who is a member of the executive committee of the synod council argued in front of the assembly that the synod needed to invoke S13.24 and seize the property in order to keep the property “from deterioration into a non-ELCA entity.” 

The synod council also argued that LCMC was not really a valid church body, so in joining LCMC the congregation had not met constitutional requirements in order to be able to keep their property.  For me one of the most alarming parts of the discussion was when Synodical Bishop Brenda Bos said in her initial presentation that LCMC is “a very, very loosely affiliated Lutheran denomination” and then suggested that “LCMC may have been created for exactly this constitutional clause so that congregations that do not want to be Lutheran anymore can go into that system and keep their property.”  During the discussion the member of the executive committee mentioned above quoted from the LCMC website which says, “We’re not a denomination, we’re a movement” and then said about LCMC, “They are imposters.”  (It makes me wonder how often the same line of argument has been used or will be used against other former ALC congregations that will vote to leave the ELCA and join LCMC.) 

As I watched and listened to the discussion in the You Tube recording of the second day of the synod assembly, there were two images that came to mind.  The first is the old proverb, “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his whole body will soon follow.”  Once the congregation invited the synod to come in and administer the congregation (under S13.25), it was very easy for the synod to remain, take over, and seize the property (under S13.24).

The second are the words near the beginning of the book of Exodus – “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).  Bishop Bos of the Southwest California Synod obviously did not know – nor did she bother to find out about – the actual issues that led to the formation of LCMC.  It was not to give churches who did not want to be Lutheran anymore a chance to get out of the ELCA and keep their property.  Rather the precipitating event was the ELCA’s approving the Called to Common Mission agreement with the Episcopal Church.  In that agreement a certain structure – the Episcopal version of the Historic Episcopate – became mandated.  The founders of LCMC argued – on the basis of Article Seven of the Augsburg Confession – that “the Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”  Therefore, no particular human, governmental structure is necessary in order for the church to be the church.  LCMC was formed in 2001.  Since then the organization has grown to be an international movement of around one thousand congregations, including around eight hundred congregations here in the United States.  Many of those congregations are former ALC congregations who voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA and kept their property as they then affiliated with LCMC.  Precedence strongly supports former ALC congregations’ being able to leave the ELCA, join LCMC, and not have any problem keeping their property.  As time passes more and more synodical bishops and other ELCA leaders are not going to have been a part of the issues and struggles that led to the formation of LCMC and the NALC.  They are simply not going to be aware of them, let alone understand and appreciate them. 

But a third thing that completely floored me was when Bishop Bos, at the end of her presentation, called upon the assembly to “deeply consider the legacy of the Lutherans that came before.”  During the discussion leading up to the vote which denied the congregation’s appeal, the argument was made that for over sixty years faithful Lutherans had been working and giving to start and support a Lutheran presence and ministry in the city of San Dimas.  Therefore, the assembly should not break trust with six decades of faithful Lutherans and allow a schismatic group to now take the property and give it to a non-Lutheran ministry.  I was absolutely astounded hearing this line of argument.  I realize that the young, dynamic, energetic, outreach-oriented, evangelical pastor of the new church start does not have a sacramental view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but I truly believe that his view of the Scriptures, moral values, and the mission of the church is far closer to that of the founders of that congregation than the ELCA is today.  And since when does the ELCA care about not breaking trust with faithful Lutherans of the past? 

The 2025 ELCA Churchwide Assembly is approaching, when voting members will consider a plan to reconstitute the church, review the 2009 human sexuality social statement, and possibly (probably?) eliminate the provision for bound conscience.   Bound conscience is the language that the 2009 human sexuality social statement uses to declare that a variety of views on same sex relationships – including traditional views – do exist within the ELCA and will be viewed as valid, and those who hold them will be treated with honor and respect.  I assume the ELCA knows that there may well be another wave of congregations wanting to leave the ELCA, so are they taking steps now to make it as difficult as possible for congregations to leave with their properties?  As congregations continue to decline and congregational, synodical, and churchwide income continues to drop, will the ELCA grab as many properties as possible and make it as difficult as they can for congregations (even former ALC congregations) to leave with their property?  Please let me know if you know of other examples of this dynamic. 

One final thought.  The August 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly overwhelmingly approved a Land Back Memorial, in which they supported a resolution which 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.”  Will the Southwest California Synod, in order to not be complicit in something that they are so concerned about – the stealing of land from Indigenous people – follow through with and make good their concern and give the newly acquired property – or the value of that property – to Indigenous people? 

Video Ministry – July 2023

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 new Video Book Review.       


by James Hoefer

Many thanks to retired AALC pastor James Hoefer for his review of a book which he himself has written, “The Power of Healthy Leadership.”  Here is a link to his video. 

According to Pastor Hoefer, the central concept of the book is that we are in a leadership crisis today. Without proper grounding, self-appointed leaders are harming basic community building from the family to the nation. The thesis of this handbook is that healthy leaders have the hearts of stewards.  Properly understanding our unique Lutheran heritage releases incredible spiritual and relational power which in turn builds healthy followers.

More information about this book can be found in this issue of CORE Voice. 

“Here Am I. Send Me!”

Of all the voices in the world calling you to be this or do that with your life, how will you discern God’s call? While God calls persons into full or part time ministry, biblically God’s call has less to do with the job you get paid for and everything to do with the kingdom impact you were born to have on the world. Living in response to God’s call involves trusting the Lord in the midst of the darkness and waiting for the light to dawn. But how are we to discern God’s light, as opposed to the light of our own desires or our need to please others?

Isaiah’s Vision

Consider the prophet Isaiah, whose call story is found in Isaiah Chapter 6. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v. 1). The mention of King Uzziah’s death tells us something about Isaiah’s state of mind. Israel prospered under Uzziah when he listened to the Lord, but he eventually ignored God’s commands, and died in isolation as a leper. And Isaiah had reason to be discouraged. The king was dead, a new inexperienced ruler was on the throne, the nation was drifting into idolatry (again), and their enemies were growing stronger. Where was God in all of this?

“Above him [the Lord] stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (v. 1-4).

God answered Isaiah’s question with a vision of heaven in which it became clear that while weak and sinful earthly rulers may die or be unseated, God reigns eternal. The angels proclaim His holiness, which extends throughout the world. The temple is shaken and filled with the smoke of God’s presence and power, echoing the pillar of cloud at Mt. Sinai, and the cloud of God’s glory that filled the temple (Exodus 13:21-22, 19:18 and I Kings 8:10-12).

Isaiah’s Reaction

In a time of uncertainty, God reveals Himself to Isaiah in His heavenly glory to confirm that He is King and reigns in heaven, regardless of what may be happening on earth. His sovereignty is never in question. This assurance is a prerequisite to hearing God’s call! And what is Isaiah’s reaction? And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5).

Despite his intelligence, privilege, personal integrity and devout faith, Isaiah sees himself for who he really is, a sinful man among a sinful people. In the light of God’s glory, Isaiah’s sins and failings became evident… and damning. He was before God without a mediator, without any covering or sacrifice. And if the priests could only go into the holy of holies once a year, and only after making sacrifices for themselves and the people so they would not fall dead, there was no chance of survival for Isaiah, who was in God’s presence with zero preparation.

God’s Response

In response to this realization, the Lord acts. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 6-7). The altar was the place in the temple where the people’s sins were dealt with through animal sacrifice, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on Calvary as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The angel takes a burning coal to purify Isaiah’s lips, which were the source of his sins and the instrument of his impending ministry. As a result of the angel’s action, Isaiah’s guilt is removed, his sins are forgiven, the source of his fear is gone, and he is fit for service.

The Call to Ministry

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, “Here I am. Send me!” (v. 8). God revealed Himself to Isaiah for the purpose of preparing him for ministry. Prior to his cleansing, Isaiah heard only the angels proclaiming God’s holiness, and of course, the accusing voice of his own conscience. But now he can hear the voice of the Triune God speaking to the council of angels, asking, “Who will be the messenger to my people? Who will go for us?” And this time Isaiah answers without hesitation or reluctance, “Here Am I. Send me.” The assurance of God’s absolution and a clear conscience are evident in Isaiah’s desire to answer the call. And from his experience we can draw three conclusions.

1. Worship precedes service – humbly seeking the Lord in worship is the first step in determining the what, where, when, why, and how of God’s calling in a particular season of your life. In Scripture, God’s call sometimes came through a vision, dream, or some other supernatural phenomenon. But most experience an urging of the Holy Spirit to serve in a particular way or to use a particular gift of the Spirit for the common good.

2. Self-awareness precedes action – understanding one’s current condition and circumstances will clarify what you lack that God must provide before he can use you for his intended purpose.

3. Formation precedes confirmation – formation refers to the process of preparation one undergoes in order to carry out their ministry/calling. But formation is not the same as confirmation. Some think that if you have a Bible college or seminary degree or if you have a special skill in service or leadership, you automatically qualify for a particular ministry. But no one in the church is self-appointed. God always uses the Church to confirm a person to ministry after a time of formational preparation, whether lay or ordained.

I pray that in this season of life, as you seek the Lord, His call to you will become clear, as it did for Isaiah. And that you will respond as he did, “Here am I. send me!”

Pr. Jeff Morlock is on the staff of the North American Lutheran Church and is Director of Vocational Discernment for the North American Lutheran Seminary. He may be reached at

The Creeds Don’t “Sparkle”

Note from our Executive Director: Many thanks to Kevin Haug, ELCA pastor in Texas, for his article about the Sparkle creed.  This so-called “creed” has received a lot of attention and stimulated a lot of discussion since its recent use during a worship service in an ELCA congregation in Minnesota.  We should all be alarmed over the way in which this statement rejects Biblical teaching and orthodox theology in its promoting the LGBTQ agenda and transgender ideology.  We are saddened but not surprised as we read of many ELCA pastors who are praising it as a way to connect the Christian faith with life today.  We are also saddened but not surprised by the total silence of ELCA leaders about it. 

“Pastor, what are we going to do about this?”

Those words were spoken by one of my octogenarians after she heard two news stories about the “Sparkle creed,” a statement that received national attention because of its use at an ELCA Lutheran Church in Minnesota.  The congregation recited it at worship, posted the video online, and it went viral.

The “Sparkle creed” has actually been around for a year or two, but it was not until conservative news sites and blogs discovered it that it caused a bit of an uproar, and that uproar is not without merit.  However, care needs to be taken when addressing this issue. I will attempt to show why.

First, let me define creed as a statement of belief.

In a very real way, everyone has a creed of some sort.  Individuals have creeds. Organizations have creeds. Individual congregations have creeds.  In fact, many biblical scholars say that the first creed was quite simple: Jesus is Lord. Those three words actually led to the death of Christians who would not say the Roman creed: Caesar is Lord.  

Because everyone has a creed, one could argue that having a creed is actually a neutral concept.  People believe all sorts of things. That they believe them is undisputed and neutral, but what they believe can be problematic and either good or bad. For instance, if I believe that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with fundamental rights, then that is a creedal statement.  And I would happily argue that it is a good creedal statement for various reasons.  Someone could hold a different position: that human beings are not endowed with rights from a Creator, but that governments decide what rights a person should or should not have. I would argue that this isn’t a very good position to take, but that doesn’t prevent some nations and people from holding it.  

To change positions literally requires a conversion process as many, if not most, creedal beliefs are actually statements of faith not statements of science.  For instance, science is practiced by using the scientific method: state a hypothesis; test and measure to see if the hypothesis holds water; formulate a theory; test the theory repeatedly.  Is the scientific method a true way of getting knowledge? Well, you have to assume that it is.  You have to trust that it is.  You cannot test the scientific method by using the scientific method.  Philosophers call this circular reasoning. Trusting that the scientific method is an accurate way of obtaining knowledge is a creedal belief. It is a deep, foundational belief, but it is a belief none-the-less, and one does not change those sorts of beliefs easily.

Which brings us to the Creeds of the Church, and I am intentionally capitalizing the letter C on both of those words. There is a reason for this as I shall get into shortly.

Within the Christian Church, there are three, recognized, orthodox Creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, and what you need to realize about these statements of faith is this: these Creeds were recognized by the whole Church as true affirmations of the Christian faith.  They were based in Scripture. They were developed over time or argued over or carefully thought through. They were not put together in a pastor’s office to make a particular group or segment of society feel welcomed or accepted.

In general, they were written to stomp out heresy. They were written to unify a divided Church. They were written to solidify and codify what the Church believed about God the Father, Christ the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  And as such, they are not to be trifled with.

Imagine for a minute if you will, gathering with a group of Christians circa 250 A.D. You are in hiding because Christianity is still not a recognized religion of the Roman Empire. It is the Easter Vigil, the time that it has become traditional for converts to be baptized into the faith. As the baptismal liturgy begins, the presider looks into the eyes of the converts. He begins addressing them and asks them three questions: Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? And the converts begin reciting what they have been taught about who God is; who Jesus is; and who the Holy Spirit is. These statements have come together over decades of persecution and trial. Speaking them would immediately set these converts apart from the dominant culture and could lead to arrest and persecution.  Such is the nature of the Apostles’ Creed.

Or consider a church divided by various sects all claiming to represent the one true faith. Yet, those beliefs are contradictory at times. Some are not grounded in scripture. Some are off the charts. What does it mean to be a Christian? What are the foundational beliefs? Is this world truly, totally evil? Does only the spiritual count? Was Jesus indeed fully human and fully divine or a really good human being only adopted by God and infused with the divine Spirit?  What do you Christians truly believe? And bishops from far and wide gather to hammer such things out.  They consult deeply with the scriptures; argue their points vehemently and passionately; and put together a statement of faith which declares: this is it.  These are the non-negotiables. It is accepted by the church council and has stood the test of time for centuries. Such is the nature of the Nicene Creed.

The “Sparkle creed” shares none of this history. It was written for entirely different reasons and has not even come close to being vetted by the whole Christian Church on earth.  In fact, the majority of the Christian Church on earth would outright reject it. 

Therefore, it follows, that it has no standing to replace the Creeds in worship.

I mean: if someone wants to say that they adhere to the “Sparkle creed,” then they can personally say that they believe exactly what is in that statement. If a congregation wants to go so far as to use this creed in worship, then they are free to do so, but I strongly believe it should be introduced as a statement of that individual congregation, not of the Christian Church–it is not “the faith of the Church, the faith in which we baptize.” 

For to use it in such a manner is to actually separate one’s self and congregation from the global Church.  It is to become myopic and rather self-centered. Arguably, it is creating one’s own personal faith and religion—dare I say one’s own god.

And yes, I am quite aware that I belong to a denomination whose founder separated himself and then many congregations from the larger Church body of the time. The irony is not lost on me; however, Luther didn’t mess with the Creeds.  He affirmed them and what they stood for repeatedly. He didn’t tinker with the Creeds or try to change them for he never wanted to split with the Church of Rome.  These statements of belief were not up for negotiation or reformation. They were good “as is.”

They still are. They are meant to hold us together despite our disagreements on secondary issues. Trying to put “sparkle” in them only causes more division.

Leave the Creeds alone.