Repenting of the Sins of Our Nation: Part I — Accepting the Call

Editor’s Note: Pr. Craig Moorman is a board member of Lutheran CORE as well as a mission developer and pastor of River’s Edge Ministries (NALC-LCMC) in Mt. Airy, Maryland. This is the first in a series of articles entitled Repenting of the Sins of Our Nation. Future articles will focus on Proclaiming the Word and Stewarding the Awakening.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ —

Over the course of the past few months, I have gained a much greater appreciation for the Book of Daniel and the message of hope that it brings to the Church for the living of these historically challenging days. But on a more personal note, on this particular day as I move into my 66th year of living, I’d like to make a b-day wish in the form of a prayerful declaration: I want to be like Daniel when I grow up! Here I am, nearly 35 years into my call, and only now am I beginning to understand the extent of what it means — and what it might mean — to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  

In Daniel 9:3-19, we hear this well-seasoned prophet pleading and imploring Almighty God to show mercy to His people, the Israelites. He begins, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord, the great and terrible God, who keepest covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments and ordinances; we have not listened to Thy servants …” (vv. 3, 4) Yes, I want to be more like Daniel with whatever time the Lord allows me in this precious gift of living. I want to turn and set my face continually to the Lord God. I want to seek Him earnestly, even ‘wearing’ sackcloth and ashes (in a non-Pharisaic sort-of-way) … and empty myself of self, in all humility at the footstool of His mercy seat. At this stage in my life, I desire to go deeper in my confession and repent, not on behalf of ‘their’ sins, but repent on behalf of our sins … my sins!

Throughout his seventy years in exile, Daniel remained a pliable vessel of God and continually sought out the Lord’s mercy and steadfast love on behalf of his people Israel. Again, only now am I more fully embracing this essential ‘detail’ of my call, truly bearing the priestly role. I guess some of us are just a bit more stubborn and slower in understanding what it really means to serve in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

I’m also reminded of a letter written by one of the Apostolic Fathers, (Bishop) Ignatius of Antioch, who was eventually condemned and sent to Rome to be killed by ‘the beasts’ in the amphitheater @108 A.D. While journeying to this final resting place, Ignatius wrote letters to various churches in Asia Minor, including these words to the Church in Rome:

I am writing to all the Churches, and I give injunctions to all men, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if you do not hinder it. I beseech you, be not ‘an unseasonable kindness’ to me. Suffer me to be eaten by the beasts, through whom I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts that they may become my tomb, and leave no trace of my body, that when I fall asleep I be not burdensome to any. Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not even see my body. Beseech Christ on my behalf, that I may be found a sacrifice through these instruments. (Ignatius to the Romans, IV. 1, 2)

Bp. Ignatius of Antioch

Fascinating. I first read these words 37 years ago and am still challenged to the very core of my being, and wondering if I could ever present that ‘core of my being’ to the Lord in such a way? (cf. Romans 12:1) Ignatius continues in his words about what it means to follow Jesus Christ and be obedient in that calling, “Grant me this favour. I know what is expedient for me; now I am beginning to be a disciple.” (V. 3a)

Ignatius’ words are full of so much grace. Only “beginning to be a disciple” … This profoundly humble statement encourages me to remember, first and foremost, that as one called into ministry, I am to remain teachable and malleable. So, in light of the lives of Daniel and Ignatius — and all of the saints that have gone before us — it is with great humility that I begin this three-part article, Repenting of the Sins of the Nation. In Part I — “Accepting the Call”, you’ll quickly recognize that it’s a personal grappling — an open confession — with how I am trying to navigate through the turbulent waters of these desperate times. No doubt, this is a journey we are all needing to face, and necessarily needing to face … together. In fully accepting my call, I realize that these times require me to engage both pastorally and prophetically.

Suffer me to be eaten by the beasts, through whom I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread of Christ.

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans, IV. 1, 2

There is something insidious permeating every nook and cranny of every segment of our present-day society. Have you felt it too? I believe it started with the mid-1960’s countercultural movement and it has evolved immensely over the past two decades. Some citizens of this country and much of the Western world have been more purposefully redefining new ways of living out truth, justice, compassion, love, etc., according to their own morality and rooted deeply in secular humanism, Marxism, utopistic pursuits, etc. Let’s, then, call this redefinition, a transformative awakening.

Herein, we quickly discover that these redefined core values for living clash painfully with more traditional systems of authority-governance, orthodox Judeo-Christian values, long-established interpretations of our history and the American Dream, etc. I believe the buildup of tension we are presently experiencing equates to a significant season of great shaking, shifting, and sifting in our nation and our churches. We reluctantly find ourselves at a most critical crossroads, a place of tension — this transformative awakening — where revolutionary choices will be made, new leadership will arise, causes will be defined, and life wholly changed. But we’ve been here before, this place of choosing (potentially) between life and death.

In Joshua 24, history records that Joshua “ … gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.” (v. 1) Then he continued speaking to the People of Israel, helping God’s People to remember who they were; and, thus, re-enter into a covenantal agreement with the Lord on that day: “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served … choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (vv. 14, 15)

Of course, this has been the story of God’s People, our story, from the beginning of time — facing many a crossroads and needing to choose between that which is life-giving or life-stealing! Darkness and Light stand juxtaposed — hoping to either take captive or captivate the souls of those most vulnerable or receptive. One entity, darkness, will coerce itself into/upon that life (*nephesh, נֶ֫פֶשׁ‎ nép̄eš = soul) and, ultimately, steal away that life (John 10:10a); and, the other, Light, will graciously extend an invitation to that life to receive the fullness of Life (John 10:10b). (*It’s interesting to note that this Hebrew word, nephesh, when combined with another Hebrew word, rûach-רוּחַ‎, meaning “spirit”, connotes a part of humanity that has no physical form, like one’s mind, will or seat of emotions, intellect, personality, etc.)

At this monumental historic crossroads, who or what will win the day and take captive or captivate the life, the corporate soul — minds, wills, intellects, and personalities — of our nation? It seems clear that this transformative awakening will, I believe, produce either death or life in our nation, depending on how it unfolds. There is much conversation these days about the woke culture, a slang term that is finding its way into the mainstream vernacular. This word, added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in September of 2017, states: “If you frequent social media, you may well have seen posts or tweets about current events that are tagged #staywoke … awake is often rendered as woke, as in, “I was sleeping, but now I’m woke … ‘Woke’ is increasingly used as a byword for social awareness … Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.”

Unfortunately, the word woke became enmeshed with the Black Lives Matter organization and other radical, leftist organizations (i.e., Antifa, etc.) and is now being exploited to bring societal change through radical and often violent means. Its agenda is not life-giving, and its understanding of resolving injustice and racial tension is polar-opposite from that of a traditional, orthodox theology/ideology, where genuine reconciliation can be found. An even greater concern is that this form of bringing about a transformative awakening has infiltrated every segment of our society, including the government on all levels.

Our nation does not need a transformative awakening that is bent on dismantling and even destroying all that has existed for 245 years; it needs, instead, one that transforms the hearts and minds of her citizens with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through another Great Awakening. In fact, we need another awakening that would dwarf our country’s first two Great Awakenings in the 18th and 19th centuries. And with any Great Awakening, there should be a deliberate and long season of listening to the heart of God through passionate, intercessory prayer on behalf of the nation.

Again, I’m hearkening back to Daniel’s approach in continually (throughout the entire twelve chapters of the Book of Daniel) resolving (1:8) to confess and repent, seek out His mercies, pray, and give praise to the Lord for His sovereign goodness. Only then will we able to faithfully and effectively call the nation to repentance and graciously challenge her citizenry, beginning with us/me, to turn back to God, specifically in Jesus Christ. But, will I be part of it? Will we, as Lutherans, be part of it?

In Part II — “Speaking the Word”, I’ll be addressing how we are witnessing the rise and intensification of darkness; but I will also lift up the eschatological reality that during this same season of dread (cf. Matthew 24), the brightness of the Light will shine brighter through the grace of the Holy Spirit. So, we must hold on to such a Hope. In the meantime, and in the midst of it all, should we not be carefully weighing the cost and calling of entering into this reality? Everything is on the line. Again, what or who will take captive or captivate the soul of this nation, at this hour? If the Church remains oblivious of such a ‘harvest’ (cf. Matthew 9:35-38), then surely the devil and his minions will expediently pounce upon these ‘little ones’ and drag them into the pit of despair and darkness. Or we could rise to the occasion and be the Church — here and now, for such a time as this — and reap a harvest of souls who could be ushered into the transformative awakening of a life claimed by Jesus Christ! Amen?

Our nation does not need a transformative awakening that is bent on dismantling and even destroying all that has existed for 245 years; it needs, instead, one that transforms the hearts and minds of her citizens with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through another Great Awakening.

This is what I’ve been intensely struggling with, especially these past few months. In a nutshell, here’s my angst and concern in the form of a question: “Will I or will I not find the courage to accept the call to step into this place of mess, that chaotic void, and engage those who are desperately seeking truth, justice, compassion, love, etc. and point back to the cross, etc.” At the same time, I find myself crying out, “Lord, show me how to lead at this hour … beginning with my own family!” A simple question and plea, but wow, so difficult and complex at the same time. As leaders in the Church, we should be thriving now; but, to the contrary, it seems that many of us have been struggling and agonizing over how we should respond to this day and age. It is time, Brothers and Sisters, to reclaim who we are as “the children of the Kingdom of Light” (cf. 1 John 1:5-2:6 and Ephesians 5:8), and to remember that we have already been given all that we need to fully accept our call … and enter into the arena. (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20)

No doubt, many of you are familiar with one of the most widely quoted speeches of Theodore Roosevelt’s career; here’s an excerpt from that speech given on April 23, 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

Only by God’s grace will we be able to enter the arena of our culture. But enter we can and must. Certainly, there will be Jonah moments … fleeing from the Lord … experiencing mighty tempests … being tossed out of the boat … being swallowed by a whale … anger and regrets … but, in the end, I encourage us to assume the posture of another prophet, Daniel, and remain resolved and humble before the Lord (Daniel 1:8). Until next time, stay the course …

In Christ’s love,

K. Craig Moorman

Increasing (in-Person) Worship Attendance: “One Sunday at a Time”

From a Washington Post article on March 29, 2021: “Church membership in the United States has fallen below the majority [of the population] for the first time in nearly a century … First time this has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73%.”

Some caveats here: Gallup uses a “scientific” yet relatively small number of respondents for their surveys.  However, Pew Research uses a far larger number of respondents.  And Pew has been seeing a similar, dramatic decline when it comes to not only whether people are formally affiliated with religious institutions (i.e., membership), but also a significant decline in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christian.  Second caveat: This Gallup survey was focused on formal institutional affiliation, and Americans have become increasingly cynical about almost all institutions, not just religious ones.  But again, I would refer you to multiple Pew Religious Survey results which have been revealing significant declines not just in formal church membership, but in people self-identifying as Christians by faith.

Now back to this very recent Gallup survey.  From a long-term historical perspective — something Gallup provides — this current survey should be something of a “wake-up call” for church leaders.  One more quote from the Washington Post article: “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque.”  This Gallup survey “also found that the number of people who also said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48%, a new low point in their polling” going all the way back to 1937.

Not surprisingly, the Gallup and Pew Research findings are being reflected in decreasing worship attendance.  And this worship attendance decline was painfully evident in a majority of Lutheran congregations long before the current pandemic.

In the last issue of this newsletter I wrote of ways to improve what your congregation offers to online worshipers.  And I do consider online worship as a needed outreach strategy in the years to come.  However, do not think you can afford to give up on offering quality in-person worship.  Those who already are — and soon will be — worshiping in person deserve your congregation’s best efforts.  Below are some specific, practical suggestions regarding how you can incrementally increase in-person worship attendance: “One Sunday at a Time.

As mentioned, a majority of Lutheran congregations were already dealing with decreasing worship attendance even before COVID.  Needless to say, this can be demoralizing for faithful members on a “number” of levels.  First of all, for them this is about more than numbers, because this decreasing attendance represents friends who are “missing in action”; whether due to inactivity, their having moved, or illness.  Whatever the factors involved, low worship attendance is perhaps the single clearest indication — to members and visitors alike — of a congregation in decline.  Given this fact, anything that pastors and lay leaders can do to noticeably increase attendance will most likely improve congregational morale and bring added energy and enthusiasm to worship services.

Perhaps the best, initial strategy would be having the pastor and a few congregational leaders commit to meeting monthly to coordinate the implementation — one Sunday at a time — to the following, multiple strategies.  (Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I realize your congregation might already be employing some of these ideas.)  I encourage you to utilize at least one of these ideas on any given Sunday.

1. Special Music – This could be a solo, a duet, a vocal ensemble, or an instrumental performance. Offering this not only improves the quality of your worship celebration, but it also requires the presence of the above musicians; many of whom bring one or more guests to hear them perform.

2. Congregational Sermon Survey – In preparation for the next Sunday’s sermon these very short surveys can be filled out by worshipers during the previous Sunday’s worship service.  Tell them not to sign.  Mention that you will be using some of their comments and opinions in the pastor’s next sermon (or sermon series).  Odds are this will be an encouragement for some otherwise infrequent worshipers to definitely show up the following Sunday.

3. Drama Skits – There are excellent Christian drama skits available.  One example: Drama Ministry at  This Christian ministry offers over 750 small-cast scripts for performance. Obviously, a short (usually under 10 minute) drama means the guaranteed presence of not just cast members, but probably their families, and maybe some friends.  Note: Many of these scripts are quite humorous.

4.  Refreshments Following the Service –  Provide a light “brunch”; if not weekly, then perhaps monthly.

5.  Involve Children and/or Teens in Some Part of the Service (They typically come with parents!) – This could be a musical performance, or as Scripture readers, or ushers and greeters.

6.  Celebrate and Honor People from Your Community – Do this as part of your worship service and invite not just members who qualify but non-members from the community as guests on this Sunday.  Some examples include schoolteachers, first-responders, veterans, fire fighters, police officers and especially in this time of COVID, health care workers.

7.  Enlist Additional Volunteers to Celebrate Church Year Festival Sundays – Maybe enlist members who are infrequent worshipers to help out on these Sundays.  In addition to Christmas and Easter, do not forget the first Sunday in Advent, Epiphany Sunday, Palm Sunday, All Saints Sunday, and Pentecost.  Plan for creative ways to utilize these volunteers.

8.  Use Special Video Resources – While this strategy does not increase attendance on a given Sunday, it can improve the overall quality of your worship celebration.  And that will most likely improve attendance over time.  Free resources on the internet include live performance music videos from Mercy Me (“Even If”) and Chris Tomlin (“Is He Worthy”); and many more.  Obviously, you need to be sure that showing any given video does not violate any copyright laws.  There are also short sermonettes online that could emphasize the pastor’s theme for a given Sunday.  Additional video resources that involve a reasonable fee include drama skits from “The Skitguys” at, and video messages available from the ministry Sermonspice at

Obviously, this is only a partial list.  And you can no doubt come up with more and better ideas for your congregation.  But remember the principal that underlies all of the above: Working on the quality of your worship celebration not just for your faithful worshipers, but in the hope of connecting with new people over time.  So why not organize that small team, involving the pastor and a few lay leaders, to strategize and plan for worship attendance growth: “One Sunday at a Time.”

Note: In the next CORE newsletter issue I will cover the theme of “How to Disciple Online Worshipers.”

Focus on Anxiety

A personal confession: I was, prior to retirement, a programmatic pastor.  In my defense I wanted to increase the percentage of church members who were active rather than passive.  And I was also motivated by the hope that more programs — and groups — meant more lay people exercising their ministry gifts in leadership roles.  However, this pandemic has been a startling reminder of how quickly many of our church “programs” have become, under our current circumstances, untenable and perhaps even non-essential.

Author and pastor Thom Rainer — whom I know I have quoted in previous columns — addressed this issue in July.  And given the fall COVID surge most states are currently experiencing, Rainer’s comments are still timely.  Rainer writes, “It is time (for congregations) to revisit the need to simplify…to do only a few things well and eliminate the rest.  Many of our churches have become so busy that we have hurt our best families.  Many of our churches have become so cluttered with activities that we don’t give margin for our members to have a gospel presence in the community.  The pandemic, for the most part, provides us a blank slate.  It’s time to rethink our busy schedules and become a minimal church.”

Rainer continues, “A minimal church is not a church of minimal impact.  It is a church that has decided … to unleash our members to have more time to disciple their families, to become a gospel presence in the community, and to develop relationships in their neighborhoods.”

An additional congregational challenge looms large during this pandemic; a challenge that is currently of far greater importance than most of our “programs.”  This particular challenge has to do with the mental and emotional health crisis millions of Americans are enduring as a result of COVID 19.  New York Times columnist Jennifer Senior, this last August, wrote about this crisis in American life: “Let’s start with the numbers.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, roughly one in 12 American adults reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder at this time last year; now it’s more than one in three.  Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a tracking poll showing that for the first time, a majority of American adults — 53 percent — believes that the pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health.”

Psychologist and author Daphne de Marneffe defines trauma, in the context of COVID, this way: “What trauma is really about is helplessness, about being on the receiving end of forces you can’t control.  Which is what we have now.  It’s like we’re in an endless car ride with a drunk at the wheel.  No one knows when the pain will stop.”

So, what about your congregational members?  How are they holding up?  Do you have a clear picture of whether many of them — especially those who are living alone — are being overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness?  How is your congregation doing, during COVID, when it comes to member care?  This is probably a simpler task for small congregations than it is for mid-sized and larger churches.  But the truth is this: Even in “normal” times most congregations have members who are “falling through the cracks” when it comes to pastoral care.  But these times are anything but normal; they are extraordinary in the bleakest sense of that word.  And the larger the congregation the more likely member care needs to be an urgent, organized effort.  This is not about another program.  This is about one of the most crucial and central tasks within the Body of Christ.  The Apostle Paul sums it up this way:

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1st Corinthians 12:24-26)

Pastor Don Brandt

Spirit, Flesh, and Dr. Jesus


Editor’s Note: The Rev. Dr. Steven K. Gjerde is a former VP of Lutheran CORE.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  So says our Lord Jesus Christ, and who knows spirit and flesh better than He does?   Through Him and for Him all things were made, and in these last days He has become all that He made us to be: flesh, soul, and spirit, and heart and mind, too — even now He lives and rules in our flesh, His Spirit testifying with ours that we are children of God.  So when this Lord and God says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” we stop to listen.

 His Special Concern

If the flesh is weak, then our flesh is the object of Christ’s special concern.   “It is not the healthy who seek a doctor,” He reminds us, “it is the sick,” and even so our Good Physician came for the sinful and not the righteous.  Our flesh rests in the perpetual care of Dr. Jesus.   Ages ago He fitted Himself to our embodied life, matching His Word to our speech by means of a mouth and our disease to His health by the touch of His hand.  That same, gracious work continues today as He fits His salvation to our dying flesh, making His grace speakable and edible, hearable and felt.  “Gospel is touch,” a friend of mine likes to say, making even the least gnostic of us a bit uncomfortable and exposing just exactly why quarantines hurt.

But if our flesh rests in the care of Christ, then so do other things that pertain to the flesh, such as the whole tactile life of the church, with all of its dreaded institution, nearly a byword among the diaspora.  Like it or not, you cannot escape it.  Sure, you can have the Holy Supper in the open air, but you’ll still be standing on ground, ground that can be taxed or untaxed, mowed or unmowed, shoveled or drifted, beautiful or ugly; someone will have to agree to buy the stuff (and you know how it works: once people have skin in the game, it gets serious); and finally, you’ll have to arrange it at a time and a place where all of us little hobbits and earthlings can make our way without too much trouble.   You get the point: if you want Christ, then sooner or later you’ll want that dreaded institution, too, in one form or another, because with Christ the Virgin’s son comes all of human flesh, His special concern, the thing He loves to raise from the dead, and with human flesh comes all of the creation made for it. 

With the Church come buildings that shelter and fellowships that organize and papers that say things in ink to make it all clear and bank accounts, because soon you’ll have real people with real bodies and individual minds and arthritis and hormones and a longing for beauty and health, and most of all, backpacks full of sin and history and grief.  Associations and coalitions follow hot upon their (our) heels, and some of those organizations will become big enough or deluded enough to start calling themselves The Church, this Church, or herchurch, and the pious will start wondering if it’s all just the anti-Church, and maybe life as a spirit would be better?  Some say the angels are bodiless spirits, and they don’t seem to complain (at least not the ones who kept their club privileges).  But no, it’s not better.  There’s a reason why the angels envy you, and the devils hate you, and it’s not your spirit —

–and all this I say by way of introduction as to why my congregation and I stayed in the ELCA, and why we have now left it.

On Being Dust, Soil, and Free

“Why are you still ELCA?”  I think I got Christmas cards with those words embossed in gold.  On the one hand, the only possible answer is that I am a sinner, a rotten sinner lousy with sin, who did it all wrong; and on the other hand the answer is that I’m a saint with the courage of King David (the Early Years).  But really, it’s not even about me, it’s about Jesus and His special concern for the flesh. 

He gave me a call, voted, inked, and delivered, and those votes and ink (that earthiness!) make it no less but all the more the call of God.  I served and still serve a real people with a real zip code, different from yours, and therefore with different longings and gifts and histories and griefs.  Diversity isn’t our strength (saith the Lord), but it is a thing, a flesh thing, and if you’re a pastor who is also a believer, then you’re a priest in the best sense of the word, and pretty soon that diversity of your people is part of you like a country’s soil is part of its wine and cheese.  Within the very real diversity of the church, far transcending the fiefdoms of identity politics, the Lord fits His time to different calendars and lengths of patience.  “The Lord is coming soon!” — it’s true.  But just as soon as a man’s ready to fit that clarion call to his own schedule and jump in the car, he remembers he’s married, and there’s a five year old who has to pee, and the man must wait.  Along with the Church in every time and place, he discovers, after all, that he is but dust.

 I’m not getting into specifics, is the point.  The specifics would only bore you and tempt you to sit in the seat of scoffers, which is very bad.  But you get the drift: there were reasons good enough that they don’t need defending anymore, because it’s all done with, anyway.  We simply pursued our Lord’s path of fitting grace to the flesh, with its drooping hands and weak knees.  We looked on our institution as a gift, not a burden—I mean, what else is it, unless you’re a Manichean? — and by pursuing that God-given mission, we pressed ourselves more and more deeply into the local soil and the call of the neighbors and the catholic stink of evangelical ministry, until pretty soon we became something the ELCA simply didn’t want anymore (“inclusive”), and we said, “Ah!  There it is.  Well, okay, then.”

The Transfigured Flesh Part

You’d have done and said it differently if you’re from Georgia or Albuquerque, but you’d have done it somehow — I know you would have, because you’re all brothers and sisters, believers and sinners and courageous saints.  But here’s the last part, and one of the best parts, the transfigured flesh part: when I first stayed ELCA, it was just my single congregation and me.  We spoke our objections loudly, got picky about the pocketbook, and fenced the altar—and still it was just my congregation and me.  But as the Lord squeezed His time into our time and thus turned our time into His time, and as He led us down deeper into the flesh and the soil over the objections of so many, He changed all that. 

He turned this congregation into this congregation plus another one to serve and love, and a third one who wants to know more; and He turned me into me and another pastor, and then an intern who’s now a pastor, and still another pastor, three good brothers in the ministry who joined me at this address and walked its path, the path right into the ELCA and now out of it, even though they weren’t originally on that path, and they’re pure gold; and He turned all of us into us with all of you, Lutheran CORE and the NALC and the LCMC, and Missouri Synod folk, too, you who are a consolation and strength in all of this.  A seed fell to the earth, died a thousand deaths, and bore a thousand-fold harvest.      

So now we’re LCMC, and probably will be other things, too, and that usually makes lots of folks happy except when they feel we didn’t do it fast enough — but land’s sake, people: the kid had to pee, the car needed fuel, she forgot the casserole.  There were reasons.  Cut us some slack, take our coats, and put on the kettle.  You’re Lutherans.  You know how to be gracious with the flesh, and how to be people of skin and bones, with all the history and grief and institution that comes with it, because you know, as so many other Christians do not know, just what it is for the spirit to be willing, and the flesh weak.  It means showing greater honor and more consideration to the weaker member, because that weaker member is Christ, crucified for the sins of the world.

Where Love Is Known

The flesh is where love makes itself known, see, and that’s why the devil hates our flesh: Christ has shown it such great honor by becoming it and redeeming it.  And that’s why everything, absolutely everything that we face these days, is all about the flesh.  Not only church but also the culture wars and politics, with Trump and Biden and all the rage and spite — it’s all about the flesh, in the end, a heavenly conflict stoked by the bitter disappointment of the devil, that angry, ravenous wisp, howling for the flesh that he is not, frantic to devour it all so that it will no longer be, and (he hopes) the hobbits and earthlings won’t even be bones anymore but pure smoke, having cast themselves into the flames, confusing smoke with spirit.    

Against all that, we devour the flesh of Christ, which only increases the more it’s eaten.  Yes, that’s how it goes: wherever the Supper is, there you find the Words of Institution; and where the Words of Institution, other institution follows, all the flesh and land and shelter and ink that a Supper demands, and through this weakened flesh the willing Spirit has His way, and He knits together the growing body.  For who knows our flesh and spirit better than He who became our flesh and breathes the Spirit?  He makes us bold to bear that weakened flesh, that beloved body, the body that He has so lovingly destined for glory, no matter the times it may bring.

What Is Contemporary Critical Theory?

Background Notes: One of the dangers and difficulties of discussing almost any issue these days is how easily any discussion can become highly divisively politicized.  It is not the intent of Lutheran CORE to speak either for or against any political party or candidate.  The political views of the friends of Lutheran CORE cover a very wide spectrum.  In this discussion of Contemporary Critical Theory we are neither endorsing nor speaking against any political candidate or party.  We are discussing an issue which we feel is critically important for Christians to be aware of and be prepared to deal with.

The First Reading for September 6 was from Ezekiel 33, where God compares the role of the prophet to the role of a military sentinel.  Verse 6 says, “If the sentinel sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any of them,” God will require the blood of the people at the hand of the sentinel.  In the same way, verse 8 says that if the prophet does not warn the people, God will require the blood of the people at the hand of the prophet.

Lutheran CORE defines its mission as being a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans.  As a Voice for Biblical Truth we feel called by God to serve as a sentinel to warn people of forces and movements in our world today – even in the church that are incompatible with if not actually hostile to the historic, orthodox Christian faith.  This is in addition to our role of alerting people to ways in which orthodoxy is being challenged and compromised within the church today.

One of the mindsets and movements that are growing and prevailing today – within our culture and, unfortunately, even within some segments of the Church – is Contemporary Critical Theory.  There are two articles within this issue of CORE Voice which deal with this very powerful and I believe very dangerous force within our world today.  This first article is intended to give you an overview and introduction to Contemporary Critical Theory.  If you are not already familiar with this way of thinking, I am certain you will recognize it as the mindset behind much of what is happening in our nation and our world today.  The second article is a longer and more detailed evaluation and critique of Contemporary Critical Theory.  The intent of this second article is to show how this mindset is incompatible with and even a threat to the historic, orthodox Christian faith.  Many thanks to Brett Jenkins, NALC pastor and former member of our board, for writing the second article.

There is a major difference between the claim that “there is no truth” and the claim that “there is truth, but we have a hard time seeing it on our own.”  While those who are more orthodox-minded may be inclined to assert the latter, those who are not so orthodox-minded may be inclined to assert the former. The former has its roots in the claims of Contemporary Critical Theory.

Contemporary Critical Theory asserts that all knowledge is “socially constructed.”  Therefore, there is no single, objective body of knowledge which all must accept.  All of knowledge is rooted in experience, and we all have different experiences.  My experience will be different from yours; therefore, the knowledge that is “socially constructed” by me may be different from the knowledge that is “socially constructed” by you.  There is no body of knowledge which is wholly objective, as every area of knowledge is tainted with subjectivity.  “Even the field of science is subjective.” (Robin DiAngelo & Öslem Sensoy). 

Because we all have different experiences, we all have different levels of access to truth. The degree to which we have access to truth depends upon positionality: that is, I may have greater access to truth than you do, or vice versa, based on our respective positions in life.  Greater value is given to the perspectives of those with positions in life that give us lived experiences that may provide us with greater insight on the topic(s) discussed.

The idea that there is such a thing as objective reality is looked upon with great suspicion, or even rejected entirely.  Some say that, historically, those in positions of power and privilege have falsely claimed that things which are subjective are actually objective and have used these false claims in order to marginalize and oppress those without power and privilege. Some also say that the privileged misuse these false claims in order to normalize forms of injustice that we should not be accepting as normal. When this is done, “Those in power sleep well at night; their conduct does not seem to them like oppression.” (Richard Delgado).

Contemporary Critical Theory pays great attention to the particular demographic status of the person, and, based on that status, to whether the person might, in context, be considered privileged or marginalized (i.e., rich or poor, white or black, male or female, straight or gay, cisgender or transgender, etc.). The marginalized have the benefit of lived experiences which the privileged simply cannot experience first-hand.  Because the marginalized have greater access to truth than the privileged, the voices of the marginalized are considered to be of greater value than the voices of the privileged. That is especially, but not exclusively, true of matters in which the lived experience of the marginalized provides particular insight into the matter being discussed.  For example, a powerless person who has experienced discrimination at the hands of a person in power will be better equipped to explain such discrimination than a person in power who has never experienced such discrimination first-hand.

Contemporary Critical Theory warns that those with power and privilege do not easily give up their power and privilege.  Rather, they establish institutions, rules, norms, and claims of objective truth in order to establish and protect their dominance in society.  Those in power use all those institutions, rules, norms, and claims in order to subject the powerless to marginalization and oppression.  When the dominance, power, and privilege of the privileged are challenged, they cast doubt on the validity of the claims of those who challenge them.  Consequently, the act of questioning those who are marginalized, especially when done by those who are privileged, is frowned upon, looked upon with suspicion, or even forbidden entirely.

These are not just the opinions of a small number of peculiar individuals.  Rather they are ideas that have spread far and wide in our society, even within the church.  These ideas are driving forces, though not the only driving forces, behind several contemporary movements in the political and social arenas.  These ideas are widely, but not universally, accepted.  They have their critics, on the left as well as on the right.  And there are those with more nuanced positions who will partially but not wholly accept these ideas.  Nevertheless, the influence of these ideas is strong, with variants on the left and on the right.  It is critically important for us to be aware of them, in order that we might be able to respond effectively.

The Key Question Remains Unanswered

Editor’s Note: In this article, author David Charlton thoughtfully critiques Reconciling Scripture for Lutherans, a commentary on Scripture. It was written by Reconciling Works which advocates “for the full welcome, inclusion, and equity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual/aromantic (LGBTQIA+) Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church, congregations, and community.” While independent, Reconciling Works is closely affiliated with the ELCA. 

Reconciling Scripture for Lutherans begins by listing four “common metrics for scriptural interpretation” taken from the writings of Martin Luther.  The list includes:  a) the Law/Gospel Dialectic, b) the Plain Reading of Scripture, c) Scripture Interprets Scripture, and d) Scripture as the Manger that Holds Christ.[1] These are indeed common Lutheran principles for interpreting Scripture.  One principle that I would expect to find, but did not, is was Christum treibt, or “whatever teaches Christ.”   However, I have no objection to the four mentioned.

In general, the description of each is sound.  However, I do have a question regarding the Plain Reading metric.  It seems anachronistic to include the modern historical critical method as part of that principle.  That method would not be developed and standardized for several centuries after Luther’s time.  It is more likely that Luther had in mind what some call the historical grammatical method.  Luther used the best in contemporary textual criticism, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and knowledge of history.  What would Luther know about source, form, redaction, or narrative criticism?  What would he know of the several quests for the historical Jesus?

The real difficulty with these “common metrics” are how they are applied in interpreting two kinds of texts, labeled “Passages Used to Exclude” and “Passages Used to Welcome.”  I will address each section separately, giving examples of how all four metrics are applied to both kinds of passages.

Passages Used to Exclude

There are eight Biblical texts described as “passages used to exclude.”  The intent is to demonstrate how the four Lutheran metrics clear up confusion about the meaning of these texts.  The question for us is whether the Lutheran metrics are applied correctly, and whether they succeed in the purpose for which they are used.

The Law/Gospel principle is used to address Genesis 1:26-29 and Romans 1:22-27.  In the three pages dedicated to Genesis 1:26-29, there is only one reference to Law, and one to Gospel.  The authors make the dubious claim that the phrase “male and female he created them” cannot be taken as Law because it is not grammatically in the form of a command.[2]  They certainly know better than that.  Lutherans have never limited Law to grammatical commands.  The Law is understood more broadly than that.  While including grammatical commands, it also includes anything that is taken as normative, makes demands, accuses or condemns.  The authors undermine this argument three paragraphs later when they refer to “the Gospel in this passage.”[3]  They do not cite a grammatical promise that serves as Gospel.  Instead, they infer a Gospel promise from the descriptive passage in verse 27, which says that humankind was created in the image of God.  If Gospel can be inferred, then so can Law.  On the other hand, if absent a grammatical command, no Law can be inferred, then absent a grammatical promise, no Gospel can be inferred. 

The discussion of Romans 1:22-27 also fails to apply the Law/Gospel principle correctly.  However, it does so in a different way.  It misconstrues Paul’s use of Law and Gospel in a serious way.  Romans 1:22-27 is part of a longer argument extending from Chapter 1 to Chapter 3.  It culminates in the conclusion that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (3.23)  And yet the authors assert that Paul is not describing the Romans themselves, in 1:22-27, but instead describing a sinful and “unnamed people who are set up as a foil.”[4]  He is doing this, it is alleged, to set up his main argument, that “salvation is based entirely on Christ, and not on our own ability to do good works and follow the Law.”[5]  This is a non-sequitur.  That Paul’s ultimate goal is to show the impossibility of salvation by the works of the Law, does not mean that he doesn’t consider the activities he describes to be sinful.  It would make no sense to use things that are not sinful to convict people of sin.  Nor does it mean that Paul doesn’t consider some in Rome to be guilty of those sins at one time or another.  He seems to assume that as Christians, they no longer engage in those activities.  This does not imply that they never engaged in those activities before they came to faith in Christ. 

The Metaphor of the Manger, is used in interpreting Genesis 2:22-24, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.  Its application to these texts is puzzling.  My understanding of that metaphor is that it teaches us to ask, “Where is Christ in this passage?”  It calls for a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament. The problem is that in the discussion of Genesis 2:22-24, this principle is never mentioned.  No attempt is made to show how a Christological interpretation helps us interpret those texts.  Instead the argument relies entirely on a discussion of the meaning of “one flesh.”[6] 

In addressing the texts from Leviticus, only one mention is made of the Metaphor of the Manger.  We are asked to compare these texts with what we know of Christ, to see whether they correspond to him, or whether they are straw.[7]  Is this really what the Metaphor of the Manger teaches us to do?  In fact, in his Preface to the Old Testament, Luther tells us not to despise or be offended by the Old Testament.  It is as precious as the manger that held the infant Christ.[8]  Nowhere in that writing does Luther refer to the Old Testament as straw.  The authors seem to be conflating Luther’s view on the Book of James, found in his Preface to the New Testament[9], with his words about the Old Testament. 

The principle of Scripture Interpreting Scripture is used to interpret Genesis 19 and Deuteronomy 23:1.  They make a good use of this principle in discussing Genesis 19, using multiple references to Sodom in the Old and New Testament to show that homosexuality was not the primary focus when the sin of Sodom was discussed.  In a similar manner, they show that the attitude toward eunuchs changes as we move through Scripture, so that Deuteronomy’s exclusion must be balanced with the inclusion found in other places.  I agree that neither of these texts can be used by themselves to exclude homosexuals or eunuchs.

As for the Plain Reading of Scripture principle, I have the objection that I mentioned earlier.  I think it tends to be anachronistic, as if Luther had the historical critical method in mind.  On the other hand, lexical objections to traditional interpretations seem to be more in line with the tools that Luther had in mind.  In discussing Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, the authors raise appropriate questions about the proper translation of key words.  We should not assume that modern notions of homosexuality or transgenderism are what the original reader would have had in mind. 

Passages Used to Include

The authors use the Metaphor of the Manger to interpret the story of Ruth (1:16-17) and Psalm 139:13-14.  In both cases they interpret the text Christologically.  In Ruth they find a foreshadowing of Jesus’ welcoming of outsiders.  They also imply a connection between Ruth’s loyalty and God’s faithfulness in Christ.  In interpreting Psalm 139 Christologically, they lift up the Incarnation itself, reminding us that God embraces our humanity fully, not just in part.  They rightly highlight the importance of recognizing the many ways that loyalty can be expressed in human relationships, the importance of welcoming and including the marginalized, and of embracing people as they are, following the example of Jesus.

The Plain Reading principle is used to interpret Isaiah 56:3-5 and Acts 10 and 11.  They use the plain meaning of each text to illustrate the way that God breaks down walls of ritual purity that exclude those who were considered unclean because of sexual or gender status, diet, or nationality.  They rightly conclude that such categories no longer apply in the Church.  One is justified and therefore included in God’s family by faith in Christ, not by any outward status or action.  Whether one is circumcised or not, follows dietary laws or not, is male or female, Jew or Gentile, eunuch or not, is not relevant. One is acceptable to God by faith alone.

The sections on Scripture Interpreting Scripture focus on Galatians 3:26-29 and Matthew 22: 34-40In both cases, the principle is able to raise questions, but not able to provide answers.  Does the dual commandment of love of God and neighbor help us interpret passages like those in Leviticus 18 and 20?  To some degree. Does Galatian 3:26-29 help us determine which Old Testament laws are no longer relevant in the eschatological community of the Church?  In part.  What complicates things is the fact that the Lutheran confessions put the laws of the Old Testament in three categories, 1) religious or ceremonial law, 2) the civil law of the nation of Israel, and 3) the moral law that applies at all times and places.  Many laws that applied in ancient Israel no longer apply to us today, but some of them do.

This leads us to the final category, Law and Gospel.  This is where things tend to get complicated.  In their discussion of Acts 8 and 1 Corinthians 12, the authors are not careful to distinguish the many ways that Lutherans speak of the Law.  As I mentioned above, Lutherans have distinguished between different kinds of Old Testament laws.  The proper distinction between Law and Gospel does render Old Testament religious or ceremonial laws obsolete.  The laws that once distinguished between clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, are no longer in effect in the Church.  The same is true for civil laws that applied to the nation of Israel in the era of Moses, the judges, the kings, or the Second Temple. 

However, the moral law, as described in Romans 1:19-20, still applies today.  It has a twofold function, the so called civil use and theological use of the Law.  In its civil use, the Law defines the boundaries that are necessary for any healthy community.  The Law in its civil use finds many forms of expression, but some things remain the same.  Murder, adultery, theft, lying and envy are universally detrimental to community. 

The theological use of the Law is to expose sin and reveal the wrath of God.  In doing this, the Law reveals that all fall short of the glory of God.  It undercuts all attempts to justify oneself through works.  In doing so it drives a person to Christ, who through the Gospel grants forgiveness to all who have faith. 

Clearly, the Law that declared the Ethiopian unclean because he was a Gentile and a eunuch no longer applies today.  He was justified and made part of the Church by baptism and faith, as all Christians are.  In a similar manner, Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that membership in the Body of Christ is not based on which gifts a person has been given, but on the confession that Christ is Lord, i.e. faith.   This faith, in turn, is a gift of one and the same Spirit.  Anyone who confesses Christ as Lord is already part of the Body of Christ, through the power of the Spirit. 

The question remains whether the prohibition of sex outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage is part of the obsolete ceremonial and civil law of ancient Israel, or whether it is part of the moral law, which remains valid today.  If it is part of the ceremonial law, it is no longer mandatory for Christians.  If it is part of the civil law of ancient Israel only, then it need not apply to us today.  However, if it is part of the moral law inscribed in the human heart, then it still applies in both its civil and theological uses. 

If so, then there are two implications.  First, the prohibition of sex outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage remains the standard for leaders in the Christian community. (civil use)  Secondly, it still accuses those who violate that prohibition. In that case, the proper response of the Church is not to abolish the Law, but to preach the forgiveness of sin for Jesus’ sake to those who sin.

Where Are We?

I do believe that Reconciling Scripture for Lutherans makes a convincing case that Old Testament rules of exclusion and punishment need not apply today.  They made a good case that distinctions between clean and unclean no longer apply.  Their Christological interpretation of Scripture is convincing in its argument that all people should be welcomed, and that all people should be treated as whole persons created in God’s image.  No person should be unwelcome in the Church or excluded as recipients of its ministry.

What the authors failed to do was to show that the four Lutheran metrics for interpreting Scripture were able to solve the key question.  Is the prohibition of sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage a part of the obsolete ceremonial or civil law of ancient Israel, or a continuing part of the Law which even today continues in its civil and theological uses?   In the end, we are right where we began.  The ELCA decided in 2009 that it could not decide which was the case.  Instead, it identified four possible conclusions and chose to allow congregations to choose the answer that suited them.  Meanwhile, it called on people to respect the “bound consciences” of others.   

The authors were not able, on the basis of the four Lutheran metrics for interpreting Scripture, to resolve this dispute.  More importantly, they have failed to show why pastors, seminarians and congregations should be required to abandon the traditional position of the catholic Church. 

Final Thoughts

One further Lutheran metric that I believe applies to the question is what I would call the metric or principle of Scriptural Authority.  The principle here is twofold and is related to the understanding of God’s Word as Law and Gospel   The Church may only command what God commands in the Word.  It may only bless that which God blesses in the Word. 

In the Large Catechism, Luther makes the case for clerical marriage based on the fact that throughout Scripture God both gives commands that protect marriage and promises blessings to those who enter into marriage.  Meanwhile, God never commands men and women to take vows of celibacy, to become monks or nuns, or enter monasteries.  Neither does God promise to bless those who do.  The Church does not have the authority to prohibit marriage, nor to require people to keep monastic vows.  

The same is true today.  The Church has no power to require people to enter same sex marriage, or to perform same sex marriages.  It has no authority to bless such unions, nor the authority to require its pastors to bless such unions.  The Church has no authority to exalt a man-made institution, whether celibacy or same sex marriage, to the level of an institution that has both God’s command and blessing.

Pastors, congregations and seminarians who adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage have not violated Lutheran metrics for Scriptural interpretation.  They have not violated their ordination vows or the Confession of Faith of the ELCA.  They should be under no pressure to adopt the position of Reconciling Works on same sex marriage or be under the threat of retribution for failing to do so.

[1] See Reconciling Scripture for Lutherans, pp. 9-11.

[2] Reconciling Scripture. p. 16.

[3] Ibid, p. 17.

[4] Ibid. p. 23.

[5] Ibid, p. 23.

[6] Ibid, p. 19-20.

[7] Ibid, p. 24.

[8] Lull, Timothy F. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (p. 98). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] Ibid, p. 96.

The Christian Alternative to Critical Race Theory

Editor’s Note: The conclusion of this article will be published in a second post on or about September 18, 2020.

Critical Theory—in particular, Critical Race Theory—has recently captured the Church’s attention, and in some corners of the Lord’s vineyard it seems, more significantly, Her imagination.  (For those unfamiliar with Critical Theory, this article will serve as a necessarily incomplete introduction.)  Springing from the same philosophers and theorists (Foucault, Derrida, etc.) who brought us postmodernism, Critical Theory seems to be suddenly taking the whole Western world by storm.

This is an illusion.  Though all but Liberal Arts majors would likely be unfamiliar with the Frankfurt School or even the phrase “Critical Theory,” everyone who has received an undergraduate education in the last thirty years has been familiarized with (and in many cases, indoctrinated into) its basic terminology and the categories of meaning by which it makes sense of the world.  For instance, for every one of my acquaintance at my own undergraduate alma mater of Penn State, the obligatory “professional writing” requirement for non-English majors was used by the professors as an opportunity to force-feed undergraduates Critical Theory.  As an example, a business writing class for music majors taught participants to write personal reflections on books like Stone Butch Blues, a lesbian coming of age story, instead of memos, letters to parents, and departmental requisitions.  Even if you think the exposure salutary, it demonstrates the tactics of Critical Theory, which, as its exponents readily affirm, “contains an activist dimension. It tries to not only understand our social situation but to change it, setting out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies but to transform it for the better.”[1]

Solid introductions to Critical Theory by both its proponents and opponents are now widely available, and I encourage the reader to consult at least one of each to familiarize themselves with its outlines; otherwise, as commentator Phil Blair demonstrated in his response to a recent Christianity Today article, we may find ourselves employing it unbeknownst to ourselves.


Though articles abound that are critical of Critical Theory (hereafter referred to as CT) from a Christian perspective, as mine is, I hope to explore the topic from an at least slightly different perspective; I propose that while CT may properly diagnose some elements of our cultural ills, it necessarily misaddresses these maladies because it is in fact a secularized Christian heresy.

The Critic Is Often Right About What Is Wrong, But He Is Nearly Always Wrong About What Would Be Right.

I want to start by acknowledging what CT—and progressive ideologies more generally—often get right.  One of the functions of the people in a society that are typically deemed “liberal,” “left,” or “progressive” is to point out injustices when they accumulate.  Any meritocracy (where achievement or talent is rewarded with social and/or economic upward mobility) periodically and predictably accumulates inequity and unfairness at its margins.  At a biological level, talent and giftedness are inborn traits that often run in families.  Sociologically, families pass on habits and knowledge that maximize (or minimize) inherent capacities for greater achievement and reward.  The greatest patrimony that a family passes on in a meritocracy is not their wealth—though that certainly has undeniable advantages—but rather their knowledge and skills in accessing or leveraging the power structures of the meritocracy.

This does not mean that a meritocracy is inherently immoral. (What would we want, a system where lack of talent, industry, and skill is rewarded?) But it does mean that for all the good it may produce, it is a system that can put real people at a real disadvantage in accessing the social and economic rewards deemed legitimate by the value system at its foundation; it is a system that needs a watchdog that calls for course corrections when the process whereby “the rising tide that lifts all boats” creates eddies and riptides that prevent people from weighing anchor and setting sail.

In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt contends that in the same way all the complex flavors of the world’s cuisines are composed of the tongue’s four basic tasting capacities—sweet, sour, salty, and bitter—the great diversity of moralities to which people ascribe are woven from the five basic “cognitive modules” with which we define and evaluate morality and justice.  Defined in terms of their antipodes, these modules are care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.  Haidt names this Moral Foundations Theory.

One need not agree with Haidt’s thesis about the origins of these cognitive modules to see their utility as an interpretive grid.  In analyzing the political application of the theory, Haidt, who identifies himself as a liberal, discovered that those who measured as the most “liberal” registered highly in the care/harm and fairness/cheating categories but little to not at all in the other three.  Though caring and fairness were also the dominant categories for those who registered as the most “conservative,” people with these political leanings showed a near convergence with the other three concerns of loyalty, authority, and sanctity:

What this means is that if it seems that the proponents of Critical Theory are “tone deaf” to some of the moral concerns expressed by other, more “conservative” people, it is because they are.  For the “liberal” adherent of CT, the mere presence of inequity is all the proof needed that injustice is occurring.  Questions of whether people have demonstrated the social virtues of developing skills (that is, demonstrating loyalty to the system’s values) are largely not considered, or if they are, the need to do so is defined as part of the oppression inherent in “the system.”  Likewise, the need to “pay one’s dues,” which recognizes the system’s authority, is construed as more evidence of injustice rather than a period of necessary apprenticeship during which there is predicted inequity between those who have acquired the sought-after skills and resources and those currently acquiring them.  Finally, the need to exhibit sustained effort with or without immediate reward—the most sanctified value in a meritocracy—is despised most of all as the mechanism of systemic injustice because, although such effort generally yields overall improvement in the socio-economic position of a given class of people, there is no guarantee in any particular instance that the effort so exerted will result necessarily in equity.  The moral concerns of three of the five moral cognitive modules are not only temporarily bracketed to focus analysis on the issue of fairness, for the “liberal,” they quite literally do not register as things worthy of assessment and for the critical theorist, they are merely attempts to obfuscate the real issue, which is measurable equity.

Moreover, the proponent of Critical Theory does not need to provide measurable criteria whereby to evaluate the claims of their analysis.  The existence of the inequity natural to and predicted by a system that rewards merit is the prima facie evidence that revolution is needed.  Whether the proposed system could actually create the desired equity and whether that equity would be balanced with other moral concerns  (everyone living in social and/or economic squalor is, after all, a type of equality) need not be seriously contemplated, because the only value in view is equity, which is defined as fairness that provides the necessary care for everybody.

This is how these critics can be right about what is wrong (that is, in Critical Race Theory, the form of CT most affecting the life of the Church at present, racial inequities), but so wrong about what would put these wrongs right; their theories are not based upon a morality with a complex enough palate, capable of fine enough distinctions.

Eschatology and Anthropology

This is also in part why Critical Theory is a comprehensive worldview; in merely noting inequity, it believes that it has accounted for all the most significant moral variables—the only ones that count.  It must then flatten all human experience into the narrow interpretive grid it deems the only valid one.

Four Fundamental Questions

The late Ravi Zacharias helpfully delineated at least four fundamental questions of human life to which any worldview must propose an answer: human origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  Because of the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial,” the issue of origins has dominated the intellectual landscape of the Western Church for the last 100 or so years.  First, it dominated the popular imagination as “yet another case” of backward religionists resisting reason’s inevitable march of progress in accord with the Enlightenment’s self-narration.  (Yes, this was first. Scopes deliberately implicated himself so that a trial would need to be held and Darrow deliberately had the trial played out by a sympathetic urbane media in the court of public opinion as part of his legal strategy.)  The attempts to condemn Intelligent Design as veiled religious dogma are the intellectual descendants of that controversy.  Secondly, it precipitated a growing crisis within the Church between Fundamentalists and Modernists, who believed a dating of the age of the earth to greater than 7,000 years was congruent with orthodox Biblical interpretation.  The inheritors of that dispute are the Young Earth versus Old Earth Creationist debates of today.[2] 

“Your theology can never be better than your anthropology,” was one of the favorite axioms my Prophets professor in seminary passed on to us from his mentor.  Of course, being self-consciously orthodox, I thought that axiom got it exactly backward; our theology—specifically our Christology and soteriology—necessarily defines our understanding of human nature, so our anthropology can never be better than our theology.

Unfortunately, the Western Church’s obsession with origins has led to a relative neglect of the way our understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation fully entails informs our understanding of what human beings are (our meaning), how we should live (our morality), and our purpose or telos (our destiny).  The preaching of Jesus predominantly as life coach, social activist, friend of sinners, prophetic preacher, social reformer or even atoning sacrifice for sinners, has led to the neglect of the consistent preaching of Jesus as the God-Man or Theanthropos, a new species in God’s economy of salvation.[3]  “God became man that man might become [like] God,” exulted Irenaeus of Lyons in his second century classic Against Heresies, going on to declare as the soteriological significance of that teaching that “the glory of God is a [hu]man fully alive.”

Great Tradition Christianity proclaims that the ultimate destiny of redeemed humanity is not merely to avoid hell (Jesus as the cosmic get-out-of-jail-free card) or to emulate Jesus as the finest example of a fully self-realized or perfectly moral human person, but rather to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).  Through our Sacramental union with Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, by faith in His promises, we are drawn into the perichoretic inner life of the Godhead, the most Holy Trinity.  As the Theanthropos, Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29), not the only-born to be admired and worshipped, but whose life remains fundamentally distant from our own.

This teaching about the implications of salvation through Christ for our destiny as human beings thoroughly conditions and shapes all other elements of our theology.  In other words, remembering the fullness of our destiny as human beings in Christ has far more impact on our understanding of what is the meaning of human life and the morality by which it is to be lived than our understanding of our origins.

[1] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. (New York: New York University Press, 2017), page 8.

[2] If you speak the first article of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed without crossing your fingers, you are a creationist of one stripe or the other; it is important that non-fundamentalist Christians be absolutely clear on this point and think through the consequences of that position as distinct from a functional Deism.

[3] Justification by grace through faith—forensic justification—may indeed be the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls as Martin Luther declared, but it was never meant to be preached denuded of the very Christology that makes it so powerful and poignant.

Prayers of the Church, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Cycle B (August 26, 2018)


14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Cycle B (August 26, 2018)


For the Church, the world, and needs of all people, let us pray to the Lord.

A brief silence

Lord God, clothe your Church in the spotless raiment and trusty armor of Jesus’ righteousness. Make it his radiant and faithful bride, adorned with beauty, holiness, goodness and grace. Make it his valiant soldier, adorned with courage, integrity, faithfulness, and perseverance. In all circumstances, use it to draw many afar off to saving faith in Jesus, their Savior, Captain, Bridegroom and Lord.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Defend and restore your Church when it is abused and persecuted for the sake of Christ. Exchange its sackcloth of suffering for the festal robes of salvation; and remove from it all stain of sorrow or sin. Bless, protect, and guide missionaries of your Gospel throughout the world.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Bless this congregation with your protection and favor. Make us ever mindful that as part of your Church on earth, we reflect Jesus’ name and character to the world. Keep us faithful, generous, and kind, sharing with others the gifts of the Spirit that you have given to us.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

Bless husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, and all whom you have entrusted to us to cherish as family. Knit us together in enduring bonds of affection, respect and fidelity. Bring healing and peace to all households fractured by sin, sorrow, and suffering.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Conform the minds of earthly leaders to your commandments; and grant them strength to accomplish their responsibilities in accordance with your will. Remove from among us the allure of sin, the temptation of power, and the seduction of earthly gain. Teach us to live peaceably with one another, and to share generously and wisely the gifts of your creation.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Keep safe all who stand in harm’s way on behalf of others, especially those in our military and all first responders. Give them cool heads and steady hands as they accomplish their duties, and grant success to all they do that serves your will. Give them swift and happy reunions with all who love them; and though we value and honor their service, we long for the day when that service is needed no more.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You hear the cries of the righteous, and of all who suffer. Hear, therefore, and graciously answer our prayers on behalf of all who are afflicted by pain, sorrow, loneliness, despair, abuse, or any other evil which troubles them, including: {List}. Give a spirit of compassion and gentleness to all who care for them; and restore them to communion with all who love them.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We entrust our beloved dead into your faithful care, Dear Father. Ease the pain of those whose grief is raw and deep. And since we still walk by faith and not by sight, we pray that you would sustain us throughout our earthly pilgrimage with the Cross of your dear Son, and the grace and comfort of your Holy Spirit. Bring us, in your good time, into the bright courts of heaven, where we and all whom you have redeemed shall forever feast on Christ, our Living Bread and our Cup of Salvation.


Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


Incline your ear to our prayers, dear Lord; and answer them according to your most gracious and holy will, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Weekly Devotion for November 15, 2017

“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18)

St. Paul didn’t act as though he had more than he really had.  He had words, and they were good words.  Words can open minds, console hearts, and change futures.  Words from God, founded on the acts of God, can do even greater things: they can raise the dead.

Here in central Wisconsin, we can know how words work just by looking at the great hunting season that unfolds this month.  Consider how much talk accompanies hunting; think of the photos that people post of their kill to illustrate the stories that they tell.  That conversation encourages hunters in their hope and accompanies them into the woods.

It’s a reflection of the greater glory of Jesus Christ.  His life has authored a deathless word, the Holy Gospel that not only speaks of forgiveness now but also of the world to come.  This holy Word we must steadily proclaim, more and more, to encourage one another and reveal to this present world that there is a happy future to be had.  In the end, that sacred conversation of the Church is the hope that will accompany souls into the woods, however dark the woods may be.

LET US PRAY: Speak, O Lord, we will hear You, for Your Word alone is life.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau

Letter from the Director for October 2017



Something that for me has been absolutely astounding – as we have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – are some of the things that that milestone has been used to justify and support. I have seen the anniversary of the Reformation being used to advocate for environmental issues, even though the only time that I am aware of when Martin Luther promoted ecological concerns was when he said that if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he would still plant a tree. Luther’s antisemitism later in life as well as his not supporting the peasants in the peasant revolt have been made into a jumping off point to rail against racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and all the other awful things that people are guilty of these days.

An observance that was held on Reformation Sunday in a church in the ELCA synod in which I was rostered before I retired used in its publicity an interesting version of the Luther rose. The outer perimeter was made up not of the typical colors, but instead of the hues of a rainbow, and in the center of the rose was not a cross but an angry looking fist holding a hammer. Concerned and alarmed, because I saw Christ and the cross as being replaced by human anger and political activism, I telephoned the church that was hosting the event and left a message for the pastor, asking what was intended to be communicated by that form of the Luther rose. As I expected, I have not received a reply. Because the bishop of that synod was participating in the event and the synod was helping promote the event, I also wrote to the synod, expressing my concern that that symbol was replacing Christ and the power of the cross with the power of human efforts and anger. Again, as anticipated, I have not received a reply.

And so it was so refreshing for me to attend the LCMC gathering in Minneapolis October 8-11, where the real message of the Reformation was kept at the heart of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.


Under the theme “We Confess Our Faith,” the gathering was structured around conversation about three of the fundamental teachings of the Reformation: Justification, the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, and the Priesthood of All Believers. Presenters first described the basic principles of each of those three teachings, then a panel made up of people serving in diverse ministry settings – both in the United States as well as in other parts of the world – discussed how that major teaching impacted their ministry in their own particular place of service. The panel discussion was then followed by discussions at tables where those attending the gathering were able to apply that teaching to their own lives and ministry settings.

My soul was stirred and my thinking was stimulated by the presentation of Steve Turnbull, pastor of Community of Grace Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He spoke on the doctrine of justification. Maintaining the real message of the Bible and the Reformation while also applying that message to real life issues today, Pastor Turnbull talked about how Paul often discussed the concept of justification within the context of Jew-Gentile relationships. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes God as pointing to the Church and saying, “See what I have done. Sin wrecks human community. I have put it back together again.” Pastor Turnbull then shared how Paul’s evangelism had created multi-ethnic communities. He needed a way to explain theologically what was happening. And so he wrote, The cross is enough to tear down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Pastor Turnbull then applied that principle to life today when he asked, “Is it enough to unite people today?”

I heard a similar emphasis during the discussion of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. One of the panel participants said, “We have got to be about reconciling things. If we are not reconciling things, we might not be the church.”

I was struck by the number of people who attended the workshop entitled “Next Generation Leaders,” taught by Dr. Kyle Fever, director of the Nexus Institute of Grand View University in Des Moines. We of Lutheran CORE have known that many Lutheran pastors and congregational leaders and members are deeply concerned over where their congregation’s next Bible believing and outreach oriented pastor will come from. That concern is the reason why we of Lutheran CORE are involved in our pastoral formation project. The extent of the concern, as well as the importance and immediacy of the concern, were brought home to me by the number of people attending that workshop, which Kyle Fever entitled, “Resurrecting Timothy.”

The idea behind the title is this. Timothy was different from Paul, and Paul was willing to allow Timothy to be Timothy. In other words, Paul let Timothy be different from Paul. Dr. Fever shared how youth today are interested in spiritual things, but many of them in ways that we do not know how to deal with. We have virtually no training for non-traditional ministries. We have very few Timothies, who are different from Paul. Dr. Fever challenged us, What kind of church leaders do we want? Ones like what we already know? Or are we willing to be like Paul and let Timothy be Timothy?

Kyle Fever said that we need to find ways to raise up not future leaders for the church as we know it now, but future leaders for a church that we do not yet know what it will be like. We need to give young adults opportunities to participate in the vitality of the congregation, and not necessarily within the four walls of the church. We need to cultivate in them a yearning to be a part of the work of the Gospel in the world, rather than try to cultivate in them a yearning to be part of preparing the communion table for Sunday morning. He got down to basics when he asked us, “How many here are intentionally mentoring a high school sophomore or junior?” He challenged pastors, “The next time you write a sermon, target it to sixteen to twenty-two year olds.” He concluded by saying, “There are no easy answers, but there are resources.”


After being home from Minneapolis for a few days, I left for Chicago to attend the annual Latino ministries Encuentro (Encounter) October 17-19. This event is sponsored by Lutheran CORE and was planned and put on by Pastor Keith Forni, member of the board of Lutheran CORE and pastor of First/Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Joliet, Illinois. Pastor Forni has an unusual gift for Latino ministries. He has an unbelievable number of contacts within the Lutheran Latino ministries community, and he is natural and comfortable leading bi-lingual worship.

One of the two main presenters was Dr. Alberto Garcia, professor emeritus of theology at Concordia University Wisconsin and co-author of the book, Wittenberg Meets the World: Reimagining the Reformation at the Margins. I was struck with how much he emphasized one of the same themes that I had heard so much about at the LCMC gathering – the theme of reconciliation. It made sense to me. Because we live in such a divided nation and divided world, one of the particular gifts that the Church has to offer our nation and our world is the power of reconciliation. And one of the chief ways in which the Church can demonstrate the power of the Gospel and give credibility to its message is if we as God’s people are able to become reconciled with those from whom we have become estranged.

The other main presenter was Ken Elkin, a retired ELCA pastor from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. During his presentation, entitled “A Pilgrim People,” Pastor Elkin described his recent pilgrimage walking the entire, approximately five hundred mile long route of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. After describing the characteristics of a pilgrimage as well as the place of pilgrimage in the history of the church, he then told of his own experiences in walking that route. He described what he called “the spirit of the camino” – how people are very open to each other as well as very caring for each other while on the pilgrimage. Some people who are on the camino are dealing with major issues in their lives. He presented the challenge of then bringing that spirit of the camino back into the rest of your life. He shared two of the great life lessons that can be learned from the camino. One of them he had found written as graffiti along the way – “You are capable of more and you need less than you think.” The other one was the title of a book – “To walk far, carry less.” He concluded his presentation by saying, “The popularity of this pilgrimage shows that there is a genuine spiritual hunger in people, and we are not reaching them.”

saw us, walked up to us, and then began sharing how her fiancé had just been killed in a motorcycle accident. She had felt abandoned by God until she saw us. Dr. Alberto Garcia responded to the moment beautifully. He shared the love and comfort of God with her and prayed with her. She was certain God had brought her to us and us to her. How wonderful it was to be part of an answer to someone’s prayer.

St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church ELCA, the host congregation, is in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago, which has changed dramatically in the last few decades from being totally Caucasian to totally Latino. In the basement there are pictures of confirmation classes from the 1960’s, made up of thirty to forty very Caucasian looking young people. We were able to experience how the congregation still has a vital opportunity for ministry, though a very different opportunity for ministry, as some of the neighbors joined us for dinner and a prayer service one evening. That evening we also held an outdoor candlelight prayer service for peace in a city that has experienced the tragedy of five hundred homicides so far this year. The neighborhood is a fairly high density neighborhood, so we know that nearby residents witnessed our service. The need for prayers for healing and peace were brought home to us by some graffiti we saw on the way to the church – “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

Pastor Keith Forni, who serves St. Timothy’s congregation in Chicago, as well as First/Santa Cruz in Joliet, told of how dozens of children and their parents walk right by the church each day on their way to and from their school, which is only two blocks away. Pastor Forni uses the strategic location of the church as an opportunity to reach out to the children and their parents, and invite them to an afternoon children’s program at the church.

We were very honored and pleased that the Rev. Hector Garfias-Toledo, Assistant to the Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod ELCA, stopped by and visited the Encuentro and brought greetings from Bishop Wayne Miller. It is our goal that future Encuentros will continue to provide inspiration, resources, fellowship, and encouragement for those involved in or considering becoming involved in Latino, Spanish language, and/or bi-lingual ministries. We hope to find ways to make the Encuentro more accessible to more people so that this annual gathering will be a resource for Lutherans of all church body affiliations.

May your celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation be a time for you of giving thanks to God for His abounding love and His amazing grace.

Blessings in Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE