She Just Does Not Get It

After reading two recent communications from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the only conclusion I can come to is this.  She just does not get it.

The first communication is dated September 3, 2021 and is entitled, “We Are the Body of Christ.”  A link to that communication can be found here. In that letter Bishop Eaton writes about the great, long-standing animosity between Jews and Gentiles, and about how in the early church, these two groups of people were able to be brought together.  She refers to the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 as well as to the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and to how “the dispute between the two groups was healed.”  She said that this healing “went to the very core of what it meant to be part of the church.”  She then said, “They were one body.  We are one body. . . . Yes, we have significant disagreement about very important issues, but our cultural and political differences cannot dissolve this bond.”  I was absolutely floored by what she wrote next.  “We can take heart from the example of the early church.  If, by the Spirit’s power, they could set aside their differences – which were far greater than any of ours – then we, too, by the power of the Sprit, can live into the unity that already exists in Christ.”

She just does not get it.  The differences between confessional Lutherans today who hold to the authority of the Bible and who believe that the Lutheran Confessions are a reliable interpretation of the Bible and those who would call themselves the “progressives” are not far less than, instead they are far greater than the differences between Jews and Gentiles in the early church.  For example –

No one in the early church led the young people of that church in denouncing the views of the more traditional folks as a lie from Satan that needs to be renounced – unlike what happened at the 2018 ELCA youth gathering. 

The apostles did not ignore, dismiss, minimize, or marginalize the Hellenists when they expressed their concern that their widows were being neglected (Acts 6).  Instead, they appointed seven deacons to resolve the matter.  In contrast, those with traditional views are usually totally ignored when they express their concerns to those in positions of power.    

Heresies in the early church were dealt with (for example, see Colossians 2) rather than just accepted or even celebrated as culturally sensitive ways to contextualize the Gospel.

After the early church made their decision in Acts 15 as to how uncircumcised Gentiles could be a part of the church, they did not then a few years later claim to have decided something else.  Their honesty and integrity in holding to what they had decided stands in sharp contrast with the way in which the ELCA has expanded and re-interpreted what was actually voted on and approved in 2009 so that they are now able to embrace the full LGBTQIA+ agenda. 

The apostles did not break promises and ignore commitments as the ELCA has done by its not giving a place of honor and respect to traditional views and those who hold them.  I have heard of white male seminarians with traditional views being told to put tape over their mouths and not speak.  I also know of people whose ordination candidacy process was cancelled or who were denied entrance into the candidacy process because of their traditional views.   

Yes, Bishop Eaton just does not get it.  The differences between confessional Lutherans and those who would call themselves the “progressives” are not far less than, instead they are far greater than the differences between Jews and Gentiles in the early church.

Even more out of touch with reality is what Bishop Eaton wrote in the second communication, which is dated October 20, 2021, and is entitled, “A pastoral letter from the ELCA presiding bishop regarding the actions of the Reformed Church in America General Synod 2021.”  A link to that communication can be found here.  In that letter she told about one of the ELCA’s full communion partners, which had recently met in General Synod.  The final Vision 2020 Report was presented to the assembly, with its recommendations for the future of the denomination “with regard to staying together . . . and grace-filled separation.”  Bishop Eaton commended that church body for “adopting regulations to provide an unobstructed pathway for those local churches that will depart the denomination.”  She praised their actions, which she says “reflect the RCA’s commitment to walking together, respecting differences, and affirming common mission and ministry.”  She described the spirit of the synod as “conciliatory and hope-filled, as delegates shared their disagreements in the bond of peace.” 

What she then says in the next paragraph is totally out of touch with reality.  She talked about how the ELCA has “traveled this same road.”  She uses language from the 2009 social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” when she says, “It is possible, by the grace of God, to be a church that makes an active choice to live with the disagreement among us, and ‘to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and respect.”  How out of touch can you get?  There may have been those who – back in 2009 – were deceived into buying that line so that they were willing to vote in favor of the human sexuality social statement and the changes in ministry policies.  But I do not know anyone today who continues to believe that the ELCA has any plans to “honor bound conscience.”

I know that there are ELCA bishops and synod councils who have been gracious in their dealings with congregations who were voting to disaffiliate from the ELCA.   But I have also heard many stories of bullying, intimidating, threats to take property, and efforts to get as many dollars as possible from congregations who wish to leave.  I know of retired ELCA pastors who were told by their synods that they would be removed from the ELCA clergy roster if they did not leave a congregation that has voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA.  I know of a seminarian who was no longer welcome at an ELCA seminary once the congregation that she was affiliated with began the process of leaving the ELCA. 

Too many ELCA congregations have not experienced a “grace-filled separation.”  Too many ELCA congregations did not find “an unobstructed pathway” when they began the process of voting to leave the ELCA. I am certain that what Bishop Eaton wrote in her October 20 communication is something that she wishes were true and that she desires to be true.  But why does she not know that it is not true?  Does she really think that people will believe what she wrote?   

Concerns Over a Confession

On September 27 the ELCA released a “Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People.”  The document contains a full page of confessions to the American Indian and Alaska Native communities of the ELCA and in the U. S. as well as to non-Indigenous communities of the ELCA.  A link to that document can be found here.

There is no doubt – there is absolutely no question – but that when settlers from Europe came to America, there were already people living here.  There is no doubt – there is absolutely no question – but that treaties were broken, promises were not kept, and people – including children who were forcibly enrolled in boarding schools – were mistreated and abused.  There is much that we need to repent of.  We also know that all of our homes and all of our churches – and even the ELCA office building on Higgins Road – are all built on land that once belonged to someone else.    

I am reminded of the account in 2 Samuel 21, when “there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year” (verse 1).  David inquired of the Lord and asked why.  The Lord replied, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” The Israelites had made a treaty with the Gibeonites when they first entered into the Promised Land (Joshua 9).  Even though the Gibeonites had tricked the Israelites into making that treaty, Joshua knew that they still needed to keep their promises.  But several generations later – during the time of King Saul – those promises were broken.  Israel needed to deal with the fact that they had not kept their word.  They had to face what they had done.  It was only after they had done so that God would again bless them.  2 Samuel 21: 14 tells us that after Israel made things right, “God heeded supplications for the land.”  It makes you wonder if part of the reason for all of the problems within our country – as well as within the ELCA – is because of promises that have been broken.

But there are a couple sentences within that declaration/confession that make me deeply troubled.  In the first paragraph it says, “We have devalued Indigenous religions and lifeways.”  In the second paragraph it says, “We confess that we are complicit in the annihilation of Native peoples and your cultures, languages, and religions.”  I completely agree that it is severely wrong to devalue other people and their lifeways.  It is absolutely wrong to annihilate other peoples and their cultures and languages.  What I want to address is the ELCA’s confessing its devaluing indigenous religions.  I read that statement in the light of the “Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which the ELCA Churchwide Assembly overwhelmingly approved in 2019.  A link to that document can be found here

What concerns me about the ELCA’s Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment is the section entitled, “Limits on our knowing.”  In that section it says, “We must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion.”  Instead it says that “all we know, and all we need to know, is that our neighbors are made in God’s image and that we are called to love and serve them.”  Certainly our neighbors are made in God’s image.  Certainly we are called to love and serve them.  But since it is a fact that people who are not followers of Jesus also love and serve their neighbors, then the ELCA is saying that the church of Jesus has nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer to other people.

If the church of Jesus has nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer to other people, then I could see why we might feel the need to confess devaluing other religions.  But if the church of Jesus does have something unique, valuable, and important to offer to other people, then it is not that we devalue other religions.  Rather it is that we value people.  We love people, and we want people to know and love Jesus and to know that Jesus loves them.  We would not be loving and serving our neighbors if we did not tell them about Jesus.  

Are the only options either devaluing other religions or feeling that as followers of Jesus we have nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer?  The account of the apostle Paul in Athens in Acts 17 says that there is another option.  Please notice five things from this account.

First, verse 16 says that Paul was “deeply distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols.”  Are we deeply distressed over the ways in which people place so many other things before and above God?

Second, in verse 22 Paul began his message in front of the Areopagus on a very positive note.  He did not blast the people for all of their idols.  Instead he said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.”  In our relating to people who do not know Jesus, do we begin on a positive note and do we maintain a positive spirit? 

Third, we see in verse 23 that Paul had taken the time and had put forth the effort to become familiar with their culture and the objects of their worship.  He said, “As I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship.”  Do we do the same?  

Fourth, he found a connecting point.  As Paul looked carefully at the objects of the Athenians’ worship, he came across an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” (verse 23)  Do we look until we can find a connecting point?  Can we identify the aspects of our culture that reveal the spiritual yearnings and longings of people?

Fifth, he was able to relate to the people by quoting from their poets, who had said, “In him we live and move and have our being” and “We too are his offspring.” (verse 28)  Are we able to relate to and connect with people today by quoting from the sources that give expression to their feelings, needs, and longings?

So either devaluing other religions or feeling that as followers of Jesus we have nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer are not the only options.  Like the apostle Paul, we need to recognize the spiritual yearnings and longings of people, and then we need to find ways to connect with them.  We do this, not because we devalue their religions, but instead because we value people.  We love people, and we want people to know and love Jesus and to know that Jesus loves them. 

Devotion for Monday, August 13, 2018

“Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. “His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me.” (Psalm 89:35-36)


The Lord swore to David. Unlike humans, the Lord keeps His promises. He will abide in the truth and delivers to us that which He has promised. Look carefully and know His word is truth. The world seeks to make the Lord a liar, but it is the world which will be found to have lied. The Lord has spoken the truth from the beginning, for He is truth. Trust in the Lord and know that His promises are sure.

Guide me O Lord through the maze of all of the things said about You that I may know the truth of Your Word. Help me to see clearly that all things have always been in Your hands. Nothing in all of creation is able to separate those who are in You from the promises You give. Lead me to live by faith all the days of my life in the hope and promises that You give.

Lord Jesus, without You it would be impossible to live in this faith You have given. By the power of Your Spirit, lead me this day to walk humbly and faithfully in the truth You have revealed. Help me now and always to hold fast to Your ways and walk before the Father as one of the godly ones. You have lifted me up and will sustain me by Your grace. Lead me to walk in thankfulness for Your goodness. Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, July 29, 2018

“I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4)

Lord, You have made a covenant through the salvation You prepared from the beginning. Guide the thoughts of my mind and the meditations of my heart to realize that no matter what comes in my life, You have given the invitation to walk in the salvation You prepared from the beginning. Lead me, O Lord, into the life of faith to which You have called me that I would know Your promises are true.

Lord, I often waiver and wonder about what happens around me. I forget that You have prepared for the truth that all things work to glory for those who love You. Guide my heart to learn to trust first and foremost in You and all that You have promised. Do not let me be led astray by this world’s wickedness, nor be surprised at what happens around me. Help me be true to You.

Lord Jesus, You are the One who has come that as many as believe would not perish, but have everlasting life. Guide me in my day-to-day life that I would humbly walk in the salvation You have prepared. Keep me from wandering down the many broad ways that I encounter each day. Help me remain true to the calling You have given and walk in the narrow way of salvation You have prepared. Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, July 22, 2018

“Forsaken among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and they are cut off from Your hand. You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths.” (Psalm 88:5-6)

The wicked shall go to the dust and their deeds be remembered no more. Why then pursue the way of the wicked? Who wants to remember evil? Do we not applaud the deeds of those who do good? Even history proclaims the truth of the deeds of those who do good. Be remembered by the Lord and stand in His presence, having done what is pleasing in His sight. Know the Lord and learn the good.

Lord, You call to all who will listen in every generation. There are those who hear Your voice and respond to Your call. Count me among those who hear You and teach me to walk in Your ways. Guide me according to Your goodness that I would now and forever live according to Your Word of truth which has been spoken from the beginning. Lead me, O Lord, in the way I should go.

Holy Spirit, I need Your ministry in my life. I need what You alone can do. Guide me this day according to the will of the Father to walk in the way You would have me go. Lead me according to Your goodness to see those things which are right to do and then guide my feet to do them. Help me now and always to live according to the promises You have spoken that I may be amongst those You remember. Amen.

Devotion for Friday, November 17, 2017

“Your vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to You.  For You have delivered my soul from death, indeed my feet from stumbling, so that I may walk before God in the light of the living.”  (Psalm 56:12-13)

In this world of mixed up ideas, the Lord makes promises that only He is able to keep.  Who gives life?  Who can raise the dead?  Whose ability holds all things together?  It is the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Trust in the Lord with all of your might and let Him make up for any weakness that you have.  He will deliver your soul so that You can walk with Him forever.

Lord, I become confused by all of the promises, words and persuasions bantered about in this world.  Guide me through the morass of this world to stand before You covered in the righteousness You alone give.  Bring my heart to the place where I render thanksgiving for all of Your goodness and know that in You there is hope and a future.  Lead me, O Lord, for You alone know what is needed.

Lord Jesus, You have come to lead the way for as many as would come by grace through faith, trusting that You have given the words of eternal life.  Lead me this day to see in You the hope of glory and the firmness of the promises You have delivered.  Teach me how to praise and worship, knowing that only in You is there hope and a future.  Keep me from stumbling so I may walk with You now and always.  Amen.