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. 




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




Weekly Devotional for November 12, 2017

WE ALL HAVE TO GET OUR OWN OIL

Devotional for November 12, 2017 based upon Matthew 25: 1-13

At one point all ten had brightly burning lamps. All ten had oil. But five ran out of oil. So five were not ready when the bridegroom came.

All ten had lights. Which probably were not some kind of small clay vessel with a little wick sticking out. Small clay vessels do not use much oil, but they also would not have been able to put out much light for a wedding party. They probably were torches – long poles with rags soaked in olive oil tied at the top. That kind of a torch produces a lot of light, but it also consumes a lot of oil, so the rags would have to be re-soaked in oil every certain number of minutes.

The oil that enables us to live our Christian lives is abundant. We can all be filled with the Holy Spirit every day. There is no energy shortage in heaven. And the oil is free. It has already all been paid for. But still, if we want our lives to keep on shining, we must receive a daily in-filling of God’s Holy Spirit. And so, in verse 4, “The wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” The wise had reserve oil. The wise enjoyed a deep, personal experience of the grace of Jesus. The wise had a deeper prayer life – a deeper Bible study life. The wise had a depth to their faith – a depth in their relationship with Jesus – that the five foolish bridesmaids did not have.

Verse 5 tells us, “As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.” All ten had thought that the bridegroom would have been there a lot sooner. But he wasn’t there. So they became drowsy and slept. Preparing for a wedding can wear you out. There’s a lot that goes into getting ready for a wedding. Not just the bride – and the bride’s mother – but also the bridesmaids spend hours and hours getting ready for the wedding. No wonder brides and bridesmaids get all stressed out and tired out. Even the five wise bridesmaids were so tired that they fell asleep because of the delay.

Spiritually are you asleep? Are you asleep even though you know that the King of kings is coming? True, there has been a delay. Jesus the Bridegroom has not come yet. And yet the longer the delay, the closer we are to the time of His coming.

Verse 6 tells us, “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out and meet him!’” When did the bridegroom come? At midnight. Jesus will return at the darkest time of the night. Jesus will come to you in your darkest hour. Sometimes I wonder how much darker it could get than it is right now. The bridegroom will come at midnight. In our hour of deepest need – at a time of greatest spiritual darkness – Jesus Christ will come.

Verse 7 – “Then all the bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.” All ten bridesmaids needed to refill their lamps with oil. But only the wise had brought along spare reserves of oil. What is that extra oil? It is an extra measure of God’s presence and grace in your life. It is the depth and strength of faith that you need to live in those toughest of times.

Christian parents and grandparents may wish that they could just give their faith to their children and grandchildren. And many Christian people wish that they could transfer their Christian faith to their non-believing husband or wife. But each person must go to the source for himself or herself. The Christian faith can neither be transferred nor sold. Each must get the saving oil straight from the source.

No one can be a Christian for you. Your parent or grandparent can’t. Your spouse can’t. Your best friend can’t. And even your pastor can’t. We all have to get our own oil.

In the same way, if you wait until you really need it to get that saving and strengthening relationship with Jesus – if you wait until midnight, you may have waited too long. The Bible says, Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to restock on oil. Today is the day to make your life right with Jesus. If you wait until midnight, you may have waited too long.

What about you? Is your lamp getting dimmer? Is your light beginning to flicker? Is your walk with Jesus lacking or even non-existent? Are you spiritually asleep? Don’t wait too long.

In verse 13 Jesus concludes this parable by saying, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” I want to be there and ready. And I want you to be there and ready too. I want all of us to be seated at that table that will spread for miles in God’s great heavenly banquet room. Jesus, our Bridegroom and Host, will be there to welcome us. So what should we do? Before your lamp begins to go out – on a regular basis – stop and get a fresh supply. Daily repent of your sins and receive God’s grace. Daily renew your relationship with Jesus. And always remember – we all have to get our own oil.

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE