Having just hit 25 weeks of posts, I’m honestly just a little exhausted at this point. I love writing, but need to recharge the batteries a bit. I have no intentions of leaving you empty-handed though. In fact, I think what I’m leaving you with is superior writing.
One of the blessings/curses of being the younger brother is that you 1) get to learn at an accelerated rate by seeing your older sibling accomplish something and mimicking, 2) you almost always feel like you’re trying to play catch-up in terms of accomplishment. This is the case for me when it comes to my brother’s writing.
Last summer, perhaps the biggest issue in American Christianity was the news of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) approving of homosexual clergy. It prompted much confusion from non-Lutherans about what exactly a “Lutheran stance” on such an issue would be. My brother used the opportunity to write a series of articles on it. I hope you find them as beneficial as I did.
SIDE NOTE: Homosexuality is the issue I’ve received more questions on than any as possible blog topics. If you have a topic (current event, doctrinal issue, etc.) that you would like to see addressed, please send me a note and I’ll try to cover it in future articles.
Written by Jonathan Hein
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS)
This past week I received an interesting phone call. It was by a well-intentioned individual who lambasted me and my church for teaching that homosexuality was acceptable.
I immediately knew what happened. He had read in the newspaper that recently the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a resolution at their synod convention that not only paved the way for the ELCA to perform same-sex marriages, but also opened the door for openly gay pastors to practice ministry. Because our name is Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church, he assumed we were part of the ELCA. We are not. We are part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), so named because it began in 1850 with a union of three Lutheran churches in Milwaukee, WI.
The WELS is the third largest Lutheran church body in the country. The ELCA (which is actually an amalgamation of three different Lutheran synods) is the largest. These two synods could not be more different. The WEL’s theological position has not changed, on any issue, in 159 years. If God and his word do not change, how could theology change? (Theology is simply the combination of the Greek words theosmeaning “God” and logos meaning “word”.) The ELCA has changed its theological position regularly to reflect that which is culturally popular or politically correct.
Today, I begin a series of bulletin inserts which will explain the WELS’s theological position on sexuality, and hopefully help you to articulate that position to anyone you run across who thinks we are the same as the ELCA.
Today, we talk about how the real issue is the Good News of Christ, not homosexuality. We get worked up when people deny what the Bible says about homosexuality, not because we’re homophobic or hold that sin as being “worse” than others. Rather, we are concerned that if you deny any portion of God’s Word, you will eventually lose the Gospel.
Lutheranism & homosexuality part 1 of 5
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has received a lot of news coverage for their recent national convention’s decision to approve a resolution committing the church to find a way for “people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” to serve as professional leaders of the church. This has led to confusion. We are part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), not the ELCA. But because people see “Evangelical Lutheran” in our title, they often assume that we are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Not at all.
The WELS’s public written confessions state that the Bible is the Word of God. As such, it contains no mistakes or errors. The Bible is not mere opinion, but is the revealed will of a loving God to his children. The ELCA’s public written confessions state that the Bible contains the Word of God. There is a big difference between saying the Bible is the Word of God verses saying it contains the Word of God. If the Bible only contains the Word of God, that means portions of the Bible are God’s Word, but other portions are not. Thus, if there is a portion of the Bible you don’t like, you toss it out claiming “That’s not really what God would say, but only what Paul (or Moses or Peter or Matthew) said.” Theology becomes nebulous. It can shift with any opinion poll or the morals of the day. But if the Bible is the Word of God, and if God is serious when he says, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6), then there is something odd about a theology that changes from generation to generation.
Ironically, the Word “evangelical” is the combination of two Greek words which translate literally as “good news.” Another commonly used word that means “Good News” is “Gospel.” What is this “good news”?
Through the prophet Isaiah, God wrote, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘our God reigns!’” (52:7). The good news is that because of what Jesus has done, salvation can be proclaimed to all who sin (which is the same thing as saying “to all people,” since all sin). The good news is that people who commit even the most grotesque sins – murder, adultery, etc. – can, through Christ, be at peace with God. But when you rip out portions of God’s Word which condemn sin, you lessen the need for Christ. You negate the need for the “good news.” In other words, if you toss aside God’s Law, you will also lose the Gospel eventually. Church history has shown this to be true again and again.
An example – I have been known to lose my temper, which can be a sin, as God’s Word encourages gentleness. So the way you show love for me is not by saying, “Well, the occasional temper tantrum isn’t that big a deal! I don’t know if you should call that a sin!” The way you show love for me is by calling my temper tantrum sin, and then by assuring me that in Christ, that sin (and the infinite others I have committed) have been forgiven. The way you show love for me is by repeating Jesus’ words to the woman who was caught in adultery. After forgiving her sin he added, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). Those words could apply to homosexuality, or temper tantrums, or gossip, or envy. In gratitude for what Christ did to save me from my sin, I struggle to leave them behind. I will never be able to do so entirely. But I still try. This is the joyful struggle of a Christian who lives in the shadow of the cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” Jesus said (Matthew 16:24). I deny myself the impulses of my flesh if they are contrary to the Word of God, precisely because I know that a God who loved me enough to give me his Son would not steer me wrong.
A true Lutheran will tell you there is no such thing as Lutheran theology. Martin Luther simply wanted to rid the church of his day of the error that had crept in through the abuse of pope and council. He wanted to restore the pure theology of the early church, which was built sola Scriptura – on Scripture alone. A true Lutheran is cautious with God’s Word, afraid of ever saying more than it says… or… every saying less than it says.
That is why the resolution of the ELCA saddens me. In calling “good” what the Bible calls “sin,” they lesson the need for Christ in the world. That is not evangelical. And by denying the clear teaching of God’s Word, they make God’s Word seem unclear. That is not Lutheran.
Please realize not all Lutheran congregations are the same. Some take the Bible very seriously. We are one of them.
By Jonathan Hein