This is a difficult time for all who share the name “Lutheran.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted this past week (August 17-23, 2009) to accept a social statement on sexuality that does not clearly uphold the Scriptural understanding that sexual intercourse belongs within a marriage between one man and one woman; they voted to find ways to bless “publicly accountable, monogamous, same-gender relationships”; and, further, they voted to move in the next few months toward including on the roster of pastors and leaders homosexuals in those same relationships. Close to two-thirds of the Churchwide Assembly (CWA) supported all of these motions and resolutions. Whether that represents the majority of people in the ELCA as a whole is an open question. Clearly, many bishops, pastors, and laity are pleased with the CWA’s actions. Some pastors and people, however, will find it difficult to stay in a church body that officially approves same-sex relationships.
What does this mean for our congregations and the LCMS? It means, first of all, that we will continue to do what we have always done: preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for the sins of all people; deliver His gifts to sinners who know that they are in need of a Savior; hold to the Word of God, first and foremost in the Word-made-flesh, Jesus; and cling to His baptismal promise and His Body and Blood in the Supper for forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith and unity. There is nothing else that can be done in the face of otherwise overwhelming opposition to the clear Word of God delivered to us in the Scriptures.
Many of you will have the opportunity to discuss the disheartening and tragic events of the past week. You may find that there are some members of ELCA congregations who are seeking a new church home and want to know what we teach and confess. You may find some ELCA members who are pleased with the actions of the CWA. You may find yourself questioned by other Christians who want to know whether we have just voted to ordain homosexuals, because they are not familiar with the differences between Lutheran church bodies. All of these are opportunities to clearly confess what Lutherans, and particularly the LCMS, really teach.
The first thing we should remember is that we do not claim the name “Lutheran” because we are disciples of Martin Luther. We are disciples of Jesus Christ, first and always. But since the Roman Catholics in the sixteenth century attempted to dismiss the Evangelicals (Luther’s preferred name for those who agreed with him) with the pejorative “Lutheran,” we have accepted it because we believe that, overall, Luther clearly taught the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not stand up for Luther, but for the Scriptures and Gospel that he taught. We do not endorse or hold to all of Luther’s writings, but we do hold to those that rightly interpret the Scriptures (including the Small Catechism, Large Catechism, and the Smalcald Articles—all found in the Book of Concord, or the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church). If anyone wants to know what we believe and teach, the briefest answer is that we hold to the Holy Scriptures, especially as they have been correctly interpreted by the Lutheran Confessions.
Pr. Timothy Winterstein