Friday, July 23, 2010

Distinction and Difference

Many years ago I served a small parish in the Catskill Mountains as my first call.  It was a young mission compared to some of the other Lutheran congregations around us (they celebrate its 300th anniversary this year).  One of them was served by a Pastor formerly Missouri Synod and we knew him and his wife well.  So it goes without saying I was interested when I read something about these parishes in the most recent issue of The Lutheran magazine of the ELCA. The Pastors who were there have left and it is clear that pastoral change is not the only change that has taken place.

The article described the observance of No Fossil Fuel Sunday on August 1 -- an event designed "to send a message of accountability to oil companies."  It mentioned three congregations of the ELCA -- three of which I knew (well, used to think I knew).  According to the article, the three congregations (Atonement, Saugerties; St. Paul, West Camp; and Christ (Woodstock) were plan on observing "No Fossil Fuel Sunday" by pledging to use no lights, organ, air conditioning, fans, etc...  Refreshments will be made without electricity (unless made the day before).  They will urge people to carpool and one Pastor is walking 15 miles for the cause.

After living just down the road from these congregations, having been friends with those serving as their Pastors, and thinking I knew them, I do not know what to make of these ELCA congregations.  Have things changed so much in the nearly 18 years we have been gone from New York?  At one point in time, I did not think the gap between these then LCA and my Missouri parish was so great.  Now it seems we are a world apart.

I am not saying we are on opposite political sides; we may well be.  What I am reacting to is making such an observance the agenda for Sunday morning worship.  Surely it represents a distinct and great difference between what a member of the LCMS and a member of these ELCA congregations expect on Sunday morning.  While we might both have a stewardship Sunday asking us to re-examine how we use the resources God has supplied us, this goes beyond stewardship.  In fact, it replaces the proclamation of God's Word and the announcement of His kingdom with current events and trendy politics, substituting an agenda of Word and Sacrament with an ecological viewpoint as if the two were the same.  I confess I do not know what to think.

It is very disconcerting to me and makes me fear for the Lutheranism that wears the ELCA brand.  When local congregations substitute such blatant political posturing for the proclamation of the Gospel, it is no longer possible to assign blame merely to Higgins Road and the headquarters of this church body.  It is as if we no longer speak the same terminology.  What is the Gospel?  When advocacy for or against certain fuels and a green agenda are seen as the equivalent of proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we have almost lost the ability to speak a common language and dialog together about the things that divide us.  Such is not the language of the Confessions and represents the sad betrayal of a once great church body.  I am relieved that I now live a thousand miles away for it would be even harder to watch up close this sad demise.

14 comments:

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

After reading your post, all I can offer is a big "sigh". ELCA congregations are all over the board on just about everything. During my internship, we had a NASCAR themed sermon series. Yes, NASCAR themed sermon series.

I may be completely out of line, but one thing I have noticed is that many pastors, especially those who entered ministry in the 1970s and 1980s, care not one wit about being ministers of Word and Sacrament; rather, being a pastor put them in the best position to advance their own personal agendas. It was a way for them to extend their youth and make a legitimate career out of being nonconformists, which I think has greatly contributed to the ELCA's current state of affairs.

There are still ELCA congregations and leaders, however, who just put their heads down and move forward.

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

I should add: The NASCAR themed sermon series was not my idea. I learned quite a bit about what not to do on internship.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

My grandmother's congregation is an ELCA congregation. I remember going there when I was young - say 1985. The difference just 15 years later in 2000 when I started at Fort Wayne was marked and sad -- I think by now they may be asking questions - you know, the whole "What does this mean" sort of thing. But we will see.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

It is quite painful when you have friends and family in (formerly ALC/LCA) ELCA congregations and you see the steady shift. The handwriting on the wall for me was when my neice was telling me about being taught Lutheran 'tradition' (meaning the Catechism) in confirmation class. Fifteen years ago one of the key elements of Lutheran Confession was treated and taught as tradition, meaning take it or leave it.
On a good day you'll see that the teachings of Rudolf Bultmann are alive and well. And on a bad day you'll see pop culture has the real stranglehold on this church. The faithful are still there, encourage them and keep praying for them. The last think I'd want is to come across as saying is that they're sinners and we're not, or that they have problems and we don't.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there are little evidences that go back many decades that suggest the LCMS is headed down the same track as the ELCA, albeit a few boxcars farther back...

Anonymous said...

Fine "A carbon neutral Sunday" is easy to mock and claim politics replace the Gospel. How about LCMS Sundays that honor those who serve in the military. People who rightly should be honored. But in worship? Is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
The speck in another's eye, always seems larger than the log in our own.
ELCA pastor who seeks to preach The Gospel. :)

robinwoodchurch said...

Identity is going through a kaleidoscope this generation.

Branding used to be supplied by the denomination--but then, through mergers, they became too big and diverse to maintain a unified branding.

We've had to come up with brandings at the congregational level because of this vacuum. And these brandings are often mutually exclusive within the same faith family.

Dittos to the "sigh" by Lutheran Desert Rat above.

Check out the essays I write on this stuff: http://robinwoodchurch.wordpress.com

Some of my essays on Lutheranism have been downloaded well into 5 figures.

Pastor Peters said...

It is one thing to remember the military in prayer and to honor their service outside the Divine Service, which we do here; I would condemn a mixed message when the Divine Service is about those in military service as well...

Anonymous said...

don't hurt your arm patting yourself on the back, robinwood

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Re: "ELCA pastor who seeks to preach The Gospel. :)"

The Lord be you,

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

^ reverting back to my native tongue of dyslexia again... That should say "The Lord BE with you."

AGGGh

Thinking Preacher said...

Alas for those congregations who hear not the Gospel and taste not the sacraments! Alas also, for those congregations without preachers willing to turn loose law and gospel, and do so in ways that touch real dirt in real lives.

I would not limit bafoonery and poor leadership to ELCA Lutherans, nor would I restrict arrogance to conservative dissenters. Have a care please! To use a phrase like "The ELCA" is to assume homogeneity that is simply not accurate. ELCA congregations have no pope, so diversity is common- but know that "THE GOSPEL" is center in most ELCA congregations, as it is in most ELS, WELS, ELC LCMS and the "new" Lutheran denominations.

If we're going to believe in eternal life, it's going to be a long drag when we get there if we don't start using kinder words today.

Let's pray that the Spirit do some stirring in all of our churches!

Pastor Peters said...

But I do not think I targeted the ELCA unfairly... I spoke out of love for the ELCA that was resident in 3 congregations whom I knew very well for a long time... I spoke of the ELCA that is Higgins Road which even folks within the ELCA often identify as more of the problem than solution... and I spoke of the ELCA that is the CWA and their actions of a year ago...

BTW I am harder on Missouri than I am on the ELCA...

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

I did not take your comments as "targeting" the ELCA and I hope that mine did not come across as accusing you of doing so. I'm an ELCA pastor and there is much for which to be grateful in the ELCA and many faithful congregations and synods; however, it does not change the fact that the three "expressions" of the ELCA have significantly and potentially fatal dysfunctions that is going to lead to profound changes.