Archive for August, 2009

An article in the Vancouver Sun suggests Canadian Aboriginal people are significantly more open to Christianity than might be expected considering the Residential School atrocities. In fact, 2 out of 3 Aboriginals identify themselves as Christian. And 54% of Aboriginal teens say they trust the church and religious leaders. Compare that to the national teen average of 39%.

This news should be cause for some celebration among the faithful. It means that many Aboriginal people are open to the Gospel – if only we would step out of our own comfort zones and bring it to them. I am certain, however, that many upon reading the news story linked above will also notice that the “Christianity” many of these Aboriginals are committed to is unfortunately synchretistic in nature. Many seem content to blend traditional Aboriginal spiritualism with Christianity.

I have no doubt that this synchretism will be the church’s excuse for abdicating its responsibility to Aboriginal people.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that synchretism is in any way acceptable. Jesus Christ is certainly the only Way, Truth and Life. But I am suggesting that, rather than running away from those who practice synchretism, we instead run towards them. We should run towards them with the fullness of the Gospel, to reveal the Truth… to show them what they are missing.

We would do well to learn from the example of Paul who used the opportunities afforded by the faiths of people to introduce the true faith of Jesus Christ. For it was Paul, according to Acts 17:16-32, who used the altars of other faiths, the poets of other faiths, and the religious meeting places of other faiths to introduce Christianity to the Athenians.

Consider Acts 17:16-22:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. They they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you…

Let’s do the same.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s recent actions are forcing many Biblical Lutherans in the denomination to reconsider where their allegiances lie. Already, congregations are making plans to leave ELCA. While some will undoubtedly look to other established churches like LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod)  and, to a lesser extent, WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), others are suggesting a new North American Lutheran church might be in the works. Are Bible-believing ELCA Lutherans about to follow the new Anglican Church of North America’s example? Read the following article written by an ELCA pastor who was a voting member at the recent convention for his thoughts on the subject. The original article appears at Texanglican’s blog.

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.

Minneapolis…there’s something about this city that leads church bodies into temptation, and to abandoning the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

As a “voting member” to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I’ve witnessed firsthand the agony of a faithful, orthodox, minority crying out like a voice in the wilderness. In the same room where the General Convention of TEC voted to part ways with the rest of the Christian church and affirm +VGR, this week the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to “find ways for congregations that choose to do so to recognize lifelong, monogamous [sic], same-sex relationships”, and to ordain and “roster” (i.e. license) such persons as members of the clergy. It was no freak of weather that a tornado hit the convention center during deliberations, and broke the cross off the steeple of the church next door.

My overall feeling, after despair and righteous anger, was that this decision exposes an eschatological flaw in the structure of our “denomination”. The Scriptures, Ecumenical Creeds, writings of the Fathers, Magisterial works of the Reformers, and our Luthearn [sic] Confessions and catechisms in the Book of Concord all bear witness to the Truth, Jesus Christ, at work at present in his Holy Word and Sacraments in the power of the Holy Spirit within the life of the Church. Supposedly this Tradition is the norm of our proclamation, teaching, faith and life. In fact, the “social statement on sexuality” that also passed in Minneapolis, (by 66.6%!) frankly recognized that any vision of sexual relations outside of celibacy in singleness and chastity within marriage would be “in contradiction” and a departure from this lode of teaching and Tradition. The “bound consciences” of congregations, synods, and bishops to disagree with the ministry policy changes, and to retain traditionalist oversight over their own clergy and pastoral practices is enshrined within these changes, but as we know from Richard John Neuhaus, where orthodoxy becomes optional, it will eventually be proscribed.

Unfortunately, as in the case of TEC, this week’s small, supposedly representative deliberative body, became captive to the political designs of postmodernists dedicated to accomodating [sic] culture, appeasing sexual minorities, advocating for a gospel of “inclusiveness”, rejecting classical understandings of Scripture and tradition, and in general played into the wiles of the devil.

These decisions, quite frankly, do not represent the heart of American Lutheranism, which is made up of many different faithful streams, the vast majority of which are Scripture-centered, mere-Christian creedal, sacramental, Eucharist-centered, evangelical/missional, with a unique piety shaped by a classical Western liturgy, strong hymnody, catechisms, devotional Bible study, confession & forgiveness, daily remembrance of Baptism, and a larger social-ministry apparatus than any other U.S. Church.

My guess is about 10% of ELCA congregations, mainly urban, elite, and “progressive” will embrace these changes. The remaining 90% of congregations either see themselves too congregationally to care about this bizarre statement that has no authority under Scripture, or will be outraged at the rejection of the authority of Scripture, and the breaking of communion with our thriving orthodox Lutheran churches in the Global South developing world, our immigrant/migrant ethnic congregations (up until now the fastest growing within the ELCA), and grieve our creating a stumbling block for all Scriptural, Gospel-centered Christians: Protestant, Evangelicals, Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic alike.

Those who opposed these votes vehemently came from 2 particular streams, in ways that I think compare intriguingly to the faithful orthodox who have emerged from TEC into ACNA: the Scripture-centered Evangelical pietist Lutherans, and the evangelical catholic Lutherans; perhaps roughly comparable to the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic parties who now comprise the ACNA.

Scandinavian Pietism, responsible for the vast number of Luthearn [sic] churches through the U.S. East and Midwest, focused on Scripture, discipleship, and holiness of life. The evangelical catholic movement within Lutheranism, particularly as represented by clergy in the Society of the Holy Trinity (STS, similar to SSC), see the Lutheran church more as a reform movement within the Western Church, destined for a relationship with Rome, liturgically maintaining the Western Rite with Gospel-centered proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified.

Lutherans understand God’s Word as always at work in both law and gospel, together. The law kills, exposes sin, convicts of guilt, and declares God’s righteous judgment. The gospel comes as promise, as forgiveness for Christ’s sake, by grace alone without any merit on our part, and as a word that accomplishes in the hearer a new creation in Christ.

Perhaps this Churchwide Assembly and the ELCA as a whole now experiences the “law”, and rightly so. But for those who are faithful at the foot of Christ’s Cross, something new will emerge on the 3rd day.

A gathering of congregations in Indianapolis in September under the oversight of 6 or more retired bishops, seeks a new biblical, confessional, orthodox, missional Lutheran body in North America. Dozens of very large congregations, large swaths of evangelical catholic congregations, scores of rural pietist congregations, long-alienated Canadian congregations, and many African and Asian immigrant congregations will be represented. Do not expect an immediate “leaving” of the ELCA, or individual Synods (Dioceses) to withdraw, but the gradual emergence of a robust and faithful ecclesial substance. There have already been overtures to this group from streams of Christendom that have surprised me. In Christ, the future is bright.

Pray for us, dear readers. Know that under the “accidents” of this week’s actions, the “form” of Christ’s true church will yet be found within the Lutheran witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Ora pro nobis.

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.

The Rev. Ryan Mills, STS


Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Grand Prairie, TXS

The vote is cast. ELCA has voted to approve the ordination of non-celibate homosexual people.

My eyes fail, looking for your promise;
       I say, “When will you comfort me?”

 Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
       for your law is not obeyed.

My harp is tuned to mourning,
and my flute to the sound of wailing.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

“And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ ” (Matthew 13:27-8 ESV)

So there’s just a few weeks left of summer “vacation” (someone needs to explain to me how working all summer to make money for school constitutes a vacation), and that means I’ve been getting back to the books doing research for my English thesis. I’m writing about the 1547 Anglican book Certayne Sermons or Homilies (alternately known as the first book or former book of the Book of Homilies). Put very generally, I’m discussing Archbishop Cranmer’s editorial role in the construction of the book, and how that literary construction reflects the theology he was trying to impart to the masses.

Anywho, I’ve been reading MacCulloch’s massive, detailed work Thomas Cranmer: A Life for research purposes and it got me thinking about the Reformation era. What a thrilling, but dangerous, time it was. Understanding God’s Word became the concern of every citizen. Nations were ripped apart. Men and women died for their beliefs. The visible church was fractured as God and Satan wrestled for control of the institution and, ultimately, for the souls of those within it.

Today, we see much less of that. People do not seem to care about the faith of their family members, friends and acquaintances. Worse, they don’t even seem to know (or care) what theology their own denominations teach. And so the institution of the church marches a slow funeral march to the graveyard. I sometimes feel that the passion of the Reformation is finally dead.

But our God is a God of resurrection! I see the birth of ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) and remember that the Spirit of God is alive and working in the hearts of men. The ideals of the Reformation – sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura – are still present fighting against the spirit of this age.

When we read the Augsburg Confession, we see admissions that “many false Christians, hypocrites, and even open sinners” are mixed with the people in the institution of the church. Likewise, the 39 Articles confess that “in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good.” It’s so easy to get caught up in despair as we see such evil clearly acting in Christian denominations across the globe. But I frequently forget, as do many others, to recognize the other side of the story. Christian churches, despite the presence of evil among them, must always contain those made righteous in the blood of the Lamb. And God, the hidden God, is at work through them to bring truth to light.

“In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV).

And the darkness will never overcome it.

In an update to my last post, I report with a sad heart that ELCA adopted the proposed report on human sexuality on Wednesday. In a vote that required a 2/3 majority, they got exactly that: 2/3. One more vote against and the measure wouldn’t have passed.

But that’s not all that occurred in Minneapolis yesterday. It appears that a tornado just happened to form at just the same time that the session with the vote on the human sexuality report was about to begin.

And it just happens that the tornado moved downtown, oddly enough, right to where the convention is taking place. It fell upon the convention centre’s roof and significantly damaged it. Across the street, Central Lutheran (the church where worship for the convention is taking place) was also struck hard. Here the tornado split the steeple. As you can see in the picture below, taken from John Piper’s blog, the cross of Christ has been left hanging perilously from its previously firm foundation.


The metaphor is poignant: if we remove the church’s Scriptural foundation, on what will the message of grace stand?

Now I don’t think we should go around suggesting that every natural disaster is sent as a specific judgment from God for specific sins. Jesus makes it pretty clear that this kind of thing doesn’t just happen to people who are “worse offenders” than anyone else. It can happen to anyone, anytime because we are all sinners (Luke 13:1-5). But in this case, I think it’s fair to say that if the tornado was just a “coincidence”, it still seems to be a divinely appointed one.

John Piper might, just might, be right in his conclusion about this particular incident: “The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.”

What we can do is praise God that a full 1/3 of the voting members at ELCA’s convention refused to vote in favour of the resolution. However far that church has fallen from its original Lutheran roots, there still appears to be a sizable minority who remain committed to the Word of God as the ultimate authority. Let’s keep them in prayer.


For more pictures of the destruction wreaked by the tornado, view Central Lutheran’s website here.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)[1] begins their convention tomorrow. Among the more contentious (and rightly so) issues on the table are two relating to the church’s stance on homosexuality. Specifically, one revision intends to allow individual congregations to employ homosexual people in committed relationships to serve as clergy. The second is a broad statement on human sexuality which intends to craft a framework for differing views on homosexuality. (See the Associated Press news story).

Like most denominations that are being dragged in an overtly anti-Scriptural direction, there is still a sizable faction within the church who are desperately trying to remain faithful to the historic faith. Specifically in this case, the Coalition for Reform (CORE), a group committed to preserving Biblical authority in the ELCA, is pushing for the new measures to be defeated. (See CAN’s news story).

Let’s add our prayers to their attempts to re-form ELCA into a Bible-centered church. But if the measures should instead pass, let’s pray that God would make His will known to CORE and like-minded Lutherans as they contemplate splitting from the ever-more-liberal ELCA.

Christ-centered Bible-believing Lutherans in ELCA would do well to take a page from evangelical Anglicans who recently have split from the liberal Episcopal Church (USA) and Anglican Church of Canada. Their difficult decision to undergo Reformation as they reaffirm the authority of Scripture is worthy of praise.

[1] I think it’s highly debatable whether the ELCA as a unified whole can continue in good faith to use the terms “Evangelical” or “Lutheran” without drastically changing the meanings of the two words. An abandoning of Scripture-based Gospel-centric teaching doesn’t seem to match up with a denomination originally known for its fealty to Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Scripture Alone.

Ever wonder what youth in the Lutheran church are thinking? Wonder no more. Back in June, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod released the results of a survey they took at their 2007 National Youth Gathering. I’ve gathered a bit of the more interesting results below to consider. Some of it is encouraging. Some is simply concerning.

Personal Faith Life
When asked how much time they spent per week in personal Bible study and devotion, the largest response by far was “very little/almost never.” In fact, 47.6% of 18 year olds, 48.2% of 15 year olds, 51.4% of 16 year olds, 55.5% of 17 year olds and a disheartening 55.5% of 19 year olds checked that category. Another 29.7% to 40.5% chose the next lowest option: 30-60 minutes per week. 6.1% to 10% chose 61-120 minutes while only 1.7% to 4.4% checked more than 2 hours.

25.6% to 33.3% of teens responded they speak to parents/family about God and spiritual matters ‘often’. 41% to 46.8% said ‘sometimes’. 13.3 to 22.7% said ‘rarely’ while 5% to 7% said ‘never’.

Only 52.1% to 58.3% of teens agreed pre-marital sex was always wrong. An encouraging 77% of 15 year olds said they never engaged in sexual intercourse, but that number progressively drops to a dismal 48.3% among 19 year olds.

Only 58.7% to 67.2% were certain that homosexuality was a sin according to God’s Word and therefore wrong.

An encouraging 86.5% to 91.4% responded that they never do drugs. 64.2% to 79.3% insisted they had not once been drunk in the past 12 months.

69.1% to 70.3% believed abortion was definitely wrong and identified themselves as ‘pro-life’. 16.9 to 21.4% believed a woman should have the right to choose and identified themselves as ‘pro-choice’. 

17.3% to 24.9% preferred “traditional, liturgical worship, using hymns pretty much out of a hymnal.” 24.9% to 31.9% preferred “contemporary music with praise band usually singing praise choruses. Never out of a hymnal.” The largest category at 39.9% to 43.4% preferred “a mixture of old and new” while 8.3% to 11% were unsure what they preferred.

On the subject of church fellowship, a disappointing 18.3% to 23.3% believed “all religions are pretty much alike.” 15.3% to 22.3% believed Lutherans should associate only with other Lutherans. 47.8% to 58.3% affirmed belief in a larger catholic understanding of Christian unity.

Church Workers
On the issue of female ordination, 39.8% to 50% believed it was contrary to God’s Word. 21.1% to 30.6% believed the issue should continue to be studied and held up to God’s Word. 8.3% to 14.9% suggested the official LCMS position was definitely wrong, while 15% to 24.2% admitted they just didn’t know.

41.5% to 47.9% were “really not interested” in considering a career in professional church work. Another 18.3% to 23.4% had “never really thought about it.”

Home Congregation
Most teens considered their home congregation generally unwilling to consider any change even if “a good, new idea comes along.” 15.7% to 23.1% felt their home church “wouldn’t change a light bulb if they didn’t have to” while an additional 35.3% to 42.2% felt their home congregation was unsympathetic towards change but that “sometimes they can be convinced.”

Only 17.1% to 23.3% and 5% to 12.1% thought their home congregation was either “good or “excellent, respectively, involving youth in congregational decision making.

That’s just some of the numbers that caught my eye. It’s time to consider results like this to discern where we’re succeeding and where we’re failing, to re-evaluate methods which my be flawed and support methods which may be working.

Plenty to think about and plenty to pray about in any event. Read the full results of the survey at LCMS’ website.