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It's Not About Homosexuality--Not Really

by Paul R. Hinlicky — April 14, 2009

It is not only, or perhaps even primarily, about homosexuality. My whimsical lament “I Think I Want a Divorce” got quite an echo in “this church”; apparently, the bone-deep disenchantment articulated in the piece has been building up among theologically serious Christians in the ELCA for many reasons for a long time. Slowly we are waking up to reality. The truth is that Luther is being overshadowed by Zwingli, so to say; plainly put, homosexuality is being used as a wedge issue by the religious Left. This wedge works for several reasons...

It is not only, or perhaps even primarily, about homosexuality. My whimsical lament “I Think I Want a Divorce” got quite an echo in “this church”; apparently, the bone-deep disenchantment articulated in the piece has been building up among theologically serious Christians in the ELCA for many reasons for a long time. Slowly we are waking up to reality. The truth is that Luther is being overshadowed by Zwingli, so to say; plainly put, homosexuality is being used as a wedge issue by the religious Left. This wedge works for several reasons.

First, homosexuals form a vulnerable sexual minority that has suffered from ignorance and the soft persecution of social stigmatization. If we have a shred of human decency, not to say Christian love, our hearts go out to these underdogs.

Second, pastors especially have learned in the confessional of the struggles, the loneliness, and the pain of homosexual persons, and their hearts ache for them.

Third, Christians who are gay or lesbian ask for the same rite of marriage as offered to heterosexuals, recognizing their attempt to live in a relation of lifelong mutual commitment, and holding them publicly accountable to it. What decent soul would refuse? Only ignorance, it seems, which thinks that this disorder is a matter of choice, or bigotry, which has not worked through a crude emotional revulsion at a sexual attraction opposite one’s own, would say No.

So it seems. For just such reasons I freely confess how uncomfortable it makes me to have to take a stand here. I am being wedged right where it hurts.

And if you too, dear fellow pastor, think in this way I have just described, I’ve got news for you. You are being bamboozled. This issue, constructed this way, has been forced upon us by the religious Left. They, not homosexual persons, are our opponents in this controversy. And what seems to be the case is not really the case. In fact, we are being asked by them to act in a profoundly divisive and unpastoral way on what is essentially a burning question of pastoral care—that is, on a matter that pastors ought to be deliberating and deciding—had not the ELCA at its formation abolished the ministerium and turned theology over to selectively appointed commissions, sure to do the bidding of those who appoint them.

Now the chickens come home to roost. If the ELCA does what the present recommendations suggest in August, it signals the theological end of “this church” and therewith the very possibility of meaningful pastoral practice and care, if by “pastoral” we mean applying the wisdom from the Bible to the life of sheep for whom the Shepherd died by those called to co-shepherd with and under Him as pastors.

Now let’s take a closer look and see.

Chapters 2 and 3 of the Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America contain its confession of faith and a further statement on the nature of the church. You can download the text from the ELCA website and read it for yourself. I quote from this text in italics and then compare and contrast, item by item.

2.01. This church confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

In the church in which I was ordained, in the church in which I will worship after August, this bold confession and public praise of the Triune God is the free, joyful, and unanimous act of those assembled by the gospel. But in “this church,” confessing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has already become an increasingly begrudged option. With the adoption of the new hymnal—a project that was never subjected to doctrinal review—unconscionable and unjustified revisions in the language of the creeds, the Psalms, and hymn texts were made. You can bet that, given the ELCA’s inclusiveness policies, that if the Social Statement, including Position Number Four, is adopted, it will be open season on the gospel’s name of God. Why?

The Fourth Position recognizes as legitimate the teaching that homosexuality is a good creation of God, that such relationships ought to be blessed with the blessing of God, and that persons in such relationships should be admitted to official ministries. If we permit that teaching and still read the Bible with a straight face, or claim to be trinitiarians in claiming that the Scriptures speak in this way of God, then we are also saying that anything in the Bible can be reread and rewritten to say whatever anyone wants it to say—and then solemnly pronounced a legitimate option. Chief among the things the religious Left wants to say is that we construct names for God out of our own experience. That “enthusiasm” is the deeper reason why the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions have to be robbed of their formative power in theology and neutralized in the life of “this church.” Homosexuality represents a perfect opportunity.

2.02.b. The proclamation of God’s message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The church which bears the name of Luther bears it truthfully when it teaches, as Luther taught, that “the true people of God are those who bring to bear the judgment of the cross on themselves.” One would never know from the Social Statement that the Bible contains a sharp word of judgment based upon God’s revealed Law protecting marriage and the family against any and all sins in the arena of sexuality, chiefly heterosexual sins like fornication, adultery, and divorce, but also homosexual relations. Far from pastoral care speaking God’s Word of judgment and mercy, the Social Statement offers nothing but a so-called “ethics of responsibility” in which consenting adults can do as they please so long as they don’t hurt anyone else. That’s understandable, perhaps, as a very minimal standard in secular, liberal society, but it is a cataclysmic fall from New Testament exhortation, the preaching of the prophets and the law of Moses, which our Lord does not slacken but rather radicalizes. You can bet that the progression towards antinomianism in the ELCA will proceed apace with the adoption of this Social Statement, just as the religious Left wants a church in which the Ten Commandments, let alone Luther’s exposition of them, disappears so that there is no ethical tension at all between being a good secular liberal and being a true Christian. Once again, homosexuality presents the perfect occasion for a much grander transformation.

2.02.c. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.

The Social Statement does not shrink from attacking canonical Scripture and Luther’s belief that God speaks through the plain sense of the canonical text. It disowns this “sola scriptura” teaching, just as the religious Left regularly attacks as “fundamentalism” any position serious about the Bible’s teaching as binding doctrine normative for the life of the church. But the new enthusiasts think that when the ELCA is gathered in assembly, God’s Spirit speaks to them to create and sustain a new Christianity that overrules the written Word of God.

2.03. This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.

But the Social Statement does not take the notable texts of Genesis 1:26-28 and our Lord’s invocation of this text in Mark 10:2-12 as the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life in the arena of sex, marriage and family life; it rather ignores their weight and force entirely. The reason is obvious: homosexuality would not be able to serve as the pretext for a brand new “Christianity,” if we took up such weighty texts. I ask: as a matter of integrity, for heaven’s sake, what does the name “Lutheran” mean theologically if not that we want to belong to a church that is pleased and delighted to receive the Scriptures, for which theology is the work of making their teaching alive and instructive for us today—not doing intellectual somersaults to avoid the plain sense meaning of Scripture and replace it with something manifestly the opposite of what it teaches? If this Social Statement is adopted as it stands, the next resolution I intend to submit is that the ELCA delete the words “evangelical” and “Lutheran” from its name.

2.05. This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledging as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. 

But the Social Statement utterly ignores the Reformation-era controversies regarding monastic vows and the theology of marriage that the Reformers developed out of the Holy Scriptures and professed in the Augsburg Confession in the light of the gospel. One of the most important social consequences of the Reformation gospel is therefore ignored as an embarrassment and left behind as an impediment to the sexual liberation intended for us by the religious Left. I am just waiting for some fool to argue that, as Luther insisted against monastic vows that sexual desire implanted by God cannot be denied, so also homosexual desire cannot be denied. I am just waiting, as I said, for some fool to try that silly piece of reasoning. It overlooks the central issue in contention in this controversy, whether God has created and blessed homosexual desire, or whether such desire is a deformation of God’s good creation. Well, let’s be merciful. Cogent reasoning has never been the strength of the religious Left, which looks instead for emotional symbols to serve as pretexts to fool people.

3.01. All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this church are to be carried out under his rule and authority.

One looks in vain for this Spirit of Jesus Christ in these documents, let alone a procedure which would reflect the lordship of Christ in any meaningful way. On the contrary, the Social Statement never even thinks to say that the church (even “this church”) does not belong to me or to you or even to all of us together, but to Jesus Christ: “with His own blood he bought her and for her life He died.” Instead, the Social Statement and the processes informing it proceed as if the church belongs to us, so that we can turn it into whatever we want, as supposedly led by the “Spirit” apart from the external word and news of the gospel of Christ’s redeeming lordship as authoritatively witnessed to in Scripture. The rule of Christ and His authority in His church are thus mocked in action, reduced to nothing but pious window-dressing for moving “this church” in the way its elite in the religious Left want it to go, not according to the will of its one and only Lord, whom we are to hear and obey in life and in death.

3.02. The Church exists both as an inclusive fellowship and as local congregations gathered for worship and Christian service. Congregations find their fulfillment in the universal community of the Church, and the universal Church exists in and through congregations. This church, therefore, derives its character and powers both from the sanction and representation of its congregations and from its inherent nature as an expression of the broader fellowship of the faithful. In length, it acknowledges itself to be in the historic continuity of the communion of saints; in breadth, it expresses the fellowship of believers and congregations in our day.

But members of the commission who drafted the Social Statement were instructed not to represent their own congregations, nor to think their own theological thoughts, nor to argue for the truth that binds us together in love on the basis of canon, creed, and confession. All this was disallowed and instead they were instructed to seek institutional consensus. We have this on the express witness of task force member Marit Trelstad in her posted comments on this website in response to the statement of the three task force members behind Dissenting Position #1. Likewise, at the assembly in August, the delegates will be instructed that they are not representatives of their congregations and synods but constitute some unique and historic expression of God’s will for these sacred ten days in which they will be led by the Spirit to throw historic continuity with the church through the ages out the window. Never were the task force members asked, nor will the assembly delegates be asked, to preserve, protect, and defend the broader fellowship of the faithful.

What we have just seen, point by point, in reviewing the present proposals vis-à-vis the ELCA’s own confession of faith and ecclesiology, is that what is at stake in this vote in August is not the pastoral treatment of homosexuality, but a theological coup d’etat by the religious Left. Homosexuality is just the catalyst of a profounder division that already runs through “this church.”

If anything, homosexuality is being used as a wedge issue by the theological Left. Our problem in turn is not so much with a decent and Christian acceptance in the church of homosexual persons, like all the rest of us, with concrete issues, with brokenness, in penitence and humility. The real issue is the theological makeover of Lutheranism that is occurring in the process: the allergy to the divine name of the God of the gospel, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the liturgical life of “this church”; the open attack on the authority of the canonical Scripture as the source and norm of faith and life; the abandonment of the historical mission of the Lutheran confessional movement to advocate and advance the reform of the Western Church (i.e. Roman Catholicism) and to unify other Protestants in this cause; the shift towards “enthusiasm” in theology under the pretext of “contextual” exegesis; the snide vilification of the Great Tradition as well as of the Lutheran heritage; the abandonment of evangelical mission overseas to call to faith in Jesus Christ, as well as its minimizing at home…

I could go on, sadly, for pages. You get the picture. Behind all of this must we not see the loss of confidence in Jesus Christ as given to us in the Holy Scripture in the Holy Church by the Holy Spirit as our identity and mission in the world? In its place, must we not see the rhetoric of Lutheranism being dishonestly employed to pursue a kind of Christianity, which honestly goes by the historical name of liberal Protestantism? I wish such revisionists of the theological Left would have the spiritual integrity and intellectual honesty to recognize their lineage in Zwingli rather than in Luther and move on, whether to the high-church Episcopal Church or the low-church UCC, both of them hemorrhaging members even faster than the ELCA. But they won’t. They want the property and name of the ELCA, and don’t seem to care what damage they do to the rest of us in the process.

We have just looked and seen. These proposals are a pretext for the systematic and massive dismantling of the ELCA’s doctrinal commitments to Scripture, creed, and confession in order to advance the agenda of the religious Left. It won’t stop with blessing homosexuality. To fail to see this is to stick one’s head in the sand, in the deluded hope of saving the ELCA institutionally, while the heart and soul of “this church” in the Word of God and Luther’s doctrine is being sacrificed on the pretext of compassion for homosexuals. In fact, homosexuals are being used by the religious Left, among other things in not being challenged by genuine pastoral care to acknowledge with the rest of us their own specific form of brokenness.

From the ruins that may follow after August, we should want to belong to a church in which those trained in Lutheran and ecumenical theology, and who have earned the pastoral trust of their congregations, will deliberate theological issues on the basis of canon, creed, and confession as the norms by which faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His gospel are discerned. What we desperately need in our church of the Reformation, “without emperor or pope,” is the re-establishment of a ministerium pledged to our binding confessions, since these persons bear the office and evangelical authority to judge questions of doctrine. We need as well the confirmation of the people of God, representing congregations that are the local form of the church, in a lay synod of people who know that they are not to heed the voice of a stranger but only that of the Good Shepherd.

Out of this crisis foisted upon us by the religious Left, we who are faithful to God’s Word and Luther’s doctrine need to abolish the broken, manipulated, expensive, demoralizing governance which has brought the ELCA, half-a-million members less in its twenty brief years, to this brink of irreparable damage, and to replace it with a serious church of Lutheran conviction in but not of this society in service to the world and the ecumenical Church.

Paul R. Hinlicky is the Tice Professor in Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.


Posted by Jeffrey at April 14, 2009 11:35
Amen Brother Hinlicky. You said, "With the adoption of the new hymnal—a project that was never subjected to doctrinal review—unconscionable and unjustified revisions in the language of the creeds, the Psalms, and hymn texts were made." When I served on our local ELCA church council, we were discussing the issue of homosexuality. The change in the hymnal you speak of had just been adopted. I spoke of this as being the straw that broke the camel's back for me. Ultimately, our church left the ELCA over the decision a couple of years ago to ban the discipline of non-celebate gay pastors. The logic went like this: our Pastor could have been disciplined for something like an adulturous affair, but not for a gay adulturous affair.


Posted by Rik at April 14, 2009 17:40
Thank you, Pastor Hinlicky! Thank you for not being afraid to tell it like it is, out of true pastoral concern for the souls our Lord ransomed with His precious blood. May God's real Spirit help those in the ELCA, especially at this time.


Posted by Richard Davis at April 14, 2009 20:21
Prof. Hinlicky,
As a laymen following this subject for the last 15 years, I really appreciate your distillation of this issue. I agree that this is not about homosexuality at all. It is about whether this church will continue to align itself with what it 'thinks God Thinks'. Those promoting these changes have consistenly taken a veiled amoral stance careful to avoid clearly stating their opinion that homosexual relationship is God's Will and therefore Good. People can disagree with what they think God thinks on this issue. I have read and studied every word of the last three statements over the last 15 years. Those seeking to normalize homosexual relationship never say it is God's Will. The issue then, as you say is not about homosexuality at all. It is about God and the sincerity with which we try to align our thoughts and actions with His.
I was surprised then to read you say in your recent essay: "The Fourth Position recognizes as legitimate the teaching that homosexuality is a good creation of God,....". I have never seen that stated explictly. Can you briefly elaborate on that essential issue? Thanks

What Did the Drafter's Intend???

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 14, 2009 21:14
You are of course right that Position Number Four is stated with reserve. Lines 661ff read as follows:
"On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does
not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience
today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender
relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the
same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround
such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God,
find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same
gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their
children and other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability available for their
Can we unpack what is being affirmed here by the subtle difference from Position Number Three, as in Lines 653ff:
"On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does
not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships
that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served
when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high standards and public
accountability, but they do not equate these relationships with marriage. They do, however,
affirm the need for community support and the role of pastoral care, and may wish to
surround lifelong monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer."
Thus the slightest difference between the 3rd and 4th positions, left unexplained, is that Position Number Three does not call same-sex union "marriage." The volatile word, "blessing," is avoided in both cases, as is the explicit affirmation that homosexuality is the good creature of God, which is what must be said about marriage.
But what are we to infer from the fact that both Positions Number 4 and 3 are substantively differentiated from Position Number 2 (which is the right teaching to draw from Scripture in the present controversy), which reads as follows:
"...that homosexuality and even
lifelong, monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken world in which some
relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended. While they
acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with mutuality and care, they do not
believe that the neighbor or community are best served by publicly recognizing such
relationships as traditional marriage."
So, true, the manipulative drafters avoided the buzz-words that would have drawn fire, and hide behind an uncandid form of language. As I had written, "Sweet talk, smooth talk, slick talk, it’s abusive all the same." But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if 3 and 4 affirm what 2 denies, this can only mean that same-sex unions do pattern themselves after the creation that God intends.
If this is what Positions 3 and 4 hold that "God intends" then we simply have a church-dividing conflict, since I do not know the God who intends this, as they must not know the God who, according to Position 2, will something else as good for His creature. If this is not what Positions 3 and 4 hold, the document is so badly and ambiguously written that it ought to be withdrawn from consideration and its drafts instructed to state candidly what they believe, teach and confess on the basis of the Word of God.


Posted by Richard Davis at April 14, 2009 22:36
Prof Hinlicky,
Thanks for the clarification. I made my original comments to the draft Statement dated March 2008 which required comments due by 11/1/2008. My actual comments were dated 10/15/08.
---After I made my above entry on your essay but before I read your response to that, I went to the ELCA website and pulled up the latest version of the Draft Statement to see if explicit statement of God's Opinion had been added since I commented in Oct 08. I noticed that these 4 paragraphs which you call 'positions' seem to have been added after the 11/1/08 general comment deadline.
Interestingly, the first two positions unashamedly and explicitly mention God's opinion;
ie Position One mentions 'Natural Law' and Position Two mentions 'the Creation God Intended'. Position 3 and 4 do not explicitly mention His Opinion but only repeat the lame contention in the March 2008 Draft Statement that love of neighbor means we should support anything our neighbor may think he needs or wants.
It is very interesting to me that they continue to resist explicitly stating their belief that they think homosexual relationship is Good and is God's Will.--and I think this is the crux of the matter distilled to its essence--I think the reason they resist explicitly saying so is that they know that homosexual relationship is not God's Will and know that they are replacing God's opinion with their own. I think it is important at every turn to demand they clearly state, as opposed to imply, that they believe that homosexual relationship is Good and is God's Will. (In a similar fashion for instance to that done in Positions 1 & 2)---------------
(I noted the evolution of their strategy in one of my many comments to the draft study:
"This draft should address the specific scriptures which say that homosexuality is Not God’s Will and Not Good in His sight such as Jesus validation of God’s Genesis relationship plan for one man and one woman.
Rationale: A little history is useful here. Your last attempt to enact these two positions on homosexuality in the church provided a sexual statement that did in fact go into much scriptural detail of prohibitions of homosexual relationship in the bible. You tried your best to twist and undermine this scripture but were of course ultimately unsuccessful. Interestingly, you made no attempt in that previous statement that homosexual relationship was God’s Will and Good in His sight. (Making a case in the previous statement that God “wasn’t against” these relationships is of course not the same thing as a case that He is “for” them, His Will, and Good in His sight) Your new and improved strategy with this 2008 statement is to not so cleverly add an implication that these relationships are Gods Will and good but leaving no time to address such a contention while at the same time omitting those pesky prohibitions which say they are Not His Will. Quite an improvement. You must be so proud.)

It's Not About Homosexuality

Posted by Rik at April 15, 2009 22:05
No, It's not about homosexuality. The turbulence in the church is about how a church responds to what God says in the Holy Scriptures. It's about which foundation a church has built its teachings upon: the Solid Rock of God's Word...or instead, the swiftly shifting sands of society. For those in the church who are truly believers, their is an inner desire to hear the third use of the law (as a guide) so we can strive to do that which pleases God out of thankfulness for all He's done for us. It's as natural as a tree bearing fruit, as the power comes from Him. And, of course, this third use of the law has nothing to do at all with salvation, as it concerns only those already saved.
There is a book which really helped my wife and I when we left the ELCA: WHAT'S GOING ON AMONG THE LUTHERANS! A COMPARISON OF BELIEFS by Patsy A. Leppien and J. Kincaid Smith (1992 Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee WI). Because it is a book which is hard to put down, my wife and I both had bookmarks in it, and took turns reading it. It is definately eye-opening, although she wanted to throw the book across the backyard after learning what had been going on in her beloved denomination. While it does not deal with today's issues directly, it gets at the roots, how the ELCA got to where it is today, and deals with American Lutheranism as a whole--not only the ELCA.

Reply to Rik

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 16, 2009 17:24
Rik, please stop using my blog posts as opportunity for propaganda on behalf of hyperconservative Lutheran sects. I appreciate your own seriousness, and your hunger for solid Lutheran and biblical theology, food for the mind as well as the soul. But I have repeatedly made the point back to you that these circled-wagon, us against the rest of Christianity groups, with their failure in principle to deal with the real questions and problems of our own day and age, are no solution to our problems, but part of the problem. If you have something to add to the argument being made in the ELCA today, please join in, in the spirit of trying to admonish and persuade confused sisters and brothers. If you just want self-righteously to use the ELCA's troubles to proselytize for these sectarian conventicles that won't admit others to the Lord's Table, ordain women, or read the Bible with the best scholarly tools, and can only attack and condemn others who, however confused, seek to love a vulnerable sexual morality, rather than engage them as the fellow redeemed, then please do not do so on my account.

Correction, again

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 16, 2009 17:27
Once again, that should read 'vulnerable sexual minority." Perhaps this Freudian slip indicates that deep down I think that those who hold to the tradition of "faithful in marraige, celebate in singleness" are the real, vulnerable sexual minority!

Absolutely Amazing!

Posted by Rik at April 16, 2009 22:40
Professor Paul Hinlicky, I take great offense from your reply. Here at LF, in the section called "About Us" it states "Lutheran Forum is an independent theological quarterly for clergy and laity. Our authors belong to the ELCA and LCMS, as well as Lutheran church bodies across the world...Throughout its history, LF has pursued and pondered American Lutheran church unity, while commenting on and critiquing the state of the church." This intro to LF does not claim to exclude other Lutheran voices from its forum. For someone who wishes to pursue unity, in my opinion, you certainly have a strange way of approaching it! You desire the unity Jesus prayed for, and then turn around and insult churches by calling them "hyperconservative Lutheran sects." You show your ignorance of these churches by claiming their so-called "failure in principle to deal with the real questions and problems of our own day and age" yet I know first hand that this is simply not true. You are probably aware of a song with the words "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." By labeling other church bodies "part of the problem", you show me your unwillingness to work towards mutual love and respect if it has to begin with you. Labeling another part of the Body of Christ an enemy does not show that you care for the Spirit to bring God's church to unity. I cannot comprehend why you are leveling charges against me for allegedly using your "blog posts as opportunity for propaganda on behalf of hyperconservative Lutheran sects." Do you deny your loaded words? I do not proselytize for any group, and I am absolutely amazed you would acuse me of such. The book I referred to above was written by a woman who taught Sunday School and adult Bible studies in an ALC church. Since when was the ALC "hyperconservative." It is a desperate approach to resort to labeling and name-calling. The co-author of the book graduated from the LCA's Hamma School of Theology in Springfield, Ohio. And yet, because you disagree with some of their present views, you write them off as "part of the problem." Well, excuse me, Mr. Professor, but there is no propaganda here, as you call it. If you disagree with the substance of the book, constructive criticism is more helpful than personal attacks. You seem to judge me by calling me "self-righteous", yet I have tried to express my humility and expose my heart in my previous posts. You wrote a provocative article entitled "I Think I Want A Divorce." In your "Reply to Rik - Again" (3/31/09) you wrote, "But from the foregoing paragraph it is already clear that I want to be a lot more cautious than you, apparently, in making judgments." I do not mean to take this out of context (hence the documentation) yet you seem to have no difficulties in making judgements aimed at me. Does this bring healing to the Body of Christ?" Perhaps I was naive to think that LF was seeking to be non-sectarian, but by claiming to want to discover the church our Lord intended and then slamming the door in the face of brothers and sisters in Christ who have different thoughts than yours seems to approach self righteousness in my book. Whichever "sects" you are referring to, the LCMS also does not ordain women, practices close communion, and objects to the Historical Critical Method. Do you label the LCMS a sect as well? If your writing is representative of what LF wants in its writings, then perhaps it should narrow its scope to only those currently active in the ELCA. Then it won't have to worry about dealing with other Lutherans, supposing they can only attack and condemn others. If you are willing to dialog with other serious Lutherans who love their Savior and those for whom our Savior died (and Rose!), I am interested in following the discussion. But might I request that the forum be conducted with respect and not suspicion laced with anger? -doulos tou Theou.

Not Amazing at All

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 17, 2009 04:39
Dear Rik,
Well, that was quite an outburst.
First, I speak for myself, not Lutheran Forum, and the ample space given to you on these pages is more than enough evidence that Lutheran Forum includes your voice.
Second, I speak for myself as a pastor of the ELCA facing a difficult problem. Can it surprise you that I don't find it at all helpful for those outside the ELCA to appear to take advantage of its troubles to proselytize?
Third, there is no way that those in what I called "hyperconservatice Lutheran sects" can become part of the solution to the problem we all face until they own up their share of the sin and misery of the broken and bleeding body of Christ. If I am willing to call the ELCA out on its looming heterodoxy, I have to be equally willing to call out the LCMS and other lesser bodies on their apparent sectarianism and obscurantism in theology and sheer resistance to social change.
Fourth, my request was addressed to you personally, who has taken up lots of space again and again to make the same point over and over again, that you found refuge from the ELCA elsewhere. Point granted as a personal fact about your biography. Let's move on.
Fifth, I reiterate my original point. Anyone who dishes out criticism has to be willing to get it back. Your present outburst is pretty thin-skinned. Get a grip. We are all adults here. I said I appreciate your seriousness,not your repetitiveness. And I told you the truth and made a request. Don't use my blog posts as an opportunity to pursue your agenda, rather than mine. I don't like being used.


Posted by Mike Keith at April 23, 2009 03:52

Pastor Hinlicky I appreciate the two posts of yours I have read thus far (this one and "I Think I Want a Divorce). Though, I remain somewhat confused. I posted a question on "I Think I Want a Divorce" but there has been no response - though that is understandable since it is an old post. I pray that you take my questions and statements as sincere (they are) and not as an attack. I am truly confused by your line of argumentation and reasoning. I seek to better understand. On the previous post (I Think I Want a Divorce) I posted this response:

"Thank you for this article. It was insightful. However, I find myself curious... you are contemplating "divorce" (a most apt metaphor indeed) over the issue of homosexuality. You note that this is a break with Scripture and the historic practice of the Church. Indeed, this is most certainly true. Yet, in a response to another comment made by another reader you mention you will not go anywhere where ordained women cannot go with you. I am confused. How is it that the arguments you make against homosexuality are not applicable in the case of women's ordination?"

I find your response to Rik equally confusing. You balk at the issue of homosexuality but readily accept the deviation from the Church's historic practice of closed communion and the ordination of women. Though I may be one from among the "circled wagon" types I truly find it hard to understand how the ELCA and other church bodies who have demonstrably deviated from the historic practice of the Church are not, in fact, sectarian? Is that not what sectarian means? How is it that the church bodies that are in line with the historic practice of the Church sectarian?

Also, I have always struggled to understand the term "hyper" when applied to such terms as "conservative" or "confessional." What does this mean? It seems to me that you represent a "conservative" position within the ELCA - so is it if someone is viewed as more "conservative" than you they are "hyperconservative?" Why is this necessarily a bad thing - as you seem to imply?

I look forward to reading your response as I am most sincerely curious and I can only hope my questions are clear.

Reply to Mike Keith

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 23, 2009 19:15
Thank you for these questions, Mike, I will do my best to answer your clear questions clearly and charitably. If I fall short, please give me the benefit of a doubt.
My first post, "I Think I Want a Divorce," as I acknowledged at the end, was a whimsical way of expressing dismay to the revisionist elite in the ELCA about the damage they have done to the soul of our union. The love has died, even if we stick to the marriage for the sake of the kids. I am going to stay, and fight, on the grounds of my second post, "It's Not about Homosexuality -- Not Really," because de jure the Statement of Faith is on the side of the ecumenical tradition here, and against the revisionists. Fore the foreseeable future, that in principle is worthy staying and fighting for.
There is also a biographical factor. I was part of the old AELC and the first wave of students to go to Seminex. What I learned from that miserable expereince is that cracking up a church body accomplishes nothing but to hand victory to the bad guys and turn the victims into self-righteous fanatics who won't let go. I won't repeat that behavior.
Now, as to the substance of the matter, the ELCA is not wrong to look for a better, more faithful and pastoral and evangelical way to minister to those Christians who must bear the cross of same-sex attraction, and it must have the courage of its Lutheran convictions about Christian freedom to recognize this reality and deal with it compassionately, knowing that not all our brokenness can be healed in this life.
Nor was the ELCA wrong to cease turning away from ordained service to Word and Sacrament baptised women who presented themselves in the conviction of the Lord's calling, even though a proper theology was never articulated for this innovation in the life of the church, tragically leaving that task to very questionable forms of theological feminism. But here too a Lutheran argument about Christian freedom was ready to hand, and I dare say, I made it recently in Lutheran Forum. In any case, I both acknowledge the ecumenical questionableness of the ordination of women and cast my lot with ordained women in this questionableness. I won't leave the ELCA for a church body where ordained women cannot also go.
I expressed on other blog posts why I regard the LCMS etc as guilty of hyperconservatism and sectarianism when I scolded a commentator for gloating over the ELCA's troubles. By hyperconservatism, or circling the wagons, I mean a use of the Bible and Confessions to go back to some imaginary golden past rather than to go forward in engagement with the life and times in which we live, under the conviction that social change proceeds not only under the ceaseless provocation of the Evil One, but all the more under the gracious and over-ruling hand of our heavenly Father.
The reason for resistance to the blessing of homosexuality, then, is not simply because it breaks with the traditional consensus, though this is a weighty consideration, but because on examination it is a condition that we cannot bless as the creation of God, for the purposes of God, as made known in Gen. 1:26-28 and Mark 10:2-14 et. al. It is rather something disordered (not sinful), and we need to work on this in order really to help. It is a false gospel, which does not help, to bless homosexuality as God's creation. Indeed, the many gay and lesbian persons I have counseled over the years are the first to acknowledge their bone-deep sense of affliction, and eager to hear, not that they are blessed, but that they are loved and affirmed as they are, affliciton and all.
The question of the ordination of women is unlike this in principle, not only because there are NT examples of women in teaching authority, but because the office of ordination developed in second century Christianity. Here we are dealing with a question that is in the church's competence, with what seems good to us and the Holy Spirit. And when we ask about what seems good, in this case it is about competence, not behavior, as in regard to homosexuality (since the church has always ordained those of same-sex attraction under the promise of celibacy).
When the LCMS etc show that they are not sectarian by earnest engagement in ecumenical dialogue, say, with Eastern Orthodoxy, or the Christian Reformed Church, I will gladly withdraw the accusation. My fear is that deep down LCMSers still think that they are the 'true visible Church on earth' as Walther once claimed. The absurdity of this claim vies with its arrogance. My contention is that anyone is a sectarian who does not realize that in the divided state none of us are whole, all of us are broken, none is 'orthodox.'

The Reply

Posted by Mike Keith at April 23, 2009 23:24
Greetings again Pastor Hinlicky,

I am most thankful for your response and it has given me much to think about. Particulalry your closing contention. I enjoy being challenged into thinking I appreciate a good, civil, charitable discussion. Your response was all of that.

I seek some clarification. From your response I gather it is your position that the Office of the Ministry is an office created by the Church? So, therefore, it falls under the category of Christian freedom. If it seems good to the Church to do this or that the Church is free to do so? Is that what you are saying regarding the Office of the Ministry? I shoudl say free to do so in areas where the Lord has not spoken? In principle I would agree with regard to Christian freedom - where I would disagree is that the Office of the Ministry is a creation of the Church and not an institution of the Lord. Perhaps, in the end, that is the difference and where the difference of practice in ordination of women truly lies?

I appreciate your explanation of "hyperconservatism." Certainly some would be guilty of this - likely I am also. I wonder if your interpretation of people wanting to go back to an imaginary "golden past" is, at least in some cases, more a desire to maintain that which has been handed down? Is this not also a consideration? I certainly agree that any "gloating" over another church body's difficulties in sadly unaceptable - one only need take a look in the mirror to cease such gloating I should think. The mirror into which I look stops my lips from gloating (hopefully anyway).

Your statement: "none is orthodox" is most intriguing. As I mentioned I must give more thought to it. Would you then claim that the Roman church and the Eastern Orthodox are also sectarian since they both claim to be orthodox?

Again, thank you kindly for taking the time to respond to my numerous questions and for doing so in a charitable manner. Should you have the time, I look forward to another response. God's peace!

Reply to Mike II

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 24, 2009 04:12
I also appreciate a civil, charitable and mutually instructive exchange, especially over matters of intense interest, where there is disagreement.
What is instituted in the NT is the apostolate, a unique, unrepeatable institution of those who 'have seen the (risen) Lord.' When this first generation died off, a complex structure of evangelical authority arose, corresponding to the Lord's apparent decision to indefinitely delay His glorious Parousia. The apostolic writings were gathered and united with the prophetic writings to form our canonical Bible, the churches founded by the apostles began to recognize each other in the form of their 'bishops', and the baptismal confession of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit developed into a brief rule of faith. Canon, episcopacy, creed. All this was the manifest creation of the emerging, early Catholic church in the 2nd Century as it fought life and death battles against docetism (Christ only appeared to be true human) and Gnosticism (the God of the OT is not the Father of Christ, but a lesser deity, even a demon).
This complex is the origin of what Lutheran's call the preaching office, which is charged with pastoring a community of Christians by Word of God in keeping with the baptismal faith of the Church.
To acknowledge that this office is the creation of the Second Church is not at all so say that it is arbitrary or merely human or anything like that, any less than the Bible and the Creed would be so. It is to say, 1) that so the Holy Spirit worked through the Church, and 2) there is real freedom given to the Church to order its ministry so that pastoring of the community by the Word of God in the faith of the church gets down. Now the only thing that would disqualify a competent baptized woman from doing that work would be behavior incompatible with it, not gender. That is how I understand the Christian freedom to make this innovation, which is certainly not a freedom to do whatever we please. I would also say that the ordination of women (like the 500 years of Lutheran church life) is an experiment still awaiting divine confirmation. After all, we Lutherans have still not fully persuaded our fellow Christians in Rome of the truth of our claims, have we? We can only count that a failure.
I too want to preserve what has been handed down, but hyperconservative thinks that I have to do this, that God has gone away on vacation, that all will be lost if I don't defend the treasure. Really to hand on the tradition is to believe what this particular tradition tells us, such as, Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Fear not!

More questions... yet again!

Posted by Mike Keith at April 25, 2009 02:12
Greetings, and again thank you very much for your response. I pray you will not tire of my questions...

So, just so I am clear: the Office of the Ministry is a creation of the second century church. Therefore, since it is a creation of the church and is not mandated by the Lord - in Christian freedom there are no Scriptural grounds to limit this office to men. I do hope that is a fair summary of your position. Again, I would have no disagreement over the issue of Christian freedom - the Church is free to create offices if she sees it is good to do so and to fill such offices as she sees fit. However, I disagree that the Office of the Ministry is such an office created by the Church. I believe our Lord has a great deal to say about this office.

I would suggest that not only having women fill this office is an innovation but also the view of this office as being a creation of the Church is also an innovation. I don't claim to be a Patristics scholar - but from some of the research I have done on this issue it seems clear to me that the majority of the Fathers viewed the Office of the Ministry as very much stemming from our Lord's mandate (i.e John 20). Luther also locates the Office of the Ministry in John 20. So do many of the Lutheran theologians of the 17th Century.

So then, if I understand correctly the issue and disagreement over women's ordination centres (pardon the Canadian spelling :-)) on a different understanding of the orgins of the Office of the Ministry. Also, if the Office of the Ministry was in fact a creation of the Church in her Christian freedom I likely would not disagree with you on the issue of women's ordination (though St. Paul's letters would give me pause).

Though I disagree with your conclusion regarding women's ordination (and also with regard to the origin of the Office of the Ministry) I feel I better understand how you get there. Interestingly, I don't think I had ever considered that route. May I ask, is that a common understanding of the Office of the Ministry in the ELCA? I know that there are those in the WELS that hold to something similar. And of course, the LCMS has any number of understandings of the Office - soem which would not be inconsistnet with what you have said and some which would be completely contrary.

I am still not clear on the issue of hyper-conservatives. If what I am seeking to hand on to the next generation looks nothing like what it did 500, 200, 100, even 50 years ago - what am I handing down? I agree that the Holy Spirit works through the Church. But, as St. Paul warns us, we are to test the spirits. Certainly not a weak man such as myslef can defend the Church of Christ. However, should I take my stand upon the Word of God what do I have to fear?

Reply to Keith III

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 25, 2009 05:26
I am not tired yet! Thanks, I don't usually have the experience of justifying my positions to those to the right of me in the ELCA, and I find it worthwhile and, as you say, hopefully illuminating for such others as well.
You have the gist of my position, but to be precise I would say in Lutheran lingo that the office of proclamation of the gospel to the nations exists de jure divino in the creation of the apostolate, but the office of ordination to the episcopacy evolved in the second century along the lines sketched in my previous post (and suffered yet another evolution at the time of the Reformation). It is in this specific context that I say that ordination is the creation of the Holy Spirit through the second century Church.
Therefore we are not just free, even as you said, to create offices willy-nilly as we see fit. While we have freedom de jure humano to configure, organize and, as I contend to staff, the offices, clearly these office, howsoever realized, must be de jure divino functions of the proclamation of the gospel to the nations. I therefore view the classical threefold office which evolved in the second century not as something mandated de jure divino but something organically and historically developing out of the Apostolate under the Spirit's promised guidance. Any functional church will certainly have 1) a ministry of oversight and unity among congregations in Word and Sacraments, 2) a ministry in a congregation to the Word and Sacraments, 3) a ministry from the Word and Sacraments to the world. Bishops, pastors, deacons. I don't believe the superstitution that the threefold office (let alone the papal office) guarantees the church's ministries, but I do think they can be an effective sign of the classical commitment to the wholeness of gospel ministry.
Thus I agree that our Lord has a lot to say about the ministry of the Church, but, as it were, indirectly, since he was speaking either to his disciples in their mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, or from his resurrection, to the newly made and commissioned apostolate. After that unique, once and for all time institution, He speaks to us Gentiles of other times and places by His Spirit recalling his historic Word, so that we by analogy discern His will for us today.
That is exactly why we have to discern the spirits, including when we claim to stand on the Word alone, a stance which historically has and continues to produces 'orthodoxies,' whose hearts are far from God, using the Word falsely, in a way that is foreign to the mind of the Author and deadening to the life of His people. Here the Word is used as a dead, killing letter. I can show you ample texts in Luther and Augustine along these lines: about the error which is the opposite of enthusiasm. Enthusiam separates the Spirit from the Word (as in Corinth). But, in dogmatism, one separates the Word from the Spirit (the Judaizers in Galatia). Thus our reading of the Word is also subject to the mandate: Test the spirits! Is this truly the Mind of Christ, truly what the Spirit intends?
And we can do that, and you can be certain that it is the same message through all necessary and inevitable historical change, because the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. He, not we mortals from generation to generation, is the faithful Lord. On the other hand, if you really try to discern the unchanging gospel in its human appropriations in the church from age to age, good luck! You won't, I predict, find that so easily, and you will end up like Walther claiming your own tiny piece of Christianity as the true visible church on earth, the only ones who have been faithful, everyone else more or less in error.
Now, in contrast to such hyperconservative sectarianism, I did acknowledge not only the ordination of women as a (holy) experiment, but also my own as Lutheran dissident as a (holy) experiment, still awaiting divine confirmation in Gamaliel's test. Can you do the same?
You are not such a poor person, you are baptized, you are confirmed, and you have pursued serious Christian education. I don't think you can resort to the false understanding of sola scriptura in contemporary fundamentalism, 'God said it. I believe it. That settles it.' I think you know that you have intervene in such self-serving, Spirit-less appropriation of God's Word by means of (highly selective) proof-texting, with questions like (as Luther used to insist against such wooden biblicists) To whom has God said that? Why did God say that? Do you even understand it?
I submit that when we interpose such questions in search of the mind of the Author of Scripture, we can come to see that Paul's prohibitions of women speaking of the Church (in that madhouse at Corinth) were spoken to a particular situation of wild enthusiasm, that God has said in principle and in power, 'In Christ there is no male or female,' and that we are free --for freedom Christ has set us free!-- to receive women into the ministry to Word and Sacrament, given that they share the same Biblical and Confessional reasoning for this innovation (not those of the wilder versions of Feminist theology).
Hope that clears things up!

Posted by Mike Keith at April 25, 2009 17:17
Greetings again,

Your post does indeed help to clarify and for that I appreciate your patient response.

I see that we simply disagree over the origin of the Office of the Ministry. This, of course, is no small matter and I think ultimately leads to the difference in theology and practice of women's ordination. Again, I am glad I have a better understanding of your position and now I realize that it is far more nuanced than I once supposed. (FYI: I find myself not entirely comfortable with the position on the Office of the Ministry found within my circles (LCMS/LCC). Though, within my circles I would suggets we have never had a solid consensus of understanding regarding the Office of the Ministry and it has led to all kinds of trouble and mischief! :-)).

If I may be so bold, I believe that your position regarding the approach to Scripture (contrary to dogmatism) is in the end nothing but pure enthusiasm of the sort that Luther specifically denounced. I absolutely agree that sola scriptura can and has been abused - sola scriptura certainly, but not only Scripture - we must take into account the Tradition. When one reads the Augsburg Confession it is clear that the Reformers are simply trying to point out that they are not innovating but merely in line with the historic faith and practice of the Church. I believe Lutheranism becomes sectarian when it forgets to take into account the historic Church. The Reformers certainly did not do so - but I fear contemporary Lutherans have done so.

I truly appreciate this "conversation." Again, as one from the "circled wagon" types I decided a while ago that I needed to engage (hopefully respectfully and civily :-)) with those outside my confession. The reasoning for this is not so much to "convert" to my perspective but to try and peel away the inevitable inaccurate sterreotypes we like to attach to those with whom we disagree. I have been guilty of doing so in the past. This conversation with you has shown me the weakness in doing so. Though I disagree with your conclusions I feel I have grown in understanding.

A Question Back

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 25, 2009 19:29
I have appreciated your goodwill, charity and clarity. But surely you cannot leave my soul in danger with the mere assertion that I am an enthusiast of the kind Luther proscribed? Don't I deserve an argument showing me where I err? I gave a rather thorough account of the Trinitarian dialectic of Word and Spirit -- where do you think I go astray? Or is Lutheranism against the Holy Spirit? Does Scripture alone mean there is no real epistemic need of the Spirit to read the Bible as divinely attended?

A Response...

Posted by Mike Keith at April 25, 2009 23:14
Greetings and thank you for your response.

Making assertions without argument is just so much easier don't you think? :-)

Certainly the Lutheran Church is not against the Holy Spirit. As the Small Catechism teaches us: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

The statement that I struggled with in your post was: "After that unique, once and for all time institution, He speaks to us Gentiles of other times and places by His Spirit recalling his historic Word, so that we by analogy discern His will for us today." Perhaps I am misunderstanding you but it seems to me that you are looking for the Spirit outside the Word. Is that not the very definition of enthusiasm? While the Holy Spirit does indeed work within the Church - He does so through His Word. Indeed, in the Smalcald Articles we read: "Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extoled as Spirit without the Word and the Sacraments." ( Smalcald Articles Part III, Art. VIII, 10).

Word and Spirit

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 26, 2009 05:58
It may be that you are misunderstanding me, but I worry more that your position does not understand or appreciate texts like John 14:16-17, 25-6; 15:26,12-13, which is what I had in mind by saying that there is a real work of God, the Holy Spirit, in the on-going life of the Church, which leads to truth by recalling the Word of Jesus in ever-new situations. I worry that the 'circled wagon' stance is and must be deaf and blind to this real work of the Spirit through the Word (not, as you allege, apart from it) Lutheranism, as I understand it, has always taught not just 'what the Bible says' but 'what the Bible says, rightly interpreted,' and has understood this latter matter of right understanding as the aforementioned real work of God the Holy Spirit. If I may, I refer you to my contributions in Dennis Bielfeldt, Mickey L. Mattox, Paul R. Hinlicky, The Substance of the Faith: Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), where I demonstrate this thinking about the dialectic of Word and Spirit in Luther, also, if you can get it, “Luther’s Anti-Docetism in the Disputatio de divinitate et humanitate Christi (1540).” In Creator est creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomenkommunikation, edited by O. Bayer and Benjamin Gleede, 139-85. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007).
I find it interesting that I am attacked from the Left in the ELCA as a dogmatist for holding to the authority of the Word and as an enthusiast from the Right for holding to the authority of the Spirit. But I hope it is clear from this that I regard any seperation of the really distinct persons and works of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit as Trinitarian error: opera ad extra sunt indivisa.

Word and Spirit

Posted by Mike Keith at April 26, 2009 22:48
I will most certainly study the biblical texts you mentioned.

I certainly would agree that the Spirit works through the Word. I do not believe we have disagreement there. I don't disagree that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church through the Word. Absolutely! "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!"

Perhaps, should you be willing, you could "flesh out" for me your statement: "there is a real work of God, the Holy Spirit, in the on-going life of the Church, which leads to truth by recalling the Word of Jesus in ever-new situations." In particular, I am unclear what you mean by "recalling the Word of Jesus."

Spirit through the Word

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 27, 2009 06:31
I am quoting the Gospel of John when I say that the Spirit guides to all truth by recalling the word of Jesus, indeed, the Word whom Jesus is. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but we are not. Thus in every new place and time, there is a real, new work of the Spirit as believers are formed by the Word in their own contexts. There is a certain openness here, which is why we acknowledge that churches and councils and err, but correspondingly, that churches and councils can get it right (Nicea-Constantinople on the homoousios of the Son and the Father). This is a matter of discernment, testing the spirits: is this spirit really the Spirit of Jesus and His Father as we know these from the Bible? There is an unavoidable dialectic (sic et non) here. We can't say either that the Bible sitting piously on the shelf and selectively proof texted is the Word which the Spirit intends, any more than we can say that whatever warm and fuzzy feelings we have are the voice of the Spirit of Jesus and Father. But we have to engage this dialectic in the conviction that this is our Father's world, that we in our own context are the creatures of the Father's ongoing creating. So the whole Trinity is involved in our learning concretely the will of God for us, this learning remains something ventured in faith and trust, not false certainty which removes the need for faith and thus the possibility of error and subsequent correction. But in all this we live under the forgiveness of sins, even for theological errors.

Word & Spirit

Posted by Rik at April 28, 2009 22:45
Prof. Hinlicky, following your conversation with Mike Keith has been fascinating. Thank you for your many replies and clarifications to him. It sounds like you are saying that the church restates the Ur Bekkentnis (original confession) in each generation, when you say "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but we are not. Thus in every new place and time, there is a real, new work of the Spirit as believers are formed by the Word in their own contexts." So the Word does not change, but the applications might, as no generation is exactly identical to the ones which preceded it. And the principle "Scriptura ex Scriptura explicanda est (Scripture is explained and must be explained by Scripture) keeps our theological errors, hopefully to a minimum? Am I following your position? -Rik.

Reply to Rik

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 29, 2009 04:48
Yes, Rik, your synopsis of my position is correct so far as it goes. One can err in one of two ways, either Word without Spirit or Spirit without Word. One aspect of such Trinitarianism is that we need theology in every generation to mediate this dialectic, a synthesis of Word and cultural context that brings the gospel message to bear concretely (not abstractly as mere repetition of dogma, however correct). The danger here, of course, is that context and culture become a pretext for constructivism in theology (i.e. constructing your own theology out of your own imagination, as something that meets our needs today). The Lutheran tradition rightly rejects this kind of speculation, also about the human predicament, because we aim at was Christum treibet, what makes Christ necessary as Son of God, Savior,and thus a probe into our contemporary problems that reveals us as helpless sinners whose hope is the redeeming God.
In this light, I have been myself fascinated and delighted recently to see that my old Seminex professor, Ed Schroeder, with some of his followers in the Crossing Movement have taken on a terrible LWF theological consultation that occured last summer where the Ur-Bekenntnis of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior was utterly eclipsed in the name of "contextual" theology. See the Crossings website:
and read the articles posted for April 9 and 23 of this year. For me this very encouraging.

Thank-you, Paul Hinlicky

Posted by Pr. Dan Biels at April 17, 2009 02:23
It is indeed good to hear Paul Hinlicky's wise and eloquent voice again in the struggle to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Epistle of Jude).

I wonder if someone will figure out a way to contest the statement and resolutions on constitutional grounds. As Paul notes in his fourth comment, the ELCA constitution stipulates the scriptures are the "rule and norm" for our faith and life. The statement and resolutions do not acknowledge this, for they cannot defend their conclusions on the basis of the scriptural rule and norm. Indeed, they implicitly deny Scripture as normative in these matters.

Instead, we have a new "rule and norm" for our church: Jiminy Cricket. "Always let your conscience be your guide." Not the conscience bound to Scripture, as it was for Luther, but the autonomous, unfettered conscience that is above all bound to its own self be true (which Luther would have said is in fact a slave to sin). But heck, at least his initials are still JC.


Posted by Pr. Dan Biles at April 17, 2009 02:31
It is Biles, not Biels. Obstreperous computer!

ELCA's Foolish Test?

Posted by Henry at April 20, 2009 23:19
Oh Pastor Hinlicky, and others of like mind: You don't have to take a stand. . .

Is it not written, "He will give his angels charge over you, to you keep you in all your ways, and bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone"?

So go ahead and jump. God's grace will save you! Jesus loves everyone!

And have a nice day!

Reply to Henry

Posted by Paul Hinlicky at April 21, 2009 04:35
Well, Henry, no I don't "have" to take a stand in the sense that I don't "have" to stick my neck out for mockery like yours. I don't want that or need it. But there is this litter matter of vows of ordination, and this little matter of being a pastor of the whole church, and this little matter of the biblical injunction: "test the spirits to see whether they are of God." And this little matter of being bamboozled that I described above (did you read all the way through or stop after the second paragraph?). Bamboozled-- as when Satan tried to tempt our Lord with the very psalm text you cite. Or did you miss that? You have a nice day, too.

reply to Pastor Hinlicky

Posted by Henry at April 21, 2009 12:08
Dear Pastor,

My apologies. No mockery was intented by my post. I was being facetious: A (poor) attempt to mock those who demand that the Church choose between Law and Gospel.

Your blog was spot on!


Posted by Gregory at May 25, 2009 12:03
Prof Hinlicky,
How is the central issue a controversy? Paul made the consequences of homosexuality quite clear. You lambast the "religious left" for changing church doctrine, but arent women pastors and acceptance of Homosexual desire the same thing? Homosexuality is repugnant to the lesson outlined in 1 cor 6:9, if God created and blessed it why would Paul condemn it? Is Paul wrong, or did God change his mind. If He changed His mind, then what else has He changed it on, or if Paul is wrong, is it only on those two issues? Its a slippery slope and the door for the left to water down doctrine was opened by this same kind of rationalization. The same rationalization that is making your church luke warm and hemoraging members. The ELCA has become the "left" to the rest of the Lutheran community. The LCMS church still preaches hate the sin, love the sinner, dont accept the sinful nature, but accept and comfort the sinner. You say "lets be merciful" but is mercy allowing destructive behavior to flourish? Is it truly comforting to live contrary to the way the Lord wants us too..I think not! Does rejecting homosexuality as a natural and reasonable lifestyle make us bigots in your eyes, and why would a pastor use such derisive language to describe a valid, widespread Christian belief?

Response to your article

Posted by Gary Boschee at June 13, 2009 23:38
Professor Hinckley.

I appreciated your above article. I hope that we are both concerned about the future and faithfulness of the church. Below you will find my response to your article.

I hope that homosexuality is not being used as a wedge issue for a certain group of Lutherans to get their own way, as you imply.

This Social Statement does not necessarily mean that our confession of the Triune God is in jeopardy or that we can read the Bible any way that we want. If we must read the Bible in the literal way some imply, then we should not allow women to be pastors, as the Biblical imperatives about women in leadership positions is even more clear than the biblical passages regarding homosexual behavior. Yes, the early Christians were against homosexual behavior, and they were also against women in leadership positions. We have simply decided that it is more congruous with the Christ we know through the resurrection to allow women to be pastors, and if we adopt the Fourth Position, we will in essence be announcing that it is also congruous with the resurrected Christ to bless homosexual relationships and to allow homosexuals in active relationships into official ministries.

“It overlooks the central issue in contention in this controversy, whether God has created and blessed homosexual desire, or whether such desire is a deformation of God’s good creation. Well, let’s be merciful. Cogent reasoning has never been the strength of the religious Left, which looks instead for emotional symbols to serve as pretexts to fool people.”

Perhaps another option would be to say, that some things, including homosexual desire, are at their core, mysteries, and that we do not need to explain and understand everything. By the way, insulting a particular group, in this case, the religious Left (whoever they are) is not fair to your opponents, not a very “Christian” thing to do.

“One looks in vain for this Spirit of Jesus Christ in these documents”

This is an extremely ambiguous statement. Absence is not necessarily indicative of anything – it may be explained in a multitude of ways.

These responses are offered in the hope that they are somehow helpful to you.

Does God make mistakes?

Posted by Ed Reiman at August 20, 2009 07:41
It is generally accepted that 5% +- of us are BIOLOGICALLY, ORGANICALLY 'wired' differently in terms of our sexual identity ... from 'gender mis-identity' to homosexuality its self.

Do these brothers and sisters have a right to close personal, life-long, PERMANENT monogamous relationships including sexual lives? Do they ... as God's own creation ... deserve our condemnation (and even God's)?

I am sorry to say, as a heterosexual man, husband and father of two 'streight' kids, I am baffled by these questions.

And I must say, that IF our Faith is threatened by a SMALL percent of the 5% +- of our brothers and sisters who want the simple bond of 'marriage' (perhaps 1 to 2% of all of us) then how strong is Christianity and/or the Lutheran Faith.

I personally think that we Christians have more to worry about.

What A Mess

Posted by MJ at August 25, 2009 08:26
Satan is certainly alive and well in the Lutheran Church (not that he isn't in every other church in the world). Yeah, I'd feel perfectly comfortable bringing my kids to a church where "abomination" is just fine/normal/accepted/compassionate blah blah. How did you Lutherans ever allow that crap to happen in your church?!

What a Mess

Posted by Marilyn Taplin at October 22, 2009 17:53
Yes, it is not only the ELCA that is literally defying God in the matters of human sexual behavior but many other denominations have lead the way and many will continue to follow. It is a sad day for Christianity.

Could it be that we, (the Church) need a better understanding of what God sees as sin. May I present my understanding of the sin that began in Eden and will continue until almost all people have been deceived, for Satan is out to deceive the entire world.

When the peoples of earth do not understand the third chapter of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve, and the sin that was forbidden for each and every one of us we cannot understand God, goodness, holiness, or the rest of the Bible.

Departing from God and following the ways of Satan is established in Genesis and revisited throughout every story in Scripture. In the Garden there are only two powers available for man to serve. And today, as it has been since Eden, there are only two powers. This truth is restated in the story of Noah and those in the flood – the population of the earth divided into two groups. If Adam and Eve were placed in the story of Noah, they would not be in the Ark with righteous Noah. Adam and Eve would be in the water for they were deceived by Satan. Their sin was sexual for it was a sexually perverse generation in the water at that time and so it is today. And the land was filled with violence as our land is today.

If placed in the story of just and righteous Lot, the first couple would not have been delivered with righteous Lot. Adam and Eve would have been citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. An understanding of this first sin that spread so rapidly is critical for the salvation and well being of mankind, for all sorrows ultimately come from the continuation of original sin.

I believe oral sex was the sin in Eden. Adam and Eve had no one to sin with except each other. Romans 1:28-31 describes men with men and all those who give up the natural use of the body to do that which is not natural. This includes all the sexually perverse: same-sex partners and heterosexual partners married or unmarred who engage in oral and anal sex.

This Scripture goes on to tell us what comes out of the minds of those given to the sex forbidden by God. “Being filled with” means their minds are filled with the list of evils that is then listed. Below is the list of what fills the minds of those given to unnatural sex.
All unrighteousness: (If no one had sinned this first sin in Eden, the earth would still be an Eden with no need for ten more commandments.)
Fornication: (The name of the sexual activities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Gentiles, the mount of Esau, and Babylon.)
Wickedness: (The opposite of righteousness.)
Covetousness: (Greed)
Maliciousness: (Spiteful and cruel.)
Full of envy: (Greedy, jealous, full of malice, and resentful.)
Murder: (All murder comes from the minds of the sexually perverse. If no one had committed original sin, oral sex, we would still be in a paradise without pain and suffering. When sin ends murder will also end. War will end. Original sin is the root of all that is wrong, all the evils that are committed. It is the root of society’s problems, and until the root of all sin is acknowledged and removed these atrocities will continue. I am not saying all sexually perverse people will commit murder. But all murders come from the minds of those who commit unnatural sexual acts.)
Debate: (Their main debate is with God, rebellion against God. They debate truth, leading to all the religions and divisions in religions. The lie they fell for is the opposite of truth, therefore, they change truth. Jesus is just and they would debate with and oppose Jesus.)
Deceit: (Lying, injustice, corruption. All corruption in the church, in the business world, and at every level of government comes from those who have disregarded this first law for all mankind.)
Haters of God: (Regardless of what they claim; they hate God. To hate God is to break the greatest commandment - to love God.)
Proud: (This is the pride God hates. God never walks in a gay pride parade. He never attends a same-sex marriage.)
Boasters: (We have all seen this demonstrated.)
Inventors of evil things: (This would include pornography, sex gadgets, group sex, etc.)
Without natural affection: (Today, many are given to unnatural affection as was the perverse generation in the days of Noah as demonstrated in the molestation of children, incest, rape, same-sex relationships, pornography, prostitution, the high divorce rate, gangs, physical and verbal abusiveness, and the demeaning of women, etc.)
Unmerciful: (In the darkness original sin creates those captured by Satan cannot see that they do not care about others. When the Bible says “woe to you,” that does not mean “God will get you.” It means we will have woes: sorry, pain, sickness, injustice, and unhappiness if we as a people choose to sin. Yet, those given to unnatural sex prefer to please their own desires even if it brings all the evils listed above. The greatest commandment is to love God and one another. But those given to the forbidden sex of Eden actually are showing hate for God, self, and also for others. They have little mercy for their fellow brothers and sisters.

Read the list again and analyze how a nation could put an end to every evil on that list. Isn't the answer simply by putting an end to all unnatural sex? Wouldn’t it be much more advantageous to begin a campaign of actions designed to end this so very popular sin rather than to condone, defend, practice, bless, and spread it as many organizations, churches, and our government are doing? However, it is the responsibility of Christianity and not the government to bring an end to sin. A holy Christianity will bring an end to sin. The end of sin will bring heaven to earth.

As stated, there are only two powers available for man to serve, God or Satan. Everyone on earth stands with one or the other and so it will be at the end of this age. In Isaiah 1:9, that truth is stated this way, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom and like unto Gomorrah.” There is no fence to sit on, no other group to claim to be a member of, and no place to hide. A remnant is left at the end and at that time almost everyone will have been deceived just as the couple in the garden was. In this darkness many will believe oral sex is not sinful.

The Remnant:
A few
The undeceived
Believe in God
The narrow way
No unnatural sex
The Just

Sodom and Gomorrah
The masses
Deceived by Satan
The fallen
The broad way
Unnatural sex
The unjust

Adam and Eve were the first to be deceived by Satan and if placed in this illustration they would be part of Sodom and Gomorrah. They would not stand with the remnant who believe in the ways of God. There is no other explanation for the sin in Eden. By removing original sin (the root of all other sins) from the earth all other evils will eventually come to an end.

I can understand why many heterosexual couples who engage in oral sex believe two people of the same sex can marry. After all, the heterosexual and the homosexual couple are committing the same acts. I believe this is why so many heterosexual couples are in favor of same-sex relationships, marriage, and ordination of the homosexual. One major problem is that our society does not see oral sex as sin for each and every one of us.

Three verses speaking of marriage.
Mark 10:6-9, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” From the beginning marriage was designed to be between a male and a female. To disagree with this is to disagree with God. The following two verses give a man and his wife instructions not to sin.

Ephesians 5:21, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” The fear of the Lord is to hate evil as simply stated in Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” A man and his wife are capable of committing evil when submitting in a sexual way. However, they should not commit evil with each other. They should hate evil.

Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as ® it is fit in the Lord.” This verse means that husbands and wives can do what is unfit. And the cross reference to “as it is unfit in the Lord” sends me to Ephesians 5:3, to explain what is unfit. ®“But fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be once named among you.” Oral and anal sex is forbidden and unfit for husbands and wives for it is stated in Jude 7 that the sex of Sodom and Gomorrah is called fornication, “Sodom and Gomorrah giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh are set forth for an example.” So we can see that God forbids all men and women, all husbands and wives, to use their bodies for fornication, the sex of Sodom and Gomorrah. This truth is reinforced and made clear in 1 Corinthians 6:13 where it declares, “The body if not made for fornication, but for the Lord.”

The purpose of Jesus.
1 John 3:8, “He that committeth sin is of the devil. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” The purpose of Christianity should be the same as the purpose of Jesus. And that is to put an end to the sin that began in Eden. The end of sin will bring heaven on earth. My prayer is that Christianity will some day unite, require all members to be holy, and then speak with one voice to put an end to sin.

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Time Travel and Culture
Crossing to Reignite
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An Introduction to
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