By Daniel Downs
The Washington Times recently reported that a majority of leaders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to change church law admitting non-celibate gays into the sacred office of the clergy. At the same time, a majority of church leaders changed denominational law to recognize same-sex common law marriage (but by other terminology).
According to the report, “The resolution on clergy, easily the most controversial, passed by 559 ‘yes’ votes (55.3 percent) to 451 ‘no’ votes (44.6 percent). It committed the ELCA to open its clergy ranks to people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
The vote allowing congregations to ‘”recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships,” passed by 619 ‘yes’ (60.6 percent) to 402 ‘no’ votes (39.3 percent) was less controversial than allowing non-celibate gays to represent the church and Christ.
The report noted two responses to these developments: Those who believe it will result in many people leaving the church and those who believe it will result in significant church growth. One member of the Metropolitan New York Synod said gays were the reason her congregation was growing. Leaders representing most American and foreign synods voiced strong disapproval of these decisions because of those decisions opposed more fundamental doctrines of the church.
As with other mainline denominations, the democratic politics and secularly defined social relevance appears to be the most important factors in these decisions.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American cannot be charge with religious fundamentalism. They have tossed the fundamentals out. The most important fundamental is abiding under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As recorded in the book of Revelation, Christ told the churches in Asia Minor that he hated the politics and practices of sexual immorality that were being spread by the Nicolaitans and Jezebel, who was likely one of their leaders in Thyatira. Like the mediocre Laodiceans, the Evangelical Lutheran Church can only be charged with being faithful to secular fundamentalism.
The still popular song lyric sung by Jackie DeShannon expresses the religious sentiment of modern sexual politics, “all we need now is love … sweet [tolerant] love” not holiness and truth.
The problem with all of this is not whether the church will grow, or split, or gain social relevance. After this season testing, the problem will be when and how the Lord will come and fight against the immoral and their supporters. As Christ promised the Pergamum church, he will come and fight against them with the sword of His mouth. If that means anything like his warning to the unrepenting Jezebel, they and their loving supporters may receive the same judgment that the members of the tolerantly immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah received.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that those who do not like a God who actually judges and punishes moral crime (sin, immortality) hate the rule of law and especially moral law. Moral law is God’s law.
One of the foundational doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church concerns salvation: forgiveness of our moral crimes because Jesus suffered our punishment for them. That is what the death of Jesus on a wooden cross is all about. This grace of God is not tolerance. It is covenantal love based on unbending justice. The power of this gospel is newness of life by the power of God. A new life means old sinful lifestyles pass away. Anything less is a mockery of Christ’s life and death as well as God’s mercy and power, which “taking the name of the Lord in vain” means. It’s like being married but not acting like it, which is the reason the Church cannot justify marrying gays or any other sinners.
The Church cannot serve two masters: one in conformity with secular politics and the other with God in covenantal holiness. Condoning sin while claiming righteousness is so oxymoronic to be laughable. Maybe this is the reason for talk about the Church being irrelevant in contemporary culture.
Yes, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America maybe another victim of secular sexual politics, but it is also another denomination that has failed to overcome the trial Jesus said would come. Jesus also said, “Watch out! You who have brought about that fall; it would have been better had you crucified yourselves rather than to suffer the judgment that will overtake you” (Matthew 18:3-11, paraphrased).