Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I Care About The ELCA

So, why do I care so much with what happens to the ELCA concerning…anything? Why not wave goodbye to a dying denomination and hope for the best for those who have an honest relationship with Christ? I can not, in good conscience, wish for the destruction of the ELCA. It’s one thing to see a vast liberal church entity from a distance as just a corrupted organization who’s ideas barley qualify as the intent of it’s long dead founder. It’s another thing to have met and worshiped with the actual people in an ELCA affiliated congregation.

When I came to St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, I barley knew a thing about Jesus Christ. I guess you could say I was an agnostic. Lutheranism was the faith of my father and his parents. At the time my dad and his parents went to church, they belonged to an American Lutheran Church congregation. Eventually the ALC, along with other Lutheran church bodies, merged to form the ELCA. Because I wanted my kids to grow up in a church that meant something to my own people, I had decided to give St. Mark a try. I think I choose pretty good. It was a great, welcoming place to worship.

Unlike the ‘new church’ banners, it wasn’t just about being ‘welcome’.

Some of the most profound and eye opening moments in my life, aside from discovering the Catholic Church, came from Pastor Rick’s bible studies every Sunday evening. They weren’t your average, protestant bible studies. It was more like diving deep into the depths of theology. Rick was a great guy, who opened my eyes to a lot of things. It seemed to me that Pastor Rick was more concerned with truth in Christ rather than pampering people’s egos. He, along with the friends my wife and children had made, made it a gut wrenching move to progress toward Catholicism and leave the church we came to love.

So, I can not wish the destruction of faith on the folks at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran. Before I left, there was already talk of splitting if the then vote on ordination of openly homosexual pastors passed. Now the issue has come up again, and I’m sure feelings are pretty much the same at St. Mark. More and more, the ELCA isn’t standing for anything remotely Christian. Faith in Christ is second to political correctness. The ELCA leadership would say that they are acting out of love, yet wouldn’t acting in love also mean correcting in love? Love doesn’t have a thing to do with it. No, it’s not acting in love to cower to leftist political interests. It’s a sign of cowardly self preservation. I don’t want to see the people of St. Mark scattered… the ELCA couldn’t give a flip. The less bible believing folks in the masses, the less they may have to stand up for any sort of teaching.

In closing, here’s a letter from the late Fr. Neuhaus explaining his leaving the Lutheran Church to Catholicism, addressed to Lutheran friends and clergy. May God help the faithful of the ELCA. And if they are to scatter, let us welcome them with open arms.

On Saturday, September 8, 1990, the Nativity of Mary, I was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. In the months ahead I will be preparing to enter the priesthood of the Catholic Church. With the full support of my bishop, John Cardinal O'Connor, I will continue to serve as director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life and as a member of the Community of Christ. This decision is the result of many years of prayer, reflection,study, conversation, and, I firmly believe, the leading of the Holy Spirit. Especially over the last five years, I have resisted with great difficulty the recognition that I could no longer give an answer convincing to others or to me as to why I was not a Roman Catholic. Over the last 20 years and more, I have repeatedly and publicly urged that the separated ecclesial existence of Lutheranism, if it was once necessary, is no longer necessary; and, if no longer necessary, such separated existence is no longer justified. Therefore, cooperating with other evangelical catholics who shared my understanding of the Lutheran destiny and duty according to the Augsburg Confession, I devoted myself to the healing of the breach of the sixteenth century between Rome and the Reformation. This meant and means ecclesial reconciliation and the restoration of full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome. That is a consummation for which I continue to pray, and to which I earnestly hope my present decision will contribute. At the same time, I have been brought, reluctantly but surely, to the recognition that this understanding of the Augsburg Confession and the Reformation has been rejected--in institutional fact, and frequently in theological principle--by the several jurisdictions of the Lutheran communion. With respect to the Evangelical Lutheran Churchin America of which I was a pastor) the evidence compelled me to the conclusion that its operative understanding of the Church is in formed not by the ecclesiology of the New Testament, nor by that of the Fathers, nor that of the Augsburg Confession, but by American denominationalism. I can no longer persuade myself that Lutheranism is an evangelical catholic movement of Gospel reform within and for the one Church of Christ. It now seems to me that Lutheranism is a Protestant denomination among Protestant denominations, and is determined to remain so. I have always understood that, as I was baptized into Christ, so was I baptized into His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It was therefore my desire and duty, as a western Christian formed by the Reformation tradition, to be in full communion with the fullest and most rightly ordered reality of that Church through time. I am persuaded that that reality subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. I can readily attest that, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, "many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside the Church's visible structure." Lumen Gentium continues, "These elements,however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possessan inner dynamic toward Catholic unity." The inner dynamic of the catholic substance I knew in Lutheranism has compelled me to become aRoman Catholic.I know well the claim of some Lutherans that separated ecclesialexistence is necessary for the sake of the Gospel--as the Gospel is understood in terms of justification by grace through faith because ofChrist. I beg such Lutherans to consider that the Gospel can be proclaimed today in the Roman Catholic Church, and in fact is so proclaimed. Moreover, it is by no means evident that the Lutheran denomination of our time does, as a matter of fact bear witness to that Gospel.The Reformers rightly insisted that the Church lives from the Gospel and for the Gospel. Lutheranism, however, has not understood that the Church is an integral part of the Gospel. The Church is neither an abstract idea nor merely a voluntary association of believers, but a divinely commissioned and ordered community ofapostolic faith, worship, and discipleship through time. "I delivered to you what I also received," said St. Paul (I Cor.15). Under the guidance of the Spirit promised to the Church, apostolic Scripture is joined to apostolic order in the faithful transmission and interpretation of revealed truth. The Gospel is the proclamation ofGod's grace in Christ and His body in the Church. It is for the sake of that Gospel, and the unity of the Church gathered by that Gospel, that I am today a Roman Catholic. I cannot begin to express adequately my gratitude for all the goodness I have known in the Lutheran communion. There I was baptized,there I learned my prayers, there I was introduced to Scripture and creed, there I was nurtured by Christ on Christ, there I came to know the utterly gratuitous love of God by which we live astonished. For my theological formation, for friendships beyond numbering. for great battles fought, for mutual consolations in defeat, for companionships in ministry--for all this I give thanks and know that I will forever be in debt to the church called Lutheran. Most especially am I grateful for my 30 years as a pastor. There is nothing in that ministry that Iwould repudiate, except my many sins and shortcomings. My becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church will be the completion and right ordering of what was begun 30 years ago. Nothing that was good is rejected, all is fulfilled.

Richard John Neuhaus

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