The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination is splitting following a controversial decision at its August conference to allow noncelibate homosexuals to serve as pastors, reports Baptist Press.
It will take months to determine how truly significant the change to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA) is, but a conservative group of Lutherans calling themselves Lutheran CORE already is calling for the more orthodox churches to leave the denomination. Lutheran CORE leaders voted Nov. 18 to form a new Lutheran body, and churches nationwide are now taking sides in the dispute. It takes a two-thirds vote for a church to leave the ELCA and join Lutheran CORE, which has formed a committee that will draft a proposal for how the new church body will function. The committee’s recommendations will be released in February and voted on in August.
The ELCA claims 4.8 million members and 10,500 churches.
"Many ELCA members and congregations have said that they want to sever ties with the ELCA because of the ELCA’s continued movement away from traditional Christian teachings," Lutheran CORE chair Paull Spring said. "The vote on sexuality opened the eyes of many to how far the ELCA has moved from Biblical teaching."
Meeting in Minneapolis in August, delegates to the ELCA’s biennial conference voted 559-451 to allow openly practicing homosexuals to serve as pastors. It became the largest denomination in America with such a policy. The Episcopal Church, a smaller denomination, has a similar stance.
The Minneapolis conference was followed by a meeting of 1,200 Lutheran CORE supporters Sept. 25-26 in Fishers, Ind., where delegates to that meeting voted to authorize the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee to "initiate conversations among the congregations" toward a possible "reconfiguration" of Lutherans. That steering committee voted Nov. 18 to begin the process of forming a new denomination. The word "CORE" is an acronym for "Coalition for Renewal."
Neither side is predicting how many churches will leave or stay. In Erskine, Minn., 80 percent of Rodnes Lutheran Church members voted Oct. 18 to leave the ELCA, the INFORUM.com website reported. But in Waseca, Minn., Nov. 22, 77 percent of Grace Lutheran Church members voted to stay, the Waseca County News newspaper reported.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, believes the issue of homosexuality eventually will divide all mainline denominations.
"You either approve gay and lesbian sexually active pastors and clergy or you don’t," he told Baptist Press. "Opinion is divided enough in the mainline denominations that if you approve it, then you’re going to have conservatives leaving and if you don’t, then you’re going to have liberals leaving. I believe that this issue will end up reconfiguring the entire mainline Protestant landscape. It is in the process of dividing the Episcopalians. It’s dividing now the Lutherans. It’s in the process of dividing the Presbyterians, and it eventually will end up dividing the Methodists."
Land asked, rhetorically, referencing the ELCA’s namesake, "Does anyone have any doubt what Martin Luther believed about this? The question is whether you’re going to be under the authority of Scripture or not. And, clearly, there are large chunks of mainline Protestantism that have decided they are going to stand in judgment of Scripture."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
HANOI, June 18 (Compass Direct News) – Police invaded the Sunday service of the Agape Baptist congregation in Vietnam’s Hung Yen Province on June 7 and beat worshippers, including women, and arrested a pastor and an elder.
Christian sources said police put the two church leaders into separate cells, and each man was beaten by a gang of five policemen. Pastor Duong Van Tuan of the house church in Hamlet 3, Ong Dinh Commune, Khoai Chau district said that officers beat them in a way that did not leave marks: hard blows to the stomach.
The beatings came in retaliation for Pastor Tuan refusing to leave the area as police had ordered, Christian sources said. He and the church elder were released later that evening.
The congregation in Hung Yen, a small but populous province that straddles the Red River 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Hanoi, has endured harassment and attacks by police and other officials since April. Police officers disrupted worship services on April 19, bloodying Pastor Tuan’s mouth with punches, and also on May 24 and 31.
In the May 31 incident, he was attacked as he preached. The deputy commune police chief, identified only by his surname of Them, grabbed him by the neck while another officer tore the Bible from his hand, Christian sources said. His arms were twisted behind his back and “he was marched off like a criminal gang member,” one said.
Authorities took Pastor Tuan to the office of the commune people’s committee, clubbing him several times en route. Immediately after arriving at the office, police tried to force him to sign a document saying he had resisted their investigation, though he had yet to be questioned, and said that he was under administrative arrest. Christian sources said he was also ordered to sign a document accepting the seizure of his Bible, which they had taken from him two hours prior.
Officers ended by issuing him an order “to leave the commune immediately by the most direct route.”
A woman from his congregation who was unable to obtain cooperation from authorities at lower levels, Le thi Nhung, prepared and sent a detailed, three-page petition to local, provincial and national authorities on June 1, a week before officers last stormed their worship service.
In the petition, Nhung explained that one of the first things Pastor Tuan did on his arrival in March was to explain to church elders how to register their congregation’s activities according to the Prime Minister’s Special Directive on Protestantism of 2005. This directive permits and urges local authorities to register house churches to carry on religious activities. Pastor Tuan also went to the local Fatherland Front chair, a woman identified only as Hao, explained the church’s aspirations and asked her to help them meet requirements.
The church elders submitted an application to register locally, in accordance with the directive. Authorities, however, did not respond within the 30-day period prescribed by the directive. On the 31st day, they sent a document denying registration.
Officials gave two reasons for denying registration, Christian sources said: that the congregation needed permission from higher authorities, including the central Bureau of Religious Affairs; and that in any event the Prime Minister’s directive applied only to churches on mountains and not to churches on plains.
Both reasons, local Christians said, are contrary to the directive.
The church’s petition to the government clearly spelled out two articles of the constitution (71 and 73) and four articles of Vietnam’s criminal code (87, 124, 129 and 33) that police and local authorities violated in attacking their church and pastor.
The petition also reflects awareness of related international affairs. It says that on national news in Vietnam on May 27, church members heard the appeal of Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to the U.S. Congress to vote down a recommendation by some U.S. officials to return Vietnam to the U.S. list of worst religious liberty offenders as a “Country of Particular Concern.”
“Think of how much hard work by the government, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has just been thrown into the ocean by the officials of Ong Dinh Commune,” the petition states.
It concludes with a respectful request to all appropriate government authorities to investigate and “to help us law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of Khoai Chau District who practice pure and orthodox religion to peacefully practice our faith as a right protected by the State.”
In separate letters to supporting friends abroad, the leaders of the Agape Baptist House Church group, with 34 congregations throughout Vietnam, say that according to their long experience, “persecution is often a sign that the Lord is at work.” They add that they are not discouraged and see a growing maturity among Christians who suffer and overcome such gratuitous abuse. But they also say they feel much pain in seeing their Christian family disrespected, mistreated and abused.
The experience of this congregation is not uncommon, Christian sources said. Other unregistered house church groups report their requests for registering local congregations are being either ignored or denied.
Compass sources said they rarely see such abuse as well-documented as in this case. Said one advocate, “It would be very easy for authorities to follow this up and do the right thing, but few expect they will. It illustrates once more the famous Vietnamese maxim, ‘The law of the Emperor yields to the custom of the village.’”
Report from Compass Direct News
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America released proposals Thursday, Feb. 19, that seek to change Christian teaching on homosexuality and would permit pastors to be in same-sex sexual relationships, reports LifeSiteNews.com.
In response, leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) announced Thursday that they will work to defeat the proposals that ask the ELCA to depart from biblical teaching on sexuality.
Lutheran CORE is a coalition of pastors, lay people, congregations and reforming groups that seeks to preserve the authority of the Bible in the ELCA.
“These recommendations mark a significant departure from the church’s commitment to Scripture as the source and norm of its faith and life,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee.
“The proposal for change in standards for clergy departs from the clear teaching of Scripture,” said Spring, the retired bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod.
Responses to a 2004 study on homosexuality showed that a significant majority of ELCA members (57 percent) opposed change to accepted Christian teaching on homosexual behavior. Only 22 percent of ELCA members favored change in church teaching to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of practicing homosexuals.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
More than 500 senior evangelical leaders gathering in Pattaya, Thailand from October 25-30, 2008, have wrapped up their General Assembly, after five days of intensive discussion to plan the way forward in world evangelization, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.
On Wednesday, delegates agreed upon six major resolutions setting out an evangelical response to religious liberty, HIV and Aids, poverty, peacemaking, creation care and the global financial crisis, according to a media release obtained by ANS.
“The worldwide financial turmoil is, at its root, evidence of what happens when too many are captivated by greed and put their faith in, and entrust their security and future aspirations to, a system animated by the maximization of wealth. Many legitimately feel betrayed,” read the resolution on the global financial crisis.
“While we hope that the painful consequences of the turmoil will be mitigated, our concern is that its impact will continue to permeate into more regions and economies of the world. We recognize that this economic crisis will have the most painful impact on the poor, who are the most vulnerable.
“We reaffirm our faith in God and acknowledge that He is in control. We repent when we have placed our trust in money, institutions and persons, rather than God. Our security is not found in the things of this world.”
The resolution called on Christians to care for the poor during the crisis and live simply and generously.
“The Body of Christ, His Church, is living with HIV,” stated the resolution on HIV, a major focus area for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). “With brokenness we admit that as Evangelical Christians we have allowed stigmatization and discrimination to characterize our relationships with people living with HIV. We repent of these sinful attitudes and commit to ensuring that they are changed.”
In the preamble to the resolution on the Millennium Development Goals, evangelical leaders stated, “In coping with the financial crisis of 2008, governments and international institutions have shown how quickly and effectively they can move to mobilize massive resources in the face of serious threats to our global, common economic well being.
“Yet one child dying of preventable causes every three seconds and 2.7 billion people barely sustained on an income of less than two dollars per day has yet to evoke a similar level of urgent response.
“We believe this to be an affront to God, a shame to governments and civil society, and a massive challenge to the witness and mission of the followers of Christ.”
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) international director Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe told delegates that they faced additional challenges to fulfilling the Great Commission from radical secularism, postmodernism, declining Christianity at the same time as growing interest in spirituality, trafficking and migration.
He insisted, however, that great challenges also brought great opportunities for evangelical engagement.
“We see this tremendous growth and this seismic shift in the church around the world and we are excited to what God is doing as he raises up women and men around the world in so many different places,” he said.
“As we think about the global reality of the world in which we live, [there are] immense challenges but also immense opportunities.”
Dr Tunnicliffe also said that the WEA would remain committed to integral mission “or holistic transformation, a proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel”.
“It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are done alongside of each other but rather in integral mission proclamation has social consequences. We call people to love and repentance in all areas of life,” he said.
He reaffirmed the WEA’s commitment to world evangelization.
“If anyone tells you that we’ve gone soft on world evangelization you can tell them that we are totally committed to world evangelization because it is only Jesus Christ that changes people’s lives,” he said.
A highlight of the week was an address from the Rev Joel Edwards, who was commissioned during the assembly as the new director of Christian anti-poverty movement Micah Challenge.
In his address, the former head of the UK Evangelical Alliance told delegates that the power to rehabilitate the word ‘evangelical’ lay in their hands.
“Whatever people think of evangelical Christians, if people are going to think differently about evangelicals the only people who can actually change their minds are evangelicals,” he said.
“We must reinvent, rehabilitate and re-inhabit what evangelical means as good news. We must present Christ credibly to our culture and we should seek to be active citizens working for long-term spiritual and social change.
“Words can change their meaning. If 420 million evangelicals in over 130 nations across the world really wanted it to happen, evangelical could mean good news.”
In another key address, the head of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the Rev Richard Howell said that an identity anchored in Christ and a universal God was an evangelical non-negotiable in an age of pluralism.
“We have but one agenda: obedience to the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ,” said Dr Howell. “We are evangelical Christians for the sake of God.”
“Our identity has to be related back to God. Unless we do that, we will never know who we are. Our identity comes from God and God alone.”
“The Christian belief in the oneness of God implies God’s universality, and the universality implies transcendence with respect to any given culture.
“Christians can never be first of all Asians, Africans, Europeans, Americans, Australians and then Christians.”
The assembly also heard from the Chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), Douglas Birdsall.
The WEA is collaborating with the LCWE in its major Cape Town 2010 meeting, which will bring together 4,000 evangelicals to assess the next steps in realizing the movement’s vision of ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’.
“You might ask is there a need for an international congress that deals with world evangelization,” Birdsall told the assembly. “I would say that throughout history, such a gathering is only necessary when the future of the life of the church is threatened by some type of challenge – either internal challenge or external pressure.”
The assembly also saw the launch of the WEA Leadership Institute, a brand new initiative to see the leaders of the WEA’s 128 national alliances trained to serve and proclaim Christ within some challenging contexts.
“Leading an Evangelical Alliance is not easy,” commented Dr Tunnicliffe. “That’s why we want to provide them with the relevant training and resources.”
Also commissioned during the week was the new leader of the WEA’s Religious Liberty Commission, Sri Lankan national Godfrey Yogarajah.
Dr Tunnicliffe rounded up the assembly with a call to evangelicals to keep in step with God’s work on earth.
“It is my prayer that we in our community will be women and men who live with divine purpose within our lives, that we will be good leaders envisioned by God to make a difference in the world,” he said.
“The most important thing that you can do with your [life] is to integrate it into the never ending story of God’s kingdom. God’s already at work in the world. He’s doing things. We just need to align with what He is doing.”
World Evangelical Alliance is made up of 128 national evangelical alliances located in 7 regions and 104 associate member organizations. The vision of WEA is to extend the Kingdom of God by making disciples of all nations and by Christ-centered transformation within society. WEA exists to foster Christian unity, to provide an identity, voice and platform for the 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.
Report from the Christian Telegraph