Lutheran denomination splitting after gay pastor vote


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 

PEW FORUM SURVEY: ‘IS CHRISTIANITY THE ONE TRUE RELIGION?’


A 2008 Pew Forum survey found that 65 percent of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life — and that 52 percent of American Christians believe salvation can be found in at least some non-Christian religions, reports Baptist Press.

At a time when American belief is shifting toward religious pluralism — the idea that all religions are equal in offering truth — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum addressed the question: “Is Christianity the one true religion?”

“The topic is very important given the politically correct, tolerance-laden culture we find ourselves living in today,” said Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum and associate professor of philosophy and theology at NOBTS. “Ultimately we need to take a stand on the clear teaching of God’s Word, which teaches us that Jesus is the only Savior of the world.”

Evangelical Christians as a whole are not embracing pluralism, Stewart said, but some are drifting away from an exclusive view of salvation.

“Some Christians are probably more inclusivistic in their theology than pluralistic,” he said. “The recent Pew Forum survey found that a majority of American Christians believe that some non-Christian faiths lead to eternal life and that 37 percent of those Christians were evangelical Christians.”

The keynote speakers for the March 27-28 forum, Harold Netland of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Paul Knitter of Union Theological Seminary, presented divergent answers to the question of pluralism.

Citing the often-conflicting and contradictory views of various religions, Netland rejected pluralism as a viable option. He argued in favor of the evangelical position that Christianity is the one true religion. Knitter, who identifies himself as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, argued that Jesus “is a way open to other ways.”

Netland opened the forum by acknowledging, “The assertion that Christianity is the one true religion for all people strikes many as hopelessly out of touch with current realities.” Such a claim, he said, “seems to display generous amounts of both intellectual naivety and arrogance.”

“Nevertheless, with proper qualification, I do believe that the Christian faith as defined by the Christian scriptures is true and that this sets the Christian faith apart from other religious traditions,” Netland said.

Affirming the truth of Christianity does not deem all aspects of other religions false; Netland said other religious traditions do contain beauty and goodness — often in the area of moral and ethical teachings. However, beliefs that are incompatible with essential Christian teachings must be rejected, Netland said.

Netland said he rejects pluralism in part because the major world religions tend to make often-exclusive truth claims. Religious adherents from most traditions are expected to regard the claims of their religion as true, he said. These truth assertions are not meant to be taken as personal or mythological.

“Each religion regards its own assertions as correct or superior to those of its rivals,” Netland said. “When we consider carefully what the religions have to say about the religious ultimate and the nature of, and conditions for salvation …, there is significant disagreement.”

Netland suggested focusing on the essential or defining beliefs of a religion in determining its truth; a religion is true only if these essential beliefs are true.

“For Christianity to be true, the defining beliefs of Christianity, namely certain affirmations about God, Jesus of Nazareth and salvation must be true,” Netland said. “If they are true, Christianity is true.”

Netland said that some argue for “epistemic parity” among religions. Epistemic parity holds that no religion can claim rational superiority over another religion because the data is insufficient to prove one claim over another. Netland, however, sees epistemic parity as an argument for agnosticism rather than pluralism.

“For if there are not good reasons for accepting any single religious tradition as true, why should we suppose that all of them collectively are equally true?” Netland said.

On the other hand, Knitter claimed that true Christianity would never make an exclusive claim to truth. He offered a case for pluralism based on four categories: history, ethics, theology and Scripture.

“If we look at our history, there has been a change in Christian beliefs about this question,” Knitter said. “Although at one time, almost all the churches held firmly that Christianity is the only true religion, today many Christian churches do not.”

Knitter cited the 2008 Pew Forum study as evidence that many Christians are moving away from a belief in Christianity as the one true religion.

“The fact that our question has already been answered by a broad group of Christians … we have to take [this] into consideration,” he said. “Our job as theologians is to work with what people are actually believing.”

Knitter said the shift away from an exclusive belief in Christianity has not diminished the commitment or discipleship of individual Christians. He argued that a further shift could be made — a complete shift to religious pluralism.

Knitter noted that viewing Christianity as the one true religion carries the danger of hindering dialogue among the religions.

“The religions of the world have a moral obligation to engage each other in a peacemaking dialogue,” Knitter said. “Dialogue is the mutual exchange to which all sides seek to help each other grow in the knowing and the doing of what is true and what is right.”

Dialogue is impossible, however, if one side makes an exclusive claim to religious truth, Knitter argued, saying it is a grievous error to hinder dialogue.

If dialogue is “a moral imperative,” he said, “what impedes a moral imperative looks to be immoral itself.”

Exclusive claims to truth not only impede dialogue, but such claims can foster violence, Knitter said. While rarely the cause of violence, he said exclusive truth claims can rally followers to a leader’s cause.

In his theological case for pluralism, Knitter appealed to God’s love. He said that “the God of Jesus is a power of pure unbounded love” and that the New Testament’s teachings show God’s desire to see all people saved.

“As my teacher back in Germany, Karl Rahner, insisted, ‘if God wants to save all people then God will act in a sure way as to make this a real possibility for all people,’” Knitter said. “Rahner went on to claim that the religions are among the most available and ready at hand ways in which God will make this offer of His saving grace. A God who loves all will offer that love to all.”

For his scriptural argument, Knitter claimed that the exclusive language of the New Testament is confessional language, or love language that was intended to be superlative, not exclusive. Statements such as “no other name,” “one mediator,” and “no one comes to the Father except by me” are meant to communicate something positive about Jesus, not something negative about other religions, Knitter said.

“I must confess my faith that Jesus is indeed the way that is open to other ways and that in order to be a faithful follower of this Jesus I must recognize and engage the truth that the Spirit may be offering me in my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and Shinto brothers and sisters,” Knitter said.

Knitter closed with the famous quote from Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”

During the response time, Netland sought clarification on a number of points from Knitter in areas such as application of Scripture, the meaning of truth in religion and the religious ultimate.

“How exactly is the New Testament … normative for us today?” Netland asked. “How does Paul Knitter understand the concept of truth in religion?”

Netland also asked Knitter to explain his view of the religious ultimate (God).

Knitter did not directly address Netland’s questions but was content to present a further argument on the nature of religious language. Appealing to the mystery of God, Knitter said all of human language about God is symbolic, poetic and metaphoric.

This religious language, Knitter said, calls people to action. For him, right practice should be emphasized over right belief.

“Orthopraxis has a certain primacy over orthodoxy. The two are essentially related and you can’t have one without the other,” Knitter said. “The truth of a symbol will be in its ability to affect our life. Religious truth is truth for me when it enables me to find a context in which I find meaning and purpose.”

After the event, Greer-Heard director Robert Stewart said he hopes students learn to be “both properly charitable and properly critical in evaluating claims with which they disagree.” While he disagrees with the position of Knitter and other pluralists, Stewart sees value in engaging their ideas. He hopes exposure to scholars such as Knitter will help NOBTS students better defend the truth of Christianity.

“As a philosopher I don’t find the hermeneutical arguments that pluralists make on this point strong enough to overcome the case for the traditional reading of passages like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12,” Stewart said. “The purpose of the Greer-Heard Forum, however, is that we are training Christians for ministry in today’s world and must thus trust that we have given them what they need to interact critically with the wide range of opinions that they will encounter in real-world ministry.”

Begun in 2005, the Greer-Heard Forum provides a platform for dialogue between a noted evangelical scholar and a non-evangelical academic on matters of faith and culture. The event is designed to teach students, ministers and laypeople how to interact with a person from an opposing view.

The 2010 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum will focus on “The Message of Jesus.” The keynote speakers will be Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, and John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University. Other presenters will include Amy-Jill Levine, Alan Segal, Darrell Bock and Craig Evans.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

GERMAN THEOLOGIAN URGES CATHOLIC CHURCH TO REEVALUATE LUTHER


An international expert on church unity has urged the Roman Catholic Church to declare officially that its excommunication of Martin Luther no longer applies, reports Ecumenical News International.

Such a statement, “in these ecumenically less exciting times … would be a remarkable step and a sign of hope and encouragement”, said the Rev. Günther Gassmann, a German Lutheran theologian, who was director of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission from 1984 to 1995. He said that a joint Lutheran-Catholic statement published in 1983 to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth had sought to elaborate a common position on the work and legacy of the reformer.

“Luther, a major symbol and personification during 400 years of the past Catholic-Lutheran conflict and division, is now seen as a common teacher,” Gassmann noted.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

MUSEUM IN GENEVA ‘REINTRODUCES’ JOHN CALVIN TO A NEW GENERATION


Geneva’s International Museum of the Reformation this year celebrates the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth with “A Day in the Life of John Calvin” — a temporary exhibition which features contextualized 3-D simulations of the Reformer’s life, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.

The year 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (1509-2009), one of the founding fathers of the Reformation, and the International Museum of the Reformation (IMR), in Geneva, Switzerland, has announced an exceptional temporary exhibition and series of events in honor of his contributions.

The IMR, which opened in 2005 and was the recipient of the 2007 Council of Europe Museum Prize, will ‘reintroduce’ John Calvin to visitors from around the world with an exhibition entitled: “A Day in the Life of John Calvin,” which will run April 24-Oct. 31, 2009.

 

A unique 3-D exhibition

Visitors to the museum exhibit will have the opportunity to follow a day in the reformer’s life in three dimensions.

This innovative exhibit features virtual representations of Calvin’s Reformation-era world. Three-D simulations of Calvin in his familiar surroundings and activities will help foster a better understanding of his life and actions, in the manner of a documentary film.

Surrounded by historically accurate sets, the 3-D animated figure of Calvin ‘speaks’ directly to visitors using simulation technologies developed by MIRALab laboratory at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Several 16th century engravings, objects and books will also be featured in the exhibition.

The museum’s world-class exhibit falls during 2009, the Year of Faith Tourism, designated by the World Religious Travel Association (WRTA) as a year set aside for the promotion of, and participation in, travel by people of faith.

One-third of visitors to the museum are from abroad, chiefly from France and the United States.

Isabelle Graesslé, Director of the International Museum of the Reformation, has been the first female moderator of the Pastors Company, founded in 1541 with John Calvin as its first moderator, in almost 500 years. Since 2005, she has been the Director of the International Museum of the Reformation.

Graessle, who is a leading expert on John Calvin, said she was thrilled to announce this special event.

“John Calvin’s influence can still be felt in the world today. During a much harder period, Calvin clearly paved the way to the future democratization of society through education, widening self-consciousness and spreading his new ideas,” said Graessle in a media release from Christine Moore at Epiphany Media.

The International Museum of the Reformation: a forum for free speech

The International Museum of the Reformation’s goal is to present the history of the Reformation, the religious movement started by Martin Luther in 1517 and pursed by Calvin in Geneva in 1536, in a lively and engaging manner.

It also provides a forum to encourage dialogue among different faiths and Christian traditions: a place in which to discuss the role of religion in the contemporary world from a cultural perspective.

The IMR is located in the heart of Geneva’s old town, in a beautiful 18th-century style mansion, the Maison Mallet.

State-of-the-art technology is seamlessly integrated into the classical, grand structure. An underground passage connects the IMR to the archaeological site under Saint-Pierre Cathedral. The “Espace Saint-Pierre,” comprising these two museums and the visit of the Cathedral Towers, represents one of Geneva’s latest cultural and tourist attractions.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, November 18 (Compass Direct News) – Police on Nov. 16 arrested a pastor and charged him with “hurting religious sentiments” in Vangasandra, Hosur Road, Bangalore, after a mob of Hindu extremists stormed into his house church service and struck him. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said that at 11 a.m. a mob of nearly 25 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) barged into the house church service and repeatedly slapped the pastor, identified only as Sujnanamm, and shouted filthy curses at the 15 other Christians present. Laxminarayan Gowda, GCIC regional coordinator, told Compass that the extremists beat one of the Christians who tried to help the pastor. The intolerant Hindus forced Pastor Sujnanamm, with his nose bleeding, to go with them to the Madivala police station and registered a false complaint of forcible conversion against him, Gowda said. “On being questioned about his Christian activities, Sujnanamm told the police that he was a student at BBBC [Bhirian Baptist Bible College],” Gowda said. “This angered the police, who summoned the Rev. Edwin Chilli, president of the BBBC, to the police station and charged him under Section 506 for criminal intimidation.” At press time both Christian leaders were still in jail.

Karnataka – Police arrested three Christians on Nov. 12 on charges of attempted Christian conversion by allurement in Cox Town, Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that a Christian man identified only as Chandrasekhar and two Christian women, identified only as Kamlamma and Sandhya, all of Pavithra Agni Church, went to a slum area in Jeevanahalli to pray for a sick couple. On their way back home, nearly 20 Hindu extremists belonging to the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh attacked them, snatched their bags, verbally abused them and falsely accused them of forcible conversion, then phoned a local police station. The Frazer Town Police took the three Christians to the police station and arrested them for “hurting religious sentiments” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.” The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that an employer of the slum dwellers identified only as Mr. Gowda also filed a complaint against the Christians for allegedly inducing people to convert to Christianity by fraudulent means. The two women were remanded to custody, and Chandrasekhar was sent to a jail the next day. The three Christians appeared in court on Nov. 13 and were ordered to remain in police custody till Nov. 28, according to the EFI.

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) on Nov. 9 falsely accused a pastor of forced conversion, beat him and verbally abused Christian women in Banavara, Arasikere Taluk, Hassan district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that pastor Ravi Charles of Jesus Prayer Hall was summoned to perform the funeral service of a church member, a convert from Hinduism identified only as Girijama. As the pastor, his wife and other Christians reached the house of the deceased, an argument broke out among family members on whether the funeral was to proceed under Christian or Hindu rites. Hindu relatives informed VHP extremists. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the VHP extremists arrived, accused the pastor of forced conversion and started beating him, as well as verbally abusing the Christian women. The extremists called police, who detained them for four hours and released them without charges.

Karnataka – Police on Nov. 4 arrested Benjamin Bommai, 52, of the Manonidhi Institute of Nursing (MIN) in Chamarajanagar district, on charges of forced conversion. MIN Manager Shailaja Krupanidhi told Compass that police summoned Bommai for questioning regarding a case filed by Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal in 2006 for distributing gospel tracts at Manonidhi College. The extremists had charged Bommai with trying to forcibly convert students. “On Nov. 4, Bommai was only called for enquiry – he did not distribute tracts or anything, but police arrested him,” said Krupanidhi. Bommai appeared before the district magistrate and was later sent to the Chamrajanagar jail. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that police arrested Bommai for promoting enmity between different groups of religion under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code. “Bommai was released on bail the next evening,” said Krupanidhi.

Uttarakhand – Hindu extremists vandalized a church, severely injured a pastor’s ear drum and stole donation and offering bags on Nov. 3 in Dehradun. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, about 30 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal barged into the worship hall of Bethesda Church and damaged Bibles and gospel literature and furniture. The assailants took the church’s offering and donation boxes along with important papers. The extremists also attacked Asher Wasker, a pastor from God’s Church in neighboring Rajpur, who had come to the aid of the attacked church. Pastor Wasker suffered internal injuries and his right ear drum was severely injured. Bethesda Church’s caretaker and Pastor Wasker filed a complaint with the help of area Christian leaders, and three Hindu extremists were arrested for voluntarily causing hurt and damage, for trespassing and wrongful restraint, for theft and for defiling a place of worship.

Karnataka – Police on Nov. 2 disrupted the Sunday worship service of a house church in Thimannakatte village, Haveri district, based on an accusation of forced conversion. According to the Christian Legal Association, police barged into the house church of the Dheiwah Ministry because villagers had accused pastor Rangaiah Nagaraj of forcible conversion. Police warned the pastor to obtain prior permission in order to conduct future worship meetings. But Inspector Krishan Junoor later said the pastor could continue to conduct worship meetings under police protection, adding that normalcy had returned to the area. No arrests had been made.

Andhra Pradesh – Nizambad district police detained a pastor for one-and-a-half days on a complaint of forced conversion filed against him by Hindu extremists on Oct. 24 in Nandipet Mandal, Nizambad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at about 8 a.m., 20 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the house of pastor Martin Luther of Believers Church and attacked him, dragging him to the police station and accusing him of forcible conversion. The pastor was released after local Christian leaders met with Sub-Inspector Shiva Shankar.

Madhya Pradesh – Police on Oct. 12 arrested a pastor on charges of “fraudulent conversion” in Dhamnod town, Dhar District. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a complaint from a local resident led police to raid pastor Ganesh Bharud’s house church, seize Bibles, hymnals and gospel tracts, chase away the 25 Christians assembled for Sunday worship and force Bharud to the Dhamnod police station. A GCIC representative told Compass that the local resident had accused Bharud of inducing people to convert with false promises of an overseas job. Police officials told Compass that Bharud was released on bail on Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m.  

Report from Compass Direct News

CATHOLICS CAN LEARN FROM LUTHER TOO, SAYS CARDINAL KASPER


Roman Catholics can learn from the 16th-century Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the Vatican’s top official for Christian unity, has said, as Protestant churches in Germany prepare to launch a 10-year series of events leading up to the 500th anniversary in 2017 of the Lutheran Reformation, reports Ecumenical News International. In an interview published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Cardinal Walter Kasper encouraged Catholics to read Luther’s commentaries on the Bible, and his “hymns full of spiritual power”. The cardinal said he also hoped Protestantism would return to the faith of Martin Luther, “who would have been deeply averse to all of today’s liberal tendencies”.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

 

Particular Baptist Kev’s Random Thoughts:

When I saw this article I was sceptical – but the last sentence is the clincher isn’t it? Typical Roman Catholic rhetoric and propaganda in order to aid its chief objective in regards to Protestantism – ‘he also hoped Protestantism would return to the faith of Martin Luther.’ This sentence really says – he also hoped Protestantism would return to the Roman Catholic Church. This is their constant mantra and no amount of dressing will prevent intelligent Protestants from seeing his comments in any other light.