Dialogue in Disagreement

It seems to me that one of the most difficult things for Christians to do is to engage in dialogue over matters where there is disagreement, especially in matters related to faith.  I’m going to use a recent comment on this blog to illustrate this and to attempt to engage in some dialogue, knowing in advance that I’ll make some mistakes, and it won’t be perfect.  The article I wrote that the commenter responded to is here.

The quoted comments will be italicized and indented.

My comments will be in normal typeface.

Are you really a pastor or just pretending, because you make no sense at all.

I’m sorry that you didn’t understand.  I was attempting some very short answers to complicated questions, and my shortcuts were likely too brief.  Please, because we disagree or you don’t understand, don’t call into question my role in this church.  Too often, we belittle those with whom we disagree or don’t understand.  I’ll attempt to not belittle you.

The commenter then quotes my statement, and adds a comment.

“You see, the matter is that the ELCA is what the congregations determine it to be. It is not some monolithic entity” The ELCA is what happens to a denomination when they are of the world and not in the world. Our congregation could easily vote to reject the ELCA statements
and go with the flow and not make waves. What would the point be in belonging to the ELCA Club and paying dues to support someone elses agendas.

Once again, I apologize that I wasn’t clear.  I’ll try to expand and be more clear.  The ELCA is indeed a denomination, but since its inception, it has been described as being composed of three expressions; the congregation, the synod, and the churchwide.  Most who are unhappy with the “ELCA” are focused only on part of the church, usually churchwide.  What each congregation teaches and how it lives the Gospel helps shape what is the ELCA.  As congregations decide to leave, they change the dynamic of what is the ELCA, which I think is a great loss to this church. Therefore, there is no such thing as “the ELCA Club”.  The ELCA does not exist apart from the congregations of which it is made.  The ELCA is not some independent “other”.  Mission support is not paying “dues” but gathering together resources for shared ministry.  Congregations have a responsibility to be engaged with one another because we are the ELCA.

I note that we wrestle with our role as parts of a body in many other ways too.  I may disagree with the priorities of the local congregation (especially related to where we spend our resources), but still am engaged in sharing ministry with others.  I will work to influence the priorities of congregational spending wherever I can, but ultimately, it is about something larger than me and what I hold to be important.  Likewise, I share ministry with people who throw a few dollars into the offering plate every once in a while, even though I contribute enough that it makes a difference in how I have to budget other things in my household.  I disagree strongly with their priorities, and yet, will work side by side with them to advance the ministry and mission of the congregation.

Because I have this perspective, I’m not as troubled by decisions of the ELCA which run counter to my specific priorities or my specific understanding of the center of scripture.  Likewise, I’m not threatened by those congregations that in their context, make different choices than I make in my context.  That does not mean for me that the ELCA is a denomination “of the world”.  Your comment suggests to me that you believe that those who voted to approve controversial positions were not grounded in scripture.  I listened carefully to the debate, and am convinced that there was appropriate attention to scripture from all sides, even the sides of the debate with which I disagree.  What takes priority and what is the central message of the Gospel is different for different people.  In some ways, it is similar to the differences between denominations.  But from my perspective, these differences are not sufficient to cause a split. Clearly, you see that differently.

“Regarding abortion, the issue is not about knowing someone who has had an abortion but supporting a denomination that offers to pay for the murder of a child.

I agree that the question about abortion is not about knowing someone who has had an abortion.  I apologize for being curt in my reply. Abortion is a passionate debate, one where there is little hope for dialogue.  Passions run much too high.  The commenter is opposed to the ELCA health plan paying for abortions.  I probably agree, not having thought about it much.  I’d simply ask that there be some discussion about what constitutes abortion for the commenter.  Is the commenter against termination of any pregnancy, viable or not?  How is that determined?  I don’t know enough about all this. Then, as in guidance offered in many parts of scripture, one must weigh the “greater good”.  That is not easy even from scripture.  Remember, this is the scripture that advocates stoning of adulterers and disobedient children.  It both commands divorce and calls divorce adultery.

As far as sexuality in colleges of the ELCA, again I say, it is not about knowing that there is sexual activity but the fact that the colleges are providing avenues of acceptance of for such activity.
I went to college in the 70′s and had a good old time, but when I grew up I knew my children would go to a Christian college because my husband and I wanted the best faith based professors to mentor them and serve as Godly examples. Well that was a waste, so why would someone choose to send their child to an ELCA school who’s attitude has nothing to do with Biblical teachings.

I have some real challenges with broad sweeping statements about what constitutes Christianity (based on morals).  The American Lutheran Church college I attended shaped my understanding and appreciation of paradox, vocation, and scripture (that was not literal or fundamental).  Students and professors sometimes lived out the Christian faith in obvious ways, and at other times were engaged in sinful activity … including competitiveness for grades.  In some ways, I’m not sure what a “Christian College” might be.  Is it a college that lives radical grace and forgiveness as its foundational values?  Is it one that offers radical hospitality?  Is it one where the poor, disenfranchised, alienated, and those whom society has deemed valueless are lifted up and given value?  Is it one where only scripture is used for teaching?  Is it one where all share all possessions in common?  Is it one in which vocation is understood as a calling of God and equipping of the Holy Spirit?  Is it one in which one is allowed and encouraged to wrestle with questions of faith in a safe learning environment, far from fear of condemnation?  Some of us might define Christianity in these ways from a faithful reading of Scripture.  “Christian” is a term I use to describe Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I’d be interested in conversation about how the commenter describes “Christian”.  In the places where I have conversations about the Christian faith, Christian does not mean only one thing, and it is not universally understandable.

And yes I dare say that we all have seen illicit sexual activity in our congregation as well as many other sins, if we didnt all sin there would be no need to go to church. We are to observe, address and repent of our sins. If all our sins are okay, I’m okay, you’re okay, he’s okay ,it’s okay, we’re all okay.,lets just all get along. Then why did Christ have to die on the cross. It is our job to love our brothers enough to steer them away from sin and each of us help each other to recognize and repent .

Often, when there is conversation about these kinds of disagreements, the conversation devolves to the “if there are no standards then everything is ok and Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension mean nothing” position.  Please, step back and take a breath.  It is not “everything goes”, although I can see where it can look like that’s where it is leading.  Obedience to scripture is important.  But here we’ll probably disagree about what is most important in scripture.  Grace is important.  I often wonder if one is more important than the other, because when I put one ahead of the other, things get messed up.  It is my experience that sometimes grace happens before obedience.  Sometimes obedience is first.  Sometimes forgiveness comes before repentance.  Sometimes repentance is first.  Sometimes obedience draws me closer to God and sometimes God draws me closer to obedience.  I don’t want to be like the Pharisees who could see everyone’s failings and not consider their own.

I ask, because I’m interested to know, is there a point where forgiveness is not offered if there is no real change in a person’s behavior (if repentance is related to behavior)?  Does anyone ever repent about Thanksgiving Day feasting (gluttony), a sin when so much of the world goes hungry or do we in the church bless this sin?  Does anyone ever repent of the coveting that is the basis for our North American economy or does the church simply go along?  Jesus says all remarriage (in one of the Gospels) is sinful, and yet we don’t demand those marriages end.  My point is not to justify “sin”, but to invite us into a larger question where we seek out the answers together and listen carefully to one another in a way that honors how scripture speaks to another.  I want to have this kind of conversation … not because I know the answers, but because it has implications on what we mean by repentance, obedience, sinfulness, and forgiveness.  Why is it that some sins are considered acceptable and others are not?  How do we decide?  Is there a difference between sin as a condition and sinful acts?  Dialogue will reveal a good deal in these matters.

There is more from the commenter, some of it quite personal.  I hope I did not call her names, or insinuate that she is homophobic or un-Christian, or is out of touch with the world.  If I did, I am sorry for that, for that was not my intent.  There is too much of that in the world as it is.  I have a lot of questions, and believe that Christians can ask questions of one another without having to fight about preconceived truths.  I learn a great deal from these kinds of dialogues and invite people into them all the time.

There is more I can say, and I’ve said too much, so enough for now. 

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45 responses to “Dialogue in Disagreement

  1. Hello,
    From your blog:
    “What takes priority and what is the central message of the Gospel is different for different people.”
    Please comment more on this, as this phrasing seems to suggest that whatever this or that church wants to believe the Bible says, then that’s what the Bible says to them. Since when did the Bible lose its absolute truth?
    The reason why the Bible ‘seems to say different things to different church bodies’ is because of sin. Sin clouds our minds and too often we place human reason over and above Scripture-at many times not even realizing it.
    Let Scripture speak for itself. If there is a part of Scripture that seems to contradict itself we must look at the context of the passage, the context of the book and then the context of the whole Bible.
    You had mentioned : Jesus says all remarriage (in one of the Gospels) is sinful, and yet we don’t demand those marriages end.
    So let’s go back to Scripture. (There’s a definite lack of Scriptural support in this blog. Please use more Scripture to defend your points. If you cannot then do not make such points. ) From Matthew 5:31-32:
    “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
    Not the exception clause used here. Please use all of Scripture, not just bits and pieces. God intended marriage to be lifelong. “Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate.” Yet by man’s sin some marriages do end in divorce which is not God-pleasing. The clause however, states that when one person has been faithful holding to his or her wedding vows and the other has not, then the spouse who is living in sin has broken that marriage already and a divorce can happen, though again, this is a tragedy since marriage is meant to be lifelong.
    I do not mean to nitpick, but wanted to use an example and show that using Scripture is so vitally important.
    Again, please, please, please, go back to Scripture. Do not say this part contradicts that part, without looking into all the sections concerning a given topic. As Jesus said “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” and from Revelation: “If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which is described in this book.”
    That’s quite the indictment there. All the more reason to let God’s Word speak for itself. It’s silly to think that somehow God needs our help to make Scripture understandable. Let the clear Words of Scripture speak and illumine the parts of Scripture that may not seem clear to our sinful minds.
    No one can pick and choose and say this is what Scripture means to me. That’s putting personal spin on God’s Words. Simply let his word stand.
    Please feel free to e-mail me and engage in Scriptural dialogue.
    In Christ,
    A concerned Lutheran

  2. Dear Concerned Lutheran – You hit the nail on the head, so to speak by writing, “No one can pick and choose and say this is what Scripture means to me. That’s putting personal spin on God’s Words. Simply let his word stand.” That is the problem with the ELCA; the moral equivalance, social justice, and the belief that everyone is saved! This is why the ELCA is corrupt, they put social justice ahead of God. It is the dumbing down or watering down of our religion to be more politically correct as to not offend anyone. Society cannot keep moving the line. God’s word is what it is and it doesn’t change! “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:8

    • ponderingpastor

      Trouble is, that if you read scholars from the beginning, you will see that the understanding of scripture is constantly changing. People in Isaiah’s day realized a contemporary meaning for the “Suffering Servant” passages that were later used to describe Jesus, a new and novel use/interpretation of those scriptural passages.

  3. I woefully lack credentials to debate biblical intent and meaning.
    I do wonder why people that have such strong “biblically based” feelings that the ELCA has lost it’s compass insist on being so devisive of their congregation. Why do they feel focused, to the point of obsession, on a “vote” to leave the ELCA. The constant debate of the “issues” is obviously causing many to quit coming to church. I do not know which “side” these people are on, I am unfortunately confident that it will be a long time if ever before these families will belong to any congregation that comes out of this situation. Why don’t those that do not agree with the ELCA just leave the ELCA and let those that agree follow, afterall their ultimate goal is to leave.
    Why/how did this become a we have to “win” issue?
    I don’t know if this fits within this dialog, but it bothers me deeply.

  4. Hello again,
    I apologize for my long delay.
    I think you have made my concern for me:
    “Trouble is, that if you read scholars from the beginning, you will see that the understanding of scripture is constantly changing. People in Isaiah’s day realized a contemporary meaning for the “Suffering Servant” passages that were later used to describe Jesus, a new and novel use/interpretation of those scriptural passages.”
    Scholars used their head, not Scripture, hence the changing concept of what the Bible said.
    Let’s just let Scripture speak for itself. The contemporaries of Isaiah may have thought of the Suffering Servant as one thing, but the rest of Scripture shows who that Suffering Servant to be-Jesus Christ.
    For parts of Scripture that don’t seem to make sense, we must turn to those clearer parts of Scripture to shed light on the topic. I don’t care what any one else says. Let’s let Scripture speak for itself. Even Paul said “If I preached to you any other gospel than what I had preached, let me be anathema” ( I admit to paraphrasing a bit. Check out Galatians 1:8)
    My concern is the within the ELCA the Gospel is being watered down and for some people it is being lost. Is Jesus not preached? Of course not. He’s preached proudly. But what about the Law? You cannot have the Gospel without the Law. The Law, in its full and terrible might, needs to be preached fully to convict sinners of their sin and bring to recognize the need for their Savior. Jesus is not a guy who stressed social niceties. While certain social concerns are important, that’s not the main point of the Gospel. It isn’t about our love to others. Far from it. For how could we ever love without beng loved first? No… “We love because he first loved us.” How did he first love us? Well…there you have it. That is the point of the Bible. It points us to our Savior from sin, Jesus Christ.
    Part of the process includes pointing out and rebuking sins. Where the ELCA departs from SCripture we hear God’s warning: “If you hold to my teaching, then you really are my disciples.” What constitutes Jesus’ teaching? Turn to Matt. 28:19-20. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teching them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.”
    So there’s no place to pick and choose and give our own interpretations o Scripture to say certain sins are now ok. No. Scripture is clear. Jesus is clear. Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.

    p.s. Again, I do not mean this as a personal attack. I speak boldly because I have a deep love for Christ and his Word and wish for others to go back to the source for the answers.

    • Your post is an important part of the conversation and is a valid perspective. You rightly challenge my perspective. From your point of view though, you have questions to answer also. If we “just let Scripture speak for itself”, when there are multiple interpretations, how do we determine which is right? It all still goes through an interpretive lens. Scripture is not as clear and unified as we might think or want. I don’t think that “anything goes” is valid. I don’t believe we can have Gospel without Law. Sin is sin … including sometimes the naming of others sins when we have a log in our own eye.

      Thank you also for your “tone” and discussion about the matters of concern rather than making it a personal attack. I’ve not experienced this as a personal attack.

      • Gospel is the fulfillment of Law, baptism and participation in the sacraments are the new Laws proclaimed in the Gospel with equal authority to that of circumcision.

  5. First off,

    This is wonderful. This is the type of civil and humane dialogue that needs to happen. And thank you for posing questions right back at me. I think part of the issue comes down to how a person views Scripture. Is it God’s Word? What does that mean? Is it without error? Or does it merely contain God’s Word? My fear is that some might say The Bible only contains God’s Word. This would imply that there are some fuzzy areas. The question is which ones? The moment you pull at one thread in the Word…well, the whole tapestry begins to unravel. You raise an excellent point that has also bothered me. Why are there so many intepretations? Again, part of the problem lies in human understanding. Secondly, I think many pious and devout men have lost their knack with the original languages. As pastors we need to wrestle with the Greek and Hebrew to properly reflect what God’s Word says. Now, is God’s Word the sounds and symbols of letters? No. Rather it is the clear message found throughout the Word-namely, that all mankind has sinned and that our only salvation is found in the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. With different intepretations it is the task of God-fearing pastors to always go back to the original and see how different intepretations struggle and work at bringing out and properly reflecting the original languages. Some translations are good because the bring the message to the people in clear, simple language. Others are good because they bring out the wooden, clear meaning of those ancient words to light. It’s about finding a good balance between getting the meanings of the original out there while also making it readable. It’s a hard task that falls upon us pastors for every sermon we preach-to go back to the original languages and take those clear words and make them understandable to the everyday person.
    My prayers are with you and with all pastors that we may continue to grow in knowledge and depth of insight so that we may properly preach the true Gospel.

    • ponderingpastor

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      I agree that this is a matter of how we view scripture and would add, how we view God … or more accurately, what is our relationship with God like. I view scripture as descriptions of human experience of God (with God, under God, etc.). I think of it as a series of answers to the question, “Where is God at work in your world?” Since I believe that the Holy Spirit works in us to reveal God’s activity in our lives, then scripture is God inspired, God breathed, God authored. I believe scripture to be about a God who draws us to God in so many different ways that there is not a single unified witness. (Trying to pull together a unified “theory” of God is like physicists trying to complete a unified theory of the universe … sometimes we are wrong, we get close, but there is still something unexplainable.) I believe the various interpretations have more to do with what parts of the story resonate with us at the time.

      To some of my Lutheran brothers and sisters this sounds much too loose. But I’ve watched in my life the various parts of scripture speak differently to me. Sometimes I don’t need Law … I need pure, unadulterated grace. Sometimes I need Law and rush to grace too easily. Sometimes I need the mystery (who knows the ways of the serpent on the ground) and sometimes the concrete (you shall not murder). In seminary I excelled in the languages. But it often got me looking at the tree in the forest and missing the role of the forest in connection to the meadow and the impact of that forest on the water table in an area. So I’ve tended to step back from the detail and feel invited into a broader sweep of the implications of scripture (at this time in my life).

      Because of this, I don’t argue a lot about meaning and view. The meaning and view serves the individual and hopefully the community. I do argue when one view or perspective is defined to be the only appropriate view for a community. That’s when I’ll show the contradictions in scripture and invite people into discussions about what that might be about, not to take anything away from them … but to expand their experience of scripture.

      Because of all this, and because of how I’ve seen scripture used by Jesus and by the Biblical writers, I keep looking for new understandings and new insights into what passages mean for us today. The original intent is important. But it is not all there is.

      Thank you for your questions and your nudging me. I’m not sure I would have thought about all of this and put it down in this way without that. I don’t demand you agree with what I said. You may even call me a heretic … but to do so would be to miss how much of the center of who I am is lodged in scripture. I find it rich and deep and pure. It is indeed God’s Word.

  6. Hello friend,
    I believe we are both speaking about something similar and something different at the same time. Certainly Scripture touches people in different ways. I cannot agree with you more. At times, I need the Law to throw me down to the depths of hell. And then what else is more important than to hear that refreshing and vital message of the Gospel to bring me back?
    You made mention looking at how Jesus used Scripture. I am glad to hear this. How could God mess up interpreting his own Word? We do see him making some statements that seem rather strange. Perhaps we should consider the audience-the Jews. The had God’s Ten Commandments and devoted their lives to his law. And then comes this Jesus character who tampers with their way of thinking. Was he brining a new interpretation? Or was he showing how they had strayed in the intent and meaning of the original giving of the law? As the Scriptures cannot be broken, I am of the mindset that the whole of Scripture is without contradiction and where we see something that may seem like a new idea or thought, it needs to be viewed in harmony with the rest of Scripture. (Looking at the forest rather than the tree, to steal your analogy and apply it somewhat differently.)
    One thing I’ve learned from you: you are blessed with a gentle nature, not one to get into fights. “Because of this, I don’t argue a lot about meaning and view.” We could all learn to simply present our views and leave them at that. Thank you for this lesson in humility.
    I do wish to perhaps nudge you into explaining yourself a little bit more. Perhaps this is my youth speaking, but Isee that you accept God’s Word as inspired God breathed, God authored, and yet speak of contradictions. Could you elaborate? My concern with this is that if we do say the Bible has some contradictions or errors while at the same time saying it is God breathed, does that mean we say God is a liar, an errorist? And if there are contradictions what does that do to the credibility of the rest of Scripture? I feel like this may drain the Word of its reall meaning and make it nothing more than a divine guidebook to how to live my life rather than the words of God concerning my eternal salvation.
    Again thank you for your quick and polite responses. If my wording ever seems like I’m attacking, please understand that is not my intent. Rather I wish to drive us both to really chew things over and ponder what the purpose of God’s Word really is.

    • You pose some important questions and I am more than happy to clarify my position.

      Your logical conclusion about God being a liar or an errorist if we accept God’s Word as inspired (or similar terms) couldn’t be further from the truth as I understand it. You see, the logical conclusion relies on the assumption that every part of scripture is for all time and all circumstances and all uniform. I believe that some parts of scripture speak only to certain circumstances, not to “universal truth”. Great examples can be found in the Proverbs. One Proverb says it is better to visit a prostitute than to have a mistress. Both are adultery and forbidden by the Law, (although it could be said that the proverb is still true without recommending action). It is not hard to find two proverbs which say completely opposite things. Jesus assumes the title “Prince of Peace” from Isaiah but says himself that he came not to bring peace, but to divide people (and families). If we decide that we have to harmonize everything, we can make it work. But I find life a whole lot more complicated than that, and I find Scripture similarly fluid. There is another fun one. Matthew 27:9 is where Matthew says he is quoting Jeremiah, but the passage is from Zechariah. The mental gymnastics to get this right are quite interesting.

      None of this diminishes scripture and its importance in my life at all. I still hold it as God inspired, breathed, authored, and the like. Like the ELCA Constitution states, it is the source and norm of our life together. It has been abused and misused by everyone who has engaged with it, because we are sinful and that’s what we do. Our task, I believe, is to hold the contradictions together as both/and rather than either/or.

      If this reply is convoluted, it is because I’ve had multiple interruptions as I write this, and am not going to go back and tighten it up.

  7. Hello again,
    Reading your reply, I think we may be saying the same thing in different terms. There are certain parts of Scripture directly applied to a certain group in a certain time of history. (A woman covering her head in 1 Corinthians as an example) The idea is not the letter of ht Law/ words, but rather the spirit or principle in the words.
    However, where customs may change, the sinful heart does not. And therein lies the rub. It is the task of all Christians to continually go to God’s Word and understand what is appropriate and what is not.
    If I may raise a bone of contention, not with you personally, nor your church of which I know little, but of the ELCA in general. I fear they have moved in a distinctly unScriptural direction as of late. I know one beef most people have is with the homosexuality practice. True, I would take issue with that as well. But there are deeper, bigger concerns. I am worried about the concept of “bound conscience”. I have heard it said that this is straight from Luther, but I fear the concept has been badly mangled. When Luther spoke of his conscience being bound by God’s Word he was letting God’s Word be the final authority on his conscience whether or not his human reasoning understood or agreed. I believe you would agree that Scripture always has the final say. But after hearing youtube clips of ELCA conferences and meetings, and reading through several articles, as well as listening to Tappert speak on the bound conscience, i fear the ELCA is approaching this all wrong, as a way of placating the sinful flesh. It feels too much like a “do whatever you want as long as you’re convinced its good and pleasing in God’s sight.” That always anyone to look at the Bible and say, “Well…since I think the Bible is speaking to me in this way, then this is what this passage means to me, even if my meaning contradicts other parts of Scripture.”
    Would you mind taking the time to elaborate on the concept of bound conscience on your blog?
    I have other concerns, but will politely refrain for now and allow you the opportunity to ponder a bit more.
    Again thank you, for the continuing dialogue. This is rare nowadays. I am glad two Christians, two Lutherans of differeing synods, can still talk and go back to God’s Word regarding these deep matters.

  8. Thank you. I must not have seen these. Give me some time to read through these articles.

  9. Greetings,

    You have done a splendid job of explaining your position regarding the “Bound Conscience”. ( I have seen it abused as a means of tolerance.) Several times, you made a point to state that the concept behind Bound conscience is not tolerance.
    I admit, I am still reticent to agree with you completely on all that the term “Bound Conscience” has come to mean. I have a better understanding though of where you are coming from. I think we both understand and agree that different people can draw different conclusions regarding Scripture. For me personal, when that happens we must vigorously dig into Scripture and let the God’s Word answer the question. Then there are those parts that seem to contradict. You made mention of choosing which ones are more important. I still fear such a stance is letting us pick or choose Scripture as we wish-and our wishes may be very devout and pious. Yet that process comes to close to placing reason over Scripture for my comfort.
    “John 14:6 quotes Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Some will hold that Matthew 25 and Romans 2 both point to the understanding that some who are not Christians will be saved. Readers have to determine how to assimilate all scripture, placing more emphasis on certain understandings than others.”
    If there is confusion on Matthew 25 and Romans 2, then look to what the rest of Scripture says regarding salvation. There is only one way. It is not up to the reader. It is up to the Word.
    Is it true that the ELCA in general has accepted a universalist approach to salvation?
    Again, I ask that you continue this conversation. We are both bound in our consciences as to the truth of Scripture. I wonder if our biggest differences is that I see Scripture is absolute. (Again, this isn’t to say that we should stone an adulterer, for example. That would neglect to recognize the context of that prescription.) I fervently wish to keep it as whole and intact, completely in harmony with itself. If God could make everything in six days, then despite man’s best efforts to change the Bible and render it somewhat obscure, I think God has managed to keep its message whole and intact to the present day.
    Again, respectfully, my two cents.

    • ponderingpastor

      Help me understand how you discount stoning an adulterer without considering one part of scripture more important than another. Isn’t it picking and choosing Scripture as we wish? How does one decide that one has priority over another without that discernment?

      I don’t have an answer for: What does Jesus mean when he says he has other sheep not of this fold? I understand that Jesus is THE WAY. When Jesus says “No one comes to the Father except through me” does that mean that his sacrifice is for all (see John 3:16a, “for God so loved the WORLD”) or does it mean that one has to believe in Jesus as THE WAY in order to have salvation?

      I’m very orthodox in my teaching and preaching. I simply also ask a lot of questions and wonder about a lot of things. No, it is not true that the ELCA has accepted universalist approach to salvation. Have some pastors adopted that stance? Yes. But let me ask this … If a baby is born and is not baptized before it dies, is there a possibility of salvation? Or, let me ask this … If someone has legitimately never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is there a possibility of salvation? Or, let me ask this … Does God withdraw God’s promises to the Jews if they do not become Christian? Is the only answer to these questions, John 14:6? Is there other scripture that might answer these questions?

      And a personal question. Are you LCMS? If not, do you mind telling me which denomination? It might help me frame some of this differently.

  10. Hello,
    Remember God’s purpose for the Israelites. They were the chosen people through whom the Savior would come. Their laws acted as a hedge to keep them from becoming like the pagan nations around them. Their laws were harsh, yes. They were governed in a theocracy. The soul that sins dies. We are not in a theocracy. Nor are we the Jews. The principle that adultery is wrong still stands. The punishment is prescribed for the Israelites at that time does not. I do not think this would be sondiered picking and choosing. I would be willing to discuss this further.
    “But let me ask this … If a baby is born and is not baptized before it dies, is there a possibility of salvation?”
    What makes the difference between going to heaven or hell? Faith in Jesus Christ. Certainly if we have the opportunity, we want to have babies baptized, or to be baptized ourselves. But faith, trusting in the merits of Christ, is what matters. Mark 16:16 reads “Believe and be baptized…” but continues that whoever does not believe will be condemned. There’s the crux. Who goes to hell? Those who don’t believe. Period. Simply using Scripture’s own words. When Paul and Silas are in prison and there is a great earthquake. The jailer is about to take his life. Paul stops him. “What must I do to be saved?”
    Believe. Nothing more.
    “Or, let me ask this … If someone has legitimately never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is there a possibility of salvation? ”
    Sadly, with a heavy heart, I will limit myself to Scripture. “Whoever believes will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This is what makes our work of evangelism so important. The whole world has had the gospel several times. The sinful nature has of course ruined things. With Adam and Eve the whole world knew the Gospel. At that time men began to proclaim the name of the Lord, that is to testify to the truth of the Lord. Some men had fallen away. And through their sin, they taught their children wrong and so forth. The chance was there. The only excuse for the Gospel not being passed down is man’s sinfulness. And through the sinfulness of the ancestor’s many today are being condemned to hell. It is terrible and it is sad. It is a hard truth to swallow. It makes us want to ask “How could a lving God allow this?” Do not forget Ex. 34. God is both compassionate and just. Sin must be punished. He’s given his Gospel. And he continues to hold it out. Those who do not believe will be condemned.

    “Or, let me ask this … Does God withdraw God’s promises to the Jews if they do not become Christian?”
    From John 8 “To the Jews who had believed him Jesus said,”If you hold to my teachings, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” I think it is also good to look at Romans 9 when Paul speaks about the real Israel. The real Israel is not those of Jewish descent. It is those who follow Abraham’s faith in God. Are their Jews in hell? Yes. Because of their unbelief. Are their Jews in heaven? Yes. Because they had faith in the promised Messiah. Does God still extend those promised to Jews today? Yes. The promise is for all people.

    I am relieved to hear the ELCa as a whole has not accepted a universalist approach to religion. I am distressed to know that some pastors have and worse, the others who have not, are content to let that be and not “mark and avoid” the one’s who are teaching falsely. We are given strong warnings to be aware of wolves in sheeps clothing. (Matt. 7:15)

    I am not LCMS. I am WELS.
    Again thank you for the continuing discussion and the willingness to pose those hard question. I have answered as best I can from the testimony of Scripture.
    God bless

    Regarding John ch. 10- Jesus is speaking to the Jews. It was heavily ingrained in their mind that they were the chosen ones. Period. Their view point was that there were two groups of people. Them and everyone else, the Gentiles. The other sheep refers to Gentiles. We’ve seen Gentiles already coming to faith in the Old Testament. Consider the book of Acts, and Galatians. The basic message is that Jesus is for the Gentiles too. In effect, you and I are the other sheep and we have been brought into the fold.

  11. In my latest comment, I think the last paragraph should have been the first. Something funny happened with copying and pasting. Mea culpa.
    Also, I apologize if I have scared anyone else from posting. Please, join in the discussion.

  12. ELCA is converting to Liberal theology. It is already ordaining homosexuals and women, which defies God’s order under keys of institution. Submission of saints to God’s design is necessary for maintaining the faith.

    ELCA has a way to go before older & established congregations fall into the Church of Satan.

    LCMS-English District is about as close to ELCA as you can get and still have contemporary services and structure as a core of the Church.

    I’m far more traditional and conservative in my beliefs under LCMS-GA/FL District.

    • ponderingpastor

      Daniel,
      I disagree. The ELCA is not converting to liberal theology. I believe that LCMS has fallen into the error of fundamentalism and is hopelessly mired in the false Christiainaity of same. LCMS has lost its Lutheran moorings. But then, you will disagree with that.

      • Are they or are they not ordaining homosexual pastors?

      • ponderingpastor

        Yes, the ELCA is ordaining homosexual persons whom the church determines has a legitimate call by the Holy Spirit. We will also ordain those whom the Old Testament declares are not eligible for service to the Lord, including those with physical deformities.

      • As a LCMS congregational member and a fellow Lutheran, if I’m receiving corrupt teachings then you’re obligated to disclose my short coming.

        Using the term “hopeless” towards a baptized Christian confirmed in the same Catechism as yourself in the same Lutheran faith is a showing of severe lack of faith in the Holy Spirit to lead me in a positive manor.

      • ponderingpastor

        Hopeless in terms of salvation by God’s grace, never. Hopeless in terms of having life and having it abundantly through fundamentalism, yes. Fundamentalism is a distortion of Christianity. LCMS is foundationally fundamentalist.

  13. Philip taught the Ethiopian, who struggled understanding the book of Isaiah. We all need scriptural help from time to time.

    Though the Gospels are the core face to face interactions of apostles with Christ Jesus, Pauline Epistles are letters to the 1st Churches in answering problems with understanding the connections between Gospels and Old Testaments. General Epistles have much the same functionality.

  14. Lutherans acknowledge 1 Holy Christian, Catholic, Apostolic, Church/Faith for the remission of sins.

    Christian=sanctified, justified in Christ Jesus, acknowledges Holy Trinity

    Catholic=”universal” faith in Christ regardless of Jew or Gentile or bloodlines

    Apostolic=evangelism

    Church=body of Christ realized on earth, yourself, family, neighbors, community, congregation

    Faith=gift of Holy Spirit, gifts of witnessing, gifts of works in Christ Jesus, gift of salvation, gifts of sacraments.

    Lutherans believe in not converting the converted, a once popular quote can be found from Martin Luther himself. Left hand realm of civility is better served by a just Turk than an ignorant or unjust Christian, too.

    Lutherans LCMS didn’t come to Atlanta until Southern Baptist Convention proclaimed abortion acceptable under scripture around mid-80’s. LCMS moved to GA quickly at that point, ELCA was here about 50yrs prior. Once the core body of Southeastern religion caved-in we came in to fill the void. Baptist uprising did pressure them to decline their pro-choice initiative.

    Point is, aside from doctrine, if your faith is Trinitarian and sufficient for salvation, our evangelism is better served elsewhere.

    Methodist are undergoing the same homosexual and women ordaining as seen in ELCA.

  15. Lutherans generally believe that the unborn or miscarried infants are protected through grace and mercy in their parents baptism. We do perform emergency baptismal ceremony for those infants who die immediately following birth. If no pastoral authority ordained by God is available then baptized parents, elders, or congregational members may perform a baptism.

  16. By grace we were created, through mercy we were forgiven, Adam & Eve were too embarrassed with shame and fear to repent. For human flesh repentance always happens last because we’re naive of the full scope of the law and death. In the civil realm we must not allow are hearts to harden to the point of not forgiving those who ask for it. Even in the civil realm forgiveness comes before repentance.

    • ponderingpastor

      I challenge your reading about Adam and Eve being too embarrassed with shame and fear to repent. The story doesn’t suggest that at all.

      • GEN 2:25 Innocent and not ashamed of nakedness.

        GEN 3:8-11 Ashamed of sin and nakedness, hidden from God. God calls them out of hiding.

      • ponderingpastor

        But that has only supposition about repentance.

      • GEN3:
        12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
        13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

        So, they don’t repent, but rather engaged in the blame game. It’s everyone else but them who are at fault.

      • ponderingpastor

        Repent means so much more than to admit responsibility/fault.

      • That’s because we unknowingly sin in thought, word, & deed. We must repent beyond what we’re aware of. Honestly asking for forgiveness from sin is repentance of both the sins we do and aren’t aware of.

  17. You’re 1st supposed to dedicate your life to God alone. If sin of the flesh is overwhelming and sexual thoughts prevail, then marriage is justified to burry your sins.

    Christ Jesus as the bridegroom is married into the couple. Divorcing God 1st has to occur before divorcing your spouse, because God is head of the marriage.

    1st Commandment: we worship ourselves, our children, pagan gods, sports stars, artists, & etc… God too often comes lastly.

    You have to denounce God to commit adultry, because you 1st cheat against God before your spouse. When you cheat, you are denouncing God as your bridegroom.

    • ponderingpastor

      This may be Pauline understanding, but the rest of the Biblical witness would not support this very negative view of marriage. Even Genesis 1 & 2 would dispute your theory. This is very poor Biblical interpretation.

      • Gospel as well, not just Pauline Epistle understanding. Through original sin we daily go to war against God. We are at war with ourselves to restrain our sin and rely spiritualy on the Holy Spirit as are guide to salvation in Christ Jesus.

        There is an acceptable level of restraint in all of us, because no sin is greater than what we can handle in choosing right from wrong. How frequently we pray for forgiveness and openly accept the Holy Spirit into our life helps to gauge our capacity to serve God beyond just sitting in the pews.

      • God didn’t create marriage in a negative manor. Christ Jesus is the bridegroom in our marriages. To multiply and have children, soles ready to serve God is joyously given to our world as God’s gift.

        Homosexualality is an active denouncing of the Holy Spirit. Yes, repentance is available and salvation can be obtained after the fact, but it’s a culminating of long term sinning without spiritual resolve and repentance that leads to such extreme actions. It is an action that draws others away from faith, which makes it so dangerous.

  18. ELCA Opens Ordination to Noncelibate Homosexuals, Christian News http://www.christianpost.com/news/elca-opens-ordination-to-noncelibate-homosexuals-40439/

    ROM1:
    26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;
    27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    GEN2:
    23 Then the man said,
    “This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
    she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”
    24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

    • ponderingpastor

      Why is it that those who quote Romans in this matter always stop at the end of these verses. Keep reading, through the whole book. You will find that these two verses, in context, mean something completely different than what you think. By the way, gossip, boastful, foolish are all included at the same level. I don’t hear fundamentalists ranting about the foolish in the same way they do about homosexuals.

      • I agree that it’s on the same level whenever the person elevates the message or themselves beyond scriptures or God and only for the harm of others.

        Yes, we talk of the boastful, gossips and foolish often. Though I may no longer be a fundamentalist for admitting that…

        I would never recommend stopping at any particular scripture, by all means read on, if there was enough room to post the whole Bible then why not.

  19. “How is that determined? I don’t know enough about all this. Then, as in guidance offered in many parts of scripture, one must weigh the “greater good”. That is not easy even from scripture. Remember, this is the scripture that advocates stoning of adulterers and disobedient children. It both commands divorce and calls divorce adultery.”

    I partially agree and disagree, and see the mixing of apples with oranges. To a novice or those newly introduced to Christianity, yes there can be some scriptural discrepancy.

    Spiritually, God has often judged his people for breaking the 1st commandment and refers to them a adulterer; Hosea for example marries an unclean women as an example to help Jews understand how they’re treating God. Hosea doesn’t divorce his wife but rather remains faithful throughout her faults. Just as God remains faithful to us.

    Habitually unrepentant murderers, adultery & homosexuals have already died and denounced the Holy Spirit in the hardened hearts and are only the walking flesh; they’ve already stoned their selves to death, figuratively speaking. It’s often important to note who’s casting the stone, because Jesus clarifies that only the ones who are without sin have such authority. Obviously God alone has such authority. It is often the damned who choose to live without God that carry out violence and will try expressing some sort of justification in God’s name. Just because we have the freedom to divorce doesn’t mean we have to act on that. We had the freedom to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but didn’t have to eat it.

    The impact of sin on society is the breaking point in civilizations. There are those sins that are private between yourself and God. There are those that indirectly impact others such as gossiping. Then there’re those sins that directly forcibly drag individuals, couples, families, and groups into a pit of sins that’s extremely hard to overcome. Look at the impact of the Ishmaelite bloodline affecting the Hebrews to this day, they live in the promise of being plentiful, but at constant war with one another; until they accept Christ Jesus. Abraham shouldn’t have gone outside his marriage with Sarah, into Hagar. This is why murder, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, divorce, and etc… won’t go away in debate; because they set the stage to rob current and future generations of the will to continue listening to the Holy Spirit. These aren’t (a sin) but rather culmination of (sins) against others.

    The Hebrew tongue has so many duplicated words, since they attach emotion to their actionable words: for instance 17 words for winking (the physical act of winking in addition to the appropriate emotion), makes Latin & English based translations very bland. At my Church our pastor puts a lot of effort into teaching Bible studies out of the original Hebrew and Greek. To keep the KJV accurate in context the most straight forward words were applied to keep with the physical aspects of the actions, but much of the emotion was too much to agree upon when translating adverbs and adjectives. It’s important to have access to the original Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek or at least someone who can honestly administer it in a classroom setting.

  20. “I ask, because I’m interested to know, is there a point where forgiveness is not offered if there is no real change in a person’s behavior (if repentance is related to behavior)?”
    Ecclesiastes: Yes, King Solomon continued to worship the idols of his wives, he also repented and went to heaven.

    “Does anyone ever repent about Thanksgiving Day feasting (gluttony), a sin when so much of the world goes hungry or do we in the church bless this sin?”
    Invite more people and there won’t be enough left for gluttony. You must thank God for the abundance of food to care for your family and loved ones. Repent of gluttony, yes, if that’s how one carries himself. Repent of having more than others, no, God promises to nourish and cloth those of faith. It is however that much more the reason to witness, and maybe bring some food along with you. Angle Food for instance…

    “Does anyone ever repent of the coveting that is the basis for our North American economy or does the church simply go along?”
    Yes, taxpayer money funding abortions and the materialism of Santa Clause.
    No, most charitable nation in the world and are wealth enables substantial outreach capabilities for Christians like ourselves. God has to ability to make the best of any economy to get the right people in the right place to plant mustard seeds.

    “Jesus says all remarriage (in one of the Gospels) is sinful, and yet we don’t demand those marriages end.”
    It was the sin that caused the remarriage to happen to begin with that he’s referring to. The marriage itself isn’t sin; it’s the lack of marriage and the inability to remain faithful to begin with that’s the true sin.

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