“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching…” –2 Timothy 3:16
Two Lutheran denominations held church-wide legislative assemblies this summer—the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) from July 20-25 in Tampa, FL; and our own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), from August 5-10 in Milwaukee, WI. Two resolutions receiving the most attention from these conventions underscore the theological identities of each denomination as well as their approaches to biblical interpretation.
The resolution of the LCMS gaining most attention was, To Confess the Biblical Six-Day Creation. This resolution reaffirmed the LCMS’s longstanding literal reading of the Genesis 1 creation story by which science and evolution are denied. The approval of this resolution will serve to maintain division among Lutherans regarding how we view the Bible and science. Failure to see how some Bible passages can be read literally while others cannot has always been the LCMS Achilles heel.
The resolution of the ELCA this summer making the biggest splash was the vote to become a Sanctuary Church. Walking alongside immigrants and refugees is now a matter of faith in our church. We are committed to radical hospitality that welcomes others as Jesus did. Nothing about the Sanctuary Church resolution, however, commits the ELCA to illegal activity with regard to border crossings. In fact, the ELCA interprets the Bible as upholding law and gospel. Only unbridled naiveté permits a manner of global migration where people may depart and enter nations as they please. The ELCA Sanctuary Church resolution adheres to law but commits us to welcoming immigrants and refugees with compassion. Every ELCA congregation is encouraged to have empathy for migrants.
As I reflect upon these two church resolutions and the Bible verse at the top of this page, the different approaches to faith and life among Lutherans are apparent. That all scripture is inspired by God cannot mean adopting rigid, literal interpretations of Bible passages that promote phony science and discredited world views. The continual hunkering down of the LCMS into a cocoon of safe antiquation contrasts with the risky openness of the ELCA to ongoing discovery and change. Both churches have faults to regret and virtues worthy of affirmation. Sectarianism and resistance to unfolding truth, however, are very serious flaws, producing people and congregations ignorant of life as it truly is and things as they truly are. We, the ELCA, will not trade intellectual honesty for the sweet cocoon of unexamined belief.
While one church this summer was rejecting science, another was voting to serve immigrants and refugees. Everyone must decide which communities of faith present meaningful views of faith and life. Since all scripture is inspired by God, useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness, being open to correction and righteousness as new revelation occurs is the only, proper way of faith. This month, our Adult Sunday School class led by Jotham Parsons will begin with discussions about what it means to be a Sanctuary Church. I hope you’ll attend, nurturing the biblical vision of life—which is to follow Jesus and welcome truth as it’s revealed in all its forms. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
In Christ with you,
Pastor Doug Heagy