Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently rejected claims that they abandoned the authority of Scripture when the denomination opened ordination to partnered gays.
It is not true "as some are claiming, that the ELCA has abandoned or ignored the authority of Scripture. Rather, we seek to be faithful to the evangelical purpose that God intends with the Scriptures," said ELCA executive for discernment of contextual and theological issues the Rev. Marcus R. Kunz, according to the denomination's news service.
ELCA leaders met with clergy from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod – the second largest Lutheran church body after the ELCA – last month to discuss the theological implications of the pro-gay actions taken last year.
In August, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to approve the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians and also adopted a social statement on human sexuality that recommended the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to recognize lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
Since the controversial votes, the LCMS has expressed concern and noted that the assembly actions threaten to damage their relationship.
LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick called it a very serious matter that could not be ignored. He appointed a seven-member task force early this year to develop a "theological statement that addresses issues of biblical authority, especially in matters of human sexuality, from the perspective of our own identity as LCMS Lutherans."
"Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we [our two church bodies] understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God's revealed and infallible Word," he explained earlier.
The document, which was presented in the meeting last month, makes clear the LCMS' stance on homosexuality, that the "practice of homosexuality – in any and all situations – violates the will of the Creator God and must be recognized as sin."
"A church body‘s acceptance of homosexual activity promotes a false security about behavior and conduct which God has forbidden and from which He longs to redeem us," the document, titled "Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions," states. "As such, it leads to a false gospel: to self-justification rather than that justification for repentant sinners which God has promised to all who trust in His forgiving mercy through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
There is a general ecumenical Christian consensus that same-gender sexual relationships are contrary to God's will, the document notes, and the 2009 decisions by the ELCA stand in "sharp contrast" to that.
"We pray that our brothers, sisters, and friends in the ELCA, and any others who have departed from this biblical and Christian understanding, would reconsider – even now – their actions."
Regarding cooperative relationships, the 2009 sexuality decisions have threatened activities that the two Lutheran bodies have engaged in together, the paper points out. More frank and serious discussion is needed in that matter to ensure that convictions and beliefs are not compromised and that worthy projects and activities may continue wherever possible.
In response to the presentation, Kunz of the ELCA said the central message of the Scriptures is the Good News of God's love and saving work in Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures are properly used in proclaiming this message of faith.
He further asked "respectfully that the LCMS not silently allow or tacitly encourage misrepresentations of the ELCA's commitment to the evangelical use of the Scriptures, a misrepresentation that subverts the evangelical witness we share."
The Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, ELCA executive director of Church in Society, also had some qualms with the LCMS report.
She said the document does not fully or accurately interpret the 2009 decisions and leaves the impression that recognition of people in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, and ordaining such people, is the sole position of the whole church.
"What the ELCA did decide is that we are not in agreement, including theological agreement, regarding partnered same-gender relationships, and that, because these matters are not central to determining our salvation, we can and will continue to live together with different practices, bearing the burdens of one another, and respecting the bound consciences of each other," she explained, as reported by the ELCA News Service.
ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, meanwhile, told LCMS leaders, "We also hope that you understand, and we understand, that our actions put stress on relationships, but not stress to the point that we believe that they should sever the relationships rather than call us to deeper conversation."
Since the assembly actions in August, hundreds of ELCA congregations have taken steps to sever ties with the denomination. Some are joining to form a new Lutheran body in North America and others are flocking to the LCMS.
The LCMS task force said in its recent paper that while it will not encourage discord in the ELCA, it also cannot turn away those who want to leave the ELCA and join the LCMS.