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Lutheran Conservatives Fear Contextualization of Scripture

Some conservative Lutherans fear that the core of their faith will get lost in the process of a larger denominational framework that has often placed the virtues of diversity and humanity above the absolute truth of God.

Lutheran Conservatives Fear Contextualization of Scripture

Lutherans read the Bible. This is the title of a proposed multi-year project to get the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) members and congregations to focus on the authority and interpretation of Scripture.

At first look, the emphasis on the Bible seems to stand in line with what confessing and traditional Lutherans have been saying all along: we must return to the heart of our faith, which is the Holy Scripture.

However, some conservative Lutherans fear that this core will get lost in the process of a larger denominational framework that has often placed the virtues of diversity and humanity above the absolute truth of God.

“I’m not confident that this process will reveal in a helpful way of how far some people in the ELCA have become from Martin Luther and the reformers and how little we focus on the authority of Scripture when we read the Bible,” said Mark Chavez, president of the Word Alone Network – a grouping of conservative Lutheran churches within the ELCA. “I’m not confident that this process will point out to everybody that most of the academic community in North America rejects absolute truth.”

The multi-year special focus on Scripture was adopted at the denomination’s Church Council meeting in early April, with plans to produce congregational resources on the topic by 2007. By then, a working group would be selected to lead the project and test out the resources at various Lutheran seminaries and colleges.

“[We] developed a consensus that the initial response should involve the members of this church in reading the Bible, informed by resources that would help them understand and use a Lutheran approach to the Scripture," the report to the council said.

The idea for the project began last year in the North Carolina Synod, following the release of a controversial church-wide report on homosexuality that addressed the thorny issue from varying viewpoints – from the traditionalists who reject the act as a grave sin, to the contextualists who view it as a celebration of diversity.

While the North Carolinian request made no mention on the report on homosexuality, it used terms familiar to traditional Lutherans, such as “authority of Scripture” and “biblical renewal.”

“In a round-about way the [Lutherans Read the Bible] project is related to the sexuality debate,” said Chavez. “The North Carolina synod did ask us to focus on the bible precisely for what was happening in the sexuality studies.”

Chavez fears that this original request will eventually get lost as the denomination struggles over which view – traditional or contextual – best represents the Lutheran view.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I think they are going to come up with different categories with the way Lutherans read the Bible,” said Chavez. “One of the categories will be a contextualist’s and the other will be the so-called Biblical literalist’s.”

“The practice so far has been to carefully select people to participate in this who are going to favor the contextual understanding,” he added. “This is a symptom of a deeper problem we have in our culture, academia and churches, where there is a prevailing assumption that the church is very relative and dependent on the context of things.”

Ultimately, Chavez said he believes the project can be positive for the church since it will get the denomination to focus “a lot more attention on the church and authority on Scripture all along.”

“My hope for this end project is that through this process, we really would take a serious look at how Martin Luther and the 16th century reformers approached the authority of the word of God,” he said.

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