A new Lutheran church, gnosticism, and the Bible

A new Lutheran denomination is being formed, the North American Lutheran Church. It consists of ELCA congregations that are pulling out because of that body’s acceptance of homosexuality. Christianity Today did a story on a theological conference held by the organization that has started the new church body.

The story cites some annoying comments, with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod being dismissed as “fundamentalist” and criticized for following 16th century Lutheran orthodoxy rather than Luther. (Note to Christianity Today: If you want a big story about what is really happening in Lutheranism, cover the installation on Saturday of the new LCMS president Matthew Harrison, along with a whole slate of new confessional leaders. See that live at 11:00 a.m. ET here.)

At any rate, the NALC, quite properly, is realizing that it needs to come to terms with the authority of Scripture. I liked what Carl Braaten had to say:

Braaten described the ELCA approach to authority as deficient in three “Gnostic” ways, deficiencies that played a big role in the passage of last summer’s ELCA social statement on sexuality.

Deficiency 1: Like the ancient Gnostics, the ELCA is antinomian—it rejects the law of God.

Deficiency 2: Like the ancient Gnostics, the ELCA claims a higher knowledge—higher than anything available from an external Word of God. Gnostics trusted instead in enlightenment from within, which is where they locate God. So do those guiding ELCA’s decisions, said Braaten.

Deficiency 3: Like the ancient Gnostics, ELCA leaders sneer at the idea that we can look to a book as our authority—especially a book written by Jews. Antinomianism and anti-Semitism are always found together, said Braaten. . . .

Lutherans are feisty. Their founder was feisty. So it was not surprising to hear Braaten label certain proposals advanced by the ELCA as “cockamamie,” and to commend the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone as a “Lutheran crap detector.” And when he was asked from the floor whether ELCA headquarters has any idea that Gnosticism is a problem today, Braaten quipped: “It’s a polysyllabic word.”

That’s well and good. But it’s hard to imagine how the new denomination will be able to uphold Biblical authority without taking the “fundamentalist” position of, you know, believing what the Bible says.

What’s wrong with having lots of denominations?

I am very glad to see a post from Anthony Sacramone–a.k.a. Luther and the Movies and Strange Herring– at First Thoughts and wish he would start up another blog of his own, so much have I missed his madcap theologizing.  But this post I don’t get.  He riffs and rants against that new semi-conservative denomination being formed by some ELCA congregations that don’t approve of gay ordination:

The NALC is, in fact, the North American Lutheran Church, as opposed to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, from which congregations are fleeing like Democrats from Congress.

Just what we needed. Another Protestant denomination. This one to straddle the biblicism of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the bibliphobia of the ELCA, presumably with its ratio of traditional exegesis/engagement with modernity balanced so precisely that an ambitious busboy could lay his tray of half-eaten cheesy nachos on its presuppositions without fear of tippage.

I sympathize with those Lutherans who could no longer suffer the leftward march of their denomination into the abyss of irrelevancy, and those who find the denomination of my youth tiresome in its calculation of how grizzlies managed the voyage on the ark without their Dramamine. Yet another denomination can only spawn yet another denomination and so on, until there are so many congregations and so little coherence that only a swift end to history can stifle the cacophony of competing theological claims.

And so I have vowed to give up organized religion for Lent. I remain neither spiritual nor religious, but a Lutheran, sans pew.

via Just What We Needed. Another Protestant Denomination. » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

I’m not convinced there is anything wrong, per se, this side of eternity, with having lots of denominations. But Christ in His prayer wanted us to be unified! Yes, and so it is in the sense that matters most, that all believers in Christ are united in Him.

I do agree that unity of confession and doctrine and unity of fellowship in the people holding them is important. But where is there more unity? In a large organization in which people have so many different beliefs that they are always fighting with each other? If that organization split into two or more groups, each one of which consists of people who agree with each other and get along, wouldn’t there be more unity, not less? There would then be two or more unified, peaceful groups.

Yes, Christians should find the church that they believe teaches the truth. In principle, all churches should teach this same truth. But in practice, different views about what that truth is mean the need for different options. At the end of time, we will know who is right, but until then, people should congregate where they find agreement.

Maybe this is the Protestant mindset and that those who crave unity should look to Rome. But is the Roman Catholic church all that unified? It too has its conservatives pitted against its liberals, its factions of feminist nuns and pro-abortion professors, its Thomists arrayed against its Phenomenologists. Institutional unity without confessional unity doesn’t seem all that unified.

And if Mr. Sacramone dislikes both the ELCA’s liberalism and his own Missouri Synod’s creationism, it sounds like the new NALC may be just right for him! That would be better than not going to church at all. And during Lent!

UPDATE: This has succeeded, as I hoped, in luring Anthony Sacramone from his self-imposed exile (comment #12). He says, “touche,” as if I have jabbed him with a fencing foil, meaning, I think, that he concedes something of what I said, and then goes on to lay out his serious concerns. Can you answer them?


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