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We US Lutherans are weathering a scathing season of debate on sexuality.

Don’t want to pick that scab and re-kindle the same tired scripts on both sides of the debate.

But I am fascinated by how little mention (during the debate) has been made of Martin Luther’s landmark essay on this very topic.

In German: Vom ehelichen Leben

English (Click on for Text) Translation: The Estate of Marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never the legalist, Luther sees (in crushingly potent typically Luther-esque prose) the establishment of marriage in the Genesis order of creation.

Far from being an idle academic treatise, Luther fully intends to re-make Europe around his new non-monastic ideas. His essay is an ideological invasion.

And he succeeded.

You don’t have to read the whole thing; but a few pages will give you the idea.

We have somehow lost the idea of to-be-promoted biologically generative procreation within covenant Adam/Eve marriage families with earthly non-disposability.

We have bought into the myth of overpopulation (i.e. more people is bad), and have embraced the overuse of birth control and abortion (1/3 of conceptions in the US) as corollaries.

Luther is earthy, alive, and strident in his essay. Vintage Marty. Seriously, I dare you to read it, no matter where you stand on things.

Meanwhile, we (and most Mainline Christian groups) are dying out, only to be replaced by more biologically assertive faith families, who actually believe enough in their way of life to see it thrive.

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This article is not just for Lutherans. It applies to most North American faith families.

The above chart spells unmitigated disaster. And it’s a few years old. It’s gotten much worse since it was first printed.

And better theology is not going to rescue us. We Lutherans have always had the odd idea that if we could “nail” the philosophical content of the Gospel, then everything would line up and we would thrive. Truth is, we have right-leaning Lutherans (LCMS) and left-leaning Lutherans (ELCA) and ALL of us are headed down the same demographic waterslide hand-in-hand.

I’m a theological conservative with no illusions that more conservatism would stem this tide. Our big problems are demographic.

The gay issue in the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 will be seen as a blip, historically, compared to the real crises:

1) Lutherans don’t have enough babies. We seem to see them as a liability. Ironic that we did backflips, inducing great trauma to the ELCA, to include the LGBT group (on their terms) which has the lowest fertility rate on earth. It’s like we’re trying to form a no-baby union.

Here are confirmation pictures from 1969 and 2004 from the same Lutheran congregation. These trends are the rule, not the exception, for most congregations. Do the math.

2) Lutherans don’t retain enough of the babies they have.

3) Lutherans have no clue how to do evangelism which leads to large-scale adult conversion and baptism. Some even have an “in principle” allergy against doing it; for them, praying with someone to become a Christian is some kind of theological felony. We did 14 adult baptisms at our last church picnic (and we are only a church of 200). Have a look at the video>> LINK We are shooting for 30 this year.

4) Many of our congregations are led by informal juntas of empty nesters and retired people which sabotage every step taken to try to create a young-adult-friendly environment, young adults who tend to have babies, by the way. The trauma many of our missional pastors carry is not unlike that of soldiers returning from Iraq. PTSD is rampant among the younger half of our roster (which is tiny–the average ELCA pastor is 59 and aging). It’s not the pagans who beat on them, it’s their own church members.

5) Lutherans do not do well in urban areas where they have had many churches (big cities like LA, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.) when those zip codes diversify ethnically. In general, we’d literally rather die than reach the new immigrant residents. And we seem to think that urban Latinos and African Americans are looking for high-church worship with a PC message; intelligent Catholicism in black and white without the magic. Small wonder they are staying away in droves.

6) Our denominational corporate structures are clueless about the “opt in” revolution created by social media. They still think they can control their rosters and not have to attract, cultivate, and maintain “opt inners.” Both the lists of congregations and clergy are brittle and fragmenting. Denominations are like Tower Records trying to discipline iTunes. Good luck.

7) Lutherans are also clueless about the communications revolution. Most of them spend half of their office hours producing bulletins and newsletters which are among the poorest quality print media in America, and no one reads them. Most of our pastors don’t have blogs or a social media presence of any kind, let alone a podcast (click for example) that would hold anyone’s attention. Many Lutheran churches have no website or screens in the church. And the ones that do have websites usually have a big picture of a Jetsons-Gothic postwar church building (see pic below) with other useless information. Generalities abound on such websites (e.g. love the world and love God), and there are no branding distincitives (i.e. what makes us unique) that would attract someone. The mission statements are so vague that Taco Bell could probably use them. And you can never find a picture of the pastor or get a feel for her or his vibe. Anti-branding. Fine, don’t have screens–and while you’re at it, get rid of your parking lot and hope streetcars will come back. If you’re not at least toying with the idea of crafting a smartphone “app” for your church, you may simply never catch up.

8. We have over-merged. Some talk about the “emergent” church. Well, we are the “overmergent” church. A few generations ago, when Lutheranism was thriving, we had a bunch of solid medium-sized Lutheran denominations which were very relational (every pastor could go do every national gathering), and each one had clear branding and vibe. There was loyalty to their one seminary and tiny handful of major global mission fields. Now we have two mega corporations which have no branding and spend all of their time fighting, because we are forcing together constituencies that don’t belong together. Many of our seminaries are going broke. Our leaders can’t name our global mission fields. Former ELC pietists have no business slugging it out for turf within the ELCA with former ULCA East Coast types. No branding, no new customers.

9) Most Lutheran sermons are virtually impossible to understand. I was a Fulbright Scholar and I can’t follow most of them. We tend to preach in the formal register with tertiary reflection; writing a weekly term paper for a professor who isn’t even there. And we are humor-impaired. Our preaching culture is non-existent. We don’t celebrate our (few) preaching stars. Name them. See?

10) We treat our successful churches like pariahs. Reading the Lutheran for years, you’d have no idea which churches they are. The ones that are growing and thriving, reaching lots of new converts, and baptizing them. The ones that are transforming their communities. Heaven forbid we celebrate any success. Synod staffs, churchwide, and struggling congregations tend to be at least passively aggressive towards any success. And if new church plants innovate? Don’t let them on the roster! Unless they impersonate the other dying congregations.

I value the opinions of liberals. Some of them I share; some I don’t. Respectful liberals return the favor. Some just scream at you. Bless them :-).

But with a drift toward liberalism, comes, without question and statistically provable, a less church-going population (see the recent Gallup results–a conservative is twice as likely to be in church as a liberal), and less tendency to have big families (NPR families have way less kids than NASCAR families) that will carry on the important missional work we are doing for generations to come. I think that’s worth questioning, once in a while. Even if I’m wrong, which many of you believe and may indeed be the case, I will plant my flag on the right to ask the question. The survival of our movement is at stake.

There will always be Lutherans in America. We are too strong in the Upper Midwest to disappear entirely. But we have squandered our “pole position” which we had after WW2. Instead of contributing to the core of the project that is America, we seem to be choosing to be a quirky footnote to life here.

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This is the number two question I get, after:

Are there pets in heaven?

Both questions are tough to answer in a simplistic way!

First of all, there is often a “question behind the question.” So,  before answering, I counter with “What do you mean by Lutheran?”

Let’s start with Martin Luther (1500’s in Germany). I once was blessed to meet the greatest Luther scholar of the 20th century, in person, Roland Bainton, in the early 80’s after a lecture. I asked him why he never joined a Lutheran Church. His witty response was: “I’ve never seen one. Luther himself, ironically, would not be welcomed in most Lutheran churches today.”

Martin Luther

So, are you Lutheran? If you can answer difficult theological questions simplistically, you probably aren’t following Luther’s pattern.

Asked whether there is pre-destination, Luther answered “yes and no.” Asked if we can lose our salvation, Luther answered “yes and no.” Asked if we are basically sinners or totally justified, he answered “yes.” Luther was a Bible teacher, and not a systematic theologian. He loved the (obvious) dramatic tensions in scripture and was OK with just leaving them be. His counterpart, Calvin, seemed to have a high need to cram the Bible into a neat system.

There are parts of Luther’s teaching and personality that I, without reservation, condemn and reject. His bizarrely anti-Semitic view of European Jews was an outrage. His mowing down of the peasant revolt was inexcusable. His eschatology was primitive at best and incomprehensible at worst (He thought Pope Leo was literally THE Antichrist). He had no sense of Christian mission to the majority of the non-Christian world.

But he was spot-on right about the whole Bible revolving around Grace, Faith, and Christ. And he was crazy-courageous in standing up to the whole authority structure of his world (Popes and Emperors) to make it stick. He rediscovered Paul’s “Jesus plus nothing” and remade much of the Western Church around it.

Along with Isaac Newton, he is one of the most mercurial and influential humans ever to walk this planet (Newton, like Luther, had his mega-quirks). By deconstructing the monastic world-view (which had been dominant for centuries), philosophically and practically, Luther helped lay the foundation for the Modern World in which you and I live.

Ironically (I thought of this while walking the ancient stones of the Via Sacra), Luther and Paul were the two greatest historical figures ever to walk the streets of Rome. No one at the time, in that city, even noticed them. Luther and Paul could care less–they just went out and re-made the world. All of the emperors and heroes of Rome amounted to: not much. We name our sons Paul–and our dogs, Nero.

Am I a follower of Paul or Luther? No. So perhaps I’m not a Lutheran, in that sense. Luther didn’t want us to use the term “Lutheran” (see his exact quote at the bottom of this page) and Paul, in 1 Corinthians, was horrified that people would label themselves with his name. I, like Luther and Paul, am a follower of Jesus Christ alone.

But what about faith families? What about denominations? I am totally a product of Lutheran theological-cultural upbringing, and can’t do much about it. It’s like being Jewish, it’s a cultural tattoo which you can’t remove without lasers. Even if I (God forbid) were to become an atheist, I’d be a Lutheran atheist.

If I were to join a Baptist or Catholic congregation, I’d still be a Lutheran member of that church. If you are Jewish or Lutheran, you understand the tribal implications of these labels :-). I’d actually, if I had my ‘druthers, like to be a charismatic Anglican (the Alpha London folks), but I’m too blue-collar Lutheran to pull it off long term.

So, is the church I pastor, Robinwood Church, Lutheran, because I am the primary teacher? Perhaps. We affirm (in our bylaws) the unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Small Catechism, and the ecumenical creeds.  We would qualify, thus, for joining the Lutheran World Federation.

But we are non-liturgical. Totally. More than you think. And we are very Pentecostal in our expression. It doesn’t look “Lutheran.” We have no Euro-centric trappings of any kind. We are a California beach church that meets in a warehouse. No Lent. No Advent. No lectionary. No altar table. No permanent cross. I don’t own a clerical collar. There isn’t a single hymnbook in the building. It would be hard to find the word “Lutheran” on our website. I only wear shoes if it’s a cold day. The music is loud.

But if any trained theologian were to visit us for three Sundays, he or she would say:

They sure aren’t Calvinists or Arminians. Not Roman Catholics. Not Southern Baptists. Not Eastern Orthodox. Not liberal North American PC activists. Not Anglicans. By default, they must be Lutherans. Expressive, non-legalistic, missional–but pretty dang Lutheran at the core.

If Luther were to show up at Robinwood Church, I’d probably tell him off (privately) for that goofy Jew-bashing (and a few other things) of his, but we’d pour him a beer (and cut him off at two) and share his love of God’s Word, and the tensions that are simply there in it.

Is Robinwood Church Lutheran? Yes and no 🙂

And like Luther and Paul, we don’t care if “important” people don’t notice what we’re up to, we’re busy remaking the world.

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For more information:

Robinwood Church Website

Robinwood Church Worldwide Podcast

My book explaining Pentecostalism to Lutherans.

Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch

Join the Facebook Group: Robinwood Church

LUTHER’S QUOTE on LUTHERAN LABEL:

“People should not call themselves ‘Lutherans’. ‘What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone . . .How then should I — poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am — come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name?’ Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teachings we hold.”

Who said that?

Martin Luther.

–from, “A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion 1522”

Much as the music industry and the information/printing industry is changing, the church is going open-source.

How prepared is your church for this revolution? Please pass the link to this essay on to all the leaders, elders, pastors, etc. in your church. Discuss it together.

Christine Peterson coined the phrase “open source” in Palo Alto, California in 1998 during the Netscape Navigator discussions, but the principles go all the way back to Henry Ford, who succeeded in getting all the early US car makers to share patents which made parallel production of (very similar) automobiles possible.

In the broadest sense of the concept, Microsoft’s MS-DOS, not being wholly controlled by its host, IBM, launched a creativity revolution in software back in the 80’s. iTunes has changed the way music is bought and sold. Wikipedia has more or less replaced Britannica. The proliferation of free smart phone “apps” (a word no one used a president or two ago) is virtually infinite.

The world is going open source.

This has implications for the church:

1) All of your members have access to free Bible teaching and sermons from all over the world. It used to be that you, as a local pastor, had a monopoly on reaching and teaching them. Our church, Robinwood, reaches 100 times more people on its podcast than in person on Sunday mornings. Sample it at: http://tinyurl.com/ycgxvva

2) Open source is a challenge to monetize. Making money in an open source world is an uphill battle. Churches will need to look at creative income streams (we’ve done it before!) and church staff numbers will decrease vis-a-vis the size of the congregation. More and more pastors will be bi-vocational.

3) Christian denominations will not be able to maintain closed systems with solid lists of member churches and will not be able to control their clergy rosters. People in the open source world are getting used to an “opt in” mentality and can “friend” or “follow” you with a click. Peer relationships will matter more. Having your name on an official roster will matter less. The “name brand” denominations are currently raging against this revolution (even with record-company-like lawsuits!), but the ones who embrace it will survive. Their control over client congregations and pastors is evaporating. It will have to be replaced with attractive “opt in” branding and mentality. Denominations will have to earn and keep followings. And they won’t get to vote on this being the truth.

4) Seminaries will not be able to maintain monopolies on training new leaders. The ones that succeed are those that will go open source. Open source is cheaper, but it also attracts less money. Seminaries will have to become more trans-local and interactive. Those with an attractive branding and “opt in” vibe will thrive.

5) The monopolies on resources (remember that standard-issue icon: the official denominational hymnbook?) will disappear. Books will always be with us, but they will be produced POD (print on demand) and new media will proliferate.

6) Pastors who cannot attract large followings in social media will need to look for something else to do vocationally. They won’t have the chops to make it in the brave new world. If you can’t attract sheep, you’re probably not a shepherd.

7) Volunteers will become more important. Volunteers built Wikipedia. They are motivated, not by money, but by mastery and freedom. Click on the link for an amazing overview of this.

8  Your church’s media and branding will have to be integrated. One ping should activate and energize all of your media expressions. The good news: All of your social media and open source presence put together is cheaper than putting out a weekly church bulletin.

9) You will have to earn a following in a whole new way. But the human relational side will not go away. In fact, it will become more important.

Bless you. Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch

Church activity levels in North America have always fluctuated.

This is not an essay on the global church, where exciting things have happened.

This is not an essay about Europe, which has its own dynamics vis-a-vis Christian activity.

North America’s ecclesial (church) vitality was always contrasted, in the past, with the “dead” church in Europe. It was also viewed as the “source” of the Global church.

American evangelical Christianity has always been seen as somewhat muscular, with the chiseled face of Billy Graham leading the parade.

It’s too early to tell, but there seems to be a shift in the weather, a change in the climate.

Church attendance appears to be experiencing the biggest drop in recent memory, and the financial climate of the country is contributing to a “perfect storm” which is putting the squeeze on a lot of congregations.

The Christian movement has also been strengthened (both economically and in terms of creativity), in the past, with a robust retail branch: books and music. The changes in technology have crippled these once mighty sectors of publishing, and you’ve certainly seen church bookstores close in your city.

Church leaders are in denial, and as is usually the case in such environments, point to the exceptions. There are big and growing churches all over the place. However, almost all of them are in areas of large population growth and suburban tract house cosnstruction.

National mainline church denominations, brought into being in the late 19th century by easy rail travel, are still holding voting conventions as if air travel and the internet had not yet been invented. Small wonder that the “votes” at these meetings get so much pushback from the grass roots. You can trace the decline curve of these archaic “railroad” organizations as an inverse line to that of air travel and video/TV/computer screens.

Roman Catholics have had their own problems, with the scandals and all. They have also lost huge numbers of young people, especially in the Northeast. Latinos will save the day, you might suggest. But half of the Latino Catholics who immigrate here ditch the RC boat and go Pentecostal or secular.

Evangelicals are the last of the three major groups to feel the pinch. A generation ago, if you had “contemporary worship” and small groups, your church would grow. If your theology was conservative, that helped too. Now, this “recipe” has reached diminishing returns. The church growth movement is over.

Here are some reasons I see. Please add your own to the comments. Let’s figure this out together.

  1. American Christians of the last generation did not have enough children. They fell in love with the pill. Half as many kids means…
  2. Many Asian immigrants (there are exceptions) are not Christian–this has diluted Christian cultural monopolies where they once existed.
  3. African American churches have virtually lost a whole generation of young men–totally unable to capture their imagination.
  4. Christian Conservatives are the least likely group to be able to dialog with a new generation raised in post-modernity.
  5. The evangelistic models of the past (e.g. the “bridge” illustration) no longer work in the current cultural climate.
  6. Contemporary Christian Music has failed, to some extent, to embrace both country and urban music. Most of it sounds very suburban.
  7. Parent/Child relationships are more strained than in the recent past, because there are less children and there is more “parenting per child.” You are perhaps familiar with the “helicopter parent” syndrome. Christian parents often equal non-Christian kids, for this reason.
  8. The first decade of the 21st century was hard on churches (and the country), economically.
  9. Churches have failed to embrace new media. Within a few months, I was able to establish more social media presence than all but a handful of the 20-30 thousand Lutheran pastors out there; with virtually no effort. Culture is being created out there and we are not present. See my essay on Pastors and New Media.
  10. Many churches are over-theological and resist open spiritual and supernatural practice. This new generation is drawn to the supernatural and we try to discourage it rather than channel it.

I don’t have a lot of answers, but this should set up a good discussion.

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Please follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch

A HOUSE DIVIDED

The ELCA; Post-Assembly-Vote (hereafter referred to as “PAV”)
9.5 Theses (a mini tip-of-the hat to Martin Luther)

By David Housholder
Huntington Beach, California
http://www.RobinwoodChurch.com
http://www.ThornHeart.com
http://www.TheLightHouseCovenant.com

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

-Jesus (and Abraham Lincoln)

This is not a diatribe, nor is it a list of grievances. It is an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly. Please join me in this exercise.

I bear no hard feelings on the vote or anger toward the denomination or my faith family of origin (the ELCA). It is what it is. Bless us all. Bless them all.

This essay is an answer for many of you who have asked me to pick up my fountain pen and help define the issues for your congregational use. From the beginning, I want to say, humbly, that although I am theologically (very) conservative and deeply committed to the renewal movements, I do not speak for either group, just for myself.

I am surprised by the decisiveness of the Assembly (many of us expected something fuzzier) and the ferocity of the reaction among conservatives. This changes the game.

Please hear me that I am not attacking anyone. I just believe that the truth is true and that seeking after it is a good thing.

There has been a sea change in the ELCA, “PAV.” (Post Assembly Vote)

THESIS ONE: The Really Big Picture

Trends on society’s view of human sexuality are not as clear as they seem.

I live in California. A bill to ban same sex marriage in this (very blue) state passed just this past year. This constitutional amendment passed, not in the church, but in the (arguably) most “liberal” state in the West.

It is impossible to predict the future, but the trend in California may be pointing in the direction of traditional marriage.

Everyone in the media predicted that gay marriage would survive the election. But then, most of the media is Anglo liberal white.

And most of the voters are not. Asians and Latinos came out to the polls in droves. They, and conservative Anglos, have about twice as many kids per family as liberal Anglos.

What will this demographic wave do to the assumed, liberal-sliding trends?

Gay marriage may well pass in some places and fail in others. But it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a broad consensus for it. There will always be a majority or large minority of conservatives that are simply never going to accommodate it.

Liberals just don’t reproduce in big numbers. Neither do gays and lesbians. The future is owned by those who have the most babies; look at the Islamification of today’s Europe for a striking example of birth rates producing political power.

People talk a lot about emergent/emerging Christianity. There are actually two emerging Christianities (please note that I am not talking about “postmodern theology” here, but rather about emerging demographic trends).

One “emerging Christianity” is a postwar liberal movement with roots in the 19th century social gospel, liberal German theology from that same era, and flavored with a shot of very resilient Marxism.

This faction has firm control over most mainline Protestant North American denominations, colleges, and seminaries.

Their piety is cool and understated. Public teaching/preaching voice is reflective and nuanced. It is detached from the immediate heart of the speaker and objective in tone. E.g.: “Let us then go forth brothers and sisters to renew our efforts to establish justice and peace throughout God’s creation. For the sake of the greater Gospel and the Christ who was crucified.” The Christ is an archetypal figure central to their worship and thinking. Personal conversion language, however, is avoided. Ask a liberal pastor how many people got saved in his/her church last year, and you will get a funny look.

The other emergent stream was born around campfires on the mission field and the songs of slavery. Its piety is “warm to hot,” expressive, potent, and unpredictable. There is a supernatural vibe to the body language and speech. It is a high-touch world of prayer and laying on of hands. It can be found in storefront churches full of immigrants in any major world city. I describe it in my book: Light Your Church on Fire Without Burning it Down (available on Booksurge.com and Amazon). Also, see Harvey Cox’ Fire from Heaven. Conversion is embraced and baptism is a full-bodied experience.

These two emergent streams, like two poles to a magnet, repel each other. In some ways, they gain identity by not being like the other, and see their own movement as an upgrade over and against the other. Mutually patronizing comments about the other are the rule, not the exception.

Sexuality has become the poster issue between these two groups. They take virtually 180 degree opposite views on the topic.

The fault line between these two emerging Christianities was so clear at the Church wide Assembly (hereafter: CWA). They lined up at opposite microphones and their “gut feelings” were simply in a different place with little emotional common ground. It was hard to watch. The immigrant Lutherans at the microphone looked like they were in shock.

The truth is, the old Protestant consensus has broken down. The CWA vote was the loudest rip in the North American Protestant fabric to date.

The old consensus between the two emerging streams ran like this:

The liberals (first stream) can control the apparatus and the seminaries and the renewal people (second stream) can control the Bible camps, missionary efforts, and most youth ministries. The non-negotiable lynchpin: Traditional Family Morality will be upheld by both groups, at least officially.

Without this lynchpin, the grand Protestant consensus, which we have had for at least a few generations, is unraveling. The grand freight train un-couples and cars coast in opposite directions on the same rails.

The liberal Protestant establishment is exhorting, begging, and even threatening (Episcopal-Anglican rift) the renewal-conservative people to stay. But without the lynchpin agreement, the core of the Protestant Covenant, they are not going to stay.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The Protestant consensus has been dissolved; with it will dissolve the grand coalition of North American Protestantism.

Grand coalitions take decades to build but can be unraveled in a week. Roosevelt and Reagan built formidable political “great coalitions” in the 20th Century. Neither exists today.

The liberals will retain control of the mainline denominations. But I doubt they realize the damage they have done in pushing through the sexuality vote. They could have won this vote long ago, but they understood what was holding the broad consensus together. They used to appreciate the fact that Traditional Family Morality on the books made for the possibility of a grand Protestant coalition.

Renewal/conservative folks will, PAV, be left with three options:

1) Stay and submit to a “new covenant” without a Traditional Family Morality contract. Those who stay will be playing a permanent “away game” from now on. I have already been shouted down, PAV, by liberals (and I was being irenic and peaceful) when I even dared mentioned that I am not OK with the new morality and won’t accept the new contract.

2) Leave the mainline world (as individuals or churches) and join the growing world of non-denominational Christianity.

3) Do something visionary and creative. This remains to be articulated and executed. Perhaps you will craft it!

More on this later. For now, suffice it to say that we conservative/renewal folks have been voted off the island.

THESIS TWO: Sex is Complicated

Human sexuality is way more complex than extremists of any political-theological stripe would concede.

There may be no more nuanced and complex animal behavior on planet earth than human sexuality.

Virtually no one sexual label fits even a handful of people, let alone a whole population group. Most humans have a unique individual sexuality based on tiramisu-like layers of experience, pre-disposition, feelings toward parents, early courtship successes and failures, and of course, hormonal levels.

Our sexuality is like a constantly morphing fingerprint, individual, but not fixed. I was at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and out came “sexy” women covered in feathers. They have been doing this for 100 years. Many, many men, for generations, have paid to watch this and obviously (I was looking around) enjoy it. I cannot think of anything less sexy than scantily dressed women in feathers. We are all different in our sexuality.

I am complex sexually, and so are you. And my sexuality continues to evolve the longer I am married. It becomes more focused on my wife of 28 years, over time, and to say that I was born the way I am now is silly. Of course my wife has had a huge effect on my sexuality. And on everything else about me, by the way. Had I been married to someone else, my sexuality would have evolved in a different direction.

Three phrases are common among gay and lesbian persons:

1) I was born this way.
2) I don’t ever remember being attracted to the opposite sex.
3) Why would I choose this path, given all the persecution of gays and lesbians?

The first phrase is a gross oversimplification of sexual behavior. No one is born with a totally developed sexuality any more than they are born with grammar and vocabulary. Our sexuality develops and changes well into middle age.

Besides, no one even remembers his or her first 2-3 years at all, let alone what they were thinking and doing, sexually, when they were born. I remember my first fuzzy sexual feelings (attraction for my best friend’s sister) around 6th grade. And even these thoughts were complex, the more I think about it. I am looking back at the past through a glass, darkly, at best.

The second phrase above, truth be told, is un-verifiable and can be politically self-serving. And no one can argue with it because no one can access your memories. And besides, memory is funny stuff. If you don’t believe that, spend some time listening to witnesses in a courtroom. “What actually happened” is vague, at best, with even the simplest events, let alone remembering the pedigree of our sexuality as it was forming.

And the third phrase borders on comical. The truth is, people choose crazy, destructive lifestyles all the time, for bizarre reasons. People give up jobs and marriages for beer! Why would I choose this? Who knows? People are very capable of doing whatever they feel like, regardless of the consequences for them, socially.

In conclusion, sound bites on sexuality, which most people accept without thinking, are philosophically wobbly at best. Hardly a foundation upon which you want to build a philosophical skyscraper.

But activists use such sound bites, all the time, to end critical debate and to put us, theological conservatives, on the defensive.

THESIS THREE: The Bible and Sexuality

Guidance on sexuality is trickier than it appears, if you use the Bible as your guide.

Much has been made over biblical authority in this debate on human sexuality.

For the record, I’ll lay my cards on the table. I believe in biblical inerrancy; it is not logically possible for you to be theologically to the “right” of me on this issue. That may put me to the right of many of you, theologically speaking, but please hear me out. Making a case for biblical inerrancy is the subject of another essay.

I just wrote the Galatians Bible study for Augsburg Fortress, which they published. The tension between law and Gospel in this Galatians is palpable (the big issue was circumcision).

The truth is, we all, liberal and conservative, pick and choose which rules we want to hold as still valid, in light of the cross:

-We don’t eat kosher
-Women go to church without hats on, and some wear their hair short
-We skateboard over the Sabbath rules
-We ignore the commands to keep festivals
-You are wearing blended fabrics right now, forbidden in the Bible

We still hold that the Ten Commandments are somehow really important, even though they are part of the Old Covenant.

We, according to Galatians, are to be led by the Spirit, not by the law.

So it doesn’t work, when we conservatives are trying to convince moderates and liberals, to quote the usual prohibitions against gay and lesbian sex in Leviticus and Romans (although Romans has a lot of bite to it and just sent a chill up my spine this evening). Besides, there’s a trap door at the end of the Romans passage (Romans 2) that should give us pause in using it at all against anyone else.

The only argument that “has legs” in circles outside of our own is the biblical argument from the Order of Creation. It’s an argument with which even the most secular common sense 15 year olds can resonate.

It goes like this:

1) God created the world and created humankind in his own image: male and female.
2) His first command to us (over and over actually) was “be fruitful and multiply.”
3) Adam and Eve were a reflection of himself and a prototype for life-giving sexuality.
4) Jesus and Paul affirmed this Order of Creation by saying that “a man shall leave his family and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus, implicitly, and Paul, explicitly, commanded the single life for those who can’t, won’t, or feel led not to carry out this traditional plan.
5) Jesus was a hardliner on marriage: “What God has joined together let no one put asunder.” He saw marriage as God’s plan.
6) Thus, this is God’s best plan for our sexuality, and we ought to raise our children to live out God’s best plan for their sexuality.
7) All of our leaders should, as best they can, teach and model this central creative impulse from the very heart of God. Being celibate and single (e.g. like Paul) is the other option.

This is taking the “Main Street” approach to the Bible and sexuality (God’s original plan), rather than getting lost on side streets.

The common sense nature argument, even if you never saw a Bible, resonates with this Bible ueber-theme. Any fifteen- year old can tell you what part goes where (sexually). Physiologically, it is beyond debate that one of the main biological goals of the sex act is to bring sperm and eggs together; as Dr. Strangelove would say: “It’s the whole idea!” Certain things don’t belong in certain places. Even we Protestants would have to give the Catholics some credit for seeing the importance of letting biology take its course in their allergy against birth control.

And economically, one of the biggest causes of crime and poverty in America is single parents raising children without a partner (although many do it heroically and well). Thus the importance of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman who generate the births in the first place.

Traditional Morality encourages having children, lifelong marriages to support and nurture the family, and long-term economic mutual aid between family members of many generations.

THESIS FOUR:

The two opposing views on this issue (human sexuality) are heartfelt and incompatible.

I use a Mac. Mac users are insufferable for their missionary zeal. I could digress…

In any case, a computer cannot have two operating systems; or at least, it shouldn’t.

The opposing views on sexuality are incompatible.

Either a full sexual relationship is limited to traditional marriage or it is not.

Conservative view: Although we live in a broken world and often fail to live up to it, the ideal should be for full human sexuality to be expressed within the boundaries of a life-long marriage between one man and one woman.

Liberal view: Human sexuality can be a great blessing between any two committed, consenting adults (some would add: in a life long committed relationship).

The problem is: the only “compromise” is to adopt the liberal view, and then it ceases to be a compromise.

Logically speaking, there is no compromise (either way) without collapsing the opposing view.

PAV ELCA Lutherans just shifted from the former (conservative) to the latter (liberal) view, very decisively. Mutual respect of bound conscience means nothing to the party left holding the short straw.

In fairness to them, this is how liberals have felt all along—that they have been holding the short straw. And they did.

I studied Philosophy as a Fulbright Scholar and just don’t see a way around this impasse.

This may be the most intractable social issue since slavery (where there was also no compromise possible—although many were attempted). Either it was OK to have slaves, or not.

In these kinds of issues, someone has to carry a short straw. For PAV traditional folks, it’s our turn (if we choose to stay in the denomination).

Even with the abortion issue (and I am actively and heavily involved in the pro-life movement) there are lots of places for constructive compromise with pro-choice folks (parental notification, 24-hour waiting, rape and incest, required counseling, no late term abortions, etc.). I have actually enjoyed conversations with activist pro-choice people, where the discussion went in a very constructive direction, because we could find some areas of agreement.

Now that hurdles have been removed for blessing same sex unions, our conservative view becomes irrelevant.

And what about us who believe that homosexual activity is always sinful, no matter how committed the partners are? Are we still allowed to say this, print this, and write books about it that Augsburg Fortress will publish?

Are we to give up on prayers for healing for those who want to be released from the gay and lesbian lifestyle? Can we have official booths at ELCA gatherings urging people to leave the lifestyle and staffed by those who have left the lifestyle (I have a dear friend in this camp)?

Is it a sin or not? If we no longer, unconditionally, say “yes,” then the answer is “no.” A community cannot be held together with two sets of rules on the big-ticket issues.

In the logical-philosophical world, there is such a thing as a winner-take-all game.

This would be one of them.

THESIS FIVE: How then shall we live?

Without basic unity in answering the question: “How then shall we live?” there is no longer one faith system, but two.

A faith system (“religion”) rests on twin pillars:

1) Love and community.
2) Teaching, purpose, and direction.

If we fail in one or both, then we have a multiplicity of faith systems, not a unity.

There have been a lot of appeals to love and for community to hold the ELCA together. But those appeals are ignoring number 2 above.

Granted, there will always be smaller disagreements in any community.

But the church offers an ideal lifestyle, an alternative to the prevailing culture, as an answer to the question: “How then shall we live?”

A big part of human lifestyle is sexuality, and what to do with it (and what not to do with it). Primary relationships are formed out of sexual relationships, and these bondings form families.

What constitutes the “goal” family we are “shooting for” simply is a big deal.

As noted above, there are philosophically coherent conservative and liberal views on sexuality.

As PAV Christians, we conservatives, it would seem, would now be required to teach the liberal view in all official capacities. Or at least to keep our mouths shut.

Simply put, our denomination no longer teaches the conservative view. So what happens to those of us who do?

A “religion” teaches a path for one’s life. A “calling,” if you will.

Some of that path is intended for all people (think: Ten Commandments).

Some of it is intended for individuals (e.g. “Go to med school.”)

Conservatives believe that human sexuality teaching belongs in the former, and liberals believe that its center of gravity can also be found in the latter (this is an over-simplification, but you get the idea).

We simply can’t teach both views at the same time.

Lutherans have called lesser-charged issues as “adiaphora” or things that don’t break fellowship.

To theological conservatives, human sexuality, and the Christian community which is literally formed out of it (bonding and birth), is simply not adiaphora. It is central to the lifestyle teaching of our churches. We conservatives have a clear answer to the family part of “How then shall we live?” and it’s not negotiable.

Simply put, we can’t as a denomination, shoot at two different targets at the same time. As Jesus says, we can’t serve two masters.

A faith system, much less a faith community, cannot survive without a basic shared ideal about how human life should be lived.

It’s all about life together. And life together has a shape.

We can’t hold up opposites as equal ideals and survive as a church.

THESIS SIX: Convergence and Divergence.

The ELCA is diverging, internally.

Perhaps you have flown over the Mississippi delta. There you have, not converging but diverging streams.

Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for embracing and a time to refrain from embracing.

There has been a saying: What belongs together stays together.

Perhaps the ELCA was born under a “bad star” (I don’t believe in astrology, so don’t send me letters) and there were constituencies in the ELCA that did not belong together in the first place.

The ELCA is a synod. You have heard of the Missouri Synod. Synod comes from two Greek words: “syn” (together) and “hodos” (path). We get symphony (sounds that go together well) and odometer (path measurer) from these two root words.

You can be together in love but moving in different directions. The PAV scenario will resemble the Mississippi delta. This is neither good nor bad. It is the way it is.

I have always advocated a “big tent” ELCA with room for everyone, conservatives and liberals. And everything in between. I have been a tireless advocate for people “staying in.”

Having a tent (which is a mobile shelter) only works if you are carrying the tent down the same trail or have it pitched at one spot.

If you go in different directions, even a big tent rips. I’m not sure if I can continue to hold my “big tent” views, although I’d like to. It may not be possible.

THESIS SEVEN: The Cost

The ELCA will pay a much higher cost for the CWA vote than liberals believe and/or hope.

Polls and statistics can be spun to back up almost any opinion.

But it’s clear to me that a large minority of clergy/leaders and a majority of lay people do not want the blessing of same sex unions or practicing gay/lesbian clergy in the ELCA. The vote will not alienate a fringe of the ELCA; it will alienate the core of the denomination.

Christians are an authority-following, codependent lot, and many who disagree with the new PAV scenario will just go along with things because they don’t want any conflict.

But for many of us, the PAV world is unacceptable.

Many churches are going to cut off unrestricted benevolence to the ELCA and its synods. Completely.

Pastors are in a difficult spot, because virtually none of their congregations are 100% made up of either faction. Many moderate and conservative pastors will lack the courage to lead, and the following will happen:

1) Hard line conservatives will leave their congregations immediately.
2) The leadership “buck” will be passed to councils or congregational meetings which will bring the fault line of the assembly to the middle of the congregation, resulting in intractable conflict for the reasons stated above. This will be distracting and counter productive at best.
3) The decline of the typical mainline congregation will be hastened by internal bickering.

The social and economic cost to the ELCA may be larger than anyone anticipated. The new center of the denomination may not hold.

THESIS EIGHT: The GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender—the order of the letters can be different) Agenda

This is not the end of the issue; it is the beginning of the implementation of the GLBT agenda.

Tolerance and blessing was the rallying cry of the movement that resulted in the CWA vote.

Where does it end?

It doesn’t.

This is just the beginning.

If sex can be “holy” and “blessed” with any consenting adults, why not a return to polygamy? Why not group marriage?

Why not bisexual pastors who are sexually practicing both ways? As long as all the partners are in lifelong committed relationships. Because, after all, they were “born bisexual” and have to be able to live that out…

Gay pride week at our seminary chapels and colleges, supported by your offering money?

There will be a new term appearing: Queer (and Queer Folk). You don’t have to look far on Google to see that Christian GLBT activists are thinking of imposing this term on the rest of us, with missionary zeal, as the next step. Do you really think that this activist term will not be used in written prayers this year in some ELCA congregations? Do you really think that synod assemblies are far behind? Have a look at an official ELCA congregation in San Francisco: http://www.HerChurch.org. Goddess rosaries, you can buy them at HerChurch on line now! “Maybe you’re gay” booths at the ELCA youth gathering? An office for GLBT affairs at ELCA headquarters in Chicago? If this sounds way “out there,” think about people a generation ago seeing the CWA vote we just had.

Once sex has been de-coupled from traditional marriage, the sky is the limit. Is this something in which you want to take part?

It starts with committed, life-long gay and lesbian relationships. But what is committed? And what is lifelong? Are we easier on gay divorce because it is less “real?” Where does it end?

Who will be in charge of the storytelling? Will the Stonewall story be elevated to the Selma bus story or even to that of the Pilgrims? Will we be able to push back?

The toboggan ride down the icy slope has begun. Do you want to ride it all the way down?

THESIS NINE: Breaking Fellowship

It is possible to love people and break directly supportive fellowship with them.

I keep getting told by liberals, even scolded by them, that this is not a big deal. That sexuality is not as important as Jesus or the Gospel.

Well, to me, it is a big deal. And no one else gets to vote on how I believe about that.

There are small things, which the Bible tells us to overlook, and then there are big things.

Human sexuality is one of a tiny handful of “big thing” issues in our culture right now.

There are lots of churches and denominations. And there are “whole other religions.” We can love them all without having to support or pay for them.

If part of the body of Christ moves in a 90-degree direction to the way you are headed (think “syn-hodos”), you can bless them, pray for them, but you don’t have to pay for them.

I can love Hindus and Mormons too. But I don’t have to send them money. Or pray that their message prevails. Not that our Lutheran brothers and sisters on the left are Hindus and Mormons. But to realign the faith system from forgiving sin to blessing sin is a structural change, not a cosmetic one.

New sound bite: Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.

Financial support for a PAV organization (the ELCA and its synods) that allows for the blessing of gay and lesbian unions/marriages and/or elevates practicing gay and lesbian people to exemplary leadership is optional, at best, for conservatives.

We can love them but we don’t have to support or subsidize this new direction.

Let the liberal wing of the church pay for its own decisions.

I’m not saying leave the denomination; that’s up to you. But money reinforces and rewards behavior. Time to stop sending it until we find a new way forward.

An entire redefinition of the human condition, sin, and atonement/blessing is a big deal to us. In fact, you could argue that to do so is to create a new religion. That, of course, is endlessly debatable.

Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.

THESIS 9.5: The Options

Two of the churchwide organizations, which conservative Lutherans ought not to abandon, are Luther Seminary and Augsburg Fortress Publishing. There are others, of course.

Both have sizeable Evangelical presence in their leadership. Their CEOs (Rick Bliese and Beth Lewis) are very comfortable among us and value us. These operations may not be spotless in their conservative-evangelical résumés, but they are very important to us and we ought to stay connected with them, if only for the sake of the many Evangelicals who are a big part of what they do.

When conservatives complained about the liberal bent of the notes in the Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress apologized and changed the text! Rick Bliese, the president of Luther Seminary is a frequent worshiper at ELCA conservative/renewal congregations and is valued by their pastors.

There are some good options for conservative churches and leaders looking to find healthier associations:

1) The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Plusses: Bigger, broader group. Great global missions, LWR activity
Minuses: Limitations on women in leadership; seriously crabby factions

2) The Lighthouse Covenant (see Facebook Page)
Plusses: More outreach-focused and not as theologically athletic, broad appeal
Minuses: Not an actual denomination with full-service pensions, etc.

3) LCMC (some unofficial family ties to Word Alone)
Plusses: Full service. Thoroughly Lutheran. Done their homework.
Minuses: Some still have an axe to grind, some factional issues

4) ARC
Plusses: Super young demographic, and their spirituality is winsome and warm
Minuses: Association with old-school Charismatic movement hard for some, not hyper-Lutheran

5) CORE
Plusses: More confessional, “smartest” of the groups, very Lutheran
Minuses: Same as the plusses.

6) Additional Groups, including AFLC and AALC, etc.
They are sprouting up all over the place. Keep an eye out for them.

This is just my view; I don’t speak for others. I appreciate all of the groups, and my plusses and minuses are more anecdotal than anything else.

Let’s support one another. As Ben Franklin said: We can all hang together or we will all hang separately. Please start supporting them financially with redirected funds. You can adjust the “mix” as your relationships develop.

We all agree on a high view of the Bible and on traditional family morality. Let’s start with that.

And let’s be gracious with one another.

Some helps for your deliberations as a congregation:

1) Think both/and rather than either/or. Consider a good handful of groups to be a part of. Re-think the idea that you can only belong to one group.

2) Think “Copernican Revolution” and diversify your associations for the benefit of your congregation. Give benevolence money to those groups that most move your congregation forward and move the Kingdom forward.

3) Get good legal and business advice from someone who understands non-profits.

4) Consider redirecting benevolence money now. Think of ways of protecting money that goes to global missionaries, disaster relief, etc. Spread it around until it becomes clear to you which relationships feed your church and move the Kingdom forward most clearly.

A word (to you clergy) about your next call: You may be tempted to backpedal on your convictions because of potential disfavor by a bishop should you seek another call in the future.

Please consider spending some time in prayer on this and ask the Lord to remove any fear you might be feeling over this.

We clergy are a notoriously codependent group and we need to get past fear of what others think.

These are times that try our souls. I believe you will pass the test.

PRACTICAL STEPS FOR THE CONSERVATIVE/RENEWAL PASTOR/LEADER IN THE P.A.V WORLD:

1) Remember that you are on the right side of history. The Lord gets his way with creation (Isaiah 9:7, Psalm 110:1). Never, ever get discouraged. Elijah got discouraged at Mount Horeb, but the Lord encouraged him, told him to pull his socks up and go back to work.

2) Do not submit to intimidation on the part of officials or those who, as Paul said, “seemed to be in authority.” You have every right to hold your view. You have every right to speak it publicly in all official gatherings. Love everyone. Perfect love casts out all fear. There are already reliable reports of conservatives getting shouted down in discussion groups, PAV. Don’t let it get to you.

3) Remember that you did not create the disunity of which everyone is accusing us. The grand coalition, and its contract (based on an affirmation of Traditional Family Morality), held us together for generations. We did not dissolve it. The other side did. Intentionally.

4) Join the Lighthouse Covenant on Facebook (search: Lighthouse Covenant). Encourage all of your leaders and members to do so. Explore LCMS, LCMC, Lutheran CORE, and the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARCusa.org). Many churches are broadening and diversifying their relational “portfolio.” No matter what anyone says, you can stay in or leave the ELCA and join any or all of these groups. My personal preference would be that you join all of these groups and see which relationships mature.

5) Refuse to be lulled into complacency. These issues are big issues. They are a big deal, to us. The other side does not get to vote on how big we think this is.

6) Do not fall for the “it’s no worse sin than any other” sound bite. The purpose of this phrase is to stop discussion and to devalue your opinion. Answer with “So you agree that it is a sin? Then why should we bless it?”

7) Do not let your church drift in the Sargasso Sea of theological weeds because of a few families with gay/lesbian family members. Love them. Love all of them. But teach what the Bible teaches. You can do both.

8) Do not fall for the “they were born this way” sound bite. Answer (and it will shock them) that your sexuality is not that simple and neither is anyone else’s.

9) Refuse the idea that “all young people” are going to be for gay/lesbian ordination and blessings in the future (so we may as well vote for it now). There are tons of conservative young people, especially among immigrants, who are going to make up a majority some day. The trends are ambiguous at best.

10) Don’t re-hash the ELCA debates in your congregation. Lead. Moses didn’t ask the Israelites to vote on whether or not to go back to Egypt. Be willing to lose people in order to remain faithful to the Bible. Love them, but let them go. Beg, borrow, or steal some spiritual backbone. Remember that you are at the helm, and the shepherd (Latin: Pastor) does not report to the sheep. Don’t let your church become a House Divided!

11) Don’t let anyone tell you that this issue is adiaphora (a side issue). It is one of the great issues of our day.

12) Pray for Mark Hanson, your local bishop, and the ELCA, without any bitterness or unforgiveness. Refuse to use bitter language if you are challenged by others. Operate out of love. Be firm in the truth as God gives us grace to understand it.

I am not going to tell you whether or not to leave the ELCA. I want to say very clearly and explicitly that this is not a call to do so. The Lord will tell you what to do. But whatever you do, remain committed to an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly.

Pray for them, but don’t pay for them.

The truth is true.

You can lean on it.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God remains forever.

+++++++++++++++++++

Please feel free to post or share this with those who love the Church.

Follow me on Twitter: @RobinwoodChurch
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American national church denominations are not as old as people think.

We have no real memory before national denominational corporations, because they started before any of us saw the light of day; but not long before…

They came into being with the advent of the railroad.

For instance, with Lutherans, we used to gather, more or less, in state-sized groups:

-The Pennsylvania Ministerium
-The Ohio Synod
-The Iowa Synod
-The Missouri Synod
-The Wisconsin Synod

etc. etc.

The railroad changed all that. It made a national bureaucracy and national gatherings (assemblies) possible and affordable. This new transportation method also created the big political party conventions.

Nothing lasts forever.

These statewide church groups merged into national groups which merged some more. Along with the “Peter Principle,” they advanced to their level of incompetency: they became politically and economically unmanageable.

There are many reasons for the demise of national church corporations:

1) Many, if not most young adults, prefer being part of cool indie projects to being “tools” of large corporations.
2) The mergers have created coalitions with incompatible viewpoints (sexuality, etc.)
3) Lutheran versions (more so than other brand names) of these corporations tend to operate as closed systems (tightly controlled roster, Lutheran seminary requirements, etc.).
4) These corporations, in efforts to hold things together and make structure and function coherent, have discouraged innovation by entrepreneurial types.
5) For whatever reason, these corporations have very strained relationships with their best practitioners.
6) Generational and ethnic diversity issues have become too heavy for the corporations to carry.

This does not mean that church brand names are a thing of the past. It just means that the national church corporation is unraveling before our eyes. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is nothing wrong with this and it should not be seen as a failure–every human organizational form has a life span.

This does not mean that faith families and connectional Christianity are dead.

Post-denominationalism is just a reality that is emerging. I want to clarify: this does not mean post-brand-name.

This means that the national corporations are failing and will continue to fail. There is no point in any effort to “renew” them.

I don’t know what the post-denominational world will look like. But I do know that:

-Railroad-era national conventions are a thing of the past.
-Coalitions will replace national corporations
-The effort to form smaller, new “theologically correct” corporations to replace national denominational corporations will fail if they follow the template of the national church corporation (parliamentary conventions, national office, official rosters, closed systems, etc.). That’s railroad thinking in a Twitter-world.
-The influential congregations within faith families will fill the leadership vacuum, along with the more innovative evangelical seminaries (Fuller, Asbury, Gordon-Conwell, Bethel, Luther, etc). Classic “div schools” (Chicago, Yale, Union) will become irrelevant to church life, as will “company shop” seminaries of dying corporations.
-A lot of people won’t be able to separate the faith family names (Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.) from the national corporations. Some of those names might not survive because of this. Hard to say.
-National leaders with a clear life message and a New (Social) Media presence will rule the roost. If it doesn’t matter on Twitter, it doesn’t matter.

My advice:

1) Think both/and, not either/or. We are in a postmodern era.
2) Stop trying to renew the denominational corporations.
3) Find new ways of being connectional.
4) Resist the temptation to build up new theologically “correct” corporations which are infected with the same terminal virus.
5) Find ways to embrace the good things about your faith family and preserve them for the future forms which will emerge.
6) Take social media seriously. Very seriously.
7) Be willing to let people of color and Global South Christians take the lead. It’s their churches that are doing the best. The New African Churches are very post-denominational and organizationally effective.
8) This will take time; perhaps a whole generation. Practice patience.

It’s a brave new world. Let’s watch it emerge, together.

Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch. Please feel free to forward this (link or full text) to people who love the church, or to post it online.

Asked a prominent (VERY prominent) Evangelical leader what he thought of us Lutherans.  I’d share his name, but I didn’t get permission when we were talking.

I asked him for his opinions about the future of Lutheranism (he is not, for the record, a Lutheran).

He said:

The problem is not with the Churchwide Assembly vote; the problems run way deeper than that.

I said:

The authority of Scripure?

He said:

Nope.  You guys use that as a smokescreen for what you really want to talk about.

I asked:

Then what?

He answered (and this is the good part):

You have two big problems which will ruin you in a generation:

1)  You Lutherans always have one foot firmly planted in the past. It makes it impossible for you to walk. You have a hard time living in the present. You think that your confessions are important, but they were way more important to those who wrote them in “their present,” because they addressed real, contemporary issues of the 16th century. You are all “confessional” and not at all “missional.” In fact, your confessions are silent about mission. Mission is a tack-on for you. Your core theology does not speak to it. Mission keeps us in the present and you can’t go there without somehow compromising your confessional identity. All good theology is really good missiology, and Lutherans can’t do missiology well; nor can you craft a compelling eschatology that anyone pays any attention to.

2) You Lutherans prefer a closed system. Even your breakaway groups create new closed systems. You are obsessed with who is in and who is out. You insist on a Lutheran year for your seminarians; you won’t even accept a Fuller or Asbury degree, good Lord! You guard your tribal boundaries and fight more about rostering than anyone else. You kick people off your roster who are doing anything creative and out of the box. You don’t play well with others and would rather preserve a Euro-centric Midwestern-vibe subculture than do any mission or have any real partnerships with the rest of us.

Just let than lean against your mind for a while…

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