Immanuel Lutheran Church in La Vernia, TX
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. WHY IS OUR CONGREGATION CONSIDERING LEAVING THE ELCA? Over the past several years it feels like the ELCA has actually left Lutheranism. Slowly but surely the ELCA has drifted from its Biblical, confessional, traditional grounding to a point of compromising some of the most basic and important Lutheran Christian understandings, teachings, interpretations and practices about the authority of Scripture, law and gospel, original sin, grace, ordination, and human relationships (See #2,3,4,5,6,7). These theological changes have created confusion about what is the correct Lutheran interpretation on these matters. With diverse doctrines in place, what then shall we teach our children and each other about God’s truth? Your leadership believes that these multiple teachings cannot rightfully co-exist in the same denomination. In addition, there has been an erosion of trust between the ELCA churchwide leadership and local congregations which has created relationship disconnect.
2. WHAT IS THE CONCERN ABOUT THE ELCA’S TEACHING ON THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE? The ELCA has moved to a view of Scripture that allows human reason, personal experience and contemporary social attitudes to interpret what the Bible says. The ELCA has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years. The actions of the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly have been seen by many as evidence that the Bible no longer functions as the ultimate norm for the faith and life of the ELCA. The traditional view of interpretation is known as Sola Scriptura which says that Scripture stands alone on its own authority as the divinely inspired Word of God, as a source, norm and guide for our daily lives. The Scriptures must be read, interpreted, and applied foremost through the Gospel of Christ, not primarily through the lenses of human reason, personal experience, and contemporary culture and mores.
3. WHAT IS THE CONCERN ABOUT THE ELCA’S TEACHING ON LAW AND GOSPEL? Gradually, the ELCA has lost focus on our five-hundred year old Law/Gospel balance by over-focusing on the Gospel (Saved by Grace - Eph. 2:8) at the expense of the Law (The 10 Commandments). The Law convicts us of our sin and the Gospel is the good news that saves us from the punishment we deserve by the sacrifice of Christ. As a result of the Gospel, Christians seek to follow the Law of God’s Will, not in order to be saved, but because we have been saved! An over-emphasis on the Gospel in the ELCA leads one to believe that because Jesus forgives sins, all one needs to do is ask for forgiveness, which then basically frees us to keep doing the sinful things humans do. This is a false Gospel.
4. WHAT IS THE CONCERN ABOUT THE ELCA’S TEACHING ON ORIGINAL SIN? With its decision to bless homosexual behavior, the ELCA has reconfigured original sin for Lutherans who have always taught that human beings are born as broken creatures. Those who are promoting committed same sex unions are teaching that God created some people to be homosexual and some to be heterosexual and that each should live out their God-given identity. This is in direct opposition to the traditional understanding which teaches that homosexual behavior is one of the ways that original sin manifests itself in human brokenness and is not God-ordained. Much like a person who is born with a chemical disposition to alcohol, it is not to be celebrated. Therefore, that person is not encouraged in their behavior, but to refrain from it.
5. WHAT IS THE CONCERN ABOUT THE ELCA’S TEACHING ON GRACE? Grace is defined as “undeserved love.” Over the last several decades the Lutheran Church and most mainline denominations have gravitated beyond the Biblical truth that “God is Love” to a point of proclaiming that “God is only Love.” While it is true that God is Love, grace is being twisted to project that God is accepting and loving, and nothing else (God is also Holy, Mighty, Merciful, Judge, Perfect, etc.). Further, a “love ethic” has developed out of this that insists that Jesus was solely about love; therefore, if the church calls for anything more than love, such as transformation, repentance, or new life—it is being judgmental. This newer focus on grace is what is traditionally called “cheap grace.”
6. WHAT IS THE CONCERN ABOUT THE ELCA’S PRACTICE OF ORDINATION? Traditionally, Lutherans have defined “Apostolic Succession” as the faithful passing down of the original teachings of the early church from one generation to the next. With the ELCA’s full communion relationship with the Episcopal Church in the 1990s, the ELCA conceded its traditional understanding of ministry by creating a new norm for ordination—one in which Bishops are to be present for the “laying on of hands” so that the faith may be properly passed on to the next generation of pastors. This practice elevates the office of Bishop to a higher point in comparison to what Lutherans have long held. This new adoption of the “Episcopal” ritual makes a mockery of the Lutheran understanding of what it means to be in the “priesthood of all believers”.
7. WHAT IS THE CONCERN ABOUT THE ELCA’S TEACHING ON HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS? With the decision to bless same-sex relationships, the ELCA has re-written Holy Scripture and redefined a 2000 year old understanding on human relationships. In the beginning, before humanity’s fall into sin, God designed humans to share intimacy within the relationship of one man and one woman (Adam and Eve – Genesis 2 & 3). This was God’s intention for humans. Yet ever since the fall into sin, humans have been making up their own rules by which to live. Redefining human relationships with same-sex intimacy as being God-ordained is a gross error in the ELCA. We cannot agree to bless and call right that which God’s Word says is wrong.
8. DOES THIS MEAN THAT IMMANUEL DOES NOT WELCOME OR LOVE GAY AND LESBIAN PEOPLE? Absolutely Not! Immanuel has and will continue to welcome and do ministry with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons. We hold to the traditional interpretation and application of ministry which loves and blesses all people, yet does not bless all behaviors. Please be advised that some people will say that Immanuel is discriminating, prejudice, and not GLBT friendly, but do not be misled—Immanuel affirms ALL sinners, but does not condone sin.
9. IS THE ISSUE OF LEAVING THE ELCA ONLY ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY? No, sexual boundaries are only the tip of the iceberg. Instead, the real crisis in the ELCA is over the slow but deliberate liberal movement in belief, teachings, and practices in the ELCA over the past dozen plus years (listed in #2-7).
10. WHY CAN’T WE JUST AGREE TO DISAGREE AND STILL REMAIN IN THE ELCA? The ELCA is encouraging congregations to maintain unity beyond theology. Unity at the cost of age-old Lutheran beliefs has become the drum beat of the ELCA at the expense of the integrity of what it means to be Lutheran. By remaining in the ELCA, our identity in what has made us uniquely Lutheran becomes further diluted in a Church culture which is calling Christians to become more neutral in its teachings. By remaining in the ELCA, Immanuel passively participates in compromising the faith that we believe and teach.
11. IF IMMANUEL LEAVES THE ELCA, WITH WHAT LUTHERAN CHURCH MIGHT WE ASSOCIATE? A couple of options exist, but the church council recommendation is that Immanuel join the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) which officially form on August 27, 2010. The NALC is attractive over Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) with respect to providing greater support structure. Additionally, the NALC is desired over the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod in that it will ordain women and practice open Holy Communion. Of greatest value though is that the core beliefs and structure of the NALC is in line with the teachings, design, and direction of Immanuel (see #27 for core beliefs).
12. WHAT MAKES THE NALC DIFFERENT FROM THE ELCA? The NALC holds to Biblical confessional traditional interpretations and practical applications. Theologically, it is a moderate Lutheran body in between a more liberal ELCA and the ultra conservative Missouri and Wisconsin Synods. Organizationally, the NALC is creating a structure which seeks to provide churchwide support without being administratively top heavy as is the case in the ELCA. The NALC advocates the local congregation as taking greater responsibility in the life of its mission and ministry. Additionally, major decisions that are made on the churchwide level will require a 2/3 ratification process of the congregations as opposed to the ELCA where there is no congregational ratification.
13. DOES THE NALC HAVE A WOMEN’S AND MEN’S GROUP? Such organizations do not yet formally exist because the NALC has just been formed. However, women’s and men’s groups in local area congregations which are leaving the ELCA may join together to form new relationships. In addition, in the NALC there is nothing to prevent Immanuel men’s and women’s groups from meeting with area WELCA or Men in Mission groups for common mission, fellowship, service, or study. Even without organized women’s and men’s groups up front, your leadership believes that the theological beliefs of the church body take precedence over existing organizational structures. New groups can be built based on sound teachings.
14. WILL IMMANUEL CONTINUE TO PARTICIPATE IN LUTHERAN WORLD RELIEF AND LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES? Definitely! LWR and LSS are not specifically ELCA organizations, but are “generic” Lutheran organizations which serve several Lutheran bodies by coordinating world hunger, disaster relief, quilting, adoption placement, children’s homes, counseling, and other mission efforts.
15. WHAT ABOUT YOUTH AND CAMP ORGANIZATIONS IN THE NALC? National youth events are already in existence and open to participation by other Lutheran congregations. Our relationship with Camps Chrysalis, Ebert, and other Lutheran Camping organizations will remain in tact with Immanuel youth continuing to support and attend such camps.
16. WILL THE NALC REQUIRE A CERTAIN PERCENTAGE OF BENEVOLENCE MISSION SUPPORT? Prior to each annual convocation, the NALC shall calculate for each congregation an apportionment of the proposed NALC annual budget based on congregational size and resources. It shall be the prayerful goal of the NALC and its congregations that each congregation shall provide benevolence giving to the NALC at least equal to its apportioned share of the approved budget. The philosophy of the NALC is such that congregations are encouraged to offer direct support to such entities as Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Social Services, Texas Lutheran University, world hunger, new mission congregations, sister congregations, Hispanic mission starts, seminary education, etc. This model cuts out the “middle man” which in many instances has existed in the ELCA, thus providing more dollars for direct support for each ministry in the new model.
17. IS TALK ABOUT LEAVING THE ELCA ONLY AN ISSUE AT IMMANUEL? No, congregations throughout the ELCA, Southwestern Texas Synod, and San Antonio Conference are having serious conversations about issues in the ELCA. The most recent information indicates that over 30 congregations have already left the Southwestern Texas Synod. Our sister congregation in Floresville, First Lutheran, is taking their first vote to leave sometime in October.
18. WILL IMMANUEL LOSE MEMBERS IN ALL THIS? Due to the predicament in which the ELCA has placed its congregations, the ELCA at large and many San Antonio area congregations have already lost members over the issues at hand. Some have left because congregations have not taken a quick enough stand, and some have left because of conversations about affiliation. We have also had a few visitors from other local congregations who are interested in where Immanuel is headed. Those congregations that do nothing will lose members, and those who take a stand will lose members. Everyone cannot be pleased, so your leadership is choosing to seek to best please God in being led by the Biblical, confessional, and traditional convictions of Lutheranism, and then inviting individual members to make decisions based upon their personal faith as well. We certainly grieve the loss of those who may leave our family of faith, but are encouraged by the truth that the Holy Spirit leads all people to have convictions.
19. IS PASTOR PALAN LEADING THIS EFFORT TO LEAVE THE ELCA? Pastor Palan is part of the Council leadership which supports exiting the ELCA based on theological reasons, but he is not leading any revolt against the ELCA. Nor is he using the pulpit to call individuals or the congregation leave the ELCA. Rather, Pastor Palan hopes that individuals will make decisions based on Biblical truths and faith convictions in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is “Who” and the Biblical witness is the “What” Pastor Bob invites the congregation to follow!
20. HOW WILL IMMANUEL BE SUPPLIED WITH PASTORS IN THE FUTURE? Currently, the NALC is working to contract with Lutheran seminaries that are willing to train pastors in Biblical confessional traditional interpretations and application of ministry. A national roster of NALC pastors will exist for the purpose of congregations to interview and call pastors. Pastor Palan would continue to serve Immanuel and pursue being rostered with the NALC if Immanuel decides to leave.
21. WHAT ABOUT A PUBLISHING HOUSE FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL AND EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES? There are several options out there that have material that will highlight and mesh with our Lutheran heritage and tradition. A new publishing group,“Sola Publishing.” already exists for the purpose of creating Biblical confessional traditional materials for teaching and learning the faith.
22. WHAT IS THE PROPOSED TIME LINE FOR LEAVING THE ELCA AND JOINING THE NALC? The constitutional process for leaving the ELCA stipulates that two congregational votes separated by at least ninety days and carrying a 2/3 majority be required for a congregation to leave. Your congregation Council is proposing that October 24, 2010 be the date for the first vote. If it achieves a 2/3 vote, a ninety-day window for the synod office to visit with the congregation is provided, followed by the anticipated second vote to leave sometime in 2011 If the second vote achieves a 2/3 vote, a motion to join the NALC will occur at that same congregational meeting.
23. ARE THERE CHURCH PROPERTY ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE CONSIDERED AS A CHURCH CONSIDERS LEAVING THE ELCA? The Immanuel constitution says, “If a 2/3 majority of the voting members...vote to transfer to another Lutheran church body, title to property shall continue to reside in this congregation.. . . If by a 2/3 majority vote, the voting members...vote to become independent or relate to a non-Lutheran church body, title to the property shall continue to reside in this congregation only with the consent of the Synod Council." (See Article VII, C & Article VII, D, pg 9 of our constitution and bylaws)
24. IF WE LEAVE THE ELCA AND JOIN THE NALC, WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT HERE AT IMMANUEL LUTHERAN CHURCH? Nothing noticeably. Immanuel would continue to teach what it has taught in years past, worship will be same, education and service will continue as normal. What Immanuel does at the local level would not change. The beliefs and practices of Immanuel would not be different. The week to week, month to month, and year to year ministries would continue to occur in ways which we seek God’s Will. We would continue to focus on our mission as “a family of believers who worship, learn, serve and share Christ’s love.." What would change is our affiliation from the ELCA to the NALC for the sake of larger mission and ministry in the world . Of greater importance is that Immanuel would be living out its faith convictions by not going along with a denomination that is watering down its beliefs, and will affiliate with a denomination that is more certain of its faith teachings and practices. It is not Immanuel that is changing, but the ELCA that has changed.
25. WHAT IF I HAVE QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS? A question box will be placed in the entry to the Sanctuary so that questions or concerns can be submitted in writing. On Sunday, October 10, and Sunday, October 17, 2010 Congregational Forums will be held from 9:15 – 10:15am in the Fellowship Hall. Additionally, your Pastor and Church Council are available for conversation.
26. WHO CAN VOTE AT THE CONGREGATIONAL MEETING ON OCTOBER24, 2010? Constitutionally, voters are confirmed, contributing, and communing members of the congregation. The church office maintains a current list of members with such status. On October 24 an official roster of voting members will be used as a check list (much like the voters registration on Election Day). Members will be identified from the list, asked to sign in, and then be given a ballot (per the Constitution, there is no proxy or absentee voting). If you have questions about whether or not you are on the church roster and eligible to vote, please call the church office. The meeting will begin approximately 5 minutes after the close of the 10:30am worship service.
27. WHAT ARE THE SEVEN CORE CONVICTIONS OF THE NALC?
a. The Lord Jesus Christ: We are people who believe and confess our faith in the Triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We trust and believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
b. The Gospel of Salvation: We believe and confess that all human beings are sinners, and that sinners are redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God alone justifies human beings by faith in Christ – a faith that God creates through the message of the Gospel. As ambassadors for Christ, God uses us to speak His Word and build His kingdom.
c. The Authority of Scripture: We believe and confess that the Bible is God's revealed Word to us, spoken in Law and Gospel. The Bible is the final authority for us in all matters of our faith and life.
d. A Common Confession of Faith: We accept and uphold that the Lutheran Confessions reliably guide us as faithful interpretations of Scripture, and that we share a unity and fellowship in faith with others among whom the Gospel of Christ is preached and the sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.
e. The Priesthood of All Believers: We believe and confess that the Holy Spirit makes all who believe in Jesus Christ to be priests for service to others in Jesus' name, and that God desires to make use of the spiritual gifts He has given through the priesthood of all believers.
f. Marriage and Family: We believe and confess that the marriage of male and female is an institution created and blessed by God. From marriage, God forms families to serve as the building blocks of all human civilization and community. We teach and practice that sexual activity belongs exclusively within the Biblical boundaries of a faithful marriage between one man and one woman.
g. The Mission and Ministry of the Congregation: We believe and confess that the church is the assembly of believers called and gathered by God around Word and Sacrament, and that the mission and ministry of the church is carried out within the context of individual congregations, which are able to work together locally and globally.
For further information about the North American Lutheran Church, please visit the NALC Website at: www.nalc.org. Further related information may be found at www.lutherancore.org
IN SUMMARY: Your leadership believes that with the ELCA’s decision to create a new policy that allows for the blessing of same sex couples and the calling of same sex pastors in committed relationships, the days for working toward reform are over and the time has come to disassociate with the ELCA based on the departure from historic Biblical teachings. Again, this matter is less about sex, and more about the lack of applying God’s Word to a policy that overturns Scripture.
The church body we associate with says something about us, and our continued association with the ELCA means that we passively agree with the new policy. As a matter of faith conscience, it is no longer the faithful option to remain affiliated with a denomination that allows for and teaches doctrines that are contrary to Scripture. Therefore, it is the recommendation of the Church Council, and Pastor that Immanuel vote to leave the ELCA and join the North American Lutheran Church after its inception this Fall.
Thanks be to God that Immanuel Lutheran Church is a strong congregation and will continue to provide genuine, faithful, and quality ministry to its members, the community, and the world as we seek to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be Christ’s presence in our world.