Word Alone

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting one of the leaders of the Word Alone movement within the ELCA. It was a pretty phenomenal conversation, and one that I hope to continue in the near future.

We think we have problems in the LCMS. Well, we do. We’ve got pretty significant problems. In the case of the ELCA, in terms of its public statements of doctrine, it is difficult to consider them to be Christian at all.

I don’t have space or time to go into all their difficulties, for they are many. But consider Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s assertion that there are “two irreconcilable, but equally valid interpretations of Scripture.” Basically, one is that Scripture is Law and Gospel and normative; and simultaneously (and irreconcilable with the first) Scripture contains gospel (lower case g intended), and the rest of it is the historical record of how to apply that gospel in a given social context. Hence, homosexual acts (or any other societally sanctioned behaviors) are not condemned by Scripture.

I don’t line up 1:1 theologically with Word Alone, but I applaud and support what they are about. And to be quite frank, if you’re not praying for reform in the ELCA and other sideline denominations who buy into this kind of heresy, then start. There are faithful Christians in the ELCA who have chosen to stick it out and work to combat these false teachings. With the official leadership as it is, they’re fighting an uphill battle and could use your prayers.


6 Responses to Word Alone

  1. anokihaish says:

    In college I went to an ELCA church one Christmas eve that would become a WordAlone church, which is sadly almost the entirety of my life with ELCA churches, and I have to say that it was a lovely reverent, Christ centered time.

    I just thought about that with it being almost Christmas eve and all. WordAlone strikes me as a proclamational group, and that is nice in this world.

  2. OSC says:

    (Your comment was listed as spam, and I didn’t notice it to remedy it until now. A thousand pardons.)

    Yes, it was refreshing. The speaker had not been fully introduced before she got up to speak. I didn’t quite know what to make of her invitation. Then she spoke and it was simply refreshing.

    I generally tend to shy away from factions and splinter groups and movements and wheels within wheels and all, but there was a tangible freedom about her. I actually long for that kind of freedom in our beloved Synod. We’re so anxious and fractured and…I don’t even know quite how I would characterize us. I think there was a peace about her because she’s engaging people in conversation, as opposed to us. We just keep on not talking. Or more to the point, we’ll talk about one another indefinitely, but we don’t talk to one another about the stuff that matters.

    It strikes me that the only thing Lutheran about some folks in the LCMS is the retirement/health care package. Word Alone got around that by establishing a separate program. They removed the threat of financial consequence from the head office. I don’t know. Like I said above, I don’t track with them 1:1, but I’m impressed and generally supportive of what they’re doing. And yes, the candor of it all was embarrassingly refreshing.

  3. A says:

    From my relationshipships within the ELCA, the Word Alone folks are not well liked. I hear them described as everything that we would describe a certain faction within the LCMS as. And this is from people in the ELCA that I care for and respect quite a bit. Just a caution – not everybody on the other side of the fence likes them.

  4. OSC says:

    Yeah, I get that. I can see how they might be perceived by the ELCA at large. One thing that has been quite palpable for me here is that saying something other than that which conforms with the status quo can make one not liked rather quickly.

    I realize that not everyone likes them. So what are your friends’ objections to them, if I may ask? As I said, I don’t like everything that they are about, but when you’ve got a church body saying that it is equally valid to read Scripture both with and without a proclamation of God’s Law, I’d say you’ve got one hell of a mess that needs to get cleaned up.

    But even saying “one hell of a mess” gets interesting, because those who acknowledge God’s Law also agree that hell and Satan are real, while those who do not read God’s Law as applicable believe hell and Satan to be culturally-limited constructs that were used in one context to explain the presence of trouble in life. (This is the same argument that a certain Methodist seminarian and I were at loggerheads over back East in 2003, if you remember.)

    I am willing to grant someone a right to an opinion or theory, even if I believe it to be wrong. But the public profession of the ELCA on this is just ludicrous. Either you can deconstruct Scripture or you can’t. To say that both are “irreconcilable but equally valid” is just plain ignorant. In saying this they officially fling wide the doors to whatever the hell–er, that’s whatever the Santa’s Workshop (it’s at least as real as hell to the deconstructionist)–you want to believe about anything. No sin can go un-self-justified with such a limp hermeneutic. It’s like saying polytheism and monotheism are irreconcilable but equally valid theologies. Or that “donkey” and “fish” (with every possible entailment each carries) are irreconcilable yet equally valid signifiers for the animal that now stands before you. It simply doesn’t work.

    I say this of the ELCA’s public statements. I know that there are honest and faithful Christians within the ELCA, and that not all of them have affiliated with groups like Word Alone. I also know that Drs. Jack Dean Kingsbury, Gerhard Forde, and James Nestigen all affiliated with the group, to name three. Their activity in it adds to its “street cred” in my book.

    Still and all, I’m curious what your colleagues’ criticisms are, if you’re willing to share.

  5. anokihaish says:

    The WordPress comment feature is really neat for tracking conversations over blogs.

    I noticed that I hadn’t shown up. Did you happen to know why I was labeled spam?

    I wonder if the “irreconcilable but equally valid” track could be termed something more “Lutheran” for you, i.e. paradox? It’s not something that is not a part of our theology (double negative makes a positive). Granted, it may just be an out and out contradiction, but I think the man’s Lutheran Mind ™ probably makes him think of it as a paradox.

    However, the next person who really cheeses me off will be told to go to Santa’s Workshop. I’ll feel better, they’ll be confused.

  6. OSC says:

    Yeah, I don’t know what to say re: “paradox” in this case, but from what I’ve read it appears to be a little theo-political dance to keep everyone with whom they are in communion happy. “This guy professes a Third Use of the Law, but this guy doesn’t. We’ll call them equally valid readings of Scripture and agree to disagree. But the main point is that we agree on the disagreeing bit.” I’m not sure it qualifies as paradox.

    This is different than simul iustus et peccator and the like. In dealing with this actual paradox, one might ask, “Am I a sinner?” The answer is yes. “Am I a saint?” Yes. “Assuming I remain in the faith, do I cease to be either one prior to bodily death?” No. This is a paradox. And to be sure, we answer these questions based on God’s revealed Word.

    The ELCA position doesn’t work that way. “‘Theologian A,’ does God, by his Law, condemn sins universally?” Yes. “‘Theologian B,’ same question.” No. This isn’t a paradox but an out and out disagreement with a third party in the middle trying to hold everyone together without pissing everyone off. The only ones holding it as a paradox are those of the third party.

    It’s an untenable position. A logician would have a field day with them. He’d appeal to the most basic of principles: the Law of the Excluded Middle. This states that a proposition must either be true or not true.

    It’s simply illogical to maintain that the naming of acts as sins both is and is not historically and contextually modified.

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