A PASTORAL LETTER
Regarding The “Confessional Ministerium” And “We Believe in the Gospel”
1 April. 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In recent weeks you may have become aware of two groupings of rostered professional church workers who have launched initiatives to speak to our Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada about theological and pastoral matters that are of pressing concern to them. Both groupings emanate from the ABT Synod. This pastoral letter is meant to inform you of these groupings, and to assure you that they are continuing a dialogue and debate that has been on-going in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for many years. While narrowly defined as the debate over same-sex blessings, the broader debate is about the authority of Scripture, the interpreting of Scripture for today’s context, and the theological and confessional integrity of our Church as defined in Article II of our Church Constitution – Confession of Faith.
The “Confessional Ministerium” is a grouping of traditionalist clergy who organized in the fall of 2008, with the blessing of this bishop. What drew them together was a shared concern that the ELCIC was setting a course which departs from the traditional teachings of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church --- the faith once handed down to us, and borne witness to, for two millennia. The Statement of the Confessional Ministerium can be found at their website: www.confessionalministerium.ca . The Confessional Ministerium is an open, public and transparent group raising their concerns to the Church in the way Lutherans have traditionally done that, namely, by preparing and signing a theological statement or paper. This is how Lutherans have always discussed and debated controverted matters.
“We Believe in the Gospel” is a public, open and transparent group of rostered workers originating in ABT Synod who are more liberal in their understanding but who nevertheless bind themselves to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. They are concerned that progressive Lutherans in the ELCIC not be portrayed as people abandoning the Gospel, and they wish not to be misrepresented in their beliefs. Their contribution to the debate is a theological paper entitled “We Believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” which can be found at their website: http://webelieveinthegospel.org . This group also met with, and has the blessing of, this bishop, precisely because this is the way we discuss controversial issues.
Groups within our Church with different understandings express themselves to each other in the form of theological statements and papers, and in so doing invite theological response. This is meet and proper. Review the Book of Concord for the written evidence – especially the Formula of Concord.
The items in dispute are not easily resolved, as our recent church history confirms. The rise of the Confessional Ministerium as well as the We Believe in the Gospel group manifests the sincere and deeply-held convictions of our rostered workers and their commitment to the faith. In my view, that this discussion is now in the public forum is the proper process.
This pastoral letter is to provide information to the rostered workers and congregational leaders of the ABT Synod in order that, if so inclined, they can follow the above-noted links and engage in respectful discussion.
Meanwhile, I urge the Synod and its member congregations to keep the Main Thing the main thing: we are here to offer the Gospel of Christ to a hurting world and to tell the story of a God whose love for fallen humanity would not allow God to let us go, until reconciliation had been won with Good Friday’s Cross and Easter’s Empty Tomb. May we hold fast to the Truth, and may we be found faithful!
+Ronald B. Mayan, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories
Full Disclosure: As you'll see on the website, I'm one of the signatories of the "We Believe in the Gospel" document. I signed it not because I'm a "liberal" (as Bp. Ron suggests) but because I think the Lutheran Confessions have to be interpreted to meet today's pastoral context.
This doesn't mean throwing away all those things the culture doesn't approve of (as if there is any cultural consensus on anything!) but it does mean that I strongly disagree with the assumption that to be theologically conservative is to be courageously Lutheran.
I was deeply troubled by the tone and some of the theology of the CM. First and foremost is the invocation of "tradition" as a form of revelation. As a Lutherans, we confess sola scriptura or "scripture alone" as the only means of knowing God through Jesus. To invoke the "traditional understanding of marriage" raises tradition to a place where it doesn't belong, which, in turn, moves us away from our core Lutheran identity. It's what distinguishes us from our Roman Catholic and Anglican friends.
"We Believe in the Gospel" has been signed by clergy and church workers from all sides of the scripture debate, not just so-called "liberals." To my mind, what we have in common is that our faith is in Jesus for our's and the world's salvation, and we put no doctrinal barriers in front of the gift that God has lovingly and graciously given us.