Pr. Mark Chavez
The Board of Directors for the WordAlone Network has decided to begin developing an “association of confessing congregations within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with the intention of becoming a distinct non-geographic synod.” The decision emerged from a lengthy discussion of the future of WordAlone, WordAlone congregations and the ELCA at the board’s quarterly meeting on Oct. 1-2, 2004 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury, N.C.
The Board’s intention is to form an association of congregations that submits to the authority of God’s Word in all matters of faith and life. The association would be historic episcopate free and would be governed by “servant representatives” of the member congregations. The move to form the association is being made regardless of the outcome of the decisions on sexuality that will be made at the 2005 and 2007 churchwide assemblies. The board perceives deep systemic problems in the ELCA, and that the sexuality issues in the ELCA are symptoms of the deeper problems.
One of the deeper problems is the elevation of other authorities (in particular, human experience and traditions) above the authority of the Word of God.
Another is the assertion that the churchwide organization is the church. Lutherans confess that the Christian church is the “assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments administered according to the gospel,” (Augsburg Confession, Article 7) and therefore, normally, have regarded synodical and churchwide offices as existing only to serve the proclamation of the gospel. However the shift within the ELCA has been to view the churchwide and synodical expressions as higher or greater expressions of the church, and to regard congregations and ELCA members as servants of those expressions. WordAlone intends to create an association of congregations that more accurately manifests what Lutherans confess the church is.
Beginning this fall regional meetings will be held in many areas to discuss the plans for the association. An introductory video and other materials are being prepared for these regional meetings. As the meetings are scheduled, they will be posted on the WordAlone (WA) web site. The board approved a resolution for congregations to use to declare their interest in joining the association.
WordAlone President Jaynan Clark Egland, in a written report to the board, noted that WordAlone had a busy summer with three more congregations joining the movement and several new WA chapters forming. She also gave updates for three upcoming WA events: the next meeting of the Theological Advisory Board on Nov. 6-7, to discuss the authority of Scripture, the fall theological conference, Evangelism: Theology and Practice at First Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minn. on Nov. 14-16, and the 2005 WA annual convention at St. Andrew’s, Mahtomedi, Minn. on April 17-19, which will address the authority of Scripture.
John Beem, WordAlone’s treasurer, reported that the Network is in its best financial shape ever. He also noted that additional donations for the Seminary Debt Relief Fund would be needed by the end of the year to meet the anticipated requests for assistance. The fund is used to help new pastors, who have not been ordained by a bishop, to repay their seminary student loans.
The board received an update from the committee working on a WA hymnal. The committee has begun drafting the text for a worship service that will be used at the fall theological conference on evangelism at First Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minn. on Nov. 14. The committee requests feedback on the service, and has also asked for people to submit their 30 favorite hymns.
WA’s education task force reported that its 30-minute video, which can be used to introduce people and congregations to the WA movement, is almost finished and will be made available by mid-October. The video explains the history of the movement and its goals for renewal, reform and reflection within the ELCA. When the video is available, it will be announced on the WA website and e-mail news list, wa-announce.
WordAlone’s call and candidacy task force will be sending suggestions for improving the candidacy process to the ELCA Division for Ministry. The board also discussed the ways that synodical bishops are trying to keep the number of non-episcopal ordinations under the ELCA’s 2001 bylaw amendment to a minimum. Some bishops are trying to convince seminary graduates that it is okay to be ordained by a bishop from a synod who has not yet installed/ordained its bishop in the historic episcopate, misleading them into thinking that by doing so they will not be conforming to Called to Common Mission (CCM), the full communion agreement with The Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA). In fact, ordinations by bishops in or out of the historic episcopate are counted by the ELCA and ECUSA as conforming to CCM.
The board approved two resolutions that can be used by congregations or conferences to take to their synod assemblies next year. One calls for suspending ordinations into the Anglican historic episcopate because of the actions by ECUSA at its 2003 General Convention to approve the consecration of a non-celibate homosexual as a bishop and to authorize a “local option” for blessing same-gender unions. The other calls for the ELCA 2005 Churchwide Assembly to vote on the questions of whether or not to ordain non-celibate homosexuals and whether or not to bless same-gender unions, rather than consider a “local option” for ordination.
Board members met for dinner Friday evening, Oct. 1, with members of Lasting Word, a local group of concerned ELCA members from several congregations in the Salisbury area. Following dinner, board members introduced themselves and answered questions. On Sunday, Oct. 3, board members preached or led forums at several of the ELCA congregations in the Salisbury area.
Lasting Word and WordAlone invited Bishop Leonard Bolick of the North Carolina Synod (whose office is in Salisbury) to attend the WA board meeting. Bishop Bolick replied that he was grateful for the invitation and would have gladly attended the board meeting were it not for the meeting of the Conference of Bishops at the same time in Chicago, Ill.