According to the dictionary, a boundary is the point at which something ends or beyond which it becomes something else.
Having boundaries is important, and has been important throughout the history of humankind. Boundaries determine identity and, at the same time, provide us with a place where we can live safely.
The establishment of boundaries was in God’s mind since the very beginning. The book of Genesis tells us that God planted a garden and placed Adam in it, commanding him:
From any tree of the garden you may eat
freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil you shall not eat, for in the
day that you eat from it you will surely die. — Genesis 2:16b-17
Therefore, to trespass the boundary placed by the Lord God was to Adam an issue of life or death.
Throughout the Scriptures God teaches us to remain inside His boundaries. . . boundaries clearly established in the Bible for the sake of our protection and well-being.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people repeatedly suffered the consequences of venturing outside the boundaries delineated by God. It is well documented that every time His limits were trespassed, the people reaped destruction and death—even to the point of seeing their holy city, Jerusalem, destroyed and isolated. In addition, most of them were taken captive by the Babylonians. Later on, God graciously called upon Ezra and Nehemiah respectively, giving them the ministry of rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem.
With so many of the people taken into captivity, the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins for years. For lack of protection by a city wall, those who remained behind were in continuous danger from external aggressions. Ultimately, the absence of perimeter walls gave their enemies a free pass to enter their city. At the same time, the absence of the city wall—the boundary—created a lack of identity, resulting in social intermingling and the increasing influence of the surrounding pagan culture upon the behavior of the Jewish people…behaviors that were far distant from one that would glorify God.
It was during this time that Nehemiah started his ministry. Faithful to his God, Nehemiah risked his life by requesting permission from King Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem. By the grace of God, the King granted the request of God’s servant.
Nehemiah journeyed to Jerusalem and started rebuilding the walls. As soon as he started working, however, the opposition began.
...when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the
Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab
heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed
us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked.
“Are you rebelling against the king?” — Nehemiah 2:19
In the face of their opposition, Nehemiah boldly declared: “… The God of heaven will give us success. We His servants will start rebuilding...” (Nehemiah 2:20a).
Today, we are facing an unprecedented crisis in the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Decisions were made at the Churchwide Assembly in August that have torn apart God’s boundaries for our life as a denomination. These decisions have catapulted us on a new journey, one with a different and dangerous destination. It is a journey that is taking this church beyond the boundaries established by God in His Word. Departing from His roadmap for life places this church in great danger. Above all, the controversial decisions of the Churchwide Assembly imply the rejection of God’s compass for guiding our life as a church.
Instead, God’s boundaries are being ignored. God’s Word is being rejected and the ELCA is conforming itself to our surrounding culture.
Facing this crisis has been very painful and difficult for our Hispanic rostered leaders and congregations. The Hispanic pastors of the Florida Bahamas Synod—with a few exceptions—have gone on record expressing our opposition to the actions of the Churchwide Assembly. Last August, we prepared a Statement expressing our repudiation and renunciation of the Assembly’s decisions, considering them to be incompatible with Christian teaching, the tradition of the Christian Church, and our consciences… consciences that are bound to the Word of God.
In my own case, I have served many years in the ELCA in all possible ways. I have been blessed by this relationship, and have proudly identified myself as an ELCA pastor. After the events in Minneapolis, however, my relationship with the ELCA has been fractured. The Church I was once proud of has now disappointed me, and the Church that I still regard as my church, now embarrasses me.
The Hispanic Congregations of Florida—again with a few exceptions—are similarly deeply disappointed with leaders of the ELCA who have driven this church away from the Scriptures, and who have permitted political agendas to influence the church’s decisions and its Assemblies.
We are also disappointed with those ELCA leaders who share our concerns with respect to the new direction that the ELCA has taken, but who have remained silent in the midst of this crisis. They have refused to speak out on the basis of our shared convictions and faith, and have chosen to remain silent because of their fear of being rejected, of losing their jobs, or the fear of jeopardizing their hierarchical positions.
In the midst of our profound sadness, in the midst of this spiritual destruction, and furthermore, in the midst of the darkness that we are now facing, we are glad to see that God has called upon many Nehemiahs, and they have answered the call.
God has called, equipped and sent men and women filled with the Holy Spirit who are faithfully organizing the rebuilding of God’s Church.
God has organized us into coalitions such as Lutheran CORE, WordAlone Network, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), and many other Reform and Renewal Movements throughout the United States and Canada, and even extending beyond our North American borders. The process of rebuilding has begun. Last September, more than 1,200 faithful Lutherans met in Indianapolis and organized themselves into a free-standing Synod. Many regional groups are now hard at work, and many regional gatherings are now being held, to rebuild and renew the mission and ministry of the church, both within and outside of the ELCA, a mission and ministry which is orthodox, confessional and faithful to our Lutheran heritage.
But, just as it was in Nehemiah’s time, so it is now. We have plenty of opposition. Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and even Geshem the Arab “have become angry and have been greatly incensed” (Nehemiah 4:1). They are determined to stop what God is doing in and through us. In turn, they come and try to disturb our work. They come and try to prevent us from rebuilding the Lord’s Church. They come and try to stop us from reconfiguring Lutheranism in North America, and finally they come and try to ridicule us by saying:
…What are those feeble Jews doing? Will
they restore their wall? Will they offer
sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they
bring the stones back to life from those heaps
of rubble—burned as they are...? What they
are building—if even a fox climbed up on it,
he would break down their wall of stones! — Nehemiah 4:2-3
Our response to them should be the same bold and confident response of Nehemiah: “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding…” (Nehemiah 2:20a).
The precious time that is given to us by God cannot be spent by either engaging in fruitless theological debates or by pretending that we are in unity with those who teach and follow a different Gospel message. We have been called by God and we have responded YES to His calling. Our hands— and minds—are busy with a great project. We are now in the process of rebuilding what has been destroyed. We are certain that we cannot rebuild in our own name, but only in the Name of Jesus Christ. We cannot reconfigure Lutheranism in North America by relying on our own strength, but rather by relying on the strength of Jesus Christ. In addition, our confidence does not depend on the fact that God will help us, because the fact is that God Himself is the One who is doing the work through us, and we are simply the ones helping Him!
To Him be all the Glory now and forever, Amen!