Quo Vadis ELCA? David Yeago looks at “The Way Forward” “In the Aftermath”

While a lot is going on among the Anglicans, we should not loose sight of the fact that there are things going on among the Lutherans as well. The recent decision of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to allow practicing homosexuals to serve in the ordained ministry has caused great difficulty for “Confessional” (or “traditional”) Lutherans in that country. Many are asking “Where do we go from here?”. One answer is provided on the blog “Lutherans Persisting” by the Rev. Dr. David Yeago, an intelligent and widely published theologian who teaches systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. Together with theologians like Michael Root and Carl Braaten, he represents the very best of Lutheranism among the Yankees.

He began by publishing back in September a post entitled “In the Aftermath”. He has followed this up with about ten additional posts under the title “The Way Forward”. This is a work in progress, and we look forward to more. But I have found this so very intriguing because essentially it is all a question about what to do when you suddenly find that the ecclesial community you belong to (and I use that term advisedly) publically teaches a lot of tommy-rot and expects you (as either a minister of that community or a lay member) to tow the line and go along with it.

There are different “breaking points” – as Dr Yeago calls them – for everyone. For me it was the fact that my Lutheran Synod simply voted on a question which thirty-four years earlier they had declared a matter of divine revelation, of apostolic teaching, which could never be altered. This led me to understand that the Lutheran Church of Australia had contradicted its claim to be able to authoritatively teach on matters of divine revelation (aka “judge teachers and teachings according the sole norm of Holy Scripture”), and that such authority must be sought elsewhere. As our Lord promised, seek and ye shall find, and I found the Catholic Church.

Dr Yeago is, like many in his situation, very eager to nip in the bud any such seeking beyond the boundaries of Lutheranism. He is convinced that “breaking point” has not been yet reached, and this series of posts is designed to be a call Lutheran “traditionalists” (as he names them) to remain faithful to their denomination. I think you can see why I am interested in his arguments. Should I have remained in the LCA? Was I wrong to see the vote on women’s ordination at the 2000 General Convention of the Synod of the LCA as a “breaking point”?

Of course not. I remain convinced and thankful that God in his grace opened my eyes to the truth. I have, in the past, been wrong in many of my convictions. Once I was a supporter of women’s ordination, and demanded of those who opposed it that they demonstrate their case. In fact, while I was still a Lutheran I saw the error of that teaching. Other doctrines I was not convinced of until I accepted the whole Catholic faith upon my conversion to the Catholic Church. For example, until I became a Catholic, I practiced contraception. I was not convinced that it was sinful until I learned to listen to the Catholic Church in faith. Then I understood. As St Anselm said, Credo ut intelligam. Another more esoteric example – but important none-the-less – was my rejection, as a Lutheran, of the immortality of the soul. Now, Lutherans do not generally reject this doctrine, but I did. It was not until I accepted the Catholic faith, that I learnt the truth concerning the destiny of the human being as a body-soul unity.

It is my intention over the next few weeks to examine David Yeago’s essays addressing the predicament of traditionalist Lutherans in the ELCA. I hope to do some service to both my Catholic and Lutheran readers, both here and in the United States. I want the Catholics to understand where the Lutherans are coming from, and I want the Lutherans to understand that what they fear in the Catholic Church (the ABC rule: “Anything But Catholic”) is unfounded. There is a way forward. There is somewhere to go. In fact, there is a Church to which God is calling all those who are baptised into Christ.

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12 responses to “Quo Vadis ELCA? David Yeago looks at “The Way Forward” “In the Aftermath”

  1. I look forward to your analysis very much, David.

    Personally, I have the greatest of sympathy for those who find that their denomination has so changed that what was orthodox is now deemed heretical, more or less, and that they are no longer welcome – the Anglican bishop here speaks of “acceptable losses” when speaking of those of his flock who give up when faced by all the changes going on; the former treasurer of the Anglican diocese of Tasmania, a layman who would not go along with women’s ordination, was given the cold shoulder, and perforce sought refuge in the T.A.C.; I could go on…

    But please, do tell – what did you disbelieve about the immortality of the soul?!

    • You will get the right idea if your read Ratzinger’s “Eschatology” and the CDF 1979 Letter on Certain Questions concerning Eschatology. Both address an error that became common in the second half of the 20th Century.

      Essentially, I shared the opinion of Oscar Cullman (a Lutheran!) who wrote in 1962:

      “If today one asks an average Christian, no matter whether Protestant or Catholic, whether intellectually inclined or not, what the New Testament teaches about the destiny of the individual human being after death, in almost every case one will receive the answer: “The immortality of the soul”. In this form, this opinion is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Christianity there can be.”

      This is probably not so true today (many have never been taught the phrase “the immortal soul”), but is reflected in the general belief that when we die we “go to heaven” – end of story. The resurrection of the body is ignored.

      Cullman’s comment therefore was in reaction to a lack of belief in the Resurrection, the central New Testament teaching about “life after death”.

      To counter this, he and many others argued that the true Christian belief should be that both soul and body “die” in death, and that both body and soul will be raised in the Resurrection on the last day.

      This was the position of which I was convinced for a period. I thought it best reflected what the New Testament said, and I also thought it more true to Hebrew anthropology and rejected the “body/soul” idea as an “hellenicism”.

      Of course, Ratzinger has shown how necessary it was that these Greek ideas meet the Hebrew ideas and that the resulting Christian doctrine is the fruit of centuries of reflection upon this question.

      I could go on, but you have to read “Eschatology” to know what was really at issue.

  2. “Many are asking “Where do we go from here?””

    I hope that some are asking ‘Whither do we go from here?’!

    “[Joshua said] But please, do tell – what did you disbelieve about the immortality of the soul?!”

    Yes, I too am curious about this. Could you elaborate, Mr. Schütz? Logically, someone who disagreed with his co-religionists about a matter regarding which right belief (or at least lack of pertinacious doubt or disbelief) is necessary for salvation (cf. Article XII of the Creed) faces four alternatives:

    1. Convince his co-religionists that they are in error.
    2. Leave his co-religionists and join a sect which does not hold that error.
    3. Start a sect of one’s own.
    4. Become a ‘non-denominational Christian’.

    Yet you remained a Lutheran (“It was not until I accepted the Catholic faith, that I learnt the truth …”) (presumably without following 1.). (And I hope that my tone doesn’t seem adversarial; I’m just interested in why someone would remain in communion with heretics.)

    • Yet you remained a Lutheran (”It was not until I accepted the Catholic faith, that I learnt the truth …”)

      Que? No I didn’t. I seem to recall that I entered the Catholic Church…

      If you are referring to the fact that while I was a Lutheran, I held ideas that were in conflict with some other ideas among Lutherans, well… there you go. Show me a Lutheran who doesn’t!

      The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not a core doctrine of the Lutheran Church. Orthodox Lutherans may argue that it is a core doctrine of the Christian Tradition (which it is), but one could merrily be a Lutheran and deny it.

      But my point is that I learnt that I was in error and corrected my errors.

  3. Oh, and depending on how far south the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary is, Dr. Yeago might resent being called a Yankee!

    • Here we go:

      “South Carolina was the first state to vote to secede from the Union and was a founding state of the Confederate States of America.”
      [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Carolina]

      No more talk of Yankees please, Mr. Schütz!

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Great somnambulating Judas, the same reader called this to my attention too, which I would pass by as just another version of the new faith called “Catholic” I have heard since its inception, except that I, surprisingly for once along with the blogoral entity calling itself “Cardinal Pole”, and Joshua, am astounded at whatever you mean by rejecting the immortality of the soul and not understanding the destiny of a human being as a body-soul entity.

    I mean, it’s been clear from the outset that in accepting post Vatican II “Catholicism” you have not accepted what the Catholic Church teaches as the Catholic Faith; that you have not made any Abjuration whatsoever in the senses both that the faith you profess is not the Catholic Faith and the faith the Catholic Church professes is not the Catholic Faith.

    But now this!?!?! Great Judas vesting in the sacristy, now I wonder were you ever Lutheran either!

    Y tambien I too have great sympathy for those who find that their denomination has so changed that what was orthodox is now deemed heretical more or less and they are no longer welcome. But you don’t have to look to the Anglican Communion for that, there’s a whole bunch believing and doing what was formerly just Catholic that are now “traditionalist Catholics”, or trads as some say here in the blogosphere, and the utter duplicity of offering them the ability to maintain their ways as a museum piece as long as they acknowledge the new way too changes nothing.

    For their counterparts in the woe-begotten misbegotten ELCA, there is no answer whatsoever in the ecclesial Rorschach blot that is the “Catholic Church”, in which one may see anything as long as one continues to believe this is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic true blot.

    I suppose since I’m here it wouldn’t hurt to say that most of the dissenters from ELCA’s latest apostacy are quite comfortable with its earlier ones.

    • Hi, Terry.

      To say that I once held ideas that were not Lutheran Orthodoxy is not to say that I was “never” a Lutheran. My ideas as a Lutheran were never static, nor did I have a clear magisterial guide telling me what was and was not Lutheran. I was told that all teaching had to be tested against scripture, and according to my personal judgement at one stage in my theological development, I thought that scripture rejected the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Knowing (as a good Lutheran) that Scripture was more important than tradition, I allowed my personal interpretation of scripture to trump a long-held traditional doctrine of the Church.

      “Never even Lutheran”? Sounds very “Lutheran” to me!

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        Well I’ll be dipped, bipped, whipped, tripped, clipped and nipped. Doesn’t sound Lutheran worth a crap to me, but it explains why you like the sense of a Newmanesque authority that ends all questions around. Good thing you didn’t come around before his non-Catholic vision of a Catholic Church that left him Protestant but doubtless became official.

        • Good on, ya, PE. Keep up the good work! 🙂 Just as long as you personally are certain what it means to be Lutheran, you go ahead and be one. I tried to be what I thought was Lutheran and failed miserably.

  5. If there were a newspaper that ran articles about issues that concern me, to-day’s headline would be “Pole, Josh and P.E. on Warpath”, with a report of a – certainly not ecumenical – but a joint Inquisition probing David’s confession of past heresy.

    David, I thought even the Reformers (so-called) condemned the heresy of “soul sleep”, which the draft of the notorious XXXIX Articles named and shamed; yet I have read that Low Anglicans and other Protestants have picked up on this heresy…

    You are right, of course – as all heretics are in some manner – to note that just “going to heaven” is not the whole of eschatology: too often the future resurrection is forgotten. But to then go so far as to deny the immortality of the soul in reaction is, as you now know, rather silly.

    (FWIW, one whole class of seminarians at CTC were so horrified by Dr Ramsay striving to emphasise the future resurrection, as opposed to their fuzzy picture of “going to heaven”, that they took him to deny the immortality of the soul, and delated his heresy to the seminary staff!!! So you’re in good company, David.)

    • Yes, I do want to make it quite clear that this is not a heresy to which I currently hold. I believe all that the Catholic Church teaches on this matter.

      You would be amazed how many Lutherans (and other protestants) privately (and sometimes unthinkingly) hold a doctrine of either:

      1) Soul-sleep
      2) ‘resurrection in death’ (such that somehow or other our dead loved ones are already “raised” in heaven – body and soul)
      3) or have simply lost sight of the resurrection of the body altogether.

      This is partly the reason why our doctrine of purgatory makes no sense to them.