Earlier this week I was reading in the paper about a split that occurred in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It seems that several congregations have chosen to split off into their own denomination citing the controversy of the ELCA’s decision to allow non-celibate homosexuals to become ordained pastors. While such controversies are not so uncommon these days there was one sentiment from a congregate that caught my attention:
For too many Lutherans today, “it’s the Gospel of acceptance, rather than the Gospel of redemption — love conquers all kind of thing,” he said.
“You don’t have to worry about obedience, or sanctification, or any of those issues – you just love everybody and that’ll be fine,” Winkler said.
I understand such a sentiment since it is one I have felt myself many times before. It seems that in America Christian culture and Western culture have become intertwined to the point where the spiritual life of the individual is emphasized far above the life of the community. While such an occurrence has benefited the American church in some ways it has been detrimental in others. Such laissez faire faith and aimless acceptance are often the by-product of this increased individuality.
However, I do not believe that this is what is happening within the ELCA. You see, the movement of many churches towards open acceptance of homosexuality is not a result of cultural omni-acceptance. Instead it is part of a greater movement in the modern Church to reevaluate its historical beliefs. The Church is beginning to understand that an understanding of theology is not static but a fluid endeavorer requiring constant challenge and effort. In this particular case the reevaluation has caused a split in the church but it is not a split caused by individualism or hyper-acceptance run amok. Here what we are seeing is the members of each side of the debate seeking the strength of community. On the side of the ELCA its members are seeking to create a community where homosexuals are welcomed into the fold while on the side of the new denomination its members are seeking to live in a community where where their convictions are upheld. Each came to a different conclusion but each reacted in the same way by seeking to create an interdependent and God-honoring community.
It is simply a fact of life that different people will come to different conclusions at different times. Though unfortunate, sometimes church splits like this one are necessary in order to maintain functioning communities. At the same time these splits in denominations need not be a split in the Church as a whole. As long as dialog remains between the different branches then the community of the Church remains across all theological boundaries.