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Reconfiguring the Lutheran church

I have so appreciated the faithfulness and tireless efforts of Bob Benne and others (including Gerry McDermott) as they have sought to keep Lutheranism true to its biblical foundations.

Bob wrote this after the CORE meeting in Indiana to chart a new course for conservative Lutherans. I was especially moved by the last paragraph.

My Interpretation of the CORE Assembly at Fishers, Indiana, Last Weekend

I haven’t been so excited about church life beyond the local parish for a long time. The camaraderie, the singing, the hospitality, the powerful talks, the affirmation of biblical and confessional truth, the focus on the future……all were expressed in almost overwhelming portions. The 1,200 souls present were full of life and determination. The CORE assembly was quite an experience.

For the first time in 25 years I felt liberation from the arduous struggle for the soul of the ELCA and freedom for the shaping of a future church life in which I could joyously participate. I had hoped for such a constructive turning toward the future at Fishers and my expectations were more than fulfilled.

When retired (?) Bishop Paull Spring—a very sober and churchly man—pronounced on Friday evening that the ELCA had fallen into heresy and that we must—with the Spirit’s help—engage in a process that will lead to a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism, one could feel a surge of energy and excitement that propelled the assembly forward. His speech was preceded by two other powerful addresses by retired Bishop Ken Sauer and CORE leader Ryan Schwarz, both of whom encouraged the
assembly not to get hung up with bitterness and anger toward the ELCA, but turn our attention to a new and unprecedented future.

Saturday was the day for more practical concerns, especially the forging of a Constitution that would allow us to organize and to guide our life for at least a year, at which time we hope for a more conclusive definition of who we are to be as a church body. We changed our name from Coalition for Reform, which described our earlier role within the ELCA, to Coalition for Renewal, which indicates our independence from the ELCA. The new Constitution defines us provisionally as “a free-standing synod, taking on those ministries that synods typically carry out,” with no doubt a bishop-like figure to lead us. Indeed, I will consider the “Bishop” of CORE to be my interim bishop until the dust clears and we have a sharper notion of what sort of body CORE will become. Such a leader will oversee CORE’s effort to take seriously its Confession of Faith, which recovers and reaffirms the orthodox faith of the Great Tradition, from which the ELCA has departed in many ways, not least of which is its acceptance of homosexual conduct.

Self-definition is particularly difficult because of the complexity of kinds of membership. Congregations, reform movements, individual laypersons and pastors, networks of churches, perhaps even Synods, will become members of CORE. Significant among the joiners may be the large network of African and Hispanic churches. Many of these persons and bodies will remain within the ELCA, some for a time and some permanently; many will leave. How to accommodate and support each member will provide CORE’s challenge for the coming year. Even so, there is little doubt that CORE will become a synod or churchly body that will harbor and provide missional opportunities for those of us whose loyalty can no longer be affixed to the national ELCA and many of its Synods.

One of the first actions of CORE will be to hold a major theological conference in the early fall of 2010, probably in Columbus, Ohio. The point here will be to project a biblical and theological vision of what Lutheranism at its best can be. We want CORE to proceed in accordance with such a vision, and we are also wagering that such a vision will be attractive to Lutherans currently in many Lutheran bodies. In due time, perhaps, North American Lutheranism will be reconfigured. Along the way CORE intends to do foreign and home missions, to cultivate ecumenical relationships that have been sorely wounded by the actions of the ELCA, and to attend to theological education.

For me the assembly ended on a touching note. I spotted a friend with whom I had grown up in our home church in Nebraska. He is the son of that congregation who himself became a pastor, now retired. Further, his father was my pastor, who confirmed me and from whom I had taken the bread and cup for many years. Some nearly providential happenstances allowed me to be the first in line to take the bread from my friend who was helping in distribution. When our eyes—his uncannily resembling his father’s—met and he offered me the bread and words of Jesus, time seemed to disappear and an unbroken connection from his dear father through him to me seemed to take place. But this was not just a human encounter, it was also an encounter with the living Christ who binds us together now and in eternity. Moreover, what brought us together humanly speaking was the love for an orthodox Lutheran church we used to know and hope to recover in the coming years.

--Dr. Robert D. Benne, is on the faculty of Roanoke College, in the Department of Religion/Philosophy and is Director of the Center for Religion and Society.

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