Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Less Room in the LCMS Brotherhood

Since my ordination into the ministry twenty-six years ago this month, I have had to address several informal and formal accusations of "teaching false doctrine" or "teaching doctrine inconsistent with the public teaching of the LCMS." These accusations have included:

(1) denying the inerrancy of the Scriptures;
(2) advocating for the ordination of women to the pastoral office;
(3) rejecting rectilinear prophecy in the OT; and
(4) denying that the first chapters of Genesis must be understood literalistically, as an actual historical account (and holding that the data explained by the theory of evolution need not necessarily contradict our faith in God the Creator).

Prior to April, 2015, I have endured four formal charges of false teaching. Three of those trials had to do with the first, second, and fourth issues above. The process for each of those three cases took between four and five years, lots of energy, lots of money, and reams of paper. (The fourth case--having to do with the third issue above--was dismissed by my District President almost immediately for reasons I will not share here.)

I endured the process of those four cases because I thought the principles involved were worthy of exploring/defending and I thought my accusers were setting up a doctrinal standard that was sub-Lutheran and inconsistent with Article II of the LCMS Constitution. I thought those struggles were worth the effort. I leveled my dissent within the Synod for the same reason.

All of these previous cases ended with my exoneration. That includes the most recent case (issue number two above), the one a NW District Referral Panel finalized in my favor last October.

What was supposed to be "final," however, turned out not to be "final." President Harrison attacked me on his Facebook page, as did others elsewhere on the internet. Several LCMS district conventions have now also passed resolutions that call upon me to repent of my teaching. For more on this, see my "For the Record" here.

But now a new charge has been brought against me that deals, once again, with issues one and four. Last April the Rev. Terry Forke, the Montana District President, initiated this latest case. He accuses me of failing to defend the LCMS position that Gen 1-3 are "an historical record." He's also upset that I have failed to reject the theory of evolution. In his letter he calls upon me to recant what I have written in my online essay, "The Scandal of the LCMS Mind," which you can read here.

In light of this most recent charge--and given everything else that has happened since President Harrison's Facebook post against me--last week Rev. Paul Linnemann, the NW District President, asked me to resign from the LCMS.

After a few days of thinking over and praying about his request, I let him know on Friday that I could not in good conscience resign. I told him that I thought such a decision would lend credence to the accusations of my accusers in the Synod, namely, that I have indeed acted improperly and taught falsely. More importantly, I believe that for me to resign would go against my ordination vows and undermine the principles I have sought to defend in each of the cases against me.

Perhaps in some future post I will comment further on the theological issues here. I do think the synod is hamstrung by some of its official documents from its past (e.g., Brief Statement; A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles). As I've tried to point out over the years, there is a better way of articulating the confessional doctrines of creation, sin, and redemption than by insisting on six-day creationism and a literalistic approach to the first chapters in Genesis.

Today I received official notice that President Linnemann has decided "to initiate formal proceedings under Bylaw 2.14.6 and request [my] expulsion from Synod." As an automatic result of this action, I am on "suspended status" under Bylaw 2.13.4.

According to Bylaw 2.14.6c, I have 15 days to appeal my suspension.

Nevertheless, I have told President Linnemann that I will not appeal his decision. Having suffered through those three previous heresy trials--which burdened nearly 17 of the past 26 years of my ministry--my family and I have come to the point of saying, "Enough! No more!"

Consequently, on July 15, I will be removed from the LCMS.

Yesterday I began to make inquiries into the process for becoming rostered in the ELCA. Later this summer my family and I will be joining Christ Lutheran Church (ELCA), here in Valpo.

My imminent expulsion from the synod has saddened me, since this church body that has been my spiritual home for nearly 53 years will no longer be that. As one of my seasoned LCMS teachers told me over the weekend, when I spoke with him about the situation, "This is no longer the synod of Emil Jaech and Emil Becker..."

I am also at peace. I have a clean conscience. Vis-a-vis these five official cases, I don't believe I have said or written anything that goes against my ordination vows or that contradicts or muddies the doctrinal content of the evangelical-Lutheran faith. I do believe that God's grace is sufficient to cover my sins, errors, and failures--and I remain open to correction. (I'm sorry, but the district resolutions that call upon me to repent of my teaching have not convinced me that I am guilty of teaching false doctrine in these matters.)

So I am shaking the dust off my worn sandals and moving on. I am grateful to be able to continue my teaching ministry here at Valparaiso University.

I am grateful, too, for the support I have received from many kindred spirits across and beyond the LCMS. They and the LCMS remain in my prayers.

Addendum on 7/5/15:
Just to be clear:
(1) I hold that "inerrancy" is not a helpful category for understanding the nature of biblical authority. Even Martin Luther, back in the sixteenth century, acknowledged that there are "errors" in Scripture.

(2) I am convinced that the Scriptures do not clearly prohibit women from serving in the pastoral office today.

(3) I do not reject predictive prophecy. The biblical prophets made prophetic-predictive statements about the future, including the future age of the Messiah, but this fact does not mean that the prophets saw directly and clearly to Jesus of Nazareth and made their predictions based on that vision. Direct prophecies are rare in the OT. More common are typical prophecies. These have an immediate meaning for their own day and an ultimate meaning that points toward the Messianic Age. God always has a way of surpassing biblical prophecies in unexpected ways.

(4) The genres in the early chapters of Genesis do not fit with the literary form of "historical report." The literal contradictions between the two creation accounts in Gen 1-3 are sufficient to push us in a different direction. The history of the exegesis of these chapters--beyond American Protestant Fundamentalism and its inroads in the LCMS--also helps to steer us away from interpretive dead ends. Finally, basic data discovered within the disciplines of the natural sciences also helps us to avoid literalistic, simplistic interpretations that are just plain wrong-headed and theologically unfruitful.

The referral panels and synodical officials who investigated the official charges against me that had to do with the above issues concluded that I was not guilty of advocating false doctrine.