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President distressed with ‘unauthorised communication’

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 11.04.48 AMOn Maundy Thursday of this Easter season, the following epistle arrived from Pr Mike Semmler, the President of the LCA.  Despite having apologised to representatives from St Stephen’s for his previous epistle, the reprimanding continues.   One can presume that this letter is intended to intimidate Synod delegates into submitting to Pr Mike’s direction from the Synod Chair.

We wonder what his reference to “have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22) would look like in a democratic Church?  For us, it would look like respect, tolerance of diversity, understanding, and lifting each other up in our difference.

Further comments will follow in a later post.

Dear Pastors, Parishioners and Synod Delegates,

At the instigation of the College of Presidents I communicate this pre-convention letter to you.

Our Synod meets in Convention under the theme ‘Where Love Comes to Life’. ‘Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart’ (1 Peter 1:22)

We have the best news ever to tell the world. It is the gospel of salvation. It is the love of God in Christ.

God in Christ who has enacted our redemption has also in his abundant graciousness given us means to spread this good news. We have communication media not dreamed of 175 years ago when Lutherans first organized worship and mission in Australia. As an example our Media Ministry now reaches a million people each week with the gospel.

It is to be regretted that unauthorised communication using the same God given technology has given rise to false expectation in regards to matters on the Convention of Synod agenda. Groundless expectation can only lead to disappointment and even anger. I refer both to the matters themselves and the constitutional process in place for synod to maintain its unity while difficult issues are under discussion.

The status of the Thesis of Agreement, the ordination of both genders and the standing of the LCA in the Lutheran World Federation will all be processed according to the ways of the Church, which accepts that Scripture is the only norm for its teaching and upon which its unity is drawn.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is a community of God’s children, not an entity reliant on legal argumentation, culture, electioneering, politics, or populist pressure, which if used to settle issues of teaching may demean the very issue being addressed. We fear God rather than people. Our unity is a gift to be celebrated. The Church studies Scripture and the pastors who are called to speak to and for the Church need to be able to give guidance to the synod on matters of theology. This is how the Thesis of Agreement came into being to bring us together. What brought us together keeps us together.

Our commitment and accountability to each other in Synod shows through in our respect, understanding and compassion for each other especially when we recognize hurt. Loving each other is a witness to our culture and society. The apostle Paul spoke to the people of Ephesus and said (Eph 1:15, 16) ‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers’.

For a change of teaching the synod, seeking to preserve its integrity, points us toward finding consensus. Biblical studies are required for the constitutional requirement that pastors guide delegates, in decision making. Our previous papers for the study on the ordination of male and female have not satisfied the Church. The Church has put in place an Ordination Dialogue Group which will report to the convention. The General Church Council will offer a proposal to the Synod to progress what has already begun with the Dialogue Group.

There is every reason to be positive about all serious study of the inspired Word of God.

We are charged to speak into the culture in every era, as culture does not determine the interpreting of God’s Word. It is a matter of fearing God rather than culture (1st Commandment).

The importance of how we hear God’s Word is being addressed with a beginning at a symposium (Oct 2011) with presentations from across the Lutheran world. One booklet to help understand our Lutheran approach to interpretation has been produced. Interpretation itself is not a gender issue. We have also looked at what consensus means for the LCA which for pragmatic reasons uses the minimalist constitutional requirement of at least a two thirds majority vote at synod but which does not itself guarantee consensus. What is our understanding of consensus in a confessional church? Both the matters of ‘interpretation’ and ‘consensus’ need further study and discussion. These are vital in establishing teaching in the Church.

The Church has not been preparing for the major theological issues mentioned above. What is presented for possible discussion and direction does not make it ready for decision on the subject itself.

There has been no study before the Church in this synodical period for decision on ordination. The last Convention of Synod requested the following, ‘… the General Church Council to establish a dialogue group with balanced representation from all sides of the issue, to work toward consensus within the group itself and across the Church…’. To shortcut the process would adversely affect the integrity of the Church and set an unwanted precedent for the handling of future sensitive issues.

It is recognized that divided opinion on the ordination matter is a reality and that some particularly with entrenched stances feel threatened, upset and even intimidated when addressing this teaching of our Church. In Synod we understand and have compassion for deep feelings as we continue to pray for and support each other. No-one likes protracted discussion, but it takes patience to achieve consensus across a diverse church.

We have looked to a newer generation of pastors to give their attention to this matter so that the unity of the Church may be strengthened and we can walk together informed by God’s will. That involves consensus in the Church and most importantly how we are hearing and therefore interpreting Scripture.

To demand God’s will according to us, to be enacted on our time schedule, is an approach which finds a better home in sectarianism, rather than synod. Our Synod guards against that. Lobbying also falls short of the ideals of synod as it does not provide the substance of reformation and renewal.

The Church has a teaching on the issue of ordination (Thesis of Agreement: Thesis on the Office of the Ministry VI.II) and we are studying if there is biblical permission for a change with regard to gender.

The Christian church on earth has a future. A future which waits on the Lord and his will. All things are according to his timeline. Patience finds its home in trusting him. Let Scripture teach us the patience we need to move forward together.

Looking to God’s Word when facing these issues provides an opportunity to strengthen our unity. It is not that the inspired Scriptures are unclear, but rather it is we who suffer from unclear understanding.

As we celebrate this Easter we will see once more that Love comes to life in the sacrifice of Christ. We live under his cross with his open tomb providing our path to life eternal.

 

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