From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WordAlone Network Formed, Speakers Say They Want to Stay in ELCA

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date 05 Apr 2000 10:51:43


April 5, 2000


     MAHTOMEDI, Minn. (ELCA)   With many speakers declaring they do not
want to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) but want
to work for its reform, 1,005 people met here March 26-29 at the
constituting convention of the WordAlone Network.  The network, made up
of congregations and individuals, was formed to resist requirements of
"Called to Common Mission" (CCM), a proposal for full communion with The
Episcopal Church.
     The convention was held at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church.  The Rev.
Roger C. Eigenfeld is senior pastor there and was elected president of
the WordAlone Network by the delegates.  He had been serving as interim
chair since last November.
     Most of the convention's participants were from the Upper Midwest
states, though participants also came from many other states.  Speakers
included former church officials, seminary faculty, pastors and lay
people.  No speakers spoke favorably of CCM.
     Of the 1,005 who attended, nearly half were voting delegates.  To
be a voting delegate, participants were required to sign a statement
that they subscribe to WordAlone's principles.   Voting delegates
elected a board of directors and acted on several proposed resolutions.
     The ELCA is a 5.2 million-member denomination, the largest
Lutheran denomination in the United States.
     WordAlone represents ELCA members who remain opposed to CCM
because it requires the ELCA to adopt the "historic episcopate," brought
to the relationship by the Episcopal Church.  The historic episcopate is
a succession of bishops as a sign of unity back to the early days of the
Christian Church.  Under CCM, Lutheran bishops must preside at all
ordinations and Lutheran bishops must be installed in the presence of
bishops in the historic episcopate.
     Lutherans opposed to CCM   some of whom are part of WordAlone --
say the historic episcopate is a threat to Lutheran identity and changes
the role of bishops in the Lutheran church.
     CCM was adopted by the 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly by a vote of
716 to 317.  The Episcopal Church will consider CCM at its general
convention this July in Denver.
     In remarks to the convention, Eigenfeld said WordAlone will be an
organization in the ELCA.  Network members will not recognize "an
imposed, mandatory" historic episcopate, he said.
     Among its principles, the network will "reclaim" Lutheran
confessions, uphold the witness of lay people, match like-minded pastors
and congregations and provide a "safe haven" for seminarians who do not
want to be ordained in the historic episcopate, he said.
     "The goal is to become a force for renewal in the ELCA," Eigenfeld
said.  "We are not going to go away. This is our church.  It was stolen
on Aug. 19 at 11:38 a.m."   the date and time of the ELCA Churchwide
Assembly's vote to adopt CCM.
     To achieve its principles, Eigenfeld said the network will work
for the defeat of bishops who support CCM; craft common resolutions for
synod assemblies to act on; suggest congregations reconsider their
benevolence giving to synods; and recruit pastors and congregations to
support WordAlone Network.
     CCM is a "radical departure" for the Lutheran Church, said the
Rev. David W. Preus, bishop of the former American Lutheran Church
(ALC), in the convention's opening address.  The ALC merged with the
Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran
Churches to form the ELCA in 1988.  Preus said the phrase "radical
departure" is from a 1998 letter written by nine Lutheran scholars who
warned against ELCA adoption of CCM.
     "The controversy over CCM is not between good and bad people, nor
is it a controversy between Lutherans and Episcopalians," Preus said.
"It is an important family disagreement in the ELCA branch of the whole
family of God."
     Preus said those who disagree on CCM must be able to live
together.  He said he is not interested in leaving the ELCA and starting
a new church.
     "I believe the ecumenical road to the future is one of 'reconciled
diversity' where no Word and Sacrament church is required to change
convictions or practices in order to commune with the ELCA," he said.
     Preus said the Bible says nothing about an historic episcopate;
that the historic episcopate is a departure from the Lutheran
understanding of the "priesthood of all believers"; and what he called
the "top-down character of the presentation and adoption of CCM" was a
departure from the traditional Lutheran decision-making process.
     "There was no pressure for the historic episcopate from the ELCA
laity or even from the great majority of parish pastors," Preus said.
"The historic episcopate was simply not on the screen for most of us.
It focuses attention on the ordained clergy, especially bishops, at a
time when the ministry of the laity is obviously the crucial matter."
     Radical departures in the ELCA on CCM led to the formation of the
WordAlone Network, he added.
     Another keynote speaker, the Rev. James A. Nestingen, professor of
church history, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., said Lutherans have
traditionally defined the church by confessing to preserve the freedom
of the gospel.  He also said the ELCA developed and has been maintained
on a "paradigm of coercion," initiated prior to the 1988 merger that
formed the ELCA.
     For example, Nestingen said the ELCA's "quota system," aimed at
inclusive participation, "brought forward" people who would not have had
access to churchwide committees and offices, he said.  "To that extent,
it has been a good thing," Nestingen said.
     He also said quotas have meant some people traditionally part of
the decision-making processes of the church had to be eliminated to make
room for others.
     "And over the years, the people who have been eliminated have
generally been those who were identified with a particular tradition out
of keeping with those in power," Nestingen said.
     Nestingen cited other examples of what he called coercion,
including the ELCA's proposed sexuality statement from the mid 1990s,
the candidacy process and the "imposition" on the ELCA Board of Pensions
of abortion funding on demand, he said.
     "Again and again, accountability is invested, accountability
ducked," Nestingen said. "We all know the next step along the way.  Once
again, we are going to be told that biblical standards on sexuality are
ambiguous, that consequently sexual behavior is really a personal
question and that the church really has no business setting limits in
this matter."
     "This is supposed to be a merged church," he said. "To many of us,
it looks like a hostile takeover."
     Nestingen said the ELCA bishops' recent pastoral letter on CCM "is
a beginning."  The bishops "made an opening, the first we've seen since
Denver," he said.    He also said bishops who strongly support CCM and
voted for the letter realized that people opposed to CCM must be
     Seminarians opposed to CCM are vulnerable, said the Rev. Mark
Kolden, professor of systematic theology and academic dean, Luther
Seminary.  He said there are three options for them: to go along and
become ordained, mostly because of family obligations; to opt out of the
ELCA; or complete their educations and refuse to take part in an
ordination under CCM requirements.  The WordAlone Network could provide
support for seminarians opposed to CCM, Kolden added.
     In a presentation on the theological implications of CCM, the Rev.
Michael Rogness, professor of homiletics, Luther Seminary, said
Lutherans in America who come from different immigrant streams have
never worked out any theology of ministry or church structure.
     "So, we came into the ecumenical scene of the late 20th century
without doing our homework, and we are encountering other church groups
which have a very definite theology and structure of ministry," Rogness
said.  CCM was "sold" as an ecumenical document, but it is actually a
theological document about ministry, he said.
     CCM sends mixed messages, Rogness said. It embraces the Lutheran
"one ordained ministry" and the Episcopal three-fold ministry, he said.
CCM makes the office of bishop distinct from and elevated over the
office of pastor, Rogness said.
     "The theology and reality behind CCM is that Word and sacrament
ministry is possible through the office of bishop," he said. "It is no
longer the gospel which creates the ordained ministry.  It is the office
which makes possible the gospel.  No bishop, no Word, no sacraments.
That practice and theology are exactly the reverse of what Lutherans
have always believed."
     Rogness urged WordAlone convention delegates to state the case
against CCM "theologically and persuasively."  All sides in the
continuing CCM discussion should "work together in good faith and work
out some way to live together in this church," he concluded.
      Convention speakers also addressed synod resolutions on CCM,
election of bishops who do not recognize the historic episcopate,
pension and health care benefits, property issues and redirecting

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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