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It makes for a captivating, albeit often tragic, story or TV drama. A seaworthy vessel with supposedly capable seamen at the helm loses its power or moorings while at sea and soon finds itself adrift — at the mercy of the currents, the elements, the wind and waves. Compounding the problem are a scarcity of food and water, no idea or control over where one is headed, where dry land is, where help may be found.

Such a tragic scenario and warning is depicted by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4. There he describes those without the spiritual anchor or mooring of God’s Word as being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (v. 14). In other words, they are adrift on the sea of theology at the mercy of every satanic wind and dangerous current that happens to be blowing.

“Social Gospel” Issues

Adrift on the sea of theology — such words aptly describe happenings at the recent Minneapolis convention of the 5.2 million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA is the result of a 1988 merger of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), and is the largest and most liberal branch of Lutheranism in the United States. Key issues before this year’s convention were the election of a new bishop or leader, world hunger, social justice, and the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women pastors. Resolutions were passed concerning a host of “social gospel” items. Very little interest in, or discussion of, spiritual or doctrinal matters was evident at this convention.

Newly elected ELCA presiding Bishop H. G. Anderson spoke of the ELCA approach as “theology by consensus.” “Our theology,” he said, “is simply the way we decide to apply the gospel in our world. God will lead us.” In an organization of such widely divergent cultures and theological backgrounds and stances, he saw “theology by consensus” as the only “workable solution” in the quest for true unity in the church. Only when a “consensus” (general, majority agreement) is reached does it become part of the ELCA confession or beliefs. Thus, for example, since a consensus could not be reached on the controversial “Human Sexuality Study” (endorsing homosexuality and “loving” extra-marital relationships), it was simply tabled for two years with the consequence that the ELCA is basically without a position on many sixth commandment issues.

An Eye-Opening Textbook

To those familiar with happenings within Lutheranism and with the ELCA, this comes as no surprise. One of our CLC pastors has prepared an eye-opening review of the “Christian Dogmatics (Doctrine)” textbook used in the seminary training of ELCA pastors. Claiming the “gospel” rather than the Bible is the “canon” (measuring stick for divine authority or truth), this textbook proceeds to methodically challenge and undermine such key Christian doctrines as the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the Trinity, Creation, Sin, the Virgin Birth, Salvation through Christ alone, the Vicarious Atonement, and the Resurrection. With those gone, what is left? In the name of Christianity they have virtually “gutted” the Christian faith and with it all comfort and hope for lost sinners.

Once the anchor, rudder, and engine of God’s Word no longer operates or controls the organizational “ship,” the prospect for aimless drifting on the sea of life spells imminent disaster. Once the ELCA denied the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, there was nothing left to hold the ship on course. Our hearts go out to those passengers aboard the ELCA ship who are “adrift” and yet are being told that all is well.

For us as well this story is both a warning and cause for thanksgiving. God has graciously anchored our hearts, our confession, and our fellowship to Him and His Word. Yet no special natural immunity is ours from the fate which has befallen much of Lutheranism. We are sailing on the same sea with the same storms and deadly currents around us. Only by clinging in faith to our Lord and His Word will we remain “on course,” confident He will lead us “to that bright shore where we weep no more.”

–Pastor David Schierenbeck