In a 1992 episode of the TV show Cheers, the slow-witted bartender Woody is distressed to find out on his honeymoon that he has just entered a “mixed marriage.” He belongs to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and his bride is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Among Woody’s concerns is that the two church bodies have differing views of Scripture and the Book of Concord. The studio audience finds this hilarious.
In the end, Woody does the “right thing” and joins his wife’s church body.
The gag works because, in our culture, differences between religious beliefs are quaint and silly—especially as, in this case, the two bodies share the name Lutheran.
Over a decade ago, a classmate of mine, who had transferred to Concordia Theological Seminary from an ELCA seminary, explained to me that his former school taught that the Resurrection of Jesus and the Virgin Birth are myths. We in the LCMS accept these as historical truths. Our difference with the ELCA is based on how we interpret the Bible and our Confessions. In the ELCA, the Bible is seen as “containing” God’s Word, whereas we confess that the Bible “is” God’s Word. In the ELCA, the Book of Concord is accepted “insofar as” it agrees with Scripture; in the LCMS, it is accepted “because” it agrees with Scripture.
Cue the laugh track.
While these may seem like esoteric distinctions that lack consequences in the real world, they actually underscore the fact that the LCMS and the ELCA truly are different religions. Woody was indeed in a mixed marriage.
If the Bible only contains God’s Word, we are free to pick what we like and toss what we don’t, leaving a cafeteria-style religion that is just what the Devil, the world, and our sinful flesh crave. But if it is God’s Word, we must submit to it. Likewise, if the Book of Concord is acceptable only insofar as it agrees with Scripture, it has no more value hermeneutically than does the Koran. But to accept the Lutheran confessional documents because they are in accordance with Scripture is likewise to submit to that tradition. And how that looks in the real world is no laughing matter.
The ELCA had already rejected the plain teaching of Scripture regarding women and ordination. Now they have crossed another Rubicon by electing a woman “presiding bishop”—and not just any woman, but Mrs. Elizabeth Eaton, the wife of an Episcopal priest. Thus, the ELCA continues to sever herself from catholic tradition and consensus.
The front-burner “gender” issue manifests itself in the ELCA in such ways as women’s “ordination,” how to address God, the baptismal formula, and how to regard homosexuality. The election of the “moderate” Mrs. Eaton is a statement of where the ELCA stands on Scripture. And her church is being consistent.
In fact, “Her Church” (herchurch.org), or Ebenezer Lutheran Faith Community, is an ELCA congregation that makes the logical connection between female clergy and goddess worship. They pray with a goddess rosary, celebrate solstice, and have rewritten the Lord’s Prayer to begin, “Our Mother who is within us.”
The studio audience doesn’t seem to be laughing anymore.
Now under Mrs. Eaton’s rod and staff is the ELCA’s recently elected first openly gay bishop, Guy Erwin, who has wasted no time in rewriting ancient liturgical texts to conform to his own sexual ideas. At the churchwide assembly that elected Mrs. Eaton, Bishop Erwin presided over a worship service that changed the name of the Persons in the Trinity to be more “inclusive.” He rewrote the Nicene Creed “to keep people from feeling excluded,” though he does concede that Jesus came “presumably as male.”
Mrs. Eaton’s church is in fellowship with the aforementioned Episcopal Church (also headed by a woman), whose Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York once featured a female Christ figure on the crucifix. (Interestingly, Bishop Erwin thinks this “goes too far.”) I wonder if Erwin and Eaton think their communion partners in the Church of Sweden went “too far” in displaying “Ecce Homo” (a work of explicit homosexual pornography featuring our Lord and the apostles) in the sanctuary of Sweden’s ancient Uppsala Cathedral.
Like her husband’s priestess-led church, Mrs. Eaton’s church is terribly divided. She is desperately trying to keep her church together—as there are at least two incompatible religions sharing the same rainbow-colored umbrella.
One can hardly imagine our Lord finds the denial of Scripture, the mockery of His good creation of male and female, gay pornography in churches, and the call of a woman “bishop”—presiding over feminists saying their beads to a goddess—to be amusing.