Greenford congregation knew what it was doing in leaving ELCA

Greenford congregation knew what it was doing in leaving ELCA

I am the pastor of Greenford Lutheran Church and am writing in response to the Rev. Robert A. Johnson’s Nov. 27 letter to the editor. Rev. Johnson twists both Scripture and history to call into question Greenford Lutheran Church’s 2010 decision to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

It is more than unseemly for a pastor serving a brief interim to call into question the choices and the character of the congregation he served. Rev. Johnson does just that. I am not writing to correct the unfortunate tone and subtle assertions of Rev. Johnson’s letter, but to address the facts which he describes as “more complex” than had been reported.

Since its creation in 1987, hundreds of congregations have left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and/or joined other Lutheran denominations. They have taken these difficult, disturbing and courageous actions in response to the ELCA’s gradual abandonment of important elements of its own Confession of Faith. The ELCA Constitution confesses one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith received in tradition, based on the Scriptures and expressed in the Lutheran Confessions. For many years, the ELCA’s decisions about its faith and life, culminating in those made at the August 2009 churchwide Assembly, have been at odds with its own Confessions of Faith. In response, Greenford Lutheran and many other congregations have left the ELCA.

Rev. Johnson ignores this long history of conversation and conflict within the ELCA when he characterizes Greenford Lutheran’s act of separation as a decision “to run away when decisions don’t go our way.” Apparently Rev. Johnson does not regard as important the issues that have had the membership of the ELCA in an uproar since 1992. It is also apparent that in his brief service at Greenford Lutheran, he did not hear or understand the crisis of confession and affiliation forced upon the congregation by the ELCA’s growing abandonment of its own Confession of Faith and the Scriptures. To Rev. Johnson, the issues under debate were just disagreements that democratic participation could resolve.

Rev. Johnson asserts that Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is a prayer that should be offered for all congregations that have taken a stand and separated themselves from an unfaithful ELCA. Unfortunately, he is praying for the wrong people. In fact, Greenford Lutheran and these other congregations do know what they are doing.

They and their pastors (I being one) have shown up, spoken up and memorialized synod assemblies and churchwide assemblies for the past 20 years about the ELCA’s growing disparity between the faith it confesses and the one it actually teaches and lives. Over these years, ELCA congregations and pastors have been knee-deep in the work of Matthew 18, seeking to reconcile and restore their fellowship. Rev. Johnson correctly calls for all to read this Scripture, but he fails to apply it. Matthew’s guidance on brotherly connection speaks to faults that are grave, notorious and potentially, church-dividing, not disagreements that conversation and accommodation can overcome. Rev. Johnson does not regard the conflicts within the ELCA to be over matters of faith and life that are grave, notorious and church-dividing. Greenford Lutheran and a host of other Lutheran congregations and denominations do. They have acted on Matthew 18:17 and in humility and obedience to the Word of God have chosen to walk apart from the ELCA.

I agree with Rev. Johnson that we live in a country that desperately needs examples of reconciliation. However, reconciliation cannot take place at the expense of the truth revealed in God’s Word. That is so even within that most forgiving and accepting of places, the church.

Rev. Michael McCarthy, Greenford

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