Oh No! I Think We Lost Our Lutheran! Part 1.

A Post by Neil Hart of homosexuality, LGBT, lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

Man! I am so impressed by Luther.

He has a way of cutting through the crap.

And there is a big  pile of it that needs to be cut through.

I came across this last week.

Lutheran Church of Australia and Uniting Church in Australia National Dialogue. Summary and Outcome of Discussion on Interpretation of Scripture. 

It seems that the Australian Lutheran and the Uniting Churches have been in dialogue for a number of years. Then, in 2003,  the UCA decided it wouldn’t prohibit the ordination of gay priests.

I quote from the paper…

This raised the question for the LCA whether it could continue to be in dialogue with a church that did not seem to prohibit individual presbyteries from ordaining persons in a same-sex relationship.

Get that? The question wasn’t whether the LCA agreed with the UCA decision or not. The question was whether the LCA could even TALK to the UCA now that they had refused to condemn THE GAY.

Hey fellow Lutherans out there… Does anyone else feel just a tad uncomfortable about that? Talk about sectarian!

But that’s not the purpose of this post.

The rest of the paper was taken up with outlining the different approaches the two churches take in interpreting Bible passages on homosexuality. This is why I write.

Under the heading “Exegesis of Texts”. The Lutheran Members of the Dialogue said the following.

Humanity at large is the intended reader of the mandates in Leviticus 18, suggested by the Hebrew word for humanity  in verse 5. Natural law is in view, applicable among the nations, not simply within Israel.

The prohibition of homosexual behaviour appears in the context of a series of moral vices: incest, adultery, child sacrifice and bestiality (Lev 20:7–26). Here they constitute an affront to the holiness of God and are not to be equated with the cultic prescriptions that Jesus abolishes. (pg. 7)

When Paul says that Christ is the ‘end’ (telos) of the law he does not mean that Christ abolished the moral law of the Decalogue but rather that he is its goal and fulfilment. What Christ abolished was the ritual law that created division between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:15). So the moral law, which is the same as the natural law, continues to remain valid for the church. (pg. 12)

If I understand correctly what is being said… The LCA believes that the Old Testament is divided up into at least 2 categories. There are ritual laws which apply only to the Hebrew reader and there are natural/ moral laws which apply directly to all members of the church in every time and place.

This way of interpreting the Old Testament isn’t new. I’ve come across it many times, particularly of late as I have read various Christian writers who would want to use the Old Testament Leviticus texts to call my gay friends “abomination”. What IS new for me is to find this being described as a Lutheran way of interpreting the Bible.

The Westminster Confession of 1646, the foundational document for the Reformed Tradition of the Christian Church, codified this approach in chapter 19.  Scripture is divided into “moral law” which is eternally binding on all Christians and “ceremonial and judicial law” which have been “done away with by Christ for all Christians”. The Presbyterian Church is a part of this tradition. The Presbyterian Church in Australia is also one of the Churches that make up the Uniting Church of Australia.

And so we come full circle. No, Wait. Not 360 but a 180 degree about-face by the LCA members of the dialogue team who were attempting to convince the UCA members of that team that a particularly Reformed approach to interpreting scripture is actually Lutheran.

Here is where Luther comes in.

Here is where the crap gets cut through.

In my attempt to find a genuinely Lutheran approach to understanding the Old Testament I came across this. Have a read of a 1525 sermon by Martin Luther entitled “How Christians Should Read Moses”.

“These are two kingdoms: the temporal, which governs with the sword and is visible; and the spiritual, which governs solely with grace and with the forgiveness of sins.”

“Between these two kingdoms still another has been placed in the middle, half spiritual and half temporal. It is constituted by the Jews, with commandments and outward ceremonies which prescribe their conduct toward God and men.”

“Here the law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel. And Israel accepted this law for itself and its descendants, while the Gentiles were excluded. To be sure, the Gentiles have certain laws in common with the Jews, such as these: there is one God, no one is to do wrong to another, no one is to commit adultery or murder or steal, and others like them. This is written by nature into their hearts; they did not hear it straight from heaven as the Jews did. This is why this entire text does not pertain to the Gentiles.”

“I say this on account of the enthusiasts (fanatics/ zealots). For you see and hear how they read Moses, extol him, and bring up the way he ruled the people with commandments. They try to be clever, and think they know something more than is presented in the gospel; so they minimize faith, contrive something new, and boastfully claim that it comes from the Old Testament. They desire to govern people according to the letter of the law of Moses, as if no one had ever read it before.”

“But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us.”

“If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.”

“That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20:1, where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver – unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.”

“Therefore it is clear enough that Moses is the lawgiver of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. He has given the Jews a sign whereby they should lay hold of God, when they call upon him as the God who brought them out of Egypt. The Christians have a different sign, whereby they conceive of God as the One who gave his Son, etc.”

“Again one can prove it from the third commandment that Moses does not pertain to Gentiles and Christians. For Paul and the New Testament abolish the sabbath, to show us that the sabbath was given to the Jews alone, for whom it is a stern commandment…

…Now if anyone confronts you with Moses and his commandments, and wants to compel you to keep them, simply answer, “Do not entangle me with Moses. If I accept Moses in one respect [Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 5:3], then I am obligated to keep the entire law.” For not one little period in Moses pertains to us.”

Man!  I LIKE Luther! He certainly had his failings but I had almost forgotten how direct and uncompromisingly gospel and Jesus centred he was.

We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts.

Less than a week ago I told someone that our church should not open its door this Sunday unless we can guarantee that only good news is spoken to everyone who enters. I’m pretty sure that I now hear an “Amen to that!” from Luther.

The gulf between the (apparently Reformed) approach to scripture outlined by the LCA dialogue team and the words of Luther seems impossible to bridge.

And so I ask…

Have we lost our Lutheran?

I have quite a bit more to say on this in further posts. It’s all gonna be a bit theological. I want to write it up for my own benefit as much as anything else. Hope that’s OK with you reader.

You can read the full text of the LCA/ UCA dialogue team here.

Stay tuned.