A Time to Break Down…and a Time to Build

In our Sunday Morning Bible class we got into a little discussion about ecumenism, joint efforts and an Eastern District Convention vote. The title of the post comes from Ecclesiastes 3:3. I could have also quoted Ecclesiastes 3:5 (cast away or gather) or Ecclesiastes 3:7 (sew or tear). I think it is true that everybody wants to be in the reaping, gathering, building or sewing business. Not that those times are necessarily easy, but those times allow for margins of error, lazy thinking and the hedging of bets. Its those other verbs (casting, breaking, tearing or planting) that require deeper discernment. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if I said I think the task of this generation is tilted toward breaking, tearing and planting. A fellow minister used the analogy of Moses in the desert for 40 years. He doesn’t expect that he will see the promised land – if you define the promised land as a church that faithful and robust. (This could probably be said for the culture in general on many levels.) Bringing this back to where I started, the discussion was started because the Eastern District in convention voted to break ties with Campus Ministries that had been joint with the ELCA. This was the right thing to do. We do not share a confession with the ELCA. We might share the name Lutheran, but given that bodies’ actions in 2009, to continue in a joint ministry is to walk in significant error and give cover for it. The bible class had been reading Ephesians 4:1-32. The first part of that I had termed – “How do discern a wound in the body of Christ from a cancer on the body of Christ”. The second part was “how do you act as a body that is perpetually wounded”. There might be several faithful pastors and laity within the ELCA right now, but as a body, by its actions in convention in 2009, according to Ephesians 4:18-20, they have become a cancer. When you do break away or tear the old things, Thomas Jefferson and the American founders were not far off. “A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel the separation.” That is what the Eastern District in Convention did. Even though the tearing was first caused by another group breaking with sound teaching.

There will be many people who might not like hearing this – many faithful people in heterodox church bodies – but the time of growing together (Matt 13:30) is coming to an end. Of all places to look the New York Times’ Bill Keller says the same thing. (He even does so referencing a Rochester Congregation). Call it what you wish but it is time to break down ties that formerly held, because we cannot speak truth to each other. Maybe God will choose to bless them and we shall have a prophetic sign that things formerly not kosher are now clean. Although I doubt that coming to pass. It seems too easy and too near the desires of my heart to avoid confrontation and just all get along. Something that cannot be said for Peter who saw the vision of the table of pork. It was not his heart’s desire to accept the gentiles. Accepting them was the hard thing.

What breaking down does do is place on the remnant the burden to build. But now we build in the confidence of building on the rock (Matt 7:24). We also build being free of the former things delighting in the new thing that God is doing. (Isaiah 43:16-21) It will not be a restoration of “our grandfather’s church” as so many might desire. It will be that in so far as Father, Son and Spirit are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But it will also be new. And that is a tension. The unchanging God is new every morning. We are already of the new creation even though the old has yet to be put away. And so we inwardly groan as we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:23) But we groan, not in misery or longing for Egypt as the Israel of old. We groan because of the surpassing greatness of what is to come.

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