The ELCA and John Piper

John Piper posted a very controversial and very thought provoking blog entry regarding the tornado that damaged a Lutheran church on the same day that the ELCA passed one of its Social Statement on Human Sexuality resolution. See http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1965_the_tornado_the_lutherans_and_homosexuality/. Piper wrote, inter alia:
The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.
Certainly, homosexual behavior is a grave sin. Anyone who has read Scripture and takes it seriously cannot deny that. Yet, the same web site includes the following declarations:
Desiring God and Bethlehem Baptist Church have no formal position on birth control, but John Piper and most of the pastors on staff believe that non-abortive forms of birth control are permissible. The Bible nowhere forbids birth control, either explicitly or implicitly, and we should not add universal rules that are not in Scripture . . . .
Martin Luther called Onan's sin of birth control a "Sodomitic act." That is, he categorized it as the same class of sin as homosexual acts (and, if one studies this matter, heterosexual acts which by their nature are not potentially procreative). To Piper's assertion that "[t]he Bible nowhere forbids birth control, either explicitly or implicitly" we have not only 19 centuries of the most respected Christian pastors arguing otherwise, we have Walter A. Maier, Sr.'s response to a similar assertion nearly 80 years ago:
This is a bold statement. When the first human parent pair was created, the divine commandment enjoined: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” (Gen. 1:28). After the Deluge, when the world was to take its second start, the blessing for Noah and his sons again required them to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) In Ps. 127:3 we read: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, And the fruit of the womb is His reward.” The picture of the ideal home is described in Ps. 128:3: “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house, Thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” . . . In spite of extended argument not a single passage can be adduced from Scripture which in any remote way condones birth control; and no one acquainted with the Bible should hesitate to admit that it is a definite departure from the requirements of Scripture. See Gen. 38:9, 10.
One wonders when we "conservative" Christians will remove this log from our eyes so that we can better see to remove the specks from the eyes of our more liberal brothers.


Rob Olson said...

I didn't know that Piper was such a Schwärmer. It indeed absolutely could have been such a reminder from God, but how does he know that? I did not know that Calvinists could interpret the weather like that. Wow!

"Enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy. . . . Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit, apart from such Word and sacrament, is of the devil" (Smalcald Articles, 313).

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rob is right. This **could** have been an act of God directed at the actions of the E?CA, but we definitely CANNOT and SHOULD NOT say that we know it was. However, it certainly "reflects" what happened in that assembly (to paraphrase Rob from this Sunday's discussion of the subject in Bible study).

When confronted with such a question, Christ responded: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

You are right, Greg, so-called "conservative" Christians should remove the log of contraception from their own eyes so that they can better see to remove the specks from the eyes of our more liberal brothers.

Lord, please help me recognize the logs in my own eyes, and have mercy on us all.

rcbaker123 said...

I would suggest that the "log" that needs removing from our eye is the strong divine command theory ethic (of Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth), that was swept into the Missouri Synod in the 1930s in reaction to Liberalism.
We have yet to be untangled from this detritus.
Robert at bioethike.com

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Excellent point, Rev. Baker. Thanks.

Pastor Keith said...

Dr. Baker, could you please elaborate on the "strong divine command theory ethic"? I was recently accused of perpetrating the heresy of "taking the Bible literally", an error which was portrayed as being a phenomenon which sprang up in the early 1900s in response to scientific advances. I think my accuser was saying I am a Fundamentalist, which I am not.

Robert C. Baker said...

Pastor Keith, at the turn of the last century many Christians were divided over the issue of evolution, the purpose, role, and authority of Scripture, etc.

The world was changing. Because believers also use the language of the world, which brings with it ideas and concepts foreign to the faith, they begin to reflect and write on their faith in a different way. Some believers followed after the Princeton theologians and accepted Fundamentalism. Others, following Kant and Schleiermacher, accepted Liberalism. When you are accused of being a Fundamentalist, or a literalist, or a traditionalist, for example, most likely the person making such an exaggeration is operating from a Liberal set of beliefs, whether or not he or she is aware of it.

In addition to Fundamentalism, another reaction to Liberalism came through the teaching of Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth. Barth denied natural law and taught a strong divine command theory ethic, which means that the only commands that are valid for the Christian are those that are recorded verbatim in Scripture. If you cannot find a Bible verse specifically condemning any activity, then you are free to do that activity.

I find this line of reasoning being utilized, with no apparent credit to Barth, by Missouri Synod theologians beginning in the 1930's, about the same time as when Barth was having his famous debate with Emil Brunner.

The strong divine command theory ethic is why, in my opinion, that modern Lutherans accept contraception (because it is not specifically condemned in Scripture), whereas orthodox Lutherans (Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard, et. al.) condemned it as violating the first, fourth, fifth, and six commandments. This method is also why "conservative" Lutherans are unable successfully to address current moral crises today. To wit, most current condemnations of the ELCA's decision to allow same-sex unions and the ordination of gays and lesbians highlight that these are condemned in Scripture.

True, but same-sex attraction and activity also violates the moral law embedded in human nature. Even without Scripture, these folks should know better. If you don't believe me, ask St. Paul.

For more about my views, log on to bioethike.com.

Robert C. Baker

Pastor Keith said...

Thank you, Dr. Baker.

It sounds like Barth's approach was a dumbing down of theological ethics which resulted in a more shallow engagement of the issues than one which views the issue within the context of the whole counsel of God. I am woefully ignorant of Barth's emphases, but it occurs to me that he opens the door to a conservative post-modernism: "We'll see what words are in the Bible and if there's nothing explicit, we will make rules which benefit us." It reminds me of Satan's twisted "You shall be like God, knowing good and evil" from Genesis 3.

So, did Barth see the Word of God as a means of grace, code or something else? This may be getting a bit off topic.

In Christ,
Pastor Keith Brustuen

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Readers of this discussion may find the related discussion over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds interesting.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

As a somewhat conseravtive post-modernist (for the purpose of this topic, I guess), I would say something slight different: ""We'll see what words are in the Bible and if there's nothing explicit, we will make no rules to bind anyone."

I do agree with Erich that you might find the discussion over at 4 and 20 Blackbirds, even though from the perspective of this cite I'm the black hat wearing villain =o)