As I take up the subject of sin, my goal is not to win this discussion, making myself a victor and someone else a loser. After I present the information over these four days, I will not say that I have all of the answers, or even that I have any answers. One is doing foolish work who insists he has every answer. Please, read me as one longing to properly understand himself from both the Word of God AND his physical ailment.
I lead off with discussing a number of areas where attitudes have changed or there is disagreement in my own church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
The LCMS takes as serious as any church body the doctrine of God. While the foundational doctrines remain untouched—those taught in the Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostles’ creeds—many second-tier teachings have been juggled; some caught, some swapped, some dropped.
Second-tier doctrines and practices might change with the times. Suicide was long viewed by many as a sin so great that the person’s eternal life was considered in jeopardy since it is murder and the person, the thinking goes, did not repent of murdering himself. Today, many continue in this view, which was made clear to me by the comments of many Christians. Yet, theologically, we do not consider suicide an unforgivable sin, and we hold church funerals and burials for our members who took their own lives.
What changed? God’s Word or man’s attitude and his knowledge of a subject?
In the LCMS, women have only had a voice in the church since the late 1960s. Further study in New Testament texts resulted in our retaining a male-only pastorate and congregational leadership, but gave women the right to vote. Over the years, women’s rights have widened.
What changed? God’s Word or man’s attitude and his knowledge of a subject, perhaps even affected by the changed culture? We continue to have pastors and congregations in disagreement on women’s rights.
In the past, many practices were at least discouraged and at most disdained, such as purchasing life insurance (one’s trust in the Lord being in question), playing cards and dancing (might lead to sin), and the use of birth control (which keeps us from heeding the Lord’s bidding to procreate).
When new things are introduced, reactions are mixed. Acupuncture, biofeedback, and yoga all have been seen as belonging to non-Christian belief. A person might, indeed, practice any of them in the context of another religion, and sin against the one true God. Deeper study into each has taught us that one might also practice them solely as physical or mental therapy with no intrusion into the spiritual realm.
The LCMS has remained constant in its practice of the Lord’s Supper and its rule about who may commune at its altars. Because disagreement persists, convention overtures, at both local and national levels, are either proposed or make it to the floor for resolution, both to reaffirm our doctrine and practice and to modify it. It is not uncommon to find congregations practicing a much more open Communion than meets our standard.
We arrive at an issue so divisive that it remains a touchy topic in the LCMS over a decade later. After September Eleven, a service of healing was held at Yankee stadium. Leaders from the major religions were invited to participate, to read from their Scriptures and to offer prayers.
One of our pastors participated. Because several religions were represented, he wanted to be sure he could participate, so he talked to and received permission from the LCMS president. Soon after the event, the pastor was accused of worshiping with idolaters and practicing syncretism, which is the combining of competing religious beliefs.
The synod’s first vice president was given the task of judging the case. He assembled a host of Scriptures, found the pastor guilty and suspended him. Soon after, the synod’s Commission on Worship overturned the verdict and returned the pastor to his office.
Dissension arose, discussion ensued, deliberations were pursued. Ultimately, the synod in convention took up the issue of worshiping in disaster/tragedy situations. It determined that a pastor could be present with those of other religions and offer serial prayers—that is, this one prays, and then that one prays, and the next—and not be guilty of syncretism.
I found our resolution of this disagreement to be in direct conflict with the Word of God, with the LCMS constitution, and with our historic practice. It is my belief that we erred. The Word of God did not change; we changed our reading of it.
There are many areas in which we disagree. One says that we have Christian freedom to smoke, be tattooed, gamble, belong to the Scouts, marry a person of another color, even of another religion, and attend weddings and funerals of another religion, while another claims any or all of these to go against God’s Word.
Unless a disagreement is with a foundational doctrine, we do not declare anyone to be outside the kingdom of God or the LCMS.
If we are wise, we talk in a winsome manner. When we find agreement, we rejoice; when we continue to disagree, we humbly remain together in the faith, as summarized in the creeds, and continue to work at agreeing on the rest.
I ask my church body that wider thinking about a condition, gender dysphoria, which is new to it, not be dismissed as wrong or sinful, without a thorough examination. Let us recognize that we do not always get things right the first time. Let us admit that we sometimes change our minds about things. Let us see that we make mistakes. Let us recognize that our knowledge about gender dysphoria might be where our understanding of depression was a couple of generations ago, remember how much we have learned about that which we did not know, and allow that the same might occur now.
Unless and until some other viable therapy is developed, Christians with gender dysphoria—even by-the-book Lutheran ministers—might find transitioning the better answer for their earthly lives. We do not want to sin. We humbly adhere to the Christian faith as summarized in the creeds. We do not want the church simply to give in only to satisfy us.
I long for honest insight into the Word of God AND gender dysphoria.