So I arrived in Canmore Monday afternoon amid snow flurries (nothing new). I was greeted by many faces I knew from the former ELCIC and some new ones who like Mark Chavez, represented the North American Lutheran Church and came from the USA.
There were some 90 people from eight different Lutheran Church bodies (including people still in the ELCIC) atteending the conference. I even had opportunity to meet and have supper with Pastor Barrett Scheske from Victory Lutheran in Medicine Hat, an LCMC congregation like our own. The conference, however, was led and seemed largely populated by NALC members.
The conference began with worship and an affirmation of our baptism.
Carl Braaten was the first guest speaker. His first presentation was a critical review of Christianity in North America today.
Braaten said that the defining issue for Christianity today is how it understands what God is up to – God’s mission in the world as it is expressed through Jesus Christ and his proclamation of the kingdom of God.
He noted that there are many within “Christianity” today who hold different understandings of the kingdom of God and that in reality, each of these meanings can shed light on the truth of that kingdom. However, there are some within the fold who do not consider Jesus Christ as central (the Saviour) to that kingdom. He identified some of these people: Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright and others.
In talking about the kingdom of God Dr. Braaten felt it was important to draw a distinction between the gospel of the kingdom (salvation – justification) and the ethics of the kingdom (how we are called to live). Confusing these two can lead us in the wrong direction.
He thinks that much of the controversy today is a product of conflicting views between those who focus solely on who Jesus was (biblical theology) and those who are only looking at who Jesus is today (systematic theology). Whenever we become obsessed with one angle we find ourselves seeing a distorted image of Christ.
Professor Braaten believes that we are slipping back to a time before World War II when liberal theology tried to convince people of their human ability to change the world. Many theologians like Barth and Bonhoeffer sought to deliver the church from this delusion, but here we are again.
Christianity is being fractured Braaten believes in the following ways:
- Religious pluralism with many “Gods” and many paths to salvation
- Views of Jesus that turn him into a great sage, but do not view him as the Saviour or the Son of God
- Even among the Evangelicals there is a creeping disunity in belief with some moving away from the Reformation teachings of Calvin and into Arminianism, a view that suggests that people have “free will” in terms of their salvation (a view opposed by the Early Church, Luther and Calvin)
- Focus on a social gospel that emphasizes human endeavor and only one dimension of the kingdom of God
- The abuse of the historical critical method in interpreting the Bible which turns the Bible into a text book and not the voice of God speaking to us
- The movement away from a Trinitarian view of God – away from God’s name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and focus only on the attributes of God (a prime example of this can be seen at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, now known as “Her” Church)
- Polarization of the church between conservative and liberal, traditional and non-traditional so that there are now often at least two religions within every church
He considers that the “hot-button” issues for the church today are:
- What is the name of God?
- Who is Jesus?
- How are we saved?
- What is the authority of the Bible?
- What is the authority of the church to teach the truth or is it a democracy?