Saturday, September 17, 2005

Defending the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

WELS was the church body in which I was catechized in my early twenties upon my being dragged back in [kicking and screaming] to the Christian Church.

I have a few issues with the Wisconsin Synod, but at the same time one hopes to be somewhat accurate when dealing with them. In that vain, I'll note that the Wikipedia entry on the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has a real howler in a statement comparing the view on scripture of the WELS to the much larger and much more liberal ELCA: [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America]

Scriptural interpretation — WELS ascribes to a literalist interpretation of the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, while the ELCA has been open to Historical-Critical Methods of Biblical interpretation which seek to understand the scriptures with reference to historical and social context. Most other specific doctrinal differences between the two churches stem from this overarching disagreement.

Got that? A "literalist" interpretation for the WELS, whereas those in the ELCA "seek to understand the scriptures with reference to historical and social context."

Basically, this difference portrays the theologians and pastors in the WELS as a bunch of fundie rubes who ignore the fact that the writings of scripture are historical documents written by people to and for other people in specific times and places. This difference, as stated, portrays authorial intent as something that WELS brushes aside, unlike the more enlightened ELCA.

The truth of the matter is that those in WELS are, just like other Evangelicals and conservative Protestants, sensitive to context, idiom, and those literary devices that are clearly literary devices. See Siegbert Becker's most excellent commentary on Revelation, say, or see Habeck's Ephesians commentary, also by NPH. [I own both and studied Becker's work quite thoroughly. These aren't full-blown works of pedantic scholarship, but they are well-written and deal with the Greek text.] I could also give anecdotal stories about my pastors' knowledge of history, Greek, Hebrew, as well as textual criticism, say. [If you don't like what I've become, blame them please for creating what would become the PP monster!]

It isn't worth getting too worked up over this silly goofball description of WELS on scripture, but it is worth noting. Also, whether or not one agrees with WELS strict Lutheranism [such a shock that a Lutheran body is an orthodox Lutheran body!], if WELS is wrong on certain points, it isn't because, unlike the more enlightened and progressive ELCA, they read scripture the way some hypothetical hillbilly named Cletus does while he drags his wife around in his shotgun-totin' pickup truck with the good ol' Stars-and-Bars a-flappin' in the wind.

And, the author of the Wikipedia article should really note the reality about the ELCA: for this church body, scripture, far from being the locus of doctrine, is but an afterthought, useful only in the service of a political and modernist agenda that is quite removed from the ideals of the Reformers. And having perused some ELCA dogmatics volumes, the statement just given is in fact far too kind to the ELCA. And, in the greatest insult imaginable to ELCA, I'd take a conservative Romanist over an ELCA modernist any day of the week. [Gasp!]

Now if the writer of the Wikipedia entry complained about the WELS in the sense that it is populated heavily by stoic, unemotional, and pietistic Germans, then we could begin to talk turkey! :-)

[Note: there are two or three non-subtle over-the-top attempts at humor in this post. I assume that PP readers can figure them out among the more serious postings.]


Blogger Steve Jackson said...

Didn't the ELCA establish "common communion" with the Episcopal Church a few years ago? So apparently they don't have a problem with the likes of Bishop Spong.

Sunday, September 18, 2005 4:31:00 AM  
Anonymous derfuersprecher said...

Yes the article in Wikipedia seems to frame the matter in a rather clumsy way by implying that those who utilize a "literalist" method of interpretation are not interested in the actual history and social context surrounding the text.


Perhaps a more precise way for them to have put it would be to state that both groups have an interest in the actual history surrounding the text, but they disagree with regard to how the contemporary observer has access to that history. The more liberal ELCA doesn't view the historical details found in Scripture as an inerrant record of history and so they utilize the tools of higher criticism to get at "what really happened," while more the more conservative WELS views the historical details found in Scripture as a reliable and inerrant record of "what really happened."

In any event, the entry misses the fact that both groups are [ostensibly at least] interested in the actual history surrounding the text of Scripture - they simply disagree with regard to how one ought to get at that history and the reliability they ascribe to the Bible as a historical document.

Sunday, September 18, 2005 9:06:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Steve J --- not sure about that. But it wouldn't surprise me in the least. The ELCA materials I've seen as well as the ELCA people to whom I've spoken may as well make up their own religion. Actually, they have! [This is anecdotal, but I remember one ELCA guy saying that I was too much into fire and brimstone because I maintained that Hell --- whatever it is exactly --- is a reality and is clearly put forth in scripture.]

Advocate --- you may very well be right. But it has been my experience in dealing with ELCA and its materials that scripture is really secondary. If you peruse the Bratten/Jensen dogmatics volumes that I believe were used by the ELCA folks, you'll find subjective speculation given a prominent place even in those areas where scripture clearly speaks.

I'll be hoisting up your James thing pretty soon as well.

Sunday, September 18, 2005 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Jackson said...

PP -

Here is the documentation -

Monday, September 19, 2005 3:45:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

My goodness, you're right! I knew ELCA had abandoned orthodoxy long ago, but now they're embracing liberal Episcopal goofery!

Spong and other modern reformer-wannabes irk me with their "I have the real scoop on religion unlike you benighted conservatives" attitudes. Same with Crossan, Funk, and the other Jesus Seminar fruitcakes.


Monday, September 19, 2005 12:11:00 PM  

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