Friday, December 18, 2009

The Spirit of Change

By John Page

The Holy Spirit has a way of shaking things up: the church is born; people are inspired to proclaim good news from God – starting in Jerusalem and then to the whole world; old ways and understandings give way to the new; and those once alienated are reconciled and welcomed.  That’s just a quick and dirty summary of what’s described in the Acts of the Apostles.

Of course, not everyone reacts favorably to the Holy Spirit’s new ways.  As expected, those opposed to Christianity certainly didn’t like what the Spirit was doing in the first century, but surprisingly, sometimes Christians themselves didn’t like what the Spirit was up to.  In Acts, the Spirit’s welcome of unclean Gentiles was a particularly hard thing to accept (Acts 15), and in his epistles, a very frustrated St. Paul speaks to the persistence of those Christians determined to thwart the Spirit.

Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit always prevails and the church reforms as the Spirit requires.  That’s true in every century, notwithstanding the varied reactions people may have.  And it is equally true in our own time.

In August 2009, the Holy Spirit shook up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA): the ELCA Assembly adopted Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust and approved changes to the ELCA’s policies, effectively welcoming Christians in same-gender marriages, or in otherwise committed and publicly accountable relationships (recognizing that marriage equality is not universal under civil laws), to openly serve Christ’s church in public ministry, as the Holy Spirit calls them.  Predictably, the reactions varied from joy, to indifference, to indignation.

The Rev. Eric Lemonholm recently posted an open letter to the members of his congregation, some of whom have called for a special congregation meeting to decide whether to remain a member congregation of the ELCA.  He speaks against breaking with the ELCA, offering historical, theological, biblical, and common-sense arguments for not only remaining in the ELCA, but for recognizing in the Assembly’s actions how the Holy Spirit has created opportunities for mission and evangelism.  His letter is eloquent, respectful of those who disagree, and compelling.  Though it is lengthy, I commend it to anyone interested not only in the specific issues decided by the Assembly, but also in an example of the way Christians can live, love, and serve Christ together in the midst of our diversity and disagreements.