Bishop David Zellmer
South Dakota Synod ELCA
Sioux Falls, SD 57197
Thank you for the action of the South Dakota Synod Council in releasing Immanuel Lutheran Church of Whitewood from its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Immanuel’s affiliation with the North American Lutheran Church better reflects the Biblical and theological commitments of the congregation.
I believe that both God and the congregation have called me to serve Immanuel as its pastor and to continue to do so. I believe that God has called me to serve within the North American Lutheran Church. I have been received as a pastor of the North American Lutheran Church. I thus ask that my name be removed from the roster of ordained ministers of the ELCA.
As Lutherans, we believe that the Christian Church is defined by the assembly of believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel — not by any particular earthly institution (Augsburg Confession, Article 7). Christians throughout the world are a part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church regardless of their particular church body affiliation. Christians unite in church bodies based on a shared understanding of the Christian faith. A church body affiliation is an acknowledgment that one shares its confession of the Christian faith.
I do not take the decision to leave the ELCA lightly. I have been a part of the South Dakota Synod for nearly 22 years as a pastor. I deeply grieve the loss of relationships this will mean with many people in the synod. As you know, I have been very involved in and have cared about the life and ministry of the synod and of the ELCA churchwide organization. I served on the synod’s Communications Committee for almost the entire history of the synod. I have served on other synod committees. I have served as a voting member at three churchwide assemblies and have attended or watched additional churchwide assemblies. I have presented resolutions at the South Dakota Synod Assembly to address areas of the life and mission of our synod and of the ELCA churchwide organization. I have worked with Lutheran CORE and others to try to help the ELCA to maintain the teaching and practice of its predecessor churches and of the Christian Church throughout history regarding marriage and sexual ethics. It is because I care about the ELCA that I worked with others to keep it from going down the path toward heterodoxy. It is because I care about the wider church and believe that the teaching and practice of the wider church matters that I cannot continue as a pastor of the ELCA.
I cannot in good conscience meet the expectation (from “Vision and Expectations”) that an “ordained minister supports not only the work of the congregation, but also the synodical and churchwide ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” I also cannot meet the ELCA’s expectation that a pastor respect the beliefs of those who persist in error regarding the teaching of the Bible and of the Christian Church rather than call them to repentance and faithfulness. I believe that the expectations “to confess and teach the authoritative and normative character of the Scriptures ‘as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life’” and to “teach nothing ‘that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic Church’” stand in opposition to the ELCA’s new teaching and practice on marriage and sexual ethics. The promises that I made at ordination to preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the ecumenical creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions require that I stand against the decisions of the ELCA to reject these foundations as normative for its teaching and practice. I have not changed. The Confession of Faith in the ELCA constitution has not changed, but it no longer functions as normative for the ELCA’s teaching and practice.
I did my Doctor of Ministry thesis on “norms for preaching.” I believe that the preaching and teaching of the church must be based on ultimate norms such as Scripture, the creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions for it to be faithful. By its actions, the ELCA has chosen to base its teaching and practice on the preferences of its members and on changes in secular society rather than to seek to discern God’s will based on the teaching of Scripture. The ELCA has accepted the ideas that contradictory teachings are of equal value and that there is no such thing as absolute truth and thus no reason to seek the truth. The ELCA’s new teaching and practice on marriage and sexual ethics are built upon a foundation other than the “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
The idea of an individual’s personal perspective as the ultimate norm for teaching and practice finally leaves the ELCA in the same place as the judgment against the people in the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” There is no basis for sound teaching and practice. Changes in teaching on marriage and sexual ethics are a symptom of the move to relativize the teaching of Scripture. The ELCA’s actions on sexuality violate the First, Second and Sixth Commandments. The ELCA has rejected God as the one who determines right and wrong and has used God’s name to bless what God has not blessed. Most clearly in the actions of our synod’s own companion synod, the ELCA has both tolerated and promoted teachings that contradict God’s revelation of Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this tolerance and promotion of heretical teaching and practice, the ELCA no longer “contends for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
The South Dakota Synod and ELCA have many members and pastors who are faithful Christians — who confess Jesus as both Savior and Lord and who uphold the Bible, the creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions as normative for their faith and practice. Many of them believe that God has called them to remain in the ELCA and to struggle for reform from within. I respect them and the decision they have made. I will continue to uphold them in prayer as they remain in the struggle for faithfulness from within the ELCA. I will continue to pray that God will raise up leaders who will call the ELCA to live in faithfulness to the Confession of Faith in its constitution and to repent of any actions which contradict that Confession of Faith. I believe that God has called me to move on for the sake of the congregation I serve, for my own sake, and for the sake of the South Dakota Synod. There comes a time when the only remaining witness is to shake the dust from one’s feet. That is the place at which I find myself. It is because I care about those who remain in the ELCA that I must both bear this witness and take leave of them. It is because I care about you and the people of the South Dakota Synod that I must name the significance of the departure from “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” that has taken place in the ELCA. God will ultimately judge both of our decisions and actions.
You remain in my prayers as you seek to provide leadership for the South Dakota Synod and the ELCA. This is certainly a difficult time for many as they struggle to discern God’s will and God’s call to discipleship and faithfulness. Let us all pray that God will draw the one holy catholic and apostolic Church together in faithfulness and mission.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor David J. Baer