By James Heine
In addition to unanimously adopting a report on the public rebuke of public sin (see related story), the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) at its May 1-3 meeting in St. Louis also adopted a “Left Behind” Bible study, responded to a query from Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick on the issue of same-sex civil unions, and announced the dates for two consultations on the scriptural relationship of man and woman.
“This was a tremendously productive meeting. We got a number of significant things done,” said Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, CTCR executive director.
The Bible study is a companion piece to the CTCR’s 2004 response to the popular “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
“This is a very timely Bible study,” Nafzger said. “Many people are touched by the issues raised by the Left Behind series, and this study offers a wealth of information about the End Times.”
Nafzger said the Bible study should be available by July 1 as a download on the CTCR’s Web site, and possibly later as a booklet from Concordia Publishing House. He also said the commission encourages individuals and congregations to use the Bible study in conjunction with the 2004 report.
“For a more in-depth study, you could also include the CTCR’s 1989 End Times report, because that is also a very relevant document when we consider the theological assumptions of the Left Behind series,” Nafzger said. “In the Left Behind Bible study, we not only talk about concepts such as the Rapture but also about the Antichrist, Armageddon, and the premillennialist views regarding Israel, the Jewish people, the land of Israel.”
President Kieschnick in 2004 asked the CTCR, “What can we as a confessional Lutheran church say about same-sex civil unions? Although these unions are contrary to the will of the Creator, many Christians support legislation offering the legal benefits given to married partners to people of the same sex united in a legally recognized civil union.”
In posing his question to the commission, Kieschnick referred to Resolution 3-21 — adopted by the 1998 Synod convention — titled “To Affirm the Sanctity of Marriage and to Reject Same-Sex Unions.”
The commission in its opinion emphasizes “that same-sex unions are, according to the Scriptures, contrary to the will of the Creator and sin against the commandments of God” (1998 Res. 3-21). At the same time, the commission recognizes that the issue raised by Kieschnick asks a political question about legislation regarding behavior that is contrary to the will of God. Such questions, the commission says, must be considered in light of the proper understanding of the historic Lutheran distinction “between God’s rule and activity in the ‘left-hand kingdom’ and His rule and activity in the ‘right-hand kingdom.'”
In the left-hand (secular) kingdom, the commission notes, God rules through fallen human leaders and imperfect human institutions and laws. In the right-hand kingdom, God rules by grace alone over all those — and only those — who trust in Christ as their Savior.
As Christians grapple with questions about specific legislation in the civil realm, they should distinguish carefully between theological judgments and legal or political judgments, the commission suggests, citing its 1995 report on the Lutheran view of church and state.
While Christians may disagree about particular legislation regarding same-sex civil unions — unions which are “immoral and unscriptural,” the commission adds — it finds “compelling reasons against offering legal benefits to ‘people of the same sex united in a legally recognized civil union.'”
Opposition to such civil legislation is founded “not solely on the basis of what the Bible says about the sinfulness of homosexual unions, but also on the basis of concerns about the social consequences of such legislation,” the commission says.
The commission adds that those concerns include the undermining of the divine institution of marriage, the granting of rights solely on the basis of sexual orientation or behavior, the adoption of children, and the nature and definition of the family as the foundational unit of society.
The CTCR will hold two-day consultations on the scriptural relationship of man and woman in December 2006 and April 2007. They will include the entire CTCR plus 12 to 15 guest presenters and participants.
The presenters and participants will provide input and response to the CTCR as it completes work on its 1995 convention assignment “To Prepare a Comprehensive Study of the Scriptural Relationship of Man and Woman” (Res. 3-10).
In asking the CTCR to address the issue, the Synod in Res. 3-10 stated that “confusion exists in the Synod, as well as in our culture, regarding the relationship of male and female” and cited the diverse nature of the overtures received by the convention.
The information provided by the participants will help the commission “understand what specific concerns regarding the relationship of man and woman are directly pertinent to the study and need to be addressed,” Nafzger said.
He added that more details about the consultation would be available in time for a story in the July issue of Reporter and Reporter Online.
James Heine is a freelance writer and member of an LCMS congregation in St. Louis.
Posted May 26, 2006