60 Minutes and Lutherans
CACN, Spring, 1999
60 Minutes and Lutherans
Opposite the truthful Lutheran pastor (your very editor-in-chief) appeared a false teacher, one Richard Dowhower, pastor of a local Lutheran church in Bowie which is part of the apostate Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA was created in 1988 from the merging of three Lutheran denominations: the American Lutheran Church (ALC), the apostate Lutheran Church in America (LCA), and the moderately heretical Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). This convergence made the new denomination the third largest Protestant association in the United States following the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodists.
(Allow me, gentle readers, to take this time to elaborate upon my pastoral origins. How does one identify authentic church authority? What makes a legitimate church? A legitimate pastor? These larger questions ought to be addressed prior to pursuing questions regarding a particular person. Nevertheless, the following information will serve to clarify the biographical data already presented in Risen and Thomas’s Wrath of Angels, Basic Books, 1998).
I speak of apostasy because these denominations masquerade as associations of true churches and present themselves as custodians of God’s truth when, in fact, they have rejected the very Scriptures upon which their ecclesiastical existence and authority as well as their very epistemology depends. Such was already the case with the 2 ½ million-member LCA by its very Constitution. Such was also the case with the 1 million AELC, a schismatic group formed from dissent within the 3 million-member Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) in the mid 70s.
I had developed a personal distaste for the AELC from an incident involving my grandmother, Laura Holmstrom, in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. She was a life-long member of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (LCMS). Grandma’s mother, my Great-grandmother Weis, was also a member along with my own mother. Grandma Holmstom had recounted interesting stories of church life during WW II when their traditional German church services were forbidden to be held in that language. Like the stereotype, obedient Germans, they obeyed and conducted the services in English. But this was not to be a great trial compared to the one to come thirty years later. A pastor aligned with the dissenting faction within the LCMS was newly assigned to that old church. He taught candidly from the pulpit what the seminary professors were teaching in class; viz., there were no miracles in the Bible: no virgin birth, no Jonah in the fish, no healing and raising from the dead, etc. And, incidentally, those Scriptures were ideas and records written by men without divine (which would by definition make them ipso facto infallible) inspiration.
Septuagenarian Grandma Holmstrom, in the year of our Lord 1975, was certain that she wasn’t hearing the truth from this pastor; and she told him so. Some agreed with her and were likewise excommunicated; others agreed with the new pastor. A plurality were indifferent, or, though disturbed, were not bothered enough to dissent.
Grandma was excommunicated on October 18, 1976. (So much for tolerance and diversity from the theological left. Once in power, freedom is no more. Truth is suppressed because their claims to authority cannot withstand scrutiny. Without Truth, there is no legitimate authority; the powerful rule my their own might and justice is whatever they decree it to be.) My disgust for false teachers who occupy the pulpits of God’s churches was enriched.
Dowhower had sought in past years to call into question your editor’s pastoral credentials while boasting in his own association with a more “authentic” Lutheran denomination (complete with its spiritually decadent seminaries and dying churches). He cozied up to the rabidly pro-abort editor of our local paper during the Waco holocaust to bless our town with his linguistic commentary on the Hebrew derivation of David Koresh’s assumed name so that Bowie folk could all be educated by these marvelous insights into this strange and curious “cult.” (We never heard any follow-up commentary on Janet Nero’s merciless destruction of those families and the cover-up of all evidence. Was this federal government action itself not cult-like? Or is this pejorative reserved for people who live a communal life and appropriate Hebrew nicknames?) Perhaps this attempt to gain some favorable newspaper exposure served some antiseptic purposes following the unsavory beginnings of his church.
In Bowie in the 60s, there were two Lutheran churches: Grace Lutheran (ALC), which I grew up in, and Trinity (LCMS). By the next decade, prior to merger plans, the LCA sent a missionary pastor to start a local church. The preacher went door to door with a measure of success, inducing folks to come to services held at the local firehouse. In due time the monied LCA sprung for a building while he was springing on some of the ladies he had met while knocking on doors. His replacement was Mr. Dowhower. The scandal might have brought an end to these beginnings were it not for a special source of members: Grace Lutheran Church.
From the beginning of his ministry at Grace in the mid 60s, the timorously pious pastor, Al Ericksen, had quiet dissidents in his church who cared less for Bible studies, gospel preaching, and serving the needy than for dancing, sports, picnics, and occasional revelry. By the next decade, a concerted effort was made by the impious to oust the preacher in favor of a more modern fellow who, perhaps like the modern fellows in seminaries in major denominations across the land, took a lower view of the Bible’s origins (Weren’t there flaws in that ”revelation”? Surely it can command no divine authority! We modern men must discover our own truth! Yet, let us not cast off our culture; the Bible and our Lutheran heritage are meaningful; the church traditions, Christmas and Easter, are quaint and enjoyable; moreover, the hymn singing and solemnity of the Sunday services is good for the psyche, afflicted as it is with anomie and sundry pathologies).
The coup failed. There were enough pious folk, particularly a strong faction of recently energized “charismatics,” who knew Ericksen to be one of their own – his main disappointment to them only that he avoided speaking from the pulpit about having received “the baptism in the Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues.” The charismatic faction remained faithful, saving the church when the time for congregational vote came from the modernists and preserving it in the hands of a closet Pentecostal. And they retained the secret hope at the advent of the 80s of getting others in the church converted and/or empowered with “the baptism.” They remained at Grace praying for their pastor to be bold with high hopes of bringing revival to the Church. It was largely these folks who, along with Pastor Ericksen, sought to have me hired to serve as Ericksen’s assistant. They petitioned the church council, prevailed, and I was asked to relocate from Denver.
And the dissenters? As afore said, some found refuge in Dowhower’s fledgling but LCA-financed congregation. But not all. Most folks were not so discontent as to condescend to meet in a firehouse. There is something about a building with an altar, pews, and a parking lot.
I arrived to work at Grace Lutheran in May of 1980, having graduated from Denver Seminary (Conservative Baptist Association). For 3 ½ years as an assistant to the pastor, I worked with the youth, taught confirmation classes, adult Sunday School classes, and helped found the Bowie Crisis Pregnancy Center. Two major controversies were stirred up by teaching: abortion and apostasy in the denomination. As the ALC (and therefore our church as a member) was preparing to join in the merger with the two other Lutheran associations, I was learning more about the “liberal theology” being taught in the ALC seminaries. Pastor Ericksen was not in favor of the merger and also disliked what he recalled in his own seminary training as “Lawless” teaching wherein only the “Gospel” is relevant. Love is to rule. (All this amounted to: 1] a prima facia rejection of the Scriptures as God’s word, and 2] a gutting of “Scriptures” of any civil law-guiding relevance by declaring the Law nullified by “love.”) I spoke often to him about my concerns for the well being of the people of God at Grace. In particular, I pointed out the heretical articles, which were contained in the monthly denominational Lutheran Standard magazine that was sent to the home of every church member. Specifically, I cited articles which attacked the doctrine of the “inerrancy of the Scriptures,” others which (consequently) declared that abortion was not wrong, and others which said that homosexuality was neither to be condemned nor condoned. I argued for the fact that the impending merger would serve only to further debase the member churches, that our own church members needed to be informed about the substantial issues, and that our church leaders ought to speak out against the ALC’s impending membership.
After Pastor Ericksen continued to ignore these solemn warnings I sat with him in private and charged him with sin. I said that he was failing in his primary duty as a shepherd: to protect the sheep against false teaching. He responded by telling me that I ought to leave if I thought him to be in sin. I replied that it was possible that either of us could be overcome with sin and that in this case the appropriate procedure was to bring in witnesses to hear me complaint. He perfunctorily counter-charged me with rebellion and called in five men from among the church leadership who heard our disagreements. These men, chosen by him, directed him to 1) give more sermons about the Law 2) investigate the merger with their own involvement, and 3) continue to work with me. I was directed to be submissive to the pastor. (There had never been any rebellion on my part; none was cited. It was a perfunctory admonition, rendered to preserve the pastor’s dignity.) The summary of the matter was that they believed we each had gifts which were good for the church and they did not want me to leave.
I need not express what I infer his motives to have been in engineering my ouster against the wishes of the five men in the church whom he respected and chose to judge our dispute. The facts are that he orchestrated my removal through a special congregational vote at which he had invited members of the denominational hierarchy to come in and speak to core of our differences. They affirmed to the church that I had a view of the Scriptures as “inerrant” which they and the rest of the denomination did not hold. This was in fact the core issue in the pending union over which dozens of churches departed from the ALC before and soon after this “merger” which created the ELCA.
The fact is that the description of the Scriptures as “inerrant” is precisely that which is found in the ALC constitution-a description, which the apostatizing seminaries were no longer teaching and the pastors, consequently, were no longer believing.
I gave brief consideration to remaining a dissident member on the principle that I had not been excommunicated; technically, I had only had my contract as a staff worker terminated and I believed I had certain duties to the church I had joined. Several members, however, had their eyes opened after the hearing the hierarchy speak and determined to depart and join other churches. It seemed best to me and those closest to us in the church that we also depart. About 20 families left the church; most of them scattered to other churches in town: a Presbyterian church in Annapolis, an Assembly of God in Bowie, other area Lutheran churches.
About eight families, which we had been meeting with weekly in homes, gave consideration to forming another local church. We determined to visit other churches separately for a few months and explore three possibilities: 1) scatter to existing churches, 2) all join one church, 3) constitute a new local church.
In the Spring of 1984, these several families who had been developing their bonds in Christ in Grace Lutheran, now severed from that apostatizing local church, determined that the Spirit of God was establishing another local church. They constituted themselves as a church by covenanting themselves as such and ordaining two elders: Michael Colvin and Michael Bray. In laying hands on these two, the baptized former members of Grace Lutheran Church recognized in them the qualifications enumerated in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (3:2-7). Particularly, they were deemed to be in possession of teaching skills: Michael Colvin had a Ph.D., in classical studies (his knowledge of Latin, Greek and Greco-Roman history and culture were especially valued); Michael Bray had an M. A. in New Testament from Denver Seminary where he studied theology, New Testament Greek, Hebrew, hermeneutics, church history, and biblical studies. The elders sought and found an association of churches to join in fellowship with: The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations based in Minneapolis. Reformation Lutheran Church is the only church in Maryland that is part of this association which is concentrated in the Midwest.
We declare that Reformation Lutheran, in stark contrast to Dowhower’s assembly of apostates, is a true church of God, faithful to the Scriptures and to the Lord who inspired them. His club of religionists is no church and it belongs to no association of true churches. This club was endowed with the wealth of the People of God which has been hijacked by ELCA false teachers who met pitiful resistance in overtaking the leadership of churches from an unwitting or indifferent band of helpless sheep. Any pretense the ELCA makes to authenticity by means of prodigious size and wealth is based upon the success of fraud and apathy thriving among a wicked generation of selfish, Lawless “church-goers.”
We are not dismayed by his belittlement of God’s faithful remnant. Our aim is to press on and be found faithful to Him and His Word. We welcome other pastors of various but Trinitarian confessions to join with us in proclaiming the gospel in general but, more particularly, the true humanity of the child in the womb, and the attendant fact that he is worthy of the use of force in his defense.