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The HINGE International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

A Model for Church Discernment When New Experiences Clash with Scripture and Tradition: The Narrative of Acts 10-15 Margaret Leinbach............................................2 Responses Bill Andrews..............................................................14 Frank L. Crouch........................................................15 Worth Green.............................................................17 Jon Boling .................................................................19 Don Kirts...................................................................21 Jane Wegner...............................................................22

The Author Responds..........................................24 Book Review............................................................26

Vol. 18, Issue 1: Fall 2011

The HINGE Volume 18, Number 1: Fall 2011 The Hinge is a forum for theological discussion in the Moravian Church. Views and opinions expressed in articles published in The Hinge are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or the official positions of the Moravian Church and its agencies. You are welcome to submit letters and articles for consideration for publication. One of the early offices of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pa. was that of the Hinge: The office of the Hinge requires that the brother who holds it look after everything and bring troublesome factors within the congregation into mutual accord without their first having to be taken up publicly in the congregation council. — September 1742, The Bethlehem Diary, vol. 1, tr. by Kenneth Hamilton, p. 80. The Hinge journal is intended also to be a mainspring in the life of the contemporary Moravian Church, causing us to move, think, and grow. Above all, it is to open doors in our church. The Hinge is published with the assistance of the Center for Moravian Studies of Moravian Theological Seminary, 1200 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018, and all rights are reserved. Recent issues of The Hinge may be found at www. Articles in The Hinge may not be republished or posted on the Internet without the express permission of the author and the editor of The Hinge. Articles may be duplicated according to “Fair Use” rules, which allow for discussion in church classes and similar forums. The hinge illustration was provided by Todd Tyson of Kernersville, NC. Cover design was provided by Colleen Marsh of Bethlehem, PA.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Notes from the Editors To this latest issue of The Hinge we bid you welcome—in recognition of the charge laid upon all Christians to be a welcoming body. We can never assume that we, as individual Christians or as a church, have fully achieved this charge. Instead, God requires us to continually test and examine our ways (Lamentations 3:40), asking whether anyone—outside the church, or even within our own congregations—has found our sanctuaries and structures unwelcoming. We acknowledge with sorrow that the answer has often been yes; but we celebrate the church’s capacity to respond with reflection, self-examination, and honest (often painful) conversation as we seek to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. That kind of discernment represents the church at its best, but getting to our best selves is never easy. What is easy is to get stuck in the early stages of the conversation—stating our positions, but unable to move beyond them. In this issue of The Hinge, Sister Margaret Leinbach invites us to consider whether a scriptural model can provide us with a way forward in difficult conversations about controversial issues in our church. She also asks us to consider how God continues to work in our world and our relationships both through and beyond the pages of Holy Scripture. She applies the model specifically to the question of whether the Moravian church is fully welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) persons. What would it look like to be fully welcoming, and can we trust that vision as the leading of the Holy Spirit? Wherever we stand individually on difficult issues, asking how and where God continues to speak to us and in our relationships with all our brothers and sisters is of utmost importance in our churches today. When the task before us is so difficult, necessitating deep and even threatening levels of reflection, there is no way to avoid difficult conversations. Our hope is that this issue of The Hinge will not only keep conversations going but help us to continue asking questions and seeing how our conversations are written into the divine story. We as editors thank Sister Leinbach and each of the respondents for their contributions to this issue. It takes a good deal of courage to reflect publicly on issues that have caused pain and conflict in our congregations. We pray that the courage and faith so evident in these pages will be an inspiration to the church as we continue to search together for a way forward.


A Model for Church Discernment

A Model for Church Discernment When New Experiences Clash with Scripture and Tradition: The Narrative of Acts 10-15 Margaret Leinbach Controversy in the church is nothing new. The book of Acts testifies to early and significant disagreements among the first believers. One challenge to both longstanding tradition and long-standing interpretation of scripture was the assimilation of Gentile converts into the faith community of Jesus’ Jewish disciples. The early church’s handling of this challenge is described in Acts 10–15. I believe a close reading and exegesis of these chapters offers a scripturally based process that can move us beyond current ways of discussing controversial, perhaps even threatening issues, and help our 21st century faith community discern the Holy Spirit’s leading. I suggest we can apply that scripturally based process to a controversy that stands before the Moravian Church in America today. The controversy involves the blessing of same-sex unions, and the ordination of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered (GLBT) brothers and sisters in publically accountable, monogamous partnerships. Some proclaim that “God is doing a new thing among us.” Others argue that scripture and tradition prohibit a blessing for same-sex unions and exclude GLBT brothers and sisters from ordination. As we debate back and forth on these points, we have paid insufficient attention to the process that the Acts narrative reveals to us—a process that can move us beyond our current ways of discussing this issue, and perhaps leave room to recognize movement by the Holy Spirit. In Acts, the controversial issue was whether and how Gentiles are saved. Would it be strictly on belief in Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit? Or would Gentiles be required to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses? Would the decision be governed by precedent, existing theological understandings, and scriptural interpretation of what was required to be in covenant relationship with God, or by something else? After coming in contact with Gentile believers, how did Jewish believers decide to let these outsiders in? When contact with outsiders challenges a group’s normative boundary, the group can either reassert the status quo, or make decisions altering Margaret Leinbach serves in its standards. Groups by nature have limited the Southern Province under a tolerance for challenges to group norms. They provincial call to interim ministry. are naturally resistant to change, because change is often perceived as loss, particularly of group

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identity. This is especially true for the church because we deal with matters of life and salvation, being true to the teachings and commandments of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We believe we are called into existence as the community of God by God, and we fear that tainting our membership with nonconforming members jeopardizes our faithfulness. The Christian church approaches the process of change with both a “conservative” and a “liberal” impulse. The conservative impulse aims to conserve the legacy of the past for the sake of identity and solidarity in the present. The liberal impulse strives to liberate us from perceived chains and shackles of the past for the sake of perceived relevance to the needs of the world in the present.1 Both impulses are needed within a faith community when discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading. Both the question of whether to admit outsiders under new standards, and the tension between conservative and liberal impulses, are present in the Acts controversy. Both are also present in the issues of whether to ordain practicing GLTB persons and to bless samesex unions.

I. The Narrative of Acts 10–15

The story begins in Caesarea with the religious experience of a devout Godfearer, Cornelius, who gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly.2 While praying at three o’clock, a time of public religious observance in first century Israel,3 Cornelius has a vision of an angelic messenger. The angel acknowledges his prayers and good works, and commands Cornelius to send for Simon called Peter. Cornelius is terrified but responds in trust and obedience, necessary components to make the divine will effective. As Cornelius’ agents approach where Peter is staying, Peter has what I suspect is a more terrifying vision: When hungry, he is commanded three times by a voice Peter identifies as “Lord” to eat profane and unclean animals. Unlike Cornelius, Peter refuses the divine command. A decision to go against not only a lifetime but several millennia of clear scriptural and traditional norms of faithfulness to God’s commands rarely occurs quickly. Luke relates Peter was greatly puzzled over his vision. While Peter is thinking about it, the Spirit tells him to go without hesitation to greet Cornelius’ agents. Peter obeys, even though he does not clearly understand the coincidence of the vision and visit. He responds now in trust and obedience. Upon hearing they are sent by a reputable God-fearer, Peter invites the agents to stay with him. He agrees to go to Cornelius’ house and leaves the next day with them, taking also some local believers. By including local believers, Peter goes beyond what the angel of God commanded. Peter raises an individual calling to a communal level. Cornelius is doing the same thing: calling his close relatives and friends, his community. When you sense God may be intensely acting in your life, it helps to have trusted spiritual companions and loved ones present to observe and confirm what you are experiencing. When Peter arrives, Cornelius worships him, an indication that Cornelius does not fully understand his vision. He needs feedback from Peter. After setting


A Model for Church Discernment

Cornelius straight, Peter goes with him to the larger gathering. Here Peter acts upon the implication he has gathered from his vision three days earlier, declaring: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Note this is not literally what the voice in the vision said, or what Peter saw. Rather, Peter has allowed his subsequent experience, shaped by the summoning to Cornelius’ home, to lead him to this interpretation of his vision. Yet he needs more information from Cornelius to fully understand his own experience. Peter asks Cornelius why he sent for him. In Cornelius’ recounting of his vision to Peter, he also reinterprets his vision’s meaning. The angel simply told Cornelius to send for Peter. His agents recounted to Peter that Cornelius was directed by a holy angel … to hear what you have to say. Cornelius concludes his vision means that the entire group, here in the presence of God, is to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say. By sharing their vision experiences, Peter and Cornelius are each led to a fuller understanding of the meanings of their visions. Peter responds, “succinctly summarizing the gospel in the context of Peter’s new understanding of God’s impartiality.”4 Peter now proclaims his understanding of what God showed him in his vision. His trust and obedience to God have led to encounters with others, who provided him the clues for understanding the experience of God’s revelation to him. And what God has revealed to him is significant! It is not being one of the chosen people and keeping Torah that makes one acceptable to God. Instead, God is impartial! God is fair and just. Peter proclaims that in every nation anyone who reveres (fears) God and does justice (dikaiosune) is acceptable to God! God is not just the God of the Jews, but Lord of all as preached by Jesus. Thus Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius, his family and friends. If Gentiles are acceptable to God, then they ought to be acceptable candidates for the gospel and for inclusion in the church. While Peter is still speaking (and without his calling for, or hearing, any declaration of repentance or belief in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior), the Holy Spirit comes as pure gift upon all who heard the word, astounding the circumcised believers from Joppa who accompanied Peter. These Joppa believers hear the Gentiles speaking in tongues and extolling God, and deduce the Gentiles have received the gift of the Holy Spirit—“just as we have,” they cry. In this instance, the Joppa believers are relying on their own prior experience of receiving the Holy Spirit to recognize what has happened to the Gentiles. Note that no words of scripture or tradition are used here to interpret what has occurred, simply experience. On this basis, Peter orders the Gentiles to be baptized. Peter has come to a still fuller understanding of his vision. Those whom he previously thought unclean have also been given the gift of God’s Spirit. Peter now stays with them several days, a sign of fellowship and acceptance. In chapter 11 the action in the narrative shifts to Judea where the apostles and believers hear of the Gentiles’ acceptance of the word of God. On Peter’s return to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” The apostles and Jewish believers are shocked by the way Peter has disregarded the group’s Torah practices. They are less concerned about Peter’s baptizing Gentiles than his intimately socializing with them—violating

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


scripture’s commandments for ritual purity for table fellowship and diluting the group’s identity.5 “Their concern for purity is really a concern for the community’s solidarity.” Peter explains to his critics step by step what occurred. After hearing Peter’s retelling of the experiences, their criticism is silenced and they, too, praise God for giving, even to the Gentiles, the repentance that leads to life. Peter’s understanding of his experience is modified: no longer is he greatly puzzled. He states it was the Spirit who told him to go to Cornelius and “not to make a distinction between them and us.” Peter adds he took six brothers from Joppa with him, and “we” entered Cornelius’ house. Not only Peter’s witness, but also the witness of others, compels belief in what God is doing in the lives of Gentiles. It is also important to notice that when challenged, Peter does not stand on his authority as the first apostle, the primary keeper of the keys to the kingdom. Nor does he cite scripture or tradition. Rather he recounts his experience and the credible congruent witness of other community members. Peter’s recounting of his experience is what causes others to accept and affirm his violation of what scripture and tradition say is permissible conduct for being in covenant relationship with God. They were silenced in their criticism and agree with his conclusion: Because Gentiles have been given the same gift of the Spirit, Peter was compelled to baptize them, for “who was I that I could hinder God?” God’s work in the lives of Gentile believers is affirmed by Peter’s experience. After this validation in Jerusalem, Luke recounts how evangelism continued not only to Jews outside Judea, but also to Greeks in Antioch where a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. To investigate this phenomenon in Antioch, the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas, who came and saw the grace of God and rejoiced. Barnabas stays in Antioch evangelizing, and then goes to Tarsus to find Saul and bring him to Antioch. They stay in Antioch for a year, meeting with the church and teaching a great many people. These first-to-be-called-Christians of Antioch take up a collection for their fellow believers in Judea to alleviate a predicted famine there, and send it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. Their actions reveal an understanding of what is important for true fellowship: care and concern for temporal as well as spiritual welfare. The scene in Acts 12 moves back to Judea, where the church is experiencing persecution. To curry favor with the Jews during the Festival of Unleavened Bread, Herod kills James, the brother of John, and imprisons Peter, who miraculously escapes. Chapters 13 and 14 recount the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul by the church in Antioch—not Jerusalem. While worshipping, and fasting, the church hears the will of the Holy Spirit to set these two men apart for the work the Spirit has called them to do. They laid their hands upon them and sent them off. The Spirit sends them forth, and Luke relates how they share the good news in synagogues on Cyprus and elsewhere. Generally they are well received by Gentiles and some Jews. There are also Jews who challenge them and drive them from their cities. Luke mentions the signs and wonders done by Paul and Barnabas, including the healing of a man crippled from birth, testimony of God’s favor and grace. They proclaim the Spirit has sent them to be a light for Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Eventually, they make their way


A Model for Church Discernment

back to Antioch, stopping along the way to encourage new believers and appoint elders in these new churches. Having been sent out by the Antioch church, they now call the church together and relate all that God has done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas remain in Antioch for some time. Chapter 15 opens in Antioch, where a controversy has erupted. Certain individuals from Judea come to Antioch and teach: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”7 Paul and Barnabas have no small dissension and debate with them. Recall that in verse 11:22 the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch; he approved of what he saw, and now he is part of the Antioch community. However, these Judean individuals do not appear interested in the experience or testimony of the gift of the Holy Spirit by the Antioch believers, Paul, or Barnabas. Instead they hold to the explicit teaching of scripture and tradition: To be within God’s covenant you must conform to the sign of the covenant, circumcision. Implicit is reliance solely on their own experience as Jews, and as followers of the Jewish Jesus, to bolster their understanding of what God requires of believers. Or, said another way, they filter their experience through what they have been taught as Jews, and privilege it as the normative, correct experience all believers must have. As with the earlier challenge to Peter’s experience in Acts 11:1–18, there is open discussion within the community of the controversial issue. This time the discussion results in the appointment of Paul, Barnabas and others to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and elders. Note that the community is active throughout. They hear the debate and, either as a whole assembly or through their leaders, appoint their representatives. Paul and Barnabas do not decide on their own that they have authority to deal with this controversy on behalf of the Antioch church. Luke does not tell us why the controversy is referred to Jerusalem.8 Was Barnabas’ initial report now being challenged? Were the certain individuals from Judea sent from the Jerusalem church? (We learn later that while from Jerusalem, they were not authorized.) What we do know is this challenge to the norms of the church in Antioch comes not from within that community, but from outside, from individuals who are not swayed by the group’s experience and signs of receiving the Holy Spirit. Instead their arguments rely solely on the traditional interpretations of scripture’s clear teachings regarding the necessity for circumcision and keeping the dietary laws. Interestingly, Luke makes a point of telling us that on their way to Jerusalem the Antioch representatives stay with believers, recounting the conversion of the Gentiles, which brings great joy to all the believers. Those who hear the Antioch representatives’ story confirm their experience. No one thinks differently. In Jerusalem, the church and apostles and elders welcome the representatives, and they reported all that God had done with them. Note the welcoming committee and hearers are more than just the leaders of the Jerusalem church. After hearing the testimony of their experiences, some Jewish believers argue circumcision is still necessary. They are unconvinced that the experiences recounted do away with the long-standing scriptural and traditional ritual requirements for covenant relationship with God.

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The Pharisees are concerned that believers live within carefully prescribed social and theological boundaries (=halakhah), especially when sharing table fellowship with impure sinners. Their earnest commitment in relating the teaching to the practice of true religion reflects a larger commitment to the community’s purity before God. 9 How could these experiences the Antioch members describe mean circumcision is no longer required? Isn’t the entire Law of Moses part of the revealed word of God in holy scripture? Hasn’t tradition taught us we must fully keep all the laws God has commanded as the sign of his chosen people? By what authority can you go against what tradition and scripture teach us? Next, says Luke, the apostles and elders met to consider the matter. After still more debate, Peter reminds them of his experience in the early days when God chose him to be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the gospel, and Peter reframes the question of circumcision. By insisting on circumcision, Peter argues, they are putting God to the test and placing a requirement on the Gentiles that they themselves have been unable to bear. Peter, Paul and Barnabas all proclaim that the hand of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the cause of what they have witnessed and experienced. God is acting outside their preconceived understandings of what scripture and tradition would tell them and is doing a new thing. Peter, initially greatly puzzled with his vision in Chapter 11, now confidently proclaims what he has come to know through his experience as the work of God in Gentile believers. “God is the subject of every verb in this account. God chose, testified, did not discriminate, and cleansed the hearts of Gentiles by faith (15:7–9).”10 At the end of Peter’s speech, the whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of the signs and wonders11 that God had done through them among the Gentiles. Again, it is human experience as interpreted, reflected upon, and proclaimed in light of a faith narrative of what God is doing. When they finish speaking, James asks the assembly to listen to him as he quotes Amos 9:11–12,12 suggesting it is in agreement with Peter’s testimony—the God of the Jewish people now includes Gentiles as his people. James does not deny or minimize the numerous explicit scripture passages used by those advocating circumcision as a necessary requirement. Rather, James quotes a biblical passage only indirectly related to the specific question at hand, which is, “Do Gentile believers have to keep Torah and be circumcised?” James now understands a passage of scripture differently, in light of the experiences of God’s working testified to in the assembly. He announces he has reached a decision, which the assembly unanimously ratifies in a letter to the Antioch church. They should refrain from idolatry, from sexual immorality, and from eating whatever has been strangled or is from blood. These last requirements keep the separation with food from pagan temples, and ease the way for table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers.13 A delegation is appointed to personally carry the decision to the Antioch church. Note the decision is not imposed by ecclesiastical fiat but by invoking “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” The Antioch church rejoiced at the exhortation.


II. What the Acts Account Teaches Us

A Model for Church Discernment

1. Decisions to change group norms take time and are ultimately based on both the experience of God working in the lives of those who challenge the norms, and the experience of current group members who witness and participate in what God is doing in the lives of the challengers. Trust and obedience to what they perceive as the call of God trump the safety of established norms, even though “terror” accompanies their initial realization. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31.) 2. Current group members, Peter and the Jerusalem church, are first rightly skeptical of what they experience and hear, but they do not close off dialogue, denounce and judge the challengers without meeting with them. They go and see for themselves in obedience to the second part of the Great Commandment, treating others as they would like to be treated. They look not for confirmation of their presuppositions, but for “signs and wonders of God” working in the lives of the challengers. Or, expressed another way, they look for how and why a professed disciple would think and do this, rather than looking for what they can find to criticize in the challenger. 3. Through Peter’s successive recounting of his experience among the Gentiles, we see that he has been led to a deeper and fuller awareness of its meaning: Even as we Jews are saved by the faith in/of Christ, so the Gentiles are too! Yet we also know from Paul’s account in Galatians 2 that Peter later drew back from table fellowship with the Antioch Christians and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. Integrating and incorporating our experiences into systemic change is often a twosteps-forward, one-step-backward process, not a one-time event. The allure of safety, the comfort of the routine and familiar, tugs at even the most committed followers of Christ. 4. The experiences recounted include those of respected leaders, members in the Antioch church, and the wide diversity of Gentiles throughout Asia Minor whom Paul and Barnabas converted. Silence and prayer characterize the structure in which the testimony is received.14 Respect is a given when discerning whether an experience is of God. Those who do not see the working of God in the experiences narrated are free to express their honest disagreement and the reasons behind it. 5. Discernment of God “doing a new thing” is a communal process, not left up to just the apostles and elders. Both Peter and Cornelius bring a supporting community to witness their respective responses to their vision. The whole church hears the controversy when it is aired in assembly. They hear the experiences related and the scripture and tradition cited for the opposing side. The community approves the decision of its leaders. The community is a part of the process, and therefore is in a position to buy into the outcome, rather than having it imposed by fiat. Only a group of diverse people, all parts of the Body of Christ, can hear and see the multi-vocal record of scripture and together discern the living Word of God. Otherwise we risk privileging one text over another, and heeding only the experience of certain members, who are generally those in power.

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6. The experience of hearing the controversy aired prods James, leader of the Jerusalem church, to reexamine scripture. He lifts up new scriptural revelation that is congruent with what he has witnessed: testimony of God working in the lives of non– Jews, which puts them on equal footing with Jews. 7. Emissaries convey both in writing and in person the questions and the decisions. The relationship between the churches is valued, and the principle that “several heads are better than one” is practiced when communicating.

III. Interplay of Experience, Scriptural Interpretation & Tradition

Experience is both a medium and a source for understanding what God is doing in our world, and how we live out a faithful response to our calling as disciples. Our religious and cultural experience is a medium through which we concretely understand what we believe and know about the triune God. It gives us a vocabulary for expressing and understanding our experiences.15 For example, only Catholics and Orthodox Christians have visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Or, Christians who did not grow up in churches where speaking in tongues is accepted, often find the practice strange, even frightening, since it is outside their religious experience. Our preconceived foundations for understanding scripture are also based on experience—experience of tradition, the church community, teachers, theologians we agree with, etc., mingled in with our own preconceived ideas and understandings. Yet the living God is active in our world. The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills. So experience is also a source for fuller understanding of God’s revelation. “Because God intrudes into the comfortable space we cling to for self-definition and calls us to a wider truth, divine revelation continues in our world. God acts now.”16 “God speaks through people, through events, and through the circumstances of our lives.”17 While I wager we can all testify to the power of God intruding in our individual lives in powerful, sometimes startling, and frequently ambiguous ways, we may be less attuned as the Body of Christ to detect God’s activity in the world. Our chances of identifying God’s work in the present, in large part, depend on our ability to see, and understand, what God did in the past; hence the necessity of the interplay of both scripture and tradition with our experience. Scripture has prophetic authority for Christians and the church in every age and place. Scripture is not just what happened in the past. For Moravians holy scripture “is the sole standard of the doctrine and faith” and “shapes our lives.”18 Thus we ask: Is what we are experiencing now congruent with what the early church affirmed as God’s activity in scripture? How do we read the unchanging words of scripture with eyes that are in dialogue with our life experience? Moravians read and interpret the Bible in light of the gospel narratives of Jesus’ teachings, ministry, passion and resurrection. Scripture and tradition provide a starting point, a “standard,” by which we “test the spirits” in our discernment. Is what we are experiencing, and what others testify to as their experience, proclaiming core unchanging and timeless biblical truths about who God is, what Goes does and what God commands? Moravian theology is a


A Model for Church Discernment

relational theology. For Moravians faith is not an attachment to a body of doctrines, but our embodiment of responding in obedience and trust to the leading of the Savior. “Our Lamb has conquered: let us follow Him,” reads the official seal of the Unitas Fratrum. What we profess to believe as followers of Jesus Christ matters little if our actions are not congruent with the witness of how disciples of Christ are to be. It is our relationship with God (made possible by Jesus Christ) and God’s creation, and how we embody through our actions and lives the Great Commandment. All other of God’s commandments build upon the Great Commandment: Love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

IV. Discernment: Testing the Spirits

Whether individual or communal, discernment is a prayerful, informed, and intentional effort to distinguish God’s voice from other voices that influence us, our own voices of urgency or fear, voices of parents, voices of authority figures, and voices from our culture. When we discern, we seek to sort through these voices to get in touch with the Holy Spirit’s work and sense the direction in which the Spirit is leading us. We come with open hearts and minds, and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is an active presence, giving us the gift of discerning (1 Cor.12: 10) that will lead us to discernment’s goal: to have, to find “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).19 “In discernment, we are given the opportunity to know the divine will, to see God who is self-disclosing and who is forever committed to having a covenantal relationship with God’s people.”20 As we learn from the Acts narrative, to discern whether experiences testified to are revelatory of God’s working, we must be able to articulate the experiences in a narrative of faith, and allow others to hear and judge whether our experience indeed has revelatory significance.21 What are the criteria? How do we obey the command of 1 John 4:1? Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. “The warning against false prophets in Matthew 7:15–20 twice repeats, ‘You will know them by their fruits.’ Paul lists the Fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22–23, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.’”22 The writers of Listening Hearts mention convergence. “Various things that the group has been thinking about and doing over a period of time—things that had seemed unrelated—suddenly come together and make sense.”23 Ignatius of Loyola uses the terms “consolations” and “desolations” to describe the ways in which we may have some sense that we have correctly discerned the matter at hand.24 “The Spirit of God, when truly at work, leaves traces in our stories. The church does have a way to discern the spirit’s work, but only if the fruits are made available by narrative.”25 The fruit of the Spirit is an indication that we may have correctly discerned God’s movement and will, but we will never know for certain. I suggest that as an indicator—though we can view it only in hindsight, as the early church did—we ask, “How congruent are the results of our discernment with the gospel proclamation of who God is, what Goes does, and what God commands?” Key standards include

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the Great Commandment (upon which all others are based) for us to love God and neighbor; God’s longing to be in covenant relationship with us; and God’s work and desire for reconciliation, salvation, healing, wholeness and well-being, peace, and justice for all people.


The decision to give Gentiles full status in the church, without their becoming circumcised or adhering to other stipulations from the Hebrew scriptures for being in covenant relationship with the one true God, is not simply a historical record, or a decision we explain with 20/20 hindsight. Rather, how Acts records the church’s decision to fully accept Gentiles on terms contrary to scripture and tradition gives us precedent for a process today for how the church might reach decisions on divisive issues, where current experiences clash with scripture and tradition. As the church did in Acts, we should hear the experiences, the narratives of faith, what folks proclaim God is doing in their lives; and we should foster dialogue and discernment. If, as a result, the church recognizes God working in the church and in the world in a new way, obedience to God demands we accordingly alter our understanding of what it means to be faithful people of God. I submit we have already done this with respect to divorce and remarriage between heterosexual persons. The church no longer considers Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:32—“If a man divorces his wife for any cause other than unchastity he involves her in adultery; and whoever marries her commits adultery”—as normative for heterosexual relationships. The church now performs second (third, fourth…) marriages, regardless of the reason for divorce. Divorced and remarried pastors are even allowed to perform the ceremony! What criteria did the church use when determining that church tradition and this divorce prohibition by Jesus were no longer applicable? Have we informally applied the same process the early church used in Acts 10–15, using Christian witness, and testimony of divorced and remarried persons, coupled with the experience of non-divorced persons coming in contact with them? Did these new experiences cause the church to no longer follow tradition and Jesus’ words against divorce? Did we see the Holy Spirit working in the lives of divorced and remarried individuals, and therefore decide to view divorce and remarriage differently? Yes, we did. How then might we apply these observations from Acts to our own process of discernment, when we ask whether non-heterosexual persons will be fully accepted into the life of the church in spite of traditional and scriptural interpretations that exclude ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions? Today, as a church, we could provide safe forums where people both respectfully and prayerfully tell and listen to faith narratives of non-heterosexual persons. Do their stories ring true as experiences of God’s love, grace, and call? Do we see fruit of the Spirit, “signs and wonders” of God working, or not, in the lives and ministries of homosexuals? Are the stories of GLTB persons who heard a call from God to ordained ministry credible, or do we dismiss them out of hand, because we believe


A Model for Church Discernment

scripture and tradition say such persons couldn’t possibly be called to the ordained ministry of the church? Has God given them gifts for the ministry of word and sacrament? Are there witnesses and recipients of their ministry who can testify to the use of their gifts in ministerial settings? Can GLTB persons fulfill, or have they fulfilled, the educational and training programs required of heterosexuals for ordination? How does their performance in denominations that ordain GLTB persons compare with heterosexual ministers? Do we see GLTB persons adhering to the same standards of sexual faithfulness that we call for in our heterosexual relationships? Do we see fruit of the Spirit in their Christian walk as a couple, just as we do in heterosexual couples? Are they living in lifelong monogamous covenantal relationship, enhancing the wholeness and well-being of both persons? Are they kinder, gentler, more peaceful, joyful and giving because of their relationship? Do we judge them by what they do in their bedroom, or in the world and in our churches? What does justice demand? I invite readers to think of other questions that will help us as the Body of Christ to discern whether God is doing a new thing towards fully including nonheterosexual persons in the full life of the church. Paul tells us that each part of the Body is necessary,26 and the story of Acts 10–15 illustrates this truth. Together we may discern truths we can just now bear to hear27 that further love of God and neighbor, and God’s work and desire for salvation, healing, wholeness and well-being, peace, and justice for all people.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Endnotes My notes from the Theological Foundations Course, Fall 2002, the Divinity School at Wake Forest University. All scripture quotations are from the NRSV. In italics are words and phrases I particularly want to emphasize. 3 Robert W. Wall, “Acts, 9:32–11:18 Commentary,” New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 169. 4 Footnote to Acts 10:34–43 in The Harper Collins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 2078. 5 Luke Timothy Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 97. 6 Wall, 168. 7 “None of them object to preaching to gentiles. They know that Israel’s covenant included blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen.12:3). The sign of that covenant and that blessing was circumcision, a sign in which Jesus himself participated (Luke 2:21). Without circumcision how could a gentile possibly participate in the blessings promised to the covenant people; in short how could they be saved?” William H. Willimon, “Acts,” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 128–129. 8 Robert W. Wall (206) contends “since these ‘certain individuals’ from Judea are members of the Jerusalem church and are under the spiritual authority of its leaders, the decision is left for those leaders to make—not as an exercise in ecclesiastical authority, but as an act of corporate solidarity.” 9 Wall, 206. 10 Johnson, 102. 11 “Signs and wonders” are the consistent Lukan signal for the way God validates human ministry, from Moses to Paul (cf. Acts 2:19, 22, 43; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36; 14:3). Johnson, 103. 12 “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.” (NRSV.) This version of Amos is the Greek Septuagint, rather than the original Hebrew. 13 Wall, 219. 14 In spiritual discernment, “focused silence creates a stillness in which particular sounds become distinctly heard or felt. It is as though a veil is lifted from our senses and intuitions. We see our brothers and sisters anew; we hear afresh the sounds of silence. We feel the Spirit in our midst.” Farnham, Listening Hearts, 11 15 See George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Minneapolis: Westminster Press, 1984), for a fuller explanation of this concept. 16 Johnson, 24. 17 Suzanne G. Farnham, Stephanie A. Hull, and R. Taylor McLean, Grounded in God: Listening Hearts for Discernment in Group Deliberations (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1996), 14. 18 “God’s Word and Doctrine,” in “The Ground of the Unity: A Doctrinal Statement Adapted by the Unity Synod of the Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church.” 19 Farnham, Listening Hearts, 7. Also Johnson, 40. 20 Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen, Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church (Nashville: Upper Room, 1997), 37. 21 Johnson, 109. 22 Johnson, 138. 23 Farnham, Listening Hearts, 29. 24 Ignatius of Loyola, Saint, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, ed. Robert Gleason, trans. Anthony Mottola (New York: Doubleday, 1964). 25 Johnson, 138. 26 1 Cor.12:12–26. 27 John 16:12–13. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” 1 2


A Model for Church Discernment

Responses Bill Andrews I am grateful for the spirit of the Moravian Church which allows us to examine critical issues as family. I am grateful to Sister Leinbach for earnestly seeking a way for us to discern God’s leading with a difficult issue. And I am grateful that Sister Leinbach has called our attention to the Bible as we face the issue. How are North American Moravians to discern God’s leading while living in a culture that measures all things by experience and feelings? The temptation is to begin with our experience, come to the Bible to prove what we believe our experience to mean and then “discern” that it is God’s new way. It would be easy to read Sister Leinbach’s article and conclude that the men and women made in God’s image who are in question should receive what they seek. But that would be neither good logic nor good theology. We cannot throw away 4,000 years of moral principle on the basis of experience alone. We must guard ourselves against the myth of the “open” heart and mind. We labor under the curse of sin that corrupts our thinking and feeling and biases us away from God. Moravians guard themselves from this attraction by holding to the rule of Scripture as our sole standard for faith and life. Unlike other denominations, we have not elevated experience to the same level as Scripture. We recognize the need for an objective standard through which we can discern where God is at work in our experience. The starting point in discernment is God’s Word, not experience. All experience must be given meaning. The signs and wonders Sister Leinbach refers to are sovereign acts of God, and we have been given special revelation by which to interpret them. Scripture stands above experience, not the other way around. Our culture may reject normative standards, but as Moravians we know it is the only foundation on which we can stand. Sister Leinbach’s article shows that the early church tested their new experience by the Scriptures at every point. In Acts 10:43 Peter tells the newly converted Cornelius, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (ESV). 1 Peter makes the astounding statement that the prophets teach that everyone, regardless of race, can be included in the new covenant. Peter is saying, “Look, this is what the prophets taught and what Jesus meant!” When Peter reports to the Apostles (Acts 11:16) he quotes Jesus’ words to give specific meaning to Cornelius’ experience. In Acts 15:13–20 James renders judgment on this new experience, quoting Amos to show that his decision fit within the biblical tradition. 2 In each of the cases it appears that the church brought their experiences to Scripture for discernment, not the other way around. And in that process they discerned God’s leading through the explicit teaching of Scripture and specifically the teaching of Jesus himself. Jesus distinguished between the moral law, which he upheld, and the dietary and ceremonial law, which he felt free to change (Mark 7). Scripture, not experience, was the preeminent and deciding factor in the

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


discerning process for the church in Acts. Only with the warrant of God’s Word did they accept change. I share Sister Leinbach’s belief in the importance of consensus for the discernment process of the church. I am deeply concerned for our church, because currently consensus does not exist at any level on the ordination of homosexuals or the blessing of same-sex unions. Our congregations are deeply divided on this issue. I have been part of the wearing and painful debate on this issue that has taken place in the Northern Province since 1974. In recent years I have seen a sea change in the votes taken at Synod on this issue. Winning at Synod is not the same thing as reaching consensus. My impression is that the Southern Province has discussed this matter to a somewhat lesser degree than the North. We are part of a worldwide Unity. And the vast majority of that Unity has a very clear discernment of this issue. Their consensus is that there is nothing new to be discerned in this matter. Are North American Moravians prepared to accept that consensus? Throughout the responses in this issue, scripture quotations from translations other than the NRSV are noted, as here (English Standard Version). 2 Jews practiced evangelism of Gentiles in parts of the Roman Empire during the first century. Some of the converts may have been present at Pentecost (Acts 2:5). The Apostles and other Jewish Christians may have been acquainted with Gentiles who had converted to Judaism and been brought into the Jewish covenants before the day of Pentecost. 1

Bill Andrews is the pastor of St. Paul’s Moravian Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Frank L. Crouch I find Margaret’s article clear and persuasive. It has the strength of being based on scripture and the value of bringing additional scripture passages, particularly Acts 10–15, into the GLBT debate. That debate is often approached as if only a handful of passages apply, and beyond those passages lies no room for discussion. Margaret makes a case for Acts 10–15 that cannot be easily or casually dismissed. Of particular importance for our Moravian context—in which the Ground of the Unity states that scripture “is the sole standard of the doctrine and faith of the Unitas Fratrum”—are her attempts to establish “experience” as a necessary element of this debate. She shows that within scripture, experience constitutes a crucial element of discernment during times of controversy. In Acts 10–15, and in other passages, experience plays a decisive role in discerning new truths of God being revealed in the experiences of believers. Margaret also points out that in Matthew, Jesus says that we can tell true from false prophets by their fruits, the outcomes of their words and actions (7:15–20). Adding to Margaret’s case, one might point to Luke. When John the Baptist sent disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus replied, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard,” i.e., what you have experienced (7:18–23). When Nicodemus struggles to understand Jesus, Jesus tells him, “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen”


A Model for Church Discernment

( Jn 3:11). In each of these cases scripture tells us to use our experiences as one touchstone for sound doctrine and true faith. Margaret underscores the fact that within scripture itself, discernment requires the integration of multiple elements—scripture, tradition, and experience. No single one of them—scripture included—serves as a trump card that, alone, can top everything else. According to scripture, in some of the biggest arguments of their day (inclusion of Gentiles, circumcision, and dietary laws), the earliest Christians did not make final decisions based solely on the existence of particular scripture passages. If they had taken that course, Gentiles would still be excluded, Paul would have lost the circumcision argument (based on Genesis 17:10–14), and Christians would still be eating only kosher food (based on Leviticus 11). In our Moravian context, the Ground of the Unity and Essential Features of the Unity undermine any attempts to determine doctrine and practice by playing a small set of scriptural trump cards without giving due consideration to the whole Word of God. Consistent with the earliest Christians, we seek to base our witness and proclamation on “the fullness of the Word of God” (Church Order of the Unitas Fratrum, 2009, par. 100b). The fullness of the Word of God—throughout Old Testament, Gospels, Acts, and epistles—consistently includes experience as a key element of discerning God’s call to new doctrines and new practices of faith. Some say that with respect to GLBT questions, we adopt new practices at our peril. They could be right. However, as Margaret points out, there is no “safety of established norms.” There was no such safety in the first century, and there is none now. The New Testament is filled with stories of those who refused, at their peril, to move in new directions and adopt new practices when they encountered Jesus and his followers. Gamaliel’s admonition to the Sanhedrin when the apostles were on trial (Acts 5:33–39) is as unnerving today as it must have been to the Sanhedrin back then. Some insisted that standing on established interpretation of scripture and refusing to consider that God might be doing something new were faithful responses to new experiences. Gamaliel warned them that when all was said and done, they might discover that they were in fact fighting against God. The stakes are high for everyone in this discernment. Scripture, the only source of our doctrine and faith, tells us that God is free to do something that runs dramatically against our expectations. One passage within Acts 10–15 that Margaret does not explicitly mention focuses on Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch. In that sermon he says, “Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you’” (13:40–41 [NIV], quoting Habakkuk 1:5). Whatever God is doing in our days, may we embrace it. Even if it seems unbelievable that God would expect us to do so.

Frank L. Crouch is vice president and dean of Moravian Theological Seminary.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Worth Green Margaret’s paper exposes the process whereby Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit is still actively leading the church interpret—and sometimes reinterpret as no longer binding—portions of the authoritative Scripture to which we all bear allegiance. I mostly affirm Margaret’s exegesis of Acts 10–15, and find much to admire in her identification of certain principles of interpretation. I am even willing to stipulate that her process can indeed help “a” faith community move beyond destructive ways of discussing controversial issues. This is especially so if “a” faith community is relatively small, and actively motivated to root in Scripture those opinions, practices, and facts on the ground that were once prophetic, but are now more commonplace. This is certainly the case in Acts 10–15, where the conclusion of the first Apostolic Council, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,” grows out of the highly visible work of the Holy Spirit attested to by Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, and a bold new understanding of a portion of Scripture by James. Of course, such a consensus is easier to achieve in a small homogenous group (the council appears to have been all Jewish) that places implicit trust in its leadership, which was, after all “apostolic.” It is much harder—though not impossible—to achieve in larger, more diverse groups like the 21st century “Body of Christ,” which Margaret ultimately names as “a” faith community. In our time numbers are larger, the work of the Spirit among the people Margaret identifies as GLBT is less visible to many, and the leadership of the church, though certainly honorable and often elected to office or deemed “apostolic,” does not carry the added luster of belonging to the first generation of witnesses (Peter, James, Paul—1Corinthians 15:3ff ). I find it particularly helpful to our ongoing discussion that Margaret implicitly draws on “Wesley’s Quadrilateral” of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, and suggests that when the Holy Spirit is truly leading the church into new truth there is room to come to a new understanding of the role of portions of Scripture and forge new traditions. I believe she is right. The author of Luke-Acts certainly presents the understanding of Scripture that was current in his time, and works hard to give the new tradition he is setting down apostolic, as well as spiritual, authority. It should be noted that there are many instances in Scripture where the early church reinterprets the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) to fit the new facts on the ground (for example, Matthew 21:33–46). Of course, there are things in Margaret’s exegesis that bear discussion, especially the primary motive of the author of Luke-Acts, which was to move the church of his day from an apocalyptic end-times orientation to an orientation that recognizes the ongoing Age of the Church, during which the Holy Spirit leads and empowers the church to preach the gospel to the Gentiles for “they will listen” (Acts 28:28). Likewise, Margaret’s desire to move “a” faith community from the place of being largely unresponsive, to recognizing and truly reaching out to homosexuals in general, to the place of blessing “GLBT” unions and ordaining those who live in them, is worthy of open discussion. This is quite a stretch, all at once. Many, including many Margaret


A Model for Church Discernment

identifies as GLBT people, would settle for more modest gains in shaping a more inclusive ministry for people who profess to be GLBT, and who wish to be members of the church, that they might become a part of our fellowship and share their experience of Christ and their gifts of the Holy Spirit with us. If one believes that people do not choose their sexual orientation, then one assumes it must come from God, and if it comes from God, and carries with it so much suffering, it must also represent a gift of some kind that the world needs. Many will say that the gift is celibacy, but a gift that comes into the world at such a high price to those who possess it must be something more than just celibacy. I have just spent some 800 words by way of introduction without achieving my goal. My goal is to respond to Margaret’s invitation to suggest questions that will further our discussion in this area. I think I can suggest one question. Though it may not further the immediate aspirations of GLBT people, it is a question we must answer as we take the long view. My question is: What are the spiritual gifts and the commensurate tasks of ministry that God has given to the Moravian Church, and would this ministry and mission be further enhanced or hindered at this time by the blessing of homosexual unions and the ordination of homosexuals living in them? Obviously this reasonable question does not grow just out of Scripture, but out of Moravian tradition that is based upon our experience of the Holy Spirit over the generations. In the Ground of the Unity (GOTU) we read, “We believe in and confess the Unity of the Church given in the one Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior.” The GOTU then lists our warrants of authority, including the experience of August 13, 1727, and adds that it is the Lord’s will that Christendom should give evidence of and seek unity in Him with zeal and love. Having claimed our own spiritual gifts, and extolled the desire for unity, the GOTU goes on to mention the many gifts that the grace of Christ has conferred upon the other churches, to confess our Moravian share in the guilt that is manifest in the severed and divided state of Christendom, and to point out that by means of such divisions we ourselves hinder the message and power of the Gospel. Finally, taking firm hold of our own unique gifts of grace, the GOTU matches them to the task of bearing witness to the unity of the church, saying that God has “laid [this witness to unity among the denominations] upon us as a charge.” Many are convinced that our Moravian witness to the essential unity of the church among the denominations for the sake of Gospel proclamation is our primary role among the other churches that make up the one Body of Christ. By contrast, other denominations describe themselves as “early truth tellers,” and so they may be. However, as Moravians, we have not always been called to that task, and may not be so now. As I consider the issues raised by Margaret, I find I must also ask whether our mission to the churches has changed. In the Southern Province Synod of 1996, delegates recognized that we were not of one mind regarding the subject of homosexuality. Therefore, we “agreed to disagree.” This has affected our witness among the churches. Because we Southern Province Moravians agreed to disagree even

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


among ourselves, many of us voted for full Communion with the Episcopal Church in America, which blesses homosexual unions and ordains homosexuals even though we do not. I did so because I know that some Christians of good will in all denominations (including my own) sincerely believe that this represents a legitimate movement of the Holy Spirit that parallels similar movements in Scripture itself—like a progressively lenient stance toward divorce and remarriage (Mark 10, Matt. 5, 1 Cor. 7), the emancipation of slaves (Eph. 6, Philemon, etc.), the role of women (1Tim. 2:12, Gal. 3:28, etc.), and the admission of Gentiles into the church without asking us to become Jews (Acts 10–15, etc.). At the same time, I know that I have many brothers and sisters in the Moravian Church, and in the other churches, in America and around the world, who believe that the Holy Spirit is indeed still leading our church, and accept Margaret’s method of exegesis as perfectly legitimate, but are not yet convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading us quite so far in this area. Even a friend who believes that Margaret’s “liberal” impulse will ultimately win out recently said to me, “Just because something is right, does not mean it is right now.” Each individual must decide for himself or herself the ramifications of Margaret’s excellent article—which is a wonderful contribution to what ought to be an ongoing discussion. This article should be widely read and discussed by those who have no fear of being legislated out of the church by those who disagree with them. However, when we sit down as Moravians in our synods and other official bodies, and consider whether or not the Holy Spirit is leading us to bless homosexual unions and ordain some of those living in them as pastors, we must continue to ask the question of how taking these actions will preserve the witness of our unity and affect our ability to claim the gifts and continue the tasks of ministry that God has “laid upon us as a charge.” Worth Green is pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Jon Boling Sister Leinbach writes in support of same-gender sexual behavior, same-gender marriage and the idea that persons who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) may serve as ordained clergy. The biblical precedent she cites is Acts 10–15, describing how God revealed to Jewish and Gentile representatives that salvation is offered to all, regardless of ethnicity or adherence to an outward sign of covenantal relationship. The article posits that God did a “new thing” by expanding salvation to include Gentiles and that God is working similarly today to expand godly sexual relationships to include people who identify themselves as GLBT. The article stresses the importance of communal experience in determining the will of God and states that by our contemporary experience the church “no longer considers Jesus’ teaching


A Model for Church Discernment

in Matthew 5:32 [regarding divorce and remarriage] ... as normative for heterosexual relationships.” I enjoyed reading the exegesis of the Acts passage but disagree with the application of it. Salvation for Gentiles was not a new thing at all, but had always been in the mind of God. This is strongly supported by numerous biblical texts including Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 49:22, 51:4, and 65:1; and the Amos 9:11–12 passage cited in the article. God’s will regarding salvation is clear, consistent, and attested throughout the revelation of scripture, even before it was experienced by the human community. More still, God’s revelation recorded in Acts 10–15 describes a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, to the extent that outward symbols such as circumcision were no longer necessary. Yet there is no such support for, nor the fulfillment of the notion that God would ever condone sexual behavior outside of male-female marriage. To the contrary, the biblical record is clear and consistent. God’s design, creation, ordination and blessing of human sexuality within the bonds and bounds of male-female union is proclaimed and affirmed in every passage dealing with the subject. And God’s judgment against sexual behavior outside these boundaries is also clear—not only for same-gender but for “heterosexual” sin as well. One need not cherry-pick verses on this subject, for the whole orchard is ripe with the truth of God’s intent regarding human sexuality and relationships. As to the idea that the church “no longer considers Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:32 ... as normative for heterosexual relationships” and thus may disregard God’s word regarding sexuality, I submit that a more complete study of that passage would be helpful. Passive verbs in the Greek language render this text difficult to translate and understand. In short, Jesus is not legislating between proper and improper divorce. It was into that trap the Pharisees hoped He would fall. Jesus wisely uses this opportunity to strongly re-affirm the marital covenant by placing the heaviest of burdens upon the man who divorces his wife for any reason other than infidelity. The burden of adultery is placed squarely upon that man, not the woman nor her possible future husband. Mark 10:1–12 helps us even further by extending the burden to a woman who does the same. And in Matthew 19:3–9 Jesus explains that casual divorce was allowed by Moses (not God) because of their hardness of heart. The Creator thus re-affirms His very own design, creation and blessing given to male-female marriage “in the beginning.” The Bible does not extinguish hope and happiness for divorced people. Yet if we deny again the word of Christ regarding marriage and by extension human sexual behavior, then we do so at great peril. Let us not commit the same error as the ancients who refused to know God’s truth and grace pertaining to human relationships. Now let us consider those relationships. Does God promise a life-long, monogamous, fulfilling, publicly accountable romantic union of any kind? On the contrary, the Bible speaks eloquently of being single—even as an advantage in serving God. The scriptures also commend those once married who, following the death of their spouses, remained unmarried out of devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:8). And in

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Matthew 19:12 Jesus speaks clearly of people who remain single for the sake of God’s kingdom. Granted, the absence of physical intimacy with another human being may be a heavy burden in this life. But what greater sorrow some will bear—even those who prophesy, cast out demons and perform many signs—who will hear Christ say from Matthew 7:21–23, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (NAS). Wouldn’t it be better to practice trusting God? Would we not better serve those who struggle with issues of every kind by teaching them the truth of God and helping them experience the power of the Almighty who transforms us into Christ-likeness through repentance, belief and obedient faith? What an experience of God’s grace and abundant life we would know and be able thus to share with a lost and hurting world. Now that would be a new thing. Jon Boling is pastor of Ardmore Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Don Kirts Sister Leinbach’s exegetical treatment of Acts 10–15 is most informative, describing a process pertinent to the continuing discernment of the full participation of homosexual persons in the life of the Moravian Church.This model may be helpful for the recently named Northern PEC’s “Task Force to Study Human Sexuality” as it plans for regional and congregational forums. After nearly four decades of synod discussions and resolutions, it is encouraging to see a more focused and determined effort to inform and involve congregational members in this process. Sexual orientation and identity is undoubtedly one of the major defining aspects of personality development. How the community of faith supports persons in developing a healthy and fulfilling self-image in regard to sexuality is crucial. The church may well be a primary source of affirmation and acceptance of many aspects of development, including sexuality, in the context of loving and caring members. This brings us to the question raised in Sister Leinbach’s article of what to do when “contact with outsiders conflicts with and challenges a group’s normative boundary.” Jesus, a Jewish peasant gifted as a wisdom teacher, whose unconventional message seemed “God inspired,” continues to guide the church. His life and message is the foundation on which this process of discernment will best be grounded. Unconditional love and acceptance marked his ministry and revealed the heart of God. Love casts out fear. Is it possible that fear casts out love? Fear of the “outsider” is both understandable and unacceptable when considering the role of homosexual persons in the community of faith. Fear is understandable given the long history of cultural and societal prejudice regarding homosexuality. It is understandable given the pervasive confusion and, at time, the repressed fears of sexual expression and identity among many members. But it is unacceptable if it prevents the love of neighbor to which the church subscribes.


A Model for Church Discernment

Is it possible that God is still speaking and pointing the people of God to new experiences? Continuing the earnest and respectful dialog will undoubtedly move the church in appropriate directions as the Spirit guides in confronting these fears. It is encouraging that the opportunity is now present, through the help of the task force and local congregations, for all willing members of the community of faith to explore further this important issue in the context of love and respect. Perhaps current experiences of “God doing a new thing” represent not so much a “clash” with scripture as an incomplete or misunderstood interpretation of scripture. Is it possible that the evolution of the church’s view of divorce and remarriage which “clashes” with scripture is predictive of the church’s future view of the full inclusion of homosexual persons in all areas of church service? The Moravian Church has demonstrated the effectiveness of the process described in Acts 10–15 in resolving questions about the remarriage of divorced persons and the ordination of women. The community of faith is to be commended for the courage it may have taken to see these issues as “God doing a new thing.” Now, is it possible for the church to engage this same process for the important issue of the full inclusion of homosexual members in the life of the Moravian Church? Jesus’ life and ministry opened doors to include women and men whom society shunned. Is it time for the church to follow his path and open doors—including “closet doors”—for all, that the love and abundant life for which he lived and died might be for all the people of God? May the Spirit continue to lead the task force and church members in the encouraging and inspiring process of discerning the will of God in this important matter. Don Kirts is a member of Advent Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Jane Wegner As I read Sister Leinbach’s words, I could not help remembering several stories from our Moravian history that show the Moravians using the same process outlined in the article. I recall the story of Zinzendorf and the community of Herrnhut in 1727, when discord and differences in opinions on how to live and worship threatened the community’s existence. Through prayer, Scripture, and discussion between all members of the community, a spiritual renewal—a second Pentecost, if you will— transpired on August 17, 1727. I recall the story of Tobias Leopold and Leonard Dober. They and their community prayed, studied Scripture, and waited on the movement of the Holy Spirit before Dober, but not Leopold, was sent off on the missionary trip to St. Thomas— some of the most vital work this denomination has done in its history, sharing the love of God with others through service and care. The process outlined in Acts 10–15, and described so succinctly by Margaret, seems to be an excellent tool for us as Christians and Moravians to use as we discern

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


God’s leading in the issue of whether or not to bless same-sex unions, and the ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters in publicly accountable monogamous partnerships. It seems to me that none of us individually can know for sure the leading of the Holy Spirit for a denomination, nor can we know individually whether someone is qualified to share his or her gifts for ordained ministry. I believe Margaret interpreted the narrative in Acts 10–15 in a very careful, insightful, and Moravian way. Looking at the story and how it progresses through the six chapters keeps all of the events within the context of the story, and shows how the early Christians struggled to come to a place of unity with one another while living out the commandment that Jesus gave to them, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The issue with which they struggled—whether and how Gentiles are saved— was, I believe, as controversial as the issues facing the church today. Scripture tells us that this issue polarized their community, created animosity between fellow believers, and inspired great debates. In their wisdom, these early Christian leaders did not come in with a statement of what was right or wrong, but rather gave the narrative of how they got to the place they did in their beliefs. It also appears that all were offered the opportunity to share their stories. In their wisdom, these early Christians knew that controversial and divisive issues cannot be dealt with quickly. Many of us need time to think about the stories others have shared as they relate to our own stories. We also need time to read and interpret the Scriptures and pray, both individually and as a group. We need time and opportunity to put a face and a story on the issue we are discerning. And lastly, we need time, as a community, to hear the leading of the Holy Spirit. I appreciate Margaret’s highlighting of our rich Moravian relational theology. At the heart of relationships is the sharing of ourselves and our stories. She reminds us that our forefathers and mothers, in their wisdom, chose not to attach our faith to a “body of doctrines, but our embodiment of responding in obedience and trust to the leading of the Savior.” It seems to me that if we are to remain as a body of Christians, a denomination, we must not forget the rich history of discernment used by those first century Christians, and the process used throughout our own unique history. Jane Wegner is pastor of Ebenezer Moravian Church in Watertown, Wisconsin.


A Model for Church Discernment

The Author Responds I am thankful for the numerous ways the respondents shine light on my proposed scriptural discernment model by providing thoughtful support and caveats. Brother Andrews’ concerns and warnings about using experience to interpret scripture are serendipitously addressed by Sister Wegner and Brother Crouch. Scripture does not exist as abstract truth; throughout both the biblical record and our synod history are examples of changed interpretation and standards based on current lived experience, refuting earlier Spirit-led discernment because of changes in culture, circumstance, or experience.1 Of utmost importance is Sister Wegner’s point that at the heart of our relational Moravian theology is the sharing of ourselves and our stories. For only by sharing our experiences through our stories do we realize how our stories (lives) are connected to others’ stories (lives), and to “The Story,” life of God as Jesus among us. I echo Brother Andrews’ warning that “we must guard ourselves against the myth of the ‘open’ heart and mind.” There is no such thing as a purely objective interpretation of scripture. Experience is the water we swim in when interpreting scripture since experience is both the medium and the source of any understanding. Try as we might to interpret scripture without the baggage of our prior (tradition) and current experiences, we cannot. This should keep us humble when encountering opinions and experiences different from our own as we communally discern for the mind of Christ on controversial matters. I concur with Brother Boling that biblical support exists for believing salvation for the Gentiles was “in the mind of God” before the Jerusalem Council recognized it. Yet God’s mind is different from the mind of the church, or the mind of the first century synagogue. Now, as then, the Holy Spirit can surprise us with revelations of “the mind of God” we can just now bear to hear ( John 16:12­–13). An increasing number of Christians disagree with Brother Boling’s belief that “the biblical record is clear and consistent” and “one need not cherry-pick verses” on the subject of acceptable and unacceptable sexual behavior. The assertion that all homosexual behavior and unions are sinful is increasingly seen as overly broad in light of what these Christians have experienced with GLBT friends, family and co-workers. Our “hurting of the world” include the GLBT community, and transformation is possible in their monogamous relationships just as it is in heterosexual ones. The concept of loving, committed monogamous same-sex relationships that enhance relational intimacy and growth is not addressed in scripture. Instead, proponents argue, what Paul and other writers address was same-sex and heterosexual acts that violated ancient Hebrew purity codes, or involved prostitution, and were considered exploitive behaviors beyond a person’s “natural” inclinations. No scripture addresses homosexual acts within the bounds of mutually loving and caring same-sex relationships. Rather, same-sex sexuality is framed within a context of exploitation instead of love and care. For us to fulfill the Great Commandment today for GLBT

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


neighbors means holding them to the same ethical standards and moral principles for sexual relationships as heterosexual persons—standards and principles that have changed over the past 4,000 years. The biblical standard for sexual moral behavior is not clear and consistent. A “whole orchard” exists of passages condoning polygamy, concubines, and female slaves as acceptable sexual partners. However, my point here is this kind of “tit for tat” debate (i.e. “These scripture verses support my point.” “No they don’t because of this explanation…”) is like arguing over whether the proverbial glass is half empty or half full. It gets us nowhere. I appreciate the many wise points Brothers Green and Kirts make, particularly Brother Green’s discernment question since the Ground of the Unity states we believe God has laid Christian unity upon Moravians as a charge. We should therefore consider how full inclusion of GLBT persons may help or hinder our charge. However, over the course of Moravian history, our desire either to maintain this unity or make ourselves more acceptable to the culture around us caused the Moravian Church to repudiate our initially equal treatment of blacks and whites,2 and to remove women from leadership roles in the church.3 In other words, achieving our goal of unity or acceptability came at a cost I doubt few of us are proud of in hindsight. Brother Green’s quote, “Just because something is right, does not mean it is right now,” raises the question: When is the right time? How long must our GLBT friends, family, and members of our congregations suffer because of our discomfort with doing what is right? As Brother Kirts asks: “Is it possible that fear casts out love?” What would Jesus have us do?

Endnotes 1

Sadly our one official “church split” occurred in the Ancient Unity over a similar kind of controversy faced by the Early Church and us today: Would we continue to strictly adhere to Jesus’ prohibition against oaths in Matthew 5:34-37? Or would our experience of coming to know godly men who must swear an oath to the state or guild alter our standards of acceptable group behavior? After several synods, through much discussion and prayer, the Ancient Unity came to a different interpretation of the prohibition based on new experiences. See Craig D. Atwood, The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009), pages 192–206.

See Jon J. Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of the Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). 3 See Beverly Smaby’s paper, “No One Should Lust for Power … Women Least of All: Dismantling Female Leadership among 18th Century Moravians,” presented at the Wake Forest University Symposium, “German Moravians in the Atlantic World,” April 4–6, 2002. Responses 2


A Model for Church Discernment

Book Review: Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Christian Life and Witness: Count Zinzendorf ’s 1738 Berlin Speeches, tr. and ed. Gary S. Kinkel (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), 138 pages incl. bibliography. Reviewed by Craig Atwood Many times contributors to The Hinge have commented on the need for English translations of the classics of Moravian theology, especially the sermons of Count Zinzendorf. Now we can thank the Rev. Dr. Gary S. Kinkel, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Pella, Iowa, for making available some of the most important sermons Zinzendorf preached in the early days of the renewal of the Moravian Church. In the spring of 1738 the Count held several public meetings in Berlin in which he explicated the meaning of the second article of the Apostle’s Creed using Martin Luther’s Small Catechism as a guide. Moravians are familiar with this selection of Luther’s writing because it is included in the Easter Morning Litany. Along with Luther, we profess that Christ “redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being; that he purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the dominion of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and dying so that might belong to him….” We say these words on Easter Sunday, but how often do we ponder the meaning? In Kinkel’s translation we now have an English-language resource for reflection, with Zinzendorf as our guide. Some of Zinzendorf ’s Berlin speeches were previously translated into English and published in London by James Hutton under the title Sixteen Discourses on Jesus Christ our Lord in 1741. Rather than simply updating the original translation, Kinkel has provided an independent and fresh translation that will be welcomed by anyone interested in Zinzendorf ’s theology. It is a great achievement (Zinzendorf is notoriously hard to translate into English), and Moravians in particular should be grateful to Kinkel, who was ordained in the Moravian Church. His translation lacks some of the charm and felicity of expression found in the 18th century version—one loses the vibrant energy of Zinzendorf ’s rhetoric—but he has provided a literal yet readable English text. Although Zinzendorf can be difficult to read, especially in English translation, Moravian pastors should take the time to rediscover his preaching. Those who think of the Count primarily as an emotional preacher may be surprised at how didactic and logical Zinzendorf is when discussing Christology. The theme of the Berlin speeches, though, is that the experience of faith is more important than doctrinal precision. Zinzendorf always returns to the effect of faith on the believer: “The heart rejoices and no one can steal the joy” (54). Kinkel also provides a useful introduction to Zinzendorf as a radically Christocentric Lutheran theologian who challenged the religious ideas of the

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Enlightenment. It is a shame that he did not take the opportunity to introduce readers to some of the new scholarship on Zinzendorf that appeared in connection with the observation of the 300th anniversary of his birth in 2000. There are also many explanatory footnotes within the text, but some of them would have been more helpful in the introduction, such as the crucial distinction between being a follower of Christ and a Christianer in Zinzendorf ’s thought. It is not clear why the editor chose to work from the 1758 publication of the speeches rather than the first edition published by Zinzendorf in 1738. A discussion of the differences between the two versions would have been helpful, particularly in light of the growing body of literature on the so-called Sifting Time and its aftermath. It also seems odd that the editor chose to translate only the sixteen speeches given to the men and ignored the equally important speeches that Zinzendorf preached to the women. Since the sixteen sermons to the men are available in an 18th century translation, it would seem that priority should have been given to the speeches to the women. Despite these quibbles, Christian Life and Witness is a helpful contribution to Moravian studies and Moravian theology.

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A Model for Church Discernment

A New Book Series from the Pennsylvania State University Press

Pietist, Moravian, and Anabaptist Studies The Penn State University Press is pleased to announce Pietist, Moravian, and Anabaptist Studies, a new book series edited by historical theologian Craig D. Atwood. Highlighting the multidisciplinary approaches that have helped transform our understanding of the Atlantic world, books in this series will use varied academic frameworks to examine the history and theology of these related groups and the global reaches of their religious and cultural influence. This series seeks innovative, original works of scholarship that will help bring new perspectives to the study of Pietism and radical Protestantism. The series also welcomes strong edited collections, translated primary source editions, and special translation projects of classic works of foreign-language scholarship for an English-language audience. Maintaining a strong focus on Pietist, Moravian, and Anabaptist research, books in this series will be significant contributions to numerous fields and will help enrich the dynamic and international study of post-Reformation Protestantism.  

Craig D. Atwood Director of the Center for Moravian Studies Moravian Seminary

   Bill Leonard Wake Forest University Katherine Faull Bucknell University A. Gregg Roeber Penn State University Jonathan Strom Emory University Hermann Wellenreuther Georg-August-Universität Göttingen Rachel Wheeler Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

Questions or submissions should be directed to Penn State Press: Kathryn B. Yahner, Acquisitions Editor Penn State Press  N. University Dr. USB , Suite C University Park, PA  kby -- or to the series editor: Craig D. Atwood Moravian Seminary  W. Locust Street Bethlehem, PA  -- Submissions should take the form of a - page proposal outlining the intent of the project, its scope, its relation to other work on the topic, and the audience(s) you have in mind. Please also include - sample chapters, if available, and your updated C.V.

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Editorial Board Craig Atwood, Jane Burcaw, Christy Clore, Otto Dreydoppel, Sarah Groves, Margaret Leinbach, Russell May, Jeff Mortimore, Hans-Beat Motel, Joe Nicholas, Graham Rights, Volker Schultz, Neil Thomlinson Co-Editors: Ginny Hege Tobiassen, Janel Rice, Christian Rice

Send letters to the editor, articles, book reviews, and other contributions to co-editor Ginny Hege Tobiassen at:

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The Hinge Volume 18, Issue 1: A Model for Church Discernment  

International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

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