National Lutheran News

Lutheran basics not negotiable, sem prof argues

Walter Sundberg addressed the WordAlone Network fall education conference.

Lutherans are not fundamentalists, but there are some things that are fundamental to their identity.

That was the message to participants at a November WordAlone Network conference in Fridley, Minnesota. Around 230 showed up for the November 12-14 presentations held at Redeemer Lutheran Church (last year there were around 250, according to a conference registrar).

In a major address on November 13, Luther Sem-inary history professor Walter Sundberg zeroed in on the conference theme with the declaration, “Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for you. What greater fundamental could there be than this?”

Perhaps in an effort to guard against being misquoted, Sundberg distributed a printed copy of his remarks to the crowd before taking the podium. It made for some interesting moments, as the sound of fluttering paper was heard in the hall when members of the audience turned pages in unison.

But there were some departures from the formal script, notably when Sundberg spoke about the mission statement adopted by the institution where he teaches. He said Luther Seminary adopted a “non-negotiable mission statement” a decade ago, one that declares that the training school for pastors “educates leaders for Christian communities called and sent by the Holy Spirit to witness to salvation through Jesus Christ and to serve in God’s world.”

Said Sundberg, “There is no Church except the Church under the Holy Spirit, a Church that is identified by the Word of God as the body of Christ.”

The history professor referenced a 1910 meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church where five “fundamentals” for Christian faith were em-braced: the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, a substitutionary doctrine of atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ and the veracity of biblical miracles.

He argued that Lutherans do not embrace biblical inerrancy in the pattern of American fundamentalists. They typically insist on the truth of Scripture in every sense, including the text’s references to geography and an understanding of how the universe was created. De-parting from his printed script, Sundberg said, “You could go to St. Olaf or Luther College [both ELCA schools today] and study evolution, and you could do it in the 1920s, because the church’s understanding of inerrancy didn’t preclude that.”

A vendor for the Word Alone-endorsed new “Reclaim” hymnal told Metro Lutheran the publishing project needs to raise around $90,000 this year and another $100,000 in 2007 in order to succeed. She said purchases of a “Reclaim sampler” and orders for the complete book were “encouraging.”