The Evangelical Luther Church of American was founded in 1988 with 5,288,230 members. By 2016, less than twenty years later, the ELCA had shrunk to 3,563,842 members. With that kind of “growth,” the ELCA has less than forty years before the final member throws her hands up and quits. Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cary, N.C., believes that they’ve found the answer to stopping the mass exodus of tithing members. They’ve stopped preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and have embraced progressive theology and social justice.
Writing for Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron tells the story of Christ the King Lutheran Church:
[The ELCA’s] successful churches, such as Christ the King, located in a bedroom community of Raleigh, are pushing forward with a new vision, one that has less to do with upholding the purity of Luther’s theology and more with the spirit of Luther’s reform agenda.
That spirit of reform is evident in the casual clothes sans-collar Pugh wears for Bible study, in his embrace of technology and audio-visual enhancements — the Bible study is posted to the church’s YouTube channel — and in his theological exploration that brings recent academic scholarship into the pews and challenges members’ understanding of their faith.
Christ the King Lutheran Church wants to move beyond the hidebound traditions of American Protestantism, take risks, attract younger people and make Christianity more relevant to the 21st century.
They definitely moved past the “hidebound traditions of American Protestantism.”
In a sermon series about Genesis posted on YouTube, Christ the King Lutheran Church gives evidence to how far removed from orthodox Christianity they now are.
In the video, the pastor tells the crowd, “When we’re looking at Genesis, we’re not looking at our sacred texts. We’re looking at somebody else’s.” According to Daniel Pugh, the church’s associate pastor, Genesis and the entire Old Testament belong to Judaism and not to Christians.
While it’s true that Judaism counts the Torah as their sacred text, Christians also count the Old Testament as part and parcel of our sacred text. Second Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” That “all” includes the Old Testament.
Not content with simply attacking the Christian doctrine of the Bible, Pastor Pugh brings up Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase, “Simul Iustus et Peccator.” A rough translation is, “I am a saint and a sinner.” Pugh rightfully recognizes that Luther’s basis for that belief is found in the first three chapters of Genesis. He then dismisses Luther (and Protestantism) and says, “Today, we’re going to look at Genesis 1-3, this thing we’ve been calling ‘the Fall’ for a long time, and I’m going to show how our Jewish friends read their sacred text.”
He then goes on to throw orthodox Christian theology under the bus by claiming that we shouldn’t want our theology to be medieval. The audience laughed as he encouraged them to let go of Lutheran theology and embrace a better story. Deconstructing Genesis, he proceeded to take his progressive hammer to the first book of the Bible. At the end, the listener is left with the foundation of the Christian faith shattered. A charlatan has reformed God and the Bible into his own image, and humans no longer need to repent and turn from their sins.
In Pastor Pugh’s understanding, “The Fall, the ‘forbidden fruit’ offered to Eve in Chapter 3 may be a metaphor for sex … and the ‘serpent’ may be a metaphor for a penis.”
The RNS article details Christ the King Lutheran Church’s embrace of LGBT rights and its determination to be a center for social justice activity. Shimron ends her article quoting Senior Pastor Herz-Lane as saying, “We’re here for the sake of the world, not to preserve some silly tradition.”
While Christ the King Lutheran Church may be one of the few shining spots in the ELCA in terms of members, history tells us that their success won’t last long. Study after study reveals that when a church turns to liberal theology it’s the beginning of the end. Unless Christ the King Lutheran Church repents and turns back to their “first love” of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they too will find themselves irrelevant and unwanted.