An open letter from a Lutheran breakaway from Adelaide

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“To leave the church of my childhood, my youth, and my life thus far is a very serious and painful matter for me—I have served this church as a pastor for 12 years.” writes Adelaide Lutheran pastor Stephen van der Hoek. He leads a breakaway church called St Peter’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church, that meets at the Public Schools Club on EastTerrace Adelaide.

“I assure you that I have come to this decision with the utmost seriousness,” van der Hoek writes in an open letter dated February 1. “My reason for doing so is to use the pastoral office given to me by God’s mercy to preserve the faith from those who want to see it destroyed. In fact, I am not leaving the Lutheran church at all, but rather returning to her, as to my mother, while the modernist, liberal, false church continually paints their apostasy as their great work of “Christian piety”.

Van der Hoek’s breakaway is one of several protesting change in the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). The presenting issue is a proposal to introduce women’s ordination, one church with two practices of ordination despite five defeats for ordaining women pastors at successive General Synods of the LCA,.

But van der Hoek’s open letter gives a far more extensive list of disputable matters, and, viewed from the Anglican experience of Gafcon alligned breakaways introduces an interesting irony.

While many of the doctrines van der Hoek want to uphold will be common to all confessing Christians, such as the authority of the Bible without error, the resurrection of Christ and believers in the age to come, others would exclude many other conservative breakaway movements such as Gafcon, and the local Diocese of the Southern Cross.

The conservatives who have broken away from the Uniting Church and the Anglican Church of Australia are too progressive for van der Hoek.

In his open letter, van der Hoek stands against Women’s ordination – unsurprisingly, as it is the presenting issue causing controversy in the Lutheran Church of Australia. But he also insists on a literal six-day creation. He objects to having lay people carry out the particular roles of ordained clergy, presumably preaching and holy communion. He has many hills to die on.

Despite this, on many key issues, such as abortion and opposition to same-sex marriage, van der Hoek aligns with conservative evangelicals in general.

There are denominations in Australia, the Presbyterian Church of Australia and other smaller reformed movements that occupy a similar position to van der Hoek on creation and women preachers. [Update: not all PCA ministers are creationists, but many are. Similar with the Lutheran breakaways.] Still, even these conservative churches will differ from him. – perhaps on holy communion and women deacon(esse)s.

The temptation to see simple doctrinal boundaries, such as same-sex marriage being the dividing line between conservative and progressive Christians, breaks down at this point. There are rungs on moderate and conservative evangelicals. Perhaps this is a reminder to Sydney Anglicans and NSW/ACT Baptists that we/they are far from the “far right” of Australian Christianity despite taking a stand against same-sex marriage.

One Comment

  1. Your assumption that Stephen ‘is a breakaway’ is incorrect. Like Luther and sone of the other reformers, Stephen never wanted to ‘create a new church’ but to revive and revitailize the lca back to the Truth from which they have strayed into heresy and corruption.

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