The Banff and Jasper Commissions

Review by Mark Mattes of Grand View University, Des Moines, Iowa

     The Banff Commission.  Delhi, New York: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2008.

     The Jasper Commission.  Delhi, New York: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2008.

These two books seek to address specific concerns before North American Lutherans, particularly the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The Banff Commission examines the lack of confessional integrity among North American Lutherans and The Jasper Commission looks at the attempt to legitimate same sex relations among North American Lutherans.  Both commissions were requested by Ascension Lutheran Church in Calgary Alberta which authorized its pastor, K. Glen Johnson, to establish an international ecumenical commission to analyze the current theological morass that confronts the Lutheran and other "mainline" churches, particularly with reference to the debate over same sex relations.  The Banff Commission was a gathering of theologians and teachers of the church from Canada, the United States, and Germany who gathered in February 2008 specifically to address wishy-washiness among mainline Protestants, especially Lutherans.  The members of the commission included K. Glen Johnson, Patrick Henry Reardon, Reinhard Slenczka, J. Larry Yoder, James Arne Nestingen, and Robert Benne.  The Jasper Commission was a gathering of psychiatrists, psychologists, theologians, and pastors who met in March 2008 specifically to address issues surrounding the legitimating of same sex relations in and by the church.  The members of this commission included Joe Nicolosi, James Nestingen, Merton Strommen, Lee Griffen, Victor Mollerup, and Phillip Gagnon.


The Banff Commission opens with a confession of faith agreed upon by the participants.  From their perspective, the church is teetering on false belief and practice.  Hence a word of conviction needs to be asserted over against much of the church. The commission affirms a Mandate to uphold (1) the authority of the scriptures, (2) the authority of Christ (and not synodical majority vote), (3) the true, orthodox church in the face of the false, apostate church, (4) that God now judges and will judge the world when Christ returns, (5) fidelity in the midst of apostasy, and (6) God's call to repentance. 

Well-known Orthodox theologian Patrick Reardon notes that "...if Lutherans have learned anything from their past, it should be the importance of resisting heresy in general, and heretical bishops in particular.  It is truly distressing to see some Luther-ans today conceding more infallibility to their synodical conventions than Roman Catholics are prepared to concede to the Pope" (35).  On a similar note, Reinhard Slencka observes that "the church is not a political pressure group, but according to the world of her Lord, she is the ‘salt of the earth', the ‘light of the world', and a ‘town on a hill'" (49).

Not only are the ELCC and the ELCA criticized, but also more doctrinally conservative Lutherans.  For instance, Larry Yoder quotes an LCMS pastor that "Schmucker has won." Schmucker "had not only infiltrated but was threatening to dominate the LCMS, in the form of the triumph of ‘church growth' practices over the theology and worship according to the tradition.  Especially the worship.  Incipient in user-friendly, non-confessional worship is a theology flaccid as to Law and gospel, as to simul Justus et peccator, semper penitens, as to who and what are being confessed and believed.  Lex orandi, lex credenda" (53).  But Yoder's main target is the ELCA, especially those ELCA theologians who contend that the ELCA needs both a "traditional" and a "contextual" approaches to hermeneutics.  By "contextual" is meant that hermeneutics can be informed by one's experience and perspective...what the interpreter himself or herself brings to the enterprise (65).  Surely, for this reviewer, the approach Yoder criticizes in the ELCA is nothing other than pure Schleiermacherianism, the theology of the old Prussian Union now updated for today's world.

James Nestingen anticipates concerns expressed in The Jasper Commision.  He contends that "the abstraction of sexuality from its context in marriage and the family, along with the assertion of personal sexual autonomy, definitely raises questions of idolatry" (81).  And, Robert Benne laments that the ELCA wants to snuggle up with liberal Protestants such as the UCC, the UCC, the UMC, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) (89) and thus compromise its witness.

The Jasper Commission, dealing with matters of same sex relations, provides short, popular essays which all affirm the church's traditional position with respect to sexuality.  However, the complexity entailed by matters that arise at the intersection of psychology and sexuality are not given the technical attention that a skilled therapist might want.  Most of these authors appeal to "reparative therapy" for homosexual behavior but this therapy is not described in detail.  Nevertheless, given that our culture is awash in sexual matters (almost as if salvation comes through those sexual practices one considers most self-fulfilling), these essays are pertinent for any Christian.  Specifically, with the widespread concern of mainline Protestant churches to normalize same sex relations, these essays merit attention.

 Joseph Nicolosi notes that "the belief that humanity is designed for heterosexuality has been shaped by age-old religious and cultural forces, which must be respected as a welcome aspect of intellectual diversity.  Our belief is not a ‘phobia' or pathological fear" (11).  For Nicolosi, "our bodies tell us who we are" (10).  James Nestingen takes a "love the sinner, hate the sin" approach and sees the answer to improper sexual behavior in the rite of confession and absolution.  He notes that Jesus Christ "loves sinners, real ones.  But in the wake of this outsized first priority, a second follows: to assist the sinner in coming to terms with the self-loss, the problematic behavior.  Theologically the absolution stands alone.  On a personal level confession and absolution are incomplete without the other" (21). 

Critiquing mainline Protestantism, Lee Griffen points out that "the church is trying to substitute compromise for compassion, and relativism for holiness.  Designating that something is wrong and tragic is not the same as calling it ‘normal' in order to lessen the pain" (37).  And, Victor Mollerup notes that "scientifically valid research now provides evidence that change of homosexual orientation may be possible through involvement in religiously mediated ministries and involvement in such change process is not generally harmful to the individuals involved" (47).

                These two books by noted theologians and counselors examine matters of weighty importance: will the church be faithful to apostolic beliefs and practices? 

                Mark Mattes
                Grand View University
                Des Moines, Iowa