Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An appraisal filled with sadness...

On another forum there has been a great debate going on several issues that relate to the differences among Lutherans in America.  Close(d) communion, fellowship, women's ordination, etc. have all received wide and significant commentary from all kinds of sources.  Today I read a piece on Pr Will Weedon's blog with some words of his own and the witness to the divisions among us born of love and not of hate or arrogance. It certainly seems arrogant by some.  Some have accused Missouri of absolute arrogance in speaking of the divergent paths of the ELCA and Missouri and of the growing separation between ELCA and Missouri.  Add to the mix the two new denominational structures created by those departing the ELCA and it muddies the water of Lutheran unity even further.

With Pr Weedon I find myself at one and the same time closer to some outside Lutheranism and than to many within Lutheranism.  There is a commonality among those often called "traditionalists."  They seem to take things seriously -- the Church, confession of faith, the liturgy, Scripture, the tradition of faith that surrounds that Scripture, etc...  Some who post on this blog from Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodoxy share a common spirit with us Lutherans seeking to be the Lutherans of our Confessions.  At the same time, it is our deep and abiding sense of the Church and our appreciation for differences in confession that keeps us from being one together at the altar.  Yet, this broken unity is met with great regret and sadness.  We bleed for the division among us and pray for the unity of confession that will lead to our unity at the Table.

I fear that there are many within Missouri who feel little sadness or regret about the brokenness among Lutherans or between Lutherans and other Christians.  Their words may say that they are sad about the divisions among us but some of them act rather pompously and arrogantly as if such division were a mere consequence of being right and others being wrong.  I find that I do not have much in common with the spirit of these folks -- even though I may have much in common with their confession.  Unless we regret and are heavy in heart for the divisions among us that keep us divided at the Table, we are not the people of love our Lord envisioned for His Church.  In a sense, we may be right but in being right we dishonor the Church and the Lord of the Church anyhow.

I fear that there are many in ELCA who feel such sadness and regret that they have chosen to minimize and overlook honest and real differences in confession.  It is painfully obvious that there are those who can commune with the Presbyterians, UCC, Reformed, and others who do not speak the same language as Lutherans about the presence of Christ or the very nature of the Sacrament of the Altar with little pang of conscience or fear.  Such papered over divisions weaken the whole structure of the Church and empty the Confessions of their meaning.  They make Lutheranism an historical identity instead of a living confession.  The Confessions, the liturgy, and the Scriptures become mere markers in the past and no longer the boundaries of faith and faithfulness for Lutherans, and held in trust by Lutherans for the whole Church.  What it even sadder is that they delight in testing communion fellowship boundaries as if to taunt Missouri -- like it were a game and not the serious business it truly is.

While we respect close(d) communion in this parish, we do practice careful and deliberate pastoral care to those who come to us from outside our confession and yet are baptized Christians of the Nicene Creed who have examined their lives and consciences and desire to receive the very Body and Blood of Christ at His Table with the desire to amend their sinful lives.  We act not as gatekeepers to prevent but as stewards of the mystery to enable all those who commune to receive full benefit of their participation in the Body and Blood of Christ and to reflect the unity of the Church that flows from common confession and not patched over differences.

Love must do both -- it must respect and honor the differences and yet keep up the conversation and work to restore a harmony of faith and practice.  It is this very goal that I believe is behind the Koinonia Project within the LCMS.  I hope and pray that the divisions among us Missourians -- that make it seem that I am closer to some outside my own confession than within -- will be repaired and we can rediscover the unity and unanimity that once marked our life together.  Again, the hearts of those coming together must first be filled with sadness and regret over the division before there can be any real progress to restore unity.

Having learned to speak the truth in love together, it may well equip us to speak more clearly and more effectively the truth in love to those outside our confession.  Again, it is my hope and prayer that the starting point of this conversation is the honest regret and sadness over the sad divisions among Christians today.  Arrogance and pride are not only the enemies of unity but the stones that will cause us to fall.

So there it is... my own wounded heart for those with whom I share so much but cannot yet share the Table of the Lord... for those within my own church body whose different confession, liturgy, and practice makes them aliens within their own confession... for those who have chosen to settle for a unity which expects diversity and ignores common faith and practice (simply because they cannot wait for the true unity to come)...  With the Lord in His high priestly prayer, our divisions themselves cause us to pray evermore that we may be one as the Father and the Son are one....


Anonymous said...

There is only one Church, the Holy
Christian Church. So whether we
have friends in other denominations
is not the issue. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ who
will spend eternity with Christ in
heaven. Christ breaks down the
walls of denominationalism which are
man made. The Gospel makes a
Christ-centered approach to the
Holy Christian Church a reality.

Anonymous said...

Many who call themselves Christian may not actually be. That sound terrible, but when a denomination claims not to believe the Bible, then what? Walther wrote that those who don't subscribe to the BOC aren't Lutheran. Well that describes the ELCA. Further, Walther wrote that those who don't believe the Bible are not a church but a synagogue of Satan. Well that describes the official ELCA position. So, yes, one has more in common with a Baptist who believes that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, than the officials in the ELCA who say it is not. That doesn't mean Baptists are right about everything nor does it imply total agreement on doctrine, but at least there is a place to start. The ELCA had the truth and was misled by false teachers. Where do you even start when they don't accept the Bible as authoritative?

Anonymous said...

I know mature Christians in the
Roman Catholic Church who do not
believe in the pope, purgatory, or
praying to saints. But they believe
in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. I know ELCA members
who believe the Bible is true and
reject abortion and gay marriage,
and accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
Yes, the Holy Christian Church is
invisible to us but not Christ.

Anonymous said...

"I know ELCA members
who believe the Bible is true and
reject abortion and gay marriage,
and accept Christ as Lord and Savior."

So do I. Their offerings, however, are used to promulgate the official ELCA teaching to their own children and the world. So, by failing to promote what is true and continuing to support a corrupt organization, they are part of the problem. There are faithful churches where they can take their children to be taught and be in fellowship with other faithful Christians. They aren't helping anyone by staying but they are supporting those who are in error as well as supporting error itself. They are harming themselves, their children, and those who receive the false teaching that they underwrite.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for Roman Catholics and the ELCA. Without them, it sure would be quiet in St. Louis!

Unknown said...

As an ELCA pastor I was about to comment on this rather interesting exchange concerning whether or not faithful, true, Bible-believing Christians (as defined by the political litmus test implied in right thinking on homosexuality and abortion) are supporting a corrupt organization.

Then, I thought, "I don't answer anonymous complaints in my congregation, why should I comment on them here?" Why is it so hard to reveal who you are, especially if you believe yourselves to be the mouthpieces of Biblical truth?

Unknown said...

Almost forgot. Thank you Pastor Peters for a very thoughtful article. While I may not share some of your perspectives, I think you very eloquently speak to the growing and unfortunate disunity among Lutherans and within the church.

Anonymous said...

The integrity of the anonymous comment is that it doesn't focus on who is making the point. I am entirely insignificant. Whatever bad thing you would care to say about me is likely true. So what? That doesn't change the truth (or falseness) of the comment. Sure it is easier to point out that I am a miserable wretch. What of it? I admit it directly. Now, back to the point. If folks who disagree with the errors of an organization nonetheless bring their children there to be taught falsely, is that somehow helpful to those children? Is it helpful to those others who do not know better and are trusting?

And, yes, I feel a mountain of guilt for the $$$ and years I spent in the ELCA especially now that I hear what those young people believe because of the false teaching.

Ted Badje said...

Lutheran Unity? That horse has left the barn decades ago. There is no hope of unity with the ELCA, or little with the breakoff segments. It made me mad that people and even the Lutheran Witness would send money and promotions to Valpo at the expense of the Concordias.

Unknown said...

"The integrity of the anonymous comment is that it doesn't focus on who is making the point." -- It also hides any personal responsibility

Unknown said...

Also, for the sake of argument, let's just take as fact that the ELCA is so morally corrupt and in error as your all say. Then, as an alternative, does the LCMS as the visible church so perfectly mirror the invisible church that none of your support dollars ever go towards things that are not consistent with Christian teaching and that your children are never exposed to heretical ideas?

If the LCMS is this perfect expression of Christ's church, then why would LCMS compromise or discuss anything with anyone. If the LCMS is already a perfect expression of Christ's Church, then why do you all tolerate any dissension at all in your ranks since to do so would be placating budding falsehood?

If the LCMS, however, is not a perfect expression of Christ's Church, which based on the discussions I have read from many LCMS people on this blog seems to be the prevailing assumption, then is your guilt assuaged by the matter of degrees that the visible church is away from the invisible church? (The visible LCMS being closer to the invisible church than the visible ELCA, of course). At what point do you judge the degrees of difference too great?

I think the parable of the wheat and weeds is applicable to our situation in the ELCA. We cannot destroy the weeds without killing the wheat, and there is still much wheat in the ELCA even among some very aggressively growing weeds. At some point we in the ELCA, as well as you all in the LCMS, have to trust in the Holy Spirit that in God's time weeds will be exposed and cut down and wheat gathered and stored; we have to have faith that the revelation of truth to our children is not based solely on our ability to recognize it, because no visible expression of Christ's church, has been able to recognize it or practice it fully. Not even the LCMS.