Monday, October 14, 2013
Distinctive Lutheran Identity. . .
The Forum Letter reported on how PB Eaton feared that the ELCA was slipping away from its distinctive Lutheran identity into a generic Protestantism. Again, words I found hopeful from a PB of the ELCA (even though they were spoken just prior to her election). Well, apparently generic Protestants have feelings too and they were offended by her remarks (or at least found them unhelpful to the grand ecumenical endeavor). PB Eaton for her part said that the best way to be an ecumenical partner is to be clear about your own heritage. It was reported that the chief ecumenical officer of the ELCA. Don McCoid, had to walk back those comments to deal with the ruffled feathers on the part of the generic Prots.
Once again we find a distinctive difference between the Lutheranism of the ELCA and the Lutheranism of Missouri. The ecumenical direction of the ELCA has left it in the precarious position of living with a diversity which has mostly been ignored rather than reconciled and this has left the ELCA a victim to a kind of drift into vagary about nearly everything except feminism and homosexuality. When being Lutheran got in the way of the grand ecumenical plan, being Lutheran was the first to go. Now, to be sure, I do not doubt that the differences between Hanson and Eaton will be more nuanced than distinct and that the ELCA will continue its drift into the generic Protestant identity it has chosen for its version of Lutheranism. But Eaton had it right. The worst kind of ecumenism is when you bury your theological identity to enter the fog of relativism in which there are no real wrongs except truth and doctrine. Missouri, for all her problems, has not found its Lutheran distinctiveness to be a problem in ecumenical relationships. Rather, Missouri has found that our strength lies in knowing first who we are, what we confess, why we confess it... In other words, truth is the best ecumenical glue there is.
Finally one more parting shot and that is the subtle but significant drift of the ELCA into a communion practice in which baptism is not required but optional of those who come to the Lord's Table. Apparently a somewhat sleuth-like resolution brought this issue up for study but the goal may well end up being officially disagreeing with the ELCA's own The Use of the Means of Grace document in which baptism is required of those to be admitted to the Lord's Table.
Elsewhere on this blog I have spoken of the practice of ignoring baptism in admitting people to the Sacrament of the Altar on the part of some of the ELCA's ecumenical partners. I was not aware until this issue of the Forum Letter that this had traction in the ELCA and had moved beyond the strange practice of a few strange congregations. The subject that I had thought was on everyone's mind in the ELCA was the admission of baptized infants to the Lord's Supper. Was I wrong? Probably so (it seems that many who read this blog think that this is a common problem for me). At least in the debate over infant communion baptism was presumed. Now it seems that baptism is largely optional for more than a few ELCA congregations.
Again, this highlights the very different paths of the Lutheranism of Missouri and the Lutheranism of the ELCA. Our big debate is over whether or who of the baptized (generally Lutheran) but not Missouri should be admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar. In the ELCA the direction is whether or not baptism is even connected to the question of whom to commune. Distinctive Lutheran identity is again a victim of a grand ecumenical path in which offense against others is more important that Confessional and doctrinal integrity and Scriptural authority. What seems radical among some in Missouri who wish to use pastoral discretion more flexibly, is, sadly, rather pedestrian against the backdrop of a seemingly Lutheran church body ready to ditch baptism as an expectation of those who commune. Sure, the ELCAites are following the path forged by their Scandinavian cousins but since when have they been the models of confession integrity and Lutheran identity that ought to serve as consciences for Lutheranism?
Just when you think you might have a small but positive turn of events in the ELCA, you end up with a big sigh and the reality that it may be much ado about nothing... Sad... Regretful... But seemingly inevitable.