Friday, November 19, 2021

Ecumenism Today. . .

It was in the Spring 2021 Lutheran Forum, although, as I recall it did not arrive until September.  Even then, when I glanced at the title, it went almost immediately to the bottom of the stack.  It would probably have remained there had not a friend asked me what I thought of it.  So I pulled it out and perused the journal.  The title is very much the tone and style of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.  In fact, it might be said that the ALPB is one of the few publications that is still interested in the ecumenical movement or its future.  That said, it does not bode well for the cause if Lutheran Forum is one of last voices in pursuit of a cause that could hardly be called on the forefront of church agendas today.  And for good reason.

Most of the churches once in hot pursuit of the ecumenical goal have shifted a bit to pursue the sexual agendas that have consumed so much time, energy, and print -- even among those churches not even remotely interested in adopting such an agenda.  Other things are on the plate.  Those things seem to be going better, at least on the surface, than the ecumenical cause.  In fact, they have gone so swimmingly that those churches that have adopted the GLBTQ++ cause have created the need for more ecumenism.  In other words, they have caused more church bodies to form.  As an example, the ELCA decisions of 2009 split off two new denominations.  They were and are not now alone in this consequence.

But the larger reason for ecumenism to lose steam is its very irrelevance.  An example of this lies in the strange fact that those bodies that have chosen to split off and become independent churches have, by and large, remained in fellowship with the very churches of which by conscience they could not be members.  How odd!  But fellowship and the ecumenical endeavor often seems to make for an odd marriage.  The ELCA has established fellowship with churches that refuse to acknowledge the presence of Christ in the Sacrament that comes anywhere close to the wording that the Scriptures say and often contradict the Lutheran Confessions.  This is the conundrum of a real presence which does not define in any significant way the presence or what real actually means.  Indeed, when you are in fellowship with Methodists as comfortably as with other Lutherans, what does the ecumenical movement have to do to build on this success?

It appears that few really believe anymore in the idea of one structure or jurisdiction or headquarters but that was not the big cause anyhow.  The pursuit of ecumenism is really about relative truth broad enough to satisfy every diversity of expression and confession.  After all, using the ELCA as an example, it seems to be perfectly comfortable having non-Lutherans teach the Lutheran Confessions, Biblical, and Systematic theology to its seminarians.  In other words, the ecumenical goal has already been reached by the ELCA.  Why then would there need to be more?  Diversity is the name of the game except, of course, where sexual attraction and gender definition are concerned.  There, it seems, there can be no room for compromise.  But the truthfulness of the Scriptures and the real presence of Christ have plenty of room for compromise and diversity of expression.

The only room left for ecumenism is to goad and prod those churches, like the LCMS, that have refused to compromise on doctrine and practice.  In the end, this has come to mean that Lutherans are further apart from other Lutherans than some Lutherans are from everyone else.  If that is ecumenism, who wants it?  If the best we can do is to ignore differences or agree to disagree or make agreements with enough latitude for everyone to read in what they want, what good does that do?  Is it not better to have principled disagreements taking the Scriptures seriously and viewing our Confessions with integrity than to paper over differences by treating them casually?  Does not true ecumenism mean facing what divides us and all sides trying to be as faithful to Scripture and the catholic tradition as possible?  Alas, it seems that nobody is all that interested in real ecumenism anymore.  Those who talk about it believe in unity over integrity of confession and those who don't talk about it do not seem to care.  Unless I missed something, there was nothing about such things in the Lutheran Forum article.


Steve said...

Ah, yes, Evangelical Catholicism, the grand project begun in the hubris of the late 19th Century and seized upon by American boomers with gusto as a means to transcend the embarrassing particularities of the remnants of regional ethnic Lutheranism. It is indeed dead, along with its patron saint Forde, and your post mortem of death by a thousand liberal compromises and vague doctrinal generalities motivated by the goal of union is indeed correct. Yet it was perhaps inevitable in a nationalized, pluralistic modern age. Ironically, the spirit of Evangelical Catholicism has transformed into the spirit of Evangelicalism as the common rallying style for conservative American Christians. The high ceremony and low doctrinal pursuits of the Evangelical Catholics were found to be a shallow diet by most. And so here we are. Whereas once a man in a cassock commanded esteem, it is now the pastor in casual dress that seems more “real.” The traditions of old have been tarnished by public scandal and a legacy of moralism and doctrinal certitudes that most modern Americans reject wholesale. And, to be honest, Sasse was correct in warning Lutherans that traditions must function in the service of doctrine, rather than seeking a catholic liturgical ideal that leads doctrine a thousand directions in its wake. And yet this was the failure of the movement as a whole.

Pastor Peters said...

Except that the ELCA or any other version of liberal Lutheranism is neither evangelical or catholic. Nor is it in any way reflective of the evangelical catholic movement at all.