Lutheran Theologians “Square Off” on Reformed Proposals

 — Aug. 17, 199717 aoüt 1997

PHILADELPHIA (ELCA) — Two prominent Lutheran theologians squared off Aug. 16 on the subject of relations between Lutheran and Reformed churches.

The exchange between the Rev. William H. Lazareth, former bishop of the Metro New York Synod and the Rev. Timothy Lull, president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., opened a discussion at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly here, faced with a proposal to declare full communion with three Reformed church bodies.

Lazareth, a former director of the World Council of Churches department of faith and order, and a long-time participant in the Lutheran-Reformed dialogues, said the proposal was greviously flawed in several areas.

Then the Lutheran theologian honed in on his concerns about the United Church of Christ, one of the denominations involved in the talks. According to Lazareth, the UCC, according to its own documents, is “constitutionally a non-creedal, non confessional” church with gives local congregations “doctrinal autonomy.”

Lazareth questioned whether the UCC’s national organization had any authority over the doctrines and practices of local congregations. This means, Lazareth said, that Lutherans may have no way of knowing what the people they are declaring fellowship with actually believe.

The former Lutheran bishop said he favored “eucharistic hospitality,” that is, the sharing of holy communion between Lutherans and the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Reformed Church in America. But to move to “full communion,” with all three church bodies, a move which includes the possibility of sharing pastors and uniting congregations, brings with it threats to Lutheran doctrine and practice, Lazareth concluded.

In a sharp response, Lull suggested that Lazareth’s position put the former ELCA bishop in the role of the legalistic pharisee in the biblical parable who thanked God that “he was not like other men,” but one who was righteous in all his deeds.

Lull said, “A confessional church is also one which confesses its sins, confesses that it is not God but in need of forgiveness.” He said, “I approach these ecumenical decisions in a way which precludes looking at others to see how well they measure up to the perfect standard, which is us.”

Praising the results of the dialogue, Lull said “who could ask for anything more? Some do, even at this assembly. Some suggest the scriptural basis is not up to our standard. Some want a more detailed discussion of ‘bodily eating and drinking in the (Lord’s) supper.’ Some want the Reformed to prove that they ‘really believe’ what they say.”

“Lutherans can go on and on,” he continued, “like the Energizer bunny.” But, he concluded “on behalf of our Reformed partners, it is now time to decide whether this is enough.”

Lull said the proposal was based on a “fine and thorough set of theological dialogues,” and said that the churches would “benefit from a relationship of mutual affirmation and admonition.”

Finally, Lull argued that the proposal “fits well with our current practice at the local and synodical level.”

“I do not see this formula as some alien scheme being imposed from on high, but as a ratification and extension of what has bubbled up from local ecumenism,” he concluded.

Referring to the UCC, the denomination cited by Lazareth, Lull said “to be sure, the UCC is not our twin, and on some matters does things quite differently that we do. But I do not find these Lutheran worries sufficient grounds to reject this well-designed proposal in the hope that something more to our liking might be found on the far side of its defeat here.” Lull said this would amount to the “rearrangement of the parties to this agreement at the point of a Lutheran gun.”

Discussion following the presentation by the two theologians, as the 1,040 voting members of the ELCA continued the consideration of the proposal in a manner that reflected some of the concerns expressed by Lazareth, though few seemed eager to dump the plan.

Carole Silvoy of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod said, “another person’s denominational expression fits their relationship with God.” “This does not diminish me. What diminishes us is division as Christians,” she continued.

Bishop Paull Spring of the ELCA’s Northwest Pennsylvania Synod, who had written an article opposing the proposal for fellowship with the Reformed churches, took the microphone to say that he had changed his mind. But he wondered whether the plan could be connected with the positions taken in the “Leuenberg Agreement,” a European concord between Lutheran and Reformed churches.

Krestie Utech of the the Upper New York Synod, suggested that differences among Lutherans might be as great as differences between Lutherans and Reformed Christians, even on the precise issues cited by Lazareth.

The assembly is expected to take a final vote on the proposal on Monday. A two-thirds majority is needed for approval.

Posted: Aug. 17, 1997 • Permanent link:
Categories: ELCA NewsIn this article: Christian unity, ecumenism, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, Lutheran, Reformed churches
Transmis : 17 aoüt 1997 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : ELCA NewsDans cet article : Christian unity, ecumenism, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, Lutheran, Reformed churches

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