Ecumenism Underlines ELCA-LCMS Differences

 — Apr. 20, 199820 avril 1998

CHICAGO (ELCA) — Recent ecumenical decisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have underlined differences between the 5.2-million member church and the 2.5-million member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). There are about 8.6 million Lutherans in North America.

The ELCA’s 1997 Churchwide Assembly approved a relationship of “full communion” with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. That assembly also approved a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, saying 16th century condemnations of the Roman Catholic Church no longer apply.

The Rev. Alvin L. Barry, LCMS president, addressed the ELCA assembly and told the voting members he was convinced that adopting the proposals would drive the ELCA and the LCMS further apart.

“The Missouri Synod believes that these proposals are yet another unfortunate example of how our two churches are continuing to move farther away from one another, in terms of our theological understandings and confessional commitments,” Barry said. “It would be our feeling that through the adoption of these proposals, you would in reality be moving away from the scriptural and confessional position of historic Lutheranism.”

Barry later told reporters he appreciated comments the Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, made to the assembly and agreed that he “would like to see our two churches on converging rather than diverging courses.”

Recently Barry authored a pamphlet on “The Differences Between the ELCA and the LCMS” outlining how he feels the two churches disagree over the Bible, the Lutheran Confessions and the criteria for church fellowship. “The LCMS believes that the Bible is actually the Word of God,” he wrote. “The ELCA, on the other hand, avoids making statements that confess the full truthfulness of the Bible.”

“It comes as no surprise that the ELCA would consider it possible to enter into fellowship with churches that teach things that are clearly contrary to the Word of God,” said the president, claiming such arrangements reflect the ELCA’s attitude toward the Bible. “This attitude is contrary to the confessional principle of the Lutheran church.”

“The differences between our two churches are a source of great sadness for the LCMS,” Barry concluded, adding that those differences may also provide “a wonderful opportunity to wrestle with the questions” generated by understanding them. The pamphlet is one of a series of eight brochures sent to about 8,000 LCMS pastors. Barry’s office has sent out nearly 200,000 of the ELCA-LCMS pamphlet in response to requests. “The brochure is but an example of what has been happening over some time. It is a symptom rather than the issue,” said the Rev. Jon S. Enslin, bishop of the ELCA’s South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. “I grieve what I see is a widening separation.”

“We have much to learn from and to gain from a church that is as theologically careful as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” Enslin said, “but it is hard to be in a theological dialogue with someone who is always telling you that you’re wrong … or you’re not really Lutheran.” “The brochure makes the necessary theological dialogue more difficult,” said Enslin. “It is one thing to dialogue with someone with whom you do not agree, to learn more of them and maybe even ask questions of yourself. It is another thing to see yourself as the only right one and you are saving them from themselves.”

Since the ELCA approved its agreements with Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians, Anderson has addressed the students, faculty and staff of the LCMS’s Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and the clergy of the LCMS’s English District. In an interview, he said he tried to explain the ELCA’s ecumenical vigor.

“As the largest Lutheran church body in this country, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America brings together a variety of Lutheran traditions,” said Anderson, noting that the ELCA is the product of many Lutheran church mergers. “I think this variety is a healthy thing.” “We have learned how to listen to one another and, in turn, to share our own particular heritages. We carry on this lively discussion in order to be more faithful to the Bible as ‘the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm’ of our preaching, faith and life. In fact, those are the words in our constitution,” said the presiding bishop.

“We also believe that we are true to the spirit of Martin Luther. He urged the church of his own day to re-examine its teachings constantly in the light of the central message about Jesus Christ. We also welcome other Christian bodies to share in that conversation,” said Anderson. The ELCA is preparing “Our Journey Together,” a series of eight “bulletin inserts,” to outline “the ELCA’s grounding and heritage in resources for congregations,” said the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary and the series’ author. The inserts will be sent to all 11,000 ELCA congregations.

Almen said the inserts do not compare the ELCA to the LCMS. “It’s not our pattern to proceed to characterize another church body,” he said. “That wouldn’t be prudent, nor would it be us.”

“We need to be clear for our people as to why historically the ELCA and its predecessors have been ecumenically active and how we see that as part of our Reformation heritage too,” said Almen. “That’s a key part of what those bulletin inserts are intended to do.”

The two churches have a Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC) made up of six officials of each church, including the ELCA presiding bishop and LCMS president. At its November meeting “Bishop Anderson suggested that, when we deal with materials that quote or seek to describe the decisions or the actions of the other church body, those materials be checked [with the other church] as a matter of courtesy and to ensure accuracy,” said Almen.

After a meeting preceding the ELCA’s ecumenical votes in 1997, Anderson said, “We received the impression that although they would be very disappointed in our moving ahead with the ecumenical proposals, at the same time they do cherish and would seek to maintain the common work we do together.”

The churches direct such joint ministries as Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Services in America and Lutheran World Relief. Anderson and Barry signed a joint declaration designating April 19 as a “Day of Commemoration” for LDR, recognizing its role in helping people affected by disasters. In 1993 Barry toured flood response efforts in Des Moines with the Rev. Herbert W. Chilstrom, then bishop of the ELCA.

Barry shared the podium with Chilstrom in 1994 when the Luther Institute sponsored a symposium in Washington, D.C. The institute and the Lutheran Educational Conference of North America sponsor programs involving the colleges and universities of both churches. In 1996 synod bishops of the ELCA and district presidents of the LCMS met in Orlando, Fla. After the meeting Barry said in an interview, “I very much appreciated this opportunity to meet with our counterparts in the ELCA. I am concerned that our meetings do not provide an opportunity to address the serious doctrinal issues which divide us. I question the wisdom of meeting together and overlooking our differences like this. I will continue to encourage that a substantive and meaningful discussion of theology be a major component at meetings of this kind.”

In an address last fall in White Plains, N.Y., to the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, Anderson suggested that if closer relations between the ELCA and LCMS are not possible on the national level, regional and local Lutheran bodies should explore ways of working together. “For the last years we have simply drifted farther apart, sniping at each other and putting the worst construction on each other’s actions,” Anderson said. “It is time to challenge this cold war head on and to find ways to tone down the rhetoric.”

“I believe we need to re-open theological discussions,” he added.

Posted: Apr. 20, 1998 • Permanent link:
Categories: ELCA News
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Catégorie : ELCA News

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