ELCA-LCMS Discussion Panel Holds Third of Three Meetings

 — Oct. 19, 200019 oct. 2000

CHICAGO — Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) discussed their churches’ ecumenical goals and views on the “Church Growth Movement” here Oct. 2-3. The last of three scheduled meetings included talk about the possibilities of publishing papers from the meetings and of future discussions between the two largest U.S. Lutheran churches.

The Rev. Daniel F. Martensen, director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, gave a history of the ELCA’s 1991 statement “Ecumenism: The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” He discussed a few key points from its contents, including the church’s definition of “full communion” as its ecumenical goal.

“This church is bold to reach out in several directions simultaneously to all those with whom it may find agreement in the gospel,” Martensen read from the statement. Full communion is described as the stage at which “the goal of the involvement of this church in the ecumenical movement is fully attained,” said the statement.

For the ELCA, full communion is not a merger but a common confessing of the Christian faith; a mutual recognition of Baptism and a sharing of the Lord’s Supper, allowing for joint worship and an exchangeability of members; a mutual recognition and availability of ordained ministers, subject only but always to the disciplinary regulations of the inviting church; a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; a means of common decision making on critical common issues of faith and life; and a mutual lifting of any condemnations that exist between churches.

The Rev. Samuel H. Nafzger, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), presented the history and content of two LCMS documents — “The Nature and Implications of the Concept of Fellowship,” a 1981 report from the CTCR, and “The Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship,” study materials the commission and LCMS president issued in February 2000.

“While the Missouri Synod has no officially adopted statement on ecumenism as such,” said Nafzger, “the church’s constitution provides a framework for relations with other Christians.” He noted that the first reason given for forming the Synod, according to its constitution, is to “work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies” and “to provide a united defense” against schism and sectarianism. The Synod in its ecumenical efforts, he explained, seeks to avoid the opposite errors of separatism and unionism.

Much of the ensuing discussion focused on what the Lutheran confessional writings have to say about ecumenism. For the LCMS, the Lutheran Confessions teach that agreement in the confession of the Gospel in all its articles is the basis for church fellowship. In the ELCA, emphasis is placed on Article Seven of the Augsburg Confession, “For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.”

The Rev. Harold L. Senkbeil, LCMS pastor of Elm Grove Lutheran Church, Elm Grove, Wis., shared a paper he wrote on “Implications of the Church Growth Movement for Lutherans: Possibilities and Concerns.” He began by pointing out the positive contribution of the Church Growth Movement in recalling Christian churches to the missionary task of bringing the gospel to the lost. The central theological concern he raised was regarding the doctrine of the church.

“In my mind the fundamental theological flaw of the movement is its redefinition of the church as essentially an outward human association of like-minded people,” said Senkbeil. “While we may describe and even measure the church outwardly (by the use of the social sciences), we cannot define the church or prescribe her effectiveness or efficacy by these means. Rather, the church is essentially a spiritual fellowship,” the work of the Holy Spirit through “the oral and sacramental word of the gospel.” Senkbeil also raised concerns about the influence of American cultural individualism, pragmatism, and pluralism. “The gospel should shape the culture and not the other way around,” he said.

The Rev. Stanley N. Olson, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, Redwood Falls, Minn., presented “The Church Growth Movement: Some Reflections to Encourage Discussion for the LCMS-ELCA Conversation.” The movement shapes itself around the needs of those it hopes to attract, he said, while Lutherans see sin shaping needs.

Olson said evangelical witness is at the center of the Lutheran heritage. Lutherans may have much to learn from the Church Growth Movement about reaching out with the gospel, he said, but they are mostly things Lutherans knew all along.

The national convention of the LCMS in July 1998 expressed “deep regret and profound disagreement with” two ecumenical decisions made by the 1997 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. One established full communion with three Reformed churches, the other adopted a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholic Church. Since the LCMS action, the ELCA has also entered into full communion with The Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church in America.

The LCMS convention pledged support for the Synod’s president, the Rev. Alvin L. Barry, “as he continues to work together with the presiding bishop of the ELCA in arranging for discussion of these issues between representatives of our two church bodies.”

Barry and the Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, each appointed ten people to the ELCA-LCMS discussion panel. Previous meetings were held June 14-15, 1999, here at the Lutheran Center of the ELCA and Feb. 14-15, 2000, at the International Center of the LCMS in St. Louis.

The previous meetings dealt with the ELCA’s ecumenical decisions, Lutheran identity, theological differences between the two churches — especially based on how they interpret Scriptures — and the administration of the Christian sacraments by Lutheran congregations without pastors.

During the closing hour of the final meeting, many of the panel members expressed opinions about the future of discussions between the two churches. A motion was debated and referred to Anderson and Barry, asking that the two leaders evaluate the discussions that have taken place and consider opportunities for continued discussions of some kind.

The group did decide that papers presented in the course of the meetings could be cited or published by their authors or with their authors’ consent, provided that they are clearly presented as the view of the author and not necessarily of other panel members. The panel also agreed that the ELCA presiding bishop and LCMS president must authorize jointly the publishing of any collection of the papers.

The ELCA has 5.15 million members in 10,851 congregations throughout the United States and the Caribbean; the LCMS includes 2.6 million members in 6,025 congregations.

Posted: Oct. 19, 2000 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4724
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 19 oct. 2000 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4724
Catégorie : ELCA News

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