Unity in our situation (1)


There is much talk about unity in the ELCA. We need to be honest and also theologically sensitive to new possibilities of maintaining what unity we can. On the one hand, unity as it has existed in the ELCA is no longer possible (and perhaps has not existed for a while). The shared sense of law and gospel that communion requires is gone. I believe that must be said and said clearly. On the other hand, we need to explore forms of partial, or impaired, or impeded communion that may be possible. Unity (or communion, at any rate) need not simply be all-or-nothing. As struggle over the decisions made continues, we need to maintain what bonds can be maintained. Even the concept of membership perhaps needs to be seen as possible of more-or-less. The choice is not simply stay or leave, but to find forms of participation which are possible, responsible, and which make a witness both to our dissent and to our commitment to our sisters and brothers from whom we dissent. Such a concept of partial communion is the theological corollary of selective participation (and a better theological corollary that congregationalist ecclesiologies that many of us find unacceptable).
Michael Root

14 Responses to “Unity in our situation (1)”

  1. Joe Copeck Says:

    One thing that I have been arguing is that as Lutherans we have come to believe in an “invisible unity” of the church. So often, I have heard it in contexts where different (usually mission) congregations have wildly divergent practices from the rest of the ELCA. (One congregation that I know of is an “emergent” church, when I asked about how we as a synod were supporting them I was told, “All they need is Word and Sacrament to be “Lutheran”.)

    Since we believe in this invisible unity why is there such an outcry for maintaining visible unity through benevolence/participation. Can’t congregations be in “unity” even if they don’t financially support the ELCA or participate in Synod assembly? I ask this from the theological perspective of the theological implications of and “invisible” unity that seems to be so commonly embraced. Won’t congregations that leave for LCMC, for example, still be in unity with the ELCA in some form? Something to ponder if we hold “invisible unity” as satis est.

  2. Weedon Says:

    I think it’s a time for all who are committed to the Lutheran Symbols to explore the question of concord within the Lutheran Church. I don’t know how to say this except to put it out there: don’t make the mistake of cutting Missouri out of the conversation. Is this the moment where Lutherans in North America can find each other once again?

    • lutheranspersisting Says:

      We need to find a way to make this discussion happen. One reason we are in the fix we are in within the ELCA is that there is no conversation with Missouri to help keep us honest.
      My own ecumenical experience, however, is that a situation in which a religious group is divided between only two bodies is the most difficult.
      Michael Root

      • Paul Schreck Says:

        I don’t mean to contradict my doktorvater, but actually there is an annual theological conversation between ELCA and LCMS. It is usually very difficult to sit through, and it tends to explore historic issues, such as text criticism, but more recently has discussed outreach and evangelism in congregations. Wether or not such conversations keep us honest is another matter; usually we would just leave the meeting feeling smugly superior for our higher thinking.

      • lutheranspersisting Says:

        You’re right, but what I am referring to are the sort of unofficial conversations that still seemed to take place as late as the 1970s, but which seem far more rare now.
        Michael Root

  3. Rafe Allison ('05) Says:

    Dr. Root, I want to echo the thanks of others posted here for your insights and for administering this forum for discussion. It was great to see you at CWA and our conversation was helpful to this “voting member” who was discouraged to say the least. As we discussed (briefly) that evening, it is not simply the single issue of human sexuality, homosexuality, or the ordination “policies” of the ELCA that disturb some of us. It is the basis on which these decisions are being made. The use/misuse of the “bound conscious” argument is clear to many I’ve spoken with, many of whom have not had the leisure of formal theological education. This by itself should speak volumes. As has been pointed out again- and-again during and after CWA 2009, Luther’s conscious was “bound” to “the Word of God.” As for one who was there in the seats “bound conscious” was practically never used in reference to the “Word of God” by those speaking in favor of this divergence from Christian orthodoxy. Instead, “my conscious is bound” but bound to what? To emotions and feelings? To personal experience? To what “my inner voice” tells me is right and wrong? To my own “desires” (which can be God-given OR patently evil! For heaven’s sake, look around!) In the same way that “gospel,” “loving the neighbor,” and “bearing one another’s burdens” were misused in this debate, so has Luther’s concept of “bound conscious.” The question… for ALL of us ELCA Lutherans is this: “What’s Next?” Since we as “church” have now decided this particular question based on secular relativism, (that is, a twisted and faulted use of not only “bound conscious” but of “gospel” itself), AND introduced this language and use of “bound conscious” into our deliberations, then what can or should we expect from the debate on the next issue or subject that comes before us? My guess is… more of the same! As for unity, how can we speak of unity? Unity based on what? Some will say a unity in Christ. But does Christ proclaim a unity of “inclusiveness” that means “God loves you, so anything goes. Go, do what you like?” If so that would certainly make my Sunday sermon preparations MUCH easier I can tell you! But, I don’t think so. The only “inclusive” statement I can proclaim is not one of universal salvation but indeed of universal “damnation.” Universal damnation that is… without Christ. Think about it! None of us meet God’s “standard,” that’s why we NEED Christ in the first place! To preach a gospel devoid of law is nothing less than teaching a convenient but bald-faced lie! It is exactly what Bonhoeffer termed “Cheap Grace.” The church in Bonhoeffer’s time caved to the whims of the surrounding culture. The only difference between then and now is the “gospel” of their time was one of extreme exclusivity while the “message” of our day seems to be an opposite, universal “inclusivity.” I won’t quote my former LTSS prof. as I do not have permission… but “The Church is NOT a Democracy, and The Church is NOT Inclusive” (as in “inclusive” of any/every thing) In light of this I can’t help but think… that in our deliberations about being in “union” perhaps we should ponder… in union with WHAT??

  4. Lance Henderson Says:

    One of the frequent appeals to unity is Ephesians 4:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

    The codified division that now exists has me wondering “do we actually have one faith now? Or do we have, in fact, two Gospels in which faith is being placed–one in which the church is called to be radically inclusive and another gospel which is itself Radical Inclusivity? If we do indeed have two gospels, then it follows that a unity would never be achieved.

  5. Padre Dave Poedel, STS Says:

    I want to echo Pr. Weedon’s comments above about including us in the LCMS in your discussions. I am the Spiritual Director of a joint ELCA/LCMS/AALC/LCMC Cursillo Community and there is a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth about whether we can keep this seemingly last vestige of Lutheran cooperation together, or whether the acceleration of gnostic changes in the ELCA will make this impossible.

    Perhaps I am “different” (OK, I am) because I am a professed member of the Society of the Holy Trinity too, and for an LCMS Pastor probably way too ecumenical. But know that my closest friends include mostly ELCA Pastors and I know the anguish you are going through. For different reasons, I too have felt out of place in my own Synod, and it is not a good feeling.

    You are being prayed for, and I ask your prayers as I try to give godly advice to our Cursillo Secretariat in the next couple of years.

  6. Jack Kilcrease Says:

    I’m personally inclined to think that there was really always two gospels at work in the ELCA from the beginning. There was always a big difference between the ALC neo-orthodox theology and the far left social gospel people of certain quarters of the LCA and AELC.
    This shows the fundamental problem of certain 20th century Lutheran readings of CA VII. The problem with reducing everything to the gospel and the sacraments is that there’s still a whole bunch of things you can disagree about which directly relate to what you think the gospel and sacraments are (actually in CA VII, Melanchthon means the whole summary of Apostolic teaching. According to some he is making an allusion to the edict of Theodosius which formed the basis for Code of Justinian which was the basis of imperial law. If that is the case, he was arguing that the Lutheran Church was a legitimate Church by the standards imperial law- i.e. they confessed the whole Apostolic faith- he was not saying that if everyone merely agrees with justification by faith you can have a unified denomination. He had never heard of a “denomination”! What makes a legitimate Church is then a place where they whole Apostolic faith is confessed and the sacraments are properly administered, not mere agreement with justification by faith). People can also agree to formulas, while disagreeing with what they mean. Doctrine in these situations simply becomes a wax nose and unity becomes good for unities’ sake.
    The ELCA probably should never have been formed. There were actual difference between the ALC, AELC and the LCA that were merely smoothed over. There were vastly different theologies being taught in different seminaries as well, as there is now. The ultimate situation is that one side will get some advantage over the other and simply impose there will on the other. The AELC people and some in the LCA simply wanted to create a consolidation of liberal Lutheran power in the US. They knew that if there were only one moderate/liberal Lutheran denomination with LCMS and WELS as the alternatives, then there would be no possibility of people leaving. When moderately conservatives balked over gay marriage or various ill conceived ecumenical ventures they would just have to stay and complain- which is largely what has happened.
    There’s alot of talk right now about breaking off from the ELCA. I’ll believe it when I see it. No one wants to lose their church land or mess up the pension plan. It really comes down to that and the misreading of CA VII will probably form the basis of this ratinalization as well. In fact, I’ve talked with several friend in the ELCA who are seminarians who have given me this precise rationalization within the last two weeks.

    • lutheranspersisting Says:

      Thanks. Your historical comment rang a bell and I did a quick search on old notes and found an article from Robert Schultz, “An Analysis of the Augsburg Confession Article VII, 2, in it’s Historical Context, May & June, 1530.” Sixteenth Century Journal 11 (1980): 25-35, making this point about CA 7 and imperial law, himself citing Elert and Maurer. I have spent way too much time reading theological discussions of CA 7 and it is striking how little of the historical material gets into the discussion (including my own). I will make a post here soon about CA 7.

  7. Paul Schreck Says:

    I keep hearing people talking about how the ELCA has changed is position, has adopted new teachings and policies, etc. What it actually did was adopt a resolution that commits it to finding a way to do these things.

    As I reflect more on the roster proposals (and the others), it seems clear to me that the only way they can adopt the proposed changes without causing a constitutional crisis would be by adopting pretty shocking amendments to provisions 2.03. (re: Scripture as source and norm) and 2.05. (adherance to the Unaltered Augustana). Since the social statement itself acknowledges that it is using definitions that are different from those in the CA, in order to implement changed policies the ELCA assembly will have to adopt some kind of revisions that nuance these clear statements about what is normative to permit some wiggle room. Does the assembly have the conviction to adopt something that says Scripture is the “authoritative source and norm, except in matters of sexuality” or that the ELCA adheres to the CA, “except in matters of sexuality”?

    I raise this point simply to say that, while we may begin seeing drafts of proposed policies as early as the November Church Council meeting, I don’t think actual changes to Vision and Expectations or Guidelines for Discipline will be adopted anytime soon. Perhaps we have more time that many seem to think.

    • Jack Kilcrease Says:

      Paul- Very nice to see you on here. It’s been about 5 years. Hope that you’re doing well and that your doctoral studies elsewhere than Marquette went well.

  8. Eric Swensson Says:

    Good conversation. Glad to see Pr Weedon and Pr Poedal hanging in there and holding out their hands to ELCA faithful. Jack Kilcrease and Paul Schreck are making a lot of sense. I’ve had a premonition that North American Lutheranism is going to be fundamentally changed. We need to do that before we are all retired.

    My simplest explanation is to agree that there was always two different understandings of law and Gospel and that the ELCA’s “Three Expressions” is a recipe for disaster.

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