Great Stuff — President Harrison, the LCMS, and Ecumenical Dialogue

July 13th, 2013 Post by

Found over on FirstThings by Matthew Block of the LCC:

 

Harrison-webThis past Saturday, the 2.2 million strong Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod announced the re-election of Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison as President.

President Harrison was first elected in 2010. The same convention which elected him also adopted new policies for the election of the president—namely, that the presidential election would take place in the lead-up to future conventions, rather than at the conventions themselves (which is why we’re talking about this now rather than during the National LCMS Convention July 20-25).

Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a short article reflecting on President Harrison’s first term, noting some of the positive and negative events that were part of it. In recounting President Harrison’s service so far, Townsend mentions his participation in resisting the Health and Human Services mandate, quoting Harrison’s testimony before congress during which he said he was pleased to “stand with our friends in the Catholic church” as they opposed the excesses of the mandate.

That last topic brings to mind another topic worthy of discussion in considering President Harrison’s first term—namely, the LCMS’ increasingly friendly relations with other church bodies. We’ve seen some of that, of course, in the reaction to the HHS mandate. In addition to testify with other Christians at congress on the matter, President Harrison has been a signatory to a number of letters along with other religious leaders expressing concern about the mandate, most recently a few days ago. It’s led to especially collegial relations with Roman Catholics, with President Harrison writing a letter in June of last year thanking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their defense of religious freedom. (The growing relationship between confessional Lutherans and Catholics around the world is something I’ve addressed elsewhere on First Things. Up here in Canada, something similar is going on as Lutheran Church–Canada and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops recently began talks).

But the LCMS’ relationships with other churches have also been growing over the past few years as well. In particular, the LCMS, along with its sister church, Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), has developed good relations with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), publishing last year a joint statement rejoicing that they can “jointly affirm core teachings (articles) of the Christian faith shared by our church bodies.” Similarly good relations have been developed with the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), with whom the LCMS and LCC are in continuing talks. Representatives of these four church bodies (ACNA, NALC, LCC, and LCMS) recently met together for an ecumenical summit on marriage and sexuality, publishing a joint affirmation on marriage (signed by the heads of all four churches) shortly thereafter.

The LCMS’ growing interchurch relations are not restricted to North America either. While the LCMS has long been part of the International Lutheran Council, the church is more and more developing relationships with biblical Lutherans outside this group. In particular, churches like the 6.1 million member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), who earlier this year cut off ties to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Church of Sweden, have begun seeking new relationships with the LCMS and other confessional Lutherans. In March, for example, the EECMY’s General Secretary visited LCMS leaders in St. Louis to “strengthen the relationship” they’ve already been building. And the LCMS held an “International Conference on Confessional Leadership” last year in Atlanta, Georgia, with more than 120 Lutheran church leaders from around the world attending.

If the past few years are anything to go by, this growing interest in strong relationships between the LCMS and other confessing Christian churches is likely to continue into President Harrison’s second term. I for one couldn’t be more pleased


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  1. Carl Vehse
    July 13th, 2013 at 19:14 | #1

    In particular, the LCMS, along with its sister church, Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), has developed good relations with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), publishing last year a joint statement rejoicing that they can “jointly affirm core teachings (articles) of the Christian faith shared by our church bodies.” Similarly good relations have been developed with the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), with whom the LCMS and LCC are in continuing talks.

    These are two examples of the LCMS practice of selective fellowsh… I mean, interChristian Koinonia with pastrix-established heterodox religious bodies.

    Another example of the LCMS playing ecumenical footsie is with the EECMY, which in 2011 elected a pastrix as Vice-President of one of their synods (they’ve had pastrixes for over ten years). And promoting pastrixes is the EECMY General Secretary who is a rostered-LCMS minister. In effect the Missouri Synod is already in A&P fellowship with the EECMY.

  2. Martin R. Noland
    July 13th, 2013 at 19:46 | #2

    Dear Carl,

    The Constitution of the LCMS mandates that the synod have discussions with other church bodies in this statement: “work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies.” (LCMS Constitution III, 1; 2010 Handbook, p. 13).

    Notice that it doesn’t even say that they need to be “Lutheran.” Toward this purpose, the LCMS President has a Church Relations officer (Dr. Al Collver III) and the CTCR (Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Exec. Dir). Their job is to have discussions to find out where congregations and church-bodies are in their doctrine and practice TODAY, not merely historically or formally by their confessions.

    E.g., the Polish Catholics, at least some of them, have renounced the papacy–this since the acceptance of papal infallibility by the Roman church (ca. 1870). They are now called “Old Catholics.” Lutherans are, in some sense, old Catholics too. How do we know that the Polish Old Catholics are not Lutheran? What if they adopted the theology of Saint Augustine when they severed ties with the pope? How do we know, unless the President of the LCMS and his team investigate these things in a friendly way?

    How do we know that some church like this might be persuaded to move in a Lutheran way? In the case of the Ethiopian church, how do we know that what the Ethiopians call female “pastors” may in fact be deaconesses? Or that such “pastors” might be willing to stop doing uniquely pastoral functions, and be called “deaconesses? How do we know that they only accepted female “pastors” in order to receive financial support from the LWF state churches–and now they are willing to stop that practice? If they are not willing to stop ordaining females as pastors, we may still want to cooperate with them in “external” matters, i.e., not in matters of altar and/or pulpit fellowship.

    If we condemn the Ethiopians out-of-hand, without talking to them in a friendly and Christian manner, we may miss a golden opportunity to steer a Lutheran church toward more biblical practice. And it might take a generation or two before we could be in fellowship with them.

    You, Carl, of all people should know the early history of the WELS. It was a typical Pietistic Lutheran church-body, until it had contact with the LCMS. Then due to our friendly discussions with them, they came to accept the Book of Concord as a mandatory authority for their pastors, theology, and practice. If the LCMS had not had those friendly discussions with the early WELS, it would not be Lutheran today–I guarantee you!

    This sort of friendly discussion, leading to more confessional doctrine and practice, is part of why God has put the LCMS here on this earth. We can talk to anyone (i.e., any Christian church), as long as we limit altar and pulpit fellowship to those churches that agree with our confessional statement (Constitution Article II), both formally and in actual practice.

    All such discussions, according to the Constitution, should be done through and under the supervision of the President’s office. President Harrison has been doing his job in this area, and doing it well. Dr. Collver also must be given much credit for long months “on the road” in compliance with Const. III.1.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. “LC-MS Quotes”
    July 13th, 2013 at 19:49 | #3

    “…the re-election of Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison as President.”

    We are too obsessed with titles.

    David P. Scaer
    Book Review: A Seminary in Crisis by Paul A. Zimmerman
    Concordia Theological Quarterly
    Volume 74 Number 1-2
    January/April 2010

  4. “LC-MS Quotes”
    July 13th, 2013 at 20:00 | #4

    The overwhelming bulk of the Missouri Synod and the overwhelming bulk of the Wisconsin Synod are what you would really call old line orthodox Lutherans in the tradition of Luther, the Confessions, the Age of Orthodoxy, and the early history of the Missouri Synod.

    J. A. O. Preus II
    “You and Your Synod”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois
    May 1975

  5. Robert
    July 13th, 2013 at 20:36 | #5

    Noland: “E.g., the Polish Catholics, at least some of them, have renounced the papacy–this since the acceptance of papal infallibility by the Roman church (ca. 1870). They are now called “Old Catholics.” Lutherans are, in some sense, old Catholics too. How do we know that the Polish Old Catholics are not Lutheran? What if they adopted the theology of Saint Augustine when they severed ties with the pope? How do we know, unless the President of the LCMS and his team investigate these things in a friendly way?”

    Oh. my. word.

    Even a five-year-old can search the Internet and find out that Polish Catholics. are. not. Lutheran.

    By the way, Anglicans aren’t either, and I have suspicions about the NALC. Which ordains women. And practices open communion with Anglicans. And denies the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Etc.

  6. Martin R. Noland
    July 13th, 2013 at 21:33 | #6

    Dear Robert,

    I was using this as an example; not saying that they are Lutheran. How did the people who wrote the article on Wikipedia know, unless they investigated the matter? And Wikipedia, though a useful resource, is not always 100% reliable in religious matters.

    Most people probably think that Polish Catholics are “Catholic.” After all, one of the previous popes was Catholic and the country is entirely Catholic, so aren’t all Polish Catholics “Catholic.” No. This proves the problem of changing identities that requires investigation.

    What about the Russian Orthodox “Old Believers”? Are they Orthodox or not? The patriarch says no. They say yes. Only discussions will find out what they actually believe, teach, and confess TODAY.

    Did you know that the Wittenberg Lutherans initiated discussions with the Patriarch of Constantinople (I think Jeremias II) in the 16th century to determine whether fellowship was possible? It proved not to be possible then, and would not be now, unless they changed their official dogmas. Yet the example of discussions proves my point.

    The need to have discussions was my point. It often provides an opportunity for our people to bear witness to the truth and to clarify mis-understandings that have been promulgated by any number of people or groups in the past.

    I hope this explains a bit and helps the readers here. All for today!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. Carl Vehse
    July 13th, 2013 at 22:38 | #7

    @Martin R. Noland #2: The Constitution of the LCMS mandates that the synod have discussions with other church bodies in this statement: “work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies.” (LCMS Constitution III, 1; 2010 Handbook, p. 13).

    No one, including me, has opposed discussions with other church bodies, or working toward fellowship if there are indications they are within a parsec of confessional Lutheranism. The objections are to sophistic pronouncements, hype, and actions that appear to violate the following position of the Missouri Synod:

    “Conciliarity, reconciled diversity, and selective fellowship all violate at least some of the principles of fellowship and cannot therefore be regarded as viable models for interchurch relations at the church-body level today.

    “Of those models for external unity in the church which have been examined in this report, only ecclesiastical declarations of altar and pulpit fellowship offer at least the possibility for being able to take into account all of what the Scriptures have to say about the nature of fellowship.”

    - Excerpted from “The Nature and Implications of the Concept of Fellowship,” A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, April 1981.

    How do we know that some church like this might be persuaded to move in a Lutheran way? In the case of the Ethiopian church, how do we know that what the Ethiopians call female “pastors” may in fact be deaconesses? Or that such “pastors” might be willing to stop doing uniquely pastoral functions, and be called “deaconesses?

    The burden of proof for such rhetorical questions is on you. The evidence, especially for the EECMY indicates otherwise. And there are other doctrinal issues, such as their charismatic beliefs for which there is also no indication that they wish to change.

    All such discussions, according to the Constitution, should be done through and under the supervision of the President’s office.

    No one is disagreeing, but we need to question such discussions when they are conducted within a secret partnership agreement that is considered “privileged communications” between the leaders of the church bodies, or when the LCMS hands out tapdancing (conciliarity, reconciled diversity, selective fellowship) pronouncements such as:

    “Our unforced consensus on this bitterly contested topic rests on wide-ranging but still incomplete agreement on the Christian faith as a whole.”

    “Attending this meeting was very encouraging as leaders of different church bodies focused on the goodness and blessing of marriage between one man and one woman and how to share this positive view with our culture.”

    “Confessional believers must learn again to speak with one voice.”

    “I am hopeful for our common statement and for mutually presenting a clear biblical teaching of marriage and sexuality throughout our churches that will be a blessing for all of North America.”

  8. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 06:46 | #8

    Among Reformation groups, Confessional Anglicans are the closest to Confessional Lutherans, with the main point of difference being that the 39 Articles teaches the Calvinist view of the Eucharist. But there are many Anglicans who do believe in the literal bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I for one am all for ecumenism with conservative believing Anglicans (those who affirm Scriptural inerrancy and do not ordain women).

  9. Luvable Lutheran
    July 14th, 2013 at 06:49 | #9

    Page 344 in the Convention Workbook provides information about the current process.

  10. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 06:49 | #10

    @Carl Vehse #7

    Don’t forget that the EECMY can be reformed toward orthodoxy and Confessionalism, just as the LCMS was with the expulsion of the apostates from our seminaries. I think that this is what the LCMS is trying to accomplish in its discussions with EECMY.

  11. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 06:52 | #11

    @Martin R. Noland #6

    Robert is what we call an Internet troll. Here’s another example: http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=31439#comment-833487

    It’s best to just ignore him.

  12. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 06:54 | #12

    @Carl Vehse #1

    Talks are not the same thing as fellowship.

  13. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 07:17 | #13

    I do not support, however, the LCC’s talks with the Romanist bishops. In addition to the traditional heresies of the Papists having only become progressively worse since the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church today has officially adopted the liberal higher critical view of the Bible:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divino_Afflante_Spiritu

    http://bible-researcher.com/catholic-interpretation.html

    http://bible-researcher.com/nab.html

    Historically, there has never been any turning back when a denomination has done this. I believe the Roman Catholic church will only continue to get progressively worse as time goes on, and that there is no more reason for ecumenical dialogue with them than with the ELCA or the World Council of Churches.

  14. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 07:23 | #14

    Some more resources on the modern Roman Catholic view of the Bible:

    http://bible-researcher.com/romcath.html

    http://bible-researcher.com/nab.douglass.html

    The Canadian Romanist bishops are just as liberal, if not more so, than the American ones: http://bible-researcher.com/neuhaus1.html

  15. Jason Loh
    July 14th, 2013 at 08:55 | #15

    Re #2 Pastor Martin Noland,

    I agree!

    One thing though the ACNA is NOT strictly speaking confessional or if you will classical Anglican. They are broad church evangelical Anglicans united by a “conservative theology.” As a former Anglican, there are no classical Anglican jurisdictions that would appear on the radar screen of ecumenism, unless we’re talking about miniscule Continuum, and even that too in the UK, it’s more of a formal stance rather than actual ethos (Church of England Continuing). The only jurisdiction which is classical Anglican consistent with the worship and doctrine of the BCP and the ministerial discipline of the Ordinal is the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. I don’t know the latest or current developments but I wouldn’t be surprised of fissures or further splinters.

  16. Jason Loh
    July 14th, 2013 at 09:09 | #16

    Within the Prayerbook Society of the USA, there had been and are classical Anglicans such as the late Dr Peter Toon. Their churchmanship is as close as it can get with confessional Lutheranism. Although Dr Toon was English and originally from the Established Church of England, apart from him, I’m not aware of any Bo Giertz-type churchman in the Established Church of England. The so-called evangelicals baulk and are easily miffed/ miffy by high churchmanship although grudgingly accept the Elizabethan Settlement which included high church ceremonial and ornate ritual at the cathedral level. Hence, Lutheran sympathisers (or crypto-Lutherans in terms of ritual and liturgy) such as the Caroline divines are an abomination to these modern-day evangelicals forgetting that these “old-school” or “old-fashioned” high churchmen (and their 17th, 18th and 19th cent successors) were strenuous defenders of the Reformation (overagainst Rome/ popery).

    IOW, these evangelicals want to minimise their distinctiveness vis-à-vis the Reformed as much as possible except only on church order and the liturgy. But in terms of *sacramental* theology, they are virtually Reformed when historically this was not so. Thus, justification by faith alone, sola fide, is understood (exclusively) in terms of a doctrinal formula.

    As Sasse said, the Lutheran way is (remains) the lonely way.

  17. Nicholas
    July 14th, 2013 at 09:11 | #17

    There are many conservative or “continuing” Anglican groups around today:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Continuing_Anglican

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_Episcopal_Church (Despite the name, this one is High Church)

    I believe that they should each be evaluated on an individual basis, just as we should do with any professing Lutheran denomination.

  18. Jim Pierce
    July 14th, 2013 at 16:06 | #19

    @Norm Fisher #18

    Thank you for that excellent document, Norm. Quoting from it…

    At other times the dialogues have not achieved doctrinal unity. Indeed, it would be contrary to the theology of the cross and to the hidden nature of the church in this world to expect that theological dialogue will always result in doctrinal agreement or structural accord. 6 Nevertheless, even such “failed” dialogues have always served a beneficial purpose. Proverbs 27:17 reminds us that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” So also, discussions even with those who in the end disagree with us, compel us to search the Scriptures, to listen carefully and honestly, and to sharpen and clarify our confession. Such failures to achieve theological unity are painful and sometimes have resulted in even greater misunderstanding, especially when those who have strongly upheld the necessity of doctrinal agreement are accused of having a loveless or proud heart toward other Christians or when the failure to achieve full agreement blinds participants to whatever measure of unity has been reached. Walther, in his “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” referred to the example of discussions between Luther and Bucer in an attempt to resolve differences over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Their dialogue failed to achieve complete agreement. Luther could not compromise the truth as he understood it. Despite the failure, Luther urged against any action that would result in “‘even more uproar and offense’” and appealed to Bucer to “‘keep the peace [resulting from] the degree [of unity] that has been reached.’”

    Dr. Noland is correct that the LC-MS, as a church body, must communicate with these groups so that we may understand what these groups confess today. In fact, we couldn’t for example, have anything such as a Wiki article about any other church body unless somebody held a discussion with representatives of the group and documented the results.

  19. Concerned Seminarian
    July 14th, 2013 at 17:29 | #20

    @Carl Vehse #1

    @Martin R. Noland #2

    I’ve seen a lot of weight placed on the EECMY’s practice of ordaining women in threads regarding the recent developments between the LCMS and Mekane Yesus. Given the overwhelmingly negative tone of those comments, I feel that it is important to know something about the EECMY. President Harrison was the speaker for one of our concluding student meetings at CSL this past year, and actually shared some information regarding these recent events with us beginning to grow closer to the EECMY. He told us that he was invited to attend the meeting where they formally broke fellowship with the ELCA and Church of Sweden (though they did not tell him that that was why they wanted him there), and then were insistent that the LCMS have representation at that meeting. After formally breaking fellowship, the EECMY then formally stated that they want to open dialogue with us. Here’s the important part: Harrison told us that they had actually asked to speak with some of our people about the role/office of deaconess to determine if that is a viable alternative for their ordained female pastors. I do not recall if he said more than that, but it’s a start. As Rev. Noland implied, we don’t know if our dialogue with the EECMY will have the same effect on them as it did on WELS over 100 years ago, but I’m sure it will have a better effect than if we were to cut them off entirely.

  20. Carl Vehse
    July 14th, 2013 at 18:24 | #21

    @Nicholas #12: “Talks are not the same thing as fellowship.”

    “At no point, however, should dialogue with other Christians be allowed to deny or to gloss over areas of theological disagreement.” (CTCR, “Theological Dialogue with Other Christian Church Bodies,” September 17, 2011)

    In any case, a church body which has a rostered LCMS minister as a General Secretary of that church body is practically in fellowship with the LCMS.

    @Concerned Seminarian #20 : “I’ve seen a lot of weight placed on the EECMY’s practice of ordaining women in threads regarding the recent developments between the LCMS and Mekane Yesus.

    The fact of the existence and promotion of EECMY pastrixes doesn’t need any extra weight; it stand firmly on its own evidence.

    What needs some extra weight is hearsay of hearsay about being asked to speak about the possibility of a viable alternative for dealing with pastrixes. Perhaps one should ask Rev. Zewditu Abdisa, Vice President of the EECMY Birbir Dilla Synod, if she favors such an alternative.

  21. Sven Wagschal
    July 15th, 2013 at 03:58 | #22

    Martin R. Noland :
    Did you know that the Wittenberg Lutherans initiated discussions with the Patriarch of Constantinople (I think Jeremias II) in the 16th century to determine whether fellowship was possible? It proved not to be possible then, and would not be now, unless they changed their official dogmas. Yet the example of discussions proves my point.

    Just a slight correction: It were not the Wittenberg Lutherans but the Wirttemberg (=Württemberg) Lutherans of Tübingen which had discussions with the orthodox patriarch of Constantinople (regrettably without success). 16th century Tübingen had many contacts to eastern Europe; the reformer of Slowenia Primus Truber was later pastor in Tübingen-Derendigen after he had to leave Slowenia.

  22. Nicholas
    July 15th, 2013 at 06:09 | #23

    Since we’re discussing ecumenical relations with other Lutheran bodies (including EECMY), Pr. Harrison discussed some of these things during his latest appearance at Issues, etc: http://issuesetc.org/2013/07/12/2-issues-facing-confessional-lutheranism-today-pr-matt-harrison-71213/

  23. Nicholas
    July 15th, 2013 at 06:12 | #24

    As was correctly mentioned above, NALC denies Scriptural Inerrancy. Not only that, but they even forbid the teaching of Inerrancy in their churches: http://justandsinner.blogspot.com/2013/01/alphabet-soup-lutheranism-in-america.html

    They also forbid preaching against the ordination of pastrixes.

  24. Martin R. Noland
    July 15th, 2013 at 10:22 | #25

    @Carl Vehse #21

    Dear Carl,

    I checked the latest Lutheran Annual (2013) and it does not list Rev. Abdisa as an LCMS minister, either ordained or commissioned. Do you have evidence other than the Lutheran Annual that she is a rostered minister in the LCMS? I don’t understand what you are saying here, and I think most BJS readers don’t understand either.

    People might claim to be a rostered member of the LCMS, but if their name is not on the official roster, then they are not.

    If you find that she is not a rostered member of LCMS, you should ask Norm to correct your comments. Thanks!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  25. Carl Vehse
    July 15th, 2013 at 23:14 | #26

    @Martin R. Noland #25 “I checked the latest Lutheran Annual (2013) and it does not list Rev. Abdisa as an LCMS minister”.

    Pastrix Zewditu Abdisa is the Vice President of the Birbir Dilla Synod in the EECMY. She is not a member of the Missouri Synod. However, as a member of the EECMY, Pastrix Abdisa is in fellowship with EECMY General Secretary Berhanu Ofgaa, who has served in that position since 2009. General Secretary Ofgaa visited President Harrison at the International Center in March of this year.

    Rev. Berhanu E. Ofgaa is currently a rostered minister in the LCMS since he was colloquized by Committee – Saint Louis, MO, Certified for Pastoral Ministry, 4/20/2002, and is under the ecclesiastical supervision of Ohio District President Terry Cripe.

    Just to show that the (albeit secret) church fellowship agreement between the LCMS and EECMY is not a one-way street, the 2013 Convention Handbook notes (p. 86) one such example:

    “Dr. Tilahun Mekonnen Mendedo [Ph.D., CTS, 2007], formerly a pastor of the EECMY and now a rostered LCMS pastor [CTS colloquized in 2003] serving as President of Concordia College in Selma, Alabama [since 2010].”

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