Let’s Not Forget that the ELCA also Voted Full Communion with the United Methodist Church ““ This May be the Greater Error, A Post by Holger Sonntag

(Editor’s Note: Holger Sonntag commented on one of our many strings on the ELCA issue that the vote for full communion with the UMC may be the greater story here despite all the attention the statements on sexuality have received. We asked him to expand on this thesis and he has blessed us with this fine article. It is a lengthy post so we have serialized it. Here is part one.)

The Eleventh ELCA Churchwide Assembly According to Law and Gospel – Part I: What is Full Communion?

The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA in Minneapolis made two major decisions, one in the realm of the law, the other in the realm of the gospel. The first was to allow homosexuals in committed relationships to serve as rostered leaders in various ministry roles. The second was to enter into a “full communion” relationship with the United Methodist Church.

No doubt, ELCA’s 2009 assembly caused the biggest splash by its August 21, 2009 decision to open its ordained ministry to gay and lesbian people in committed relationships. Previously, this group of people was allowed to serve as rostered leaders only while living celibate lives. This decision was preceded by the adoption of the “social statement” on human sexuality, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” by exactly the required 2/3 margin.

Representative of reactions focused on the issue of practicing homosexual ministers are the statements of the Lutheran Church—Canada and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the remarks by the Synodical President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, delivered on August 22, 2009 right where the assembly was held in Minneapolis, all of which express disagreement with this decision of the ELCA.

Now, as I said, this topic garnered most attention, even in national media. And it clearly deserves attention since it represents a major shift in a Lutheran church body’s teaching on this hotly debated issue involving God’s unchanging law. However, one should not forget another major decision made by this assembly, namely, that of entering into “full communion” with the United Methodist Church. And while the resolution allowing for homosexual ministers in the ELCA passed by a relatively slim margin (559-451), the resolution concerning fellowship with the Methodist Church passed by an amazing 958-51 vote.

First of all, what is “full communion”? According to an ELCA news release, it is defined this way:

Full communion is not a merger. But it means that the two churches express a common confession of Christian faith; mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing Holy Communion; join worship and freedom to exchange members; agree to mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service in either church; express a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; engage in common decision-making on critical matters; and a mutual lifting of criticisms that may exist between the churches.

Starting with the issue discussed above, that of practicing homosexual ministers, one is surprised to read this statement: “mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service in either church.” Now, the UMC’s official position still is this:

While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals  are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

Clearly, either the negotiators of the UMC, and those who voted for this agreement on the UMC side last year, already anticipated a change in the UMC’s official position in this matter or this issue will require major negotiating after the festive banners celebrating this “historic agreement” – also by singing a hymn by Charles Wesley, as was duly noted in a UMC press release – have been rolled up again in Minneapolis.

In a document supporting its entering into “full communion” with the UMC, the ELCA has publicly declared that this kind of fellowship between church bodies does not require theological uniformity:

A relationship of full communion does not preclude theological distinctions and differences; however, a relationship of full communion does mean that these differences are not church-dividing. For instance, both the UMC and ELCA theologies are grace-centered and Christ-centered. Rather than dividing, theological distinctions and differences between United Methodists and Lutherans complement and enrich theological awareness and discourse. The Lutheran understanding of human incapacity and the United Methodist view of the transformative power of God’s grace inform and encourage greater clarity and discernment. In spite of different emphases, these are not church-dividing issues, due to each tradition’s strong trinitarian theology and confidence in the grace of God for salvation.

(The next post will answer the question – “When is a theological disagreement church dividing?”)

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Let’s Not Forget that the ELCA also Voted Full Communion with the United Methodist Church ““ This May be the Greater Error, A Post by Holger Sonntag — 38 Comments

  1. Good for the UMC! “The highest standards of holy living…incompatible with Christian teaching” –wow! Did anyone think of reading this before the vote on full communion? I doubt it.

  2. Representative of reactions focused on the issue of practicing homosexual ministers are the statements of the Lutheran Church—Canada and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the remarks by the Synodical President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, delivered on August 22, 2009 right where the assembly was held in Minneapolis, all of which express disagreement with this decision of the ELCA.

    So, which church bodies reacted to more than the homosexuality resolutions?

    EJG

  3. I too noted that the UMC communion resolution passed with 95% of the vote. But this is nothing new for the ELCA. They’ve been doing this sort of thing for years, declaring communion fellowship with such groups. So that is why this resolution passed by with little notice, especially since it was so overshadowed by the shocking homo stuff.

    Really, the ELCA has been so off-base for decades, even before it became the ELCA. The underlying problem is the rejection of the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures, considering the Bible as just a culturally conditioned historical document. The symptoms of this underlying disease, then, are things like women pastors, wide open communion fellowship, compromising on the doctrine of justification, and now, inevitably, homo pastors.

  4. Full communion = no communion.

    So, ELCA and the UMC do not come to agreement on doctrinal issues, they merely agree not to criticize any position of the other and declare this sufficient for Christian unity. This virtually guarantees that ELCA cannot clearly teach the doctrine of the real presence for fear of offending Methodists and Methodists will be unable to resist gay clergy without violating the “communion.”

  5. I think the main reason that other Lutheran groups responded more to the practicing homosexual clergy issue rather than the full communion with the UMC is because sadly the ELCA has entered into such communions often. The practicing gay clergy is new ground for them, certainly a logical progression from previous decisions but new none the less and new for any Lutheran denomination in the US with which many of the responding groups may be confused.

    I think the media gave the one story more attention because a story about two denominations communing together sounds boring and a lot of people don’t care about theological issues. There was no element of “social justice” in the UMC vote.

  6. As I said, the culture governs here. This whole business has nothing to do with religion or Christianity. The ELCA, among other culturally-conditioned denominations, is interested only in being culturally relevant–that is being liked and welcomed by the culture. ELCA, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, YWCA–makes no difference. The phrase, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” means nothing–Martin Luther is no more than an interesting historical figure who stood up for individual rights and religiuos freedom. If you don’t think that’s the thinking here, watch the ending of “Luther” again.

  7. So, which church bodies reacted to more than the homosexuality resolutions?

    “Ooh-ooh-ooh, Mr. Kot-teer!” says Horshack, excitedly.

    “Yes, Mr. Horshack. You have an answer to the question,” replies Mr. Kotter.

    “Ooh-ooh-ooh, that would be the ELDoNA, Mr. Kot-teer!”

    Seriously, Bishop Heiser’s response was very well done, and I appreciated greatly the fact that he reacted not only to the homosexuality resolutions, but also to the declaration of full communion with the Methodists. I wish the other leaders of church bodies, our own included, would have done the same.

  8. Tom,

    We need Charlie to do one of his parodies to the tune of “Welcome Back.”

    BTW – do you know how many “young” kids on this site have no idea what we are talking about? Aaargh!

    TR

  9. I (obviously) knew about the ELDoNA’s response, but, certainly, someone else has done this too, right? I mean, really, did all of the Lutheran bodies miss this except for us? (Then again, our bishop is a theologian!)

    Considering that I recall hearing during the ELCA’s CWA a delegate or two referring to how their sexuality decisions had harmed relations with their own Latin American and African ‘partner churches’, wouldn’t the ‘stronger’ bodies that are not only in fellowship with ELCA, but actually officially in fellowship with both ELCA and the LCMS–such as those who are members of both the ILC and LWF, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, The Lutheran Church of Nigeria, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya)–wouldn’t they be able to come out with proper statements, as well? Of course, that might come off a little ‘iffy’, since they’ll still be in fellowship with ELCA…just as the LCMS will most likely continue its joint work with ELCA.

    Anyway, I hate to think that no one else will make such a declaration…although it was a little heartening to see Pres. Kieschnick refer back to the resolution the LCMS passed in 2001 (though he failed to note that it was over his own objection).

    EJG

  10. At least as telling with regard to these awful decisions: with whom is the United Methodist Church (not) in Communion?

    On one of the earlier discussions about this whole mess, I had noted that there was a great public service announcement many years ago. Directed at teens, it said to the effect that one should remember that, when you have sex with anyone, you are also having sex with whomever they have had sex in the past. Is it not also true that, with whomever you declare “full communion,” there you also are in communion, by default, with whomever they are in communion — in the case of the UMC who does that NOT include, I wonder? My bet is that they are in communion with the UCC and that somewhere in there, someone is in communion with the Universalists (do they have “communion?”) — but you know what I mean. It’s a fair question, isn’t it?

  11. #5. Northeasterner wrote: This virtually guarantees that ELCA cannot clearly teach the doctrine of the real presence for fear of offending Methodists and Methodists will be unable to resist gay clergy

    You show us how the two things are related. Thanks.

    Of course, in its milieu of teachings, the ELCA has unofficially taught differently from a “real presence” understanding of the Lord’s Supper for years. Its theological faculties have consisted of nonLutherans and even some nonChristians for years. So, their push for least-common-denominator altar fellowship does not surprise me.

    When we are approached by someone holding some aberrant view on the Sacrament, we can gladly teach Scriptures teaching based on certainty, God’s inerrant Word, over diversity. The gifts Christ freely gives He gives for solidly grounded assurance, not mere sentiment. Likewise, He calls a man and woman into the vocation of marriage as lifelong gifts to one another, not to an agreement for convenice’s sake.

    Thanks be to the solid, God-breathed norm of Scripture and the Confessions which daily draw us back to Christ’s cross in these and all other articles of doctrine.

  12. My bet is that they are in communion with the UCC

    It would not matter to the ELCA if the UMC were in fellowship with the UCC…as the ELCA already is in fellowship with the UCC.

    EJG

  13. already is in fellowship with the UCC

    Which makes fellowship with UMC completely not “new news”, ergo it is skipped over by most people concerned about this “”new”” direction of the ELCA.

  14. Craig in Omaha–Re: 2001 Resolution 3-21A, it does appear that the 2001 archives have been removed from the LCMS website. You can probably see a copy of the 2001 Proceedings at your congregation’s or pastor’s office. If not, one of the cong’s in your area ought to have them. If you do find a copy, the resolution is on page 142. Here is the text of the Res. without all the commentary:

    “To Address Cooperative Pastoral Working Relationships with ELCA, RES. 3-21A
    Whereas, The ELCA is in altar and pulput fellowship (“Full Communion”) with Reformed church bodies, the Episcopal Church, and the Moravian Church, therefore be it
    RESOLVED, That the 2001 synodical convention affirm the late President Alvin Barry’s judgment that “we cannot consider them (the ELCA) to be an orthodox Lutheran church body (Pres. Rept. CW, p. 7), and therefore be it further
    RESOLVED, That we of the LCMS recognize that many of our brothers and sisters in the ELCA remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we resolve to reach out to them in love and support; and be it further
    RESOLVED, That current cooperative pastoral working relationships with the ELCA be evaluated by the preasidium with results and recommendations reported to the next convention, and be it finally
    RESOLVED, That all action taken in this res. shall be used to help carry out “The Great Commission” and shall not in any way detract or distract from the primary mission of God’s kingdom here on earth. We will remember 1-02!

    There’s more commentary, etc. By the way, the last resolve was added to all Res’s passed in 2001. I will search the 2004 proceeedings to see what kind of report was given by the praesedium re: this res. The Res passed 706-343.

    Hope this is helpful.

  15. I am actually *shocked* that Dr. Barry’s What About? pamphlets are still available at the new website.

  16. For LCMS information going further back in time, one will need to explore with the Wayback Machine to find LCMSNews and Reporter articles from as far back as 1989. For example –

    From 1996, “Barry, LFL response to Simon editorial”, noting: “Copies of the [Barry response] letter were sent to Rev. Herbert Mueller Jr., Southern Illinois District president; and to Rev. Robert Gray, Simon’s pastor.” Why Barry didn’t haul these two behind a St. Louis woodshed for some “attitude adjustment” over Simon’s continued membership in a Missouri Synod congregation was not discussed.

    Or, from 1998 , “Benke apologizes to Synod”, which included: “While well-intended, what I did was wrong… I therefore sincerely and publicly apologize to the Synod for my actions in this connection. I assure the Synod that I will not repeat this error in the future by participating as an officiant in ecumenical services.” And we all know how well that assurance turned out.

  17. As far as I can tell, the responses by major Lutheran church bodies in North America were all focused exclusively on the homosexual issue.

    And for the UMC, this ELCA fellowship agreement (which is more than simply “open communion”, see the definition in my initial post) is indeed the first such agreement.

  18. Here is an overview of what ELCA intends by “full communion”:
    http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations/Full-Communion.aspx

    Now what they are bringing in through the front door, the LCMS is in many ways bringing in through the back door by open or weak “close” communion practices. It is the Prussian union through the back door in many ways. That’s what Geez, Us First is promoting through Pietistic and gospel reductionistic language.

  19. Understand that even ELCA people who object to gay clergy or homosexuality in general are saying nothing of their theological acumen or fidelity as Lutherans. That is simply natural law and conscience and says nothing of their apprehension of revealed theology from Holy Scripture.

    Word Alone that the DPs get so excited about is nothing but Pietistic, charismatic and Romophobic and only a few steps away from Geez, Us First or DayStar.

  20. Does anyone know if the United Methodist Church has reciprocated the fellowship agreement?

  21. We all knew ELCA was not Lutheran anymore (for a long time, if they ever were). But the homosexuality resolutions puts them outside of Christianity (they are apostate) in terms of the official position of that denomination. Any remaining Christians MUST leave ASAP. Not even many cults and pagans would stoop to endorsing homosexuality or other forms of perversion and adultery (eg. Jehovah’s Witnesses et al).

  22. How do Missouri Synod chaplains in the military, when they officiate at Lutheran worship services, deal with E_CA members who want to take communion? Or with members of the United Methodist church who want to take communion?

  23. And for the UMC, this ELCA fellowship agreement (which is more than simply “open communion”, see the definition in my initial post) is indeed the first such agreement.

    Dr. Sonntag, I don’t think you are correct, here, as this official ELCA web page states that they have been in the same relationship as they now are with the UMC with

    Moravian Church
    (established in 1999)

    The Episcopal Church
    (established in 1999)

    Reformed Church in America
    (established in 1997)

    United Church of Christ
    (established in 1997)

    Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
    (established in 1997)

    That page describes the relationship as follows:

    In this way, full communion is when two churches develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper.

    These denominations likewise jointly worship, may exchange clergy, and also share a commitment to evangelism, witness and service in the world. A central document to Lutherans is the Augsburg Confession. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession states that “the true unity of the church” is present where the Gospel is rightly preached and Sacraments rightly administered. The ELCA is committed to this model of full communion as an authentic expression of Christian unity. Currently, the ELCA shares full communion relationships with five churches.

    Perhaps I am missing something, though; is there something ‘more’ than that going on with the UMC? (I’m not sure what ‘more’ there could be, than what the above seems to me–an absolute total declaration of ‘altar and pulpit fellowship’ with these Reformed bodies.)

    Thanks,

    EJG

  24. Now what they are bringing in through the front door, the LCMS is in many ways bringing in through the back door by open or weak “close” communion practices.

    Speaking of “back door” fellowship, what does it mean that the LCMS is in fellowship with members of the LWF, when the LWF defines membership in it as being in fellowship with all of its member church bodies…so that, for instance, there are bodies in fellowship with Missouri and in the ILC that are also in fellowship with ELCA by virtue of their being in the LWF?

    EJG

  25. Re: 2001 Resolution 3-21A, I could not find the 2004 report of the praesedium, but 2004 Resolution 3-07 basically says “Keep Talking to the ELCA”, referring to that report. Included also in that Res. is “speak the truth in love” language. I could not find anything in the 2007 Proceedings that addressed this issue, altho 3-07 directed the pres. to do so at the 2007 conv. You can bet that there will be plenty of overtures addressing this issue in 2010. The issue of Joint participation in RSO’s presents some very difficult and knotty issues. Considering all that is on the plate in 2010, it makes one’s brain numb to think of the task of being a delegate. It also speaks to the importance of qualified delegates.

  26. Johannes,

    Good point about the RSO’s. I am not sure there will be time for this discussion at the convention. It will also take a lot of effort to submit overtures prior to the convention. We will see what happens. Maybe someone will pick up this mantle.

    TR

  27. Iggy #25:
    I recall reading somewhere that the UMC approved the fellowship agreement at their last general meeting. 2008?
    Ed

  28. Ed: Thanks to your tip, I was able to search the UMC website and find the article. The UMC approved a “full communion agreement” with the ELCA on April 28, 2008.

  29. Folks at our congregaiton are already talking about a memorial to change the RSO procedure to require 100% board members from the LCMS – not that solves a whole lot but it is better than it is now.

    TR

  30. Folks at our congregaiton are already talking about a memorial to change the RSO procedure to require 100% board members from the LCMS – not that solves a whole lot but it is better than it is now.

    It’s a start. Let’s see sixty other congregations do so.

    BTW: Some might see my attitude in #35 as ‘negative’; some have whined about such things in the past. It’s not ‘negative’, it’s ‘challenging’: make my day–prove me wrong. Something all of you on the ‘right’ side of Missouri should understand: those of us on the outside really don’t get anything out of the rosy predictions that are so often made against our ‘dire’ ones, except a renewed sense that many in Missouri don’t deal well with reality. If you’d like to shut us up, it’s easy: prove us wrong. And by that, I don’t mean ‘achieve miraculous victory’; I simply mean, ‘give us some evidence that you’re still actually fighting‘ on a synodical level. That is, do what Pr. Rossow’s parish is doing. Also: NOMINATE. I may have missed it, but I don’t think I’ve read anything on BJS about nominations for synodical offices other than president and vice-president. You’ve only got a couple of months before nominations close!

    EJG

  31. You could add up the accumulated lack of theology in all of ELCA’s full fellowship declarations along with the debacle that is JDDJ with Rome, and there really isn’t any reason for ELCA to exist other than as a receptacle for LCMS liberals who should have left a long time ago. ELCA has been reduced down to “_ _ _ in America.” That’s all that’s left.

    The pastoral-exception, casuistry-driven altar fellowship in the LCMS has virtually led to a trickle down of the same fellowship in the LCMS, incremental Prussian Union, rather than the full bore of ELCA. What isn’t done today in the name of being “missional.”

    In the LCMS a lot of harmful theology has been packed into the Trojan horse of being “missional.”

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