Overture: “To Provide Guidance on Participation in Interfaith and Joint Worship Services” (by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

[On Sunday the following overture was adopted, unanimously, both by my congregation and our circuit forum, to be submitted to the LCMS Convention Workbook.  CH]

To Provide Guidance on Participation in Interfaith and Joint Worship Services

WHEREAS, the LORD God commanded his people, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3), and judged them severely when they mixed the one true faith with the worship of the golden calf (Exod. 32); and

WHEREAS, the prophet Elijah did not participate in any “interfaith prayer service” on Mount Carmel, but rather mocked and condemned the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18); and

WHEREAS, our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); and

WHEREAS, the apostle Peter boldly testified to the exclusive nature of salvation in Jesus alone, saying, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); and

WHEREAS, the apostle Paul did not participate in any “interfaith prayer service” alongside pagan priests when he spoke at the Areopagus (Acts 17); and

WHEREAS, the apostle Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17); and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod requires, as a condition of membership, “Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as . . . Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession” (Article VI. 2. b.); and

WHEREAS, interfaith prayer services and joint worship services with clergy of religious bodies with which we are not in fellowship–whether those services are called “vigils” or “events” or some other term, and whether they may also include some civic elements–those are services in which multiple clergy members of various religious bodies take turns in leading parts of the service (invocations, prayers, readings, messages, blessings); and

WHEREAS, participation by our ministers in such services may understandably cause offense to the people of our Synod; and

WHEREAS, in its 2004 report, “Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events,” the CTCR could not come to agreement on “the issue of so-called ‘serial’ or ‘seriatim’ prayers involving representatives of different religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches” (p. 19), thus rendering their guidelines less than optimal and helpful; and

WHEREAS, the 2010 Convention resolved “To Study Article VI of Synod’s Constitution” (2010 Res. 8-30B), which would include study of the meaning and application of “Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description”; and

WHEREAS, the Koinonia Project is likely to discuss this whole matter and work toward a greater consensus among us; therefore be it

Resolved, that, unless and until the Synod decides otherwise, the rostered ministers of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, not participate in interfaith services or joint services with clergy of religious bodies with which we are not in fellowship.


Comments

Overture: “To Provide Guidance on Participation in Interfaith and Joint Worship Services” (by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 37 Comments

  1. Charlie, dear brother in Christ, blessed Ash Wednesday to you!

    You have written a very fine overture. Do you really think an overture will properly address this issue?

    Humbly in Christ, Clint

  2. “Resolved, that, unless and until the Synod decides otherwise, the rostered ministers of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, not participate in interfaith services or joint services with clergy of religious bodies with which we are not in fellowship.”

    Resolved? This is no resolve.
    “unless the Synod decides otherwise”????
    This a pharisaical nonsense.

    Stay STEADFAST my friends.

  3. Rev. Clint K. Poppe :
    You have written a very fine overture. Do you really think an overture will properly address this issue?

    This overture properly addresses the issue, but of course one overture, by itself, cannot fully address or resolve the issue. What it does is to give the floor committee and the convention something to work with, and, if adopted and implemented, would make “not participating” the “default mode.” If something like this had been in place, we would not be having the current contretemps.

    This overture lays out the biblical and constitutional reasons why participation in interfaith and joint worship services causes offense in our Synod. It defines what makes these services “services,” regardless of the terminology used. It recognizes that the 2004 CTCR “Guidelines” are “less than optimal and helpful.” Some claim, wrongly, that that flawed report somehow makes approval of participation the official position of the Synod, which it is not. They also claim that having the Koinonia Project means that they can go on participating like this, with no consequences, for as many more years as the Koinonia Project goes on.

    And so this overture would set the “default mode” as to not participate in offense-causing interfaith services and joint worship services while further study and the Koinonia Project go on. If, hypothetically, after ten years of study and dialogue the Synod would come to an overwhelming agreement and decide that “It’s OK to Participate,” well, then, that would be a different matter. But “unless and until” that happens, it would be best if our ministers refrain from engaging in such offense-causing behavior.

  4. Dave Schumacher :
    “unless the Synod decides otherwise”????

    Yes, “unless and until” such time, the default mode would be to not participate. Look, we’re going to have further study and dialogue. Fine. But while that is going on, let’s not cause offense by participating. Let’s refrain. Even the pastor in the latest incident has admitted that his participating caused offense.

    Of course, the “unless and until” is a hypothetical. If the Synod were to decide “It’s OK to Participate,” then guys like Pastor Poppe and myself would probably be outta here, sayonora.

  5. Resolved, that, unless and until the Synod decides otherwise…”

    If decided otherwise, unless 1 Kings 18:40 is included in the requirements for participating in interfaith services, the Synod would be in violation of Article III, and those doing the deciding would be subject to Article XIII.

  6. Unless and until the Synod EXPLICITLY gives approval and permission to participate in interfaith and joint worship services, we don’t participate. I think that’s pretty clear.

  7. Pastor Henrickson,

    The position of Scripture is that Christians do not participate.
    The “official” position of Synod is that pastors do not participate. But, Synod has taken it upon itself to further “refine” and define what God’s law is, and is unwilling to insist that pastors abide by their own rules. Why aren’t you saying sayonora now?

  8. @Charles Henrickson #3

    You speak of overtures, floor committees, conventions, etc. and I understand why; this is the system we have agreed to work with and under. But I would humbly submit that this fine overture will not address the real issue.

    Let’s assume that this overture makes it through the respective floor committee intact and passes by a 60/40 vote in convention (by today’s standard an overwhelming majority). What then? Some will follow it out of respect for synod and others will follow because they believe it is faithful to God’s Word… and some won’t. What then? More than likely, nothing.

    We in the LCMS have all agreed to walk together under God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. We in the LCMS have all agreed that one of the many things that this walking together means is that we believe God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions calls us to renounce unionism and syncretism of every description. No one was forced to make this confession. We all agreed to it freely and willingly when we as pastors or congregations joined the LCMS. We are not free to do whatever we want. We voluntarily gave up some of our freedom when we joined the LCMS. We have elected leaders, lets call them ecclesiastical supervisors, to help us in this walking together and a proper understanding of the freedom we have in Christ. At times they will teach or guide or encourage or admonish or even in rare cases, out of love, discipline (2 Timothy 4) because the Old Adam is strong in us.

    This is a fine overture and if passed it would indeed set a default, What then?

    In Christ, Clint

  9. I’ve written this before, but “unionism/syncretism is wrong for the next three years by a 2/3’s majority vote” sets a terrible precedent. When we vote on theology we lose even when we win. We are making the whip that will be used on our own backs in the future. On top of that criticism it goes against the gun-dog trainer’s prime directive: never issue a command that you are not in a position to enforce.

    This feels good, but it’s the wrong thing to do on a lot of levels.

    Lenten Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

    Most beer is steadfast (though I’m not sure about the “lite” and/or “fruity” ones.)

  10. @Matthew Mills #11

    I couldn’t agree more.

    This also wouldn’t be an issue if for once the Lutheran participating in the “interfaith service” actually acted like a Lutheran and proclaimed the unvarnished truth of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. They’d be kicked out, or possibly even start a riot. I doubt they would be asked back and given the same opportunity to do this over and over again.

  11. There has been a lot of discussion on this issue from the Unionism/Syncretism view. Is that really the point?

    How about discussion of the issue from the Church/Ministry view?

    How, exactly does a shepherd reconcile to the sheep and lambs of the flock to which he has been Divinely called his choice to publicly minister to those of other faiths? How does he preach Christ and Him crucified as the only way from the pulpit, then publicly participate in a service with those who preach/teach otherwise?

    Why would a shepherd do ANYTHING that could confuse his flock?

    Why is this resolution even necessary?

  12. @Jack #13

    Jack,

    You ask a good question, which I believe Pr. Henrickson has answered. It’s good because this how our synod handles matters like this.

    I resonate with the remark about the pastoral implications since our pastor are called to rightly preach the whole counsel of God, unblemished to people, including themselves and each other. (concord)

    Furthermore, this resolution emphasizes that we live in a time of confession. (FC SD X) Pressures and arguments abound from the opposing viewpoint to participate in interfaith worship services. So, in response to the language and argumentation presented today, we need to respond with the means given us while upholding and affirming our historical/Biblical confession.

    For example, one argument rendered by the rogue Valparaiso professor, Matthew Becker, is that Luther spoke positively to interfaith worship. He quotes LW AE 40:95 in his favor on his blog.

    We know that Luther was not speaking about interfaith worship. He was affirming what 1 Cor. 8 already says, that an idol is nothing. Yet, to refute the rogue professor, we bring to bear our opposition to him and others in concrete language that remains binding both and now ongoing. Our time of confession as FC SD X puts it will be around for a long time, until our Lord returns. Cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5.

    Furthermore, a resolution like this has staying power with regard to how our seminary and college professors aught to teach on this subject. No one needs to put a gag order on people’s ability to name names with regard to how we deal with syncretism and unionism in our midst. Error is error. Our professors need the freedom and guidance to tell students “No” when it comes to their questions on participating in interfaith worship.

    A resolution of this nature would call for district presidents to really practice Biblical ecclesiastical supervision. DP’s need to have a backbone on this issue along with everyone else so that they “don’t sway between two opinions.” (1 Kings 18)

    A no to interfaith worship is a resounding yes to the joy our Lord gives us in being drawn to the hear the Word preached rightly from our pulpits and receive the Sacraments distributed by Christ’s institution from our altars. And, our Lord Jesus Christ will continue doing His work of Preaching, teaching, and administering among us until He comes.

  13. @Jack #15

    AS for the pastoral angle, it’s simply a matter of proclaiming the truth of God’s Word–Law and Promise. Pastors have a responsibility to forego unionism/syncretism of every kind and they have a call to warn the flocks to which our Lord has called them as undershepherds. Sometimes, that’s done in Bible class, sometimes as a part of a sermon where the text lends itself to condemning interfaith/syncretistic, practices. And, a pastor does well to be patient and show honest concern so that the members of his congregation desire to remain faithful to God’s Word in doctrine and practice.

  14. @David Rosenkoetter #14
    If you try to teach a dog to “come” w/out the means to make him come to you, all you’ve taught the dog is that he can safely ignore you and do as he pleases.
    Lenten Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

  15. Charlie, maybe we are all going about this the wrong way…

    Perhaps we should come up with an overture rescinding Article VI. 2. b of the LCMS Constitution since some simply ignore it anyway and many are clearly offended by it.

    On second thought, I’m not sure either of us is really ready to see how many among us would happily support that kind of overture…

    I am praying for a 1 Kings 19:18 moment in the LCMS.

    In Christ, Clint

  16. Ok, so let’s see the resolved:

    Resolved, that, unless and until the Synod decides otherwise, the rostered ministers of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, not participate in interfaith services or joint services with clergy of religious bodies with which we are not in fellowship.

    Would this cover the Newtown episode?

    Well, no: because what did Pastor Morris specifically say?

    “I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship”

    So…would this resolution cover his participation? Not in his eyes. He specifically says “However, I recognize others in our church consider it to constitute joint worship and I understand why.” Meaning that he did not consider it joint worship.

    Thus the resolution would not apply.

    How about Pres Benke at YS? Did he consider that to be an interfaith service? No.

    The problem with the resolution Charles is that you are writing it from your own perspective — you see these events as interfaith services. And you think that pastors are simply involving themselves in these join worship services.

    Now, you might say “Well, I covered that in the whereas” — but the fact of the matter is that the whereas is not the important part of a resolution. That is why they are not read sometimes during the convention. No: you need to touch upon this in the resolved.

    You should have:

    Resolved: that pastors of the LCMS will not involve themselves in any events in which any other religious leaders are participating. This includes civic events, prayer vigils, public gatherings, joint services, etc.

    Resolved: that if there is any question as to whether an event is a joint service, the pastor will refrain from participation, in order to highlight the unity of our confession.

    In addition, your resolution is needlessly harsh. No surprise there. 🙂 Why not throw in some love?

    Resolved: that pastor are to be commended for their desire to care for the communities in which they minister; and supported for their proclamation of hope in the midst of struggles and trials; nevertheless, because of the constant tolerance that is proclaimed in our world today and the denial of the exclusivity of Christ, we require our pastors to refrain from involvement in any events in which other religious clergy are participating in.

    It is one thing to write a resolution that speaks to your irritation about events that have happened: it is another thing to write a resolution that will be supported by the Synod.

    I would only include the following whereas:

    WHEREAS, our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); and

    WHEREAS, the apostle Peter boldly testified to the exclusive nature of salvation in Jesus alone, saying, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); and

    WHEREAS, the apostle Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17); and

    WHEREAS, the Constitution of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod requires, as a condition of membership, “Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as . . . Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession” (Article VI. 2. b.); and

    (modified) WHEREAS, participation by our ministers in services where non-Christian clergy participate — even when clearly stated that participation in events is not endorsement of other’s religious beliefs — may cause offense to the people of our Synod;

    My two cents. Take it for what it is worth.

  17. So, my re-write would be this:

    Overture: “To Provide Guidance on Participation in Interfaith and Joint Worship Services” (by Pr. Charles Henrickson and Mark QL Louderback)

    WHEREAS, our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); and

    WHEREAS, the apostle Peter boldly testified to the exclusive nature of salvation in Jesus alone, saying, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); and

    WHEREAS, the apostle Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17); and

    WHEREAS, the Constitution of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod requires, as a condition of membership, “Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as . . . Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession” (Article VI. 2. b.); and

    WHEREAS, participation by our ministers in services where non-Christian clergy participate — even when clearly stated that participation in events is not endorsement of other’s religious beliefs — may cause offense to the people of our Synod; therefore be it

    RESOLVED: that pastors of the LCMS will not involve themselves in any events in which any other religious leaders are participating. This includes civic events, prayer vigils, public gatherings, joint services, etc.; and let t further be

    RESOLVED: that if there is any question as to whether an event is a joint service, the pastor will refrain from participation, in order to highlight the unity of our confession; and let it finally be

    RESOLVED: that pastor are to be commended for their desire to care for the communities in which they minister; and supported for their proclamation of hope in the midst of terrible struggles and trials; nevertheless, because of the constant tolerance that is proclaimed in our world today and the denial of the exclusivity of Christ, we require our pastors to refrain from involvement in any events in which other religious clergy are participating in.

  18. Any necessary fine-tuning is what floor committees are for. The overture gets the idea in the hopper and gives the committee grist for their mill. The definition of what constitutes an interfaith service is spelled out clearly in the whereas:

    WHEREAS, interfaith prayer services and joint worship services with clergy of religious bodies with which we are not in fellowship–whether those services are called “vigils” or “events” or some other term, and whether they may also include some civic elements–those are services in which multiple clergy members of various religious bodies take turns in leading parts of the service (invocations, prayers, readings, messages, blessings). . . .

    If the committee thinks this definition needs to be part of the resolved itself, they can do that.

    The resolved is not “harsh.” It is neutral in tone. But if the committee wants to add a “nice” resolved ahead of it, as they often do, they can do that.

    Also, you left out the last several whereases, which are in there for a reason. And you’ve lost the “until” aspect of the overture, which allows the proponents of interfaith services the possibilty of making their case so persuasively that they would get the Synod to make explicit that it’s OK to participate. The point of the overture is to say that while that study and that dialogue are going on, we will not participate in divisive, offense-causing interfaith services.

  19. Jack :I’m sorry. I’m an old layman. I find, nowhere in your post, an answer to my question.

    Thank you, Jack, for confessing the faith! I thought your questions were good, solid rhetorical questions, intended to make a point strongly — which you did. Now that I know you were looking for answers, I'll give it a try.

    It may be tempting to say these pastors are egotistical heathen, wolves in shepherd's clothing, but I really don't believe that is true very often. I cannot see the faith in their hearts, but I believe they are, for the most part, only confused. This would explain the contradictory confession displayed in their behavior, behavior we can see.

    "How, exactly does a shepherd reconcile to the sheep and lambs of the flock to which he has been Divinely called his choice to publicly minister to those of other faiths?"

    I'm sure you don't mean, "The congregation is paying him to minister to them, not to those pagans!” (That is what proponents of unionism and syncretism will falsely charge you with saying.) What you obviously are asking is restated in your next question:

    “How does he preach Christ and Him crucified as the only way from the pulpit, then publicly participate in a service with those who preach/teach otherwise?”

    If he has a conscience, he does it by convincing himself that he is bringing Jesus where he would not otherwise be. His concern is mostly for those who are not already in his flock and hearing the Word already.

    “Why would a shepherd do ANYTHING that could confuse his flock?”

    I think this has a lot to do with the emphasis over the past few decades on mocking those pastors who care first and foremost for their own flock. (What do you think? “Maintenance Pastor” is a compliment?)

    “Why is this resolution even necessary?”

    Scripture, the Confessions, and the Constitution are all three so crystal clear that this resolution should not be necessary. God isn’t calling us to join in unionism and syncretism; that is society’s siren song. We are once again allowing society to dictate to the Church. Instead of looking first to the Word to determine what we should believe, we are feeling in our hearts and then looking for Scripture verses to support what we already want to believe. Evidence: Proponents of unionism and syncretism offer I Kings 18:17-40 as evidence that they are right, totally missing the point that Elijah executed the false teachers at the end of his “civic prayer event” with them…

  20. Any necessary fine-tuning is what floor committees are for.

    I never really saw the floor committees as doing “fine-tuning” but I suppose that is accurate.

    The definition of what constitutes an interfaith service is spelled out clearly in the whereas:

    As I said, the resolved is always the focus of the resolution.

    If the committee thinks this definition needs to be part of the resolved itself, they can do that.

    Or, you could, right now.

    The resolved is not “harsh.” It is neutral in tone.

    (Chuckle) Every pessimist thinks they are a realist.

    Also, you left out the last several whereases, which are in there for a reason.

    I didn’t see the reason.

    And you’ve lost the “until” aspect of the overture, which allows the proponents of interfaith services the possibilty of making their case so persuasively that they would get the Synod to make explicit that it’s OK to participate. The point of the overture is to say that while that study and that dialogue are going on, we will not participate in divisive, offense-causing interfaith services.

    I see this as pointless. What additional study is really needed? Everyone knows the facts: we believe in Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. And we understand the problems with participating in these types of community services. But for some, even with the problems, it is better to participate than to not participate. What do we want to do? Participate, knowing the good and the problems; not participate, knowing the good and the problems.

    Let’s vote on the actual issue.

    But for the life of me, I don’t know why you want to put forth an inferior resolution when you could improve it now. Once again, do you accept the friendly amendment?

  21. Mark Louderback:
    Or, you could, right now.

    No, I could not–even if I wanted to, which I don’t. The overture is not “mine.” An individual pastor cannot submit an overture or revise it once it has been submitted. This overture was adopted by a congregation and by a circuit forum and has already been submitted for the convention workbook.

    Now if your congregation or circuit forum wants to submit what you think is a better overture, you have until March 2 for it to be received at the IC.

  22. Now if the floor committee –or a delegate from the floor of the convention, for that matter–feels that it is necessary to take the whereas that defines what constitutes an interfaith service and turn it into the first resolved, just so there can be no misunderstanding or evasion later about what is or isn’t, that would just take a few seconds and a few word changes to do:

    Resolved, that interfaith prayer services and joint worship services with clergy of religious bodies with which we are not in fellowship–whether those services are called “vigils” or “events” or some other term, and whether they may also include some civic elements–that those are services in which multiple clergy members of various religious bodies take turns in leading parts of the service (invocations, prayers, readings, messages, blessings); and be it further . . .

  23. What do we want to do? Participate, knowing the good and the problems; not participate, knowing the good and the problems.

    There is no good in participating.

    Stay steadfast my friends.

  24. One thing I can say about this overture: Over at ALPB, Dave Benke seems obsessed with it, constantly mischaracterizes it, and doesn’t like it. That tells me it’s on the right path. ;^)

  25. @Charles Henrickson #29

    Of course Pres. Benke obsesses. After 1998 and Yankee Stadium, his whole reputation, maybe his whole essense, is tied to this type of service. He has no choice but to come out with both barrels blazing. I totally beleieve you did the right thing, Charles. You have some good proposals. Want to come up with a great one to fix/trash the DRP?

  26. Pastor Louderback,

    I can hardly beliieve that you are asking this question. What is your conclusion? That because some people participate in syncretistic, inter-faith services, there must be some good in it? So because some people believe it is OK to take God’s name in vain, there must be some good in it? So, because some people murder, there must be some good in it?

    You know the answer to your question (at least I sincerely hope you do).

    People are sinful.

  27. BTW Pastor Henrickson, although I might have some slight issues with the way you have worded the resolution, I agree with your intent.
    You, your congregation, and your circuit should be commended for taking action on this. Thank you.

    Stay steadfast my friends.

  28. Jason:
    You have some good proposals. Want to come up with a great one to fix/trash the DRP?

    The Dispute Resolution Process is so bollixed up after the changes made under Bohlmann in 1992 and Kieschnick in 2004 that Hercules would find this task more daunting than cleaning out the Augean stables. My cutting of the Gordian knot would be simply to hit the “Undo” button or “System Restore” and go back to the pre-1992 process. Then if we want to make some changes after that, we could do so in a calm and measured way.

  29. @Dave Schumacher #32

    The main intent is to not have any repeats of the offense-causing behavior while the study of Article VI and the Koinonia Project go forward. If, during that time, the proponents can make their case so persuasively that they convince the Synod to give explicit approval to participation in interfaith services, then that would be the result. But not until then. And in the meantime, no interfaith services, if for no other reason than that they cause so much offense and division.

  30. Dave Schumacher,

    You were the one objecting to my language. I ask a questions and you get defensive.

    I ask again: if there is no good reason, why do people do it? You say “Because they sinful.” So, they want to intentionally do things wrong?

    Is that your position?

    Stay steadfast.

  31. You are worried or concerned about your beliefs and how you are with G-d. Our ancestors saw this kind of thinking and believing before. So please stay away from the interfaith services. We know what many of your ancestors did to ours in Germany or remained indifferent to what was being done in Germany and other countries to our ancestors. Please stay with yourselves, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.