Unionism & Syncretism Follow-up

COEXISTThree days ago I noted something interesting coming out of LCMS, inc. and wondered if it might get picked up by the larger news media.

Jerry comes in today and asks, “have you see a small snippet in the D&C?” I had not, and I couldn’t find it on the D&C website, but I imagine it came from this AP wire report. I think the AP did a much more even job than I would have expected. However I do wonder if that is because the way it is portrayed is “church struggling to overcome archaic rule-book”. I wonder if the reporter would have taken the same tone and approach if she had connected the politics of the previous president coming out in support in very strong words and the current president issuing a ruling and asking for an apology. Her story arc doesn’t fit that well.

That is enough media criticism. Just a couple of definitions. Syncretism, which this event following Pres. Harrison’s definition would have been, is when a Christian and any non-Christian are involved in worship together. What is being said by such an action is that all “gods” are the same. All paths lead to the same “god”. The leaders are syncretizing beliefs. This was big in the ancient and pagan world as each locality would have its “gods” like Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28) who would be identified by other names in other places like Diana (Rome) or Cybele (Asia). Since the gathering in Newtown included Muslims and Hindus you would use syncretism. Unionism is more limited. Unionism is when leaders of different Christian confessions, say Lutheran and Baptist, get together for worship. What is being said by such action is that baptizing babies vs. waiting for a believers baptism or the body and blood in with and under the bread and wine vs. a memorial meal are not really big differences. The LCMS was spurred by something called the Prussian Union which did just that saying the Reformed and Lutheran would worship in the same place because there was no true difference in the core of the gospel. Fleeing that, unionism became the big hob-goblin of the LCMS.

As I said in that previous post, to me the most interesting thing is President Harrison’s definition of worship. He puts in extraneous things to bolster his definition, like vestments, but the core of his definition is prayer and religious readings. What happens when I have coffee in the morning with my baptist friend and we pray and read a scripture passage? Or what happens during VBS when we open with Prayer, singing of songs and reading of a scripture verses? In a deeply pluralistic society, unless you are Amish, can you avoid unionism?

Afternoon update
Here is the NY Times on this story.

Here is Get Religion (Mollie) who is LCMS, but who has a much harsher take on that AP story I included this morning.

Interesting (at least to me) talk given by Pres. Harrison

Kinda a “state of the union” address by the LCMS president. Here is the site I caught it on.

I’m not really sure what to say about it. The good I would think is that he is passionate and smart. Two characteristics that even when you might disagree on some things makes you willing to think you are heading in the right direction instead of into the ditch. Let me talk about this in a couple of ways. First, he is not afraid to talk about serious things. Although I do wonder if he would grant that same right to those who might disagree. Dialog is only tested when the one out of hierarchical power is allowed to debate. Otherwise it is just a clever inquisition. Second, as he alluded to in the talk, his audience was highly made up of those agreeing with him. And he challenged them to put up or shut up in regards to church planting. That crowd has “great expectations” of his presidency and he has consistently challenged them back instead of trying to just deliver the goods (which he can’t do anyway, at least not a keep his job.)

There are also a couple of items that gave me the willies. The fact that a synodical president in the midst of a rant on preaching felt free to call out his only bad example being seminarians or implying that the young are the worst talks to me of someone used to our system that blames and eats the young. Nothing was said about the generation or two still in pulpits that put us in this situation. But only those without homiletical sin should cast the first stone, so I’ll stop now after a pebble and freely admit that I am over the top about “protecting the least among us”. The second thing is the whole treatment of women and the conflation of women with the homosexual issue. First that is shoddy tarring with the same brush two vastly different things. (If you want the popular treatment of the complexity of women’s ordination check out Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet Even if you end up disagreeing, you will never just dismiss this issue so lightly). Second, he felt compelled to bring up the answer du jour for confessional church growth – more kids. Is there some truth to the argument that we are shrinking because we aren’t having enough kids? Yes. But as a local “prophet” ask me constantly – “What would you do with them if you were given them?” In his own talk he concedes that we lost something like 75% of those we are given. What I hear (not what he said, but what I hear when the things are put together) is something along the same lines as picking on seminarians. Instead of seminarians this time its those darn women not having enough kids that are giving us such trouble. Lets just say I don’t think that is a winning message.

So, like I said, I’m inclined to say right track, but man, there are just some things that made me cringe. I guess what I’d chalk that up to is that even at almost 40 I’m much younger than the ministerium that elected him, and I’ve grown up and worked in a much different environment that just hears different things to those spots.

Below is the talk. I’d encourage anyone to judge for themselves. I hope I haven’t been too negative. As I said, more positive, and the negative is probably more about me.

Part #1

Part #2

Part #3

Two interesting events in the life of the church – Charity and Investiture

The first is local to my synod and actually made the major papers. The Pan-Lutheran relief agencies appear to be splitting over the ELCA votes concerning homosexuality. Here is the article.

I’m not really sure about this. On the negative side, I don’t really think doctrinal purity is a reason to stop works of charity. I am also wary of some of the statements from the CTCR quoted. I think they could just as easily be used against churches within the synod as charitable partners. For example “adopt operational principles alien or contrary to scripture” in certain circles could be read as any church that uses some “church growth” techniques is to be doubted. Lutherans have always run ecclesially light. Unlike Catholics who mandate an episcopal structure, or reformed who work in presbyteries or baptists who are local control – Lutherans can confessionally be found in all organizations. That statement would signal a potential change. On the positive side, the Harrison administration says something and given time takes action instead of just letting inertia and lethargy do their thing.

The other interesting thing is the growing investiture crisis in China. The Catholic church for many years worked with the Catholic Patriotic Church (as well as running house churches). Occasionally China asserts the patriotic side of that body and appoints bishops. In the west, settled in the snows of Canossa, the Pope alone appoints or invests bishops. Some interesting parallels. If you work with someone (like the LCMS and ELCA in charity) you will have to deal with relationship troubles – like who appoints bishops and leaders and where money gets spent. If you opt for purity, you control that, but where does that line stop and do you have the reach to actually make disciples, or are you too worried about your purity. [This one eats with tax collectors and sinners].