President Harrison and the District President have both issued new pastoral letters.
Now I am feeling much better for three reasons.
1) President Harrison, instead of his first letter asserting a definition of worship as prayer and readings and holding the pastor guilty, has admitted that we as a synod are conflicted about that definition.
As the nation struggles with increasing violence and tragedy, we as a church body have struggled and continue to struggle with how to respond to civic/religious services in the midst of such events and to do so in a way that is in accord with our core convictions about the uniqueness of Christ. There are strong differences of opinion on this issue within the Missouri Synod, and that is because we all take our commitments to the Bible and to serving the neighbor very seriously.
2) President Harrison has made it clear that Pastor Morris’ apology was not over that difference, but as his initial letter held he apologized where offense was taken. The apology was not over core differences which are still present, but was an acknowledgement of differences.
I naively thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional process of working through our differences, well out of the public spotlight. That plan failed miserably. Pastor Morris graciously apologized where offense was taken as a humble act to help maintain our often fragile unity in the church (1 Corinthians 8).
3) The joint statement of unity is big to me. This may be taking it too far, but what I take that as is President Harrison who sympathizes with a tighter definition, and the pastor who sympathizes with a looser definition, acknowledge that this is not, at this time, a communion dividing difference. There are no anathemas to be declared. That is the purpose behind the announcement of reconciliation and peace in my hearing.
If there is one thing that I am for it is clear definitions even if those definitions are just of the status of the controversy. At the time of the Reformation it literally took two generations to work through differences and come to concord captured in the Formula of Concord. The first part of that work is always a definition of the controversy. The first set of letters in my mind dodged clarity and asserted unity where there was none. These are clear and call a thing what it is. That is a holy tension we carry.
Three 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?
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.
These have been a problem from beginning of the LCMS. The last flare-up was District President Behnke around 9/11. When I saw Newtown I was wondering if we’d see another. I just received a notice from the Synodical President’s office. Here is his letter (with his ruling) in regards to the Newton pastor’s actions. Here is the pastor’s letter.
I’ll let you read each. If you have any questions, concern or discussion we can talk about this in bible class or just give me ring.
The only new ground here that I found interesting is President Harrison’s definition of worship – the presence of prayers and religious readings. That moves the needle considerably toward the Wisconsin Synod definition in regards to prayer fellowship.