Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Kind of Lutheran

I am only now starting to read the ALPB Forum Online thread "Death of mainline protestantism" which was set off a month ago by Editor Joseph Bottum's essay, "The Death of Protestant America" in the current (August/September 2008) issue of First Things. The essay has struck several pastors within the circles I travel, and I do recommend it.

But, at least near its beginning, the ALPB thread managed to move into another conversation about the, uh, long-term prospects of the inter-ELCA coalition that has come together in Lutheran CORE. Can "Evangelical Catholics" (such as myself) and the folks who coalesced around the WordAlone Network stay together? In most respects, I'm not really interested in that particular question. When we look at what ails the ELCA, we have identified via Lutheran CORE certain matters that we commonly agree are necessary reforms if the ELCA is to be a faithful church. We are in the one ELCA right now and we have no desire to leave this church. I am not prepared to give any definitive answer to the question, "What if CORE fails?" I'm presuming CORE will succeed.

At the same time, one of the reasons there is a Lutheran CORE is because, at the final meeting of Solid Rock Lutherans after the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, I would not be part of the "confessing association" that the WordAlone Network was planning to establish because I could not put my name to the Common Confession that they were presenting to us as a fait accompli. That led to a recasting of the Common Confession so that it included only the seven statements, and no additional commentary or explanation that were part of what we were originally presented. This I could endorse, though it would be pretty obvious that I would interpret a couple of those statements in a very different manner than would the WordAlone folks.

Anywho, this entry is inspired by this post by my friend Tom Pearson a month ago (like I say, I'm only now getting to that topic) in that ALPB Forum Online thread to another friend, Pr. Ken Kimball, as they discussed the use of Eucharistic Prayers in the Lutheran liturgy as one of those, uh, symbols of the division within Lutheran CORE and the ELCA (and, for that matter, Lutheranism itself). Prof. Pearson writes:
There are some who are convinced that, since Holy Scripture was written, redacted and ratified by representatives of the Church, that the final authority in matters theological is the Church and her traditions, not Scripture itself. As a corollary, there is the further conviction that theological novelties have to be tested against the weight of the diverse yet bounded traditions of the Church, and not merely against Scripture. They understand that the Church is the historical and institutional incarnation of the Body of Christ throughout history, and is neither reducible to the local congregation nor inflatable to "the invisible church." They are persuaded that while Word and Sacrament are sufficient for the unity of the Church, Word and Sacrament are embodied in the historical liturgies of the Church and are not a set of abstract ideals that can be captured in non-traditional liturgical concoctions motivated by some trendy vision of "mission." They believe both Word and Scarament ought to be proclaimed regularly, weekly if possible, for the comfort of Christian consciences tormented by sin, and because that has been the traditional practice of the western Church. They view ordination as a "setting apart" for the whole Church, and not as "ordination to place": meaning that ordination is prior to a particular call, and not the other way around. Some will insist that ordination implies an ordering within an apostolic succession, however that is defined. A few even harbor a dirty little secret -- that ordination does in fact confer a charism that distinguishes, in some effective but non-soteriological way, the ordained from the non-ordained. Lutherans have scant theological resources for trying to explain how this works, but it is the teaching of the Church catholic in the west, it is our heritage, and the conviction is there. As a result, this will mean (among other things) that only the ordained should consecrate the elements of the Eucharistic meal. It's not just a matter of good order.

I know there are many Lutherans on the other side of the divide who will strongly dissent from at least half of these positions, if not most of them. Again, attitudes toward Eucharistic Prayers are often initially, and sometimes superficially, symptomatic of deeper theological convictions on such matters as I've indicated above.
Though I've not chimed in on that thread (yet?), it would come as no surprise to ALPB Forum Online's readers that the perspective Tom describes in that first paragraph is one he and I share. And he writes it so well, I'm posting it here.

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