Monday, October 5, 2009

Brothers in Arms?

There is a curious article that recently appeared on the news feed of the ELCA website that was dealing with the ongoing cooperation between the ELCA and the LCMS. The title of the article is "ELCA, LCMS Leaders to Continue Cooperative Ministries, When Possible".

I am all about playing nice and partnering together with other denominations. While we do not affirm their doctrinal positions, we do acknowledge the "felicitous inconsistencies" and count them as our brothers in Christ. No problems there.

However, there were a few things in the article that struck me as odd. The first was not so much what the article said, but more what it did not say. The article was a general report of the ongoing cooperation between the two church bodies that was discussed in a recent meeting of the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC) on September 28-29. It acknowledged the gap existing due most recently to the August 19 decision to accept homosexual relationships, but it acknowledged the common priority of human care. The article mentioned as representative voices President Gerald Kieschnick, Raymond Hartwig, and Sam Nafzger. These men are certainly capable representatives of the LCMS. However, it does strike me as odd that there was not a representative from LCMS World Relief and Human Care. This is after all the organization that is most involved in these ministries in the LCMS and it would have provided greater representation and understanding of the work being done. In short, where was Matt Harrison?

Second question. The article reported that Sam Nafzger commented that, "We believe, teach and confess some things that bind us together such as our common understanding of Baptism."

Now I have been in plenty of situations where I was looking for something positive to say and blurted something out that I later regretted. I daily ask the Lord's forgiveness for these sins - and there are many of them. But this does give pause to ask the question, does the LCMS share with the ELCA a common understanding of Baptism? I am not convinced that we do.

Baptism is God's gift for sinners of which I am the worst. I daily confess my poorly chosen words, not to mention my thoughts and actions, that are offensive to God and I rejoice that I have been baptized and those sins are not counted against me. But this baptism is God's gift for sinners who have repented of their sin. (Acts 2:38) If the ELCA has placed a stamp of approval on sin then what need is there for repentance, what need is there for baptism? Read their document - sin is not sin because it offends God. It is sin because it "exploits", "shames", "abuses" another person, because it has "destructive consequences for individuals, relationships, and the community." (See "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" p. 4, p. 5)

If this is true, then I don't need to repent when I have violated God's law, I only need to repent when I have made someone feel badly. (I suppose, by that definition, I will then need to repent when I do preach God's law that convicts us of sin and makes us feel ashamed and guilty). While we might still have the Bible and the Book of Concord on the bookshelf in our respective studies - I do not believe that we read them and understand them the same way. I am not convinced that we share a common understanding of baptism.

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