02 August 2007

Floor Committee 3: Theology and Church Relations

Normally, the resolutions dealing with theology and church relations are among the most controversial at an LCMS Convention. That was partially true again this time around, but, relatively speaking, the work of Floor Committee 3 was somewhat less contentious than that of some others.

3-01 To Declare Altar and Pulpit Fellowship with the American Association of Lutheran Churches (846 pro; 345 against; 71%). This was certainly one of the most significant actions taken by the Synod in this Convention. It marks the first time in four decades that the LCMS has entered into altar and pulpit fellowship with another Lutheran Church in this country. There were a number of legitimate concerns raised in the course of debate, regarding some charismatic issues and a laxity in the actual practice of discipline within the AALC. These are not things to be taken lightly, surely, but the overall impression I got was of a Church struggling to remain faithful under the Cross. The AALC is comprised mainly of former ALC congregations and pastors, who were unwilling to become part of the ELCA when it formed in the late 1980s. Evidently it also includes some former LCMS members, which raises the question of what it now means for them to be in fellowship with us again. Nevertheless, declaring fellowship with the AALC appears to have been a good and right move, one that will be beneficial to the AALC in its confession and practice of the faith. I dare say that it may also be a blessing and benefit to the LCMS, even as we struggle with challenges and difficulties of our own (not so different). The presiding pastor of the AALC addressed the Convention following the adoption of this resolution, and if he is representative of his colleagues within that Church, then I am all the more glad that we have extended the hand of fellowship to them, to serve and support one another with the Word of God. The AALC has 79 congregations and 107 pastors (not including emeriti). It has been training its seminarians at our Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne since 2006.

3-02 To Encourage Confessional Study in Preparation for 2017 (1093 pro; 38 against; 96.6%). Mom and applie pie. We ought to study the Creeds and Confessions of the Church. Good idea. There could hardly be any better way to prepare for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

3-03 To Request the CTCR to Develop a Plan for Confessional Leadership (959 pro; 81 against; 92.2%). This sort of confessional leadership is so basic and fundamental to who we are and what we should be doing all the time, it is tempting to wonder why we need a resolution to be about it. Still, it is a fine thing to be intentional and deliberate in both studying and teaching our Lutheran confessional theology. The resolution calls for widespread participation in such efforts, both for our own edification and the support of others around the world. Included in the overall scope is the completion and publication of a new dogmatics text, which I remember being in the works already when I was a seminary student (fifteen years ago). For that project to see the light of day is, potentially, a very exciting and positive development. Let's hope for the best.

3-04A To Call for a Study of the Natural Knowledge of God (980 pro; 96 against; 91.1%). Given the controversy over this whole matter of the natural knowledge of God and the way it relates to the worship of God, a careful study is surely in order. This resolution reaffirms "that there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ and that it is impossible to worship the one true God in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23ff) apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ." It also calls upon the CTCR, in consultation with the seminary faculties, to prepare a study of these topics, especially as they inform our witness in the public square. I hope that the seminary faculties will be fully engaged in this work, and that it will be carried out apart from any partisan or political agenda.

3-05 To Provide Further Discussion and Guidance on the Matter of Serial Prayer (935 pro; 163 against; 85.2%). I remain very disappointed in this resolution, and with the whole series of events that has led to it. It asks the CTCR to provide "further guidance for participation in civic events that include the offering of serial prayer," although the CTCR has not been particulary helpful in this regard heretofore, and has really raised more questions than answers. This all came about as a consequence of the Yankee Stadium debacle of 2001, and it is always poor procedure for theology to be driven by casuistry (especially as an excuse after the fact). Here, too, I would like to see the seminary faculties fully involved in the study of these questions; yet, in the case of this resolution, the participation of the seminaries has not been requested. Whatever will come of this, I pray without ceasing that the LCMS will fear, love and trust in the one true God, and forthrightly confess (in word and deed) the First Commandment, that there must be "no other gods before Him." The Holy Triune God does not stand in line for His turn at the podium. May He grant us repentance and forgiveness for the idolatry of our sinful hearts.

3-06 To Assign CTCR to Address Environmental Issues (831 pro; 219 against; 79.1%). Whatever. I guess this might be a mom-and-apple-pie kind of thing, though the smaller majority in favor of it would suggest otherwise. It strikes me as more political than theological in nature.

3-07 To Study CTCR Reports Relating to the Service of Women in the Church (870 pro; 286 against; 75.3%). This follows the controversial and unprecedented action of the previous Convention, which basically said that women may be permitted to hold any office in the Church, or to perform any function in the Church, except to be ordained as pastors or to exercise the "public ministry" of preaching and the Sacraments. From the standpoint of the CTCR, this is the full extent of what the Holy Scriptures have to say concerning the order of creation and the authority that women are not to have over men. In part, the CTCR has been bolstered in its position by the fact that only a handful of responses have been received to its preliminary report of the mid-1990s. Be that as it may, many people were shocked and distressed by the move taken at the 2004 Convention, and have expressed dissent to that action in a variety of ways. This resolution, in addition to commending the CTCR for its recent Response to Expressions of Dissent, asks that the Synod wait for a comprehensive CTCR report "on the scriptural relationship of man and woman," expected in 2008, and then engage a thorough study and discussion of the topic. Okay, that's probably an important step in the right direction, or at least potentially so. Nobody ought to hold their breath in expectation that the CTCR will reach any different conclusion than it has propounded and promulgated over the past nine years, and which has now been ensconced in the polity and practice of the Synod. However, it cannot be allowed to happen that next to no one responds with any constructive criticism of the CTCR's comprehensive report. Here is an opportunity, within our established structures and agreed-upon processes, to do theology with and for each other. Everyone ought to participate as fully as possible, each and all of us submitting to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and trusting the Word of the Lord to bring about genuine repentance wherever it is needed, as well as greater clarity in our understanding, confession and practice. If we don't make an effort to be engaged in the process and contribute, we have no one but ourselves to blame for things going badly.

3-08 To Encourage Use of CTCR's Web Resource on "Religous Organizations and Movements" (1001 pro; 17 against; 98.3%). Mom and applie pie. Just do it.

3-09 To Address Administration of the Lord's Supper (986 pro; 177 against; 84.8%). This actually proved to be a more significant resolution than I expected. It reaffirms (again) the practice of close(d) Communion (though I can't help but smirk and roll my eyes at the staunch insistence that "closed" be spelled with parentheses around the "d"). It also calls for practical guidance from the CTCR, "in consultation with the seminaries and Council of Presidents," "for responsible pastoral care in the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar." This is nice language, really, and I would like to hope and believe that it is aimed at genuine faithfulness, with integrity and consistency in actual practice. With that in mind, I was pleased by an amendment to the resolution, calling upon the district presidents to oversee a return to the faithful practice of close(d) Communion on the part of pastors and congregations under their ecclesiastical supervision. It will be a very positive thing if the spirit and the letter of this resolution are heeded, despite the fact that it will be an uphill battle in some of our districts.

3-10 To Encourage the Publication of Theological Literature (947 pro; 210 against; 81.8%). This resolution calls for the establishment of a new Committee on Church Literature (by June 2008), for the purpose of providing meaningful input to Concordia Publishing House in support of theological publication. I'm not sure why there seemed to be such suspicion on the part of various delegates who spoke to this resolution. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of creating more committees, but I gather that CPH has desired this kind of input. It seems to me that it offers as much or more prospect for good than simply another layer of bureaucracy. I'm a little surprised that it wasn't more strongly embraced as a mom-and-apple-pie sort of thing.

3-11 To Endeavor to Keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace (1018 pro; 112 against; 90.1%). The study of the most fundamental doctrines and articles of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity and Christology, is not only a salutary undertaking in any case, but may well bring the Synod into a real discussion of the fundamental points of disagreement among us. The pastors of the Synod, in particular, need to make a conscientious effort to participate in these studies, both listening to and learning from others and confessing and contributing in turn.

3-12 To Address Licensed Lay Deacons. Dealt with under Floor Commitee 5: Seminary and University Education, Res. 5-02.

3-13 To Respectfully Decline Overtures (919 pro; 167 against; 84.6%). No great shakes. The matter of closed Communion was, ostensibly, dealt with in Res. 3-09 (above).


jerseyboy7 said...

Regarding 3-09, who in your opinion should be excluded from taking communion at an LCMS church?

jerseyboy7 said...

Rick, regarding my question above I am more interested in how you come to your answer than the actual answer itself.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I generally don't think of this question of who should be excluded, although, of course, practicing closed communion does mean (as it did in the early church, as well) that there are those who are excluded from the Holy Communion.

My approach to this is based, chiefly, on the fact that Jesus gives His body and blood to His disciples. Who are His disciples? Those who are baptized in accordance with His institution and catechized in all that He has commanded. Catechsis is not a "terminal" process, but an ongoing, daily and lifelong thing. So, I regard Holy Baptism and ongoing catechesis to be the primary criteria for determining who is to be given the Holy Communion.

Receiving the Holy Communion at a particular altar is to share in the confession and fellowship of that congregation. This is where the aspect of church fellowship is important, rather than simply the personal faith and confession of the individual. We are too much inclined to think in terms of autonomous individuals, instead of members of a community (Church).

Anyway, what I ask a person who inquires about receiving the Holy Communion is this: (1.) Have you been baptized (in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)? (2.) Have you been catechized in the Lutheran faith (the six chief parts of the Small Catechism)? (3.) Are you a communicant member of an LCMS congregation? (4.) Would your pastor have any objections or concerns about your communing here?

These are basic questions, which do no preclude pastoral discretion in particular situations.

I should also say that I don't use "confirmation" as a criteria for admittance to the Sacrament. Worthy reception is by faith in the Word of Christ, but I can't read faith in the heart, so I operate on the basis of outward criteria: Baptism, catechesis, and a public confession of the faith (including church membership).

I hope this is a helpful response to your questions.

jerseyboy7 said...

sRick, you might not think of the issue in terms of who should be excluded, but I guarantee you there are those who do. I recall there were some LCMS churches who issued statements saying they would refuse to commune President Kieschnick if he were to show up at their churches. I'm not sure any discipline was taken against those churches.

You made the following statement: "Receiving the Holy Communion at a particular altar is to share in the confession and fellowship of that congregation." Where in Scripture or the confessions do you find that point of view. Do you recall what Luther said regarding who was worthy to receive the sacrament?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Sorry to be slow in replying to your last comment and question, Jersey Boy. Your question about the confessional significance of the Holy Communion is a good one, and I haven't been ignoring it. In fact, I've been taking my time to think about it carefully, and it occurs to me that I should probably formulate an entire blog post on that very point. Due to a number of demands upon my time at the present, I doubt that I'll get to it right away, but I'll try to keep it in mind for the future.

For the time being, my short answer would be that this is at the heart of St. Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, the relationship of participation in the Holy Communion to the fellowship of the Church as one Body in Christ. Negatively speaking, his admonition against a participation in the sacrifices offered to demons also seems apropos in principle. I don't say that as an accusation of other Christians as somehow demonic, but I refer only to the relationship of confession and practice.

It also occurs to me that the issues involved in table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, such as in Galatians 2 and Acts 6, are examples of divisions in the Holy Communion on the basis of adiaphora. Those sorts of divisions - due to differences in circumcision, in "fasting" or other man-made ceremonies, or for reasons of nationality, social status or sex - are not only inappropriate, but offensive and contrary to the faith.

From the standpoint of the early church, I would offer that receiving the Holy Communion at a particular altar is to be in unity and fellowship with the bishop in that place (the pastor loci). But such fellowship with the bishop is not simply in relation to an abstract or static office. It is, rather, to be in harmony with the teaching and practice of the man who functions in that office. I believe that is the sort of understanding one finds at work in the letters of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. I need to go back and review Elert's book (translated by Nagel) on Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries.

I should also say that I tend to have a very eucharistic ecclesiology (though I realize that terminology may carry baggage that I don't necessary endorse). It seems to me that a common participation in the holy things of Christ both presupposes and substantiates the unity of the faith. The common confession of the Church precedes fellowship at the common table. In turn, to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ it to be gathered together into the one body of Christ, His Church. As I recall, the difference between this unity and fellowship "before" and "after" has been designated by our Lutheran dogmaticians as "concord" and "unitas," respectively. But I'm working from memory on that distinction.

Guess that's all I can say for now. I do appreciate your good questions and helpful remarks.