This is a message I received from my friends at the Confessing Movement via e-mail, and thought some of you, my blog friends, might be interested in reading it. -GZ
Full Communion: Lutherans, UMs and Homosexuality
By Dr. Riley Case
One of the more refreshing experiences of my ministry was serving for eight years in Indiana on a United Methodist-Lutheran (ELCA) dialogue team. Brought together by the bishops in Indiana, the team was exploring how the two denominations might work toward full communion. This was at the same time discussions were taking place nationally on an official level. Our state group finished its work, published its conclusions, and waited for the national group to catch up.
Full communion talks with Lutherans were (at least at that time) encouraging for United Methodist evangelicals for the following reasons:
1) Lutherans could talk about theology meaningfully. Unfortunately, many United Methodists, including those who graduated from United Methodist seminaries, could not. The talks led a number of United Methodists on the team to do homework.
2) The Lutherans believed that Christian full communion must derive from the historic faith. Consequently, there were continual references to Augsburg, Athanasius, Nicea, and the Articles of Religion. There could well be more talk about John Wesley in a two-day session with Lutherans than there could in a year of United Methodist meetings.
Lutherans had some (if not all) of their priorities straight. Contrast this with efforts to have dialogue between evangelicals and progressives in the United Methodist Church. It is almost impossible when dealing with progressives to turn the conversation toward the importance of doctrine. UM progressives want to talk about feelings, institutional connectionalism, tolerance, and common social goals rather than doctrine as a basis for unity. Indeed, a common criticism of evangelicals by progressives is that evangelicals are “rigid” and “intolerant,” implying that doctrine itself is rigid and intolerant since when strongly held it violates the progressive value of inclusiveness and relativity.
3) Lutherans helped United Methodists sort out what was and what was not, essential to our expression of the faith. Lutherans were mystified by explanations of revivalism and the UM propensity to sing songs like “Victory in Jesus.” UMs were mystified by the Lutheran assumption that our sessions together (at least when hosted by Lutherans) needed to start off with wine, crackers, and cheese.
Even at that time-20 years ago-when our state Lutheran and United Methodist groups were having conversations, it was apparent that, practically speaking, from a United Methodist perspective, United Methodists always did consider ourselves in “full communion” with groups like the Lutherans. United Methodists practice open communion and accept ministers from other groups to serve in our churches as long as they meet our standards (which for the most part are not very demanding). So the question was not whether we would accept Lutherans but rather would they accept us.
Now, it seems, they do. At the UM General Conference in 2008 and at the Lutheran Assembly this summer the highest legislative bodies of both denominations approved action declaring we are now in “Full Communion.” This is not a merger (of course), but an acknowledgment that each church acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the authenticity of each other’s baptism and Eucharist, and is committed to working together toward Christian unity.
Why then are we not more excited? We are not more excited because the same Assembly that voted Full Communion with United Methodists also voted to lift a ban that prohibited practicing gays and lesbians from serving as pastors. Indeed, as reported in the secular media (and in some of the religious media) the action on full communion with UMs and the action on lifting the ban on gay clergy were sometimes mentioned in the same headline, as in this headline: Lutherans Approve of Gay Clergy; Vote Unity with Methodists.
No wonder the Sunday after the Lutheran action is reported, UM Sunday school classes and study groups had to ask what was going on. If UMs receive Lutheran pastors in UM churches does this mean UMs must accept practicing gays? (The answer is no because all persons coming into UM ministry must adhere to UM standards.)
But there is still a sense of betrayal. Lutherans who want a closer relationship with United Methodists vote at the same time to distance themselves from the rest of Christendom by taking a stance on human sexuality that is contrary not only to the Scriptures but to the stated position of 98% of the Christian bodies of the world. ECLA Lutherans in America may have endeared themselves to the Lutheran state churches of Europe (which are known for their deadness in spirit) but they are not even in full communion with other Lutherans in America, or with Lutherans in third-world countries.
We should pray for the Lutherans. Myriads of Lutherans in local churches are in upheaval. As a denomination ELCA Lutherans are losing members at a rate of twice that of United Methodists (for the past several years about 1.6% compared with about .8% for UMs). Lutherans have much to offer United Methodists, and American Christianity. But the future does not look bright.
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