Friday, October 09, 2009

Unity and Schism in the ELCA

On an entirely unrelated discussion on an internet forum, I was commenting on the Conservative Bible Project, the misguided idea of creating a new biblical translation/paraphrase that makes the bible say what the group would like it to say (really, how do you twist parables to bring out free market principles?).

Well, in the discussion we were having, one member, an ardent Roman Catholic, was beginning to set up the argument that would lead us into debating where the authority of scripture lay, and for him it was bound up in the teaching magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. this was not a big surprise for me, since he goes there often in these discussions. In order to have the conversation, I picked up the sixth volume of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, Teaching Authority & Infallibility in the Church. It was there that I found a most intriguing comment. In the "Common Statement," it read,
On the Lutheran side, there seems at first glance no room for reassessment. The Reformers' attitude toward papal infallibility was strongly negative. They insisted that in proclaiming the Pauline teaching of justification of the sinner by grace through faith they had a biblical and catholic basis. Consequently they regarded the excommunication of Luther as an arbitrary act, an abuse of papal authority. They viewed the division in the Church as a tragic necessity, as the price they had to pay for fidelity to the Word of God. (p. 13)
While many in the ELCA are talking about leaving, I think this statement still bears repeating. Division in the church might be necessary, but it is tragic and each side must understand that they bear a cost associated with that division. Divide if you must, but don't think your stand is free of costs, even if your side is right. Schism damages the witness of the whole church. The loss of a visible unity, while perhaps necessary for whatever reason, is nothing to be take lightly.

Five hundred years after Luther posted the ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg, the Lutherans and Roman Catholics still refrain from officially sharing the meal that Christ sets before us. In the midst of conversations about what it means to be the church (I am not sure the root of all the strife in the ELCA is just about homosexuality, but more about ecclesiology and the nature of the church), what will the cost of losing visible unity be for all of us?


Pastor Joelle said...

Of course the difference being that LUTHER did not leave the church. It was not his choice to leave the church. Nobody is forcing the schismatics out today.

StPaulScribe said...

Oh do I agree with you - The discussion is much larger - May the ELCA stay together gathering at the foot of the cross and then going off to their ministries, to love, help and support everyone in need!!