By Joe Isenhower Jr.
Stepped-up outreach efforts, new hymnals, and task forces on funding -– programs and priorities of the two largest U.S. Lutheran church bodies -– were similar topics that leaders of those churches discussed when they met Oct. 3 in St. Louis.
Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) came together for discussions as the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC). Those discussions are scheduled for two times each year.
Once a year, as was the case following this CLC meeting, a day of theological dialogue also occurs. For this year’s dialogue, the church leaders began what they decided would be a continuing look at the findings of the 1978 document titled “The Function of Doctrine and Theology in Light of the Unity of the Church” –- also known as the “FODT Report.”
During the CLC meeting, LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick spoke about Ablaze!, the Synod’s emphasis to share the Gospel with 100 million people — who are unreached by the Gospel or uncommitted to Christ — by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
The Synod’s new Lutheran Service Book is garnering “positive reception,” Kieschnick reported, especially its electronic version that allows customizing worship services at the local level.
He also spoke about the recently released report of the Synod’s Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission and its recommendations, especially that a “stewardship renaissance” take place in the Synod, and that ways be sought to increase unrestricted giving in the LCMS.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson told about a number of “activities we have in common with the Missouri Synod.”
Evangelical Lutheran Worship is the ELCA’s new worship resource that was published Oct. 3. Noting that the book has features similar to the Missouri Synod’s new hymnal, Hanson said that initial orders are “ahead of expectations.”
Hanson also said that the ELCA also has a Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding, which is scheduled to issue its report next year.
Hanson reported that shared responsibility for new church starts and their funding is being promoted in the ELCA. He indicated that to facilitate this, 130 pastors have been trained to start new churches. Discussions at the CLC meeting also included topics such as budgets, dialogues with other denominations, and relationships with overseas church bodies.
On Oct. 4, most of the CLC members participated in the theological dialogue centered on the “FODT Report,” which was prepared in 1978 and distributed by the Division of Theological Studies of the Lutheran Council in the USA (LCUSA).
Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann, president emeritus of the LCMS, and Dr. H. George Anderson, former presiding bishop of the ELCA, opened the dialogue by recalling their involvement in the preparation of the FODT Report.
As he introduced Bohlmann and Anderson, Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, explained that “the FODT Report has widely been regarded as a responsible presentation of the doctrinal and theological issues that divided the Lutheran Church in America and The American Lutheran Church from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
“Both sides agreed that the report well stated the differences,” Nafzger said. “These basic differences continue to exist today,” he added, “particularly regarding the understanding of the authority of the Scriptures, the meaning of subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, and the basis for church fellowship.”
While noting that the report points to a number of agreements, Bohlmann and Anderson also said that it addresses major theological differences between the Synod and two of the three ELCA predecessor churches in the 1970s, and that differences continue to exist. The discussion that followed supported their statements.
At the end of the dialogue session, the participants agreed to continue to hold future dialogues –- in 2007 and 2008 –- based on material in the FODT Report, and to invite Bohlmann and Anderson to participate in those sessions.
For next year’s dialogue, LCMS and ELCA representatives will give papers on biblical hermeneutics as taught in the two church bodies’ seminaries today, compared with findings of the FODT Report, especially in regard to Scriptural authority and interpretation. In 2008, mission representatives from the two church bodies will give papers on each church’s approach to sharing the Gospel in their respective mission endeavors, particularly in light of current postmodern, pluralistic, and relativistic thought. Those mission representatives will be invited to attend next year’s dialogue.
Bohlmann expressed appreciation for the two churches’ leaders and encouraged them to continue theological discussions in “the slow and patient task of bringing church bodies together … for the sake of God’s mission in the world.”
Anderson spoke of the 30 years since the FODT Report as “a long trip together, one in which we can recognize commonality in many areas despite differences, one in which we can respect one another in a spirit of Christian fellowship.”
In addition to Kieschnick and Nafzger, LCMS participants in the CLC meeting were Dr. William R. Diekelman, first vice president; Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig, secretary; Ronald Schultz, chief administrative officer; and Dr. C. William Hoesman, president of the Michigan District and chairman of the Council of Presidents. Also participating in the theological dialogue for the Synod were Dr. Walter A. Maier III, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and Rev. Ralph Blomenberg, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Seymour, Ind.
Other ELCA representatives at this CLC meeting were Vice President Carlos Peña; Dr. Lowell Almen, secretary; Dr. Charles S. Miller, executive for administration; and Dr. Floyd Schoenhals, bishop of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod. Rev. JoAnn Post of Platteville, Wis., also participated in the theological dialogue session.
Posted Oct. 25, 2006