By Roland Lovstad
Recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and a document on theological criteria for assessing cooperative endeavors among other Christians and church bodies were approved by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) during its Dec. 16-18 meeting in St. Louis.
Following the CTCR action on Dec. 17, LCMS President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, having previously consulted with the LCMS Praesidium (vice-presidents), declared recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the SELC.
The procedure for declaring fellowship with small, formative or emerging church bodies was adopted last July by the LCMS convention in its Resolution 3-04A, which established a new Bylaw 126.96.36.199.2c. Under the bylaw, when such a church body requests altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS, the president may declare such fellowship after approval by the CTCR and consultation with the vice-presidents. In accordance with the bylaw, the recognition of fellowship will be brought to the next LCMS convention for its endorsement.
The SELC counts 2,000 members, served by approximately 20 pastors in 22 parishes and preaching stations spread over a 5,000-square-mile area. The church body first requested fellowship discussions some 12 years ago. While discussions have been ongoing, the SELC expressed renewed hopes for moving forward following Harrison’s election last July. In late October, the president sent a delegation to Novosibirsk, Russia, for doctrinal discussions with the SELC.
Representing the LCMS at the discussions were Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, CTCR executive director; Dr. Albert B. Collver III, the Synod’s director of Church Relations — assistant to the president; and Dr. Timothy Quill, dean of international studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.
“As it was my first visit to Siberia, it was very much a learning experience,” said Lehenbauer. “But I was very impressed by the theological and missional zeal of the SELC pastors, leaders and members, and I believe that both the LCMS and the SELC will benefit from and be blessed by formalization of church fellowship.”
In the “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog from the president’s office (www.wmltblog.org), Harrison said, “We give thanks to the Lord that after much patience and long-suffering on the part of the Siberian Lutherans, the Missouri Synod can now recognize the gift of fellowship that the Lord has worked between the LCMS and the SELC.”
The blog also quoted SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin as saying, “From our point of view, we are in fellowship with the LCMS.”
The CTCR document, “Principles for Cooperation in Externals,” follows the 2010 convention Resolution 3-03, which called on the CTCR, “in consultation with the Praesidium and other entities and individuals as needed, [to] develop more in-depth theological criteria for assessing cooperative endeavors, determining what would necessitate termination of such cooperative endeavors.”
The convention resolution also resolved that the Praesidium, in consultation with the CTCR, provide an assessment of the current state of cooperation in externals and a full report of criteria for ongoing assessment by July 31, 2011. The convention resolution grew out of concerns about cooperative work with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, especially following its 2009 assembly action on homosexuality.
The document was drafted by CTCR staff and approved unanimously by the commission for sharing with the Praesidium.
“The adoption of this document is significant and reflects the desire and readiness of the commission to tackle this and other challenging assignments in this new triennium,” said Lehenbauer. “I’m pleased at the cooperative spirit of commission members and the way they came prepared for substantive discussion and action.”
This was the first working meeting of the commission since the convention. Nine of the 16 voting members are newly elected or appointed. The president and first vice president, also newly elected, serve as advisory members.
Lehenbauer said the commission also “did a lot of work” in its three subcommittees. Among the commission projects are:
- continued drafting of a document on immigration, which flows out of the 2007 convention. The CTCR has received a block grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans for a consultation — tentatively scheduled for next fall — involving individuals with expertise in various fields such as economics, education, law, government, law enforcement and advocacy.
- planning for regional conferences to equip congregational leaders in thinking through the issue of caring for God’s creation, both theologically and practically, as a follow-up on the recent report, “Together with all Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth.”
- preparation of study resources for the 2017 celebration of the Lutheran Reformation.
- continuation of assignments on inter-Christian relationships, the theology and practice of prayer, the priesthood of all believers, the natural knowledge of God and the relationship of men and women.
In plenary sessions, the commission discussed the restructuring process with Harrison and heard a report from Collver on his work as director of Church Relations. The commission spent an hour and a half with First Vice-President Herbert Mueller discussing his work on the Koinonia Project to build greater unity in the Synod.
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted Dec. 22, 2010