The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) serves the Synod’s congregations and its president toward the fulfillment of two objectives as stated in the LCMS Constitution.
First, the CTCR seeks to assist the Synod to “conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3–6; 1 Cor. 1:10), work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy” (Article III, 1).
Second, the CTCR provides LCMS pastors and congregations with “resources and opportunities for recognizing, promoting, expressing, conserving, and defending their confessional unity in the true faith” (Article III, 6).
In light of these responsibilities, the commission addressed numerous matters of “theology and church relations” in the past year.
(All documents listed herein are available online for free download at the link provided.)
This past year marked the close of a triennium. For that reason, the CTCR spent significant time preparing for the 2019 convention. The commission’s report to the convention is published in the Synod’s 2019 Convention Workbook. The report describes the documents on theological topics that the CTCR prepared in the past triennium, including the reports and studies published in the past year:
❶ The Royal Priesthood: Identity and Mission (Sept. 2018) considers the baptismal calling of every Christian as a royal priest, proclaiming God’s saving works, offering ourselves as living sacrifices in thanksgiving and making intercession for others. The royal priesthood’s roots in the Old Testament are explored before its full development in the New Testament is considered. A historical survey of the topic between the end of the NT era and the Reformation paves the way for an exploration of Luther’s profound development of the royal priesthood. The conclusion identifies seven core aspects of the royal priesthood to guide our understanding. The report is available in English (thelc.ms/royal-priesthood) and Spanish (thelc.ms/royal-priesthood-sp). There is also a study guide at thelc.ms/royal-priesthood-study.
❷ Immigrants Among Us: A Lutheran Framework for Addressing Immigration Issues was published in 2011 (thelc.ms/immigrants). The report has been well-received and commended for its solid, biblical approach in framing questions about immigration — an approach that fosters reasonable discussion of matters that too often devolve into animosity and contention. The commission developed a companion to the report: Immigrants Among Us—A Bible Study and Discussion Guide (Sept. 2018; thelc.ms/immigrants-sp). This study, like the report, leads users through biblical and confessional principles regarding immigration: (1) love for the neighbor and the fact that all people, including aliens and strangers, are our neighbors; (2) the significant distinction between God’s rule in the church and His rule by civil laws and governing authorities; and (3) the importance of vocation with regard to the matter of immigration. The report and study are not biased toward any particular political orientation nor do they endorse specific recommendations for governmental policy.
❸ The CTCR recently published a report on Baptism: An Inexpressible Treasure: The Theology and Practice of Holy Baptism (Nov. 2018) together with an accompanying Bible study (thelc.ms/holy-baptism; thelc.ms/holy-baptism-study). This report begins by showing how Baptism flows directly from the ministry of Jesus as described in the Gospels, before examining apostolic teaching on Baptism in the epistles, Luther’s exposition of Baptism, and various theological and practical questions in the church today. A section of questions and answers concludes the report and the study.
➍ The way the “virtual world” of social media impacts us today led the CTCR to prepare A Snapshot of Trending Tools: Christians and Social Media (Feb. 2019; thelc.ms/social-media). Social media’s influence on American life seems all-pervasive, but for all its popularity, it is also the subject of ongoing suspicion, complaints and worries since it is largely impossible to restrict it and its messages, whether they are true or false. The report examines social media’s many aspects as it provides guidance for Christians to use social media in ways that are in keeping with our calling as a royal priesthood.
❺ In February 2019, the CTCR adopted Confession and Absolution—Study Guide (thelc.ms/confession-absolution). The study guide is based on the CTCR’s Confession and Absolution report from 2018. Like the report, the study guide gives significant attention to the needs of pastors for the gift of individual confession and absolution, but then it also shows how beneficial this Means of Grace can be for every individual Christian.
When a church body requests recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS, the CTCR assists the president in his role as the Synod’s chief ecumenical officer. The CTCR is responsible to address the request in light of the doctrine and practice of the requesting church. The CTCR’s approval of recognition is required for the request to be proposed to the president and/or the Synod in convention, which makes the final determination regarding such requests.
During the past year, in preparation for the 2019 LCMS convention, the commission approved fellowship requests from four church bodies. The 67th Regular Convention in July recognized fellowship with the Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium, the Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa and the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark.
This article originally appeared in print in the November 2019 issue of The Lutheran Witness.