07 October 2009

More Strange Bedfellows

As a postscript to my earlier post regarding joint missionary or humanitarian endeavors between the LCMS and the ELCA, here is yet another example of not just strange bedfellows, but an unusual ministère à trois.

The Southern District of the LCMS has a joint ministry not only with the ELCA, but also with the Episcopal Church USA. It is called Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi.

Obviously, in a humanitarian emergency situation, we should work with anyone in order to save lives. In the aftermath of a hurricane or tsunami, for example, if Hindus and Christians are sharing a boat to rescue people, I think this is a commendable thing. However, I think there is a big difference between a spontaneous emergency and the deliberate setting up of a joint ministry. I think there would be quite a bit of objection to having an organized joint LCMS-Hindu ministry - no matter how noble the goals (maybe I'm wrong about this!).

LESM is indeed a joint ministry between three church bodies, two of which are in fellowship with each other, and the other of which isn't. This is not a spontaneous reaction to a disaster, but rather a carefully-planned 501-c3 organization with bylaws, employees, and a mission statement.

At least one member of the staff is an "ordained" woman.

Is this kind of cooperative ministry appropriate for a district of the LCMS? If so, what about cooperation with non-Christian religions? What about joint work with other Christian (and non-Christian groups) on behalf of the unborn? Should any line be drawn anywhere?

--- Rev. Larry Beane


Chad Myers said...

If it serves the greater good of humanity (i.e. tsunami relief, protection of the unborn, etc) I think it's OK and preferred to cooperate ecumenically or even religious/secular provided one of the groups isn't working on the other hand against your goals.

For example, pro-life groups should not assist the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation since it actively promotes and funds Planned Parenthood.

The major difference comes in when you use the word 'ministry' which, to me, implies a more religious effort including but not limited to religious education and dispensing of religious effects (prayer, study, etc).

In this case, the parties involved should fully agree on the subject matter of the ministry and also not be at significant odds in (even unrelated) grave matters (such as the ordination of women).

A joint Catholic/Lutheran ministry for sheltering the homeless or housing mothers with crisis pregnancies is a great idea. A joint Catholic/Lutheran ministry to promote the partaking of the Eucharist is probably a bad idea.

Pastor Foy said...

Why are we as confessional Lutherans so afraid to try and stand on our own in Christ Jesus and not along side of those with confused and fuzzy or bad confessions. Christians were not liked no matter what they did in the early centuries of the Church because they were Christian.

Confessional Lutherans may not be liked no matter what we do in the Name of Christ yet that is not the issue. Something about right and left hands not knowing what the other is doing. Why must we have name recognition in these areas.

If our evangelical efforts are faithful albeit still sinful as those who do them are sinners, need we be concerned if it says LC-MS? Won't the Lord, by His preformative Word, change hearts, lead men to where His Word is taught in its truth and purity and His Sacraments are administered rightly?

Why can't we shake this secular/corporate mentality of measurables and diversity? The Gospel always loses, it becomes confused and when men of reason set it along side other compromised or intentionally palatized "gospels", the Lord's Word doesn't look so good.

Confessional Lutherans working with confessional Lutherans to bring Christ to the nations. Working together, those who might otherwise despise Missouri will be brought to see the light of God's Work in and through His faithful people. (1 Peter 2:10-11)

We are different and we should in humble joy, celebrate and prize our differentiation from the rest of the world in general and of the rest of CHristendom in particular. Don't hide that lamp under the bushel of congregationalism or unionism let alone syncretism.

I believe that the LC-MS is the leading charitable giving church body in America. Ask Rev. Harrison if that is true, he would know.

They need our theology unless we are about nothing other than the social gospel. Liberation theology is empty and does not save.

Hook up with Rev. Harrison and he can give you lots of ideas and know how and even maybe some $$ to do the work of feeding, clothing, housing, visiting and healing the least of these our brothers.

Semper sub crucim

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

"A joint Catholic/Lutheran ministry for sheltering the homeless or housing mothers with crisis pregnancies is a great idea."

I see the point.

But what if the same agency were a joint Catholic/Wiccan ministry, or a joint Lutheran/Jehovah's Witness ministry? How about Baptist/Muslim ministry? Can or should we do stuff with the Church of Latter Day Saints?

What should be the guideline for joint ventures between religious bodies?

Part of the problem with cooperation between the LCMS and the ELCA is the name "Lutheran" is shared by both, when there is actually a radical difference between the two that tends to get covered up by the name "Lutheran." As a pastor, I can attest to the fact that this leads people to question our prohibition of women in the ministry, and that a lot of LCMS Lutherans feel welcome taking communion at an ELCA church.

I think these kinds of joint ministries give a false impression of concord. I think they also give the impression that saving temporal lives is of greater value than eternal salvation.

It is a real dilemma.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think something behind all this is the desire to "Spiritualize" our good works. If you want to serve the homeless - then go serve the homeless -- you need be neither Lutheran nor Roman nor a Wicca to do this. The denomination or religious stripe shouldn't matter, the focus should be upon those being served.

However, if we stick a religious moniker upon our acts of love - well then, aren't we just so pious and spiritual?

Show love. Period. It doesn't need a religious label attached to it to make it better.

(Note: This is not against a Church body having it own service organizations -- it makes sense for a church to do these things -- but our service and support as individuals and as a Synod does not need be tied only to those groups that have a "Lutheran" in there somewhere. Show love - and don't worry what anyone thinks, or even if anyone sees - simply focus upon the neighbor. You Father in heaven sees, let that be enough for you!)

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Brown: I see your point, although the Wiccan thing struck a chord with me, so did the Jehovah's Witnesses thing.

I generally consider Mormons, for example, as generally a force for good even though their theology is somewhat warped and they do lead a lot of people astray.

Many Christian groups and the Mormons united for the whole Prop 8 thing in California.

I would generally consider Wiccans, for example, as a darker organization that does more harm than good, so that would be an example of a bad organization.

The Jehovah's Witnesses is also an organization (The Watchtower) that generally causes more problems than it solves and creates problems for people (especially due to the whole tearing-families-apart-when-someone-converts problem).

"Show love. Period. It doesn't need a religious label attached to it to make it better."

Indeed, but if part of that "showing love" effort includes assisting a group that most certainly is NOT loving people (i.e. Jehovah's Witnesses, Wiccans, etc) then there's a conflict.

On one hand you may be loving people but on the other you're contributing to harm them by legitimizing and illegitimate and harmful theology.

The trick with the ELCA is that the theology of ordination of women is indeed a harmful one (as it works again family structures, mutates the gender roles etched into the human's heart, etc).

While ordination of women certainly isn't on part of worshiping idols and demons (Wicca) or tearing families apart (Watchtower), it is not contributing to the total love and kindness that Christians should strive for.

Christ loved the tax collectors, for example, but did not encourage them to be tax collectors.

Chad Myers said...

Oops, that last one was to Father Hollywood, not Rev. Brown. Sorry about the confusion.

I didn't adequately address your second concern: Legitimizing ELCA's practices.

I agree that the "strange bedfellows" in this case is inappropriate. I also think, from a Lutheran perspective, so include ELCA as "Lutheran" is doing a disservice to LCMS and the "Lutheran" moniker as a whole.

I can't quite put a definitive rule on it, but it is seemly if LCMS and ELCA cooperated on tsunami relief, for example, but not seemly if they cooperated on some sort of join ministry to foster religious least-common-denominator watering-down of Luthernism (which is what this LESM appears to be).

In matters of theology and faith, stick to your guns. In matters of helping the poor, sick, etc take what help you can within reason (i.e. cooperate with Hindus, but don't cooperate with Planned Parenthood)

IggyAntiochus said...

Since the Missouri Synod has affirmed humanitarian efforts with the ELCA, even though they are not in fellowship with the ELCA, I see no difference in this union than with any other Christian denomination.

That being said, it is one thing to have, say, Lutherans and Pentecostals supporting the same humanitarian effort. It is another to place both of their names in the title! This would imply a fellowship that does not exist. It works for ELCA/ECUSA, as they have declared fellowship, but the LCMS is not a part of that union and a ministry name should not imply that they are.

As for non-Christian entities, it is probably best to steer clear of this one. Let's settle the issue of Jesus ahead of any joint humanitarian effort.