By David L. Mahsman
The Praesidium of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is recommending to this year’s Synod convention that current LCMS working relationships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America be continued.
At the same time, the Praesidium — the Synod’s president and five vice presidents — expresses concern over the ELCA’s ecumenical agreements and its current deliberations regarding same-sex unions and the possibility of ordaining practicing homosexuals.
The Praesidium makes its comments in a report to this year’s triennial Synod convention. The report responds to a 2001 convention resolution and is included in the Convention Workbook, which will be mailed next week to convention delegates, rostered church workers and others.
The 2001 convention asked the Praesidium to evaluate “current cooperative pastoral working arrangements with the ELCA” and provide a report and recommendations to the 2004 convention. The resolution that makes the request notes in its single “whereas” that the ELCA has entered into “full communion” relationships with Reformed church bodies, the Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church.
Much of the Praesidium’s report focuses on the military chaplaincy, the area of inter-Lutheran cooperation that it cites as “the most difficult aspect of our task of evaluation.” The two church bodies have agreed that their respective chaplains will provide Word and Sacrament ministry to all Lutheran military personnel.
“On the one hand, the Praesidium recognizes and acknowledges the exceptional pastoral commitment of our military chaplains, often in extreme and dangerous situations,” says the report. “On the other hand, the Praesidium recognizes a divergence of opinion among the chaplains of the LCMS concerning the appropriateness and usefulness of continuing the present working arrangements with the ELCA.
“At the same time, the Praesidium affirms the desirability that our Lutheran service members receive spiritual care from Lutheran chaplains whenever possible, and we rejoice in the blessings which such pastoral care has given our service members in the past,” it says.
Although recommending that current arrangements for the military chaplaincy “be continued at this time,” the report says that “the LCMS has real and significant reason to be concerned about the ability of the ELCA to proclaim the Christian faith with Lutheran clarity.” It cites as a basis the ELCA’s ecumenical agreements and its deliberations over same-sex unions and ordination of practicing homosexuals.
The Praesidium recommends that it “continue to assess pastoral working relationships with the ELCA during the next triennium” and report to the 2007 convention “whether at that time these arrangements merit continuance or whether developments within the ELCA justify other action.”
Copies of the Praesidium’s report were distributed and discussed when the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation met April 14 in St. Louis. The committee has six members each from the ELCA and LCMS, including ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick.
Hanson expressed gratitude for the report’s recommendations and for being among those invited to provide input as the Praesidium considered the working relationship of the two church bodies. He expressed concern, however, over wording in the report that refers to consequences for Lutheran cooperative work “should the mind of the ELCA prove to be contrary to the mind of the Holy Spirit” regarding issues of human sexuality.
“That kind of language is difficult to absorb,” Hanson said. Kieschnick replied that the Praesidium had “significant conversation about that statement,” indicating that it was not of one mind on that wording. He said that the report itself also was not adopted unanimously.
As for what action the convention might take on inter-Lutheran cooperation, LCMS Secretary Raymond Hartwig told the meeting that “overtures” — proposed resolutions — were received “on both sides of this issue.” He said that the convention Floor Committee on Theology and Church Relations will have to decide how to respond to those overtures as it prepares resolutions for convention consideration.
Posted April 26, 2004