A resource to assist pastors in dealing with the issue of membership in certain fraternal organizations and draft documents on declaring altar and pulpit fellowship and relating to small, developing church bodies were among items addressed by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) at its Feb. 12-14 meeting.
With a consultation on the day before the meeting, the commission also continued its work on responsible Christian stewardship of the environment. That assignment was made by the 2007 LCMS convention, which cited the need “for study, for responsible citizenship, and for concerted action on environmental issues based on an examination of biblical and confessional resources.”
The commission also voted to call for nominations for an assistant executive director in the March to May issues of the Synod’s official periodicals. Since July, Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director, has been the only staff theologian. In January, Rev. Larry Vogel, of Pennsauken, N.J., accepted the commission’s call to serve as associate executive director. He will be installed during the April 23-25 CTCR meeting.
In preparing “A Pastoral Approach to Membership in Certain Fraternal Organizations,” the commission responded to a request from the 2006 Nebraska District convention. The district asked for practical guidelines, noting that some lodges or “secret societies” appeared to have changed some teaching and practices during the past 50 years.
Lehenbauer said the CTCR will post the document on its Web site. In a letter to congregations and church workers, the commission will provide background information and instructions for accessing the report.
In providing counsel for pastoral care, the resource poses five questions, with Scripture citations, to help address issues about lodge memberships that may involve religious teachings such as the nature of God, the divinity of Christ, and the means of salvation. “These questions and others are intended to help the Christian determine whether membership in an organization will allow him ‘to give witness to the exclusive and distinctive character of the Christian faith,'” the report states.
Regarding the church relations documents, Lehenbauer explained that the commission had earlier responded to a request from Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick by preparing two items. One is a policy for declaring altar and pulpit fellowship with another church body; the other provides guidelines for dealing with small church bodies or groups of congregations that request assistance or connection to the LCMS.
“Now,” Lehenbauer said, “the CTCR — in consultation with the president – has decided to share these documents with specific entities for their review and feedback.” Comments will be requested from the Council of Presidents, the president’s church relations cabinet, seminary faculties, and members of the International Lutheran Council.
Lehenbauer described the consultation on stewardship of the environment as “a fascinating meeting with stimulating discussion on a wide range of issues on the responsibility of Christians to care for God’s creation.” The participants included CTCR members, parish pastors, college professors, teachers, and professionals from environment and ecology fields.
The consultation included a PowerPoint presentation on “Together with God’s Creatures,” by Dr. Charles Arand, a member of the commission and professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. The daylong sessions included responses and discussion.
Lehenbauer commented, “We will have a significant report, which we hope will lead to the development of a number of resources in various formats. While not focusing on scientific or political issues, it will take them into account as it explores theological aspects of Christian care for God’s creation.” He said the CTCR plans to have a draft by summer and plans to bring its consultants back in the fall for reaction and ideas for use and distribution of the report.
Posted Feb. 26, 2009