During its October and December 2023 meetings, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) elected officers for the new triennium, received assignments from the 2023 Synod convention and updated its guidelines for recognizing fellowship with other church bodies.
In addition, the CTCR released a previously approved report, Christian Decision-Making and the End of Life.
At its Oct. 19–20 meeting, the CTCR elected officers for the coming triennium, including:
- Chairman — Rev. Dr. Lawrence J. Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW);
- Vice-chairman — Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, president of the LCMS Iowa District East; and
- Secretary — Rev. Dr. Gerhard Bode Jr., professor of historical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Rast, who in 2023 announced his intention to retire as CTSFW president at the end of the current academic year, will serve as CTCR chairman (his fifth term) until the conclusion of his CTSFW service in May. Reflecting on his years of service to the CTCR, Rast said, “It has been a privilege to serve the CTCR as chairman these last 13 years. Since 1962, the Commission has provided a valuable service to our Synod, and you will scarcely find a parallel to it in other church bodies.
“I take particular joy in working with so many international church bodies and in our public recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with new partners each convention. These faithful brothers and sisters in confession have been through immense challenges in their homelands. They are a source of encouragement for us and a clear reminder of the gravity of that which we believe, teach and confess.”
Also at its October meeting, the CTCR received eight new assignments from the 2023 Synod convention, including requests for major reports addressing:
- The changing nature of abortion (including the pervasiveness of medication abortion and the implications of the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision);
- Contemporary racial and racist movements, methodologies and ideologies; and
- The relationship of church and state and the Christian love of neighbor in today’s changing and challenging context.
All three assignments are updates to previous CTCR reports in light of recent social developments. In addition, the CTCR will work closely with the LCMS Council of Presidents in developing two new assignments on its agenda:
- A theology of online technology, which concerns how Lutherans should approach the implications of new technologies for the church’s worship and work; and
- A set of principles on mission and ministry in a post-Christian society, which will provide theological guidance for district presidents in meeting the needs of small congregations and multi-congregation pastors and parishes.
The Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, CTCR executive director, said, “In my over 30 years of service on the CTCR, I can’t recall receiving this volume of assignments from a single Synod convention. We take this as a genuine gesture of trust and respect from our church body, and we take very seriously our responsibility to provide biblically based and confessionally sound theological guidance on so many important and sensitive matters.”
At its Dec. 7–9 meeting, the CTCR updated its guidelines for recognizing church fellowship, taking into account bylaw changes approved at the 2023 Synod convention. A significant part of the Commission’s work every triennium includes its bylaw-mandated (Bylaw 188.8.131.52.2) responsibility for recommending altar and pulpit fellowship with other Lutheran church bodies and proposing the recognition of that fellowship to each convention in the form of a resolution.
Five such resolutions were adopted at the 2023 convention in Milwaukee, and the CTCR anticipates roughly the same number in the current triennium. In the area of church fellowship, the Commission works closely with the LCMS Office of the President — in particular, the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw, assistant to the Synod president as director of Church Relations; the LCMS Office of International Mission; and the two LCMS seminaries. That work includes visiting prospective church bodies, examining their doctrine and practice, and ultimately making a recommendation to the convention.
Guidance for the end of life
In other CTCR news, a previously approved report, Christian Decision-Making and the End of Life, is now available for free download.
The report follows the CTCR’s previous work on the subject, Euthanasia with Guiding Principles (1979) and Christian Care at Life’s End (1993). As the legal environment surrounding assisted suicide and other end-of-life issues continues to change, and rapid advances in medical technologies introduce new issues and questions, the latest report builds on the previous two.
In a recent article for The Lutheran Witness, CTCR Associate Executive Director Rev. Dr. Richard J. Serina Jr. writes, “We must prepare ourselves for the decisions we will face when death confronts us. … Will our decisions bear witness to the Gospel in the face of death? How should we make consciously Christian decisions when faced with the end of mortal life under this ‘vale of tears’? This report aims to help you wrestle with those questions.”
Posted Jan. 5, 2024