Saturday, March 12, 2005

Inter-Communion: two perspectives

My friend Jim posted an interesting article by a Roman Catholic Father today, and I commented on it. Below is what I wrote on Jim's blog.

The issue about inter-communion for me as a Lutheran is not so much a problem of being excluded - last year I attended a RC church with a friend of mine, and went up to the priest and received a blessing rather than holy communion, which was wonderful - I receive communion weekly at my own church, so I don't NEED to receive it elsewhere. We have a good relationship with our neighboring RC church, and work together in many ways.
It is really a difference in eccelesiology, as Fr. Tucker's statement reveals. As a Lutheran pastor (of the ELCA, not the LC-MS), I give communion to every Christian who wishes to receive it. For ME to deny someone communion because they are not a part of my church body, because they do not fit into my hierarchical structure, would be an insult to the Holy Spirit, who blows wherever it wills and creates faith in the hearts of many people who do not share my denomination. I understand the difference between a Lutheran and RC ecclesiology, and I am not complaining about being excluded, just offering a different ecclesiology.
I am also not so sure that a multitude of denominations is an evil. Let me quote from the Augsburg Confession VII: "It is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere." That is the difference in ecclesiology right there. So, there are Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Orthodox and more. As long as we have the same gospel, and the same sacraments, that diversity can be a gift to the world.
I also disagree with the image of the RC church as the mother church, and all other churches (including the Orthodox church!) as her rebellious children. But again, it's a difference of ecclesiology, and the question is, which ecclesiology is closer to the gospel truth.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I am rather an odd Lutheran pastor...

I am rather an odd Lutheran pastor, having been Lutheran for only about seven years. I consider myself a neophyte in the Lutheran tradition. I have much yet to learn - and unlearn. The gift of the Lutheran tradition to the wider Christian church is an uncompromising emphasis on grace alone, faith alone, the word of God alone, Christ alone - we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible - and not by anything we do or decide. Even faith, trust in God, is a gift.
A different focus for this blog may be to explore the Lutheran tradition as the lens through which I see the word of God and the world. (I am getting back to reading/listening to the Bible in a year, having gotten stuck in the last chapters of Leviticus for awhile.)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

"I am the church, your are the church, we are the church together..."

I just discovered my friend Jim Wilson's blog The Kingdom Works. Jim and I have very different perspectives on theology and politics, which, frankly, makes friendship interesting and challenging in a positive sense.
I am perhaps an unusual blogger, since I started a blog before I had spent any time reading them. So, I am trying to do a little more blog-surfing to see what's out there.
Jim's blog directed me to an article on how an Anglican converted to the Catholic faith, which also directed me to another article that harshly critiques it from a Lutheran perspective.

I am not interested in being polemical or anti-Catholic or anything. This all got me thinking about the nature of the Church. The basic Lutheran definition of the church is "the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel" (The Augsburg Confession, VII). Although this definition comes out of the Lutheran church, it was put forth as an ecumenical proposal. Where you stand in any hierarchical relationship is not essential; to what particular body of Christians you belong is not essential. Whether you belong to Paul, Cephas (Peter), or Apollos is not essential (1 Cor. 1:12). Wherever you see the good news of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ proclaimed, and wherever you see the holy things of God (Baptism, the Lord's Supper) taking place in a gospel way, there is the church.
Every church is an assembly of believers, a congregation of followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. When I think of our congregation here on the Iron Range, with our friends in the Roman Catholic church a block away, and a Serbian Orthodox church down the road, it is incomprehensible to think that one of us is closer to God, more orthodox, more 'church' because of the hierarchical structure of which we are a part. That seems irrelevant to whether or not the gospel is preached and received in the local congregation. Such human structures aid in the preservation and passing on of the good news of Jesus Christ; they neither create it nor bind it. Nor is our Lutheran church any further away from the apostles than a Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, simply because we do not reside in their hierarchical structure. The Greek Orthodox Church has preserved much of the tradition of the early Greek church; the Roman Catholic Church has preserved much of the tradition of the Western Latin church. Both have rich, deep traditions of doctrine and piety. As a Lutheran, I have no problem recognizing them as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow churches; but the Holy Spirit is not bound to them. The questions for any congregation are: Is the good news proclaimed? Is the good news communicated in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of communion?