Tuesday, July 27, 2010
An Interesting Article
I am not a big fan of the magazine Lutheran Forum - I don't find most of the articles each issue very interesting or helpful. But as I recently received a free copy, I was reading in it and found an interesting editorial piece from Paul Sauer on ecumenism. I won't go through the entire article, but what he said that intrigued me was this (paraphrasing): ecumenism must start by an active engagement with those we are already in fellowship with.
Now, that's a funny sounding statement, for the (broad) purpose of the ecumenical movement is to establish fellowship with those separated from us - how can ecumenism start with those we are already in fellowship with? Well, here's what he meant: we need to stop thinking and acting like isolated church bodies co-existing in the world, and more like the body of Christ in the world. This would most easily start with those we are already in fellowship with, and then grow to those who disagree with us.
Practically, this would mean taking our relationships seriously, and especially when significant changes are proposed in our church body. For example, how would our sister Lutheran churches around the world respond to our "Specific Ministry Pastors?" What would they say about laymen "licensed" to do Word and Sacrament ministry? What do they have to say to us about the jettisoning of the liturgy and the importation of contemporary worship practices in many of our parishes? When these issues arise, is our first instinct to deal with them on our own and think of them as our own (specifically cultural) issues, or to think bigger - that our sister church bodies can help us? That they might have something to say? That what we do will also impact them? Are we thinking "colonially" instead of Christologically-bodily? Do we seek their wisdom before moving forward, or think we can manage just fine on our own.
Perhaps we are doing this at a high level that parish pastors like me aren't fully aware of. Perhaps this is much of what goes on in the International Lutheran Council. If so, I think that is a good thing. But I wonder if it is? And if it is, how can we get this same thinking to come down to our parishes, where [significant] changes are often made unilaterally without regard for sister parishes in the same or next town? This is a real problem (and one that I'm sure I am just as guilty of as the next guy). One example that has impacted me in recent years is the practice of early communion before confirmation. Such a change of practice not only impacts the parish deciding to do this, but my parish also, when a family comes after moving to our area. What do we do?
The point of Rev. Sauer's article, I think, was that our thinking about ecumenism must start at these small levels before we can move on to bigger levels. Such a change of mindset would be a true blessing. Perhaps our newly-elected president, who has a wealth of experience in working with and talking to our partner churches all around the world, can help us to do this. I pray so.