Saturday, August 1, 2009

Can the Rhine pour into the Tiber 'neath the sweep of the Wittenburg door?

The Rev. Russell E. Saltzman has authored a remarkable essay published on First Things' On the Square (31 July 2009), "An Ecumenical Moment for One."

A Lutheran pastor in Kansas City, the Rev. Saltzman laments his denomination's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) readiness to bless same-sex unions and to allow those in same-sex unions to be ordained to the pastorate. He anticipates that this will occur at the ELCA's forthcoming meeting in Minneapolis, 17-23 August 2009.

After entertaining several options for recalcitrant Lutheran congregations such as his own, he offers this possibility in his concluding three paragraphs:
Frankly, the creation of one more Lutheran church body in America is a dauntingly depressive possibility. I’m not entirely certain I want anything to do with it . . . unless we’re talking about a ministerium organized to open dialogue on becoming a Roman Catholic affiliate, congregations, pastors, the whole caboodle, eventually seeking full communion with the bishop of Rome. If Rome cooperates, this ought to be pretty easy. Just think of us as inactive members seeking reinstatement. In my congregation, an officially inactive member is welcomed back to full fellowship by making a contribution and receiving Holy Communion, and sometimes we’ve been known to even skip the contribution part. Couldn’t the Church of Rome handle that? There might be a few subsidiary issues to settle, but get us inside first and everything else becomes manageable. What is needed here is a brave archbishop or two, together taking cognizance of what is about to happen to the ELCA, and stepping forward as potential shepherds. Can’t really call it stealing sheep if the previous shepherd has run off, can you?

No, I’m not being facetious. Not altogether. The original intent of the sixteenth century Reformers wasn’t to start a new church but to be a witness for evangelical reform within the one church. Our Lutheran confessional documents—notably the Augsburg Confession of 1530—forcefully argues that nothing Lutherans taught was contrary to the faith of the church catholic, nor even contrary to that faith held by the Church of Rome. As it has happened, much to our Lutheran chagrin, late twentieth century Rome itself become a better witness to an evangelical gospel than early twenty-first century Lutherans have proved capable of being. And for all the radical Lutheran polemic coming after Augsburg—you know, about the pope being the latest anti-Christ sitting on the throne of the whore of Babylon—truth is, these days, I get far less trouble from the bishop of Rome than I get from my own bishop.

Some time in the mid-1980s Richard John Neuhaus told me—with no little optimism, I might add—that fifty Lutheran pastors and their congregations seeking fellowship with Rome would become an ecumenical moment. After he himself became Roman Catholic following formation of the ELCA he lowered the number to a more modest twenty-five. Facing the August convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its inevitable aftermath, I’m wondering, how about one?

You can read the whole thing here. For Lutherans entertaining the same possibility, let me suggest the 95-page essay authored by my friend, Robert C, Koons, Professor of Philosophy (University of Texas), "A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism."

(Originally published on First Thoughts)


Mal Tomlin said...

We remain sleepless in Seattle and few get up to attend any Church. It might be the Blue Angels flying around-it is Seafair week. Most seem to prefer Oprah and Tom Hanks to Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. Shame on Hollywood.

contrarian 78 said...

Fascinating. I was especially intrigued by his comments re: the Augsburg confession, having come to Catholicism via Presbyterianism.

Looked for the relevant quote and found it here in Article XXI:
5] This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics.

The next section states:
1] Inasmuch, then, as our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty would graciously hear both what has been changed, and what were the reasons why the people were not compelled to observe those abuses against their conscience.

I guess the question which comes to mind is, is Saltzman being fair to Lutheranism? After all, wouldn't most Lutherans say that Trent codified the "abuses" which were "new"?