January 22, 2021

Are we moving toward “reconciled diversity”?

Pope Francis and Tony Palmer

Pope Francis and Tony Palmer

Two articles about Christian unity caught my attention this week.

The first, by Roger E. Olson, captures in its title what I believe is the heart and soul of what the pursuit of unity should actually entail: “True Christian Ecumenism: Reconciled Diversity.”

The scandal of disunity among Christians is not necessarily embodied in the existence of separate denominations. The “visible and institutional” unity for which ecumenists advocate need not mean that all congregations became united into, as Olson puts it, “one worldwide mega-church led by a bishop.” Variety is the spice of life, even among Christians, and the particularities of various Christian groups — “within the limits of basic Christian orthodoxy and worship that is decent and in order” — are to be valued and even loved, says Roger Olson. Rather than forcing everyone to sing in unison, he suggests the goal should be harmonious and cooperative relationships between church groups and traditions, for the purposes of fellowship, intercommunion, and common mission.

During my lifetime I have observed many Christian denominations gradually dropping the barriers they had erected, or taking down the barriers others erected against them, in order to experience reconciled diversity. This is, in my opinion, true realistic Christian ecumenism.

In my opinion, the unity Jesus prayed for among his followers and those who would come after them, their converts and heirs as Christian leaders, is consistent with different opinions about secondary matters. Having “the mind of Christ” does not mean all thinking exactly alike about everything—at least in this world where we all see “through a glass darkly.” Certainly in the eschaton things will be different and we should remain uncomfortable, in this “time between the times,” with any differences among real Christians that keep us from embracing one another as fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God.

But, in the meantime, before that Kingdom comes in its fullness, we can and should find ways to celebrate our differences about secondary matters of the faith while enjoying true fellowship in worship, communion, and mission. That means, in practice, avoiding making an idol out of denominational identity, remaining open to learning from other Christian traditions (e.g., as a Baptist I have come to embrace the Eastern Orthodox vision of “deification”), opening the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, to all who confess Jesus as God and Savior, and reconsidering doctrines and practices that have developed that are divisive and have no clear biblical basis.

This is part of the “post-evangelicalism” that I myself have embraced. This kind of “ecumenism” is also part of the ethos of Internet Monk, as stated in the updated description of our site: “A post-evangelical, ecumenical, pastoral, and contemplative site devoted to maintaining a legacy of Jesus-shaped Christianity.” It fits nicely with C.S. Lewis’s illustration of the great common hall off of which the various “rooms” of Christian tradition sit.

Yes, I agree with Roger Olson: we can have our own rooms, but we can also all get together in the hall, and it’s perfectly okay to visit one another’s rooms as well. In fact, it would be fantastic if we all just left the house once in awhile — together — and hung out with our neighbors down at the pub.

• • •

The second article, mentioned by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed, is by Luke Coppen at The Catholic Herald, and is called, “The Pope’s great evangelical gamble.”

It starts off with a bang.

Somewhere in Pope Francis’s office is a document that could alter the course of Christian history. It declares an end to hostilities between Catholics and Evangelicals and says the two traditions are now “united in mission because we are declaring the same Gospel.” The Holy Father is thinking of signing the text in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, alongside Evangelical leaders representing roughly one in four Christians in the world today.

02peter_and_paul_iconCoppen goes on to say that the Pope believes the Reformation officially ended when the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signed “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” in 1999.

And, it gives some personal history about Francis’s growing involvement with evangelicals in recent years. When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis began attending gatherings of Catholics and evangelicals/pentecostals, and in 2006 he even knelt on a stage while Protestant pastors prayed over him and asked God to fill him with the Holy Spirit. After that, he began meeting with the evangelical pastors monthly. The article describes his relationship with Tony Palmer, who is part of the “Convergence” movement, which “seeks to blend charismatic worship with a more historically grounded liturgy and understanding of the sacraments.” In a video recorded by Palmer and shown to a group of evangelicals in the U.S., the Pope declared, “The miracle of unity has begun!” In addition, in his travels Francis has publicly asked forgiveness from some evangelical groups for past Catholic persecution.

The article goes on to express doubts about how many evangelical groups will receive all this, even if the Pope were to sign the declaration of unity. In the meantime, Luke Coppen reiterates that Francis is encouraging Catholics everywhere to be more “evangelical” in the practice of their faith, and is including evangelicals in an ongoing dialogue as brothers and sisters.

• • •

Since I still meet people almost every week who distinguish between “Catholics” and “Christians,” I know from experience that much of this will fail to translate or even reach the ears of many, many who long ago decided that Jesus won’t have anything to do with the Catholic church. I’m sure many Catholics feel the same way toward the Protestants.

And these articles do not address the even older issue of healing the Great Schism between East and West. But Pope Francis is not unaware of that either. The rising secular tide throughout the world as well as crises in the Middle East and the impact they have had on ancient Christian communities have his attention, and he has called for closer ties between Catholics and Orthodox “to defend the poor, to end war and heal conflicts, and to help young people to see past materialism and to embrace a ‘true humanism.'”

I’m encouraged when I read pieces like this. And should a leader like Pope Francis step forward and convince us to actually do something about Christian unity, well then perhaps God will use it to create something new in this old and broken world.


  1. Yikes, the comment stream on that Catholic Herald article doesn’t encourage great hope for unity amongst the hoi polloi!

    Thinking about it, I guess the only reason I’m slightly guarded about Francis is because I also started out thinking that Obama was ‘the goods’ (and Tony Blair before that).

    It seems to me that it is those who hold tightest to God who have the lightest grasp on their denomination (and yes, I’m implying that the converse is also true).

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Comment streams on most sites are, very thankful, indicative of nothing. Pretty much IM is the one of about three sites [that I know of] on the interwebz with a comments section worth reading.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > should a leader like Pope Francis step forward and convince us
    > to actually do something about Christian unity

    First, I will admit to being a Francis Fanboy. He is a tremendous flow of fresh air over the fetid and gray landscape that is Christianity.

    However – I’m also not certain how to meaningfully translate “actually do something” in this context. IMNSHO, the doing is much done. Wearied of stupid ideological fights [*1] and constrained by diminishing resources collaboration has happened on the street level [*2]. Much of this is the capitulation of leaders to a new reality. Some will lead, and some will be grateful – I think Francis is one of those – but I have no doubt that the tail is wagging the dog. That is not meant necessarily as a criticism; sometimes the tail should wag the dog, tails are important to dogs [*3]. You cannot lead people where they do not want to go, effective leaders perceive that enough people are already there and proceed to pry open the remaining gates.

    [*1] Grace-vs-law, predestination-vs-free-will, substitutionary-vs… yep, most of the room is now checking their phones.
    [*2] I’ve lost count of the church based organizations and other NPOs that have moved into the local ‘mission district’ in order to collaborate and pool resources. Organizations of many different stripes – nobody even mentions that anymore, it is just “smart”, so that is what they do.
    [*3] And tail wagging it really works as a metaphor when you’ve read the research and know that tail wagging is a principle form of canine-to-canine communication; it is a surprisingly complex activity when slowed down from their 80fps to our paltry 60fps. We just can’t [normally] see what is going on. Much of that in the world.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I agree, at least between the Catholics and the mainlines. The days are long past when a Lutheran and a Catholic marrying was considered “mixed.” My take on the Joint Declaration referenced in the post is that doesn’t require anyone do anything they don’t want to do, or forbid anyone from doing anything they want to. So what is the point? It gave permission to members of the two sides to not spit at each other in the street. In reality they had already stopped, but it was nice to make it official. You can find Lutherans and Catholics shouting anathemas at each other in obscure corners of the internet, but that mostly says something about the internet. They have a distinctly quaint air to them.

      I don’t have a good grasp on how things play out with Evangelicals and Catholics. My sense is that the hatchet isn’t quite so buried. I have come around to the interpretation that mainline Protestants and Evangelicals are distinct groups much like Protestants and Catholics in the bad old days. So we have a three-way split of Catholics and mainlines and Evangelicals. How they align depends on the issue. As a modest example, my town has a very good local charity devoted to meeting basic needs of the local impoverished. The local paper had a big write-up about it a couple of years ago, including listing who sponsored it: the local Catholic parish and pretty much every mainline Protestant in town, with nary an Evangelical to be seen. I’m not saying they aren’t engaged in charity, but they aren’t doing it with the Catholics or the mainlines.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > the local Catholic parish and pretty much every mainline Protestant in town
        > , with nary an Evangelical to be seen.

        Ditto, this is exactly what I see.

        > I’m not saying they aren’t engaged in charity,

        Color me skeptical; there charity has a conspicuously narrow focus. And I suspect much of their funds are tied up in keeping their numerous establishments viable – schools, radios stations, TV stations, etc… of which they have dozens, just in the local area. Maintaining an empire is expensive.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          “Color me skeptical”

          Me, too. I didn’t say they *were* engaged in charity, either. I have my suspicions, but not certain knowledge.

      • My two cents worth on this part of the conversation: Having grown up in a conservative evangelical environment in the 70’s, the idea was that the only real thing that mattered was saving people on a spiritual level. Leave the “charity” to someone else. I’m oversimplifying, yes, but that was the basic idea. It was not until just several years ago when we moved away from the city into a small rural community that I witnessed Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic churches banding together to meet the physical and economic needs of those in need – seemingly not letting their doctrinal differences get in the way.

  3. If the net result of the Pope’s vision is to create a single unified Church that recognizes Rome’s authority, with the basic moral theology and dogma of the current RCC remaining while allowing far much greater variety of worship styles and liturgical expression, then as a divorced and remarried Christian I have no interest in it, since there still wouldn’t be room for me and my wife in the resulting institution. If the net result of the Pope’s vision is to invite all other churches into a spiritual unity based on institutional humility, starting with the RCC leading the way by scaling back its own claims to authority, and working outward from there with the Protestant churches modifying their positions in response to Rome’s leading, then I’m for it.

    • I wouldn’t worry too much about an organizational reunification. There are WAY too many people in all denominations and communions who are completely committed to the superiority of their brand of the Church for that to happen – this side of the Second Coming that is…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > people in all denominations and communions who are completely committed to the
        > superiority of their brand of the Church for that to happen

        And as these are often trans-national organizations which own significant assets the organizational unification would be a costly legal quagmire. Especially true of the older sects.

        The majority of NPOs, religious or otherwise, are already pretty lean operations [with notable exceptions], organizational unification doesn’t seem worth the dog fight it would involve.

        On the other hand the cooperation of their ‘ground-troops’ could have real synergistic impacts.

      • On a positive note: there seems to be be something of a “wave”…. OK, not a psunami…. of NON-organizational reunification. More private , one on one, relational. I know many roman catholics who hold to this, and many from a wide array of denominations. This encourages me quite a bit.

        Maybe the peasants will lead the way in this……

        • ” I know many roman catholics who hold to this…”

          One of them seems to be Pope Francis. This is a good thing. Maybe a “peasant” Pope will set an example at the top to inspire the “peasants” who lead the way. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        There are WAY too many people in all denominations and communions who are completely committed to the superiority of their brand of the Church for that to happen – this side of the Second Coming that is…

        A Second Coming that will vindicate Them and Them Alone.
        (Yes, I have been exposed to what’s now called “Left Behind Fever”…)

  4. Three questions come to mind:

    1) Did Jesus wear any uniform, badge, or marker that distinguished him from the multiple thousands of people that he fed, or from the twelve apostles for that matter?

    2) Did Jesus first require any sort of creedal affirmation from the thousands he fed, or from the apostles at the last supper for that matter?

    3) Who gets to determine what is a secondary matter? Much as I like Roger Olson, I hope it isn’t him. All this time I had thought he was a Methodist and today I discover he is Baptist. That explains a lot. But then Jesus was Baptist.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > 3) Who gets to determine what is a secondary matter?

      The advantage of multiple organizations; if one tree dies, the forest lives on.

    • “Certainly in the eschaton things will be different and we should remain uncomfortable, in this “time between the times,” with any differences among realChristians that keep us from embracing one another as fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God.”

      And, here’s another rub–who decides who is a “real” Christian. Unfortunately, I know many people who would not classify Catholics as “real” Christians not to mention those who would classify other traditions and denominations as “second class” Christians.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And, here’s another rub–who decides who is a “real” Christian.

        Historically, the Religious Police/Inquistion/Enforcers of whoever’s sitting on the Iron Throne.

        And with most applications of the question, the answer is simple:
        A Real True Christian is one who is Exactly Like ME.

  5. I understand that the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” was an important milestone in Catholic/Lutheran dialogue. But I’m certain that the Lutheran contingent in that Declaration did not speak for all Protestants. If the Pope thinks otherwise, and if he thinks that an agreement with one Protestant body can put to rest the disagreements that caused the Reformation and that have multiplied over the centuries since then, this is a specifically Catholic kind of mistake. The Lutherans were never anointed to represent all Protestants the way the Pope, and the bishops, represent all Catholics.

    • My understanding is that Luther was the only Protestant to get slapped with an anathema and that it has never been rescinded. I’m open to informed correction. I think the Pope probably understands that Lutherans aren’t the whole Protestant pie. I’d even bet a hundred bucks on it, he’s pretty sharp. Luther wasn’t anointed, he just led the way out, or at least was the first to avoid execution, which is why the joint declaration was so important. It’s where it all started allowing us to have this conversation today. Symbolic.

      • Charles, I do understand that the Pope is a smart cookie. But even smart people make mistakes, particularly under the influence of ingrained institutional habits of thinking.

        I do cede your point about the anathema against Luther making an agreement with the church bodies that followed in his footsteps symbolically significant. But symbol is only part of reality; the Reformation has not been put to rest, except symbolically at a very high level. It’s affects are still very much at work on the ground outside the council chambers.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Charles, I do understand that the Pope is a smart cookie. But even smart people make mistakes, particularly under the influence of ingrained institutional habits of thinking.

          And with something as BIG as the RCC, don’t forget to factor in Bureaucratic Inertia.

        • ” . . . the Reformation has not been put to rest . . . .”

          I sincerely hope not. I get to go to church wherever I want or not at all without constantly looking over my shoulder. I get to interpret Scripture and approach God as best I see fit. A lot of people gave their lives up for me to be able to do this. Hats off!

          I’m pretty sure the Pope knows what he is doing and has the best of counsel. Doesn’t strike me as overly bound by “ingrained institutional habits of thinking.” If anything, the contrary, and he seems to understand tact and empathy, concepts that appeared foreign to Herr Luther. Hats off to Francis too!

          • I am cautiously optimistic about the Pope’s direction in this matter. And he obviously has much better people skills than Luther did.

          • +1.

            “And he obviously has much better people skills than Luther did.”

            How come the modern day image I get when I think of Luther is Mark Driscoll?

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “I’m certain that the Lutheran contingent in that Declaration did not speak for all Protestants”

      It didn’t even speak for all Lutherans. Just ask our LCMS brethren. We could ask our WELS brethren too, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t include any communications equipment when they built their bunker.

  6. Pope Francis personally embodies the openness that was envisioned by Pope John XXIII for the entire Roman Catholic Church when he convened Vatican II. The rest of Roman Catholic leadership, however, does not, as a whole, share his openness. How far into the open will the Pope be able to drag the rest of RCC leadership during his tenure? The Pope’s personal gestures of openness toward other Christian churches, even when acted out on a worldwide stage, do not commit the institutional RCC to his agenda.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “How far into the open will the Pope be able to drag the rest of RCC leadership during his tenure?”

      It depends on how long he lives. It is much like the US Supreme Court: you fill vacancies as they open.

  7. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church USA have a complete communion agreement, meaning that these two bodies agree on all essential elements of doctrine and practice, in worship, liturgy, etc. The clergy are interchangeable; a Lutheran minister may apply for a position as an Episcopal rector without needing to satisfy any special provision to qualify.

    Interestingly, this has not led the two bodies to form one body. You will find Lutheran and Episcopal parishes a few blocks away from each other in many major cities and small towns, competing for congregants from the diminishing pool of available members. Why? Does this make sense? As an Episcopalian, I think that if we hold the same faith in every important matter, and share essential common understanding of the nature of Christian belief and cultus, we should consolidate, since we are one Church.

    But this isn’t happening. Until it does happen among the many Protestant churches that already have such complete communion agreements, I can’t see how it will happen with the RCC.

    • Oh, and back behind the separate street addresses for the ELCA and ECUSA are separate seminaries, separate leadership hierarchies, separate publishing houses, etc. This is self-defeating, and unnecessarily undermines the public unity of churches that have already come to agree that they are in fact the same in every essential. Talk about wasteful.

      But of course, when we are more attached to our denominational and congregational traditions, customs, and habits than to witnessing to our unity in Christ, such waste, and scandal (if anyone was still taking notice), are inevitable, even with full communion agreements.

    • You’re exactly right. We can’t even have unity among bodies that agree on the essentials and, in many cases, even secondary matters. In my small town, there are literally ten churches within a one square mile area; I often wonder why we even bother to keep the doors open instead of uniting with another church (or churches) with similar, if not exactly the same, doctrinal statements.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In my small town, there are literally ten churches within a one square mile area…

        Don’t forget the influx of Church Planters(TM) from the Big Bad City, led to Plant a Church in your small town.

        When I’m visiting my writing partner in rural Pennsylvania, you are never out of sight of a church steeple. Most of these churches are fiercely independent and a whole DOZEN strong. (With an average age somewhere between 60 & 70; all the young families have been sheep-rustled by the Big Megas in the towns.)

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > fiercely independent and a whole DOZEN strong. (With an average age somewhere between 60 & 70;

          And here you go – resource constraints and an new population completely uninterested in the old arguments. This leads to “reconciled diversity”; it isn’t like the churches have much choice in the matter.

          Those myriad little churches holding onto their parcel is a problem that will soon resolve itself.

          • Yes, and this I’m afraid applies to many denominations, as well. They will hold onto that little parcel to the bitter end, when there won’t be anyone left to hold onto it anymore.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > hold onto that little parcel to the bitter end

            That’s OK. Then it goes up for auction. Beautiful old buildings can be wonderfully re-purposed.

          • Actually, I thought a lot of these beautiful old churches are going unsold after the congregations dissolve, especially in and around cities. Aren’t they, in fact, hard to convert to other uses?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            Street-car era and earlier churches get gobbled up like real-estate cup-cakes around where I live; the designs are quirky, but people like them. You often end up with buildings with gorgeous common eras, a nice amenity for residents.

            For the craptastic boomer era construction there is a *very* healthy market for recycled building materials. These days they have really cool machines that show up on-site and devour the buildings spinning different materials into piles to be loaded up an carted off to auction.

    • “The clergy are interchangeable; a Lutheran minister may apply for a position as an Episcopal rector without needing to satisfy any special provision to qualify.”

      And he gets to be called “Father” instead of Mike or Al, and moves to the head of the line when Communion is served rather than having to wait until last like a common servant. A question I have been pondering for some time now: in the Episcopal Church, how are female clergy addressed? Mother? We call our presiding bishop Elizabeth.

      • Mother is the correct title.

        Being addressed as “Father” was common for Protestant clergy in America during earlier times, until it subsequently fell into disrepute by association with the Roman Catholic priesthood. See the fictional “Father Mapple” in Melville’s Moby Dick, who was a Congregational minister.

        • First name are also usually acceptable.

        • Yes – Robert, agreed. Father was used for traveling protestant ministers while Catholics used Monsignor. It was when the great Irish migration inundated America (Potato Famine) and brought with them their usage of “Father”.

          • Radagast,

            That’s actually something I believe I learned from you in a comment you posted on iMonk couple-three years ago.

      • Charles,
        At the ELCA Lutheran church where my wife and I have spent almost every Sunday morning for the last seven years, the servers, including the pastors, receive Communion before the congregation.

        • ” . . . the servers, including the pastors, receive Communion before the congregation.”

          That astounds me. I don’t know what to say. It ain’t right. Oh well.

          My pastor, an ex-Catholic, goes last but then he gets to drain the big cup. He told me in olden times clergy going first was to demonstrate the wine wasn’t poisoned. I dunno, it still ain’t right. We get little cups. They seem to work okay. If I moved up to the first row I could be first in line.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            It depends on the preference of the individual officiant. There is no rhyme or reason to it. This makes assisting interesting when we have supply clergy and forget to discuss this beforehand. I have gotten good at waggling my eyebrows in an inquiring manner.

    • The people at the top created this agreement. The reason it does not work is that the average person I in the pew does not hold the same view. I have many ECLA friends who would never be caught in an Episcopal church much less associated with them. A select few make agreements but the average person does not know or has ever heard of the agreement.

      • You are probably right. If that’s all these agreements amount to, then they’re worthless.

        I wonder what exactly your many ELCA friends who wouldn’t be caught dead in an Episcopal church have against us; we don’t sacrifice babies, you know, and we’re only just the slightest bit more liberal then the ELCA, though not enough to prevent a full communion agreement.

        • Robert , IThink its perhaps that people tend to be ——- Christians versus Christians who practice within a certain tradition. This is the crux of the issue. Can’t we all be Christians who value the traditions of others yet live like brothers and sisters in Christ ?

          • I have no problem with an affirmative answer to that question. But I think then that it would behoove us to forgo all the agreements about full communion when they have no practical effect on the ground at the institutional and local levels. I think, however, that it is good to work toward “open Communion” across as many different denominational and non-denominational churches as possible.

          • I have no problem with making an affirmative answer to that question, but my answer does not include a vision of Christians who would “never be caught dead” in each others houses of worship. I’m sorry, but that can’t be right; how can we be brothers and sisters, or even good neighbors, if we can’t visit in each others houses?

          • Clay Crouch says

            Nadis Bolz-Weber doesn’t seem to have any problems with us Episcopalians. For what it’s worth.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        FWIW, I find weird the idea of an ELCA member with a “wouldn’t be caught dead” attitude about the Episcopalians. The liturgies and hymnody traditions are different enough that “comfortable where I am” is unremarkable.

        Also FWIW, when I am not going to my home church, I am more likely to pop into an Episcopal than a Lutheran church. The odds of walking into excruciating liturgical hideousness are much lower with the Episcopalians. I have had at least one Lutheran clergyman tell me he does the same. It helps that my mother was raised Episcopalian, and while I was raised in the Lutheran church I have attended occasional Episcopalian services since my youth, so I am fluent in Episcopal.

        • Thanks for the background history. I find myself increasingly drawn to Lutheranism’s deep theological heritage and its approach to, and understanding of, the sacraments, though I prefer the Episcopal liturgies, and the Episcopal sensitivity to the liturgical calendar.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            You can find Lutheran churches that are very sensitive to the liturgical calendar. Sadly, it is easier to find Lutheran churches that have only a vague awareness that such a thing exists.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Two points: why our clergy are theoretically interchangeable, I don’t know of any actual instances of a permanent call by a parish across the traditional divide. I expect that it happens occasionally, but it is rare.

      As for geographically close congregations. this is true within the denomination as well. The ELCA is the product of the merger in 1988 of the LCA and ALC and AELC. The first two of those, in turn, were the products of earlier church bodies. Lutheranism in America is unusual in that it started out with disparate bodies that gradually merged, rather than the other way around. The individual congregations, however, are distinct corporate bodies. The mere fact that the higher-level church bodies to which they belong doesn’t mean that two congregations have any incentive to merge. So in some parts of the country you can find two ELCA churches close together.

      One strength we have is the sense of the local congregation as a permanent institution. My congregation was founded in 1755. We make decisions thinking how this will play out fifty years down the road. This isn’t something we have to talk about. It is in our bones. (When I look at Evangelical churches, they seem like mayflies {or, if I am feeling less charitable, algae blooms}). This does have the downside, however, that discussions of mergers and the like are rare, only raised under financial duress.

      • Richard, i think the disparate groups of Lutherans who came here were handicapped by themlanguages and histories of their home countries. And afaik, most of the older, smaller synods were very much about both country of origin and mother tongue. So it makes sense to me that some mergers couldn’t happen until after people had bern here for several generations.

        As to Catholic-Lutheran intermartiage being unremwrkable, i think that is *very* much dependant on the individual, as well as the overall trend of the diocese. I can think of quite a few places where such a marriage would be frowned on, unless one part has converted to the other’s church, that is.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Regarding Lutheran groups along ethnic lines, it gets complicated fast. The Lutheran Church in America, one of the predecessor groups to the modern ELCA, was itself the product of a merger in 1962 of four groups: one each German, Finnish, Danish, and Swedish. The German was the largest, and was the product of a merger of three German synods in 1918. The American Lutheran Church was the other major predecessor to the ELCA. It formed in 1960, similarly mongrel with German, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, and Swedish components.

          Note also that these mergers were after the post-WWII population growth in California, where I grew up. Finding an LCA and an ALC church near each other was unremarkable. They would both be ELCA today. Finding two LCA churches near each other wasn’t unheard of. You would look at the surnames associated with it and figure out which was the ULC and which the Augustana originally.

          Now that I live in the east the dynamic is different. This whole area was LCA fifty years ago, so it is ELCA today. The odd LCMS church was typically founded fairly recently, and certainly after WWII, as the divisions hardened and Lutherans randomly relocating into the area would be unwilling to assimilate. On the other hand, the place is lousy with small country Lutheran churches, from horse and buggy days. In any sensible system most of these would merge, but that isn’t how things work.

          • ikwym. Where I come from (and now live, after many years away), everyone was LCA, and mostly descendants of German immigrants from the early 1700s. The population and membership has changed a bit, but I think we’re actually still LCA in ELCA guise.

          • there were no LCMS churches in this part of PA until very recently. I know of one, and that’s it.

  8. Joseph (he original) says

    I happen to believe the Roman Catholic Church harbors the largest group with diverse theological notions, superstitions, syncretic elements, champions of selected traditional claims and many adherents that simply do not practice RCC cornerstone admonitions, such as birth control, or accept Marian teachings that are sacrosanct dogma…

    If the RCC ‘claims’ these saints are truly in their camp, and making no attempt to expel them, then I would really celebrate the effort Pope Francis is making toward a more generous orthodoxy with those outside the RCC faith tradition…

    The large group of practicing Catholics that do not tow the Catholic Company Line to the ‘T’ makes me think that ecumenical diversity within its own ranks represents as much of a disparity in belief and practice as does all the non-Catholic and EO adherents combined. No one-size-fits-all approach to defining doctrines to such a degree it separates the ‘true’ practitioners from the more pedestrian ones.

    Claiming to have the most perfect, unsullied, jot-and-tittle doctrines really makes little sense when defended and used as the dividing line preventing dialogue, joint ministry efforts, open communion, mutual respect and peaceful cooperation seems to me to be the height of religious arrogance, but that is simply my own opinion…

    Lord…have mercy. 🙁

    • Joseph (the original) says


      I would also think that the proportion of faithful, devoted Catholic practitioners making sincere efforts to abide by every RCC doctrinal, traditional and theological nuance to be a very small minority.

      It does not seem to upset the RCC hierarchy any that its ranks are full of nominal, doctrinally divergent, ‘protesting’ members that ignore or outright disagree with one or more core tenets of Catholicism. And if that worship/faith tradition allows such a wide range of personal viewpoints, it is simply being hypocritical by not acknowledging the greater diversity outside its membership boundaries that honestly admit contrary opinions in both faith and practice.

      Yet I do recognize the same ‘circle-the-wagons’ mentality in non-Catholic faith traditions that attempt to preserve their own version of the most pure, unsullied, rightly discerned doctrines, dogmas, worship expressions and membership parameters…

      Lord…what an eclectic menagerie of saints that make up the church universal… 😉

      • “Lord…what an eclectic menagerie of saints that make up the church universal… ?”

        Just like every other dysfunctional family!

  9. Ronald Avra says

    At least people are willing to speak to each other in a normal tone of voice in an attempt to discover common ground. Perhaps in our lifetime, these conversations and explorations will bear godly fruit.

    • +1.

      If they remain centered on Jesus and only Jesus, they will. If they drift back to dogma and creeds and stuff that’s not of Jesus, they’ll just unravel again.

    • This is a point that shouldn’t be overlooked. While it’s easy to cast stones at Sunni and Shi’a civil wars, Christianity has had its own civil wars. The relative peace between Catholicism and Protestantism and also the rise of denominations, if I recall correctly, was a result of the end of the Thirty Years’ War when both sides grew exhausted from slaughtering each other. Speaking to each other in a normal tone of voice is a vast improvement 🙂 .

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > both sides grew exhausted from slaughtering each other

        This and the rise of the commercial class. Warfare interferes mightily with prosperity.

        • Which kind of brings us full circle. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a certain financial interest in maintaining separate buildings, staff, seminaries, publishing companies, etc.

          • Well, yes, there is; we can acknowledge it. But, at least in the mainline churches, there is increasing inability to maintain all of these things due to loss of dollars that follow the members out the door.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        While it’s easy to cast stones at Sunni and Shi’a civil wars, Christianity has had its own civil wars. The relative peace between Catholicism and Protestantism and also the rise of denominations, if I recall correctly, was a result of the end of the Thirty Years’ War when both sides grew exhausted from slaughtering each other.

        Some have compared what’s going on right now in the Islamic world with the Reformation Wars in Europe. Islam is about the same age as Christianity was around the time of Luther & Calvin, so this might be a periodic “earthquake series”.

        However as my old D&D DM once commented, “At least when Christianity went through this phase, the most advanced weaponry was the Crossbow instead of Nukes & Satan Bugs.”

  10. I can’t help but feel there’s a certain level of “circling the wagons” to this push for ecumenism. In the old cowboy movies, with the “hostiles” coming over the hill, you didn’t care about your neighbor’s religion, long as he could shoot straight.

  11. …”Having ‘the mind of Christ’ does not mean all thinking exactly alike about everything”…
    Least of all, who you should pick to lead you in the Christian faith.

    That verse in 1 Cor 2:16 about ‘having the mind of Christ’ was about embracing the ‘foolishness’ of the cross.
    In the previous chapter (v10-11), Paul said that various factions wanted to claim Paul or Apollos or Peter as their leader. How ridiculous this sounded to him, especially in light that they were all baptized into Christ’s death, not into an apostle’s program.

  12. Another good post. We are so lucky

  13. Gioacchino da Fiore, sometime in the twelfth century, prophesied that the age of the Father and the age of the Son would soon give way to the age of the Spirit where the formal structure and hierarchy would be diminished. I can’t get that out of my mind when I see the modern movement of things. It could be happening?!

  14. P.s. I am moving from Illinois to Ames, Iowa this weekend, and will be looking for a church. Thinking about Lutheran.
    Was baptized as infant Lutheran, grew up in Methodism (Methodist holiness). Fundamentalist fora few years, then Presbyterian. When I married, joined Lutheran church again; my husband would not have bee comfortable in another church (my assumption). I liked it, although I had no idea what it meant to be a Lutheran. Even after several years, it’s hard to shake off the influence of Arminianism. I don’t attend church now, but am looking forward to worshipping with others.

    • Keep us apprised of the situation, Hanni. Good luck. Just find a place where worship and involvement doesn’t turn Jesus into a mountain to be climbed and a burden to be carried.

  15. Christiane says

    It seems an ‘everyday’ common thing to us now, all this division . . . all this separation . . . but it wasn’t always ‘accepted’ as the norm in the Church, no. Not that there weren’t problems . . . there were always problems, but there may have been more hope in ancient times, and Pope Francis may be attempting to call the Church back to that hope.

    Take a look at these hymn lyrics from the 9th Century A.D. and think about what Pope Francis is attempting to do for the whole Church. He might be able to begin the kind of reconciliation that was envisioned as possible well over a thousand years ago. If it happens, we will owe this healing to the Holy Spirit’s working through the whole Church in a way that is ‘ever ancient, yet ever new’:

    “Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found; Brought here together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound.
    With grateful joy and holy fear His charity we learn; Let us with heart and mind and soul now love him in return.

    Forgive we now each other’s faults as we our faults confess; And let us love each other well in Christian holiness.
    Let strife among us be unknown, let all contention cease; Be His the glory that we seek, be ours His holy peace.

    Let us recall that in our midst dwells God’s begotten Son; As members of His body joined, we are in Him made one.
    No race or creed can love exclude, if honored be God’s name; Our family embraces all whose Father is the same. ”
    (Ubi Caritas Et Amor)

  16. Looking at the Planned Parenthood videos this week, I wonder what Rachael Held Evans thinks. She is [ I think ] supposedly Evangelical but then she recently joins the Episcopal Church which is actively supportive of women’s choice to take the live of their own child.
    I wonder how she handles the dissonance now.
    I can live with a lot of differences within Christendom, but if you support women’s right to take the life of their own child and you support active homosexuals in leadership in the church, that’s a gulf I’m unwilling to span.

  17. Bishop Palmer passed away last year? I never heard of him. That sounds like an unfortunate loss on my part.

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