January 21, 2021

Commemorating the Reformation Together (1)

rome wartbug

This morning I introduce my particular topic for the week that we will look at today and Thursday. You may have read the blurb on the Internet Monk Bulletin Board (right side of the page) and noticed that Roman Catholics and Lutherans have come together and produced a document that expresses their commitment to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in a spirit of unity.

The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation released a joint document, “From Conflict to Communion,” in Geneva on Monday, June 17. (Here is a link to the document).

The heart of its message is expressed in the following paragraph:

Lutherans and Catholics have many reasons to retell their history in new ways. They have been brought closer together through family relations, through their service to the larger world mission, and through their common resistance to tyrannies in many places. These deepened contacts have changed mutual perceptions, bringing new urgency for ecumenical dialogue and further research. The ecumenical movement has altered the orientation of the churches’ perceptions of the Reformation: ecumenical theologians have decided not to pursue their confessional self-assertions at the expense of their dialogue partners but rather to search for that which is common within the differences, even within the oppositions, and thus work toward overcoming church-dividing differences.

johnxxiii“From Conflict to Communion” especially highlights the progress made by Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the past 50 years, and suggests that we live in a new era, an age that enables Lutherans and Catholics to view each other differently. The mutual condemnations that grew out of Reformation schisms should no longer form the foundation of the relationship between the churches.

The document cites four important changes that have come about:

1. The work of ecumenism in the past century.

The year 2017 will see the first centennial commemoration of the Reformation to take place during the ecumenical age. It will also mark fifty years of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. As part of the ecumenical movement, praying together, worshipping together, and serving their communities together have enriched Catholics and Lutherans. They also face political, social, and economic challenges together. The spirituality evident in interconfessional marriages has brought forth new insights and questions. Lutherans and Catholics have been able to reinterpret their theological traditions and practices, recognizing the influences they have had on each other. Therefore, they long to commemorate 2017 together.

2. The globalization of the church that now finds the Global South taking on new importance in the Christian world.

In the last century, Christianity has become increasingly global. There are today Christians of various confessions throughout the whole world; the number of Christians in the South is growing, while the number of Christians in the North is shrinking. The churches of the South are continually assuming a greater importance within worldwide Christianity. These churches do not easily see the confessional conflicts of the sixteenth century as their own conflicts, even if they are connected to the churches of Europe and North America through various Christian world communions and share with them a common doctrinal basis. With regard to the year 2017, it will be very important to take seriously the contributions, questions, and perspectives of these churches.

3. The secularization of the world context in which Christian communities live and witness.

While the previous Reformation anniversaries took place in confessionally homogenous lands, or lands at least where a majority of the population was Christian, today Christians live worldwide in multi-religious environments. This pluralism poses a new challenge for ecumenism, making ecumenism not superfluous but, on the contrary, all the more urgent, since the animosity of confessional oppositions harms Christian credibility. How Christians deal with differences among themselves can reveal something about their faith to people of other religions. Because the question of how to handle inner-Christian conflict is especially acute on the occasion of remembering the beginning of the Reformation, this aspect of the changed situation deserves special attention in our reflections on the year 2017.

4. The contributions of 20th-21st century historical research.

Research has contributed much to changing the perception of the past in a number of ways. In the case of the Reformation, these include the Protestant as well as the Catholic accounts of church history, which have been able to correct previous confessional depictions of history through strict methodological guidelines and reflection on the conditions of their own points of view and presuppositions. On the Catholic side that applies especially to the newer research on Luther and Reformation and, on the Protestant side, to an altered picture of medieval theology and to a broader and more differentiated treatment of the late Middle Ages. In current depictions of the Reformation period, there is also new attention to a vast number of non-theological factors – political, economic, social, and cultural. The paradigm of “confessionalization” has made important corrections to the previous historiography of the period.

* * *

martin_lutherI think sometimes we downplay the significance of statements like these, if only because they have been crafted by people we don’t know personally and because we don’t see any immediate changes resulting from them. I myself have had this attitude. However, that is one reason I want us to talk about this document this week.

If “From Conflict to Communion” simply remains an official statement by a couple of big organizations, then it certainly will have minimal impact. But if we can begin discussing the ideas on the grassroots level and changing our minds about the ways in which we have been set, then perhaps some actual progress in real life Christian unity can be made. The internet seems to me a perfect environment to start this discussion, and may God grant that it go “viral!”

A further challenge to all of us — especially on a personal level — is the simple fact that people approach matters like this from two basic perspectives. Forgive the simplistic nature of this, but I have often seen demonstrated that when groups talk about “unity” or “ecumenical” matters, there is a general divide between:

  • Those who look first at our differences and make those the foundation of the way we relate to each other, and
  • Those who look first at our commonalities and make them the basis of our relationship.

The statement emphasizes that both groups need to alter their perspective.

Ecumenical dialogue means being converted from patterns of thought that arise from and emphasize the differences between the confessions. Instead, in dialogue the partners look first for what they have in common and only then weigh the significance of their differences. These differences, however, are not overlooked or treated casually, for ecumenical dialogue is the common search for the truth of the Christian faith.

So then, we are not so different that we cannot rejoice together in what we hold in common and try to build a relationship on that. On the other hand, our differences are important enough that we must keep talking and coming to terms with what those differences will mean for the shape of our relationship.

* * *

This afternoon: an overview of “From Conflict to Communion.” I encourage you to read it online or download a copy to keep for further reading and consideration.


  1. Christiane says

    some time ago, in one of Pope Benedict’s addresses to an audience, he said these words:

    “To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary.
    That is why Luther’s expression “sola fide” is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to His life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into His love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf. Galatians 5:14). ”


  2. We open our (Holy) Communion rails to them (Catholics).

    It would be a great step towards “Communion”…if we could actually receive Holy Communion with them in their churches, as well.

    Don’t look for it to happen anytime soon.

    • Ah but which “we” do you mean, Steve? 😉 While this statement is true of all ELCA churches as far as I know, it may or may not be the case for other Lutheran branches. I’d be interested to hear someone from LCMS or WELS give a report on their custom. I know they are pretty strict about keeping us uncouth wannabe-Swedes away from the table.

      And there’s another part of the tragedy, IMHO.

      I am a big fan of church unity, in general, but so much of what we have versus what we still lack makes so little sense. Lutherans communing with UCC but not with other Lutherans, for instance. So much of the barrier seems as much cultural as theological in nature. Not to downplay the real theological differences, of which there are plenty. But there just seems to be an element of clannishness that is unbecoming. Being fellow liberal Protestants (yikes) is more important than believing in the Real Presence? Germans versus Swedes, Swedes versus Norwegians…it’s funny on Prairie Home Companion, but in real life church politics, it’s an embarrassment.

      How is the ELCA going to set sail further from Rome by sharing altar and pulpit fellowship with Reformed liberal Protestant churches, and closer to it, at the same time? I want to be optimistic and starry eyed, but it is difficult. I want it to be meaningful, a real end in sight to the tear in the body of the church, but it ends up looking so nonsensical I have to think it’s just diplomacy games. I don’t know. I want them to prove my worst suspicions wrong, badly.

      • I would think that the fundamental fact that we recognize each other as Christians is a major step. I don’t anticipate a great deal of institutional unity, though perhaps joining together in various mission efforts might be possible. At ground level, mutual acceptance by local priests and pastors and congregation members of each other as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ and cooperation in making our communities better is the kind of thing I’m looking for. In forums like this, I look for the same spirit. When Jesus prayed for unity, I don’t think he was as concerned about whether there were various branches of the Church. I think he was concerned that those branches recognize each other and love one another for the sake of the world.

        • We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.
          – Thomas Aquinas –

          This quote seems appropriate. Appeared today on another website I subscribe to called A Daily Spiritual Seed.

        • David Cornwell says

          “At ground level, mutual acceptance by local priests and pastors and congregation members of each other as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ and cooperation in making our communities better is the kind of thing I’m looking for.”

          I’m not a Lutheran or Catholic, but during my days being a pastor in one local community this was already a reality. One of the reasons was the cross pollination of families, some of them with a long presence in the community. The other reason was local pastors who loved each other, their people, and the community. I loved working and living in this town.

      • KvB,

        Those of us who are willing to not build high fences around the gospel. Those of us who are willing to err on the side of God’s grace. Those of us who are willing to understand how it is that God comes to us and who it is that He is after, real sinners who need Him and who do not necessarily have all their doctrine lined up perfectly (the way SOME believe that they do). Those of us who announce that the Supper is for all the Baptized who believe Christ to truly be present in the meal. And we let them come, without requiring a litmus test.

        Risky? Maybe it is. Whose Supper is it anyway? We believe He is capable of handling any issues that come up with someone’s worthiness or unworthiness.

        It’s a very good thing that our Lord Jesus did not put all these fences around the gospel.


        • petrushka1611 says

          “Those of us who announce that the Supper is for all the Baptized who believe Christ to truly be present in the meal.”

          But, see, right there you’ve given a litmus test that would keep away a lot of people. A means of grace is therefore to be withheld from those who don’t aren’t convinced of that?

          Is it not enough that Christ said “Do this in remembrance of me?” He didn’t say, “Analyze this in remembrance of me.” Even Paul, in all his warnings about the table, told Christians only to examine themselves, not each other. And he never commanded anyone to be kept from the table for any reason. Christ even served the bread and wine to Judas when he inaugurated the meal!

          It’s the Lord’s Supper, not ours. Let it mean whatever he wants it to. Let us do it and turn away no disciple.

          • With that said, why would someone who wants to partake of Eucharist not also want baptism? I am no fan of putting fences around baptism–“look, here is water!” But the tradition of baptism before Eucharist is so very ancient I am not convinced we should just shrug it off as some kind of legalism. Feel free to convince me otherwise.

          • There has to be an element of faith, otherwise the breaking of the bread is meaningless. And as Katharina mentions below, baptism before Eucharist is ancient, back at least to Justin Martyr and the Didache both writeen within 50 years of the fourth Gospel.

    • Steve, you know that the ELCA is not a “confessional” church body. That is why the practice open communion. Churches that believe, teach, and confess the doctrine of the 1580 Book of Concord do NOT practice open communion.

      • My ELCA pastor was able to jointly do a funeral for one of his best friends at an LCMS church…but they didn’t allow him to take communion. Needless to say, it put a bad taste in his mouth. You can have so many well-thought out reasons for your closed communion policy, but in the end it often just turns out to be legalism.

        • Miguel,

          I don’t promote the wrong beliefs and practices of the ELCA. I promote the centrist Lutheranism that has never left it’s confessional roots.

          We understand your reasons for wanting to fence off the Supper. But we prefer to err (if we are to err) on the side of God’s grace for Baptized sinners.

          • Steve, while I stridently rise to the defense of my denomination’s right to maintain their distinctive beliefs, I do not claim to understand them perfectly. About this doctrine, closed communion, I am not significantly well versed. I trust my synod and tradition because of the many good things I have received from their instruction. I do not claim doctrinal infallibility, either for myself or my synod. If I were to pursue ordination in the synod, however, I would make sure I am ready to either stand by our positions or re-affiliate. Ordination vows MUST be taken seriously and honestly.

            But the thing is, ELCA ministers are not required to believe hardly a thing about the Lutheran Confessions. Their vow to uphold the confessions “in so far” as they agree with scripture is a loophole allowing an infinite scope of exceptions. I’m not saying many ELCA ministers do not believe Lutheran doctrine. It’s just that it isn’t a requirement of your denomination anymore. ELCA ministers are free to be theological Episcopalians. This, IMO, is responsible for the fact that you have diversity in spades, to a fault even. But I am glad to know there are people like yourself in the synod contending for a better balance.

        • but in the end it often just turns out to be legalism

          Maybe. But that assertion is itself a position on the issue, one that we differ with. It is equally legalistic to decry the denying of communion at all, under any circumstances. The truth is that our church bodies are divided. Nobody is helped by our living in denial of that. It is not legalistic for us to deny ELCA ministers communion: it is simply being consistent with the position we have. To make indiscriminate exceptions to our own policy is to confess that we don’t actually believe it. But we do. Is full communion with any orthodox Trinitarian church body the right of every baptized believer? Maybe. But that simply is not the position of the vast majority of Christendom. The vast majority of contemporary Protestants, yes. But not of 2000 years of Christianity, especially where the real presence of Christ is taken with gravitas and to have significant, tangible implications concerning how it is to be proclaimed and celebrated.

          • Miguel – I have read some (though admittedly not a lot) about closed communion in the LCMS, and I do not believe that the current LCMS interpretation holds much water.

            But that’s just me.

            As for the WELS, that’s a whole ‘nother story! They seem medieval – at best – in their practices. (I know, I probably shouldn’t say that, but the whole blow-up over “prayer fellowship” with the LCMS, along with WELS’ stubborn mischaracterization of the Boy Scouts and prayer is something I find difficult to comprehend.)

          • Mark my words, Numo: WELS will be at open communion within one generation. I see a backlash against overly-oppressive restrictions coming up among them. As for the LCMS, you may be right. I will eventually study this issue in more detail. But I am confident it does hold water (loosely) because the teachers I hear pushing it have managed to conserve greater quantity of liquid in all other issues. I made a fairly thorough comparative study of all Christian belief to wind up where I am now, and so while I may have made mistakes or fallen for deception on my search for a confessional identity, I am utterly convinced of my current understanding. But who knows? Five years ago I’d have laughed out of town anybody who suggested that I’d ever become a Lutheran organist, devoted student of the Catechism, and avid proponent of beliefs I was brought up to reject.

          • The LCMS seems, sometimes, to forget that the Lutheran Confessions are not ACTUALLY the Gospel. When you combine that with the influence from general American evangelicalism which forgets that the Bible is not actually Jesus, you end up with a kind of book-based rigidity that is really, honestly, not supposed to be the point at all.

            I am the first in line to talk about how the ELCA should shape up, dig back in and claim its roots, and be less all over the place. But the LCMS attitude is absolutely just as frustrating to me as the happy-go-lucky shrugs we have been getting from Higgins Road. Yes, let’s actually read the Confessions, let’s teach our children the catechism, absolutely. We have gone too far from those things. But on the other hand, my “identity” is not “confessional.” My identity is meant to be in Christ, who knew of no Smalcald Article, after all. And I realize that this kind of Christian freedom is too often used as an excuse for antinomianism, true. Absolutely a problem to be addressed. But when I see LCMSers using “the confessions” and their “confessional identity” as a wedge, a bludgeon, and an excuse to smugly set themselves above the rest of us, I want to scream.

            Yes I know, LCMS, you are the Mary Poppins of the Reformation, practically perfect in any way. But when your pastors show compassion to the parents of dead children, they have to answer to a bunch of screaming legalists. Missouri, we have a problem.

          • But when I see LCMSers using “the confessions” and their “confessional identity” as a wedge, a bludgeon, and an excuse to smugly set themselves above the rest of us, I want to scream.

            You can’t keep that attitude out of any group. But this isn’t the product or the result of believing, teaching, and confessing the substance of Scripture as understood by the Lutheran reformers. If anything, using anything at all as a wedge, bludgeon, or excuse to smugly set one above others is DIRECTLY contrary to the ethos of the Lutheran confessions (which is why they are so valuable as a route of appeal). Of course, in our culture, anybody teaching falsehood who gets called on it is going to scream, “Wedge! Bludgeon! You smugly set yourself above me!” whether or not it is truly the case. We in the LCMS fall short of our call to humility in all things, especially in the study of theology. But keep in mind, our Pastors DO show compassion, and I would hold our clergy up against any as models of traditional pastoral care and involvement with the needs of their own parish, even if we can’t always agree amongst ourselves what that should look like.

        • Holding to an actual system of belief is legalism? Good grief……rolls eyes…..

  3. Some time ago the ‘Joint Statement on Justification was issued by groups in the RC Church and a group of Lutheran Churches. A wealthy friend of mine and a recent convert to Catholicism from Lutheranism.was proudly touting the document and had me read it. The language was ‘squishy’ even with an optomistic reading. I handed it back to him and asked if this was a business contract would his lawyer let him sign it. He never brought it up again. If memory serves me correctly, Pope Benedict later said it was not an official pronouncement and did not carry the weight of accepted doctrine.

    This seems like more of the same massaging of words and bending of meaning in an attempt to paper over the clear words of the past. No, we weren’t really meaning the same things and using different words during the Reformation. When I see Rome repeal certain parts of the Council of Trent, I will start to take this whole business a little more seriously. Until then I just get the ‘dodgy business negotiation’ vibe whenever the subject comes up.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Ah, the JDDJ! Good times! You have it abut right, but if anything it is even worse than that. After the document was issued, there was the predictable shouting from both sides, leading to unilateral clarifications making it clear that there was enough wiggle room in the original document for both sides to agree to the language without necessarily actually agreeing on doctrine.

      Such documents, like the present one, in one sense are meaningless. They don’t require anyone to do anything they weren’t already doing, and they don’t prohibit anyone from doing anything they were previously doing. Their significance is that they give cover for anything accused of being insufficiently hateful toward the other camp.

      As for the anathemas from Trent, repealing them isn’t how the Roman church works. It holds to a pious fiction that it never changes in any substantial way. So when it does change, there is often an embarrassing body of official literature from the old regime. Fortunately, the church is very good at rationalizing such embarrassments away, concluding that they didn’t really say what everyone thought they said. This is the approach taken by present day conservative Catholics to Vatican II, concluding that Vatican II didn’t actually do anything, notwithstanding what one might have read in the papers at the time.

      Sometimes the old literature is too explicit to make this work. The fallback for such cases is to discreetly ignore it. This is the approach taken to the Tridentine anathemas. This isn’t really any different from what any legal body with a long history does. We often read articles describing crazy out-dated statutes from a century or two ago that never got formally repealed. A secular legislative body is not encumbered by the fiction that it never changes, but it still tends to let such outdated statutes remain on the books. The practical effect one way or the other is negligible.

    • But Kyle, isn’t the mere fact that Roman Catholics were willing to have such a discussion and come to some sense of agreement a major breakthrough? The current document makes the point (which I will emphasize this afternoon) that previous councils such as Trent must be viewed through the lens of later historical developments, especially Vatican II, not vice versa. If anyone has moved on these issues, it is the Roman Catholics. Vatican II was essentially their own Reformation. This does not mean, of course, that we agree about everything. That is emphatically not the point. The point is that there is now a mutual recognition of each other that has not existed for the past 500 years.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        CM, such facts cannot stand in the way of “NO POPERY!”

        Even only nine comments in.

        • I’ll show you “NO POPERY!”

          • Joe the Amused says

            No Potpourri, indeed!

          • Robert F says

            “…..call no man abba……”


            No Pope-for-me!!!!

          • Radagast says

            Robert F.

            Commentary on the “Call no man Father” thing….

            from Yahoo answers (not my own or a Catholic source)….

            In the early years of our country, “Father” was a term of respect given to older men, including clergy. “Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and German Reformed commonly addressed older ministers as ‘Father’ well into the nineteenth century.”
            The title also was given to younger ministers who “served as spiritual fathers.

            John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was known not only as “Mr. Wesley” but also as “Father Wesley,” and “the Shakers called their matriarch ‘Mother’ and their male leaders ‘Father.'”

            Mary Baker Eddy, the foundress of the Christian Science Church, was known as “Mother Eddy.” Likewise for the foundress of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Ellen Gould White, who was called “Mother White.”
            In surveying early American usage, that “if calling clergy ‘Father’ had violated biblical norms, the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ surely would have opposed it, for these groups were formed in an attempt to restore not only the doctrine and practices of primitive Christianity, but also its very nomenclature.”

            Those denominations said that using “reverend” or “doctor” for clergy was unscriptural, and that the founders of these churches used “Father” “for their own clergy as well as for each other. And none of the movement’s opponents ever seemed to exploit a contradiction in the movement’s use of ‘Father’ as a clerical title. They apparently saw no contradiction.”

            But by the middle of the nineteenth century these usages began to disappear. “By the 1920s only Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Episcopal clergy and nuns were being addressed as ‘Father’ or ‘Mother.'”

            Until the great wave of Irish immigration in the 1840s, most Catholic priests in America were addressed as “Mister,” “Monsieur,” or “Don,” not “Father.” This was the Continental usage. The title “Father” was restricted to monks, and few priests in America were monks.

            But the Irish had a different custom. They referred to all priests, whether religious or secular (that is, monastic or diocesan) as “Father.” By the late nineteenth century “the Irish had influenced English-speaking Roman Catholicism to call every priest ‘Father.'”

            This bothered Protestants. So long as Catholic priests had been called “Mister,” Protestants were comfortable calling their ministers “Father.” But when Catholics changed their usage, Protestants, in order to distinguish their position from “priestcraft” and “popery,” changed their usage too.

      • Sorry CM,

        Have they officially recognized us as a legitimate and real church, in possession of the Grace of God and the Sacraments? See my reply to KvB about the annulment of my friend’s multiple marriages. Does Rome now officially recognize marriages performed in our churches? The RC and various Lutheran bodies have been in ecumenical talks for the better part of the last 50 years and have respectfully recognized each others back ground and contribution. How does this document contribute or go beyond what has already been said and done?

        I personally am not satisfied with the way the RC’s old doctrine and councils are papered over with slippery language and the passage of time is used as a tool to obfuscate the subject. It is fundamentally dishonest to “change” your doctrine this way when you won’t repudiate errors of the past. I appreciate the Rome is unable to do that because they have boxed themselves in theologically. However, that is not my problem and neither is it the problem of the Churches born out of the Reformation.

        • Robert F says

          Have they recognized that churches not in the apostolic succession are true churches? Do they continue to require devotion to the saints as part of the essential practice of Christianity? Would they insist in common worship with Lutherans and others that intercession for the dead be made? Do they continue to hold that only the Roman Catholic church holds the keys to forgiveness of sins?

  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer may provide a blueprint for an ecumenical way forward. He worked tirelessly with Episcopalians & Roman Catholics (& others I’m sure) in the years before WWII. When he visited the United States, he found the most inspiration not in his own Lutheran church but in the black churches in Harlem. On the only Easter he celebrated in the US, he attended a speech given by a well-known rabbi at the time (can’t remember his name).

    All of this is to say, he sought the Lord wherever He could be found. As long as we hold first to Christ & then our church (whichever it may be), we may be able to attain greater unity. If we continue to hold to our own churches as the only true expression of Christ, unity will remain a pipe dream.

  5. The trouble with ecumenism is that ultimately someone’s view will prevail.

    Unity is wonderful. But NEVER at the expense of the gospel.

  6. Have no fear, I am here, to poop on your POPERY parade!

    ecumenical theologians have decided not to pursue their confessional self-assertions at the expense of their dialogue partners

    So THAT’s what the Reformation confessions were all about: Assertion of self! I had no idea. Well, it’s too bad that I work for a denomination that is dogmatically bent on reinforcing such selfishness. This whole time I thought we were simply devoted to the Word of God and defending the church from err. Silly me!

    As part of the ecumenical movement, praying together, worshipping together

    I was under the impression that you could not separate the Roman Catholic theology of worship from their theology of Eucharist. And they practice closed communion. Confessional Lutherans (of which the ELCA is NOT) reciprocate on this practice. So in what way have we been “worshiping together?” Prayer? Great. Leave it at that.

    they long to commemorate 2017 together.

    Yes. We welcome the AntiChrist to renounce his heresy and join in the dance of the bride of Christ apart from his office which insists on disrupting the dance. I know, the ELCA has “taken back” that silly, irrational, 16th century name calling, but they aren’t confessional. This inter-religious dialogue is between Rome and progressive mainliners, not Confessional repristinators.

    These churches do not easily see the confessional conflicts of the sixteenth century as their own conflicts

    Ah, yes. That’s the meta-narrative according to northern progressives, whose influence is diminishing. I do not think Lutherans in Africa (or Anglicans either, for that matter) see it the same way these enlightened intelligentsia do. If these Southern voices are so important, why don’t we let them weigh in on these ecumenical proceedings? Why haven’t such teachings or movements originated from them?

    • I mean, nothing should surprise me anymore, but when I see a Lutheran defend that “pope is antichrist” thing, or a Catholic post jabs about Martin Luther just being a horny SOB who wanted to get down with nuns (yes, I have seen this) I kind of want to launch y’all BACK to the 16th century, where you’d probably be happier anyways.

      • So it’s ok, then, when the church sells for a fee what Christ meant us to freely give to all? Letting money be an obstacle to forgiveness of sins ISN’T oppositional to the spirit of Christ? By all means, then, let us recant our juvenile insult.

        • Tell me about how the Roman Catholic Church is “selling” for a fee anything of that nature in 2013. I ask out of genuine curiosity.

          I’m not willing to live like the Diet of Worms was yesterday any more than I am willing to take Dr. Luther’s word for what to think of my Jewish neighbors.

          • They may not have indulgence salesmen running around, but they haven’t exactly recanted that err either. But go ahead, banish us confession lovers back to the 16th century. That is very tolerant of you. BTW, we actually HAVE recanted Luther’s anti-semitism. Confessing our own err is a very Lutheran thing to do.

            But my point is that the Pope wasn’t called AntiChrist as a juvenile insult. There were theological reasons why we believe his office, and NOT the man filling it, stands in opposition to Christ. Read all about it!


          • KvB,

            The same friend I mentioned earlier, was able to have two marriages officially annulled by the RC Church in order to marry a woman who also had her previous marriage annulled. The loophole they used was that even though he had two children by his first wife ( or should I say concubine) they were married in an independent evangelical Church, which apparently, according to cannon law is no real church, therefore he was not truly married and his children were born out of wedlock. Same for his second ‘marriage’ except there were no children.

            Oh, by the way, he told me it was very expensive to have this done as the Pope himself had to sign the documents.\

            If people want to believe in those kind of scams they are certainly free to do so. Just don’t take the rest of us to task for meeting these pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism and for insisting that words have real meanings.

          • Robert F says

            They don’t call it casuistry for nothing!

          • Robert F says

            Where priests prevail, money can buy anything, divorce, forgiveness, anything.

          • No doubt the Catholic annulment system is a bit of a mess to say the least. The alternatives are fairly ugly to contemplate as well, however. There’s a strict legalistic option where except in provable extreme circumstances such as adultery or violence, there is no divorce and remarriage allowed at all. There’s the liberal Protestant version where we shrug off the words of Christ himself with an “oh well, sometimes life is funny that way” and don’t think of it again. In between are imperfect and human-corrupted options like the annulment system. I’m not exactly defending it, but I am hard pressed to think of a better way to reconcile the way people live and the way we are asked to live in this case. Again, feel free to enlighten me with the better options you know of.

          • In a fractured world, where the church is as fractured as any marriage could be, there may not be any good options, but spreading a patina of rectitude over the ugliness of marital failure by the religious fiction of annulment is not the way to go; better to let the ugliness exist in broad daylight and be seen for what it is than to rely on papal authority to rubber stamp (for a slight fee, remember) the blamelessness of one’s relational failures and the integrity of one’s state of grace. It’s dishonest, and it finds more authority in a mere human being and a mere institution than can be justified or is right.

  7. since the animosity of confessional oppositions harms Christian credibility.

    Au contraire. How can we expect the unbelieving world to take our teaching and the words of Christ seriously if we do not? It’s one thing if we are arguing because we just can’t get along. But it’s another to assume that a church body can not be objectively wrong in their understanding of what Christ said. The solution, IMO, is not to minimize or ignore our doctrinal conflicts. Rather, we should rightly teach and understand them as those convinced by the Word of God, and learn how to partner with dissenting church bodies in ways which do not violate our conscience. Yes, celebrate our commonalities. But unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason…

    The paradigm of “confessionalization” has made important corrections to the previous historiography of the period.

    Ah, yes. We now understand the reformation much better than those who lived through it. How enlightened we’ve become. If they only knew what we did, Luther would not have railed against Tetsel, and the Pope would not have excommunicated him. (I do believe the RCC has recanted this, but hell will freeze over before we overlook the sale of indulgences. I’m not kidding here.)

    So then, we are not so different that we cannot rejoice together in what we hold in common and try to build a relationship on that.

    Agreed! But let’s built that relationship through honesty. Both parties are convinced that the other believes lies (or, in the case of ELCA, used to believe them). German theological DNA is intrinsically stubborn. Rome is incapable of admitting err. You’ll have to forgive me if I lack optimism towards the possibility of full communion. You can NOT have reconciliation without repentance. Period.

    • How can we expect the unbelieving world to take our teaching and the words of Christ seriously if we do not?

      I hate to break it to you, but based on the conversations *I’ve* had with non-believers of late, they couldn’t give two figs about how tightly we cling to our denominations’ particular confession/statement of faith/etc. What they see 1) we fight with those who also name the name of Christ, and 2) we don’t practice what Christ preached.

      “For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed mamong the Gentiles because of you.’” (Rom. 2:24)

      • Please forgive the spelling errors, it’s late and I’m tired.

      • Hate to break it to you, but the “churches” losing the most members and the ones that will cease to exist in a generation, are precisely the ones that don’t hold to any firm belief on anything. I’d list them out, but we all know who they are.

    • The sale of indulgences was condemned at Trent, by successive Popes and reaffirmed at Vatican II. The Church admitted to the mistake a long time ago. There are also arguments to be made the the Church never approved of the sale of indulgences–but I wouldn’t expect you to accepted those arguments as valid.

    • So all of us ELCAers are going to hell? 😉 (I kid, I kid – really! 🙂 )

  8. We do believe that we know the truth. But we believe others know it as well.

    We don’t believe that we alone have everything just right, as do some Lutherans and Catholics.

    There’s no such thing as perfect doctrine because doctrine is a part of the historical process in addition to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (another reason we don’t hold to a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word (as do LCMS).

    But there is a perfect gospel.

    We don’t want to believe that we alone know Christ. We know what God does in Baptism. We announce what Christ has done for us on the cross and that He applies that Cross, to us, for us, in His Supper as well as in our Baptisms.

    We announce that this meal is for the Baptized. Who believe Christ to be present in it. ( a small fence, but a fence) And then we announce that all is ready. Come and receive it. In faith.

    Oh if it were that we too could believe that we alone know the truth. Wouldn’t that be great? Not.

    • There’s no such thing as perfect doctrine because doctrine

      …then on what basis should I believe that doctrine? Because it is a doctrine.

      Our culture views “doctrine” as abstract theological minutia. It is not. Doctrine simply means “teaching.” I say that Jesus gave perfect doctrine, as did the apostles in their writing of the scriptures. Steve, I’ve demonstrated time and again the vast, significant diferences between the way the SBC and the LCMS view scripture. You’re welcome to continue plugging your ears, but it simply isn’t so. If they viewed scripture the way we do, they would have sacraments.

      You can’t have a perfect gospel without a “perfect doctrine.” You are assuming the gospel is not a doctrine. But it is a teaching, about who Christ is and what he has done.

      To accuse the LCMS of believing that we have everything right is hypocritical. You’re building a straw man caricature of ideological arrogance simply because YOU disagree with us on particular issues. It is not presumptuous to have a position on these issues. It is presumptuous to accuse anybody who believes their own position with conviction of being arrogant. The Book of Concord is NOT exhaustive theological minutia. It is utter simplicity. There is hardly a thing in the book that isn’t summarized in the small catechism, which can therefore be understood by children. There is room for diversity under the BoC. Just LOOK at the LCMS. We’re all over the map.

      We don’t want to believe that we alone know Christ. We know what God does in Baptism. We announce what Christ has done for us on the cross and that He applies that Cross, to us, for us, in His Supper as well as in our Baptisms.

      All of these ARE doctrines, about which there is much disagreement in Christendom. Are you saying that YOUR view on them is particularly correct, and those who reject it are in err? You do the very thing you condemn, only you draw the lines in different places. Oh, but far be it from you to assume that you have a corner on truth. You believe in a small fence, but not to the point that you would say those who believe in no fence or a large fence are in err? Come on now, that is just silly.

      • I’m saying that while good doctrine is important, we are NOT saved by it…but by Christ Jesus.

        There’s NO perfect doctrine (because of our involvement, as sinners) and there’s NO inerrant text of Scripture, or “perfect original” manuscripts locked away somewhere.

        We are NOT biblicists. We know that the Lord uses “earthen vessels”.

        We focus on the “pure gospel”, which does exist and which was given to us.

        When you are able to see how it is that God actually works in this sinful world, you are able to be such a stickler for perfection on our part. All the while holding onto core beliefs of law and gospel.

        These are the reasons that I don’t have much to do with the ELCA, who have fallen off one side of the horse…and why I could never join an LCMS congregation, who have fallen off the horse on the other side.

        We will stay in the center. Christ ALONE. No inerrant Bibles (infallible Bible, yes). No closed communion. No “3rd uses” of the law.

        • we are NOT saved by it…but by Christ Jesus.

          Agreed! Intellectual ascent is not a meritorious work toward salvation. However, we do still confess, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “Whoever does not keep [the catholic faith] whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.” The saving work of Christ IS a saving doctrine. It is this very doctrine, the salvation offered in Christ, which IS the Word of God. This pure Word is what creates faith, because it is the active speaking of the Holy Spirit, melting the hardened hearts of unbelief.

          There’s NO perfect doctrine

          …except for that which Christ and the apostles gave? I don’t want to misunderestimate the ability of sinful man to twist, misunderstand, or otherwise screw up what should have been simple enough to understand. But it is not on the might of our own personal intellect that we come to a saving knowledge of Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which means that somehow, in spite of our self, the pure teaching of Christ’s person and work gets through to us from the words of Holy Scripture. Our depravity is not so strong that the power of God’s Word can not overcome it.

          We know that the Lord uses “earthen vessels”.

          But he does so by inhabiting them, transforming them, and connecting them with something that transcends their limitations. The writers of scripture were earthen vessels. So is the parchment and pen they used. But the Holy Spirit which guided them is not, and he used them to proclaim truth which is not. Similarly, Christ himself is not just an “earthen vessel,” but is very God in human flesh, thus blurring the distinction eternally.

          We focus on the “pure gospel”

          ..which is the very content and substance of all the Scriptures. To the extent they teach this they do not err. Unless you hold to a different gospel than Christ, the prophets, and the apostles. (I don’t think you do.)

          I sympathize with your being stuck in the middle. But keep in mind the LCMS is hardly a monolithic, unified block the way some of us might wish it were. Inerrancy and YEC, though they are popular in our synod, are not nearly universal or required. They are both rejected even among those who consider themselves confessional. But because we are the theologically conservative option, those with allergic reactions to ELCA extremes are of course going to stick with us. So fundamentalism is alive and well in the LCMS, but not the majority report nor official stance.

          And if you cannot distinguish between two radically different approaches to the third use of the law (Lutheran and Reformed), I don’t believe you give a qualified rejection to the LCMS position on it.

  9. The discussion is proving my point. Some will stand on differences as the defining factor first, others will look first for commonalities. Remember, I said both sides need to heed the dangers inherent in their respective positions.

    However, in the end should we not seek common ground first, and then discuss and struggle with differences? That seems to me the gracious and humble way.

    • I just think it’s a false dichotomy. I suggest we put everything on the table and learn how to partner with dissenting church bodies in ways which do not violate our conscience. We cannot pit our similarities and differences against each other. I do believe that what binds all Trinitarian Christendom together is more significant that what separates us. But our differences are not remotely insignificant. We can learn to cooperate by working around them, but a lot of ecumenical dialogue seems intent on sweeping them under the rug. I am a big believer in ecumenicism, but it must be done with full disclosure, transparency, and intellectual honesty if it is to mean anything at all. I’m sorry, but our history just has too much baggage for us to simply hold hands and sing Kumbaya, in Jesus name. We should commit to work on our family disfunction, but recognize that the process must involve confronting past hurt, recognizing where we have sinned against one another, and forsaking err. That last part is virtually impossible for most church bodies and would take a miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

      • I don’t see one bit of sweeping anything under the rug in this statement.

        If anything, I see Catholics admitting a lot of failing to truly understand Luther, that they are now coming to terms with.

        • I’m always in favor of Catholics understanding Luther better. But unless it comes to “he was right about this particular point, and we were wrong to take an opposing stance,” then it isn’t actual progress toward consensus. It seems that the historical method of the RCC is to reinterpret their previous statements to mean something entirely different, rather than just confess they made an err. Of course, this not really a reflection on them specifically as it is just the nature of institutional organizations. But their ecclesiology is a formidable impediment towards reconciliation with Protestantism, what with Papal infallibility and all. Protestant belief is generally much more fluid, and Lutheranism in particular has openly recanted much of what Luther said (though good luck getting us confessionals to loosen our grip on the BoC).

          I know this is generally an overly simplistic way to approach these dialogues. But I am more than a bit leery of those who propose a “new understanding” of historical events and controversies. Usually the desired end is something other than increased faithfulness, it winds up being a political move to get a particular agenda in the door. Church unity, however, is not a bad agenda. Let’s recognize where we already have it, and work openly, honestly, and with humility on the areas where we lack it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

          • Robert F says

            I think the Roman Catholics of his era understood Luther very well, and that’s why they opposed him and his reforms so violently; I think it is both many contemporary Lutherans and Roman Catholics who don’t understand him, and understand him less and less as they get chronologically further away from him; ironically, the great tomes of Reformation scholarship written in the last decades just make this misunderstanding as dense as the Black Forest. Revisionism is made possible by historical amnesia induced by interpretative overload, and then this revisionism is called ecumenism.

            I may become a Lutheran yet, Miguel; I’m learning a lot from you.

          • Brilliant, Miguel.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            But their ecclesiology is a formidable impediment towards reconciliation with Protestantism, what with Papal infallibility and all.

            That’s really the rub. As much as I dig Pope Francis and have affinity with my Roman Catholic brethren, Roman Catholic ecclesiology means that any formal re-unification must be on Rome’s terms. We can make joint statements and agree to play nice together (which aren’t bad things), but at the end of the day, we Protestants are still “separated brethren” that can’t join them at the Lord’s table.

            As an Anglican, I’m much more sanguine about the prospects of unity with Eastern Orthodoxy than with Rome. Granted, they’ve got their own long list of non-negotiables, but I don’t see those as insurmountable as Rome’s ecclesiology.

    • CM, what’s so wrong with simply agreeing to disagree?

  10. Good point. Focus on the commons.

    That is why we allow Roman Catholics at our communion railing. It would be nice if they did the same for us. Right?

  11. Rick Ro. says

    Reading this article and the companion article seem to be all about “man-shaped spirituality” and have little to do with this site’s goal of “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” I know I can ignore the articles and wait for articles that have more of a Jesus-shape to them, but I thought I’d comment on this drift from this site’s purpose. There’s so much human-made doctrinal mumbo-jumbo in this denominational analysis that I’m not sure what the post-evangelical world has to gain from reading about it. Where’s Jesus in this analysis? I don’t see a true focus on Jesus anywhere in the discussion between Lutherans and Catholics. Instead, it’s all about doctrinal similarities and differences. Kinda makes me sad.

    • Rick Ro. says

      (Moderator can delete this comment here. Responses are being made to my nearly-duplicate post on the other “Commemorating the Reformation” article, so it isn’t needed here.)

  12. cermak_rd says

    The thing I see is LCMS, ELCA, RCC, autocephalous catholic churches, etc. everyone is reaching a smaller audience than they did a generation or so ago. In many areas of the US, congregations are shrinking, and if the congregations can’t work together then the influence of Christianity will continue likewise to shrink.

    In my neighborhood, many different churches and a few synagogues (I think even a mosque is involved) work together to provide housing for the homeless. Some religious institutions open their doors to host a shelter night a week and others provide funds, lunches etc. Does anyone reflect on the fact that the Reform Synagogue that hosts a night a week is full of folks heading straight to hell for rejecting Jesus? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem to be a major concern. Nor do the Jews seem hung up on the fact that the Catholic church that hosts a night a week is full of folks whose ancestors were likely tormentors of their ancestors.Instead, this project seems to be a nice rejoinder that yes, in fact we can all get along to accomplish specific goals. Is that the same as granting everyone a heaven pass? Obviously not.

    The other thing that this project does is get people working with one another. So all the clergypeople in the different associated religious orgs seem to have pretty good relationships with one another. It’s not horribly unusual to see them eating together or participating in communal celebrations.

    • You have a good point. If all the denominational splinter groups step back and look at the big picture, they have 3 choices

      1) Break down denominations and enter the non-denominational world
      2) Have closer ties with RCC and Eastern branches
      3) Watch their own denominations wither down to nothing over the next generation

      I prefer 2, I went down the path of 1 and can never go back.

      • Met. Paissy says

        From an Orthodox perspective, all Western denominations need to repent of the errors of Augustine, the filioque, and the Sack of Byzantium. And this is assuming they haven’t jumped onto the modernist bandwagon of gay marriage, women priests, civil rights for the gypsies, etc.

        • Radagast says

          …the sack of Byzantium… yes sorry it happened from a historical perspective… tradgedy really… but that was more of the fault of a Venetian leader, leading a horde of ignorant peasants, to do his bidding. As a person with Irish and Magyar roots I don’t believe I had anything to do with that one.

          Augustine… viewing the diamond from a different angle. Understand the view of Orthodoxy concerning (what Orthodoxy defines as) Original guilt and purgatory, but Eastern theology does embrace the purification process of the three fold purgation/illumination/union way to salvation and then there are those toll booths….

          Aside from that though… much respect for the Eastern lung of the Church…

        • Radagast says

          Met Paissy,

          Is this a moniker of the Moldavian monk who helped set into motion the golden age of Russian Monasticism in the early 1800s or are you truly a Metropolitan? Either way welcome! The eastern point of view will add yet another facet to the conversation.

    • cermak_rd,

      I have seen churches and synagogues working together as well, makes my heart happy. Being from Long Island originally, I lived among groups of Reformed/conservative/orthodox Jews as a child. In your opinion, do you see similar issues at times between groups in Judaism as we we see in Christianity?

  13. KvB per your 10:38pm post

    While it may be true that there are few or no good options concerning divorce I and many others are outraged that for a price you can have a one flesh union that resulted in children nullified and declared a lie because your ceremony was not conducted in a Catholic church. My friends kids were made to be bastards and the product of an unholy union and his previous faith and churchmanship declared to be so much bullshit. Hey, and all this for cash money.


    In my book almost any option for divorce is better than this.

    • I’m no expert, much less an apologist, for the Catholic annulment process, but my understanding is that it does NOT “make the children bastards,” in fact I have seen a number of Catholic “Q and A” type writings that are very clear about that. A feeling of betrayal is certainly understandable, but it’s not coming from any proclamation of illegitimacy from the church. As for the financial aspect, I have heard on the contrary from other friends that there was no money involved. I don’t know what accounts for the discrepancy there.

      I certainly understand the disagreement and passionate feelings about this but I just prefer to work more with facts than emotional reactions.

      • Met. Paissy says

        According to the Orthodox theology, only the Church can perform sacraments such as the marriage. If a man and woman come together without the Church (let us not speak of man and man!) it is no marriage, but fornication. The Catholics and Protestants do not marry, because their liturgy is invalid (being out of communion with the true Church), and so they and all their offspring are bastards. It is not like the Catholic theology which says that the man and woman, they marry each other (even without any liturgy), so any sect (even the pagans!) celebrates valid marriage.

        • And so…. Steve Martin, this is where we Catholics experience what you consider your pet peeve. Because within the Catholic closed communion we do state that the Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Churches are permitted to receive communion, with the acscent of their Bishop…. but as seen above the reverse is not the case.

          Understand and don’t agree with your view Met. Paissy, but I respect your interpretation. Remember that in the Catholic Church, those who want an annulment can only receive one if their marriage was a sacramental marriage performed in the Church in the first place. Otherwise they are seen as not married in the eyes of the Church.

          • Rad and Met. Paissy If a couple is married before a civil magistrate and are not Christians, but then convert to RC or Orthodox, how does the church handle or ratify their ‘non-marriage’ (putting it politely)?

            Is their union automatically sanctified once they are accepted into the Church, or is there an additional step that must be taken?

          • In the Catholic Church all couples who are married outside the church (civil marriages included) are encouraged to have a sacramental marriage. What that may mean differs from Bishop to Bishop, so I will take a look at what our diocese states and follow up.

          • Patrick,

            Some official words that have more weight than mine:

            “Catholic Church law ordinarily requires baptized Roman Catholics to marry before a priest or deacon. Unless they requested and received a “dispensation from canonical form,” Catholics who exchange marriage vows in the presence of only ministers from other religious traditions or authorized civic officials are not considered validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

            Later, those couples may seek to have their union officially recognized by the Church. In technical Church terms, this is known as convalidation of a marriage.

            In 1981, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic exhortation called On the Family. Among other items in this groundbreaking document, he outlined practical suggestions for pastors and pastoral leaders when dealing with couples not married “in the Church.”

            The pope cautioned that each situation should be examined case by case. He instructed pastors and pastoral leaders to make “tactful and respectful contact with the couples concerned and enlighten them patiently, correct them charitably and show them the witness of Christian family life in such a way as to smooth the path for them to regularize their situation.”

          • “Thomas” from Orthodoxchristianity.net says,

            “The various jurisdictions have differing approaches to the marital situation. The Greek Orthodox expect an Orthodox marriage within 12 months of conversion of a couple into Orthodoxy, according to my pastor when we converted in the late 1980s. Some will only bless the prior marriage and others require a crowning service. Even in those jurisdictions that do blessings of prior marriages one may ask for a crowning and the priest is usuaklly more than happy to have the full service.”

            (“Crowning service” refers to a part of the ritual where crowns are held above the couples’ heads, representing the crowns of martyrdom which they will earn by being married.)

    • Radagast says

      I believe all marriages outside a sacramental marriage that produced children might be thought of that way Patrick…

      Yes, there is some money involved in an annulment and there is also a long process, not to extract a pound of flesh, but to help the individual look at what went wrong and look at patterns so that they may not be repeated in the future…

      Nothing as cynical as trying to make money. You really should see the budgets and incomes of most local parishes, not a money making deal here.

      • KvB,

        Well there is your answer from both the Orthodox and the Catholics> Dismiss my argument as ’emotional’ if you want , but as they say, ‘A Rose by any other name is still a Rose.’

        Radagast and Met.Paissy, your honesty is refreshing. I wish more RC’s and Orthodox were as plain spoken as you both, then at least we can have some real debate.

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