LCMS President A.L. Barry on the ELCA’s Ecumenical Decisions
I was reviewing my files and came across this statement that Dr. A. L. Barry, President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, made to our Synod after the ELCA entered into full communion with three Reformed church bodies in the mid-1990s. I appreciated Dr. Barry’s words then, and perhaps even more now, in the wake of the more recent decisions made by the ELCA. I think you will too.
THE ELCA’S ECUMENICAL DECISIONS
A Statement from The Office of the President
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
1333 South Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, Missouri 63122
United States of America
I have had an opportunity to comment elsewhere on the ecumenical decisions reached by the ELCA at its churchwide assembly this past August, but here I would like to offer a few additional remarks. This is the first chance I have had to address this issue in an edition of The President’s Newsletter.
Needless to say, the ELCA assembly made very troubling decisions. They adopted full communion with three Reformed churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ. These three churches hold to positions on doctrinal and ethical issues that are clearly contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
Most people in our Synod were very much saddened to learn that the ELCA is now in full communion with these churches, particularly the United Church of Christ, which tolerates the ordination of actively homosexual persons in some of their congregations and supports an openly pro-abortion position. Members of our Synod were also deeply disappointed that the ELCA itself was unable to vote to place even the mildest of restrictions on the payment for elective abortions in its church-run health plans.
In addition to these more “attention-grabbing” concerns, there is the fact that the three Reformed Churches still embrace the historic doctrinal errors that the Lutheran Confessions clearly reject and condemn as contrary to God’s Word in regard to key theological issues such as the Lord’s Supper. When one adds to this the fact that the ELCA also adopted a declaration on justification that indicates that the historic differences between the Roman church and the Lutheran church in regard to the chief article of the faith, justification, are no longer applicable-the word “stunning” is one that continues to surface among the reactions I receive.
This situation presents our Synod with a significant challenge and a very important opportunity. We feel no joy over the ELCA’s decisions. The ELCA’s recent ecumenical decisions represent a significant movement away from historic Lutheranism.
As I shared with the ELCA assembly, our Synod remains open and willing to discuss these serious matters. We will continue to express to our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ELCA, including her leaders, why our Synod believes that these decisions are unacceptable for a Lutheran church and why these decisions have made Lutheran unity more difficult than ever before. We will not discontinue our humanitarian efforts with the ELCA for we recognize that such joint humanitarian efforts consists of cooperation in externals, that is, cooperation in matters that do not touch upon the church’s doctrines and practices.
Now, more than ever before, it is essential that we not give anyone the impression that the differences between our two churches are trivial. There are profound doctrinal differences between our two churches which I have commented on elsewhere.
We need to be very clear that our differences with the ELCA are genuine doctrinal differences, not merely differences in practice, as some both within and without our Synod suggest. We must counteract such misleading thoughts.
Most importantly, our Synod needs to reach out to those within the ELCA who are now feeling as if they have lost their church. Winsomely, yet clearly, we need to help them understand our position on these issues. More than talk, we need also to welcome any ELCA congregation, pastor or layperson who now recognizes that their church body has made a decision that compromises what it means to be a fully Lutheran church.
For all Lutherans, as I said in my press release on this subject, this moment presents a wonderful opportunity to really grapple with the question of what it means to be a confessional Lutheran church in this day and age. What does it really mean to say we embrace the Holy Scripture as the inerrant and inspired Word of God? What things will therefore be rejected? What things will therefore be raised high as items that can never be compromised or bargained away? What does it mean to say we subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions as a pure exposition of the Word of God? What issues are non-negotiable and can never be surrendered or given up by Lutherans who wish to remain genuinely confessional Lutherans? What makes for true church union? Is “agreeing-to-disagree” an appropriate attitude for Lutherans when it comes to establishing church fellowship? These and many other questions will offer us opportunities to provide clear theological leadership.
So, while this is indeed a very unfortunate moment in the history of the Lutheran Church in America, it is also a moment of opportunity we have never had before in the history of our Synod. Never before have the alternatives in Lutheranism in this country been so plain and so clearly defined. May God give us the wisdom and strength to embrace this opportunity for the sake of the truth.