Saturday, April 01, 2006

Our Tragic Schism

LCMS pastor, "Father DMJ," had a post a while back about a funeral:

I'm in Winona, MN now. Just returned from Lewiston, MN where my wife's maternal grandfather received Christian Burial today.

We sang "I Know that My Redeemer Lives", "Beautiful Savior" and "To God Be the Glory". Yes, the WELS hymnal has the latter hymn as one of the "gospel hymns" allowed in. I can't help but hear a rolling, good ol' Suthun Baptist bass line when I hear it sung. Fortunately there was no such thing in this Lutheran church.

The WELS pastor absolutely NAILED the Gospel. Hit the bullseye smack dab in the middle. Grand slam. The resurrection was clearly preached. The sermon was dripping wet with baptism. I told him he preached the Gospel confidently and clearly. He thanked me.

I don't know what it is but I still cannot get over it in my head that these two fine conservative synods are universes apart. It's as if WELS pastors are allergic to speaking to LC-MS pastors and vice versa. I've made a friend who is a WELS pastor and he is good people.

Speaking to me as a Christian will not cause anyone to lose absolute doctrinal purity. I don't want them to commune me. I don't want them to pray with me publicly. Just say "hello" and "thank you". Polite conversation never hurt a soul.

This is an introduction to a Lutheran world I just don't have any experience with. ELCA, LCMS, WELS-ELS: back in the olden days, I guess every German- or Scandinavian-American had a relative in one or another of these synods, and so the break-ups in them were in the nature of family quarrels, bitter, long-lasting, and hard. They would go to funerals and marriages, not be able to take communion, and the scab would ripped off and the wound flow again.

I'm a convert to Augsburg Evangelicalism. My mother, brothers, sisters, grandparents can't take communion in an LCMS church because they're not baptized and view all Christian church -- but especially conservative Protestant ones -- with a kind of superstitious dread. Horrible places that if you stay in them for even one service they will brainwash you instantly into becoming a pro-life homophobe.

We all have our own experiences, and I suppose there are reasons for the schism. In know there are issues in church order between us. On some of them, I think the LCMS is right (definition of ministry, fellowship), on others I think WELS-ELS is right (women's roles in the church, application of close communion). But to me, it seems so tragic and unnecessary that two churches, each of which agrees in full with the Book of Concord cannot be in altar and pulpit fellowship. And when in many cases, one side is simply asking the other to actually apply principles we hold in common! (like male headship or close communion).

The split between the Evangelicals and the Reformed, or the Evangelicals and the Catholic or Orthodox is not a schism, because a schism is a division between churches which agree on all matters pertaining to salvation (law and gospel). We are not in communion with them, because on matters of salvation they are wrong. But what we have between the LCMS and the WELS-ELS appears to me to be just schism: and the first and most important solution for schism is simply the will to no longer tolerate it.

Converts have their strengths and weaknesses, as do those with grandfathers and great-grandfathers in the faith. To this convert, this seems to be the glaring issue of church order in our confession: healing this tragic schism.