Full Text for Lutheran-Reformed Dialogues Concluded (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER January 1975 Volume 39, Number 1 Lutheran-Reformed Dialogues Concluded HE SECONI1) liOUND of Lutheran-llcformed Conversations, or Tni a 1 ogues, has come to an end. The final meeting, the sixth in the series, was helcl ;it Princetoil Theological Seminary, September 27, 1974. A primary purpose of this wrap-up session was the issuance of a rellort. The res~ective leaders of the Lutlleran Council in the U .S. A. land the ~oith ilmerican Ilcforllled ~4lliance of Churches hop~(i for n joint report. But this was not to be. Because this final report includet.1 statements of consensus in regard to doctrii2al points which had not in fact I)c-len i:esolvcd, the represcntntivcs of The Lutheran Church-3lissouri Synod .cr:eJ:e not able in good conscience to affix their signatures 311d asked instead to filc ;i separate report. The rest of the conferees, I~owe\.er, ~:efused this request. As a result, 34issouri ~vas virtuallv silel.lccd in thc final nssaj7. 'Towards the end of this essay, I shall conkey thc report of the Missouri Synod's represent- atives. Before giving morc dctails about this silencing action, T shall review briefly thc history of the Luthcrnn-IXcfonl~ed Con.clersations. The initial dialogues took placc (luring thc years 1962-1 96 6. They ended with the puhlic;itiol~ of A~ZCIYI~~.LY~ Revisit~d, a collection of the essays presented during the iirst round. Vcrv little tangible effect came out of these meetings, even though thcydclosed with the optimistic statement that "as a result of our studies and discussioils 71:e see no i~s?,tpernhle obstacles to pz~lpit and altar fello~r;.shdp, and, therefore, we recom~nentl to our parent bodies that they encourage their constit~ient churches to enter into discussions loolting forward to intercommunion and thc fuller recognition of one ;inotI~er's minis- tries" (Allarbzlrg Iicz7isitcd, 13. 1 9 1, Emphasis addecl). Virtually noth- ing ever followcd from what appeared to be an amazing ccclcsiastical brealc-through, apparently because nobody rcnlly believed that basic tlifferences had actually been rcsolvcd and consensus acl~ievcd. None of the Reformed bodies even bothered to take official note of the dia- logues. It was Missouri which considered most carefully the inlplica- tions of thc dialogues and the participation of its representatives, Professors Herbert J. A. 1Uouma11, Martin FI. Franzinann, and Paul M. Bretschcr. Basic theological issues had been dealt ivith inade- cluately and, in fact, skirted. All this caused considerable alarm in the h4issouri Synod, especially in view of the glowing statelncnt of consensus that "i~o jnsuperable obstacles to pulpit and altar fellow- ship" rcnl ained. Yet Missouri was reacly to go the second mile ;~nd to explore further the clailnecl JAutheran-Kefor~necI consensus in a second round of dialogues. As the leaders of the participating bodies laid out the program and selected representatives for the second round, they stated the following objective: "To assess thc consensus and the remaining differences in the theology and life of the participating churches." Sponsorsl~ip was forthcoming from the Division of Theological Studies of the 1,utheran Council in the U.S.A. ancl the Xorth iimerican Area of the 'I'CTorld Alliance of Kefornlecl Churches. The SPRING- FIELDER for Sel3teniber 1972, in thc essay "I-;ram 'h'iarburg Revisited' to 'l'rinceton '72,"' lists the rcprese~~tntives 2nd their resl~wtivwch~~rch bodies. It woulcl bc fair to state that the initial thrust 011 the part of allnost all thc participants in the seconcl rouncl of meetings was to accept nlIar17urg Rcrisitcti as rlc fac,to evidence for existing consensus and to urge its conclusions upon the churcll bodies. Since the A4issouri Synod's representatives could not accept i\larbz~rg I-ie~?isited ;IS a state- ment of n L~~thcran-Refornled consensus, tlic conferees nest opted for the European union clocument, the .Z,ez~er117er.g Co~z(:o~rl. A critique ' (1 of this tlcbatctl concord" appearcil in the S7r'KlNGFF'TEI-DEE for December 1972. Tllougll its deficiencies .i\-crc repeatedly -c!oiced b-c- fiIissouri, the conferees retairlecl tllcir affection for this unionistic document. 'In thc final report, at thc last ant[ sixth meeting, the con- ferees stated: "St is possihlc that. a formal agreement among our churches in Alncrica might 11a.r:~ been achicvcd .if our group had rccon~niended that Txz.ienberg be sent to the111 to bc signed." In so stating, t'hc confcrecs- Lutherans 2nd Rcforn~ctl alike -were, of colirse, totallj. discounting hTissoiiri's objections. hlissouri's strict~~rcs agilinst a con~p~o~nisc' rloc~~inent like I,cz~clr- berg rvere jvcll groiilldcd. This fact becalne plain enough during the tlialog~~es, cspeclallv when attenti013 foe~~sed finally upon one of the 11istoric:ill.c~ corltrov&-tcd doctrines, sucb as the Lortl's Supper. Idttle ~r~ondcr, thcrcfore, thnt the final report of the conferees jnclutles the adlnission that "n-c: at tempted to esprcss our unity in terills other than J,cz~c~rberg, but \\:ere unsuccessful." E\:CII tho~~gll sharp clcavogc sur- facet1 on thc matter of: the Wal l'rcsence, the final report contended that thcsc \.ilcrc not basjc doctrinal tliffcrcnces, 1)ilt cliffercnces ~nerelv "concernir7g the ~l~orle of Clhrist's prc.scncc>." This assertion is beyonil all crctlibilitt.. S11c11 djfferenccs, thci. held, "ought not to bc regardecl as obstacles 'to pulpit ant1 altar fcll;)\r;shil~." T.:.i.cn Zwingli's position hail I~een opcnly ;ir.on:eil by some of tllc Reformed. Yct the final s~~n~nlation hlithel!- and rccltur~" had, according to T2c~relrhcrg, opcnecl new doors to inter- fait11 alliances. [IS might be expected, therc was dismay on h4issouri's part over thc conferees' detern~ination to press through for a statement of con- scnst~s in spite of its eviclent lack. As in the case of the first round of dialog~~es, it was a travesty to fabricate that sort of statement of con- sensus in i~iew of the actual disagreenlent on a docrine like the Lord's Supper. Such action could only confuse the churches. FIonesty \vould 11ni-c rccluircd n frank disclosure of failure to reach doctrinal concord. X:;ci.el-tl~elcss, the issues were again sl(irtec1 by ambiguous wording ivl~icll clailnecl sufficient consensus for altar and pulpit fello~vship. l!I issoul-i's represcllta tives respectfullv declined to subscribe such a joinl: statelncnt. Instead, the! requeskd that their onln rcport be ap- pcntled to the report drawn up by the rest of the conferees. The ma- ioritv of tllc conferees, however, rejected the idca of a minority report. h?is&uri1s rcport was simply dismissed. The official n~inu tes bear rccorti: "1~'I~en the group had completccl its discussion of the I;C-RIS (lo~~~nlent, .it was niovecl, sccondecl, and carried that the niinutes show that the report of thc representatives of the Lutheran Churcli- \J.issoul:i Synod hacl been 1) llearcl; 2) fullv disc~lsscd; 3) held to be factually in error at points and procedurdlv incorrcct." That illis- so~1r.i'~ report had l~ccn heard was truc. But it is at 11est an overstate- 1nc.n t to say that it had been "fzllly discussedJ' and actuallv slio.iv12 to bc "in error" and "procedurally incorrcct." It is a matter of rccorcl that the confcrees hurried their report to a conclusion on the evening of Scptcmbcr 27. Thev refused to hold the further sessions on the follo\vilig day for \;hich the schedule called. Perhaps little mould 1l;l~e bccn gained hv additional discussion anyway. For by this time, ;lfler six nleetings, it was painfully plain that thcrc was no serious jrltcnt to i~ivolve basic thcological content in tlic dialogues. Some, it Is fnl~, expressed their concern that the dialogues might turn in this (ljrcction; but for the most part it was apparent that hlissoori had all-c;ld~ embroiled them too much in theolbRical discussion of doctri- nal differences and, in the words of one of thc Lutheran conferees, calrsccl them to become too "preoccupied with theology." Missouri rI'as ~~olitely-sometimes impolitely, especially by sonic of the other Lutherans--being shown the door. Needless to say, thc end resrl]t of these dialogues for hlissouri's rcprcsentatives was the ;rn:akening, entirely unexpected, to the fact that the other 12~~theran p;1rticipants were ready to adopt n basis for altar and pulpit fellowsl~ip which \vas totally inadequate, and unabashedly unionistic. This attitude is, of course, quite out of character for those bound by the Luthcran Con- fessions. The Reformed participants, in turn, indicated thnt they lvere tired out by discussions involving doctrinal st~:ife r-lmongst the I-tLth- era11 p;.irticipmts. R.lost of them had long ago adopted ~nuch less stringent basis for altar and pulpit fellowship, taJting unio~iistic 13~.;1~- tices for granted. They weri simply p~izzletl by call for rlc fato unity in doctrine as the propcr basis for altar and pulpit felIomsIrip. It is for this reason, then, that the rcl3ort of RJissouri's repl-escx~tative~ is being given herc. As previously statcd, the other Luther:in and Re- formccl conferees refused to p~iblish it as an appendix to their final report. It ought not, ho.ive.c:cr, to he hiclden may by thnt action, if for no othcr reason than the need to complete the record. 'Twice now exporiciicc 113s shown that 1-uthcra11-licfornled (lit,- log~~cs, str~~ct~irecl uncler the sponsorship of supcr-boards, like LCUSA and ~IIC Tlcformed Alliance of Churches, lead norvhcre. This is espe- cinllv truc for n church bod\- likc the Rlissouri Synod ~vl~ich is still cornhittetl to ScripturaI intcgrit!. itnd confessional 1o);;llty. There has IICCII an "~i~~clating" of so-callecl confessional theology ant1 Bii)lical stutly according to the historical-critical nlethodology among illost T.,rrthcran and Ilcforrned church bodies. This methodology has by now eroclctl a genuine confessional stance aild trusting reliance ~111011 the Scriptural FVord as divinely inspired, autl~oritative, ancl incrrant. Dia- loguing wit11 other church bodies under such circumstances is a nrhole new ball game. One option is to adopt a ~.v:itcrcd-down plntforil~ for doing theologv. Thc othcr optioi~ is to insist that it is impel-ative that all talks or dialogues be conducted on a one-to-onc basis I\-ith other church I)otlics, particularl! I,iitl~cran, that (1) profess sinccrc interest in cff'ccting unit\$ on the basis of tloctrinal oneness of 111ind and heart :,nd illouth i11ld'(2), above ;ill, arc willing to pnrecd with unques- t.ioned regard for ;111d acccptancc of I-Toly Script~r~ ant1 thc articles of faith clearly taught tllcrc. Dialog~ies or conversations, after all, arc not needed to rcvcal that there arc other profcssing Christians in the wol-Id. Lutherans ha^^ always rccognizetl the truth of this fact on the basis of: thcir doctrine of the Cliurch. 13ut it is ;~bsolutel\~ csscntial that the settling of controversies i~lld differences on doctri;,e he done in I*el~ing wit11 God's mmmand and in line with the only rule Gocl's \17ortl, unit); of faith ant1 utteriincc! When I,uthcr compared faith to a nrathcmaticnl point, he stressed thc clarity, the certainty of faith's content. That content is provided not by that by ~vhich the Christian believes, his faith itself, but rather by that ~chich llc be- lielles, the external \\'ord. And that external \Vord, Holy Scripture, is clear-above ;ill, in its proclamation of Him in whom alone there is salvation, Jcsus Christ. Report of the Representatives of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on the Lutheran-Reformed Dialogues in the U.S.A. 1972-74 I SUIZR?~'T~-'IKG fl SIZPARA'I'E, EEl'OIi'l', .rvc:, t.11~ yeprt_.sel~ta- ti\.cs of tllc T2rtthe~.~~~ Ch~lr~ll--i\!Iisso~iri Svnod, tlo so earnestly, n\\arc of the ~lpostalic illjunction to Christians'cvcr):r?;l~ere that the): "e~ldcav~r to I;cep thc ~lnity of the Spiril in the bond of peace" (Eyh. 4: 3) 2nd "that there be no divisiolls among vou" (I Coy. 1, 10); but quallj- 111indfu1, too, hat inelutletl in the cb'xl~ortation is this, that "b\ thc naine of the T-ord Tesus Christ vc all spcal; tl~c salne thing" ai;tl "bc pe~f'cctly joilled together in the-san~c 111intl and it.1 the same jutlgn~cnt" ( I Coy. 1 : 10). To be "lilic-I-liincled one toward another," 1-0 glo~ifv God "with one mind allcl one ~nouth'! (Rorn. 15, 5.6)! is not an iption 1.i7hicIl Christ's follorvcl~s can take or Icnvc. but. n God- gi\.cn presupposition for gentline Clhi.istian fcllo\7clshil1. P17e herewith express sincere apl,l-cciation for thc frict1ci1.i invi- tatiori t-(! sll:~t.c in the c-lialogrtes, for the gunuinc good i~:iil sho~vn us b) our fo1i.o~ participants, and for thc generally patient hcaring given 11s as \I,<: joinetl in thc attenipt to assess the claimcd conrcnsrls and the a(ln1 i ttccl ~:e~~inini ng tliRcl-el~ces. In t:hc 1)acl;gi:ound fo~ us all loomed the cont roversji~l opinio~~ of ;'\;la~.b~~rg R~I-isiied that t.hcrc: rcrnnllled "no ins~rp(~-ablc ol~stacles to altar and p~llpit fellowship." ,\cco~:tlingly, ivllen we 11o1v fintl th:)t ~vc nrc unablt to subsc~.il~e thc joint st-nt.cn~c!nt-, 1'r.c C/O SO ~vith rcgrcts and .ii;itli the plea that we not- l~c. ur~clcl-stoocl ns jiidging tIlc pcrsonal faith oE our fellow ccon- f~l.i:r,~. :13iit \vc cannot in goocl co~~scicncc set our sig1'Intures to n docu- 111cs1t tl1;1t clnin~s sufficient conscnstls for altar ai~cl pl~lpit fcllowshi 3. A IF.(: (lo ?lot fccl tllat ~11~11 CO~SC~SLIS exists or CVCI~ th;~t .eve ha~c ina e ;In\. c.oncc11t ratecl vff'ol-t to heal ouy funtlaniental cloctrinal differences th;0ilgh tllc p;ltic~lt 2nd obedient st~ld! of and listening to thc IVord of God, I-IoI\ ' Scrjpturc. - gra tcfully attest that our meetings 11ar.c not cvi(lcnccd any di~tct ;~tt:lcks 01.1 HoIV Scripturc. In fiict, there has been frequent and ~~l.ofcssccl ~cspect fol..Holy Scripture, But there Jlas becn some reluc- t~ilicc to recognirc unequivocally that Scripture i5 the Word OF God ivhosc ;iutl,orit-;lti\fc \;oic~ speaks c1carl.i to us on cont~.over.ted points of doc1:rinal (liffercncc. -~II(. 1c5~11t i$ that ~IIC confcrces 11a.r~ ?rot: nttalnrd a genuillc hasis for fellowship; rcconcilcd on\ existing doctrinal differences, CVCII tllough they 11.11 r solne~~l~il iilcollSiStently ad~nitted "serious errors"; dci1lol,st1-ated unlid groilnds for accepting the Lerienberg Agree- nlcnt of 1973: shown de faoto adherence to their respective Confessions, but harre set them aside as viable instr~~ments for the sake of declaring fe]- lowship ~vithout formal agreement; recognized the seriousness of divergent methods of Scriptoral in- terpretation, but merely profess that there is need for "fresh hear- ing of the Gospel in the light of their (each of the conferees) uilderstanding of Holy Scripture," o stated clearly the nature aild content of the Gospel itself, but have so~netinlcs obfuscateci it. with ambiguous references to conteln- porary social issues. We regret, therefore, that our conversations have not becn marc fruitful in terms of tangible results in the quest for church unity. If noncthelcss thcrc has been some positive fruit to our efforts-and IV~ l~clieve thcre is some-it 1x1s to do with recognition of the fact that scarcll for unity in the church must be groundcd 011 an unecluivocal r-lncl unambiguous subscription to the articles taught b\. God's Holy Wonl. Only such t~nqnestioncd acceptance of Biblical huthoritY cah afford :I proper basis for fellon ship b,>scd on act~~i~l ng1-c.el1lcr7t on the articles of faith. In lookjng forward to f~~tui-c dialogues in the interest of unit!. and fellolvsliip, we believe that esperiencc has now shown that therc is likely to be more lx-on~ise of and potential for God-pleasing success if future ineetiilgs are conducted between individual churches rather than ~vith larger groups of churches. On that level the prospect would seen1 to be brighter, and the hope more realizable, for delegated representatives, or commissioners, to address directly the differences 1vhic11 divicie the churches and to work for a God-pleasing consensus. May God graciously grant that Christians everywhere be filled with holy zeal, so that the unity which Christ's church, the run salzcta, possesses under His Lordship, may by thc power of tllc Word be furthered here on earth aiiiong the splintered divisions of Christendom. September 27, 1974 Signed: Ralph A. Bohlmann, Howard 11'. Tepkcr, Eugenc. F. I