Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Peace of God

It is very difficult to watch what is happening to the Episcopal Church. I have known many faithful people in that denomination, both priests and laity, faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the true mission of the Church, and I rejoiced at the time the ELCA and the ECUSA celebrated being in full communion with one another. However, now I feel like I am a spectator at a slow-motion train wreck. And the problems are not limited to the Episcopal Church in this country. Indeed, the Church of England is facing upheaval. This is far from being over, and what the Anglican Communion will look like a year or two from now is anyone's guess.
Some of the issues facing the ELCA are similar, but there are key differences. Our polity is not at all the same as that of the Episcopal church, nor is the Lutheran World Federation set up like the Anglican Communion. While we are having a tough time with issues around sexuality, especially same-sex relationships, we are not (for the most part) facing an ongoing disagreement regarding the ordination of women. And the leadership in the Chicago office hasn't said the kind of things that has gotten the new Episcopal presiding bishop in trouble with conservatives. (And I am grateful for that.)
Nonetheless, I view what is happening in our sister church as a cautionary tale for those of us who value orthodox Christian teaching and practice in the ELCA. Lutherans are a confessional church, and we need to retain that, however imperfectly. That might mean we argue theology a lot more than is always comfortable; I believe it means that we take words and their meanings seriously, and try not to allow sloppy thinking. To give that up doesn't make for peace; rather, it only delays the inevitable. The inevitable is happening to the Episcopal Church right now; the church cannot stay united when such dramatically different understandings of the faith are present within her. I pray it doesn't have to go that route for the ELCA.