Saturday, January 20, 2007

Learning from Other Traditions

After the addition of the latest two new articles to the DayStar Journal, it is clear that ecumenical awareness is the centerpiece to their identity. As indicated here before, I am sensing more with each passing day that the powers that be will be moving the synodical machinery in this direction with much greater fervor, beginning with this convention.

One of the articles by Harold L. Kitzmann, entitled "Arrogance Born of Ignorance vs. Learning from Other Traditions," deserves some specific comment, however. The subtitle of the article reads: "Harold Kitzman relates some of his personal ecumenical experiences as he seeks to fathom the depth of the LCMS’s opposition to fellowship with other Christians."

The article then goes on to relate, as the subtitle indicates, the author's 'personal experiences' as grounds for greater ecumenical awareness and practice on the part of Lutherans. Considering Dr. Kitzmann's academic background, I really would have expected an argument on the basis of scripture or some other authority. Appealing to experience, while difficult and impossible to refute, is not a convincing argument for changing the church's practice. Personal observations of people and events are by nature highly subjective and thus interpreted by the observer's own bias.

I mention this, because by observation this author may very well label me as one of those stodgy Lutherans whose close fellowship practices earns him the "arrogance born of ignorance" award. My parish practices "close(d) communion." And I do not participate in joint worship with other clergy outside the LCMS. Thus, I am probably inflicted with what he calls "ingrown theological toenails." I'm isolated and insulated from any other influence.

Or am I? This week, as the previous posts indicate, I was at the annual Symposia in Ft. Wayne. For those unfamiliar with this event, let it be known that this stodgy conservative Lutheran institution has had the gall to invite as speakers scholars from the whole spectrum of theological orientations. I have heard John Neuhouse, who is now with the Roman church. I have heard Bruce Matzger, who I suspect is probably Presbyterian. One year we heard Dr. Muller from Calvin College/ seminary in Grand Rapids. And this year we had speakers from the ELCA and the Reformed church. It is stimulating and interesting to hear their presentations, even if I may not always agree with them. No arrogance born of ignorance here.

I was also pleased to have a personal friend there who is an ELCA pastor from my area. We do not enjoy altar and pulpit fellowship, although I sense I am probably closer to him than many in my own synod. Does this fellowship division upset him? At some level, probably. But he respects it and honors it and continues to come to Ft. Wayne every year to learn with the rest of us.

While I am open to learning from others, I have also been careful not to lose the bearings of my own tradition. There is a reason I am a Lutheran. Dr. Kitzmann, however, seems so enamored by the practices of other clergy and churches, I fear he is quick to adopt anyone's practice without much critical reflection. He willingly crosses boundaries without regard for the common fellowship commitments we have agreed on as a church body. During a sabbatical from the parish he settled into a Catholic parish as his place of worship, bypassing all Lutheran churches in his area.

I sense that Dr. Kitzmann either does not understand or appreciate why Lutherans have the fellowship practices they do. For that matter it would seem that "Father Tom" didn't understand the Catholic reasons either. There is the matter of honesty and integrity. If the teachings of the Faith matter, and if Truth is important, we must hold each other accountable to it. Belonging to a particular church in a particular communion means something. Or it should. We must be willing to admit that differences on certain matters of the Faith do affect fellowship this side of heaven, because when the Church witnesses to the Truth it is not a hodge-podge collection of sayings and truisms, but a unity of revelation. By downplaying the Truth of our Faith we are doing an injustice to those seeking the Truth. What should they believe? Why does it matter? We stand the danger of filling the minds of catechumins with more questions than answers, and more confusion than clarity.

I am not afraid of interacting with other Christians, and I enjoy discussing theology with people from traditions different than my own. But I still believe that what we believe, teach and confess as Lutherans is the Truth. All LCMS clergy say as much at their ordination and installation vows. But today more and more apparently are just going through the motions. Words and truth are pliable concepts meant to be formed and bent to what suits us at the moment. How sad.

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