Saturday, October 9, 2010

Schism

The ELCA's magazine The Lutheran formally acknowledged the formation of the North America Lutheran Church (NALC) in its most recent October issue. The article announcing it was brief - merely 203 words - and rather dispassionate, given the emotions which initially surrounded the ELCA's action on the legitimacy of active gay clergy. Actually the announcement was somewhat 'after the fact' and anticlimactic anyway, in that the editor spent even more ink talking about it several pages prior in his piece entitled "Just one more Lutheran body." Mr. Lehmann's point was to treat the whole affair rather 'mater of factly' by declaring the new church body as simply another Lutheran denomination, nothing more, nothing less.

However, his editorial does not quite rest at that point. Unlike the news piece on page 8, the editorial on page 4 intends to make a point, and that point invokes the ancient Christian indictment of schism. "What we have here is a classic case of schism - a formal division or separation in the Christian church. That cleaving causes pain as your editor know, having left the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod decades ago in another schism." Now the editor stops short of labeling this division as a "sin," yet by simply invoking the word one can tell that he wishes to place a greater weight on the negative aspect of their actions than a positive one. After all, schism is ranked up there, historically speaking, with heresy, both being condemned clearly as sinful actions. In Canon law schism is a sin that can bring excommunication.

Ironically, the Lutheran church itself, as seen through the lens of Catholic history, is the result of schismatic actions, and as we all know Luther was indeed excommunicated. Our unwillingness to dissolve our Lutheran denominations and reunite with Rome leaves us in this schismatic separation outside the unity of what Rome views as the only true Christian church. If Lehmann wishes to accuse the NALC of "schism," should he not honestly take a second look at the schismatic nature of his own denomination, if not all of Lutheranism? The editor also remarks on the separation of Seminex and the AELC from Missouri as a "schism," but one wonders if he saw this division as necessary rather than harmful. He simply says it was "painful."

Perhaps it seems I am placing undo stress on one word. Nevertheless, he had a choice. "Division" would have worked just as well. Choosing "schism" said much more, perhaps more than he intended?

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