Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2Memorial Day was first officially observed on May 5, 1868. On that day, General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation establishing May 30 as the annual observance of this occasion. He spoke of honoring soldiers, sailors and marines who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and became an official federal holiday in 1971, dedicated to honor Civil War soldiers. Today we honor the memory of all who fought for, defended and died for our country’s freedoms while serving in the U.S. military

A May 28, 2007, Memorial Day communication of unknown origin states: To those who died securing peace and freedom, who served in conflict to protect our land and sacrificed their dreams of the day to preserve the hope of our nation to keep America the land of the free for over two centuries, we owe our thanks and our honor. It is important not only to recognize their service but also to respect their devotion to duty and to ensure that the purpose for which they fought will never be forgotten.

Willingness to sacrifice even life itself was demonstrated early in the War for Independence, as Captain Nathan Hale was captured by the British and executed as a spy. His dying words were: “I only regret that I have but one life to give/lose for my country.”

Those words exemplify the resolve of America’s soldiers, airmen, marines, National Guard and naval personnel—men and women who are willing to sacrifice life and limb to protect and defend the rights and freedoms we enjoy today.

In a much more significant way, with eternal ramifications, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

It is always both appropriate and important to thank God for those in our military services who died while defending and protecting our country and to pray for those who still do. I invite you to join in the Prayer for Armed Forces of our Nation (LSB, p. 315):

Lord God of hosts, stretch forth your almighty arm to strengthen and protect those who serve in the armed forces of our country. Support them in times of war, and in times of peace keep them from all evil, giving them courage and loyalty. Grant that in all things they may serve with integrity and with honor; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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Unionism and Syncretism – Part 2

Praying Hands 1This is the second half of a two part series on unionism and syncretism.

Congregations and faithful pastors need and appreciate assistance in making difficult decisions whether to accept invitations to participate in community or civic activities, especially those that include representatives of non-Lutheran and even non-Christian religious leaders and that accordingly might very well be considered unionistic or syncretistic by some but not by others.

To assist in those decisions the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations has produced helpful materials. One such document is posted in its entirety as the Appendix below my signature. Please note particularly these paragraphs from that document:

The members of the Commission disagree about the issue of so-called “serial” or “seriatim” prayers involving representatives of different religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches. Some members of the Commission believe that under no circumstances is it permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in any type of an event in which various Christian and/or non-Christian leaders “take turns” offering prayers, holding that such an activity by its very nature constitutes “joint prayer and worship.”

The majority of the Commission believes that in some instances it may be possible and permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in such an event as long as certain conditions are met (e.g., when the purpose of the event in question is clearly and predominately civic in nature, and when it is conducted in such a way that does not correspond to the LCMS understanding of a “service”; when no restrictions are placed on the content of the Christian witness that may be given by the LCMS pastor; when a sincere effort is made by those involved to make it clear that those participating do not all share the same religious views concerning such issues as the nature of God, the way of salvation, and the nature of religious truth itself).

Not insignificantly, the two events referenced in last week’s article (Yankee Stadium and Newtown, Conn.) quite satisfactorily and almost precisely met the criteria outlined above. While I realize that the contents and conclusions of this CTCR document are not nearly unanimously accepted among us, I believe it is a very important and quite helpful document.

My fervent prayer is that our conversation in the LCMS regarding matters that have precipitated significant disagreement in our midst and frustratingly embarrassing publicity in national media will be based on Holy Scripture and that our conclusions will be in accord with the Word of God. Those are critical objectives to achieve.

What’s the bottom line? We have a long way to go in dealing with the real issues we face as an evangelical, confessional, Christian church body in the 21st century. We need to do everything possible to make known the power and peace of the Gospel of Christ in the lives and hearts of desperate and hurting people, particularly in trying times and traumatic circumstances.

Doing so will very likely include participation by pastors and other church leaders in activities that may result in differing opinions on the propriety of such participation. That’s the nature of controversial matters such as unionism and syncretism.

These are only two of the important issues on which total agreement within our church body does not now and may never exist. Sometime in the future I’ll probably take a deep breath and write about other matters of importance on which lack of unanimity among us simply may not be possible and the implications of such disagreement.

It won’t be the first time I’ve done so and very probably won’t be the last.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with you always!

Appendix

CTCR Response to 2007 LCMS Convention Resolution 3-05 regarding “Serial Prayer”

The Synod at its 2007 convention adopted Res. 3-05 “To Provide Further Discussion and Guidance on the Matter of Serial Prayer.” This resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, In 2004 Res. 3-06A, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod commended for study [and guidance] Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events, a report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), “to help pastors, teachers, and church workers make decisions about participation in civic events” (2004 Proceedings, p. 131); and

WHEREAS, Congregations of the Synod have requested further clarification regarding serial prayer; therefore be it

Resolved, That the Synod in convention assign to the CTCR the task of providing further guidance for participation in civic events that includes the offering of serial prayer.

At its Dec. 11-13, 2008 meeting, the CTCR adopted the following response to this request by the Synod:

The Commission has carefully re-examined the discussion of “‘serial’ or ‘seriatim’ prayers” on pages 19-20 of its report Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events (April 2004).* Although some “further clarification” (cf. 2007 Res. 3-05) may be possible in terms of applying the “conditions” discussed in this section of the report to various events and situations that have arisen in the past, it is impossible to provide specific guidance for any and all events that may arise in the future. We simply cannot anticipate the precise nature, purpose, or context of every occasion that may arise in the future or set forth specific parameters surrounding participation in these types of events beyond what is already stated in the 2004 report. Ultimately, this is a matter that requires the exercise of pastoral judgment at a particular time and place. When presented with such a situation, a pastor is, of course, urged to consult with other pastors and advisors for counsel with regard to how to respond to such requests within his particular context.

Adopted Unanimously by the CTCR

Dec. 13, 2008

*The text of the CTCR’s discussion of serial prayer on pages 19-20 of its 2004 report reads as follows:

The members of the Commission disagree about the issue of so-called “serial” or “seriatim” prayers involving representatives of different religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches. Some members of the Commission believe that under no circumstances is it permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in any type of an event in which various Christian and/or non-Christian leaders “take turns” offering prayers, holding that such an activity by its very nature constitutes “joint prayer and worship.”

The majority of the Commission believes that in some instances it may be possible and permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in such an event as long as certain conditions are met (e.g., when the purpose of the event in question is clearly and predominately civic in nature, and when it is conducted in such a way that does not correspond to the LCMS understanding of a “service”; when no restrictions are placed on the content of the Christian witness that may be given by the LCMS pastor; when a sincere effort is made by those involved to make it clear that those participating do not all share the same religious views concerning such issues as the nature of God, the way of salvation, and the nature of religious truth itself).

It should be noted in this connection that all members of the Commission agree that, understood from a Christian perspective, prayer is always in some sense “an expression of worship.” The question is whether it is possible under any circumstances for an LCMS pastor to offer a prayer in a public setting involving a variety of religious leaders without engaging in “joint prayer and worship.” Some believe that this is not possible. The majority believes that it may be possible depending on such factors as how the event is arranged and understood and how the situation is handled by the pastor in question, in order to make it clear that “joint prayer and worship” is not being conducted or condoned.

Unionism and Syncretism – Part 1

Prayer 1

The terms unionism and syncretism are not found in Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, they have become hot buttons within our national church body. This is nothing new. These two topics have been debated for quite some time in the LCMS, which observed its 166th anniversary April 26.

Throughout its history The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has declared unionism and syncretism out of bounds for congregations and individual members. For many, these terms are not clearly understood. Here’s a brief explanation.

Unionism generally began with the 19th century Prussian Union. It was a forced merger of the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church in Prussia under King Frederick Wilhelm III. In large part, this attempt to force a merger between two church bodies with significantly differing theologies precipitated the exodus of many of our Lutheran forefathers and their families, who left Germany and came to America to seek religious freedom.

Syncretism generally refers to objectionable cooperation between Christians and non-Christians. In our church body’s context, the basic issue revolves around the appropriateness of Lutheran Christians participating in worship or prayer with non-Lutheran Christians (considered unionism by some) and/or doing so in the presence of non-Christians (considered syncretism by some).

Two activities that catalyzed much controversy in recent times are the participation of Dr. David Benke in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001, and that of Pastor Rob Morris in a memorial service at a public high school in Newtown, Conn., on December 16, 2013. Both events were community responses to horrific, satanic terror and trauma.

Some saw these events as unionistic and syncretistic and were very upset. Many others disagreed and were thankful for the public participation of LCMS clergy at a time of national crisis. The disagreement, in large part, has to do with what the official documents of our church body say or do not say about this important matter.

For example, the Constitution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod states: Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following: Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as: a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church; b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession.

Note the consistent use of the word congregations. Constitutionally, one point of disagreement is whether it matters that events in question did not occur in the context of a congregation as commonly understood in our church body. Neither event noted above occurred in a congregational setting. Both transpired in public settings. Obviously the issue has additional constitutional and theological implications.

Undeniably and somewhat problematically, this constitutional article uses the activities listed as examples of unionism and syncretism and does not claim to be an exhaustive listing of such activities. Accordingly, contention and conflict arise from and are exacerbated by the questions of what other activities might be considered unionistic or syncretistic and, conversely, what activities should be acceptable and commendable.

Those questions are neither completely answered nor conclusively resolved in our Synod’s Constitution or Bylaws. However, they are addressed in convention resolutions and documents from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations. Next week’s article will explore some of those documents.

In the meantime, my prayer is that the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with you always!