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.

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