Eye on World Christianity

first-thingsThis is just a brief post to let readers know of an article I wrote which went up on First Things recently. Entitled “Roman Catholics and Confessional Lutherans explore deeper ties,” it highlights emerging talks between the two church bodies. A selection follows:

In noting it was Roman Catholics who initiated conversation with confessional Lutherans, Dr. Klän suggested there was “a deep rooted disappointment [among] Roman Catholics—in Germany at least— with the Lutheran World Federation or some of its member churches.”

While dialogue between Roman Catholics and mainline Lutherans continues, a desire has arisen among Roman Catholics to begin looking to confessional Lutherans for more fruitful dialogue.

For more, read the whole story at First Things. On the same topic, a short article went up today over at The Canadian Lutheran entitled “Lutheran Church–Canada and Roman Catholics begin talks.”


If you follow religious news at all, chances are you’ve heard about the schisms and doctrinal battles happening in denominations like the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As these church bodies and others like them continue to move in an increasingly liberal direction (theologically speaking), congregations and individual Christians who make their stand on the Word of God often find themselves to be in the minority and, as a result, often become the targets of oppression from their denominations.

Enter an article of mine entitled “Standing Firm: The Cost of Confessing the Word of God” which appears in the most recent issue of The Canadian Lutheran. The article explores some of the difficulties facing Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture, and the sacrifices they often face for doing so. But the article doesn’t focus solely on the negative side of things: it also points out new opportunities for dialogue between denominations who do affirm the authority of Scripture – highlighting, for example, recent dialogue between Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC) & the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) on the one side and the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) on the other. It also notes the emergence of dialogue between the newly born North American Lutheran Church (NALC) and the LCMS. And it’s not just my thoughts you hear in the article: three major thinkers were kind enough to share their opinions on the subjects in question: the Rev. Dr. James I. Packer (of ACNA), Bishop John Bradosky (of NALC), and Dr. John R. Stephenson (of LCC). Their thoughts are well worth the read, I assure you. Read it for free online here.

Recently the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC) have been exploring to what extent they may engage ecumenically with other churches while remaining faithful to the Scriptures and the confessions. Neither church has put it quite that way, of course, and perhaps I’m overstating the case a bit. Nevertheless, recent events make clear that the two churches are showing more interest in dialoguing with other denominations than they have previously shown in the past

It would be an exaggeration to say that interest in ecumenical dialogue is something new for confessional Lutherans. The LCMS, for example, has been involved in the work of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) since its founding. But in recent years, the frequency of ecumenical discussion has begun to increase. In 2007, the LCMS approved altar and pulpit fellowship with the American Association of Lutheran Churches. In the four years since, ecumenical dialogue with other churches has been increasing with surprising rapidity.

Much of these discussions have been occasioned by the widening gap in world Christianity over the question of biblical authority. As liberals continue to minimize the importance of Scripture, Christians holding a historic view of biblical authority find themselves increasingly looking to denominations like the LCMS and LCC for support and fellowship. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly, for example, created wide division in North American Lutheranism as well as abroad. Shortly after the vote, the 5.3 million member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus began ecumenical discussions with the LCMS – which quickly culminated in a partnership agreement. In Canada, the Union of Oromo Evangelical Churches in Canada has begun exploring a closer association with LCC. Major Lutheran denominations in Tanzania and Madagascar are similarly looking for closer ties to the LCMS and the ILC.

But it’s not just Lutherans getting in on the action. In December 2010, members of the LCMS and LCC began dialogue with representatives from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) – a collective which has broken away from the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church over issues of scriptural authority. Earlier in 2009, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Nafzger attended ACNA’s founding convention on behalf of the LCMS. Of course, the goals of the current discussion are not altar or pulpit fellowship; but that the LCMS and LCC should be actively exploring “to what extent they can make common affirmations and statements” with an Anglican church body is certainly new ecumenical ground for confessional Lutherans.

Finally, there has recently been news of potential discussions between the LCMS and the newly formed North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The denomination, formed in 2010, is composed primarily of churches which broke away from the ELCA after the actions of its 2009 Churchwide Assembly – again, over issues of biblical authority. The June issue of “NALC News” reports that the LCMS has made overtures to the new Lutheran body to “engage in consultation regarding doctrine and shared forms of ministry.” Again, the goal is probably not altar and pulpit fellowship, but rather to find common theological ground and a basis for external work together.

This is all good news for Lutherans who feel our theology has much to offer wider Christian discourse. In an effort to preserve doctrinal purity, LCC and LCMS Lutherans have tended in the past to shy away from ecumenical discussions. But that self-preservation has come at a cost: to a large extent, we have lost the platform we might otherwise have had to speak into the situations plaguing world Christianity, issues like the prosperity gospel, the increasing liberalization of mainline Protestant theology, and the dangers of confusing Law and Gospel. Our voice has been regrettably absent from the public sphere – as a recent blog post by Reformed pastor/author Kevin DeYoung makes clear. “What’s up with the Lutherans?” he asks. “More to the point, where are they?” However much we may be speaking amongst ourselves, we don’t seem to have made much of an attempt to speak to the larger Christian Church around us.

We confessional Lutherans have been silent for far too long.

But while our corporate voice has been rather minimal, there have been some individual Lutherans who have given us good examples of how we ought to be engaging Christians outside Lutheranism. Primary among them are figures like Gene Veith and Rod Rosenbladt. The former’s books are read across the denominational spectrum (as is his blog and his magazine articles), and he is a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The latter is best-known for co-hosting The White Horse Inn with a number of Reformed theologians, in addition to writings like The Gospel for those Broken by the Church and articles in Modern Reformation. Both have lectured at prominent non-Lutheran Christian events. Recently, for example, Veith was the keynote speaker for Athanatos Christian Ministries’ 2011 Online Apologetics Conference, and Rosenbladt addressed attendees at the third annual 2010 Mockingbird Conference. If our churches are going to increase their involvement in the wider Christian world around us, these are the people who will provide examples of how to do it without compromising our strong, confessional theology.

The stirring of ecumenical interest in the LCMS and LCC is a good sign that we’re finally realizing the leadership role we should be playing in wider Christendom. As more sections of the Church wander further and further from historic orthodoxy, the more important a strong Lutheran witness becomes – both as a defense of biblical authority and as an encouragement to other Christian denominations who find themselves in agreement with us. By acting together, we have a greater voice for calling wandering Christians back to a faith grounded on the Scriptures.

I pray that these confessional ecumenical movements on the part of LCC and LCMS reflect the birth of just such a confessional Christian alignment.

I understand that there’s a lot going on in the Middle East right now, but how have alleged attacks on two Coptic monasteries by the Egyptian army not qualified for international media coverage? The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports that Egyptian armed forces raided the monasteries of St. Boula and St. Bishoy in February, physically assaulting some of the monks and destroying walls which had been built around the grounds.

A day later, AINA reports that the monastery of St. Bishoy had been raided again. In this case, live ammunition was used; two monks and six Coptic workers were wounded during the attack. Three monks were arrested, as was a Coptic lawyer who had been on-site investigating the previous attack by the army.

The video below is purportedly footage of that second attack. The military use tanks to demolish the wall and fires live ammunition on the Copts. Around the 2:15 mark, a wounded man can be seen being carried away from the scene.

AINA quotes Monk Ava Bishoy on the confrontation: “When we tried to address them, the army fired live bullets, wounding Father Feltaows in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen,” said Monk Ava Bishoy. “Six Coptic workers in the monastery were also injured, some with serious injuries to the chest.” He further asserted that the army initially prevented them from taking the injured to a hospital.

Following the attacks, thousands of Copts protested peacefully in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Again, I ask: why didn’t this make the news?  (I should note that it is briefly mentioned – without any specifics named – in an Associated Press story on al-Qaida. Unfortunately, it’s buried at the end of a 14 paragraph article. It’s not all that surprising therefore that no major news agencies ran with it).

A few Fridays back, outspoken Atheist Christopher Hitchens and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a debate on whether religion was a force for good or evil. That type of event – where the religious are called on to justify their very existence – has become more and more common in recent years as atheists such as Hitchens and Richard Dawkins become increasingly strident (and fervent, I might add) in their condemnation of religion.

In light of this new hostile atmosphere, Charles Lewis (religion reporter for the National Post and editor of the Holy Post religion blogsite) has released an open letter to atheists. It’s entitled “Dear atheists: most of us don’t care what you think.”

Most atheists do not have a clue what religion is about. They see religious people as blind sheep following a series of incomprehensible rules and dogmas and then scoff at their lack of enlightenment.
And again:
Every serious religious person knows faith includes struggle. Faith is not about sweet “feelings.” Real faith is a lot tougher and more difficult than feelings…. Faith is about a certainty of something underlying all that surrounds us and a dogged acceptance that this life is part of an eternal pilgrimage that has trials.

An article well worth the read. Check it out on the Holy Post website.

As many of my readers know, just over a year ago I began compiling a list of congregational actions taken by ELCA congregations after the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly. This post is to let you know that major updates were made to that list today (read it here). However, I feel it is likely to be the last such updates made to the list. The amount of work required to keep it updated is substantial (today’s updates took over three hours to compile and format), and I feel that after a year of such work, it might be time to wind it up

I am glad so many people and churches have found the list helpful in their own discernment processes. On average, a minimum of 150 people view that list a day (some days the number well exceeds 200). I hope it will continue to be useful to those still in the discernment process.

With my prayers,

Captain Thin

Luther SealIn the days leading up to the birth of the North American Lutheran Church, Lutheran CORE sponsored a theological conference entitled “Seeking New Directions for Lutheranism.” To that end, a number of high-profile Lutheran scholars (Robert Benne, Robert Jenson, etc.)  were on hand to present papers on a number of subjects including the authority of Scripture, the name of God, and missions.

David Neff has an excellent synopsis of the papers in an article with Christianity Today entitled “Facing Lutheranism’s Crisis of Authority”. You can also listen to the presentations in mp3 format at Lutheran CORE’s website here. The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau will shortly be publishing a book containing an extended version of each of the papers (the presentations at the theological conference were condensed versions of longer papers).

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