Pondering the Pope's Latest Pronouncements
For a long time it has appeared to me that there are basically two kinds of Christians and two kinds of churches. There are those who are willing to let God be fully God, and those who seem convinced God needs at least a little bit of help and protection. I confess to having never resonated fondly with language pointing to a role for Christians as “defenders of the faith.” I’ve always taken seriously what I learned from Luther’s catechism about faith being a gift of the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.” The Triune God, who I’ve understood as the One who called all things into being, redeemed the whole creation, and whose Spirit embraces the future of the entire cosmos, doesn’t seem to need a whole lot of human defending. At any rate, I’m quite convinced I can’t do much protecting or defending of the One in whose arms I confidently place my eternal destiny and the universe’s ultimate hope.
The latest round of press releases from the Vatican raises important questions about the state of ecumenical relations between Roman Catholics and the rest of us Christians. Hearing ourselves and our churches described in official documents authored or issued by the current papal hand with words like “wounded,” “defective” and “not churches in the proper sense” makes it difficult to remain optimistic about further progress toward greater organic unity and institutional rapprochement within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It’s tempting and easy to respond in kind. Surely a church which is unable to embrace the gifts of women for ordained ministry, for example, suffers from its own deficiencies and incompleteness. But going tit-for-tat in another round of contentious skirmishes will not advance the ecumenical agenda, which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America constitutionally sets forth among its fundamental purposes.
How then might we respond patiently and positively to Pope Benedict’s recent actions and statements? Our Presiding Bishop’s response is surely helpful (see under current “News” items on www.elca.org) in this regard. It counsels steady focus on areas of convergence forged over four decades and more of patient dialogue. It reminds us of the amazing witness to the world offered a few years back when Lutherans and Catholics issued the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. None of these far-reaching and history-making developments are undone by recent occurrences.
I wonder if it could be helpful to suggest revisiting (particularly in quiet local ecumenical conversations) some basic theological questions we assumed already fully and finally settled. As indicated in Bishop Hanson’s statement, surely the doctrine of baptism is central. If we indeed agree, as official dialogue studies and statements have redundantly affirmed, that God’s gracious action at the font or in the river is salvific and ushers us into the one true Church of the risen Christ, can we not trust God to heal all our wounds, remedy every church’s deficiencies (including those of the Roman Catholic Church) and bring us all to completion in the Day of Jesus Christ? In short, can we let God be God and in charge of the Church?
Posted: 7/12/2007 12:00:00 AM
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