A Dent in the Externals
For many years the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have carried on some church-related work together, a practice otherwise known as “cooperation in externals.” One of these cooperative efforts has been the training of military chaplains. In the coming year, 2012, the LCMS is scheduled to terminate this particular practice. LCMS president, the Rev. Matthew Harrison, announced to his church the widening gap between the two church bodies: “Today, like two ships at sea sailing apart on different compass headings, the ELCA and the LCMS have lost sight of each other.” He explained that a contributing factor to this widening gap was the ELCA position on same-sex unions. Ending this chaplain training will only make a dent in these externals, for the two church bodies intend to continue cooperative efforts in Lutheran World Relief, Disaster Response, and the like.
For many years these two church bodies, indeed “like two ships at sea,” have been sailing more or less side by side on the unsettled waters of “cooperation in externals.” Sometimes, because of this cooperation, the image of the two ships has become blurred. This happens, despite the differences they may have in “compass headings.” As the ELCA ship follows the compass heading away from Scripture, we can only hope that the LCMS (“Big Mo”) will thrust its ship’s engines into reverse, so as to distance itself more and more from a church body that is truly awash at sea. In so doing, the LCMS will avoid being carried under by the backwash of an erring ship.
Rebirth of a P.K.
“Promise Keepers”—remember them? News of this organization has been rather quiet for some time. We heard a good deal about it after it was first founded in 1990 by former football coach Bill McCartney. Off to a roaring start in the early 1990s, the movement featured stadium rallies that would draw up to 50,000 men for a weekend of preaching, prayer, and Bible study. It reached its peak in 1997, when at least half a million men gathered for a rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C. After that, the movement began to slowly decline for various reasons, one of them being financial difficulties. It suffered a major blow in 2003 when its founder, McCartney, stepped down as its inspirational leader.
However, religious news accounts report that Promise Keepers (P.K.) may be experiencing a rebirth. McCartney has returned to the speaker’s platform and smaller-scale rallies are being organized. The new aim of these rallies is not only to benefit men spiritually, but is meant also to benefit their families. As one spokesman explained, “All the things that are killing men are killing their families. We need to strengthen our men, and Promise Keepers is designed to do just that.” Another P.K. spokesman, commenting on the “rebirth,” said: “Now that he [McCartney] is back, we are retooling the ministry and expanding from just being a ministry for men. We believe the Lord wants us to do ministry for the whole family.” The organization has also changed its motto from “What Makes a Man?” to “Ignite and Unite.”
Lutheran Christians will have confessional issues with this organization. We nevertheless can share the concern it has for the spiritual welfare of the families and homes in our country. The preaching and teaching of Law and Gospel as proclaimed in our synodical churches provide the greatest spiritual strength and sustenance for families and their homes.
Reviving the Faith?
It caught my eye—this heading for an article in the local newspaper: “Pope tries to revive German faith.” It was referring to his recent trip to that country in which he called for a spiritual renewal among the people of Germany. He had good reason to be alarmed at the trends, for German Roman Catholics had been quitting the church in large numbers. Just this past year 180,000 people had left, following the clerical-abuse scandal in Germany.
In his parting words before leaving for Rome, Pope Benedict wished his Roman Catholic audience “strength and confidence” in their faith. His attempt to revive their faith brought to mind another attempt at revival almost 500 years ago, only that was more than a revival—it was a Reformation. The “strength and confidence” to which Martin Luther directed the Church were not to be found in papal decrees and man’s efforts to save himself, but in God’s Word and Sacraments, which give the grace of God through the Redeemer Jesus Christ. The message from the Vatican can offer no true strength or confidence. This, as Luther well knew, could only come from the saving Gospel that was proclaimed by the apostles and prophets. Roman Catholics looking for revival of their faith would do well to heed the message of the Reformation.
Paul Madson is a retired pastor living in North Mankato, Minnesota.
A Dent in the Externals