Thursday, June 20, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART IV

(Continued from PART III, yesterday.)


Scrupulously Confessional Orthodoxy
The informational tri-fold pamphlet of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA) begins with the following sentences:
    Should Lutherans apologize for the Reformation?
    A lot of modern “Lutherans” seem to think so. In America, many “Lutherans” appear to want to be something else, and so they adopt the worship services of the Baptists or Pentecostals and are disinterested in biblical theology. Others weaken the doctrine even further, claiming that they are now agreed with the Roman Church concerning the doctrine of Justification. Others abandon any pretense of standing on the foundation of God’s holy Word, teaching the lie of theological liberalism which only views the Bible as one more man-made book of human “wisdom.”

    In practice, the name “Lutheran” is reduced to a some sort of ‘brand preference’ or they think of the Church as simply one more ‘denomination’ among many [i.e. like Lutheranism as merely a “tribe” of believers -DL]. Many of the clergy seem to wish they were something else – and wish that the Church would be more like the Protestants or even Eastern Orthodoxy. Given such a surrender of Lutheran teaching and practice, such individuals seem bent on apologizing for the Lutheran Reformation. We reject all such compromises. We believe it is time to be:
    Lutheran – without apologies or excuses.

    The Pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA) reject any such surrender of Lutheran doctrine and practice. They believe that it is far past time for the Evangelical Lutheran Church to stand steadfast on the foundation of God’s Word, and to boldly confess that faithful exposition of Holy Scripture which is found in the Book of Concord (1580).

Such convictions were evident to me during the entire time I was present for the 2013 Colloquium and Synod of the ELDoNA, as both informal conversation and scholarship presented at the Colloquium were coloured throughout with references to the Lutherans Confessions, as the normed norm of Lutheran teaching.

It stood out to me. I rarely hear such normalizing references in other Lutheran settings; and have been under the growing suspicion that metastasizing crypto-quatenus sentiments are to blame. Indeed, while it is an easy thing to merely assent to the words, “I believe that the Unaltered Augsburg Confession [along with the other confessional documents contained in the Book of Concord of 1580] is a true exposition of the Word of God and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,” by comparison, it seems to be inordinately difficult, if not totally out of touch with modern theological and cultural influences, to do so while regarding such Confessional documents fully one's own convictions, rather than merely the Confessions of 16th Century disaffected Roman Catholics. That is to say, as long as one views the Lutheran Confessions as “their Confession” rather than “my own Confession,” then it is really pretty simple to mouth such words, and in an entirely empty gesture, “subscribe” to them as principally someone else's Confession, rather than fully as one's own. This is how Lutherans today can justify a scoffing rejection of emphatic Confessional statements. Take Article XXIV for instance: Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence (AC:XXIV:1ff) and We do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it (AP:XXIV:1ff). More and more frequently these days, one will hear such statements dismissed by confessional Lutherans as inconsequential historical trivia, with remarks, like, “Surely, you don't expect that such statements of preference, expressing the Reformers' general medieval sensibilities regarding their practices, have anything to do with Scripture teaching or constitute any aspect of our confession, do you? In making an unqualified subscription to the entire Book of Concord, are you seriously suggesting that we also subscribe to the mere preferences of the Confessors and Concordists?” That is to say, “Such was their Confession that they risked their lives and reputations defending before the Roman authorities. Not ours, and not us. We'll pick and choose which parts conform to our idea of 'Scripture teaching,' and dismiss the rest.” (Incidentally, those who despise the liturgy and dismiss the emphatic retention of the Mass in Article XXIV as an unfortunate wrangling over “externals,” would do well to read §78ff of the Defense of this Article, where Melanchthon clearly defends the Mass [or the Liturgy] from the Scriptures as almost synonymous with the Office of the Holy Ministry itself.)

Thus, quoting the Confessions can become rather cumbersome, if, with all the picking and choosing one must be aware of in doing so, he is also forced to lace his references with qualifiers, such as, “Well, that's mostly true, except for this one part – that was just their opinion.” So in many confessional Lutheran circles today, the “general preference” is to simply omit all references to the Confessions – just pass them up, don't mention them, simply go straight to the Scriptures and declare as orthodox and Lutheran whatever one derives from them. This leads to the Lutheran identity crisis most Lutheran laymen suffer from today. For several years, I had a lot of fun asking my fellow laymen the simple question: “What distinguishes you as a Lutheran?” I would always get the response, “Lutherans believe what the Bible says.” I would always reply, “Every Christian on the planet says that. So what is the 'Lutheran difference'?” I would almost always hear them answer, “Lutherans are right, they are all wrong...” – and I would correct this ridiculous statement with the following: “No, you are wrong. You are not Lutheran because you say you believe everything the Bible says – that is a necessary requirement to be a Christian. Nor are you Lutheran merely because you insist that Lutherans are correct and all other Christians are wrong. Nor are you a Lutheran because Lutheranism is the 'tribe' of Christianity you were born into. What makes you a Lutheran Christian is one thing: the Augsburg Confession. Who we are as Lutherans is, and only is, what we say we believe in our Confessions.” I had a lot of fun asking such questions... but eventually got tired of being accused of the heresy of “adding to the Scriptures.”

The unfortunate fact is, among most confessional Lutheran laymen today, the Book of Concord is a title for something they've never heard of, rather than something that ought to norm their thinking and speaking as Lutherans (although, LCMS seems to be taking official steps to treat this malady). My visit with the ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod has me convinced that they've recognized this lamentable affliction, indeed they've struggled against it for decades, suffered at the hands of those infected by it, and finally cut themselves off from it by forming a new church body – the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America. This was evident not only in their speaking, but in their scholarship – and it is their scholarship which will be the subject of tomorrow's concluding post in this series on my Impressions from their 2013 Colloquium.

More to come, tomorrow...
Click here to Continue to PART V.1

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART III

(Continued from PART II, yesterday.)


Church and Ministry
Early on, we at Intrepid Lutherans had considered prominently placing the ELDoNA in the list on the right-hand column of our blog, under the category of “Links to Synodical Resources,” understanding that there had been some promising dialogue between WELS and the ELDoNA. So we inquired with the WELS Inter-Church Relations Committee. They said, in essence, “Absolutely not.” The context, as I recall (being informed indirectly), was their Doctrine of Church and Ministry.

So I asked when I was at the Colloquium. “Aren't you guys really just Lutheran Episcopalians? You have this 'Episcopal polity' after all... What about the laity and the congregation?” The answer was simple, and reassuring: “The only members of the ELDoNA are the pastors. This is different from WELS and LCMS where both pastors and congregations [as corporate entities] are members of Synod. Laymen are not members of Synod. Nor are they members of the Diocese. So there is no difference there. The difference is that the congregations, as corporate entities, are not members of the ELDoNA either. So the episcopate of the ELDoNA covers only the pastors, and does not extend to the congregations. It has no authority over the congregations. The congregations are independent, and only 'affiliated with the ELDoNA' through their pastor. Thus, congregational governance is not impacted by the Diocese.” Indeed, I was surprised to learn that local polity among congregations affiliated with the ELDoNA spans a spectrum between formal constitutional structures, with voters assemblies, etc., and much more informal “consensus models” of local governance. Whatever it is, the local political structure is up to the local congregation. In other words, the order of “Diocesan polity” does not impact the political order of the local congregation – thus, in the ELDoNA, the congregation is, in a very real sense, autonomous and free. In fact, according to one individual I spoke with at the Colloquium, the non-membership status of the local congregation with the Diocese, makes it easier for the congregation to order itself and to act on its convictions, should those convictions lead it to, say, disaffiliate with ELDoNA, or require it to pursue a course of church discipline against an erring or unrepentant pastor.

I also asked, regarding the Ministry, “Aren't you guys, like, 'hyper-Euros' or something? What is that supposed to mean, anyway? And aren't you 'Loehists' who insist that 'no one but an ordained pastor can ever forgive sins?' How would you compare your Doctrine of the Ministry to that of WELS?” The first answer I got went like this, “Huh? I really don't know what 'hyper-Euro' means – I think that is a term invented by Jack Cascione, before he fully investigated his sources. So it could mean anything. Or nothing at all.”

The second answer I got was much more specific, and went something like the following: “Our doctrine of the Ministry is succinctly stated in Article V and Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession [and Apology]. 'The Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments' (AC:V) is clearly one Ministry; the public teaching and administration of such (or 'The Ministry') is clearly defined as 'Ecclesiastical Order' (AC:XIV); and the phrase 'Unless he be regularly called' (AC:XIV) pretty much excludes those without a Divine Call. And what do you do with Article XIII of the Apology? 'We are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament' (AP:XIII:11)? If we are 'not unwilling to call it a sacrament', what does that say about our confession with respect to it? That it is something to be regularly omitted? No, rather, that ordination is a regular part of the Divine Call, that a regular Lutheran Ecclesiastical Order requires of itself that Ministers of the Word be ordained. This stands in opposition to everything the WELS Doctrine of the Ministry represents, doesn't it?” The latter point may seem to have been a bit of hyperbole, but if there are those among us in WELS who hold a Divine Call which does not include the regular teaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments, who are nevertheless defined as “Ministers of the Word,” or if there are those among us who regularly carry out those ministerial functions without a bona fide Divine Call – then such an answer, a Lutheran answer straight from our Confessions, does require some serious reflection. In addition to the sections just cited, a good place to start is the index of the Concordia Triglotta (Sadly, yes, it it true: our own Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) no longer prints the Triglotta, nor do they even make it available in print form. New, it is only available now in paperback from CPH “Print on Demand,” sans Bente's “Historical Introductions”...). Here are some selections from the index:

Regarding church polity, there are many Christians (pietists, in particular, though not exclusively) who prefer the display of shared hegemony demonstrated at the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), where all believers clearly stood shoulder to shoulder as equals, without distinctions based on ones “ecclesiastical office,” in the decision-making of the broader Visible Church. This model served the New Testament Church for about the first two centuries, though as early as the late-Apostolic Age it began to give way to an episcopal polity. By the time of Cyprian (A.D. 195-258), however, it was widely recognized that a political structure modeled after the Apostolic Council was insufficient to ward off the withering attacks of the World, which, under the guise of Gnosticism, had by then wormed its way into Christianity as an equal voice, eventually challenging the Church to answer the questions, “What and where is True Christianity?” The Christian answer eventually came to rest, in part, on the ones God has uniquely equipped and Called to stand in the stead of Christ, for the purpose of caring for His sheep and defending against heresy; and so it also came to rest on the visible bishopric that emerged from them: “There is where True Christianity is.” Following from this response later emerged the idea that communion with Christ was only possible through communion with the bishop; thus also emerged the framework for absolute subordination of laity (“the masses”) to clergy (“the chosen ones”). Over time, under the influence of such ideas and in response to the needs of the Church in a changing society, this episcopal polity gave way to a papacy, with a single leader serving as Christ's representative on Earth, by whom all matters of doctrine and practice were ultimately decided.

These political structures, as political structures (without reference to the false doctrines either underlying them or emerging from them), served the Church well in the various circumstances she found herself facing in the tumultuous times of the Early Church. Today, in a church body largely unencumbered by heresy coming from the outside (as in the case of hyper-separatists, perhaps, or perhaps also in very small church bodies where everyone is personally known to each another), a purely collegial and brotherly Apostolic polity, that does not recognize legal distinctions associated with one's “ecclesiastical office” for the purpose of making corporate decisions, may be appropriate. However, when it becomes obvious that serpents have slithered in, exploiting and abusing brotherliness for the sake of their secret heresies, such a political form becomes both impractical and dangerous, as it did in the post-Apostolic era. The situation had changed, so the political structure of the Church changed along with it, in order to more effectively combat the manifest danger. Likewise in the early years of the papacy – the Fall of the Roman Empire and the rapid disintegration of Western society which followed, left the West open to the deleterious impacts of barbarism that soon took the place of civil society (incessant war, crime and disease, pervasive illiteracy, ignorance and poverty, etc.). Strong central leadership equipped the Church to deal with this flood of barbarism which followed the Fall of Rome. It wasn't the political structures themselves so much as the abuse of these structures that became problematic for the Church, and required, by the time of the Reformation, dramatic correction. Nevertheless, rather than endorse a radical break with the catholicity of the Church, our Confessions directly embrace a desire and intention to retain the catholic church polity modeled after the old episcopacy:
    [I]t is our greatest wish to maintain church-polity and the grades in the Church [old church-regulations and the government of bishops], even though they have been made by human authority... For we know that church discipline was instituted by the Fathers, in the manner laid down in the ancient canons, with a good and useful intention... Furthermore, we wish here again to testify that we will gladly maintain ecclesiastical and canonical government, provided the bishops only cease to rage against our Churches. This our desire will clear us both before God and among all nations to all posterity from the imputation against us that the authority of the bishops is being undermined, when men read and hear that, although protesting against the unrighteous cruelty of the bishops, we could not obtain justice. (AP XIV)

In my discussions with WELS and LCMS Lutherans, the topic of polity often arises in a way that recognizes the insufficiency of 19th Century political structures to respond to the manifold abuses everyone seems to recognize nowadays. The loopholes, weaknesses and inconsistencies of such structures have long been discovered and seem subject to frequent exploitation. WELS pastors have often told me, “In practice, WELS political structure does not even reflect its own doctrine of the Church, but that of LCMS. Same is true of LCMS in reverse – in practice, they reflect more WELS theology.” Some in LCMS have complained to me directly, “What we need is to get rid of lay influence. They are ruining our Synod. We need to have only pastors, a bishopric, making decisions.” In such cases I have responded, “Your episcopate in that case would be only as sound as your bishops. What, then, can the laity do when the bishops are, or become, corrupt?” Likewise in WELS, “These pastors are either heretics or cowards!” Then, variously, “They won't do anything other than go along with sectarian fads!” or “ They won't do anything other than what has been done for 100 years!” Then, unanimously, “We need the laity to rise up and take control!” ...And variously, “We need to run the Synod more like a business! Let's get our successful business guru's to take over where these untrained pastors seem to miserably fail all the time!” or “We need the laity to withhold their offerings until the spend-thrift heretics run out of money, and force them back to orthodoxy!” To which I respond something like the following: “Perhaps. But what happens when the laity, thinking either only pragmatically (as they usually do), or worse, with a hyper-spiritual disregard for biblical Stewardship (as some zealots have been known to do), unwittingly abandon orthodoxy? What happens when they become enamoured with the latest fads and fashion of the sects, or adopt the amoral ideologies of today's business leaders, because, through lack of training and giftedness, they have neither the perspective to recognize the error, nor the ability to articulate it to others? What do you do when the untrained laity make pragmatic decisions which fly in the face of orthodoxy, either because they don't care or because they lack sufficient perspective?”

Indeed, what do we need when both the laity and the clergy of a given church body become corrupt, and when all reasonable attempts to extract that corruption from ecclesiastical leadership fail? Answer: We need a new church body – hopefully with leaders of sufficient orthodoxy and perspective to choose a suitable polity, one that is consistent, Biblically and Confessionally defensible and well-suited to guard against the kind of heresies which attack us in our current age. For my part, I find that the ELDoNA has succeeded in this. As for the layman, in the ELDoNA, the rights of the layman are bound up with his responsibilities (as they should be), not to blindly trust what is handed down to him from ecclesiastical authorities (of which there are none for the layman in the ELDoNA, other than his own pastor), but at all times to diligently search the Scriptures, to affirm the orthodoxy of his pastor and the Diocese with which he is affiliated; and having done so, he, along with his fellow Berean-laymen, has full right and power to act according to the convictions the Scriptures have made him certain of, again without any interference from a higher ecclesiastical authority. That is to say, the “rights of the layman” are not extended to him by ecclesiastical authority, nor do they descend to him through its polity, but are his in proportion to his own Berean diligence. Though his “rights” do not extend beyond the congregation, they don't need to since neither the authority nor the polity of the Diocese extend to the congregation in the first place.

More to come, tomorrow...
Click here to Continue to PART IV

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART II

(Continued from PART I, yesterday.)


Conscientiously Lutheran Liturgical Worship
A relatively new member of the WELS congregation I attend, who is a recent convert to confessional Lutheranism, told me not long ago, “I never thought that I would enjoy liturgical worship. In fact, two years ago, I would have rejected the notion out of hand as Roman heresy in practice... But... then I tried it. And there is only one word I have had for it since: Heavenly.” Not long after that, he confessed further: “That wasn't from the hymnal we use here, though. Don't tell pastor, but I think it was a Missouri Synod congregation. They are a small rural congregation and have a smaller hymnal, it was red, and used the King James... It was amazing... We always go there when we are in that part of Wisconsin.” He is a former Evangelical, and a very intelligent and thoughtful person whose company I enjoy immensely.

Of course, he was talking about the orders of service contained in the old The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) published by the Synodical Conference in 1941, a hymnal which is still in wide use among confessional Lutherans, which seems to be the standard among congregations affiliated with ELDoNA (though they don't all use it, nor are they required to), and which was used during Matins, Vespers, and Divine Service (Wednesday Morning) during the Colloquium.

To quote from Rev. Rydecki's Dresden paper, “I am WELS, for now.” This means that, at present, “I am WELS.” Endeavoring to maintain fidelity to this fact during the worship services of the Colloquium translated to a posture of non-participant status during these worship services, though I will admit to humming along with the hymns and liturgical music, while singing the words in my head. No, I didn't resent them so much for not being WELS that I also refused to internally participate in manifestly orthodox worship. My outward non-participation was only a testimony of my non-fellowship status – though I highly doubt anyone there noticed or cared. So much for the testimony. However, I will also admit to reciting the Creed aloud, since the TLH used the text “I believe” rather than the “We believe” phraseology contained in the versions printed in the more contemporary WELS hymnal, Christian Worship (CW), and reasoning that, since the phrase, “under God,” can be properly understood I can therefore recite the Pledge of Allegiance alongside heterodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, agnostics and atheists, as long as I mean to do so as an individual pledge (i.e., I pledge allegiance... under God...) without necessarily meaning to offer it in unity with whatever aberrant significance anyone else may assign to it, then I can also publicly recite an accepted and embraced Ecumenical Creed versed in personal rather than collective terms without the risk of making a false confession or insinuating full agreement in all matters of doctrine and practice with those individuals reciting the same personally versed Creed alongside me. (Yes, legalism often begets long sentences... but most often they're just fun to write.).

All of this preamble to introduce the fact that this was the first time I had observed or in any way experienced a conscientious public execution of any order of service from the TLH, much less the the Divine Service on Wednesday Morning. To quote my friend, “It was heavenly.”

I had been liturgically reared in WELS on its hymnal Christian Worship, which, when executed with the utmost reverence and musical integrity (as I had been introduced to it and often experience it), is sufficient to assist the congregation in their worship by reminding them of who they are, who Christ is, where He is, and what they are doing together in that worship chamber. But it is definitely a comparatively diminished impact. Its contemporary language patterns and pop-folksy key changes alter the ambiance created by the liturgy and hymnody to such a degree that it appreciably reduces the gravity it would otherwise have, reducing its impact to that of the relatively inconsequential vulgar, or common everyday, speech patterns we all use to order a beer at the local bar and grill, ask for assistance at the hardware store, give instructions to our employees, or greet our customers and clients – and this is especially the case with the WELS CW Supplement, which for me has never been anything other than a manic ride through levity and fury (in fact, it's so distracting, I now simply refrain from participating when Supplement orders of service are used). That is, the word and tonal patterns employed in contemporary orders of service, coming from the same common stock of words and sounds we hear in everyday life, are not sufficient to assist the worshiper out of the worldly frame of mind in which he has thought, acted and spoken all week, and into a distinctly “other-worldly” and reverential Ecclesiastical frame of mind instead.

The fact is, an important aspect of “worshiping in spirit and Truth,” is endeavoring to function under God's command to be “in the World but not of it;” we are not of the world, but of the Body of Christ, that is, of the Church – this is fundamental, and the visible church simply fails in its aspirations to represent the Church Universal on Earth if it aspires to worldliness in its practice rather than the “other-worldliness” to which it is commanded. And this is recognized among most conscientious Lutherans, I think – if not in these same explicit terms, then at least implicitly. Thus, if the word and tonal patterns employed in contemporary orders of service are not sufficient to appreciably assist the worshiper out of his worldly frame of mind, the task falls entirely upon the shoulders of the liturgist (usually the Pastor), the organist (and/or other musicians), and upon the intellect of the worshiper. That is to say, though the words may be easier for the modern liturgist to say, the overall tasks of the liturgist and organist are made inordinately more difficult, while the worship of the congregation necessarily becomes more cerebral. Often, neither the liturgist, nor the organist nor the worshipers are up to the task, and the congregation becomes increasingly comfortable with the creeping invasion of worldliness into the church's worship practice.

These are the thoughts that began to percolate as I sat through Matins and Vespers on Monday and Tuesday of the 2013 Colloquium and Synod of the ELDoNA, and struck me squarely as I sat through Divine Service on Wednesday. Having now finally sat through the liturgies of the TLH, I can confidently and emphatically say, “No one talks like that any more; no one hears music like that anymore; it is entirely out of place in the world of today.And this is precisely the reason we should want to use these older liturgies. Though prior to this I'd understood and defended this fact primarily from the standpoint of reason (also extrapolating from experience with WELS CW), I now have first-hand experience with which to positively assert it.

No one talks that way anymore! – but everyone understands what the words are saying. Moreover, when people, especially Christians, hear the old Elizabethan language patterns, their first thought is not, “Oh, Shakespeare! Bunyan! Milton!” – nobody reads that stuff anymore, nor do they associate these language forms with an era of history, a nation, a queen, or a genre of English literature. Indeed, there are exponentially more readers of the King James Bible in the world today than there are readers of classic literature. On the contrary, when Elizabethan language forms are heard, especially when they are heard by Christians, those forms carry with them a sense of gravity, being immediately associated with the Church and the Teaching and Authority of Scripture as it comes to us from far in the past into the present – the Christian's thoughts are immediately carried away from the cares of this world, and set to dwell upon, and find solace in, the constancy and historicity of his cherished religion. Though Christians no longer use these language forms in the conduct of their everyday affairs, they nevertheless understand them and automatically associate them with the Church, its weighty tasks, and the authority with which Christ has charged her. For the Christian in today's world, Elizabethan language patterns in the context of worship carry the sounds of True and Enduring Religion, immediately grab the attention of the conscientious Christian, and set his mind in order.

As I sat through these TLH liturgies, listening to the distinctive form of language that in our era is exclusively associated with the Church, recognizing the precision and efficiency of Ecclesiastical terms spoken only by the Church, and hearing the unique sounds that only the Church makes, my mind was transported to a place far away from the world outside the walls of that building, to an “other place,” a place where God Himself comes to me with His Gospel and ministers to me, a place where the personal Word of Forgiveness is spoken directly to me by His ambassador, who was by Him given the authority to do so “in His stead and by His command.” That is, my mind was brought to center on the place where I had brought my body – God's Sanctuary – and it was the old liturgy of the TLH, with its old words that no one outside the Church really uses anymore, and with its old musical forms that no one outside the Church really uses anymore, that did most of the work of bringing my mind to that place. It wasn't the perfect execution of the liturgists and musicians, nor was it by exercise of “highly disciplined intellect” – but, almost immediately upon its opening sounds, the old liturgy more thoroughly assisted my worship in a way that more contemporary liturgies, with their vulgar language patterns and pop-folksy tonal progressions are simply unable.

Informal discussion with a few of the ELDoNA pastors left me with several impressions regarding worship practice among them.
  1. In every case, there is a palpable respect for the incarnational, sacramental, evangelical, historical liturgical practice of genuine confessional Lutheranism.
  2. There was nothing that struck me as “out of balance” about these men with respect to their views regarding the practice of Lutheran liturgical worship. One hears from certain quarters of the internet about these “Gottesdienst types” who supposedly affix “soteriological significance” to the position of the celebrant's fingers on the communion chalice, etc... I perceived none of this while at the Colloquium.
  3. While the TLH seems to be the preferred hymnal, not all congregations affiliated with the ELDoNA have moved back to using it yet, though that does seem to be the desire among those pastors whose congregations' move to the TLH is still pending. There was no indication that I could discern that such a move was mandated, but that it was, rather, a voluntary desire.
  4. While nearly all of the liturgy was chanted or sung at the Colloquium, not all congregations affiliated with the ELDoNA chant or sing the entire liturgy, nor are they required to. Some do, some don't, as the local circumstances warrant. But in all cases, the aspiration seems to be directed toward a reverent decorum and wholesome catholicity.
  5. At one point in time in the recent past, there was an internet rumour circulating that the ELDoNA “leaned pointedly East” in its worship practice. I don't recall the source, but I think it had something to do with the colours and patterns in the chasubles some of them chose to wear. Though I don't recall the source, or all the facts cited by that source, I'd been under that impression ever since. And I know I'm not the only one, as I have been contacted more than a few times in the past year, on Facebook and other IM tools, by people I've never met, expressing the same opinion and wanting to know what I thought about the ELDoNA in this regard. I could only confirm “what I'd heard.” So, while at the Colloquium, I asked. Now I know. The rumour is hogwash. Apparently, the rumour started the year that all of the pastors of the ELDoNA were pictured together having – purely by coincidence – grown heavy beards. This was also about the time that “a couple of Gottesdienst pastors defected East” – so the rumour was that the ELDoNA, with its beards and Gottesdienst connections (and, perhaps, with Eastern rather than Western patterns on their chasubles...), was tinged with Eastern Orthodoxy. Nope. They're not.
Those are some general observations. Overall, with respect to worship practice, I think it is important to conclude this: the ELDoNA are normal Lutherans having respect for and emphasizing historical liturgical Lutheran practice, as our Confessions enjoin us (AC:XXIV:1ff, AP:XXIV:1ff), allowing freedom within that emphasis, while also studiously rejecting the sectarian practices and worldly encroachments of the Church Growth Movement (CGM), or any worship practices which would dilute the public Confession that Lutherans ought to exhibit, if not entirely dispossess them of it (FC:X, SD:X:5ff). While I am always encouraged to find Lutheran pastors and congregations exhibiting these same Confessional characteristics, I was especially encouraged to observe them as defining characteristics of an entire Lutheran church body.

More to come, tomorrow...
Click here to Continue to PART III

Monday, June 17, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART I

Well, it's been over a month since my last post, announcing a visit to the 2013 Colloquium and Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA), which was held the last week of April, and promising a report on its proceedings. A lot has happened in the intervening time: business and other travel, an avalanche of business financial issues (nothing big, just a mountain of little things that wouldn't be postponed), computer and network crashes, a severe car accident, critical home maintenance issues, and over the past few weeks, serious illness – enough so that I hadn't been able to even check my email until just recently. But those are just excuses. The fact is, I'm delinquent in making my report.

I'll start by emphasizing the very positive impression I was left with as a result of my observations and experiences and the extended conversations I had with pastors of ELDoNA, and also as a result of the variety of scholarship I was privileged to take in. Over the following four or five days, I will provide a report of my impressions in parts. I hope that you will find it as intriguing as I did.


A Warmly Welcomed Visitor
A visitor at an intimate gathering, I was nevertheless welcomed from the start and treated that way throughout. Of course, Lutherans are stereotypically friendly. Too friendly, some would say – almost a weird manifestation of eager confidence, I would say. But that's okay. I like that kind of weird. I expect it of Christians – especially confessional Lutherans. It's not a “niceness” in the sense of being cautiously or fearfully inoffensive, but a “niceness” wrought of such assurance in one's Confession as to be totally unthreatened by challenges to it, and to be genuinely motivated to share it for the sake of its inestimable value to others.

In fact, there has only been twice that I was treated otherwise at any Lutheran event, that I can recall. Because they are so odd, those experiences stand out to me. One was a large evangelism event sponsored by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), that turned out to be little more than a mutual admiration rally, at which my wife and I were treated like leather-clad bikers caught crashing someone else's family reunion. The only conversations we had went something like this: “Who are you? ...Oh. Who's your pastor? Oh yeah, didn't he marry one of the Heutenschleutermacher gals? They're my cousins... They're my wife's cousins, too... (gigglegiggle) Don't worry, we're legal! Our kids are normal... mostly... Hahahahah!” (No! I'm not making that up!)

The second was the Lutheran Free Conference in November 2011, at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN. Although I was greeted by, and enjoyed delightful conversation with a number of pastors and laymen from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), my reception from the half-dozen or so WELS pastors and professors who I recognized, with whom I had established eye-contact in a way that displayed an intention to engage them in conversation, who, therefore, I know recognized me, was quite the opposite: a turning away of the head, or a turning up of the heels as they walked away. One WELS pastor I knew, however, was happy to see me; we had a nice, though brief, conversation – that hallway meeting was definitely a highlight of the conference for me.

So, a warm reception at an intimate gathering of ELDoNA pastors and laymen at their Colloquium and Synod means something, though little more than this: they're friendly Lutherans who are confident enough not to be suspicious of outsiders. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary, no red flags, just what I was expecting from good Lutherans.

More to come, tomorrow...
Click here to continue to PART II

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