jtemplate.ru - free extensions for joomla

The Fallible Church

I am the pastor of a Lutheran church and specifically a Lutheran church that is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Lutherans of this stripe tend to think of ourselves as small “c” catholics. Big “C” Catholics usually have the word “catholic” in the name of their denomination as in the case of Roman Catholics, who commonly call themselves “Catholics” as we call ourselves “Lutherans”. The word “catholic” means universal and suggests the entire Church, which is made up of a number of denominations, among them the Roman Catholic Church.

            Lutherans are probably not big “P” Protestants either. By big “P” Protestants I mean those churches that didn’t want any part of the Roman Catholic Church and which defined themselves in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church.   Lutherans are small “p” protestants and have traditionally wanted to keep the doors open for relationship to the Roman Catholic Church as well as to the big “P” Protestant denominations.

            I bring this up in light of Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of Love”, in which he attempts among other things to soften the Roman church’s position with regard to members who are divorced and remarried, and the relation of homosexual people to the church. This is another case in which Pope Francis improves the tone of a teaching of the church without changing the teaching. So it is still the case that remarried or remarrying Roman Catholics must have an annulment of their first marriage(s) if they are to receive communion at Mass. The change of tone urges a more compassionate attitude to “imperfect” Roman Catholics who are divorced or remarried or cohabitating, maybe even working out some sort of communion agreement between priests and bishops on an individual basis. As far as same-sex marriage is concerned “The Joy of Love” says that whatever joy there may be in these arrangements, they do not have the dignity of heterosexual marriages. The Pope urges that gay people be respected.

            There are probably Roman Catholic priests as well as Roman Catholic lay people who try to hold the line on the historic teaching of the church and who discourage communion or simply withhold it from those who are “imperfect” Roman Catholics. But in most parishes there are plenty of people at the communion rail every Sunday receiving Holy Communion, who are among the “imperfect” and even known to be among the “imperfect” but who nevertheless commune. These are at the very least small “p” protestants who are not keeping the Roman Catholic teachings of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Like good Lutherans, they are obedient to their consciences, but they stay in a church that continues to believe that conscience must bow to its dogma.

            I must say I don’t quite understand why these small “p” protestants don’t leave the Roman Catholic Church and live out their Christianity in some other denomination that fully welcomes them as sisters and brothers in Christ. They can be small “c” catholics and small “p” protestants or even big “P” Protestants if they so choose. There are churches that would be ever so grateful for them and their imperfections and would welcome their communion. Or rather than leaving the church of their birth, they might for the sake of compassion and Christian conscience publicly oppose the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and demand a change in the way the church does its business and act to reform the church, as Luther tried to do more than 500 years ago. This might be a big help to Pope Francis who is generally seen to be in favor of church reform.  

            In conclusion and for modesty’s sake, I should say that the Lutheran church that emerged out of the Lutheran Reformation is not perfect—it admits freely to being fallible. How could it be otherwise, filled as it is with people like myself, who are in one way or another “imperfect” Christians?

                                                                                                Jeffrey Eaton