Thursday, June 22, 2006

Denominations.

Grace to you and peace, from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

This year is the PCUSA's 217th General Assembly. Although this is not a General Synod year for the UCC nor does the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly convene this year, during 2005 both those church bodies discussed and passed controversial resolutions, resulting in too many local churches and pastors breaking away from their now former denominations.

Just about every day for the past couple weeks, during the local early morning news I've watched headlines scroll across the bottom of the TV screen and yes, not only has the Episcopal Church's election of a woman as Presiding Bishop at this year's General Convention been sensational enough to make waves in the secular Mainstream Media (equivalent of Mainline Church, which is what all these denominations are considered—whether or not they actively consider themselves such, but I definitely would), news from the PC(USA)'s GA has been regarded worthy to be featured in the news headline loop.

These calamitous (you know my passion for words and how I love taking almost everything to its limits, but in using that word I have not over-spoke) goings-on in all these denominations (remember, denomination is an American invention) is particularly haunting given the Reformation heritage claimed by the PC(USA), ELCA and UCC—less directly Canterbury's kin make a related assertion. BTW, this cannot be a long blog since Design School still is taking much of my time and energy. But back to the Reformation, its ethos and especially its spirit! After all, during the 1600s the Spirit of God and of the Christ overwhelmed the Western World; although wherever and whenever we be Church or churches, despite our primary loyalty being (no brainer?) to Jesus Christ, the written, recorded Word's ultimate interpreter, in order to live as daughters and sons of the Reformation we need to continue reforming, which totally must include new scriptural insights. Remember the paraphrase of John Robinson's words to the pilgrims embarking (from Leiden? I'll correct that later if necessary) ? "The Lord has yet more light and truth to spring forth from His Word." Even the Roman branch of the Church recites the phrase Ecclesia semper reformanda! We Churches of the Reformation? How about us? I recall hearing Martin Marty preach on Reformation Sunday evening many years ago; throughout his talk he repeated the phrase, "We Churches of the Reformation." It impresses me that so much of the controversy centers and revolves around interpretation of scripture. Not remotely is that observation unique to me, but possibly to sound a little arrogant, over the centuries we've learned certain exegetical and expository methodologies that we in the protestant and Roman Catholic mainline assume lead to responsible (read: "faithful") outcomes.

Much of this debate not only is about reading the Bible as other than a product of the historical period and ethnic culture from which it sprung, but sexuality sensationalized keeps taking over! The earlier preoccupation with gender and gender roles may have diminished some – but then again maybe not – though still many people do not realize or won't admit every one of us functions on a gender continuum.

Possibly more than anything else, for me denominations are the way to be connected vertically and horizontally with the Church in all the ages. Are the dissenters (in all the denoms) saying they don't want to remain connected? In the ELCA, some of those who most have insisted upon staying and continuing conversation have been the Seminex guys (yes, all guys) who during the (late? I wasn't there, though for a while I dated a Seminex grad and knew a couple of others from ministerium) 1970s helped birth the AELC—Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches—specifically as a uniting church structured eventually to dissolve.

I wonder if Martin Luther is watching the recent and current goings-on in American Protestantism?! I wonder if Pastor Martin grieves the shuttings-out and exclusions?! How about reviving the tradition of historic condemnation and maybe even anathemas (just kidding – I do not believe that would be remotely helpful)? My heart aches with this burden not only because I'm a Christian in the Reformation Tradition but more than that, because continued conversation truly does build bridges and obliterate unessential differences. Oh, I know about myself: overdeveloped skills in reconciliation, accommodation and peacemaking, but how else can one live? Is Martin Luther himself an example of Christian faithfulness? Of faithfulness to Jesus Christ who showed us how to walk in trust, often in outrageous ways?

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