Thursday, April 24, 2008

Christian Unity and Institutional Mergers


April 21, 2008

United Methodist Church to Consider Full Communion with ELCA

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) will consider a proposal for full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) when it meets April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The proposal, "Implementing Resolution for Full Communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church," has been years in the making.

Assuming adoption by the UMC General Conference, the ELCA Church Council requested that a formal proposal for full communion with the United Methodist Church be presented at its November 2008 meeting. The council will consider transmitting the proposal for action by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The assembly meets in Minneapolis Aug. 17-23.

The two churches have had a relationship of "Interim Eucharistic Sharing" since 2005. That relationship called for members to pray for and support each other, to study Scripture together and to learn about each other's traditions.

Full communion means the churches will work for visible unity in Jesus Christ, recognize each other's ministries, work together on a variety of ministry initiatives, and, under certain circumstances, provide for the interchangeability of ordained clergy.

[full article can be found at:]

Kent comments:

There are basically two views of Christian unity. One concerns itself with the institutional end of things, as described in the story above.

The other is about discovering what makes one a Christian, and then recognizing that all Christians belong to the one Christ, and are thus one - whether they like it or not!

There has always been a lamentable tendency for the church to become highly institutionalized, and then focus more on the life and workings of the institution rather than the Christian faith in the lives of people. I know that most of those caught up in the grinding wheels of the institutional church will claim that their institutional machinery is merely a means to the end of helping people live out the Christian faith. Sometimes, perhaps, they are partly right in that.

But the whole focus on Christian unity as something akin to a corporate merger is wrong-headed. Consider this: denominations can merge when there is no real unity, and true Christian unity can be had whether denominations merge or not.

A pioneer of Christian unity in North America, Thomas Campbell, once wrote, “the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.” It is one in essence because all who belong to Jesus Christ are linked together in Him. It is one in intention because this is the grand plan of the Living God. It is one in constitution because the Bible is its final documentary authority.

I hope the Methodists and the Lutherans enjoy their “full communion” should it be realized. But I hope they don’t confuse that with the unity enjoyed by all the followers of Christ.

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