WordAlone - Address by Dr. Robert J. Marshall
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Transcript of Address
by Dr. Robert J. Marshall
(Former President of the Lutheran Church in America)

February, 1999


I think our relationships as Lutherans with the Episcopalians have been very good. And I have to say that I am sorry the direction that has been taken first by the Concordat and now by the revision in making it necessary for us to adopt the historic succession for bishops.

I have three reasons for this. As you would guess, I would have to begin with the Augsburg Confession, and particularly Article 7. And in case you are rusty on that, as I am,

It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel, for it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine word.

We have here what I would say is a clear statement of what Lutherans consider to be the esse of the Church. Esse, or if you want a philosophical wording, you might say the very being of the church, the essence of the church are the word of the Gospel and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We have to admit it is not all there is, or may be, for the bene esse of the church, for the good of the church; for what is beneficial in the church; for what is useful, helpful in the church.

For me, therefore, the issue is to be phrased as a question whether the Historical episcopate is not only essential but is good, helpful, useful for the church. And I come up with the answer, no! It is considered essential, part of the esse of the church, by The Episcopal Church and by Anglicans. For us, adoption of it would mean that our concept of one ministry in the church would be tainted. Some ordained ministers would have more significance than others, the significance of being the sign. The bishops would be the sign of the unity of the church. Some ordained ministers would have more power. Bishops and only bishops would have the power of ordination whereas today we may order our church so that it is normal for the bishop, but it is not a rule that it can be only the bishop. When I was President of the Illinois Synod, I would ask a pastor from time to time to assist me in ordaining a pastor when I couldn't be present. That would no longer be possible under the provisions of the Concordat (CCM).

Secondly, I am not in favor of the Concordat (CCM) in its present form because it does not represent the best form of ecumenism. We would be entering into an agreement whereby one church would have to become like the other church in order to be in full communion. There is a better form already in existence of such agreements for full communion and that is the agreement that was adopted at the Assembly in 1997 with the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. In that agreement the churches were honest about their differences. There was no indication that either church had to change in spite of those differences. The churches did not need to become more alike. Even with their differences, it was declared that we could share pulpits, we could share altars, and we could exchange ministers and cooperate in mission. Actually, this had developed over the years without any formal agreement. We actually had all of these things in our present practice. We were accepting Presbyterians at our communion as were almost all of you, I would assume. And on occasion you might have a Presbyterian preach or you might preach in a Presbyterian church or take communion in a Presbyterian church. These things were going on before there was any agreement. It was a historic development. It was a development among the people of the church, the assembly of believers, without the dictates of theologians or bishops or any one except perhaps, would you say, the Holy Spirit. The spirit does have a way of getting into the life of the church in spite of us

I would say that the agreement with the Presbyterian/Reform(ed) churches should be considered a model for all future arrangements for full communion and that we ought to be on the defensive if we want to change that model. This agreement with the Episcopal church adopts a different principal for full communion. It will mean that we will be saying to ourselves, we have to change to satisfy one church when we have not changed to satisfy other churches. We will be practicing a form of ecumenism that either opens the door to saying that every time we consider full communion with another church we have to consider becoming like that church. We have to be different for each different church. That I call the ecumenism of chaos. Or, we are going to say to ourselves the episcopal church is the only church where we will change. We will not do that for any other church. That I call the ecumenism of favoritism. And I am not in favor of either of those forms of ecumenism.

This ecumenism accepts a new rigidity in the understanding of the government of the church, in the understanding of the order of ministry, in the understanding of the office of Bishop in the understanding of Ordination. It is a new rigidity we do not have in our practices today.

Does that make sense in the setting of the United States? Sure the Church of Sweden has the Historic Episcopacy. Certainly the Church of Finland has it. Certainly the Church of Estonia has it. Certainly the Church of Latvia has it. But they have it as a bene esse. It does not keep us from communion with them, or sharing pulpits with us or joining in mission. They do it as Lutherans would do it. But the Episcopal church does not. It requires us to accept the rigidity about ministry that they practice, and I say this does not make sense in the environment, in the ecclesiastical environment of the United States, where the advance of Christianity is happening among the free churches, not among the churches with greater rigidity.

Shall we cast our lot for a restriction on the advance of mission for the future? Is it not possible that in the 21st century the great ecumenical challenge will be relationship with the free churches? Not with those churches that like to call themselves catholic churches? Is that not possible in the 21st century in the United States where new trials develop for communities and new cooperation is desired? What churches will it call into ecumenical relations? Won't the free churches be in the picture? And shall we be farther from them or shall we not?

I would finally say that there are other models for relationships with Anglicans and Episcopalians than the one provided by the Concordat (CCM). I would say first among them would be the agreements reached by the Lutherans and Reformed Churches in Germany in the Meissen Agreement with the church of England. It does not adopt the Historic Episcopate. Secondly, I would call attention to the Porvoo Agreement which includes the Church of Norway without the Historic episcopate as well as the other Scandinavian and Baltic churches that do have it and it does not require adoption of the Historic Episcopate. There are vital, vibrant forms of ecumenism taking shape in the present time. The form that is being put before us is not as free and vibrant, as I would like.