What are the communion-breaking issues?

Last week I got together with two college friends who I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years.  It says a lot about where we’ve come that we met at a park with our children rather than at a bar, coffee shop or restaurant . . .

One of my old college friends is a member of Truro Church, the congregation that is leaving The Episcopal Church over the denomination’s liberal theology and practice, particularly in regards to sexuality matters.  In telling me about her church, she emphatically stated that members of Truro Church are not homophobes, but rather that they are leaving The Episcopal Church because "it has gotten out of hand."  She cited Bishop Spong’s refutation of the Nicene Creed, the case of an Episcopal priest claiming to be both Christian and Muslim, and the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop.  Which got me to thinking . . .

What does it mean to be in a denomination, to be in communion with others?  And, what are communion-breaking issues?  What would it take for me to leave the ELCA?  Would bad theology by a bishop or pastor make me want to leave?  What about a bishop’s sexuality?  There’s plenty of bad theology and surely there’s a variety of sexualities in our church, and yet I’m still here . . .

Of course, the obvious answer is this – I’d leave my church if I believed the proclamation of the Gospel were at stake.  That’s what the Seminex guys – my internship pastor included – did in St Louis back in the 70’s.  But contra the Truro folks, I’m not sure that the Gospel is obscured when it is proclaimed by a gay bishop, but I concede that it might be obscured when butchered by a straight bishop who wonders out loud if anything in the Bible is actually true and thinks Jesus was little more than a champion of social liberal causes.

What do you think?  What does it mean to be in a denomination, to be in communion with others?  And what are communion-breaking issues?

Published by Lutheran Zephyr

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

10 thoughts on “What are the communion-breaking issues?

  1. Having hung with a lot of seminex profs when I was in seminary, I find the two hard to compare. But of course, I agree with the seminex folks! They gave up their homes, their jobs, their pensions because they felt that their denomination was ignoring the very premises that led to the start of the Lutheran church.
    Perhaps that’s how the Truro church feels, I don’t know.

  2. I am a member of the EPC, we broke away from the PC(USA) for the very reason as what your friend stated. In fact, we are getting ready to accept several other churches into the EPC who are breaking away from the PC(USA) as we speak. When I joined I didn’t think a lot about it, but now that I am seeing it happen I am not sure how I feel.

  3. That is a good question and in all honesty a question I can not answer, I mean what do you do? Depart for another denomination leaving more division amongst the universal church?
    Yeah, I don’t know.

  4. Chris,
    You stated “I’d leave my church if I believed the proclamation of the Gospel were at stake”
    Can you further elaborate on this? To what extent do you mean?

  5. JP –
    This is a very good question, and my statement, “I’d leave my church if I believed the proclamation of the Gospel were at stake” is very imprecise. There are two questions –
    1) to what extent would I leave my Lutheran denomination because I felt it wasn’t being sufficiently Lutheran?
    Some congregations have left the ELCA and others are considering leaving for this reason. Surely most of these folks wouldn’t go so far as to say that the ELCA is no longer Christian, but they might say that we are no longer sufficiently Lutheran. So, is Lutheran-ness a break-away issue? Probably not for me. With our congregational polity where denominational policies, practices and proclamations have little direct impact on parish life, I can’t imagine a plausable scenario where I would leave the ELCA because it was failing to be Lutheran. (For example, I don’t see the ELCA moving in a direction of denying Real Presence, embracing a celibacy requirement, or teaching that the work of salvation is a partnership between God and man – changes such as these might push me to look elsewhere for a church home.)
    2) to what extent would I leave my denomination if I believe the proclamation of the Gospel were at stake?
    This was probably an overly-dramatic statement, as I am having a hard time imagining such a situation in our church today. I admit to being uneasy with some of the disorder in The Episcopal Church – and we Lutherans value order as a groundwork for Gospel proclamation – but I’m not sure that I would leave the ELCA if it were suffering from a similar disorder, for the same polity reasons I mentioned above.
    I basically agree with, am comfortable in, and accept the ELCA constitution and statements to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel and Lutheran tradition. Perhaps the way we execute and engage these teachings and polity isn’t practiced well enough – that is, perhaps I disagree with some of the things that happen within this structure – but I still like the structure and framework that the ELCA provides for being a Church of Jesus Christ. For that reason I’d rather remain within the ELCA than break away from it.
    But of course, I don’t see the ELCA doing anything anytime soon that would inspire me to jump ship. We’re in a season of sexuality statements and ecumenical agreements. These policies – while perhaps not always well-conceived – are not the kind of thing that will cause me to leave home.

  6. I think embracing an Arian Christology or Unitarian understanding of the Godhead would do it for me…these matters are for me deeply rooted in who the Gospel, Jesus Christ, is for us. What concerns me is that we don’t take consideration of bishops who teach contrary to what is considered basic to my tradition as summed up in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. I wouldn’t presume as a layperson to teach thusly and I find it troubling that on essentials a bishop would do so. But we also have a long tradition of tolerating the wonky and wacky. Were the wonky and the wacky to show up in a revised bcp thusly, I would have to leave, however–it’s the closest thing to a Confession we have.
    I work at a Lutheran seminary, my partner is a Lutheran pastor, and it’s interesting to me that the ground of Jesus is at the heart of matters for Lutherans. You folks aren’t afraid of the Bible, Law and Gospel, or talking theology. The Lutheran penchant for dialectic is a cleansing of the perceptions for the rest of us.

  7. So what does cause you to leave home, LZ?
    I think this might be akin to the question, “Would you stay married if your spouse was unfaithful?” A lot of couples that I have asked this question to in premarital counseling think that they know the answer. In reality, a lot of them don’t know. It isn’t until the fidelity is breached that we really know for sure if we are capable of forgiveness or if we need to say “Finished!” Until we’re facing the breach we don’t know whether we are capable of rebuilding the relationship.
    I suspect that the same is true of whether one would ever leave the church/denomination. Until you face the breach in fidelity- a breach which truly makes a difference to you- you may never know for sure.

  8. What a good question … and a difficult one to answer. As I thought about it, it helped me to think “what would cause me leave a local congregation?” Thinking about it that way, about who I would or would not be willing to stay in local communion with, helped me to clarify who I would stay in wider communion with.
    In short, the communion breaking issue for me is adherence to the creed. If a congregation, or a denomination, decided to abandon the historic faith of the creeds, I would feel compelled to leave. We can disagree about many things, and I don’t feel the need for it to break communion. But the creeds are the coundation of all else that we do.

  9. revhrod hits the nail on the head with the marriage/divorce analogy. i thought i wouldn’t get divorced, that we could work through anything, until “anything” happened it ended. i think this is the way it is for alot of folks in the church. they won’t know what will cause them to leave until it happens.

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