The Church is divided. This is not news. Especially since the Reformation, the Church has not been able to speak with one voice. In America there exist hundreds of denominations and independent churches that can boggle the mind.
How does this fact affect our witness? Doctrines vary from one church body to another. Confusion among the unconverted is not hard to imagine. So, what can we do?
Ecumenically, we must align ourselves with the churches that come closest to our form of Christianity. What is that form? The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a Scripture-centered church that takes the classical, post-apostolic period seriously. That is, we share the faith of the church of those early centuries whose dedication to the Holy Scriptures was defended by the Church Fathers and proclaimed by the ecumenical councils that met at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. Add to these the following three councils to make seven. We are creedal, for we treasure the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds with the addition of the Athanasian Creed, a symbol only of the Western Church.
Our worship is traditional, developing out of the first century into the following centuries. The liturgy has a certain shape. But, the elements of divine worship are further developed in the following centuries through the Reformation and up to the present day, especially in hymnody.
What all of this means is that we are most closely aligned with the mother churches, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, along with the Anglican Communion. This perspective does not leave out other churches that share the same orthodox faith. All orthodox Christian churches proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and share certain doctrines, like that of the Holy Trinity. This is certainly a common witness.
We are to respect the witness of other churches and work with them as much as we can. If we are asked to explain the difference between Christian churches we are to do so respectfully. We also need to point out those church bodies that go beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. When we witness to Christ, we are also testifying to the doctrine of the Church–that body of teaching that is expressed in creeds and confessions.
The Church will continue to witness in the midst of division. We have done so for many centuries and will continue to do so. It adds difficulty to our mission but is expedient under the present circumstances. While we witness to the world, we continue to make every effort to heal the wounds of past centuries within the Church itself.
Michael G. Tavella
January 28, 2022
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Teacher, 1274