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[LCMSNews] CTCR adopts civic-events guidelines
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April 28, 2004 .................... LCMSNews -- No. 42
CTCR adopts civic-events guidelines
By David L. Mahsman
"Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events," the product of
an assignment sparked by questions raised following a post-9/11 event in
New York's Yankee Stadium, was completed and adopted last month by the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
The CTCR at its April 19-21 meeting also adopted "A Lutheran
Response to the 'Left Behind' Series," which the commission's executive
director, Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, predicts will be "the most popular
report we've done."
Both documents were a result of assignments from Synod President
Although Kieschnick asked the CTCR for civic-event guidelines in
November 2001, only two months after Atlantic District President David
Benke took part in "A Prayer for America" at Yankee Stadium, the
commission was clear that it is not rendering a judgment on that event
or Benke's part in it. To look at the guidelines in light of such past
events, it says, "would be a misuse of this document."
"The CTCR wishes to move beyond these events and it offers these
guidelines as a way of promoting unity in practice within our Synod in
the future," it says.
The document opens by quoting from the "Cases of Discretion"
section of a report to the 2001 Synod convention on Synodwide study of
"The Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship." The convention
adopted the 2001 report "for continued use and guidance." The commission
says the new guidelines are "based on the guidance offered in" the
"Cases of Discretion" section of that report.
Before offering six guidelines, the commission discusses the
complexity of "civic events," a pastor's responsibilities, the exclusive
claims of Christianity, Lutheran "two-kingdom" theology, and the
temptation of syncretism in American culture today.
The six guidelines address the sponsorship of an event, its
purpose or purposes, public perceptions, public prayer as intercession,
public prayer as Christian witness, and synodical commitments.
If a civic event involves joint prayer or worship with
non-Christians, LCMS pastors "obviously" may not participate, the
guidelines say. Christians may not join in prayer to an "unnamed" or
"composite" god, they add, and should not give the impression "that
people can pray to the Triune God apart from genuine repentance and
faith in Jesus Christ."
More complicated, the guidelines continue, "is the question of
participation in events at which religious leaders of various faiths
bear public witness to their distinctive beliefs through prayer,
readings, and a message or address." Participation may provide an
opportunity to witness to Christ, or it might imply approval of
"syncretistic and relativistic perspectives" common in American culture.
"Given the realities, challenges, needs and opportunities that
exist in our present culture, this may well be an irresolvable tension,"
the CTCR says.
It continues that commission members disagree about "so-called
'serial' or 'seriatim' prayers involving representatives of different
religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches." Some
members believe it's never OK for pastors to take part in events where
Christian and/or non-Christian clergy "take turns" offering prayer. But
the majority, it says, believes such participation may be possible "as
long as certain conditions are met" -- such as when its purpose is
predominantly civic; it is not conducted as a "service," in the LCMS
understanding of the term; no restrictions are placed on a Christian
witness; and it's clear that participants do not share the same
Two commission members voted against the document and gave
notice that they intend to submit a minority opinion, Nafzger said.
"When it comes to an issue as fraught with complexity, diversity
and fluidity as 'civic events in America,' there is simply no way to
develop guidelines to answer all questions and to resolve all problems,"
the CTCR concludes. For the guidelines to be of service to the church
and to synodical unity, it adds, "Christian charity must prevail hand in
hand with confessional clarity."
Nafzger said plans are for the guidelines to be mailed by May 10
to congregations, rostered church workers and convention lay delegates.
They also will be posted on the Web at www.lcms.org/ctcr
Just in time for release of the latest -- and allegedly last --
book in the best-selling "Left Behind" series, the CTCR is providing "a
"To be sure, awareness of such end-times topics as the
millennium, the rapture, the antichrist and Armageddon has been
heightened through these books," the commission says. "Yet the ideas
expressed in the Left Behind series are in many ways contrary to the
teaching of Holy Scripture."
The new CTCR document focuses on the theological framework
underlying the "Left Behind" series -- premillennial dispensationalism.
"While the series intends and attempts to point people to Christ
alone for salvation, its preoccupation with the rapture and tribulation
and earthly reign distracts from the chief message of the apostles:
'Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach
Christ crucified' (1 Cor. 1:22-23)," the commission says.
The document is written in a way intended to be easily
accessible to laypeople, Lutheran or not, who are familiar with the
books and have questions about them.
The commission says pastors and other church workers can use the
document to become familiar with the theology behind the book series, to
review Lutheran teaching on the end times, and to answer questions. It
adds that it "could easily be adapted for use in a Bible class or
discussion group for those who wish to investigate this topic in a more
The response to the "Left Behind" series is to be mailed by
early June to congregations and rostered church workers. It, too, will
be posted on the CTCR's Web site.
If you have questions or comments about this LCMSNews release,
contact Joe Isenhower Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 996-1231,
or Paula Schlueter Ross at email@example.com or (314) 996-1230.
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