The Same Gift — Differently
I commend you for the new section in Lutheran Partners
edited by Stephanie Frey. The stories she collects have been excellent additions to your magazine!
I want to comment on the [submission] you received from David Van Kley (“Sacramental Welcome,” Nov./Dec. 2008). He talked about his discovery that he had probably communed scores of people who had never been baptized, which violates good Lutheran order. When I was a young theology professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary, I discovered a formula which I found extremely helpful. It goes like this: Word and Sacrament give the same gift, differently. Each of our means of grace offers to the believer the same gift of Jesus Christ. Holy Baptism offers us Jesus just once! This speaks to the confidence that our faith is anchored in a one-time event and will not change. The Eucharist offers us Jesus on a ongoing basis which is bread for our journey through life. The Word of God is available to us daily as “the cradle of Christ,” as Martin Luther so aptly taught us.
Pastor Kley has discovered that, especially in our multicultural context, many people might well come to our table as their first encounter with the love of God in Jesus Christ. As we go forth in mission to people of a variety of cultures and even religions, let us remember that it does not matter how Jesus Christ comes first to peoples. It may be through the Word. It may be at the Table. It may be in the water of Baptism. What is important is that Christ comes — not the means of his coming!
Apple Valley, Minnesota
The lack of specificity in the Pastoral Letter of October 7, 2008, from the Conference of Bishops of the ELCA regarding the current financial crisis renders the message ineffective and counter-productive. It’s a “feel good” communication.
The letter is ineffective because it speaks in generalities about which there is little or no disagreement. The Bible, the Constitution of the ELCA, our social statements, and our book of worship are essential resources for shaping our response to political, economic, and social issues. But they provide no specific counsel regarding the current financial crisis we face. The Pastoral Letter ends where it should begin.
The letter is counter-productive because it gives the impression that a call to action is being proposed. The lack of such a call lulls us into the stance of a sideline observer. We watch the world go by instead of acting as a conscience to our nation and the world, thereby being an active participant in shaping our common destiny.
The Conference of Bishops could help members of the ELCA fulfill their role in society by taking a more forceful prophetic stance. Granted that this is risky; but, it is much better to be wrong than to be silent. Come on, Conference of Bishops. Become a little bit bolder!
North Richland Hills, Texas
I have written enough times through the years. After all, at my age I have discovered that few who followed my suggestions or even lived by them have managed to survive life as long as I. It does get lonely. I indicated in earlier correspondence that among my classmates and friends, almost all have already passed on. And yes, Jim Graefe (a former New York bishop) was one of my classmates, as were Frank D. Fry, Bill Lazareth, and my weekly communicator, Jack Reumann.
I was not as capable as Jack so I often modified my suggested views. My last promise was that I planned to hold out with his concepts of the church. One of the matters I could not quite get was the sudden interest in changed patterns of worship, unknown in my earlier days (although in Central Pennsylvania it existed, but not in the Ministerium of Pennsylvania).
One Roman parish in my town broadcasts its Mass on Sundays. I feel great about it, when my body no longer permits me to get to my church. How comparable to our own [services] following the basic — as I was taught — skeletal formation of the Mass. Our own new worship book gives approval to our comparable versions. At this time to suggest wild changes just to do them seems neither reasonable nor duty bound to the Lord. We do not create but I believe we serve.
Praise be God for efforts to make the way of Jesus Christ our own. But it does get mixed up with so many changing TV programs nowadays, as to what Christianity is about.
I have noticed in numbers of congregations, the addition of some new things brought in with a great group of more recent Lutherans (of any nationality; my own household is a mix). And to become a closer-knit, more responsive kind of Christianity without destroying basic worship tradition is important.
So, my continuing [emphasis] about the importance of knowing what Lutheran Christianity is, I hope will have made some kind of an impact. I am happy that an attempt is made and taken seriously!
William E. Dennis
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