How do rites of social and fraternal societies relate to Lutheran liturgical practice, especially funerals?
Lutheran tradition and practice suggests that the rituals or tributes of social or fraternal societies be carried out separate from the order for the Burial of the Dead. It is acknowledged that some members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as individuals, may hold membership in such societies and fraternities. It is acknowledged that many of the aforementioned societies and fraternities include within their charters and membership rituals elements of religious belief and practice that may have Christian overtones. However, the liturgical ministry of the church to its members should not be confused or commingled with the rituals of social and fraternal societies. The separation of the church’s liturgical ministry from the rituals and tributes of social and fraternal societies does not invoke judgment (either negative or positive) upon the purposes, character, or social value of such organizations, or upon congregants who may hold membership in them.
The clear separation of the liturgical ministry of the church from the rituals and tributes of such organizations indicates that such organizations are nonchurch; therefore, their ceremonies belong in nonchurch contexts. Many nonchurch societies perform much needed social service work and engage in other salutary activities that may resonate with the gospel. However, the direct proclamation of the gospel via Word and Sacraments is the domain of the church.
The Augsburg Confession defines the church as "the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel" (Augsburg Confession, article 7). Any ritual apart from the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments is inappropriate within the liturgies of the church. The liturgical ministries of the church (baptism, eucharist, marriage, burial, confession and forgiveness, and the anointing of the sick) are forms of gospel proclamation that witness to members and the world.
When Burial of the Dead takes place for a church member who held membership in a social or fraternal society, the symbols of the society or fraternity should not be displayed in the church nave. This principle applies only to free-standing decorative symbols (not those worn by persons) that are intended to adorn the sanctuary in some manner. This does not prohibit members of the society or fraternity from attending the burial, nor does it prohibit the wearing of societal or fraternal symbols by societal or fraternal members in attendance.
As the church sanctuary is the primary physical locus for gospel proclamation, permitting social or fraternal ceremonies to use the sanctuary, even apart from the liturgical rites of the church, is not recommended.
The ELCA statement on ecumenism calls for cooperation (where possible) between the ELCA and other Christian churches and recognized world religious faiths. Some Lutheran congregations share facilities with or rent space to Christian congregations of other denominations and to gatherings of worshipers from other religious faiths and traditions (for example, Jews and Moslems). Because the other groups have clear, distinct, and recognized identities as communities of religious faith, they should not be restricted by the same guidelines that apply to secular societies or fraternities.