Check one:

□ The Lutheran Church in America is moving toward greater unity with other Lutheran bodies in the United States.

□ The LCA is rapidly pulling away from its more conservative sister Lutheran churches in this country.

□ The LCA is moving toward greater unity with Roman Catholics and certain liberal, non-Lutheran Protestant denominations.

Answer: Probably all three are correct, judging from action taken at the LCA’s fifth biennial convention in Minneapolis June 25–July 2.

The 695 delegates representing the 3.2 million members of the nation’s largest and most liberal Lutheran church: shattered a tradition in American Lutheranism by overwhelmingly voting to allow the ordination of women; appeared by mid-convention to be moving toward the adoption of a liberal position statement on sex, marriage, and the family that would be the first such document officially approved by a major denomination acknowledging that under exceptional circumstances sexual relations outside legal marriage may not be sinful; became the first of the three major Lutheran bodies in the United States to approve a far-reaching report on confirmation that departs from tradition by allowing communion for children before the rite of confirmation; and heard a report endorsed by a team of ten Lutheran and ten Catholic theologians expected to signal a breakthrough in ecumenical relations because it could lead to intercommunion between the two faiths for the first time since the Reformation.

Further, in authorizing a commission to analyze the function of the LCA’s structure, the convention provided that the study is to be coordinated with similar studies in the Lutheran bodies. (The Church Council of the American Lutheran Church, meeting the week before the LCA convention, proposed that the ALC, the LCA, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod develop common organizational structures or administrative lines that would lend themselves easily to joint activities.)

That decision and the one permitting the ordination of women are likely to be viewed favorably by the ALC when it holds its national convention in San Antonio this fall (the ALC Church Council voted 24 to 4 in favor of the ordination of women; the convention will vote on the matter in San Antonio).

But the trends within the LCA apparent at Minneapolis during one of the hottest June weeks on record will doubtless distress many within the Missouri Synod Lutheran church—the most conservative of the three.

The vote on ordination, approved quickly after short debate and with only several baritone “nays,” drew immediate fire from Dr. Jacob A. O. Preus, president of Missouri Synod. Preus, who awaited the verdict in the hall of the auditorium, told reporters that he was surprised by the lack of opposition to the move, and that he felt it would be “detrimental” to inter-Lutheran unity.It wasn’t until July, 1969, at its convention in Denver, that the Missouri Synod granted woman’s suffrage in the church. Preus indicated that the Missouri Synod probably would discuss ordination of women at its 1971 convention but not vote on it.

Article continues below

There are already several women candidates for the ministry enrolled in LCA seminaries, and at least one could be ordained this year, according to an official. Ordination of women has been permitted in several European Lutheran churches for some time, and Presbyterians and Methodists, among other American denominations, ordain women.

The Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue report caused the Reverend John Reuman, a Lutheran theologian and a member of the dialogue team, to remark: “It’s been said facetiously that Lutherans and Catholics could have intercommunion before all Lutherans could.”

The LCA and the ALC have declared pulpit and altar fellowship allowing intercommunion. Last year the Missouri Synod approved pulpit and altar fellowship with the ALC, after that body had approved it, but the relationship does not exist between the Missouri Synod and the LCA.

The Lutheran-Catholic dialogue report was made by a Catholic theologian who is an authority on Martin Luther, Dr. Harry McSorley, currently a visiting professor in Toronto, and Dr. Warren A. Quanbeck, professor at the Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

McSorley said it is now “theologically possible and ecumenically desirable” for the Catholic Church to recognize the validity of Lutheran ordination. The dialogue report is not yet complete, he added, but he intimated that it would be ready for discussion by the nation’s Catholic bishops at their November meeting in Washington, D. C.

The traditional Catholic view has been that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament within the Lutheran church because Lutheran priests are not validly ordained by a bishop in the historic episcopal succession. But, said McSorley, “although ordination of ministers of the Eucharist by bishops was the almost universal practice in the Church from very early times, it is impossible to show that such a church order existed … from the earliest times.”

“Furthermore,” he continued, “there have been several well-documented cases during the Church’s history in which priests—not bishops—have ordained other priests to serve at the altar.” He added that Vatican II refused to accept a report of some 100 bishops who contended that Protestant Christians “simply do not have the true sacrament of the Eucharist because the ordinations of their ministers are defective.”

Article continues below

The consensus of the dialogue team is that Lutheran-Catholic intercommunion could take place in “pastoral emergencies.” Quanbeck and McSorley agreed, however, that full communion between the two bodies would not be an immediate consequence of this new recognition.

The statement on sex, marriage, and family evoked lively debate, and several amendments were introduced before final voting. The statement is akin to study papers recently introduced by the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ. Spokesmen said that while information had “passed freely” among drafters of the three papers, the LCA statement was written independently.

The LCA statement begins theologically but lets situation ethics determine the rightness or wrongness of sexual acts. The section on marriage stresses a “covenant of fidelity—a dynamic, lifelong commitment of one man and one woman in a personal and sexual union.” The statement also recognizes the need of the sanction of civil law or marriage, but notes that it is not a complete criterion for marriage: “The marital union can be legally valid yet not be a covenant of fidelity, just as it can be a covenant of fidelity and not be legal contract.” An amendment added: “The existence of a true covenant of fidelity outside marriage as a legal contract is extremely hard to identify.”

The statement: does not condemn homosexual expression but does recognize it as “a deviation from … God’s creation”; approves abortion; says that in divorce and remarriage the church should be concerned with the “potential” of a new marriage; affirms that there is “no theological reason for opposing a marriage between persons of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.”

Dr. Robert J. Marshall, 50, of New York, was reelected to a four-year term as president of the denomination on the first ballot. Marshall was first elected LCA president in 1968 to fill the unexpired term of the late Franklin Clark Fry, the first president of the LCA, which officially emerged as a denomination in 1962. Also reelected on the first ballot was treasurer Carl M. Anderson of Rahway, New Jersey.

Article continues below

In his president’s report, Marshall noted that disagreement over social issues had brought a “complete switch” within Lutheranism in a century’s time: “Some Lutherans who wish to consider themselves as conservative tend to align with revivalism rather than with the Lutheran Confessions [while] … those who want to consider themselves as liberals may align with social-action projects of other denominations.…”


A Reformed Pact

Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the International Congregational Council released the wording of an “act of covenant” which will merge the two groups into a new structure. The formal union is to take place on August 20 in Nairobi, Kenya. The resulting organization is to be known as the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

The text of the covenant is as follows: “We, the representatives of Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in all the corners of the earth, holding the word of God given in the Bible to be the ultimate authority in matters of faith and life, acknowledging Jesus Christ as head of the church, and rejoicing in our fellowship with the whole church, covenant together to seek in all things the mind of Christ, to make common witness to His gospel, to serve His purpose in all the world, and, in order to be better equipped for the tasks He lays upon us, to form this day the new World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Lord, keep us faithful to yourself and to our fellowmen. Amen.”

Conservative (Progressive) Baptists

Conservative Baptists heard one speaker at their annual meetings last month at San Jose, California, suggest: “Let’s be progressively conservative.” Delegates seemed agreeable enough.

They toned down a law and order amendment. While opposing violence, they asked for understanding of “those who riot” and for the relating of the Gospel to them. Delegates also opted for “biblical” rather than “unstinted” loyalty to government leaders. They also decided to censure President Nixon for his appointment of a Vatican representative. And they unanimously approved a floor resolution calling for greater involvement of “younger men” at policy making levels. After emotionally charged appeals from young delegates, they also turned down a move by some critics to vote disapproval of a convention youth musical program.

The delegates started machinery to merge their home and foreign mission units. Both groups showed progress. Last year’s income was $1.6 million for home missions (100 missionaries), $3.5 for the foreign agency (478 missionaries).

Article continues below


Christian Reformed: A Classis In Contempt?

The 1970 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church indicted its Classis Chicago North for failure “to bring its policy and practice into harmony” with the denomination’s race policy. A 1968 decision declared that no persecution or disadvantage to self or institution warrants the denial to any of the church’s members of full church fellowship and full privilege of the church’s related schools because of race or color.

The 1970 ruling was a response to an appeal from the Lawndale Christian Reformed Church, which arose out of mission efforts among Chicago’s blacks. For five years the all-black congregation had tried unsuccessfully to enroll its children in Timothy Christian School in nearby Cicero. The board of Timothy had repeatedly refused admittance on the ground that racism in Cicero would bring violence on pupils and buildings. The church membership of board members—though not the board as such—is within the disciplinary jurisdiction of Classis Chicago North.

The 1970 decision that “failure to comply will cause Classis Chicago North to be considered in contempt of Synod and in open disregard of the judgment of the Church of Jesus Christ” was adopted by a 120-to-20 vote in a secret ballot. It came after four hours of discussion in which the delegates were warned that if black children enter Timothy Christian school in all-white Cicero “the people of Cicero will not hesitate to bomb it.”

The 148 delegates from the United States and Canada, meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 9–20, rejected a request that the denomination’s blanket exclusion of lodge members from church membership be altered to leave the question to the decision of each congregation. The Synod did recognize, however, that some of its longheld objections are no longer valid and appointed a study committee to formulate its anti-lodge position more adequately.

In a significant decision, approval was granted to the formation of a Calvin Graduate Studies Association, a corporation that will offer graduate degrees in various fields. Although independent, the Graduate Association will supplement denominationally owned Calvin College, which offers no advanced degrees.

Recognizing the realities of homosexuality, the Synod set up a committee to study the matter in an effort to help the church formulate a definitive position.

A request from a youth group of the church to address the Synod during its official sessions was rejected. The students in turn rejected the proffered permission to speak in the student commons to those delegates who cared to hear an after-dinner speech. It had been ruled that no delegate was obligated to remain to listen.

Article continues below

Through its fraternal delegate to the Synod, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church warned that its relationship to the CRC might break off if the CRC did not arrest its liberal tendencies. One such liberal tendency mentioned was the “propriety of even considering affiliation with the World Council of Churches.” The Synod expressed its own concern in a letter to its sister church, De Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands, over that church’s easy tolerance of such views of Scripture as those taught by the Dutch theologian H. M. Kuitert. One delegate pointed out to the OPC fraternal delegate that the CRC also had its concerns and pleaded for OPC patience.

In other actions the Synod: elected the Reverend Henry De Mots of Chicago Synod president, denied candidacy to a Calvin Seminary graduate more for his Pentecostal views than for his practice of such views; chose the Reverend William P. Brink to succeed Dr. Ralph Danhof as stated clerk; and appointed Dr. Melvin Hugen of Honolulu to teach pastoral psychology at Calvin Seminary.

On the second time around, Dr. Dewey Hoitenga was appointed guest lecturer in ethics at Calvin Seminary. Hoitenga, a pacifist, is committed to the search for a Reformed peace witness.


Paisley Does It Again

Of the forty candidates contesting the Northern Irish constituencies,” said a commentator just before Britain’s elections last month, “at least half have no business in the twentieth century, far less the House of Commons.” The electors of Antrim North made their own comment on that when Ian Paisley, Protestant Unionist, again beat the party machine and won the right to represent them in the Westminster parliament. His three colleagues (one each in Ulster, England, and Scotland) fared rather less well and averaged only 10 per cent of the poll.

When the result was announced, Paisley postponed the traditional courtesies to election officials by first giving thanks to Almighty God. At Westminster he will join the Roman Catholic Bernadette Devlin, who, to her own admitted surprise, was reelected for Mid Ulster with an increased majority. The confrontation was delayed when her appeal against a six-month jail sentence for her part in Londonderry riots was dismissed. Her imprisonment touched off a new wave of riots in Ulster.

Article continues below

Paisley’s triumph was only one in a night of surprises as votes were counted in the 630 seats. Opinion polls had given Conservative leader Edward HeathHeath served as news editor of the Anglican Church Times in 1948–49. as little chance as they had given Harry Truman in 1948; sitting premier Harold Wilson, 55-year-old pipe-smoking Yorkshire economist, had romped jocularly through the campaign as though it were a formality.

Instead of a renewed mandate for Labour, however, voters gave the Conservatives a thirty-seat overall majority in the legislature. Ironically the last result, from the far-flung Western Isles of Scotland where Calvinism is still a formidable force, rejected both the incumbent who had served them for thirty-five years and his Tory opponent in favor of a Scottish Nationalist. In the lowlands a Free Kirk minister, representing the same party, achieved a mere 6 per cent of the votes.

Generally the small parties did badly. Liberals lost more than half their Commons members. Communist support, never great, continued to decline, and nowhere obtained more than ludicrous results; in what was formerly their most promising constituency (West Fife) their votes amounted to less than 3 per cent.

It was no night for independents either. Colin Jordan, leader of the Nazi-style British Movement, failed miserably in Birmingham. In a neighboring district a spinster lady with the label “Independent for Jesus and His Cross” did only fractionally better. Pop idol Screaming Lord Sutch, making his third attempt at a time when eighteen-year-olds had just been given the vote, gathered a paltry 142 votes.


Covenant Church: Smooth Sailing?

Sailing through volatile issues in a “very healthy interchange” among older and younger delegates, the Evangelical Covenant Church of America approved four resolutions on Christian social action and elected Dr. Lloyd C. Ahlem of Turlock, California, to the presidency of North Park College at its annual meeting there in Chicago.

Ahlem, head of the psychology department at Stanislaus State College, succeeds Dr. Karl A. Olsson, who resigned after 10 years as president to become director of leadership training for Faith at Work, in New York.

Representatives of the 68,000-member church issued two resolutions reaffirming their “anguish over the continuation and expansion of the war” in Indochina and encouraging “all belligerents” in it to conform to the Geneva agreements concerning prisoners of war.

Article continues below

The validity of both conscientious objection to war and conscientious objection to a particular war were upheld in a statement expressing support for any of its members who hold such convictions. The Reverend Clifford W. Bjorklund, secretary of the church, declared that this does not mean denominational approval of selective conscientious objection.

Two resolutions encouraging environmental stewardship and caution in the use of drugs and alcohol were adopted also.

In other decisions, a Sunday was set for an appeal for funds for black Covenant members, and 300 acres of land no longer being used were voted to be returned to Indians of the Thlinket village near Yukatat, Alaska. A program of combined evangelistic and social action was initiated, making September through December, 1970, a special period dedicated to emphasizing these concerns.

Southern Presbyterians: Cooler In Memphis

During the first business session of the 110th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S., the retiring moderator, Dr. R. Matthew Lynn of Midland, Texas, was given a gavel and plaque in recognition of his service. The plaque had been broken in shipment. “This,” teased the new moderator, Dr. William A. Benfield Jr. of Charleston, West Virginia, “is symbolic of the church you passed on to me.”

“I hope you have greater success than I did in putting the church back together,” Dr. Lynn responded.

Big “Benny” Benfield—he’s six feet four—apparently did. Unlike the 1969 assembly at Mobile, Alabama, where arguments got acrimonious, this year’s six-day meeting in Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee, was characterized by heated words but not by bitter feelings. “There is no yielding on the part of either wing of the church, but there is improved understanding,” conservative spokesman Dr. Robert Strong of Montgomery, Alabama, reflected after adjournment. And much of the credit goes to Benfield, commissioners of all camps agreed, for his fairness as presiding officer.

The issue to which many commissioners devoted round-the-clock attention up until the moment it was settled—for now—was a proposed restructuring of the church’s fifteen synods into eight larger synods. Most of the present synods are statewide governing units. By a vote of 213 to 203, after nearly three hours of debate, the assembly put off a decision on restructure until 1971.

So crucial was the issue that many ultra-conservatives had said they would start a withdrawal from the 953,000-member denomination if synod restructure was implemented this year.

Article continues below

Many saw the need for larger synod units for more effective operation of the church. The objection was to alleged inequities in the proposed plan that some opponents contended would strengthen the so-called liberal camp’s control of judicatories. For instance, the proposal would have given the 24,000 Southern Presbyterians in Missouri or the 32,000 in Kentucky more votes in the General Assembly than 42,000 in Alabama or South Carolina’s 71,000.

The assembly returned the restructuring matter to a special committee for “restudy in its entirety,” for further consultation with individuals, local congregations, presbyteries, and synods, and for resubmission to next year’s General Assembly at Massanetta Springs, Virginia.

Other issues that generated considerable debate were abortion and drinking.

“Willful termination of pregnancy by medical means on the considered decision of a pregnant woman may on occasion be morally justifiable,” the assembly decided. A paper prepared by the denomination’s Council on Church and Society noted, “There is no consensus in the Christian community about when human life begins,” and emphasized that the rights of the mother, her family, and society, as well as the rights of the fetus, should be considered in each case.

Possible justifying circumstances, the assembly said, would include the “socio-economic condition” of the family (which apparently meant a state of poverty in which another child would be a financial burden), medical indications of physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, and conditions under which the physical or mental health of either mother or child would be threatened. At one point, the “socio-economic” reason nearly was knocked out by the assembly.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.