'Praying in Their Midst'

Under what circumstances is it appropriate for Christians to worship or pray with non-Christians?

Two pastors in the 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) have accused denomination president Gerald B. Kieschnick of promoting syncretism and unionism. They say he should be stripped of the presidency and expelled as a member.

This is the most publicized incident in a rising debate over prayer with other faiths, but it is not the only one. The September 11 terrorist attacks spurred an increase of unity services and interfaith events—leaving many to question the limits of religious unity.

Kieschnick, the LCMS president since September 8, supported a pastor's participation in an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium. Accusers say this promoted syncretism, the blending of elements from different religions.

Days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, Kieschnick toured Ground Zero. Afterward, he prayed at a Manhattan church with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) clergy. The two LCMS pastors say this action was a display of unionism, the practice of Christian groups worshiping together as if their doctrines were the same.

Evangelical theologians and leaders contacted by Christianity Today were not hesitant to support Christians praying with believers of other denominations.

Syncretism and prayer

"If they believe that the Bible is God's Word and Jesus died for our sins, specific labels are irrelevant," said James Merritt, Southern Baptist Convention president.

"My decision to participate in saying prayers and singing hymns with ELCA pastors was an appropriate decision," Kieschnick told Christianity Today this week. "My support of a pastor's decision to pray at the Yankee Stadium event was also an appropriate decision. They were appropriate because they reflect the position of the LCMS."

The denomination ...

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