Curious things happen whenever "ecumenism" and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod1 are mentioned in the same breath. Eyebrows are raised. Laughter, registering everything from incredulity and sarcasm to exasperation and unease, can be heard. Invariable someone utters some form of "Now, I've got to hear that!"
Even more curious is the fact that often these reactions arise from within the Synod's own membership. The topic of this paper, "The Ecumenical Agenda of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod," produced some rather interesting reactions. One individual was astonished. "You mean there actually is an ecumenical agenda?" Another provided the gentle reminder that, unless the conference was considering composer John Cage, a blank sheet of paper would hardly qualify as acceptable, although it might be eminently readable. Still another posed the intriguing question, "How many ways can you find to say the word 'No'?"
Humorous as all this is, these reactions are telling. While they are, in no way representative of the warp and woof of the synod, they do evidence a set of internal perceptions held by some. This includes clergy as well as laity. Keep in mind that every voice which produced a knee jerk reaction typical to those evidenced above also went on to affirm an interest in the topic, judging it a tale needing to be told not only outside the synod but especially within it. The synod's own membership needs to know. This includes more than the so called "final product" when it votes in convention regarding an altar and pulpit relationship with a given church body. It needs also to know the guiding agenda, one which, in view of the synod's theology, evidences a great deal of consistency, and is broader in its reach than one might initially suspect.
Since Lutherans regard all teaching as public and ultimately doxological, the synod's agenda with regard to ecumenical endeavors is not a deep, dark secret hidden away from the masses. The data is available. The issue becomes one of access. Fortunately in this electronic age, all the sources which will be examined concerning this topic are available on the Internet.2 They include the synod's constitution and bylaws, as well as the reports of the synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
The latter commission requires some explanation. Its title is self-explanatory, but its parameters are wide reaching. The synod's bylaws state that:
The Commission on Theology and Church Relations exists to assist the President of the synod in matters of church relationships and to assist congregations in achieving the objectives of Art. III, 1 and 6, of the Constitution of the synod.3
The referenced objectives from Article III of the synod's Constitution are as follows:
The Synod, under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, shall:
1. Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3-6; 1 Cor. 1:10), work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy;
6. Aid congregations by providing a variety of resources and opportunities for recognizing, promoting, expressing, conserving, and defending their confessional unity in the true faith;4
Achieving these objectives puts a lot on the commission's plate, especially as it seeks to provide guidance to the synod on topics which are as seemingly divergent as ecumenism, issues of marriage, family, sexuality, and all the other social and ethical issues confronting Christians in every congregation and denomination. While it is ultimately the synod in national convention which decides whether to enter into full altar and pulpit fellowship with a given body,5 it does so only after the commission has registered its own approval of the matter.6
That the commission generates reports regarding a number of topics has been noted above, but what status or function do these reports have within the synod? …