Union and Schism

There is a way of speaking that expresses things that are not necessarily true at the time, but are nevertheless, at least plausible. It’s called the subjunctive mood. This post is in the subjunctive mood. It helps us to discuss the substance of emotionally or politically-charged issues without descending into flame, both literally and figuratively.

A while back, I received an email from a reader about this update from the 2007 synod convention, written after the very first full day of the convention. The reader raises an important question. For the answer, I would refer all readers to an excellent ELS treatment of this subject called Unity, Union, and Unionism. After that, I invite your comments, either here or via email.

It may seem strange to think of unionism at a time when schism may also be taking place. One might wonder if they are opposites, and if so, how could they be happening simultaneously? The short answer is that they are not opposites. They are two different branches from the same trunk. The trunk is any doctrine that is not found in holy scripture, whether it be positive (We teach…) or negative (We do not teach…). Unionism is the outward joining of an orthodox church with an unorthodox church on an unscriptural basis. Schism is the separation of two orthodox churches on an unscriptural basis. They both proceed from the same sort of trunk. Therefore, it wouldn’t be so surprising to find both in the same place at the same time. That was a subjunctive statement.

Here is the reader’s question.

You said

we will be basing our unity upon the mutual acceptance of a human document that apparently allows for a variety of interpretations.

I would like to know how that is different from what the ELCA and Roman Catholics did with that Joint Declaration thing they passed several years ago. Isn’t it fairly well understood that they agreed to not bind each other to any specific meaning of certain terms, like justification, for instance; but they used terminology that would, in the name of unity, allow for multiple interpretations of the document.

Now I don’t think that the PMW was intentionally done that way. At least I trust it was not. But by continuing to demand subscription to it even after it is well established that the differences exist, are we not guilty of the same thing we accuse the ELCA of with regard to the JDDJ?

Thanks for letting me vent-it is so incredibly obvious to me!

One difference is that none of the adherents to the JDDJ have objected to it. I suppose that’s a tautology, but from our point of view, it makes a difference. The differences of understanding of the PMW may have allowed divergent points of view to overlook substantive disagreements between them, and that would (subjunctive) be bad. Yet the same set of differences has also produced a small but conscientious resistance to the PMW. This is what has absorbed many ELS resources this last couple of years. I don’t see the same thing happening in the ELCA about the JDDJ.

If we were (subjunctive) to seriously examine our disagreements on a sound hermeneutical basis (on the Bible), then I would say we’d still be on the right track. If we were (subjunctive) to sweep our disagreements under the rug, attempt to eliminate them by a misuse of authority, or try for a political/rhetorical resolution via any number of logical fallacies, then we would become the pot who called the kettle black.

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