Richard John Neuhaus has died. A Lutheran pastor/theologian who became Catholic shortly before I did, he was a role model/influence in many ways. I didn’t always agree with him or his attitude, but he helped articulate the question that I was seeking to answer at that stage in my journey. In his letter announcing his conversion, he said,
Over the last 20 years and more, I have repeatedly and publicly urged that the separated ecclesial existence of Lutheranism, if it was once necessary, is no longer necessary; and, if no longer necessary, such separated existence is no longer justified.
His version of Lutheranism as “evangelical Catholicism” I had adopted while in seminary (also through the influence of Robert Jenson). Postive experiences with Catholics led me to also believe there was no reason for Lutheranism to be separate; and when the ELCA started questioning whether the Bible had any relevance for sexual morality, the question was finally answered.
Later, I came to see that both the question and answer were wrong. It’s not a matter of what’s the minimum for reunion, it is whether the church will allow itself to be judged by the Gospel and by Scripture. Will we seek the pure teaching of Scripture, or allow it to be mixed with human traditions and teachings? Will we excuse the sins of the church over the centures, or will we let the word of God judge them? Will we seek to follow the crowd, or stand firmly for the word of God?