You can lead a horse to water...
Traditionally Lutherans decide with whom to practice intercommunion, common worship, and other forms of fellowship with on the basis of public doctrine. It is assumed that a person will not affiliate with a church body with whose official teachings he or she disagrees. Of course, that is not always the case. But the assumption is that it should be. The church one attends is, after all, a public confession that one shares the beliefs of that church. Where this is not the case, the confession being made by attending it is at best confused and confusing to others. At worst, it's seen as dishonest.
So fellowship is practiced (or not) on the basis of the official doctrine of a church body. Individuals don't simply decide that they're comfortable receiving Communion at a certain congregation of another church body- or at least, they shouldn't, in the Lutheran view. Doing so, after all, constitutes a public endorsement of that congregation's confession- and that confession is assumed to be reflected in the confession of the church body with which it is affiliated.
"Pulpit and altar fellowship" is a big deal for Lutherans (or at least for those Lutherans whose theological presuppositions are still in line with those of Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, and Lutheran custom and tradition). Nominally Lutheran churches like the ELCA or most of the other denominations which comprise the Lutheran World Federation, of course, aren't very big on doctrine in any case, and tend to commune pretty much anybody. In fact, the ELCA recently adopted a policy of even admitting non-Christians to communion at its altars.
Why would a Buddhist or a Hindu want to commune at an ELCA altar? Good question. But the fact that the ELCA invites them to do so is evidence that the significance of the Sacrament is not high on their list of priorities. Which is why I could not possibly receive Communion in an ELCA church, despite the fact that, being a member of species Homo sapiens, I would be welcome to do so.
At last report, there is no discussion in the ELCA about admitting members of other species to the Sacrament, though literally nothing that denomination might do would surprise me at this point.
During my years in the ELCA, I found that making the good confession was a lonely business. I tried to do my duty and warn my congregations of what was happening. On one hand, they thanked me for standing up for what they, too, believed. But on the other, they refused to act on what I was telling them, or to fight back.
I was one of a very small number of pastors who stood up and objected as the church was carefully and deliberately guided away from biblical and Lutheran teaching on everything from human sexuality to the doctrine of justification. There were always people willing to tell me privately how much they appreciated my efforts. But for some reason, they themselves remained silent. When, at last, my Synod Assembly voted not to include equal representation on a committee examining the position of the church on homosexuality for representatives of what was still at that point the actual teaching of the church, I had enough. I stood up and told the Assembly exactly what I thought of their nonsense, and walked out.
The bishop responded with courtesy, sympathy, and expressions of sadness at my response. Many of the delegates did what they usually did when someone objected to abject apostasy: they laughed at me.
But it took half an hour for me to get out of the hall. People kept stopping me and telling me that they agreed with me and asking me not to leave. But they themselves remained silent. They enabled the apostasy with their offerings and made it possible for it to continue by remaining quiet.
I have to admit that since then I've had little sympathy for those who told me that they intended to "stay in the ELCA and fight-" but who hadn't done a lick of fighting then, and in most cases haven't since. Yes, I felt that they had let me down by letting me stand up alone and take the heat while they stayed silent. More to the point, however, I felt that the were letting Christ down by their continued silence and that their passivity deprived them of any right to complain.
That was judgemental if me. Some have done a great deal of fighting since, although the fighting was usually done far too late and in far too uncoordinated and sporadic way to have had an impact. The ELCA's apostasy on the question of human sexuality resulted in enough congregations and individuals leaving it to form two entirely new church bodies. Even now, sound, confessional pastors and congregations and individual lay people remain in the ELCA, often not reflecting on the fact that by doing so they continue to enable those who have led it astray to take it even further astray.
Gene Veith recently spent some time in Scandanavia, where the faithful individuals in largely unfaithful churches don't have the options we do. In many cases, the Lutheran churches in Scandanavia are state churches. The option to leave and find a congregation or church body more in tune with their convictions just isn't there.
So they endure somehow, often under harassment and even persecution of apostate hierarchies much, much farther gone than even the ELCA.
Dr. Veith asks what we can do to support those folks. How do we reconcile our tradition of taking one's public confession seriously with the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters over there have no choice but to remain in apostate churches with which biblical and confessional Lutherans cannot be in public fellowship? Is there room, somehow, for fellowship with districts and congregations and individuals who share our confession but remain within heterodox church bodies? Traditionally. confessional Lutherans have said no to "selective fellowship." But given the dimensions of the current worldwide apostasy, is it time to reexamine that position?
I have no doubt that I have allowed by own personal hurt and sense of abandonment to cause me to be a great deal less charitable to those sound Christians who incomprehensibly have chosen to remain in a church body they know to be apostate than I should have. I have some repenting of my own to do. And some thinking.
I don't know. What can we do to support those folks- folks who remain content to stand by even now and refuse to help themselves, or perhaps don't know what to do?
Something. I wish I knew what.