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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Theses for Cooperation in Externals on the Basis of Natural Law

School of Athens in the Apostolic Palace in Rome by Raphael
The figures represent Philosophy, Poetry, Theology, and Law
The Greek Philosophers above wrote on Natural Law.
A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Lutheran Theological Conference in Paulpietersburg, KwaZulu‐Natal, titled, “Works of Mercy and Church Unity: Does Service Unify and Doctrine Divide?” The paper examined the 1925 thesis from the ecumenical movement by Dr. Hermann Kapler, "Doctrine divides, but service unites." Ironically, what the ecumenical movement thought would unite them failed to do so. Fifty years later, Jürgen Moltmann would write, "Theology unites ‐‐ praxis divides." So it went for the ecumenical movement. Doctrinal agreements were "formed" but a multitude of practices remained. "Unions" and "Fellowships" were declared, but no real unity existed. My paper also gave an opportunity to look at Cooperation in Externals (which as a "term" came into existence at the end of the 19th century -- at least as best as I could tell).

Now cooperation in externals has been on the collective mind of the Missouri Synod for sometime now. Most recently brought to the fore due to the actions of the ELCA regarding human sexuality, i.e., the promotion of homosexual marriage, adoption of children by homosexual couples, and the acceptance of homosexual ordination. The LCMS Convention in July 2010 passed resolution 3-03, "Cooperation in Externals with Theological Integrity."

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about Natural Law and Cooperation in Externals. This is, in part, due to some research and writing I have been doing, but also due to circumstances regarding my position as the Director of Church Relations. In any case, I had trouble sleeping so I thought I'd try my hand at some Theses for Cooperation in Externals.

Theses for Cooperation in Externals

Premise: Cooperation in Externals can only occur on the basis of Natural Law. "Externals" are defined as areas apart from pulpit and altar fellowship, occurring primarily in the realm of the left-hand kingdom.
  1. Cooperation in Externals can only occur when there is agreement in Natural Law.
  2. Cooperation in Externals can also occur when there is agreement in doctrine and practice, because such agreement constitutes agreement in Natural Law.
  3. The area of cooperation itself (the task at hand) cannot violate Natural Law.
  4. In an area of cooperation, if there is not agreement in Natural Law, then cooperation cannot occur, because such cooperation would violate the Law of God.
  5. The means of accomplishing the task or area of cooperation cannot violate Natural Law.
(At 3:30 AM, I thought of a few more theses, but this gives the general drift...)

Natural Law
The "theses" seem to cover many of the challenges regarding cooperation in externals. For instance, if your neighbor asks you to come to his house and assist him by holding the laddar for him, most people would do so. Of course, it is the neighborly thing to do, but such "external cooperation" does not violate natural law. In some cases, depending upon the circumstances, refusing to assist your neighbor might violate natural law (perhaps there is a thesis in that?). On the other hand, if your neighbor asks you to assist him in external matters (outside of the realm of the altar and pulpit) involving theft, murder, immorality -- even if these actions are not against the law of the State, you would refuse because they are in violation of natural law.

In a similar way, natural law can be applied to "cooperation in externals" within the church. Is it permissible for the church to cooperate with such and such a group or church body? The short answer: will such cooperation result in the violation of Natural Law. If yes, then cooperation is not permissible. Can two church bodies cooperate in an area where they do not have agreement on how Natural Law applies to that area of cooperation? The Theses above would suggest not.

Perhaps, the real issue is not "cooperation" but confusion over Natural Law.

An Irrelevant Graphic From a Google Images
Search on "Cooperation in Externals"


  1. Very informative. I look forward to more of your writings on Natural Law. Would be interested to see how this would apply to Lutherans who may have attended the recent Glenn Beck rally in Washington, DC.

  2. I look forward to seeing these expounded upon further. Now get some sleep.

  3. Having dabbled myself in Natural Law in a past life in theory I like where you are heading. My only caveat is that sometimes those of us who work in the trenches aren't always faced with as clear cut of a decision as you present. My experience is that our case workers are sometimes forced to choose between two imperfect decisions. As an example, a case worker is forced to choose between asking a woman with a not so perfect past to care for a severely handicapped 13 year old versus leaving that 13 year old to continue to live in a nursing home for the rest of his life. The "ideal" couple, such as your family or my family, are too busy or not interested in caring for this child. When faced with this type of decision the best advice I have received is, "Make the best decision you can and run as fast as you can back to the cross, asking for forgiveness."

  4. Two other considerations come to mind:
    1. The real test of "externals" is usually where the rubber hits the road. A few concrete examples are needed to illustrate the real-world employment of and applicability of the theses.
    2. Perception must also be at least considered, i.e., if a specific kind of cooperation offends the "weaker(?) brother," it must be approached with great care, even if no thesis has been violated.
    To illustrate: A generic Lutheran (today that usually means LCMS/ELCA) home for the aging has on its staff a number of chaplains, one of whom is an overtly gay female who lives with a partner. She's a member of one of the denominations in "full communion" with the ELCA. Many of the LCMS residents are aware of the situation and are offended. They wonder why the person remains on the staff.

    One might observe that Thesis 1 has been violated. The ELCA, however, does not officially see it that way. And, offense has been given. Case closed? Not so fast. There are clear practical implications. How does one get out of such a relationship without disrupting the level of care and quality of life in the community? What are realistic alternatives to resolving the issues? While the theses are helpful in clarifying the issues, tough questions remain where the rubber hits the road.

  5. "On the other hand, if your neighbor asks you to assist him in external matters (outside of the realm of the altar and pulpit) involving theft, murder, immorality -- even if these actions are not against the law of the State, you would refuse because they are in violation of natural law."

    This would also be the case when an orthodox church body's neighboring heterodox church body must decide whether to jointly assist in an external matter that will be used directly by that neighboring church body, or the assisted activity, to promote and condone heterodoxy/evil. Such a request would be a violation of natural law and/or divine law.

    Helping a heterodox church body support and maintain a facility that helps unmarried pregnant women by offering adoption and abortion counselling is one example. The multi-faith military chaplaincy program is another. The notion that one can be astute enough to draw so fine a line through a mixture of activities, which are indistinguishable to the organization being assisted, so that one can assist the good activities, while at the same time completely avoid any semblance of impropriety in assisting evil activities is already a problematical idea. It's like being ask to drive a car for someone who stops to go into a bank wearing a mask and carrying a gun. You would certainly refuse to go into the bank with him wearing a mask, but claiming it's okay to stay outside in the car wearing your seat belt, away from any wrongful activity, isn't going to help your case in court.

  6. I think the natural law precept that is most relevant to cooperation in externals is the principle of double effect, that is, when is it permissible to do an act that is intended for good but foreseeably may cause unintended harm.

    First, both the ends and means of an act must not violate the Law. A problem arises when a moral means and a moral end are intended, but it is foreseeable that evil will also result. For example, giving a pain patient morphine for the purpose of easing the pain is permissible, even if it will shorten the patient's life as an unintended side effect, so long as the evil result can't be mitigated or the end accomplished in a way without the evil result.

    Teaching false doctrine is always wrong. And cooperating with a group that teaches false doctrine in a venture in which the issue may arise is likely to promote false doctrine, or confusion about the truth. So, unless the double effect principle applies to permit the cooperation, cooperation that promotes false doctrine or confusion is not permissible.

    To figure out if double effect principle applies, we have to look at whether there are proportionately grave reasons to require cooperating, whether there is any obligation to cooperate, considering foreseeable consequences of continuing cooperation and ending cooperation, and exploring whether the teaching false doctrine is necessary, or whether anything can be done to eliminate or mitigate the teaching of false doctrine.

    So the fact that ending cooperation with the ELCA in a nursing home venture will result in disrupting the quality of care is relevant, but decline of quality of care must be extremely serious and a grave threat, and the danger of promoting false doctrine must be unable to be mitigated to justify continuing cooperation. I don't think that's to be the case in any ELCA venture. The ELCA's promotion of false doctrine is far more grave a threat than the foreseeable fallout from separating on our joint ventures.

    The precepts you list seem to me to confuse the issues. The source of the other groups' doctrines on law really don't matter, whether its relying on Scripture, Koran, Book of Mormon, or natural law reasoning. We could cooperate with atheists, Muslims and Mormons to rebuild a hurricane damaged neighborhood, but probably could not cooperate with them in counseling victims. The source of the other group's beliefs on Law really don't matter; the issue is whether cooperation is likely to promote false doctrine or confuse doctrine.

  7. "the issue is whether cooperation is likely to promote false doctrine or confuse doctrine."

    This gets to the heart of it for me.

    Ironically, it seems more likely to lead to confusion if we cooperate in externals with a heterodox church body that bears the same name "Lutheran" but teaches very differently, than if, say, we cooperated in externals with the Roman Catholic church.

    It's as if our cooperation with the ELCA makes the unspoken confession, "Hey, we're all Lutherans" - when we in fact hold that they are not an orthodox Lutheran body. We shouldn't talk/act out of two sides of our mouth.

    I too, need some convincing that there are joint ventures of such grave importance that it's worth continuing at the risk of such confusion and dilution of our confession. What are we doing with them that we can't do alone? That's an honest question.

  8. Preachrboy said:

    "What are we doing with them that we can't do alone? "

    As a delegate in Houston, that was my question.

    I realize that numbers served is not a valid measure of a mercy effort, but that seems to be the response that I heard when I asked that question. If we serve half as many in their earthly needs, but they all understand our eternal message, how does that compare to an example like those above, where we send confusing signals to the clients concerning their eternal needs.

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  10. To my beloved shephard - Please answer "Perhaps, the real issue is not "cooperation" but confusion over Natural Law." When the foundation is secure we can proceed to examine the structure.

  11. For better or worse there are numerous situations where LCMS Lutheran organizations simply can't do it alone. My organization -LSS of the South is one of them. There are simply too few Lutherans of any persuasion to work separately and be able to serve 45,000 individuals each year. We have millions of dollars in capital expenditures, need to raise over $5 million each and every year simply to keep the doors open. Literally, thousands of "the least of these" would be without services if we did not cooperate externally. LSS of the South, among others, has also proven that we can cooperate externally with theological integrity. Our LCMS trained DCE's and deaconesses have also been used over the past decade by the Holy Spirit to arrange for the baptism of over 100 children and adults. To God be the Glory! Before you are too quick to throw the baby out with the bath water I urge you to take a close look at how organizations such as mine operate in this admitted minefield. Based on many of the comments I heard in Houston and elsewhere there does not seem to be a good understanding among some of how we actually faithfully do our work as well as what damage would be caused if we quit cooperating in areas that we faithfully can.

  12. Kurt, Thank you for the comment. There is much the LCMS can do with her RSOs, such as yours.

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