The Augustana Ministerium announces that, at its Second Annual Theological Conference and Plenary Session, it "will address two important areas that need discussion and clarification in our midst. The first is to put Eastern Orthodoxy into focus vis-à-vis Confessional Lutheranism." The second area will be a discussion on Sanctification.
This society includes many good friends who were "comrades in arms" during my years as a Lutheran pastor. Most would identify themselves as either "confessional Lutherans" or "evangelical catholics"--or both. Their desire, simply put, is to maintain within their own local communities or parishes the historic understanding of Lutheran theology and practice, and to strive for extending their influence into larger Lutheranism. For most, this includes embracing the patristic and liturgical roots of Lutheranism. However, from this side, I would say that these friends often embrace these roots with a view toward interpreting the texts within a peculiar Lutheran tradition (peculiar because it is both peculiar to the context of the patristic and liturgical texts, and embraces a hermeneutic peculiar to modern Lutheranism).
What interests me about the Ministerium's upcoming Theological Conference is that they propose to juxtapose Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran teachings. (The language suggests a legal proceeding: "EO vs. confessional Lutheranism on Original Sin; on Justification; on Sanctification/Theosis.")
Now I firmly contend that it is within the purview of any denomination or theological society to describe and distinguish their teachings "vis-à-vis" or in juxtaposition to another that they determine to be in error. And sometimes this can be done for no other end than bolstering the faithful. (Preaching to the choir can be salutary, especially when the choir needs to improve!)
However, it is my hope and prayer that those who facilitate and those who comment do the hard work of understanding and fairly presenting the Orthodox ("other") perspective. This hard work begins with eschewing straw men, caricatures and rumors; and continues by comparing apples with apples (i.e., not some local Orthodox priest with a Lutheran dogmatic text; or an Orthodox theologian with a confessional standard). But most of all, understanding and fairly presenting the Orthodox perspective means (a) understanding the true context from which Orthodoxy speaks; and (b) understanding that the Orthodox confessional standard is of a different sort than the Lutheran standard.
In short, these two shibboleths ought to be avoided:
(1) seeing the Orthodox liturgical texts as no different for Orthodox clergy and laity as Lutheran liturgical texts are for Lutheran clergy and laity (i.e., man-made compositions open, under certain conditions, to wholesale change)
(2) refusing to acknowledge that Lutheranism, as much as Orthodoxy, admits to reading the Scriptures through the lens of a particular tradition (i.e., no "we oppose Tradition trumping Scripture" while waving the 1580 Book of Concord)
Above all, I shall pray for my former comrades in arms, whom I still upright and godly friends. I shall pray that they discuss, compare and contrast Lutheran and Orthodox teachings with a fair, honest and good heart.