QUESTION: I enjoy worship at a Lutheran church, as well as Communion. As a Catholic, I got really uncomfortable with the thought that only Catholics have the fullness of the faith, or that Lutheran Communion is somehow not valid or acceptable, especially for Catholics. I see it as this: Catholics and Lutherans share many beliefs, but they do some things differently. Who am I to say one has fullness of the faith, or that receiving Jesus in one church is any less valid? Exactly how the host changes...we've been arguing for 500 years! Suffice to say, the host changes! Also, as a Catholic I can't accept just a few teachings if I want to be a true Catholic, but it comes as a package, and that's HARD. I have NO idea what happens after we die (I'm a human being after all), so how can Catholics possibly say there is purgatory? I am not denying anything; I am saying I think only God can know some things. So, I attend a Lutheran church where I am welcome, and I enjoy it. I still go to the Catholic church a lot, too. I can't turn around and be uncharitable to it, or I'd be doing what makes me uncomfortable in the first place, which is saying someone else is "wrong.”
But I wanted to ask the Lutheran side. For all I know, maybe they think only they have the fullness of faith and validity of sacraments. Would you tell a fellow Lutheran not to get Communion in a Catholic church? Does it need to be that Catholics are "right" or, vice versa, that Lutherans are "right (and thus the other is wrong)," or can it be that we worship differently in some respects while respecting both churches? It was the "I'm right, you're wrong (but still our brothers/sisters in Christ)” mentality that left me a bit bummed in the Catholic church.
I do NOT think anybody is right or wrong. I don't KNOW. All I know is that God said to love Him and others, and "Do this in memory of me." Is this OK? Or even as a Lutheran, would I have to take the attitude that I was right? I can understand that people need to have beliefs (otherwise what constitutes a faith?) and defend them. Many Catholics say there HAS to be a TRUTH, and that is where we need to look to the Church. And then I do, sheepishly, agree. How can we say just believe whatever we want or what feels right? That can be dangerous. As a Catholic, some of the teachings make me scratch my head (I am just not sure), but also some of the Lutheran teachings make me feel the same way. Is that OK? Do I need to be 100% something? Can God expect that? God didn't say you have to be one denomination, right?
The reason I go regularly to worship at the Lutheran church is because I find them more accepting, and to me, that's what Jesus was! (Also the Catholic church says no Communion if I use birth control, and again...that makes me sad because I do use it, having had many, many kids in our marriage). I don't want to sit out Communion or feel like if I don't, it's sin. That is NOT in the Bible. At the same time, I think we can't take the Bible literally or without considering the historical context. As for gays, I can't imagine Jesus would judge. I would never hate or do anything to judge anyone. Yet I guess the Bible does says it's a sin. But what does that mean? That I have to be anti-gay? I'm not. I try to accept everyone. What would you, as an educated Lutheran say about all this? Do I have to choose Catholic or Lutheran? Is it enough to worship each Sunday and try to grow in faith, borrowing from both denominations? I’m very confused!
RESPONSE: You are so right—there are many things that Catholics and Lutherans agree on, including the Eucharist. And yes, I have taken Communion in several different Catholic churches, including Holy Name Cathedral. In fact, for all of my ministry, it has been the policy that in Chicago, a Catholic priest and an ELCA Lutheran pastor could concelebrate the Eucharist and serve the Eucharist to the whole congregation of Catholics and Lutherans. This is a concordat that Bishop Sherman Hicks and Cardinal Bernardin worked out. In addition, the same year the concordat was signed, the Catholic-Lutheran joint commission concluded that the issue they were fighting about 500 years ago (see Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification) no longer separated them theologically. Justification by grace through faith was the basis of the Reformation 500 years ago. There is now agreement on that doctrine. To overstate the importance of this shift of theology is difficult. Suffice it to say, the major theological differences of the Catholics and Lutherans is shrinking rapidly.
The world churches are growing closer since Vatican II. The local churches with old-fashioned bishops are the ones who insist on keeping the old attitudes alive. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Neither the Catholic church nor the Lutheran church hold the whole truth. Jesus does. It is on that which we depend.