We Have a (Latin American) Pope. What Does This Mean for U.S. Lutherans?

So many thoughts about the election of Pope Francis I. I will share five reflections as a Lutheran theologian born and raised in Latin America and suggest lessons Lutherans in the U.S. might gather from this event.

First, let’s restate the obvious. This is the first Pope ever elected from Latin America. As a Latino with Panamanian and Chilean roots, I would lie if I did not tell you I had a little smile in my face when the name of the new Pope was revealed to the world. Jorge Mario. Habemos Hispanicum Papam. It is no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church, and the church catholic in general, is growing in the Global South. In its election of a Latin American Pope, the College of Cardinals signaled a heightened sense of the church’s own catholicity and her geographic shift southward.

Lutherans suffer from the perception that they are essentially an ethnic church with European roots, either a German or Scandinavian church. This is, for the most part, the perception in Latin America of Lutherans. The election of a Pope by the name of Jorge Mario poses a challenge for all Christians to embrace a broader catholicity and take stock of Christianity’s move southward in its life and mission.

Second, I am a little ashamed to admit that I was waiting for something like a Latin American Pope with a non-Hispanic last name. We got a Bergoglio, an Argentinian with an Italian last name, the son of an Italian immigrant father and an Argentinian mother born to a family from Italy. That also says something. One could note, for instance, that though Argentinian, the Pope also embodies an Italian cultural identity because of his family roots that, in conjunction with his extensive administrative work in the Roman Curia, likely has helped him to work collaborative with what is still a Church (and church leadership) that has a central “Roman” identity. Bergoglio is not just any Latin American Pope, but a very special kind, one with a hyphenated identity.

Lutherans too have immigrant stories and hyphenated identities. The descendants of German and Scandinavian Lutherans have now incorporated English names and, more recently, Spanish ones, in their marriage and children’s birth certificates. In an increasingly globalized world, the election of an Argentinian-Italian Pope challenges Lutherans to see the value of church leadership with a foot in more than one world, and thus of bilingual and bicultural people who can communicate the Lutheran confession across cultural boundaries.

Third, the election of Pope Francis stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI. Like John Paul II, Benedict XVI had his heart in Europe, yearning for a new evangelization of an increasingly atheistic and secularized continent. Yet such evangelization was not to happen through the force and persuasion of European Catholic institutions per se. It appears that the revitalization of the church in Europe is and will continue to be largely the result of diaspora missiology, namely, the force of the Christian witness of the migrant children of the formerly colonized (and evangelized) by Europeans. The evangelized are now the evangelists.

Jorge Bergoglio has a sort of diaspora identity. The one who received the gospel from the Italians now brings the gospel to the Italians, as it were. Or perhaps, and more broadly or suggestively, the one who received the gospel from the Italians now brings the gospel to a Roman Church plagued by problems and in need of repentance, spiritual renewal, and even reform. The force of such evangelization remains to be seen. Fruits of repentance are up to the Holy Spirit. While the migration experience of a Bergoglio is not at all representative of the broader Latin American experience of colonization and evangelization by the Spanish Crown experienced in the rest of the Americas, it is still refreshing to imagine the possibility of a face from the New World bringing new life to an Old Word institution.

Lutherans tend to look back to Europe (say, Wittenberg), German immigrant stories of migration to the U.S., or their old denominational structures for defining and preserving their identity. There is something half-baked about this overall approach to Lutheran identity. Too often it fails to distinguish between the church as the people of God gathered around Word and Sacrament, and the church as a cultural institution. It often takes people from another culture to see this confusion more clearly. This is why the Lutheran church needs to dare to be more catholic, more global, for the sake of its own life and mission. The Catholics are not the only ones with problems. What scandals plague our churches? Where do we need to die to self and be renewed? In what areas does our church and her leaders need to ask for the prayers of the people before it blesses the people? An old church in decline will most likely only survive through the witness of new diaspora Lutherans in other parts of the world and even within the U.S. The election of a diaspora Pope challenges us to look to the new Christians from the global South (including Lutherans) as evangelists in their own right. We need to be called to repentance and hear the gospel from them.

Fourth, it is interesting to note that the new Pope has been described as conservative yet socially conscious. It is characteristic of Global South Christians to be conservative on moral issues like abortion or gay marriage, yet more socially conscious in other areas given the harsh realities of poverty, lack of access to education, etc. experienced by the overwhelming majority of our brothers and sisters in this part of the world. The papal profile fits well where Latin Americans, and U.S. Latinos, in general are at in terms of their moral outlook on life.

It is virtually impossible in the U.S. political landscape to find a candidate that meets this type of profile, given the polarization of issues on either side of the political divide and thus the false division often made between life and justice. The election of this particular Pope reminds socially progressive and morally conservative Catholics in the U.S. that, when taken to extremes, neither approach provides an accurate picture of the church’s moral teaching. It can also remind Lutherans in the U.S. not to become polarized along these political lines. It is possible to do more than two things at once. One can alleviate suffering in many ways. Regardless of what is said of the Pope’s former role in Argentinian politics, sins of commission or omission, the papal profile challenges us to incorporate into our Lutheran identity whatever is lacking to serve the neighbor, and for LCMS Lutherans that will include, in addition to traditional and critical life issues affecting vulnerable neighbors, a bit more of a social conscience to deal with other realities that also affect many Global South Christians (including Lutherans) such as poverty, immigration, freedom of religion, racism, destruction of the environment, and lack of education.

Finally, we must be honest and admit that the election of an Argentinian Pope–or any Pope for that matter–probably means very little to Lutherans in general. This is, in my opinion, problematic because Lutheran identity is hard to conceive at some level apart from its historical link to the Western Church–call it, officially, Catholic or not. Out in the real world, at least from a sociological angle, Lutheran folk struggle explaining to others how we are, or are not, different from (Roman) Catholics, and in the process risk portraying Lutherans as Protestants or Evangelicals. Pulling off this balancing act is an art form when dealing with Latin Americans who are tied to the historic legacy of Roman Catholic evangelization in the Americas and the more recent growing presence of Pentecostals in the continent. Lutheran identity is forever tied to Luther, the Augustinian monk, who left or was left by the Church, and then also tied to other reform movements whose modern day descendants are very “anti-Catholic” (especially so in Latin America). The historical distance is so great now between Luther as a reformer in the Church and our ideas of Luther and his reformation. At a visceral level, however, we no longer feel the pain of being separated from the Catholic Church, the descendants of that Church Luther was excommunicated from. We can care less. We do not grieve our separation, even if it was to be.

The election of a new Pope is therefore a very sad event, for it reminds us once again that we are a divided church (at least visibly so), that once upon a time we Lutherans too were willing to have a Pope (if only the gospel were to have free course). Many of the new Lutherans from Latin America have family members who are Roman Catholic. We experience the separation from our families more closely than those who have been Lutherans from generations will ever know. It’s more personal. We do not go to the Lord’s Supper together. That is painful. Yes, we are one in Christ by faith. And for that we are all thankful. Still, the election of Pope Francis affords Lutherans an opportunity to grieve the divisions among us and yearn for all divisions to come to an end. We are also invited to pray and work for the invisible and visible unity of the church catholic.



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  1. Basil March 15, 2013

    His name is Pope Francis. The Roman numeral will not be added until there is a second Francis. Just so you know. . .

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 15, 2013

      This is correct. Franciscum is the name listed in the official documents of the Holy See. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. Craig Blomberg March 15, 2013

    Thanks for these excellent thoughts. Very helpful for an ex-(liberal) Lutheran (old LCA) turned evangelical, who wants to be as globalized as possible, very much appreciates the LCMS in being both evangelical and Lutheran (even if the ELCA uses the term and the LCMS doesn’t!) and wishes I would be able to take the Lord’s Supper with you as in almost all other evangelical communions!

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Thanks Craig for your words of encouragement and your yearning for the unity of all Christians at the Lord’s altar. Your comments about the names ELCA and LCMS remind me of the Christian (and Lutheran) identity we want or can afford to project to the world today. While the name Missouri Synod has deep roots in part of the history of North American (U.S.) Lutheranism, it does not easily project the Lutheran Church to the world as a global, catholic, church. To everyday folks outside the U.S. (and even in the U.S.), the name we may dearly love is too tied to geographical location, or a particular history of Christianity, even if Missouri over time may be known by some (mainly Lutherans) also because of its theology. Latin Americans and U.S. Latinos, for instance, most likely have no idea about what a Synod is or where Missouri is. It is hard enough to explain in Global South contexts what a “Lutheran” (luterano) is. Something for us LCMS Lutherans to think about. As you know, even a term like “evangelical” can be appropriated in various ways, and in some contexts may be associated with less than helpful baggage. In some Latin American contexts, sometimes the term “evangelical” (evangélico) can be associated, for instance and unfortunately, with health-and-wealth movements. Thanks again for your thoughts and your important work at Denver Seminary. And thanks for sending your colleague Danny Carroll our way to spend some time with us. We hope to meet you sometime too.

  3. Len Busch March 15, 2013

    Quo vademus? Vademus ad Latinum . . . et ultra.

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 15, 2013

      Or as many say in your neck of the woods, “¡vamos!” Let’s go to the Latino and even beyond, indeed. Then let’s also learn the Gospel from these new Christians (including Lutherans). We still think of missions too much as a one-way street. Let the evangelized evangelize us too.

  4. Herb Hoefer March 15, 2013

    Cultural dominance does not give up easily. It took a hyphenated “African-American” with insider connections to get elected US President as well.

    I find it striking that he is the first pope to take the name of the church’s greatest saint (in my opinion). They take the name of the saint after whom they wish to model their life and their contribution to the church. A worldwide representative of Christianity in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi? Wow!

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 15, 2013

      Thanks for your comments, Herb. Pope Francis asked for the prayers of the people before He gave His blessing. I thought to myself: How often do each one of us, and all in positions of power and authority, do that in the church? For the sake of the church’s witness to the world, we are all given an opportunity here to learn humility anew from our Lord and the example of His saints who have gone before us.

  5. Dustin Parker March 16, 2013


    First – thanks for some thoughts, some of which I resonate with, others, not so much. 🙂

    For example – as the adopted son of a Canadian French/Irish one one side, 2nd generation Italian who ministers in California – I don’t gettthidea of the mono-ethnic, we’ll fit you into the mold concept of the LC-MS all that well. It doesn’t fit the churches out here – at least the ones in my circuit. ( I think we have one German named pastor in the circuit… 🙂

    Seriously though, some of us do yearn for the restoration of the Una Sancta, and would be more than delighted if either a) the Augsburg Confession was recognized as a teaching document of the RCC, or b) the Edicts of Trent were dealt with, and we could “return home”. If the new pope is a pope of the diaspora – then perhaps he will be able to grasp what we bring to the table. Maybe then we would realize the extremes in our synod aren’t that extreme at all? And that unity is found, not in the conference hall, but at the altar. (the great legacy of the democratic system of the Kingdom of the Left invading the Kingdom of the right)

    THe question I have – is whether many of us would be willing to give up our illusion of freedom, if the RCC were to revoke Trent or acknowledge our understanding of the faith as valid and forgo the opportunity of a catholic church?

    FUn stuff to kick around… over a nice Argentinian beer.. 🙂

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Good thoughts, Dustin. I agree with you in some ways. I also see future pastors come through our seminaries. Mostly, German and English last names. Not too many French or Italian ones. I am beginning to hear more Spanish names though. And African and Asian ones. I am very thankful for all our students regardless of their cultural identities. Many of our students get it! They are not naive. Our church is declining in numbers and the Global South in our midst in growing in numbers. They often sing some Global South Lutheran canticles in Chapel. They get it. I have hope. I live in the Midwest too. Remember? Not too many Latinos here. But we are beginning to see more diversity. The White population is decreasing in the greater St. Louis area. Now legislators are trying to keep up with the demographics, seeing immigration as the solution to population decline. Similar dynamics. We are also still the “Missouri” Synod, with a geographic and theological center in St. Louis, and in the Midwest, as it were.

      What I am trying to say is that, like me, you and your colleagues are probably an odd case in the Lutheran Church. We had a Lutheran anthropologist come to the Sem a year ago or so, and he reminded us in terms of numbers that the LCMS is known as one of the Whitest churches in the U.S., which in part means that it is slow to reflect in its own membership–for various reasons–the changing Global South demographic in her midst. To give you a case in point, the U.S. is something like 15% Hispanic, but the LCMS is about 0.04% Hispanic. Part of my issue apart from actual numbers (which do say something), or the reality of hyphenated identities in many Lutherans due to past immigration (including yours and mine), is simply the problem of perception. It is often the case that outsiders often think of the Lutheran church mostly as a European or U.S. White church (and particularly, German or Scandinavian). And there is some truth to that. But I agree with you that some Lutheran churches are ahead of the game or more representative of the church’s demographic shift southward (even in the U.S.), and have a more Global South look to them. Perhaps that’s the case in your neck of the woods.

      Your reflections on suggested paths that would need to be taken for a more visible reunion ring true to me at an institutional, from above, level. There are many obstacles, of course, since much has happened since Augsburg and Trent. It is hard to look only at those documents, without paying attention at all that has taken place even since. In the Catholic Church’s teaching, we now have to deal with questions of papal infallibility or developments in Marian dogma. Lutherans too are divided around the world. It is hard to work on Lutheran unity already. These are just a few of the greater challenges. I think I heard that Pope Francis apparently was asked once what he thought about the divisions in the Catholic Church. He told his student to stay away from the Church, because if he joined it, he too would make a mess of it. The point is that our greatest problem is not division, but rather sin.

      Now, I feel like that Argentinian beer.

  6. Eloy González March 16, 2013

    Excellent reflection, brother Leo. The election of Pope Francis suggests that the Roman Catholic leadership has recognized the long-predicted (EG., P. Jenkins) tectonic shift of Christianity from the North and West to the South and East. Even though we in the LCMS are aware of this shift, it is hard for me to imagine that it will make much of a difference in our thinking and acting. I also agree with you that the election of Pope Francis will make little impact on the LCMS, or any other North American evangelical denomination. It may, however, energize the North American Roman Catholic Latino and deepen his / her connection to the Roman Church. There is no question that the Church will be unified one at some point in time, but it may not happen until the Bridegroom returns to claim his Bride. Until then, may the Lord grant us – and all Christians – the opportunity to proclaim both the exclusivity and catholicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you very much for your thoughts, hermano.

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Gracias brother Eloy for your thoughtful response. Since I know you like the written word, here is a Roman Catholic extension (and a bit more) of the P. Jenkins argument for your perusal. Check out John L. Allen Jr., The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 2009). The very first chapter deals with the Global South reality and the monumental move you speak of. Though more of a so-called progressive U.S. Catholic, Allen is generally seen as a fair commentator of Vatican affairs by so-called conservative U.S. Catholics.

      To say a bit more about this somewhat artificial progressive-conservative polarity, the progressives in part push for the church’s present contextualization in the world, and thus the church can never move fast enough to make all the changes that are perceived as needed. The conservative side thinks more in terms of faithfulness to the tradition and take a longer view of the church that highlights her continuity with what has gone before, and thus the church should move slowly as she reflects on her witness in the world.

      I think we Lutherans in the U.S. tend to move alongside this spectrum. Some push for contextualization that at times is good and at times at odds with our theological tradition and commitments. Some push for continuity with the theological tradition, which is foundational, but at times are too shy to make our confession centrifugal. The goal, of course, is to be confessional and missional–to quote a expression often used in LCMS circles–attending to the proper tension between exclusivity and catholicity. This is, however, easier said than actually done.

      The election of Pope Francis is a move southward in some respects, but also a careful one. A balance between conservative and progressive, with a hermeneutic of continuity as the stronger part of the polarity. Now, what I am saying is in some part an intellectual, ideological perspective on the matter of potential influence. The papal profile of Francisco has possibilities, but whether they will play out is another issue.

      I would also be naive, however, if I did not mention how the system of church polity which allows us to get some things done administratively, and which is a way of doing things by human design, has a lot to say about who gets elected in leadership positions in the church. You have said much on this point in the past, and I appreciate your perspective on this. We all, of course, claim the Holy Spirit’s work through those very human processes. That’s all fine and good. The Spirit does guide the church. And yet, the Spirit works through God’s people to accomplish things. How do we bring new Lutherans from the Global South into a familiarity with this side of the business of the church? Without such knowledge leading to participation, there is not much of a Global South voice in the room. Such participation can bring a rich catholicity to our Lutheran church and enrich out proclamation and teaching in the world.

      Thanks again, brother!

  7. Santi March 16, 2013

    Dear friend,

    Just a friendly reminder that the pope is an antichrist. He sits on the throne of the devil. Luther says that and with him many many other theologians and/or doctrinal documents of other christian churches.

    Our new Catholic friend Francesco claim to be infalible, inerrant, and lot more attributes who are really not proper of a sinner.

    Let me remind you that his authority is not just equal to the Bible’s authority but above. He is in charge of leading the Catholics through a painful way full of works and uncertainties (very very far aways from Jesus’ certain promise of forgiveness, reconciliation, and salvation).

    Also the pope will continue to teach the intercession and prayers to the sains and virgins, and others aberrations.

    Having said so, just a couple of more things, and then I’m done:

    Let’s us remind what a confessional Lutheran is a person who agrees that the Bible is “the only” source (solo scriptura), and that agrees in the doctrinal content of the book of Concord.

    In a today’s society where everything is ok, let be the Word and our salutary confessions of faith be leaders of our beliefs and acts.

    Jesus was desruptive when he turned the tables in the temple or when he defeated the death. Martin Luther was disruptive when he nailed the 95 thesis and started the reformation. Now you be disruptive and do not say it out loud: the pope is the antichrist and will not deserve nothing from me except my prayers.

    Do not forget the bible and the book of concord. Let us be confessional lutherans.

    Just saying…

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Dear Santiago,
      Your comments go to the heart of my last point, namely, that the election of a Pope is a sad event because it reminds us that we are indeed a divided church. Things are not okay between us. There are serious doctrinal and thus confessional differences. Moreover, much has happened since the 16th century, including the dogma of papal infallibility. At this point, of course, we no longer talk about the person of Jorge Mario, a Christian from the Global South (though perhaps one highly assimilated to the Old World), and what this means more broadly for the mission the Christian church in the world. We move instead to discourse about the office of the Pope as antichrist and its function as an obstacle to the gospel. This is not developed in my final remarks, but it is in a sense assumed. I would include your concerns specifically under that last part of my commentary, highlighting the painful reality of division in the Christian church. The event affords us then an opportunity to confess the Word faithfully, persuasively, and to all peoples. I couldn’t agree more. I wonder, however, if your definition of Lutheran confessional identity includes a desire to promote the unity of the church–a concern of the Lutheran confessors. I challenge you to reflect on that dimension of confessional identity. This election of the Pope offers us an opportunity to pray for all divisions to heal, something we do (or should do) in the liturgy as well. Here we pray for the Pope too, as you do. We are still a church that believes in miracles, in the power of the Spirit working through the Word, to bring us all under the lordship of Christ. So we pray and trust in God to bring the church everywhere to a clear confession of Christ and His Gospel.
      Blessings in your studies!

  8. Joanne March 16, 2013

    Some of us don’t see anything new in this new Pope. It seems to us that the church tried a Slavic, and then a Germanic pope, and it’s now returned to an old man, Italian habit of long, long standing. In 100 years, the fact may mean nothing that his family resided in the New World for a brief period, not even long enough to lose the use of the Italian language. As you say, the new Pope has spent much time already in Italy and Rome in his work. To the world, he looks like an elderly Italian man that looks vaguely like Gomer Pyle in a “long, white, silky dress” (hat tip to Judy Tenuda)(narrowly addrressing the optics). However, his family’s temporary residence in the Spanish New World, should give him a better feel for the melting pot settlement and it’s peculiar issues, than another German of Polish Pope would have. That may not ensue, but it is intelligent to assume it.

    Looking at ourselves, our small church, it can’t be said often enough that the Missouri Synod was founded to be and remain a remnant church within the German Evangelical-Lutheran population coming as immigrants to the United States in the mid to late 19th Century.

    The church grew as the immigration of Ev. Luth Germans increased. Other German churches focused on the Union Germans and the Reformed Germans. But, the founders of Missouri were themselves the remnant of Confessional Lutheran Germans and they selectively sought out Confessional Lutherans among the hordes of immigrants that settled the American mid-West. Missouri consciously functioned as a lode-star to some Germans who were waffling in doctrine when they gently enculcated a love of the Lutheran Confessions in other smaller synods. It was a time of starting-over and a very good time to influence which side of the fulcrum a group of Germans, or Norwegians might land. Missouri was very consequential in this regard by developing the Synodical Conference.

    Still even when it was primarily a German remnant church, Missouri were called to do missionary work among the Greek population of St. Louis and among the black population in the American south. Missouri saw the German remnant settling in Brazil and in Argentina (and in Australia) as part of Missouri at first, sending missionaries and founding German speaking Confessional Lutheran churches to gather in the harvest and to build the schools. Missouri had missions to Cuba, and has refugee churches in Miami that hark back to those congregations of Spanish speaking, non-Germans. When El Jefe breathes his last and Cuban old-style Stalinism gives way to the New Socialism, I would expect these Miami remnant Spanish Lutherans to reestablish the original congregations in Cuba again, much in the way Christianity returned to the former Soviet Union (oh look, the church was there all along under the 70 to 80 years of horror).

    All ethnic considerations aside and focusing on the “purpose” of Missouri, to be the maintaining remnant of Confessional Evangelical Lutheran faith, doctrine, praxis, to do that Missouri will always be small, and may almost dissappear as the scriptures almost did in Israel more than once. Like Israel, we are ethnic and a remnant of faith. The confusion between ethnic Jewishness and the religion of Judaism is a constant of thousand year proportion. Remnants can survive without huge growth, if the faithful are tightly catechized to the faith. See also the survival of the ethnic Orthodox in 20th century America. Missouri’s experience is merely the German/Lutheran version of the True Faith survival in distant lands.

    Missouri’s problem is staying destinctive enough to warrent it’s claim to be a remnant church, the holder and lighthouse of the True Faith. Although we can do lots of ethnic blending, and many non-Germanics may come to identify with Missouri, if the salt loses it taste and is never hot nor cold, there is nothing in Missouri beyond its remnant faith that warrents its retention.

    And, geographic identies such as Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Saxony, and Missouri are a constant in the church. The Roman church is the epitome of a geographically focused church, but with 1.2 billion putative members worldwide, it just seems to be larger than Rome, but Rome is most definitely the geographic head of this Gorgon and its reason to exist is based on a geographic spot where The Apostle established his eternal seat; how much more geographic can a church get? So, geographics are what we make of them, and I maintain that Missouri is understood worldwide among the Lutheran remnant and those who are attracted to the true faith.

    Who do we want to attract to us? What reputation do we want to develop as our face to the World. The ELCA is still mistaken as a Lutheran church, and there is a Lutheran identy still there, but were they to drop Lutheran and Evangelical from their name, even Missouri will quickly, with relief, forget that they were once Lutheran. You may note how cautious we are to prosylatize among them as we are not looking to become gnosticized nor to attract Univeralist former Lutherans. The ELCA’s stands on modern universalism is now strongly attracting Universalists and the Demimonde of the Happy folk. Missouri has no desire to be the beam of attraction to folk who believe without regret in those things. Missouri should be a word of derision among them and then a survivor of the True Faith, as was the intention ab ovo of that pitiful band of Saxon Germans that groveled out a survival on the worst farmland in the American Mid-West.

    If Missouri needs a name enhancement, I have suggested that The Missouri Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, is a name that is a statement of doctrine in line with what we believe about what is the Church. But, I would council against a name that blurs our sharp focus for 175 years on Lutheran Confessonalism. That is the beam we send out to draw in those who know and the light of that beam brings the True Faith to how ever many few who recieve the Spirit in repentance.

    Without Lutheran Confessionalism, Missouri has no reason to exist as a separate entity among all other churches. And, there must be a reason, or Missouri can and should melt away on the griddle like a pat of butter, without salt.

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Dear Joanne,
      Thank you for eloquently reminding us of the confessional foundation of the Missouri Synod and its missionary heart. You are right in pointing out that geographic and ethnocultural groups are part of any church’s historic identity, and in and of themselves do not constitute the esse of the church. The esse of the church is its Christian identity and confession, the people gathered around Word and sacrament, throughout time. It seems to me that you show care in not reducing the idea of a confessional remnant to a particular ethnic group. That is good. The analogy to Israel is promising because Israel, while God’s people, also falls into idolatry, can lose its missionary heart, and is therefore in constant need of repentance and forgiveness. Such is the Christian life, one of repentance. Only repentance and forgiveness maintains a faithful church and remnant in the world. Law and gospel is the rhythm of the church’s life because the missionary heart grows cold and the confessional commitment wavers. Lord, have mercy! A remnant, at least in terms of faith as trust in Christ for salvation (fides qua), goes beyond Missouri. There is, however, as you point out, much work to be done in terms of the doctrinal unity (fides quae), and it is at that point that we see most clearly how hard it is to walk together even among Lutherans. How much more difficult then to heal divisions with those outside the Lutheran family! Thanks again for your thoughts.

  9. Joanne March 16, 2013

    The WSJ has an article today that indicates the Argentine Left’s intention to smear the new Pope as not adequately savage enough in opposing the evil deeds of the Argentine dictators. We get a sense of Pope Francis caution in dealing with government, sword holder types. I read a good healthy frisson between His Holiness and Cristina Kirchner.


    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Thanks for sharing, Joanne. Interesting. It’s hard to make sense of these messy matters. The church should deal both forcefully and carefully with the left-hand realm. The church must speak up against injustices, but at the same time a measure of holy silence may help save lives in certain situations. When persecution comes, the church bears the cross. When sins are committed as a result of strange alliances, Christians go to the foot of the cross, forgive each other, and even their enemies. When the lesser of two evils is chosen in gray areas, one deals with the ambiguity of living as a Christian in a less than perfect world. Here again, the church must be receptive to the cries of those who have been wronged or at least hurt by tough (or just plain wrong) moves. We return to the Christian life as one of repentance. Blessings.

  10. Leb Busch March 16, 2013

    Could it be that, what I assumed to be merely another cloud rising on the far horizon, is actually the emerging shape of Vatican III coalescing from the enshrowding mists?

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 16, 2013

      Dear brother,
      Interesting observation. Talking to both progressive and conservative Catholics, my sense is that Vatican II is still being processed. To put it somewhat simplistically, does one push on the side of aggiornamento (bringing up to date) or of ressourcement (return to the sources) in a Vatican II hermeneutics and ecclesiology? This is still a sort of unresolved tension in contemporary Catholicism. At least from this angle, it’s hard to imagine a Vatican III at this point. My opinion.

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  12. Sito Sasieta April 11, 2013

    Dr. Sanchez,

    A few thoughts:

    Thank you for this article. After being abroad in Ecuador for eight months (and half Peruvian for my entire life!), I have found it challenging to articulate what it means to be “luterano” with my relatives, host families and friends. Lutherans essentially don´t exist in Ecuador. But is that okay? Do we need to be here? Sometimes I wonder if it is actually a rejuvenated Catholic Church that is best for Latin America.

    I have concerns about the word Anti-Christ that was used in an earlier comment. Yes, it´s biblical. Yes, Luther used it, but Luther also lived in the context of a different Catholic Church than the one today. As long we Lutherans insist on bringing up that word to describe the Pope, I´m just not sure how we will be able to understand and empathize with our Catholic brothers.

    You close your article with this division that we grieve. And it is this division that has really proved very challenging during my time in Peru and Ecuador. Sometimes, I feel like we are imposing our Lutheran theology in an attempt to save Latinos from their incorrect Catholic theology… do you ever feel the same way? What are we accomplishing by calling out Catholic doctrine at every opportunity? That´s what the pentecostals and non-denominationals have done here, and now, the ecumenical conversation seems almost non-existent.

    I covet some insight from your experiences with these questions.

    Thanks again,

    • Leopoldo Sanchez March 22, 2014

      Thanks for your comments, Sito.

      Many of my family members are Catholic. They do not connect to the Lutheran Church in their country because its expression of the faith is in some ways a transplant of U.S. Lutheran worship in Spanish brought over by missionaries. No credible integration of Lutheran theology in the cultural context has always taken place. There also other reasons related to socioeconomic background, opportunities for lay leadership, etc. that at times get in the way of reaching the Latin American middle class and potential leaders. Having said that, it is obviously not necessary to be Lutheran in order to be saved.

      Having said that, my family’s interaction with this Lutheran relative (myself!) has in some ways made them more Christ-centered and Gospel-centered in their approach to the Catholic faith. In a sense, they are living a sort of “rejuvenated” Catholicism at a personal level. This is partly because of the Catholic Church after Vatican II became a bit more open to some of Luther ideas (e.g., liturgy in the vernacular, return to a theology of Scripture, the church as the people of God or priesthood of all believers), but also because of our common consolation with the Gospel, praying for one another, theological discussions, caring for one another, etc. In such conversations, especially at the level of the family, one does not have to say everything one knows about Lutheran ways of speaking. It can be counter-productive and take away from what is most important, namely, the teaching of God’s Word and the proclamation of the Gospel. Know your audience. Ecumenical discussions happen at a high institutional level, but most of these dialogues happen in families, pastors, and friends. Grassroots ecumenism happens at a more informal level.

      I encourage you to continue affirming what is good, right, and salutary about the faith of your Catholic family and friends, while also remaining steadfast in the Lutheran confession which you have come to adopt freely and conscientiously. Much good fruit can come out of a charitable yet confessional approach to personal ecumenical engagement among Christians.

      I hope this helps a little.

      Dr. Sanchez

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