From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network Meeting

Date 30 May 1996 13:47:33


May 30, 1996


     RICHMOND, Va. (ELCA) -- Full communion will mean churches
"may be in the same place, but we don't have to be," said Dr.
Walter R. Bouman, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.  "We
are interchangeable" because the churches share a common faith
and a common ministry, he told ecumenical representatives of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
     The Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN) held
its annual meeting during the 1996 National Workshop on Christian
Unity here May 6-9 and examined three ecumenical proposals.
     In 1997 the ELCA and the other churches involved will be
asked to approve:  full communion with the Episcopal Church; full
communion with three Reformed churches -- Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ;
and a declaration that 16th century condemnations on
justification no longer apply between Lutherans and Roman
     In contemporary America "churches are interchangeable for
all the wrong reasons," said Bouman.  Christians are not loyal to
a "brand name" but attend a church because it's convenient or its
worship is pleasing.
     While Lutheran-Episcopal full communion will not involve
merger, he added, once future generations get used to the
churches being interchangeable they will start questioning why
two bishops are needed for the same territory.
     The Lutheran-Episcopal proposal has historic significance,
said Bishop Frank Vest, Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia.
"We're beginning to put together what began to unravel in the
16th century."
     Dr. William Petersen, Colgate-Rochester Divinity School,
Rochester, N.Y., recounted three decades of Lutheran-Episcopal
dialogue resulting in the current proposal, "Concordat of
Agreement."  He outlined some of the mechanics of the agreement,
such as including ELCA bishops into the historic episcopate --
church authority traced back to Christ's apostles through the
succession of bishops.
     The Lutheran-Reformed proposal, "Formula of Agreement,"
calls for full communion between the ELCA and three Reformed
churches.  LERN members were reminded that all ecumenical
agreements only mark a step along the road to Christian unity.
     Positive votes in 1997 will not magically transform the four
churches into one mission enterprise, said Diane Kessler,
executive director, Massachusetts Council of Churches.  The
agreement will mean "we do take each other seriously enough to
learn to live and grow together ... into a reality to which we've
committed ourselves."
     The Rev. John H. Thomas, assistant to the president for
ecumenical concerns, United Church of Christ, fielded questions
from LERN members about full communion's "interchangeability" of
clergy.  "Interchangeability" is often misunderstood, he said.
Actually clergy will be "available for call upon invitation" from
the other churches.
     "We're not anticipating a mass movement of clergy," said
Thomas.  "This is not a job opportunities program."
     The Lutheran-Roman Catholic proposal includes some elements
of full communion -- specifically a common confession of the
Christian faith and a mutual lifting of some condemnations that
exist between the churches.  This agreement would have
international scope.
     "We hope that, before the end of the decade, both the
Lutheran World Federation and its member churches and the Roman
Catholic Church can say that the condemnations from each church
against the other from the Reformation period in relation to the
doctrine of justification do not apply to the other church
today," said Dr. Michael Root, an ELCA associate in ministry and
director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg,
     Justification -- the doctrine that Jesus Christ secured the
forgiveness of sins -- has been the topic of two international
dialogues since 1970 and dialogues in North America and Germany,
said Root.  He described work being done internationally to draft
the actual wording of the declaration, which will become public
near the end of the summer.
     "The text outlines a basic consensus on justification," said
Root.  "It argues that from this consensus the condemnations no
longer apply."  He complimented this approach for briefly stating
areas of agreement rather than recalling 16th century malice.
     Four hundred years ago the condemnations were "strong
statements of faith," said Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, Roman
Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala.  "In the process of clearing
the air we are making strong statements about our convergence."
     Lipscomb said the Lutheran-Roman Catholic proposal would not
result in merger, but it has done a great deal to help the two
churches jointly define and understand their own identities.
     "Let's not try doing everything at once," he added.  "Let's
just stop cursing each other officially."
     The Rev. Daniel Martensen, director of the ELCA Department
for Ecumenical Affairs, briefed LERN on the current status of all
ELCA dialogues with other church bodies.  Martensen said when the
ELCA's presiding bishop, H. George Anderson, took office last
fall, the Department for Ecumenical Affairs was "restructured and
redefined to assist the bishop in the bishop's work."  The new
format puts the bishop in more direct contact with ecumenical
     Each of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops appoints one LERN
member.  About 60 Lutherans were among the more than 400
attending the National Workshop on Christian Unity.

For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service,
(312) 380-2958; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir., (312) 380-2955; Lia
Christiansen, Asst. Dir., (312) 380-2956

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