From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA presiding bishop says ecumenism is Lutheran

Date 22 Oct 1998 06:54:06

History has given Lutherans "a fundamental aptitude for ecumenism"

CHICAGO, Illinois, U.S.A./GENEVA, 19 October 1998 (elca/lwi) - "The
ecumenical question is often posed as a vote for or against 'Lutheran
identity'. We cite our confessional tradition as the reason for our
continued separation from other Christian bodies," said the Rev. H. George
Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA). "I believe that it is precisely our Lutheran identity that drives
us to reach out."

After celebrating a new relationship of "full communion" with three
churches of the Reformed tradition on October 4 in Chicago's Rockefeller
Memorial Chapel, Anderson then spoke at the Lutheran School of Theology at
Chicago (LSTC) on "The Lutheran Communion and Ecumenical Relationships".

Among the international guests who had come for the gala worship service at
Rockefeller Chapel and an LSTC-hosted celebration of the 50th anniversary
of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) were LWF General Secretary Ishmael
Noko and World Council of Churches' General Secretary Konrad Raiser.

The ELCA's presiding bishop stressed the important role Lutherans in the
United States play among Lutherans around the world through the LWF. "Too
often we see the LWF as an end in itself," he deplored, exhorting Lutherans
around the world to "expend, extend and to share" through greater
involvement in the World Council of Churches.

"What gifts do we bring to the ecumenical movement as a Lutheran
communion?" Anderson asked. He answered that their confessions and history
give Lutherans "a fundamental aptitude for ecumenism".

He continued, "We understand that repentance is a part of international and
ecumenical relations. ... In that repentance we discover that God
forgives." That perspective is the foundation for Lutherans to talk openly
with other Christians and with people of other faiths.

In the 1920s and 1930s there was a renewed interest in Martin Luther, he
recalled. That gave Lutherans the attention of Protestant and Roman
Catholic scholars during the early years of the ecumenical movement. "We
are in their textbooks."

The Augsburg Confession defines "church" as "the assembly of all believers
among whom the gospel is preached in its purity and the Holy Sacraments are
administered according to the gospel," said the presiding bishop.
"Lutherans do not have a monopoly on Jesus Christ," he remarked, and they
do not commit themselves to a single church structure.

Thus, he concluded, Lutherans are free to talk with Christians in all
church bodies. "While we can't begin to be in full communion with all those
folks, we can recognize the work of God in all of them."

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Lutheran World Information
Editorial Assistant: Janet Bond-Nash

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