Lutherans and Episcopalians Discuss Full Communion

 — Mar. 21, 199621 mars 1996

by James Solheim, director of news and information for the Episcopal Church.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (ELCA) — As the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America move toward a historic decision in 1997 on full communion, they invited ecumenical partners to discuss the implications for all churches seeking unity.

The Concordat of Agreement between the two churches would open the way to broad cooperation in ministry, interchangeability of clergy, collegiality among bishops — including joint consecrations that would, over time, lead to sharing of the historic episcopate. The historic episcopate is based on the belief that authority in the church is derived from bishops ordained by the physical laying on of hands by other bishops, who can trace their own succession back to Christ’s apostles.

Lutheran, Anglican/Episcopal, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed and Methodist theologians and church leaders from Europe and North America gathered at an Episcopal retreat center in Florida, Jan. 27-29, for presentations of papers and open conversation.

The practical implications of a shared episcopacy were a concern for Dr. Henry Chadwick, Oxford, England. He argued that some kind of structure would be needed — “shared organs of decision-making” based on a need to “take counsel.”

Bishop Stephen Sykes, a leading ecumenist from the Church of England, added that “parallel jurisdictions,” where Lutheran and Episcopal bishops share the same territory, may turn out to be “a hindrance to unity, an obstacle.”

The proposed integration of Lutherans into the historic episcopate will make it difficult to “sell” the Concordat, warned several participants. The Rev. Carl E. Braaten, an ELCA pastor and executive director of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Northfield, Minn., said only about 10 percent of Midwestern Lutherans “are positive about accepting the historic episcopate.”

While Braaten favors the proposals for full communion, he said he is convinced that they have not penetrated to the grass roots yet. “Lutherans need to be persuaded” about the episcopate and the sharing of ministries, he said.

Braaten identified a resistance based on the requirement that Lutherans accept Episcopal orders, while Episcopalians are not required to accept the fundamentals of Lutheran faith.

The Episcopal Church is not required to bind itself to anything it doesn’t already accept,” he said. Lutherans should not accept the episcopate as “part of a deal, a compromise, until we are convinced that it is good and useful.”

Yet Lutherans are free to accept that which they don’t already have, in order to “nourish unity,” said Dr. Bruce Marshall, religion professor at the ELCA’s St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. He added that agreement in word and sacrament is all that’s necessary for unity, according to the Lutheran confessions.

In its final report, the consultation said the Concordat presupposed “a comprehensive consensus in the Gospel” and that the proposals about ministry and episcopacy “are only rightly understood when seen in the light of its understanding of the church and its larger intent to unite the churches into a truly common life of worship and mission.” It said the emphasis on episcopate “must not be isolated from this more comprehensive life together.”

“The Concordat actually embodies a future of great hopefulness for the churches, and not just of North America,” said Sykes.

“It is a kairos in ecumenism when two sister traditions, standing in continuity with the church of the patristic and medieval periods both directly and through the insights of the Reformation period, are offered the opportunity of embracing wider unity,” he added.

For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service, (312) 380-2058; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir., (312) 380-2955; Lia Christiansen, Asst. Dir., (312) 380-2956

Posted: Mar. 21, 1996 • Permanent link:
Categories: ELCA NewsIn this article: Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, Lutheran
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Catégorie : ELCA NewsDans cet article : Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, Lutheran

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