Lutherans Debate “Full Communion” with Episcopal Church

 — Aug. 17, 199717 aoüt 1997

PHILADELPHIA (ELCA) — “Unity in Christ has never been uniformity. Divisions in the church have injured us, but diversity has been enriching,” the Rev. Michael Rogness, professor of homiletics at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., told voting members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as they met in assembly here Aug. 16. He opened formal debate after a day of hearings on a proposal to enter into “full communion” with The Episcopal Church.

“The goal of ecumenism has never been ‘You must be like me,'” said Rogness. If Lutherans accept the proposal outlined in the Concordat of Agreement, he added, “we become Episcopalian and they stay Episcopalian” in the way the ministries of the two churches are structured. “The definition of the nature of ministry in the Concordat is clearly the threefold form” held by The Episcopal Church and not the ELCA, he said.

Rogness quoted the Concordat: “We agree that the threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons in historic succession will be the future pattern of the one ordained ministry.”

“It seems obvious to me that the Concordat sets in motion a trend which will invariably end up in full-fledged threefold ministry,” he said. That would contradict actions of the 1991 ELCA Churchwide Assembly which decided there would be one office of ordained ministry — pastors. Bishops would be pastors elected to offices of oversight in the synods or churchwide. A new order of diaconal ministers would not be ordained.

The Concordat also contradicts what Lutherans have been saying since the 16th century, said Rogness. “The Augsburg Confession says that agreement in Word and Sacrament is the only condition for unity,” he said. “The requirement of the Concordat is that we adopt the hierarchical system of episcopal structure as an additional condition for full communion, thus adding a condition for unity which we have never had before.”

“‘Full communion’ means affirming that in another church the gospel is proclaimed and the Sacraments appropriately administered,” the Rev. Walter R. Bouman, professor of systematic theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, told the assembly as he spoke in favor of the proposal. “It means that we can cooperate with each other fully, do mission together,” he said. “It means that we adopt agreements by which churches can exchange ministers.”

Lutheran-Episcopal dialogues that began 28 years ago had come to an impasse, said Bouman. “The Episcopal Church required that bishops who participate in the ‘historic episcopate’ ordain all clergy. The historic episcopate means new bishops are installed by bishops who can trace their succession back to about the third century after Christ. The Episcopal Church has bishops who share in this succession. The ELCA does not,” he said. “Lutherans don’t think the historic episcopate is necessary for ordained ministry.”

Bouman said that, as in all “genuine dialogue,” there were several attempts by each side to move toward a compromise. “Lutherans saw that they needed to take some action which would enable The Episcopal Church to recognize the historic episcopate in our bishops. Episcopalians saw that they needed to take some action that would recognize Lutheran ministry now,” he said.

The General Convention of The Episcopal Church adopted the Concordat when it met here in July. By that action the Episcopalians agreed to accept the ordinations of ELCA pastors, said Bouman, and now the Lutherans are being asked to accept the historic episcopate for its future bishops.

“The Lutheran confessions state that Lutherans have no objection to the historic episcopate,” Bouman said. “Indeed some Lutheran churches throughout the world actually have bishops in historic succession. The ELCA could agree that in the future all newly-elected bishops could be installed by having three Episcopal bishops as well as three Lutheran bishops share collegially in the laying-on of hands. Thus the Episcopal requirement would be met.”

A 45-minute discussion period followed that allowed voting members to comment and ask questions. When time ran out more than 30 Lutherans were left at microphones hoping to speak. The assembly’s agenda allows for more debate on Aug. 17 and 18, with a decision expected by the end of the afternoon on Aug. 18.

The Concordat would “build up the hierarchy of the church,” in Melissa O’Rourke’s opinion, putting bishops in positions elevated over pastors. “As a lay person, that makes me feel further away from what is decided in the church,” she said.

O’Rourke, Woonsocket, S.D., said the Concordat is confusing and possibly misleading, and its goal of implementing full communion is too important to rely on such a document. “You don’t have to feel guilty about saying ‘no,'” she said, implying that some voting members were already circulation an alternative resolution to recognize Episcopal ministries without adopting their structures.

The Concordat is “a small step toward the Episcopal church,” said Ken A. Grant, Midland, Mich. “It does not sacrifice the good order of the Lutheran church.”

The “pros and cons” of the proposal for Lutherans to enter into full communion with The Episcopal Church were also argued in earlier sessions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly being held here Aug. 14-20. Voting members of the ELCA took part in three hearing on Aug. 15.

Capacity audiences at each of the hearings made it possible that all 1,040 voting members took part. A panel of people who have been involved in various ways in the Concordat’s history answered questions and heard opinions about the agreement.

The Rev. Richard L. Jeske, Immanuel Lutheran Church, San Jose, Calif., and the Rt. Rev. Edward W. Jones, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, co-chairs of the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, served as the hearing’s key resource people.

Jones explained that for years Episcopalians have viewed the historic episcopate as being the same thing as apostolic succession — the passing of the Christian faith for 2,000 years through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of sacraments. Dialogue with Lutherans has illustrated apostolic succession “in a broader sense,” he said. “Historic episcopate is a strong way to keep the church in the apostolic succession.”

The Rev. David Preus, former bishop of the American Lutheran Church, told the hearing that Lutherans have recognized the ministry of Episcopalians since an agreement reached in 1982. But Episcopalians wanted more. “In the years since, the ‘more’ has been granted,” and it has been written down in the Concordat.

Unity in mission and ministry are already going on, said Preus. It should not be necessary for the Lutheran church to adopt the structures of the Episcopal church.

“The Concordat puts us in a position where we are not free to adopt the structures that we see necessary for mission,” he said. “We accept the Episcopal church’s ministries and sacraments. The historic episcopate is not needed.”

Posted: Aug. 17, 1997 • Permanent link:
Categories: ELCA NewsIn this article: Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, Lutheran
Transmis : 17 aoüt 1997 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : ELCA NewsDans cet article : Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, Lutheran

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