Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue Issues ‘Common Statement’

 — Feb. 19, 199919 févr. 1999

[CHICAGO | ELCA News] Talks between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas have arrived at “A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity.” The 13-paragraph communique explains the emphasis of both traditions on the Nicene Creed and draws attention to a one-Latin-word addition that has divided the churches.

“Our dialogue has discussed extensively the historical and theological issues surrounding the one point in the Creed on which Lutherans and Orthodox have traditionally disagreed with regard to faith in the Holy Trinity: the procession of the Spirit,” said the statement.

“A major step forward is taken through the statement as we acknowledge closer unity between Lutheran and Orthodox Christians in the Trinitarian faith,” said the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, bishop of the ELCA’s Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod and Lutheran co-chair of the dialogue.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is a confession of the Christian faith dating back more than 16 centuries to church councils held in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in 325 and in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) in 381. It lays out the doctrine of the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — that is widely accepted across the Christian faith.

Orthodox traditions reject a later addition of the Latin word “filioque,” meaning “and the Son.” The original version of the Nicene Creed speaks of the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father,” without the addition of “and the Son.”

“The statement is a breakthrough in the dialogue regarding the ‘filioque’ controversy,” said His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Ainou, Bishop of Pittsburgh, Orthodox co-chair of the dialogue. “It is our hope that this will allow us to see our differences in a different light, that of faithfulness to the gospel and the undivided early Christian tradition, instead of seeing them in terms of faithfulness to confessional founders and confessional leaders.”

“Differences in faith and theology remain; but at least we are now able to agree on history … that the ‘filioque’ clause is an addition which violates the historical creed,” said Maximos. “This addition should be eliminated from the creed if only for historical reasons.”

“This elimination will help us to at least proclaim the historical faith of the Holy Trinity as believed and proclaimed by the early church,” the metropolitan added.

“Lutheran members of the dialogue recommend the use of the Nicene Creed (A.D. 381) without the western ‘filioque’ addition,” said McCoid. “The many years of serious dialogue to understand the history and theological issues that have divided us has led to this strong statement about our common faith in the Holy Trinity.”

“The statement cites areas where further dialogue about the Holy Trinity is needed,” he added.

“Lutherans are not prepared to regard the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as a heresy — a teaching against faith in the Holy Trinity. It is part of their confessional documents, and many of the chief teachers of the Lutheran tradition, including Luther himself, taught it vigorously,” said the statement.

“We look forward to a time when our churches will affirm the Nicene faith through common liturgical usage of the unaltered creed of A.D. 381. We trust that such common affirmation of faith will lead to the resolution of those theological differences which are still before us,” it said.

“Lutheran members of this dialogue are prepared to recommend to their church that it publicly recognize that the permanently normative and universally binding form of the Nicene Creed is the Greek text of A.D. 381, and that it undertake steps to reflect this recognition in its worship and teaching,” the statement said.

“This would be a way of enacting in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America the Lutheran World Federation resolution of 1990,” it said.

In 1990 the Lutheran World Federation — 124 Lutheran church bodies including the ELCA — recommended “that churches which already use the Nicene Creed in their liturgies may use the version of 381.” The U.S. dialogue added that in the Lutheran tradition “there is confessional warrant for this recommendation in Article I of the Augsburg Confession.”

The U.S. Lutheran-Orthodox talks resume July 12-14 at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pa.

The dialogue is in “Round III” of talks that began in the 1960s. Round II, from 1983 to 1989, resulted in the 1992 publication of “Salvation in Christ.” Round III on “faith in the Holy Trinity” began in 1994.

Lutheran members of the dialogue include Bishop McCoid; the Rev. Jan O. Flaaten, Trinity Lutheran Church, Phoenix; the Rev. Victor C. Langford III, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Seattle; the Rev. Thomas R. Lee, associate to the bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod, Great Falls, Mont.; Dr. Lynne Lorenzen, Augsburg College, Minneapolis; Dr. Bruce Marshall, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.; and Dr. David S. Yeago, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C. The Rev. Carl A. Volz, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., was a member of the Lutheran group until his death in December.

Orthodox members of the talks are Metropolitan Maximos; His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher, Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. & Canada, Libertyville, Ill.; the Rev John Breck, Wadmalaw Island, S.C.; the Rev. James Jorgenson, Livonia, Mich.; the Very Reverend John Morris, Shreveport, La.; Dr. Bradley Nassif, Fuller Seminary, Southern California Extension, Irvine, Calif.; the Rev. Robert G. Stephanopoulos, Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, New York; and the Rev. Gregory C. Wingenbach, Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

Posted: Feb. 19, 1999 • Permanent link:
Categories: Communiqué, ELCA NewsIn this article: dialogue, Lutheran, Orthodox
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