ELCA Leaders Issue “Perspective” on Called to Common Mission

 — July 29, 199929 juil. 1999

CHICAGO (ELCA) — A vote on a proposed Lutheran-Episcopal full communion agreement is “an enormously momentous decision,” said five leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who this month sent informational statements and endorsements of the proposal to voting members of the 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The assembly will be asked to approve the proposed agreement when it convenes in Denver, Aug. 16-22.

The five leaders are the Rev. Dennis A. Anderson, president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio; the Rev. Richard L. Jeske, Immanuel Lutheran Church, San Jose, Calif.; the Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr., bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod; the Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod; and the Rev. Joseph M. Wagner, executive director of the ELCA Division for Ministry, Chicago.

The proposed agreement, “Called to Common Mission (CCM),” is a Lutheran revision of the proposed Concordat of Agreement, a similar proposal for full communion with the Episcopal Church. The Concordat failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority at the 1997 ELCA assembly. A full communion agreement would make possible a variety of cooperative ministries, including exchange of clergy in ELCA and Episcopal congregations.

ELCA members opposed to CCM held two conferences at Mahtomedi, Minn., earlier this year and circulated tapes and transcripts of many of the presentations to most assembly voting members.

“Many members of the ELCA have expressed concern that the positive rationale for favoring CCM has not been presented to voting members of the 1999 Denver Churchwide Assembly,” the five leaders said in the perspective’s introduction. “We know that many voting members and congregations have received mailings which oppose CCM.”

“However, we also know that an overwhelming majority of the voting members of the 1997 Philadelphia assembly expressed their desire for full communion with the Episcopal Church and called for a revised proposal to be presented at Denver,” they said. It’s crucial to the ongoing ecumenical witness of the ELCA that CCM be adopted by “a strong majority” in Denver, they added.

The “perspective” included a series of 20 questions and answers about CCM, information about the proposal and signed endorsements from several former and present ELCA leaders. It was mailed to an address list developed “independently through appropriate contacts with each synod,” and it was funded by “private sources for the costs associated” with the mailing, the five leaders said.

In arguing for adoption of CCM, the perspective said it’s “crucial for the life of this church as it seeks to be a leader in the Christian world community.” Should CCM fail, such a vote would place barriers between the ELCA and its longtime ecumenical partners — “not only the Episcopal Church but also the churches of the Anglican communion throughout the world,” the perspective said.

“Other Lutheran church bodies will welcome the ELCA’s assuming its rightful place among those churches whose ministerial structures reflect the historic apostolic mission of the gospel,” the perspective said. “They will at last be invited to join in the ordination of the clergy and the installation of bishops in the ELCA without the impediments they faced in the past, when visiting Lutheran bishops in the historic succession were prevented from participating in the laying on of hands at the installations of our presiding bishops.”

Thirteen present and former ELCA leaders added their endorsements of CCM to the perspective. “I favor full communion because it makes sense both practically and theologically,” said the Rev. Herbert W. Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the ELCA. “None of us will win the world for Christ by going our separate way. Full communion is a positive, forthright way to tell the world that our two churches intend to be in mission together.”

Chilstrom specifically addressed the question of the “historic episcopate,” a key point in CCM. Episcopalians bring to the relationship the “historic episcopate,” a succession of bishops as a sign of unity back to the earliest days of the Christian church. If CCM is approved, the ELCA will adopt the historic episcopate.

“They (Episcopalians) have only asked us to embrace it as a sign of the continuity of the gospel through the leadership of our bishops and as one of the many ways that the Spirit leads the church,” Chilstrom said. “That is fully in keeping with what other Lutherans around the world have been doing for many generations.”

“By accident of history, many Lutherans (though not all) lost the historic episcopate,” said the Rev. James R. Crumley Jr., presiding bishop of the former Lutheran Church in America. “I believe it is time to recover it as an appropriate sign of the apostolicity of the church.”

Technical differences and traditional preferences should not impede the mission of God in the world “or detract us from the rightful path of ecumenism which we have followed to this point,” said the Rev. Will L. Herzfeld, presiding bishop of the former Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

Two former ELCA synod bishops who opposed the Concordat in 1997 endorsed CCM: the Rev. William Lazareth, former bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod and the Rev. Kenneth H. Sauer, former bishop of the ELCA Southern Ohio Synod.

“In my judgment the current text is far more faithful to the normative authority of the Holy Scriptures as witnessed in the Lutheran Confessions,” Lazareth said.

“The ‘Apology of the Augsburg Confession,’ refers to the traditional form of the historic episcopate as ‘the ecclesiastical and canonical polity’ which was the Reformers ‘deep desire to maintain.’ After almost 500 years, that evangelical and catholic wish may now at last be fulfilled in the ELCA. Thanks be to God,” Lazareth said.

Sauer, who is now director of the Institute for Mission in the U.S.A., Columbus, Ohio, said he’s talked with many people and read the CCM materials. Though he couldn’t support the Concordat in 1997, “I now believe the ELCA can accept CCM without violating its confessional commitments,” Sauer said.

“I now believe that the ELCA not only CAN adopt CCM, but SHOULD adopt it with hope and joy,” Sauer wrote.

In a letter to assembly voting members, the Rev. Wayne Weissenbuehler, Bethany Lutheran Church, Englewood, Colo., said the ELCA has a chance to show the world that “Christians can overcome historic impediments to a mutual life of faith and thus eliminate one more excuse for not taking the gospel we proclaim seriously.” Weissenbuehler is also former bishop of the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod.

“We are not going to let this historic opportunity slip away from us, are we?” Weissenbuehler asked the voting members. “I live and work in the midst of a congregation that would find it strange and wrong if the assembly would not overwhelmingly pass CCM. They, like myself, have come to experience the Episcopal Church as a church in which the gospel is alive and well and proclaimed in ways that are compatible with Lutherans.”

Weissenbuehler said he supports CCM because it will “enhance the mission and witness of the whole church.”

Posted: July 29, 1999 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4696
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 29 juil. 1999 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4696
Catégorie : ELCA News

  Previous post: Ancien article : Representatives of ELCA and LCMS Meet for Talks
  Newer post: Article récent : My wounded Church