Lutheran Officials Meet, Discuss Variety of Goals and Challenges

 — Nov. 2, 19992 nov. 1999

BALTIMORE (ELCA) — The Committee on Lutheran Cooperation, a group that includes top officials of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) met here Oct. 25. The officials discussed a variety of current concerns and issues.

The meeting was held here to mark the dedication of the Lutheran Center at Christ Church, a new facility that houses offices for international and local Lutheran agencies.

Reports were presented by the presidents of two Lutheran organizations supported by the ELCA and LCMS: Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Both agencies moved their headquarters here from New York this fall.

The committee viewed a new video, “Kosovo Thank You,” which chronicled the recent conflict and the response of Lutheran World Relief and other cooperative church agencies, under the banner of Action by Churches Together (ACT). Jonathan C. Frerichs, director for communication, Lutheran World Relief, produced the video.

“Just as we say thank you, however, the level of support for Kosovo raises disturbing questions for our reflection,” said Kathryn F. Wolford, president, Lutheran World Relief, an overseas relief agency. “The United Nations High Commission for Refugees spends $1.23 in the Balkans for every 11 cents it spends in Africa.”

Lutheran World Relief is working through various agencies of the ELCA and LCMS to raise attention to the plight of refugees in Africa, she said.

Most of the Lutheran World Relief staff made the move to Baltimore, Wolford added. That was not true for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), which lost all but four of its staff who were with LIRS when the relocation was announced in February 1997, said Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., executive director. Most of the professional positions have now been filled, and the agency is now looking for several support staff.

LIRS is supported by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as well as the ELCA and LCMS. It carries out the churches’ ministry with immigrants and refugees.

Deffenbaugh said LIRS resettled about 1,600 of 14,000 refugees from the Balkans who had been relocated in the United States. He also said the number of refugees for whom the agency finds homes annually has risen from about 9,000 four years ago to 13,400 this year.

LIRS is concerned about people who seek asylum in the United States from other countries. LIRS is working with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to find alternatives to detention, in which people from other nations seeking freedom may be “locked up” in the United States, Deffenbaugh said. The agency’s effort to protect “children who are very vulnerable,” is also part of its present focus, he said.

“It’s a great privilege and honor to be involved in the ministry of hospitality,” he added.

The church officials briefly exchanged views on the signing of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” an issue on which the denominations differ.

The Joint Declaration was signed Oct. 31 in Augsburg, Germany, by officials with the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The ELCA is a member of the LWF, the LCMS is not.

The doctrine of justification teaches that people become “right with God” because Jesus Christ won their salvation through his life, death and resurrection. This means salvation is strictly a gift through faith in Jesus and not because anyone else has earned it.

“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not = because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works,” said the Joint Declaration.

In addition, the declaration indicates that mutual condemnations of the past related to justification do not apply in the present. Those condemnations, exchanged by Lutherans and Roman Catholics, date back as far as 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian, wrote and posted his “95 Theses.” Those events motivated the Protestant Reformation.

One of the signers of the Joint Declaration was the Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA. Anderson, who signed as a vice president of the Lutheran World Federation, previously said the Joint Declaration was “a significant milestone in the reconciliation of our two church traditions. By acknowledging that there is agreement on this crucial article of the Christian faith, our two churches have bridged a theological divide that has separated us for nearly 500 years.”

The Rev. A.L. Barry, president of the LCMS, had previously criticized the Joint Declaration, saying “it is an opportunity for Rome to appear ecumenical without conceding a thing, and it is but the latest example of Lutherans sacrificing God’s truth on the altar of unity.” He also said those who signed the document fail to see it is a “woefully inadequate and misleading document and a betrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“I don’t see the Joint Declaration as the breakthrough as some characterize it,” Barry said at the Oct. 25 meeting.

The Rev. Samuel H. Nafzger, executive director, LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, said he cannot reconcile a conflict he believes exists between the language of the Joint Declaration and the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences. “To me, that reveals a continuing problem at the heart,” he said.

The Joint Declaration is a document that only addresses a specific issue and does not address many other issues on which Lutherans and Roman Catholics may disagree, Anderson responded.

The Rev. Daniel F. Martensen, director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, said agreement on this one issue has resulted in a positive change in mood between many Lutherans and Roman Catholics. The churches are also continuing their discussions on other issues, he said.

Several ELCA officials were with Anderson at the Augsburg signing. The Lutheran World Federation is a global communion of Lutheran churches, with central offices in Geneva, Switzerland. Founded in 1947, the LWF now has 128 member churches in 70 countries representing 58 million of the world’s 61.5 million Lutherans.

In other business Oct. 25, Anderson reported the ELCA will focus on leadership, economic life, ecumenism and evangelism during the next two years. Martensen reviewed the status of recent ecumenical agreements and of upcoming dialogues with the United Methodist Church, the=20 African-Methodist Episcopal Church and the Mennonites.

The ELCA, through its churchwide assemblies in 1997 and 1999, entered into full communion agreements with the Moravian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ. A full communion agreement with The Episcopal Church has been approved by the ELCA and awaits action by the Episcopalians in July 2000.

Barry said the LCMS is emphasizing an evangelism program, “Tell the Good News About Jesus.” He also said he appointed a task force to study why the LCMS Foundation experienced a $40 million loss in the previous fiscal year. The foundation has about $700 million in assets.

The Rev. Robert T. Kuhn, LCMS first vice president, said the denomination has studied the possibility of a name change, requested by its general convention. The study has been completed and is to be reported to the next meeting of the board of directors, he said.

“The majority (of those who responded) are saying it should stay the same,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn and the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, secretary of the ELCA, discussed common concerns of each church body about recruitment of clergy and morale.

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