ELCA Presiding Bishop, LWF President Focuses on Ecumenism

 — Oct. 21, 200521 oct. 2005

SÃO LEOPOLDO, Brazil (ELCA) — Some people find it confusing that Lutherans are involved in many different “full communion” relationships, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson said in a panel discussion on ecumenism here Oct. 13. “I always say that’s because our confessions call us to seek deeper unity in the church but allow greater flexibility when there is agreement on the gospel” with other churches, he said.

Hanson, president of the 66-million-member Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Geneva, Switzerland, and presiding bishop of the 4.9-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Chicago, examined some of the dimensions of ecumenism with Brazilian church leaders during the Fourth Conference of International Black Lutherans-USA (CIBL) here Oct. 11-17.

In his opening comments Hanson offered “four lenses” through which to look at ecumenism — ecclesial, spiritual, missional and wider ecumenism.

“The ecclesial lens is really the prevailing lens of the past 50 years that has defined our agreements in the gospel,” said Hanson. Through those agreements in the gospel “we begin to address our differences in theology and in context. This ecclesial form of ecumenism has led to the establishment of councils of churches, bilateral dialogues and now full-communion agreements,” he said.

Full communion is not a plan to merge but allows churches to share locally and internationally in their mission. It also makes it possible for clergy in one church to serve as pastors in congregations of another church body, under certain circumstances. The ELCA shares full communion agreements with The Episcopal Church, Moravian Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

“As Lutherans we are asking ourselves, ‘Are we a reforming movement within the Church catholic or are we Protestants protesting?’ I think we always live in the tension of being a reforming movement that also protests when we believe it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed,” Hanson said.

Spiritual ecumenism is Christians coming together to read Scripture, pray and live out their faith together in Christian communities, Hanson said. “For instance, I think it’s what we hear when lay people say, ‘Why can’t we commune together? We believe in the same Jesus, why do leaders and theologians of churches take so long to grant us the unity we already feel with our neighbors as we are one in Christ and one in the Spirit?”

A third lens is missional ecumenism, Hanson said. “We seek not only unity in Christ for the sake of the body of Christ but for the sake of the proclaiming of the gospel to the world and for the sake of being a part of God’s mission in and for the life of the world,” he said.

Hanson said he has observed a “convergence” among conservative evangelicals and other faith groups in the United States around three issues — the ending of hunger, the reduction of poverty and care for the creation. “The convergence is drawing conservative evangelicals together with Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Protestants churches in some very encouraging ways. I also think that convergence is happening in the world. The concern here is that we not separate the diaconal work of the Church, the prophetic engagement in the struggle for justice and peace and the life of being the church of God in Word and Sacrament, so that they become three distinct and not related expressions of our unity. And, that is a great challenge before the ecumenical movement,” he said.

“The fourth lens is what I call wider ecumenism,” said Hanson. “It is Christians engaged with persons of other faiths in dialogue and in our common commitment to one shared creation and humanity,” he said.

Hanson cited the need for deeper understanding of the three Abrahamic faiths since coming out of a recent trip to the Middle East, where he was challenged by the leaders of the Jordanian society who are Muslims. “Can we as Christians, Jews and Muslims come to some common consensus out of our religious traditions, both distinct and shared, of how we will live together in civil society, how we will not be engaged in acts of violence and conflict over and against each other, but share a common commitment to peace that comes out of our shared and distinctive religious traditions?”

The Rev. Walter Altmann, pastor president, Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana no Brasil (Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil), Porto Alegre, Brazil; Dr. Rudolf von Sinner, professor of systematic theology, Escola Superior de Teologia; and the Rev. Luis Vergilio Batista da Roja, conference bishop of the Methodist Church here, also participated in the panel.

“Can we Lutherans, and other Protestants, be an evangelical alternative for (other people of faith) who have become frustrated with their religious experiences, because some promises of prosperity have not come true?” Altmann asked. “We have a biblical mandate for ecumenism. With the growth of evangelical churches, the question of unity is rising from within,” he said.

According to Batista da Roja, “A current challenge to ecumenism is that it moves from institutional ecclesial to a political agenda. In this context, considering Brazilian reality and the Latin American context, I consider it essential that the ecumenical agenda includes the recognition that slavery was a crime against humanity. This recognition is essential to build new social relations, and this process must be formal because it humanizes reality, contributed to the impoverishment of Africa, and it is a basic issue of the church and, of course, of the Protestant movement,” he said.

“The ecumenical movement is a movement of liberation, and it can only be addressed by noble actions,” Batista da Roja said.

“The theological institute (here) prepares people to address these issues of ecumenism,” said von Sinner. “The main polarity in ecumenism is contextual reality — be the Church in a particular place in time and speaking coherently about Jesus Christ together,” he said. “Ecumenism is linked to the world in one sense, so whatever we do in practical terms has strong implications to diaconia.”

Hanson also delivered a sermon based on the Gospel of Matthew at the conference’s opening worship. While he spoke, his sermon was translated into Portuguese.

“The mighty winds of Hurricane Katrina not only brought destruction to human lives and property, but also lifted up the veil of an American people who so often want to keep those living in poverty hidden,” Hanson said in his sermon. He expressed concern that it would be easy for citizens of the United States to raise “that veil to shroud those who live in poverty, especially communities of color, rather than take it as a wake-up call and challenge. As American people seek to respond compassionately to those who live in poverty throughout the world. We also have to address the issues of poverty in our own land, not one over against the other but one in relationship with the other. This is a mandate of our faith” in “pursuit of justice,” he said.

Participants of CIBL presented Hanson a plaque memorializing the Rev. Will L. Herzfeld, presiding bishop of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a predecessor church body of the ELCA, from 1984 to 1987. Herzfeld was the first African American to serve as presiding bishop of a Lutheran church, and a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960s, while pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Herzfeld died in 2002. Participants of CIBL requested that the plaque be displayed at the ELCA churchwide office. The Rev. James K. Echols, president, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, presented the plaque to Hanson.

Posted: Oct. 21, 2005 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4831
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 21 oct. 2005 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4831
Catégorie : ELCA News

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