Lutheran-Reformed dialogue plans study on understanding of church

 — Aug. 29, 200729 aoüt 2007

Namibian Lutherans Host Second Meeting of Joint Commission

[LWI] Theologians from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) participating in the second meeting of the Lutheran-Reformed Joint Commission agreed to the need for further study on the understanding of the Church from the perspectives of the two faith traditions.

During the 11-17 August meeting hosted by the LWF in cooperation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) in Windhoek, Namibia, the Commission members received papers on the meaning and authority of confessions in Lutheran and Reformed traditions. From these discussions, which established many areas of convergence while identifying a number of points of difference, they decided at the next meeting to examine existing agreements among the families of churches with special attention to their suggestiveness for the range of global contexts represented on the Commission. The hope is to commend to the churches additional ways to claim and live out the communion, which already exists among them.

Work in Namibia continued conversations begun at the first meeting in July 2006 in Utrecht, Netherlands. At that meeting, the group identified the identification of a status confessionis regarding racism during the apartheid era as a crucial event in the life of both the LWF and WARC, and so determined that the second meeting should be in southern Africa. Six leaders from five South African churches joined the Commission to discuss the life and witness of their communities in that context.

Among the guests, Bishop Dieter Lilje of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa-N-T, a church of German foundation and heritage, described questions of theological identity, which are arising as his church becomes more multilingual, multiracial and multicultural. Rev. Dr Allan Boesak, a former WARC president, spoke of the “unique window of opportunity” at this moment for renewed effort toward greater theological and visible structural unity among the churches, which are still finding their way amid the new challenges since democracy has been established. His words joined the challenges from Bishops Joe Ramashapa and Ndanganeni Phaswana from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa that the Commission combine its careful attention to theological reflection with concern for the implications of its work at all levels of the churches’ mission. Discussion of what forms of Christian witness would be both “Reformational” and faithful to the African context helped the Commission think about its own tasks to help churches throughout the global communions.

Commission members also heard about a pilot project of the ELCRN-supported Basic Income Grant (BIG) aimed at alleviating poverty and promoting development in Namibia. ELCRN Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta, LWF vice president for the Africa region, leads the BIG initiative.

The LWF and WARC have been in formal international dialogue since the early 1980s.

The Commission’s co-chairpersons are Lutheran Bishop emeritus Dr Július Filo (Slovak Republic) and Reformed minister Rev. Dr Anna Case-Winters (USA). The WARC will host the next meeting in October 2008.

Communiqué: Lutheran-Reformed Joint Commission
Windhoek, Namibia, 11-17 August 2007

The second meeting of the Lutheran-Reformed Joint Commission took place from 11 to 17 August 2007 in Windhoek, Namibia, at Greiters’ Hotel and Conference Center.

This Commission is appointed by The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The mandate of the group is to seek more visible church unity among Reformed and Lutheran churches.

The members are:

Rev. Prof. Dr Anna Case-Winters, co-chair (USA), Rev. Prof. Dr Priscille Djomhoué (Cameroon), Rev. Prof. Dr Daniel Beros (Argentina), Rev. Dr Mindawati Perangin-Angin (Indonesia), Rev. Prof. Dr Dirk J. Smit (South Africa), Prof. Dr Michel Grandjean (Switzerland), Prof. Dr Michael Weinrich (Germany), and Rev. Dr Gottfried W. Locher (Switzerland) as a consultant. Rev. Dr Reinhard Krauss attended as a guest.

Bishop Dr Július Filo, co-chair (Slovak Republic), Rev. Prof. Dr Anneli Aejmelaeus (Finland), Bishop Thomas J. Barnett (Sierra Leone), Prof. Dr Luis Henrique Dreher (Brazil), Prof. Dr Kathryn Johnson (USA), Superintendent Dieter Lorenz (Germany), and as a consultant Rev. Prof. Dr André Birmelé (Strasbourg, France). Commission member Kathryn Johnson, who is Interim Ecumenical Officer for the LWF, served also as co-secretary. Excused was Rev. Prof. Dr Song Mee Chung (Malaysia).

The meeting was hosted by the Lutheran World Federation in cooperation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN), whose leaders and staff members provided a warm welcome. The Commission was welcomed by Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta and worshipped at the Inner City Lutheran Church on Sunday, 12 August. After the service, participants were cordially invited into congregation members’ families. In the afternoon, an excursion enabled the commission members to discover “the beautiful and the bald” of the Windhoek area by touring the township Katutura. Bishop Kameeta’s office provided information on the Church’s leadership in a pilot project of income support for the poorest Namibians, provided first from voluntary contributions.

On 14 August the group was invited to the Dutch Reformed Church in Namibia by the Rev. Schalk Pienaar for a reception and orientation.

Lutheran and Reformed church leaders from South Africa were invited to join the commission in the morning of 15 August to help the group reflect on the life and witness of the Church in their context. Both the LWF and WARC had declared a status confessionis regarding racism during apartheid in the late twentieth century, and the Commission heard about the continuing significance of that struggle. The guests were:

Bishop Dieter R. Lilje (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – N-T), Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, Northern Diocese), Presiding Bishop Joe Ramashapa (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa), and Bishop Nils Rohwer (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – Cape Church).

Rev. Prof. Dr Allan Boesak (Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa) and Rev. Dr Kobus Gerber (Dutch Reformed Church).

The Commission received papers on the meaning and authority of confessions in Lutheran and Reformed traditions. It established many areas of convergence, while also identifying a number of points of difference. Discussions revealed the need for further investigation of our understanding of the Church. The next meeting will therefore focus on ecclesiology. The Commission will review former agreements on the nature of the Church by examining them from different contexts in which our churches live. The hope is to commend to our churches additional ways to live out the communion among us.

The next meeting will be hosted by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in October 2008.

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