Ecumenical Dialogue—Why bother?

 — Feb. 27, 202327 févr. 2023

Our Lord Jesus prays in His High Priestly prayer in John 17: “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one” (v. 17). Our Lord Jesus is praying for His disciples. He is praying for His Church. He is praying for you and me today.

Our Lord’s prayer can be understood in this way: that His Church would remain one—not that we would somehow achieve this oneness by our actions. Our Lord is praying that the oneness that we already have in Him would be preserved. That we would remain one. The Lutheran Reformers expressed this in the Augsburg Confession in saying that after coming to agreement on what we teach and confess we would live “in unity and concord in the one Christian Church” (AC Preface 4).

However, even a cursory knowledge of the modern state of the Church will reveal that there are many divisions among us. If you look at the listing of the churches in any town or city you will find a very long list of different church bodies and denominations represented. This can cause confusion for those outside the Church as to why there are so many different churches if they are all supposed to be Christian.

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It also causes confusion for those who are members of the Church. Among Christians, misunderstandings can develop about what each church group believes. Suspicion and even animosity can develop between the different groups. This can make it difficult to recognize the real differences in teaching and practice that exist between various church bodies—differences that, unfortunate as they may be, are nevertheless significant. What you believe, teach, and confess matters!

Ecumenism can be understood as the effort of Christians from different denominations and traditions to come to a clearer understanding of each other and to develop closer relationships among the various members of different church bodies. Some would also see a further goal of establishing visible unity between different church bodies.

Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) is engaged in several ecumenical dialogues across the country. LCC is engaged in a national dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, held in the Niagara region. LCC is also in dialogue with the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), as well as with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

What is the purpose and the value in being a part of these dialogues? While it is true that for some groups dialogue may be seen as a means to seeking what we would term “altar and pulpit fellowship,” that is not the main consideration for LCC’s involvement in these dialogues. Though we must keep our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in mind that we would all be one, we maintain that such unity and oneness comes from a shared confession of the Christian Faith—something we sadly do not share at this time with the groups with whom we dialogue. However, we join our Lord in His prayer that such a unanimous confession might one day come to exist; we look forward to the day when we will all dwell in perfect unity.

Nevertheless, even if the primary goal for LCC in these ecumenical dialogues is not altar and pulpit fellowship, there is still great value in being part of these discussions. The dialogues allow us to build relationships and friendships with fellow Christians in other church bodies. The importance of these relationships becomes ever more apparent as the culture in which we live grows more and more hostile toward anyone who bears the name Christian. Though theological disagreements remain, together we can offer support and encouragement to one another in an increasingly difficult cultural environment for Christians. There are also opportunities and possibilities for LCC to work with other church bodies in areas that do not require doctrinal agreement—areas which can and should be explored.

Another significant benefit to participating in dialogue is the ability to clarify the various issues under discussion. Theological differences and what causes them can be made clearer through honest dialogue. It is not uncommon for us to hold inaccurate views of what other church bodies confess and what they mean when they confess it. The same can be said of what other church groups may inaccurately understand about what we in LCC confess. We can be guilty at times of putting up “strawmen” versions of what other groups believe and practice. We caricature and oversimplify their positions to more easily dismiss them.

When we enter genuine and honest dialogue, the strawmen caricatures that we have built rarely withstand scrutiny. The same can be true for other groups when, through discussion, we in LCC more carefully outline what we believe and why we believe it. In doing so we can more precisely outline the unique claims we make as Lutherans that sometimes are not fully grasped by others. Speaking from experience, LCC’s theological understanding and approach is not always widely understood by others; it sometimes comes as a surprise to those in the dialogue groups. For example, it was not previously clear to some members in our dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church how we in Lutheran Church–Canada differ from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

At times we can come to see through dialogue that our disagreements may have been founded on an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of what another group is saying. This helps us to see where real and substantial disagreements remain, and the reason for those disagreements can be clarified. It can also be helpful in coming to a fuller appreciation of where we do find ourselves in substantial agreement with other church groups. When we find these areas of agreement we can rejoice and give thanks to the Lord of the Church.

To seek to understand and to be understood is a primary goal of LCC’s participation in the various ecumenical dialogues in which we are engaged. For the good of the Holy Christian Church, we remain committed to be in dialogue with other church groups even as we rest in the confident knowledge that our Lord Jesus continues to pray for His Church even as He has promised to be with her always (Matthew 28:20).

The Canadian Lutheran is a publication of the Lutheran Church–Canada. Rev. Michael Keith is Pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Stony Plain, Alberta and a member of Lutheran Church–Canada’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

Posted: Feb. 27, 2023 • Permanent link:
Categories: OpinionIn this article: dialogue, ecumenism, Lutheran Church–Canada
Transmis : 27 févr. 2023 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : OpinionDans cet article : dialogue, ecumenism, Lutheran Church–Canada

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