Dialogue between Confessional Lutherans and Roman Catholics continues

Third Meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Participants in October's meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group of the ILC and PCPCU.
Participants in the October 2016 meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group of the ILC and PCPCU.

GERMANY – On October 14-15, the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity met. This time the gathering took place at the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institute for Ecumenism in Paderborn, Germany. Delegates on the ILC side were Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III (St. Louis, Missouri), Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Oberursel, Germany), Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), and—standing in for Prof. Dr. John Stephenson—Prof. Dr. Thomas Winger (St. Catharines, Canada). On the Roman Catholic side were Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), Prof. Dr. Grant Kaplan (St. Louis, Missouri), PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany), Father Dr. Augustinus Sander (Maria Laach, Germany), and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany).

The conversations centered on the Lutheran perception of the Roman Catholic liturgy. They focused particularly on the Roman Catholic understanding of the presence of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Church in the Lord’s Supper. It became apparent that there were different ways of thinking—not only between Lutheran and Roman Catholic approaches to the topic, but also in the various Roman Catholic Eucharistic prayers themselves. The debate centered in particular on the problem whether and to what extent the Church might play a distinct, or “active”, role in the performance of the liturgy.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. In preparing for this meeting, cross-confessional pairings were formed. They are meant to engage with the following topics: the understanding of co-operation of the Church (“synergeia”) and sacrifice; the theological understanding of “time”, that is to say the relationship between the history of salvation and the “event” of salvation, or the issue of the realization of salvation in the liturgy; the understanding of sacrifice against the background of article 24 of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, and in The Examination of the Council of Trent by Martin Chemnitz,  looking also at the document “The Eucharist” (1978); and questions concerning the office of the ministry and ordination. Moreover, they plan to identify and describe areas of major agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches in the International Lutheran Council. The resulting texts will serve to steer the further debates in the year to come, and secure the results of this informal dialogue.

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ILC leaders report, delegates discuss ecumenical relations

Discussion at the ILC's 2015 World Conference spill into the coffee break. Bishop Hans Jorg Voigt (ILC Chairman and head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany) and Chairman Jon Ehlers (Evangelical Church of England) speak with General Secretary Ofga Berhanu (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).
Discussion at the ILC’s 2015 World Conference spills into the coffee break. Bishop Hans Jorg Voigt (ILC Chairman and head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany) and Chairman Jon Ehlers (Evangelical Church of England) speak with General Secretary Ofga Berhanu (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).

ARGENTINA – The 2015 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continued the afternoon of September 24 as delegates heard reports from the Executive Council and discussed ecumenical relations.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt gave his report to the conference in the afternoon, highlighting various successes of the past triennium, including joint relief and aid following Typhoon Haiyan, the ILC’s 2013 World Seminaries Conference held in Lithuania, new contacts between ILC churches and other Lutheran churches, and the 2015 Wittenberg Conference on global confessional leadership.

In his report, Chairman Voigt also noted the challenges the Church will face in the years to come. Among these challenges he identified the fact that faith in Christ continues to decrease in Western society; that worldwide persecution of Christians is on the rise; and the rise of the global refugee crisis. We must also learn anew to speak Christian wisdom and insight into the world around us, he suggested, stressing the importance of Christian though to the cultures in which we find ourselves. Finally, he suggested, the ILC must learn to look further forward and consider what form the International Lutheran Council should take going into the future.

That last topic led into the ILC’s Executive Secretary Al Collver’s report. Dr. Collver noted that the ILC has been undertaking in depth Strategic Planning over the past triennium. He indicated that he would be bringing the details of their findings forward to the Conference to discuss in the days to come.

Ecumenical relations

Among other subjects raised by Chairman Voigt in his report was that of ecumenical relations. He noted that planning meetings between the Pontifical Council for Promoting of Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the ILC have finalized the start date for informal theological dialogue between the two bodies. The first official meeting between the two dialogue groups will begin October 7. Representing the ILC are theologians from Germany (Werner Klän), Brazil (Gerson Linden), the United States of America (Roland Ziegler), and Canada (John Stephenson).

Delegates then turned their attention to a discussion of the document “From Conflict to Communion,” a reflection on Lutheran-Catholic dialogue produced by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church. The ILC’s dialogue representatives feel that providing a confessional Lutheran statement on “From Conflict to Communion” may serve as an appropriate first step in the informal dialogues between the PCPCU and the ILC. Such a statement might also be a productive means of engaging the LWF as well, it is hoped. Discussion of the response statement will continue into Friday’s business sessions.

The LWF is represented at the ILC’s World Conference in an observer capacity by Rev. Dr. Gloria Vargas, LWF Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean region. Dr. Vargas will have the opportunity to greet delegates on behalf of the LWF during Friday’s sessions.

World Area meetings

Following these discussions, delegates broke for World Area meetings. After this, the Conference heard World Area reports from Latin America. Each member church had the opportunity to discuss a bit of their church’s history as well as their present work. A recurring theme among many of the Latin America churches was many churches and mission opportunities but too few pastors to fill them—a situation where “the harvest is ready but the workers are few.”

Latin America church leaders report to the ILC.
Latin America church leaders report to the ILC.

The day ended with Vespers. President Lawrence Rast of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) served as liturgist, while ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver gave a homily reflecting on angels and the devil. In the face of the evil in this world—war, sickness, suffering—it can feel as though Christ is not really victorious, Dr. Collver noted. But we must remember that Satan and his armies already stand defeated by the blood of Jesus and the Word of God. This is how St. Michael and his angels prevailed against the devil (Revelation 12:11), Dr. Collver explained. So too, we can trust that the blood of Christ and His Word have defeated Satan on our behalf too. This promise gives us comfort and hope to stand up against the suffering and evil we experience in this world.

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