[At the 1999 ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod Assembly workshop on ecumenical decisions, written comments and questions were submitted by workshop attendees to the panel of presenters resulting in a lively exchange among the four; a “Let’s Talk” moment. The different views of the nature of communion with other church bodies, different readings of confessional documents, and different understandings of the ordering of ministry that had been expressed in the presentations were mirrored in the comments and questions and the responses by the panel. Concern about the implications of these differences for the ELCA was apparent. Following is a sample of the comments and questions, minimally edited. Time was limited and the first two questions below were not read during the session. For those that were read to the panel we include brief paraphrases of the discussion. We hope this sample helps convey the flavor of the feedback. It will be clear that a great deal is still “on the table.” Let’s talk!]
Q: There appears to be continuing deep division regarding full communion with the Episcopal Church within the ELCA. Same indications of such divisions are:
- The approximately 2/3 vote in the 1997 Churchwide Assembly (far short of unanimity).
- To-date in 1999, votes in synod assemblies where votes have been recorded have run approximately 55% to 45% against CCM, both with and without weighting for the size of synod membership.
If such division continues into August, do you believe it is wise to proceed with the vote in this year’s Churchwide Assembly? Do you have any concern with the potential for schism in ELCA over this matter? Any suggestions for dealing with this risk?
A: With extremely few exceptions, almost all of the “possibilities” on the EDEO/LERN statement are achievable without an agreement on full communion. [Editor’s Note: Members of the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (EDEO) and the Lutheran Ecumenical Representative Network (LERN) met jointly during the National Workshop on Christian Unity, Rochester, NY, 3-6 May, 1999. During one joint session they met in small groups to consider the mission challenges, some possible solutions to those challenges, as well as the general ethical framework for joint ministry provided by “Called to Common Mission.” Pastor Frank Senn attended this meeting and distributed the referenced statement at the workshop.] Opportunities for joint outreach, joint meetings, convocations, retreats, programs, and equipping of faith communities can occur, has occurred, and does occur in our churches without full communion. Therefore, one wonders, why is such an agreement necessary? Is it not an attempt to define something about ourselves, namely our own sense of magisterium?
Q: CCM seems to move in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to change our polity. We will become more episcopal and less congregational. Prior to an agreement with the Episcopalians in which this is asserted, would it not be preferable for us, the ELCA, to discuss our own polity, to debate this on the floor apart from a discussion of ecumenism? Perhaps we could first assert our own commitments and define our own distinctions between congregational and episcopal structures before trying to determine whether our structures can function in cooperation with other church bodies. I assert that cooperation can occur without structural changes, but if structural change is desired, let us debate that on the floor, not disguised behind an ecumenical agreement.
A grave concern regarding the issue of continuing ELCA ecumenical dialogue and agreements with other church bodies is occasioned by the provision that the ELCA will not enter any formal agreements with other church bodies without consultation with the Episcopal Church.It stands to reason that the same measure of historic episcopacy would be imposed by the Episcopal Church before approval would be given to any proposed agreement between the ELCA and another church body.
What assurance do we have that we will have freedom to enter into full communion with other church bodies that do not have the historic episcopate?
How does accepting the historic episcopate affect our previously adopted relationship of full communion with the Reformed Churches?
A: Responding to the first question, Prof. Jürisson expressed grave concern that CCM makes promises that may negatively impact ELCA decision-making in dialogue with other church bodies.
Q: The historic episcopate is so important to Episcopalians that only priests ordained by bishops in succession can administer the Holy Sacraments. How can it be possible that a Lutheran pastor who is properly trained and is ordained cannot administer the Holy Sacraments in an Episcopal Church?
A: Paraphrased discussion
Ullestad: Neither Lutheran nor Episcopal clergy can preside at the other’s altars without special agreement among the bishops. Adoption of CCM would open the door to such exchange.
Jürisson: Theologically (Augsburg Confession, Article VII) Lutherans could invite Episcopalians to preside at their altars but, without ordination by a bishop in succession, Episcopalians cannot invite Lutherans to preside at their altars, so it is the Episcopalians who are saying “no.”
Ullestad: Both are saying “no”. Lutherans and Anglicans have a different history. In Germany, the “raging of the bishops” prevented Episcopal ordination and created an emergency situation that required an alternative way of ordaining even though the reformers earnestly desired to retain the historic order. In England, the reformer was a bishop and so the traditional order could be maintained. A consequence of this history is that Lutherans emphasize doctrine; ordinands must subscribe to the Confessions as a way of being accountable. Without full communion, an Episcopalian priest would have to be re-ordained as a Lutheran pastor before he/she could preside at a Lutheran altar. On the other hand, Episcopalians understand the bishop as a sign of the relationship among congregation, church, and mission; they require episcopal ordination as a way of being accountable. The different histories have resulted in different understandings of accountability; the Confessions and the historic episcopate play analogous roles.
Roberts: It is unfair to ask who is saying “no.” Both Lutherans and Episcopalians on the various dialogue teams worked very hard to achieve a wonderful understanding that would resolve the different requirements.
Editor’s note: In her presentation, Prof. Jürisson referred to the loss of membership by the Episcopal Church over the last three decades.
Q: What evidence is there that the bishops caused this loss of membership?What happened during the same period in other episcopally ordered churches, e.g., the Roman Catholic Church?
A: Paraphrased discussion:
Roberts: If we blame the bishops for the loss of membership then we must also credit them with the fact that actual attendance at Episcopal Church services increased more than any other mainline denomination. Actually, the loss of membership over the past quarter-century is a complicated question for all mainline churches.
Ullestad: One of the fastest growing churches in the world is the Lutheran Church of Tanzania, which has the historic episcopate.
Jürisson: I did not intend to insult the Episcopalians but rather to raise a mission question. We Lutherans, guided by the principle of Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, which assures that it is enough for the true unity of the church for believers to gather around Word and Sacrament, have an enormous array of options for structuring ourselves to proclaim the gospel. We can select which structure works best in a given cultural context. If, in Tanzania, the historic episcopate works—fine! But in North America we should be very cautious to bind ourselves to a structure that tends to emphasize hierarchy, religious ostentation, and expressions of deference to clergy—an emphasis that Americans find offensive. The argument that the reformers regarded the historic episcopate as normative is hard to make. On the contrary, in “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” it is argued that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right.
Ullestad: Actually, the Treatise states that the authority to ordain is the one thing that distinguishes bishops from other presbyters. In the Lutheran understanding, ministry is given to the whole church. The bishop, elected and called by the people, has the power of pastoral presence and prayer to represent the whole church at an ordination. If the bishop is an enemy of the gospel—the situation in the sixteenth century with which the Treatise deals—then the church reserves the right to give another pastor the authority to ordain. Pastors, as such, do not have and never in the Lutheran tradition have had the authority to ordain.
Q: Pastor Senn stated that the Augsburg Confession doesn’t preclude the historic episcopate. Doesn’t CCM imposethe historic episcopate on the ELCA?
A: Paraphrased discussion:
Senn: CCM provides an opportunity for us to receive a gift through other church bodies, in particular the Episcopal Church and other Lutheran Churches. This gift, the historic episcopate, is a sign of continuity in faith and mission with the whole church. It is the preferred polity of the reformers. We can see their idea of the power of bishops in Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession, which deals with the reform of the office of bishop. The confessors distinguish between the temporal and spiritual authority of bishops. Whatever temporal or human rights bishops might be granted, by kings in the sixteenth century or by constitutions in our time, their divine rights are to preach the gospel, administer Confession and Absolution, judge doctrine, and discipline pastors. Article XXVIII says that if the bishops do these things they do them by divine right validated by the Word alone, so that congregations and ministers owe them obedience.
Roberts: The way a question is phrased can be highly freighted. The term “impose” is such an example. The process for accepting or rejecting CCM is democratic. If the Churchwide Assembly votes to accept CCM then I suppose one might say that the agreement is “imposed” but it would be democratically imposed self-imposition!
Jürisson: This is a crucial issue and we should think carefully about this “gift” language. Episcopal ecumenical officers have said that the historic episcopate is absolutely essential to any agreement for full communion with the Lutheran Church. Since we cannot have an agreement without it they are imposing the historic episcopate on us. I deeply respect the Episcopalians’ self-understanding, which includes the historic episcopate, but it is asking too much to impose it on another church tradition with a different self-understanding of its order and structure.
Ullestad: If we insist on the term “impose” then we would have to say that we are imposing the Confessions on the Episcopal Church. They would be agreeing to invite us to help evaluate the ministry of their bishops in the service of the gospel. Episcopalians who serve in an ELCA ministry would be examined by the Lutheran bishop and/or the candidacy committee to assure that their faith is in keeping with the Confessions. When installed, they would promise to uphold the Confessions in their preaching and teaching. We could say that we are imposing the Confessions on them but it would be better to think in terms of neither gift nor imposition but as something we are creating together. The idea of an episcopate that is both evangelical and historic may make a very special contribution to the whole ecumenical conversation. It brings Apostolic succession in terms of preserving doctrine and upholding faithful teaching together with ordination by a bishop as a sign of the relationship among congregation, pastor, and the mission of the church. Bringing together these traditions offers something special to Lutherans and Episcopalians and, beyond them, to the whole church.