This is a “special issue” of Let’s Talk in the sense that it wasn’t in the “pipeline” of previously-announced topics. The editorial board felt that the results of the ecumenical decisions at the 1997 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, especially the defeat of the Concordat of Agreement between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, needed special attention.
The failure of the Concordat sent shock-waves throughout our Church and the ecumenical community. Its defeat overshadowed adoption of the Formula of Agreement with three Reformed Churches and ratification of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith.
To some extent the failure of the Concordat is shocking because ratification seemed all but certain as short as two years ago. It was routinely said by many in the ecumenical community that if Lutherans and Anglicans couldn’t get together, no churches could. The Porvoo Agreement, bringing into full communion the Nordic Lutheran and Anglican Churches in Great Britain and Ireland, undoubtedly encouraged optimism that the Concordat was a shoo-in, whereas the Formula of Agreement was regarded as “iffy” because of unresolved sacramental and ethical issues.
Admittedly, requiring two-thirds vote of the Churchwide Assembly to pass agreements leading to full communion was setting a high goal. But to approve full communion, with all its ramifications for church life, ministry, and mission, with less than two-thirds endorsement, would seem a flimsy basis on which to initiate something this significant in a Church that supposedly takes its confessional stance seriously. But the Formula passed by about 80% and the Episcopal Church endorsed the Concordat overwhelmingly. This is why the failure of the Concordat has occasioned such a great deal of soul-searching in the ELCA. It forces us to raise questions about ourselves. The failure of the Concordat has prompted more discussion about our confessional self-understanding than its adoption might have done. That’s what this issue of Let’s Talk is about: ecumenism and us, as confessional Lutherans.
The articles included in this issue follow a certain progression. First, a view from the floor of the assembly by a member of the Churchwide Assembly from the Metropolitan Chicago Synod. Then a sermonic reaction by Tony Danielson to the Churchwide Assembly’s action on the Sunday following the historic vote by a pastor who was not at the Assembly. This is followed by a reflective view of the ELCA’s ecumenical agenda in the light of this Church’s historical and cultural context by Leon Rosenthal. Frank Senn, the Metro Chicago Synod’s Ecumenical Representative provides us with the text of his report on the failure of the Concordat to a largely Roman Catholic audience, with some observations on the implications of the difference between dealing with the ideal church in ecumenical dialogues and dealing with the actual church which must enact ecclesiastical-political agreements. This is followed by William Roberts’ challenge to the ELCA concerning its doctrinal integrity, especially in terms of its confession of the real presence of Christ in the eucharist. Roberts is the Ecumenical Officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.
We also offer a reaction to the Statement on “The Use of the Means of Grace,” also adopted at the ELCA Assembly, by an Episcopal priest, Anne Wrider, who demonstrates the different ways of doing theology between our Churches. She also demonstrates that the Episcopal Church has more theological strength than Lutherans have given it credit for. Finally, a Lutheran layman, Wayne Cowell, imagines what kind of ecumenical and confessional catechizing might be done to bring lay people and pastors up to speed on the issues.
We had also hoped for an article from someone who did not think the Concordat should be approved. Perhaps someone will provide such an article that can be included in a future issue in the spirit of our journal, Let’s Talk.
Read on and please join us in our ongoing dialog on this important issue.