Evangelical Lutheran Bishops Urge Revised Concordat of
Agreement with Episcopalians
The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America meeting in Chicago Oct. 2-7 recommended that the ELCA Church Council invite the Episcopal Church to take part in preparation of a proposal for full communion between the churches.
The Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop, presented six possible "next steps," ranging from providing a commentary on the Concordat of Agreement to a Lutheran declaration recognizing Episcopal teaching and ministry but not necessarily adopting the historic episcopate. He urged a process that would involve participants representing diverse perspectives. The historic episcopate is based on the belief that authority in the church is derived from bishops ordained by the physical laying on of hands by other bishops, who can trace their own succession back to Christ's apostles.
In August the ELCA's churchwide assembly narrowly rejected approval of the Concordat, a document for full communion prepared by a joint ELCA-Episcopal committee. The assembly voted to work toward an agreement for full communion that would come before its next meeting in 1999. Full communion is not a plan to merge; it commits the churches to sharing in their mission work locally and internationally and to developing procedure whereby clergy in one church body may serve as pastor in a congregation of another church body.
The Conference of Bishops' action urged an approach that includes components of two of Anderson's suggestions: "A rewritten document, including rationale, that includes the present 'outcomes' of the Concordat" and "revision of the Concordat at a few key places."
In his report Anderson characterized the churchwide assembly in Philadelphia as "historic." He said, "My training and experience as a church historian make me cautious of prematurely labeling events or moments as historic . . . However, I dare to risk second-guessing by future generations and call our assembly a historic gathering for this church."
The assembly approved the ELCA's moving into a relationship of full communion with three churches of the Reformed tradition, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. The Presbyterian Church must still adopt the Formula of Agreement through votes taken in presbyteries around the country.
Anderson outlined emerging plans for implementing full communion with the Reformed churches, including "a celebratory joint worship" set for Oct. 4, 1998, in Chicago.
Anderson proposed that the "rewritten" Concordat use "clearer, down-to-earth language." It would "reproduce the entire content of the Concordat, but in a new form," he wrote in his report to the conference.
The "revision" Anderson envisions would include a new paragraph "with a strong, explicit, biblically-based emphasis on the priesthood of all believers and would clarify or modify the areas that most troubled the assembly's voting members":
the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons as the "future pattern,"
ordination of pastors by bishops with the "participation" of others,
the "life service" of bishops, and
numbers of bishops present at the installation of bishops.
The Conference of Bishops "endorsed a suggestion that a document proposing full communion with The Episcopal Church be developed by a small writing group in dialogue with a larger review panel."
The Rev. Robert M. Keller, bishop of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, outlined "three things we want to say. We are concerned about those who questioned the Concordat. We are concerned about those who want to move the Concordat ahead. We want ELCA members to have the opportunity to review whatever proposals are developed at synod assemblies in the spring of 1998."
The Rev. Curtis W. Miller, bishop of the Western Iowa Synod, said, "We have to acknowledge that opposition to the Concordat was grounded in defense of the gospel."
The Rev. David W. Olson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod, offered encouragement for the process, calling it "a unique opportunity for discussion." He said, "Our experience in Philadelphia was rare in that we debated and discussed an issue for three days without an option for change." Olson said, "Now some options will bring about new energy in the body of our church."
He said, "At this point the time line is ambitious; the mandate of the churchwide assembly calls for action in two years. Some anxiety will be created by the pressurized time line. On the other hand, the sooner we have something before folks the better."
The Rev. Paul J. Blom, bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, said "If we focus on our confessions and our self-understanding there will be a benefit to all this. Let the conversation be about mission, witness and gospel more than it is about polity and authority."
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