Roman Catholics and the Lutheran World Federation made a splash a few years ago when they came to some agreements about Justification by Faith. But the much-hyped talk of the two parties getting together has floundered, since many of the liberal Lutherans of the LWF have jumped off the deep end, as far as Catholics are concerned, when it comes to issues of sexuality. Another limiting factor is women’s ordination, practiced by most LWF church bodies, but ruled out by Roman Catholics.
But now, the world organization of conservative Lutherans, the International Lutheran Council (ILC)–whose churches do not ordain women and continue to uphold traditional teachings about sexual morality–is starting talks with Rome. The goal is surely not union, nor papered-over agreements on justification and other important doctrines, but we’ll see what comes of it. (Any ideas of what might be some legitimate areas of agreement and co-operation?)
Mathew Block (yes, one “t” is correct), the communications director of the Lutheran Church-Canada, tells about it, including who is involved (including someone from the LCMS) after the jump.
The International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (PCPCU) have announced plans to begin informal international dialogue together. While many churches of the LWF have embraced a theologically innovative understanding of doctrine, the ILC has not. The ILC instead represents confessional Lutherans, a group which affirms the normative authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (the latter because they are believed to be faithful expositions of the Scriptures, as opposed to mere historical snapshots of how previous generations interpreted Scripture). As a result of these commitments, ILC churches tend to be more doctrinally conservative than many LWF churches*—the upshot being that, on many issues where Roman Catholics and LWF Lutherans are at odds, confessional Lutherans and Catholics find agreement.
[Full disclosure: I am Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada, a member church of the ILC, and I have just recently been named as editor of the ILC’s news service. My thoughts here are, of course, my own.]
I previously reported on the first steps toward dialogue between confessional Lutherans and Catholics in an “On the Square” column for First Things back in February. At the time, I noted how initial discussions in Germany resulted in a report to the PCPCU and the ILC which called for dialogues on an international level. The ILC, at its World Conference in late 2012, unanimously voted to seek just that. This week, therefore, representatives of the ILC and PCPCU met at the Vatican to discuss the topic. The Lutherans were represented by ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany), Vice-Chairman Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada), Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver (ILC Executive Secretary), and Professor Dr. Werner Klän (Lutheran Theological Seminary Oberursel). [Professor Klän had previously taken part in the initial confessional Lutheran-Catholic discussions in Germany.] The Catholics were represented by Cardinal Kurt Koch (President of the PCPCU) and Monsignore Dr. Matthias Türk (PCPCU staff in charge of Lutheran-Catholic relations).
In light of the encouraging discussions taking place between confessional Lutherans and Catholics on the national level in several countries, the PCPCU and ILC at their meeting decided the time was right to enter into an informal dialogue on the international level as well. This dialogue between the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church will be administered by the ILC’s Executive Committee and the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism. “The goals of these discussions would be to define more unity between the churches represented by the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church,” a news release on the meeting explains, “and to offer a deeper understanding of the work already accomplished by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue on the international and regional level.” Once appointed, members of this discussion will meet twice yearly for three years before reporting back to the PCPCU.
This confessional input may well prove to breath new life and hope into Lutheran-Catholic relations.