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Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue Explores Existing Studies

April 27, 1999

WASHINGTON (April 27, 1999) -- "The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries" was the principal focus of recent discussions between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB).

Repesentatives of the two churches came together in Chicago April 15-18 for the second meeting in their current tenth round of talks.

"Koinonia" is an anglicized Greek word that appears several times in the Christian Bible and is translated as "communion, fellowship, a close mutual relationship, participation, sharing in, partnership, contribution, or gift." The dialogue examines issues of koinonia as they relate to "ordained ministry and structures of church unity."

Koinonia or communio is a key term in understanding the Church as used in Vatican II and the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops. Both Lutherans and Catholics use the term in their self understanding as Church. The Council said that Catholics are in "real, if imperfect, communion" with other Christian churches. This dialogue is expected to build on this communion to deepen the theological basis of the relationship between the two churches.

At the meeting, six papers were presented on koinonia in Lutheran and in Catholic teaching about the nature of the church, on apostolicity and koinonia in previous dialogues and ecumenical documents that have contributed to the understanding of kononia and of its relation to justification by faith and on church law and koinonia.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago hosted a reception for dialogue participants at his residence. The national dialogue group was joined at the reception by members of the Chicago dialogue. The local group is planning the tenth anniversary of the covenant between the Chicago synod and the archdiocese.

"A purpose of this meeting was to become reacquainted with some of the materials that have already been developed and to see where they will lead us," said the Lutheran co-chair of the dialogue, the Rev. Charles H. Maahs, bishop of the ECLA Central States Synod, Shawnee Mission, Kansas.

The Roman Catholic co-chair, Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee, described the second meeting as "a very meticulous review of the concept and the pastoral and theological concerns of koinonia in each of our respective traditions, and particularly in the last few decades of documentation.

"It is imperative that we have some papers that will review literature from the New Testament on ministry, so that the dialogue group can root its discussions in the Word of God as received in the Church," Bishop Sklba said.

Seven papers have been planned for the next meeting on topics that relate to ministry in church documents, on topics ranging from the 16th century's Council of Trent to episcopal-presbyteral ministry as "a sign and a vehicle of continuity in preaching the word of God authentically in each tradition.".

The next meeting will be in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, December 2-5.

The NCCB and the National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation initiated the first round of the "bilateral" that began in 1965. The dialogue has produced a number of common statements on such topics as Scripture, saints and justification by faith.

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