Lutheran Catholic Dialogue Meets on Theme of Structures And Ministries

December 9, 2002 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (December 9, 2002) -- Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Charleston, South Carolina, December 5-8, 2002, to continue the tenth round of the US dialogues.

The work of this meeting was a review of a draft text on The Church as Communion (koinonia) of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries. The topic includes such questions as how dioceses and synods relate to parishes and congregations, and the ministries that serve them. The churches recognize that they are in real, if yet imperfect, communion. This text hopes to point the way towards making the levels of communion more specific, hopefully identifying a real, mutual recognition of ministries. It will also provide the biblical, historical and theological bases on which such recommendations may be made.

The signing of the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification created a new context for the relationship between the Lutheran churches of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. It created a new level of communion in faith on the doctrine of salvation. This stage of the US dialogue attempts to deepen the understanding of communion on the levels of the life and mission of the church, with special emphasis on the structures and ministries of congregations and dioceses/synods. It also deals with national and universal structures and ministries.

The meeting worked on drafting background material on ordained ministries and structures of the Church as they have developed in history. Both Lutherans and Catholics have come to more precise positions on the ministries of pastors and bishops than were once held. However, the dialogue has found that there is more in common on the structures of communion that holds the community together in its saving mission than was presupposed in the life of the churches since the Reformation. Likewise, though full recognition and reconciliation of ordained ministries is not yet proposed in this text, on the basis of its historical, theological and biblical studies, particular contributions to unity and specific proposals to the churches should be possible.

In addition to the theological research and drafting of the text, the dialogue team attended Mass at St. John's Catholic Cathedral, and a Lutheran liturgy at St. John's Church, the first Lutheran church in South Carolina. The dialogue is co-chaired by Bishop Richard Sklba, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, and Bishop-emeritus Charles Maahs, of the Central States of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.