Lutheran, Catholic Scholars Continue Work on Church as Koinonia

May 6, 2002 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (May 6, 2002) – Scholars from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and the Catholic Church in the US met at St. Paul's College here May 2-5 to continue work on drafting a text on The Church as Koinonia (Communion) of Salvation: Its Structure and Ministries. The goal of this research is to produce a theological text that contributes to the full, visible unity between Lutheran and Catholic churches. This is the tenth round of dialogues in the United States between these churches.

The theme has been selected because of progress made in earlier dialogues, for example on the doctrine of Justification by Faith or the Eucharist, which has laid out a certain level of communion in faith that challenges both churches to probe more deeply the factors that still divide the churches. In this round, contributing to ecumenical agreement on questions like the role of priests, pastors and bishops, their relationship to the nature and mission of the Church, the significance of parishes and diocese/synods and the history of ordination will lay the ground work for theological agreements and proposals to the churches for steps that may increase the expression of the real, if imperfect, communion (koinonia) that is recognized to exist between Lutherans and Catholics.

Biblical, historical and theological scholarship has uncovered the deep levels of agreement and mutual understanding that can make new steps possible. It also contributes to an understanding of what challenges both churches will need to face as they move closer to that full communion for which Christ prayed.

The text will contain two parts, one a view of the Church as communion, differences and similarities in understandings of local church, and a treatment of what can be said together about congregations/parishes, dioceses/synods and the universal realization of the Church. Within each of these sections there will be a common statement and the different Catholic and Lutheran emphases. Ordained ministries in services to these communities: parish, diocese/synod and universal will be explicated in similar fashion. There will be a section on the apostolicity of the Church and the relationship of ordained ministries within it will be developed, with proposals for ecumenical ways to move forward. A second half of the paper will develop biblical and historical explanations of the bases for the proposals laid out in the first part of the common statement.

The theological themes of koinonia/communion will be developed in three dimensions: The Church Participates in Salvation; the Church Shares Salvation; and the Church as a Community Shaped by Salvation. The understanding of the church as koinonia/communion has become a major theme among the churches in the ecumenical movement. The bishops and the Holy Father singled out this understanding of the Church as central to Vatican II in the Roman Synod of 1985. It is a hope that the results of this dialogue will make a major contribution to the goal of full communion between Catholic and Lutheran churches.

In addition to the common prayer, study and work on the agreed text, the dialogue attended Mass at St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral in Washington, where Bishop Richard Sklba, Catholic cochair of the dialogue preached and Bishop Charles Maahs, Lutheran cochair brought greetings. On Sunday the group attended liturgy at Nativity Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia where Bishop Maahs preached and Bishop Sklba brought greetings.