“Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.” Ecumenical Imperative 5
Lutherans and Catholics do not agree on everything. But we do agree on essential tenets of the Christian faith. We confess one lord, one faith, one baptism. And we have worked assiduously in the last 50 years to find more and more common ground on matters of theology and doctrine. But we have not always made an effort to acknowledge what the other has done. For instance, I am certain that Catholics would have nothing but appreciation for the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and that Lutherans would agree with the importance of the work of Catholic Relief Services. But too often we take for granted the good work that the other is doing.
This imperative challenges us not to take each other for granted. It challenges us to engage in togetherness. It is not enough that we don’t attack each other. It is not enough that we generally appreciate and endorse the work of each other’s ministries. The next step is to do it together. Can we do everything together? Of course not. We have difficulty enough getting Lutheran churches to work together. There are significant differences. But what this imperative urges us to do, commits us to do it to “witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.”
So how might we do it? The key is “together.” First, we witness together to the mercy of God. Together we acknowledge God’s existence, God’s love for the world, God’s hope for the world through Jesus Christ. In the midst of war and injustice, of retribution and hatred, we witness to God’s hope for humanity. As Lutherans we pray for the Pope’s visit to Myanmar, as he meets with beleaguered Christians there, and as he engages both the Buddhist majority and the persecuted Rohingya minority.
We witness to the mercy of God in proclamation. Advent is upon us. In Advent we proclaim the coming of the lord, not the next big sale. For us Christmas is the incarnation of God, the word made flesh, God with us. Together we can proclaim the meaning of the coming of the prince of peace. These are truths that we share as Christians, and that are not universally practiced by those for whom Christmas is all about buying.
We witness to the mercy of God in service to the world. Generosity is a value that is promoted at Christmas time by religious and non-religious groups alike. Hanes brags on public radio about providing socks for the homeless, and that is a good thing. So are the many acts of charity done by schools, businesses, non-profits. Churches get into the swing of it, as well, with giving trees, extra food baskets, and programs like ELCA Good Gifts, that promote gifts to world hunger.
In downtown Great Falls, St. Ann’s Cathedral had a Friday feeding program called St. Ann’s kitchen. A group of volunteers from Our Savior’s Lutheran asked if they could help. It took a while for St. Ann’s to agree. They had never had such an offer before. They said yes, and it has been a good partnership and a good witness. Imperative 5 suggests that such cooperation should be the norm, not the exception. It should be the norm, not only because it makes sense to cooperate. It should be the norm because Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. And this sort of cooperation demonstrates not only to Catholics and Lutherans, but to the world, that we understand Jesus’ prayer.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.” Ecumenical Imperative 4
The fourth Ecumenical Imperative is based on the conviction that together Lutherans and Catholics together can discover something that they could not do alone, without the other. Our fifty years of dialogues between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us clarify our own positions on a whole host of issues that have divided us historically. Some of those differences are major, and some are relatively minor.
We have learned that we have different understandings of the role of the Pope, on the office of ministry, on the Virgin Mary, on the role of the saints. And these differences are significant. We have also learned how much we share in common—scripture, the creeds, baptism, the centrality of the Eucharist, the importance of justice and charity. We have also found areas is which we discovered we were not as far from each other as we had thought, in fact, that we were close enough to agree. An example of that is the work that resulted in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. We found out, that 500 years after we broke apart the church, in part over disagreements on Justification, we had migrated towards the same understanding by the end of the 20th century. All of this took place because of long and faithful negotiation, based on positions the 2 churches had taken historically.
This fourth imperative is committing ourselves to doing more than negotiating out of our previously established positions and doctrines. It is committing ourselves to working together towards something new, trusting that God is at work in this new thing. The Imperative mandates joint re-discovery of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. There are so many hopeful parts to this Imperative.
Jointly: We do this together, and together our work can yield new and unanticipated fruit. “See, I am making all things new,” is the promise from Revelation 21.
Re-discover: We have spent the past 500 years articulating the Gospel, the past 2000 years, in fact. But what this Imperative challenges and promises us is that together we will rediscover something essential about the Gospel that we cannot do alone.
Power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: The Gospel isn’t static, and it isn’t moribund. It is alive, and it is powerful. It is the living word of God, made flesh in the person of Jesus, and continuing to live and act in our world, in our lives.
For our time: This final phrase is the challenge of the here and now. We have been immersed in history as we have noted the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We have looked at what our churches and theologians did, why they did it, and how what they did was a response to their times. This Imperative kicks us directly into the present, demanding that we focus together on the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
Our time is not the 16th century. It is the 21st century, and it a globalized world. It is a world in which Christianity of all stripes is declined g in Europe and North America, and growing in Africa and Latin America. It is a world in which Islam is a major world religion, and Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism are just a few of the historic religions followed by the world’s people.
In our time there are so many issues to be addressed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—justice issues, environmental issues, issues of race and class, gender and human rights. The Fourth Ecumenical Imperative says that we’d better get to work on them, together. In April there will be a conference in Missoula called “Montana Ethics and Treaty,” based on response to the Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter on the Columbia. This is an example of doing something “for our time.” It is a look back at the pastoral letter, and looking forward together. It is an example of working together for something new, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal." Ecumenical Imperative 3.
It is one thing to have high-level theoretical conversations on what we ought to do. It is quite another actually to do these things. This Ecumenical Imperative, one of the 5 that resulted from Lutheran-Catholic work on the Reformation commemoration, asks us to go public, to be visible, and to keep on working at it.
Seeking visible unity is not accomplished by a single act--whether it is an ecumenical worship service, a joint statement or 2 congregations working together on a fundraiser for the poor. Seeking visible unity is a process. It involves setting goals together, and working together towards them.
At the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Catholic Bishop Denis Madden, Co-Chair of the Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Committee, responded to the gift of a chalice with the statement: "I look forward to the day when we can drink from this cup together," setting a goal of Eucharistic sharing.
What goals are we willing to set as Lutherans and Catholics in the quest for visible unity? I would certainly agree with Bishop Madden that we want to be able to come to the table together. But what steps can we commit to between now and then? These are things we need to agree upon together. Visible unity takes 2 partners, and both must have ownership of the process.
Our Reformation 500 service in the Helena Cathedral was certainly a stunning example of visible unity. So was the service honoring the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, at the Cathedral in 1999, as was the 10th anniversary celebration in 2009 in Great Falls. We have taken some other steps. In 2012, Bishop Warfel and I did a road trip and had Lutheran-Catholic dialogues in 5 cities--Havre, Great Falls, Lewistown, Billings, Sidney. In October of 2017, we did a joint Bishops's Convocation, and jointly considered the 5 Ecumenical Imperatives.
What might you do in your community? How might you work towards visible unity? January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.* In many communities there is a joint ecumenical service. Is this a time to promote greater understanding between Catholics and Lutherans? How might that happen? The 2018 theme, “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power, comes from Exodus 15: 6. Each year, Christians from a different part of the world prepare the resources. For 2018, a group of Christians from the Caribbean have prepared the resources. They write:
“The prophets repeatedly remind Israel that their covenant demanded that relationships among its various social groups should be characterized by justice, compassion and mercy. Reconciliation often demands repentance, reparation and healing of memories. As Jesus prepared to seal the new covenant in his own blood, his earnest prayer to the Father was that those given to him by the Father would be one, just as he and the Father were one. When Christians discover their unity in Jesus, they participate in Christ’s glorification in the presence of the Father, with the same glory that he had lived in the Father’s presence before the world existed.”
Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. When he prayed that prayer on the night of his betrayal, his earthly followers numbered, at the most, in the hundreds. He prayed in the presence of his dozen disciples that they would be one. Now Jesus’ followers number in the millions, billions. His prayer remains.
The third imperative challenges us to come up with concrete steps towards visible unity, and to keep on trying.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
*Resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are available by ordering them from the website of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. http://www.geii.org/
“Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other, and by the mutual witness of faith.”Ecumenical Imperative 2.
The second Ecumenical Imperative, formulated as part of the Lutheran-Catholic joint observation of the Reformation anniversary, asks us to go deeper, to take risks, to be open to change. We are asked to make a commitment not only to change, but to be changed by each other.
Catholics have a lot to learn from Lutherans. And Lutherans have a lot to learn from Catholics. There is no shame in this, only joy. Our traditions have different strengths and weaknesses. As we were planning our Lutheran-Catholic observations of the Reformation, the Catholics were intrigued that we Lutherans have an expectation for our clergy to do continuing education. That’s our tradition. And they can learn from that. We Lutherans, on the other hand, noticed that the Diocese has a Director of Liturgy, something we do not have. We can learn from that.
Learning is a matter of the head. We can go deeper in this imperative into matters of the heart, transformations from the encounter with each other—not just once, but over and over. The speakers at our Convocation who reflected on this Imperative talked about metanoia, about the deeply spiritual nature of the honest encounter with the other. (Sr. Eileen Hurley) Dr. Laurie Jungling told of the transformative nature of academic study with people of a different faith background, suggesting that transformation happened in any genuine encounter.
Lutherans and Catholics both have a firm understanding of faith, theology, scripture, God, the church and the world. It is firm enough that we can engage in conversation with one another, and learn from one another, learn together, and move to a new place together. An example of this is the process leading up to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It was a stumbling block for Lutherans and Catholics historically, and quite a raw spot. But patient conversation and listening led both Catholic and Lutheran participants to come to a new place of agreement by study, prayer, scripture reading, and theological dialogue. What started as 2 divergent positions, became transformed by the encounter with the other into a new position that both could affirm.
Transformation, ultimately, is not an end in itself. It is a means to the mutual witness of faith. Locally, regionally, nationally, globally, our churches work together for justice and peace. We care for the poor and the displaced, we advocate with our governments and with our people, we find ways to proclaim the name of Jesus, our reason for being.
When I came back from meeting Pope Francis, people asked me, “Did you talk to him about women’s ordination?” No, I didn’t. Instead, I looked him in the eyes, wearing my clerical collar and my bishop’s cross, and greeted him in Spanish, his native tongue. And he said he loved Lutherans, and we pledged to pray for one another. It is where we start.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
" Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced." Ecumenical Imperative 1
On Monday night at the Helena Cathedral there was certainly a show of unity. Catholics and Lutherans from the 4 corners of Montana, 750 strong, gathered to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There were children and youth, elderly and middle aged. There were lay people and clergy, bishops and professors. It was a solemn event, cognizant of the pain between our 2 churches over the centuries, of the pain in families and communities. It acknowledged the areas where we need to repent our arrogance, our certainty that we and only we are right.
But it also joyously affirmed our oneness in Christ. Through scripture (I Corinthians 12), through prayers, through music, through homilies (yes, there were 4 bishops, and each preached!), we celebrated and pledged to find more ways to focus on our oneness. In reflecting on the powerful impact of the service, many people said, "Oh, we have to do this again!" There is nothing quite like being with 750 people in the Helena Cathedral! But there are so many other ways that we can focus on our unity.
The service was built around the 5 Ecumenical Imperatives that are part of the Lutheran-Catholic "From Conflict to Communion" project. (A Lutheran-Catholic Convocation last Friday also addressed the imperatives, with a Lutheran and a Catholic speaking on each of the 5.) It doesn't take a large group of people in an imposing Cathedral or a group of pastors in a hotel conference room to discuss the imperatives. You can do it with your congregation, you can do it in groups of 2 or three. You can get together with a Catholic parish, or a Catholic neighbor and discuss each of the Ecumenical Imperatives together. (The biggest complaint we got about the Convocation was that the speakers, helpful though they were, took up too much of the time that was designated for conversation at the table. People want to talk about this, and they want to do it together.)
I will be addressing the Ecumenical Imperatives in the next weeks in the Words from the Bishop. To see all 5 of them, go to the Montana Synod website, or click here.
In the last year, especially, there are been books, articles, TV shows, movies, church programs, university lectures and more about Luther and the Reformation. We have now commemorated the 500th anniversary. But remember, it is the 500th anniversary of the beginning, not of the ending. And so, as we move into the next 500 years, we have the gift of the five Ecumenical Imperatives to guide us. The first one reminds us always to start with unity, not division. That's what we did on Monday night, and that is our ongoing challenge as we leave behind Helena and go to our homes.
One of our five Montana Synod Benchmarks, which we focused on this last year at our Assembly, is "Promote Unity." How well that Benchmark dovetails with the first Ecumenical Imperative. The Benchmark urges us to promote unity. The Imperative asks us to embody it. And so we begin, always "from the perspective of unity."
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Click here for a History of Ecumenism by Dr. Paul Seastrand
Click here for the History of Lutherans and Catholics in Montana by Very Rev. Jay H. Peterson, V.G.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA