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