Friday, July 13, 2007

ELCA Presiding Bishop Responds to Pope

And so I received an e-mail from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson:
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace to you.

This is to inform you I have recently released a response to the Vatican Statement, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church" (July 10, 2007). You will find the response at

Living in God's Amazing Grace,

Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
So, setting aside for the moment Bishop Hanson's ubiquitous and smarmy "Living in God's Amazing Grace," I clicked the link to find this:
Response of Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson to Vatican Statement "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church"

July 11, 2007

The Vatican's statement, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church" ("Responses to Questions"), does not appear to change previously stated positions. It does, however, restate known positions in provocative ways that are before us in the ongoing U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic bilateral dialogue.

It is no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church asserts that in it subsists the Church of Christ; surely every Christian church body makes the same assertion, for it is only because Christ's Church survives in and lives through the community we call "Church" that we preserve and promote the apostolic faith. However troubling such exclusive claims may be, we recall the Second Vatican Council's "Decree on Ecumenism" which affirmed that the separated churches and ecclesial communities are used by the Spirit of Christ "as means of salvation" (Unitatis redintegratio 3.4). The statement, "Responses to Questions," does not minimize this affirmation.

As Lutherans we uphold the Augsburg Confession, which states that, "The Church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught and the sacraments are administered rightly" (AC VII). Therefore, although our witness is wounded by the division that exists among Christians, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes no deficiency in our self-understanding as "Church."

The anguished response of Christians around the world to the Vatican's statement, however, clearly indicates that what may have been meant to clarify has caused pain. Now is the time for our thoughtful and measured response. The question all Christian people should reflect on today is how best to exercise forbearance and love for one another. With Roman Catholics, we trust that, ". . .the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever before, he has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity. Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians" (UR 1.1).

"Responses to Questions" does not alter the commitment to ecumenism of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It will not cause us to step back from our U.S. or international relationships or promises. We remain dedicated to the ecumenical task described in "Ecumenism: The Vision of the ELCA," which stresses that, "Ecumenism has as its focus and goal clarity of understanding among Christians and a greater realization of unity among Christ's people. As such it is closely related to the mission of the Gospel to all the world." That singular focus and goal has led to numerous breakthroughs with the Roman Catholic Church, including the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" in 1999, which resolved a bitter 500-year dispute. We will continue to celebrate and build upon the deepening relationships fostered by that "Joint Declaration" even as we long for greater visible unity itself.

I encourage you not to pull back from your own personal commitment to ecumenism. I agree with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, that in order for the ecumenical movement to bear the weight of change for the future, it must be rooted in an ecumenism of life. This is ecumenism at the local and personal level through joint prayer, Bible study, and service with Christians of other traditions.

Difficult and important matters of ministry and ecclesiology remain to be discussed in our ongoing U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue. Since "Baptism . . . establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it" (UR, 22.2), Christian unity already exists through baptism into Christ, which serves as a continuing sign of hope that our churches will not always remain divided.
Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in every confession of the whole church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen
        - Evangelical Lutheran Worship
As with so many episcopal epistles in the ELCA, this statement offers a wee bit of help within a whole pile of presumption. Where our Presiding Bishop is helpful is in reminding us in the ELCA that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has not said anything new. Furthermore, I see within ++Hanson's message an acknowledgment that, despite the "anguished response of Christians around the world," the Pope's statement is a reminder of the context of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues, and of the entire ecumenical enterprise, for the last 40+ years. In other words, nothing has changed from the Catholic perspective.

Yet our Presiding Bishop simply cannot let it go there. No, he must (as is his wont with those he addresses) lecture the Pope: "I encourage you not to pull back from your own personal commitment to ecumenism." A colleague who has been involved in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues notes of Bishop Hanson (who is also, not so incidentally, President of the Lutheran World Federation), "For a Lutheran leader who was absent from Pope John Paul II's funeral, did not attend Pope Benedict's installation and who has not lifted one finger toward improved Luth/RC relations or the further implementation of JDDJ and who presides over Synods (eg. New England) that welcome persons to the Eucharist without the prerequisite of baptism to instruct the Vatican in the way he does is more than disingenuous."

And that comment is telling. For it points to the Faith that we Lutherans have claimed, since the Augsburg Confession itself, to share with the Catholic Church and notes one place (of, alas, many) where we in the ELCA seem to be stepping away from that Faith. Which makes ecumenical dialogue so much more difficult.

Not to say anything of the purity of the Gospel proclaimed, or how rightly the sacraments are administered, in the ELCA.

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