By Sue Careless
THREE THEOLOGICALLY conservative church bodies, which entered into ecumenical dialogue six years ago with “nervousness” and “low expectations,” have been surprised to discover that they are, while not quite “sister churches,” at least “the closest of ecumenical cousins in Christendom.”
Participants in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran Church – Canada’s (LCC) ongoing ecumenical dialogue have released an interim report on their continuing work.
Entitled “On Closer Acquaintance,” the remarkably clear and concise 11-page document noted “deep common bonds” and a “large measure of consensus” between the Anglican and Lutheran participants. The authors admit there is still much work to be done before a full communion of “altar and pulpit fellowship” would be possible and describe their present relationship as one of “imperfect communion.”
Nevertheless, they have found the discussions promising and prayerfully hoped “that, in the time and manner of His choosing, our Lord would grant each side in our conversations to acknowledge our ‘first cousin’ to be in fact a true sister church….’’
There was strong agreement on the subject of the Trinity, the person of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, the creeds, original sin, justification and good works.
The document stated: “…we hope that both sides will become convinced of the width and depth of the common ground we share in doctrine, liturgy, hymnody, devotional resources and Christian life” and anticipated a growing “awareness of the areas in which significant differences still divide us.”
The sacrament of Holy Communion was “undoubtedly the most sensitive and charged topic dealt with,” although the authors said more work was also needed on the office of bishop and deacon, and the ordination of women.
Historically both the Lutheran and Anglican churches have been liturgical and confessional churches. A confessional church is one that holds to not only an historical creed but also a formal confession of the Christian faith.
The Augsburg Confession (1530) is the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran Church. The doctrinal formula of The Thirty-Nine Articles (finalized 1571) found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (p. 698) draw heavily on the Augsburg Confession.
In recent times, these historical confessional standards have been downplayed in some expressions of Lutheranism and Anglicanism. Yet ACNA has not only reaffirmed the Thirty-Nine Articles but has also affirmed an additional confessional statement, The Jerusalem Declaration (2008). Then in 2014 it published To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism that expands on the traditional Prayer Book catechism.
The authors of “On Closer Acquaintance” hope their report will be studied not only by clergy at theological conferences but also by laity in Bible classes.
The leaders of all three churches warmly welcomed the report, which was released Feb. 8th in St Louis, Missouri.
“In a time when so many churches are departing from the teachings of the Bible, it has been refreshing to see the stand for Scriptural Truth that is being made by The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church – Canada,” said ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach. “We agree on the essentials of the Faith, and share a common desire to evangelize North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (The Anglican Network in Canada, ANiC, is a diocese within ACNA.)
The LCMS’ President Matthew Harrison agreed: “…we were joyously surprised and deeply heartened to learn of ACNA and its struggle to be faithful to the New Testament and historic Christian faith,” he said. “By God’s grace we have found real friends who have encouraged us deeply.”
LCC President Robert Bugbee praised the “great thoroughness and theological integrity” of the discussions. “Nobody reached for easy compromises, nor did anyone paper over matters that needed to be fully worked through on the basis of God’s Word.” He noted that biblical Christians throughout North America face not only secularization but also “the doctrinal decay and revisionism in much of mainline Christianity. We thank the Lord for the commitment of our Anglican friends, and ask Him to use our witness to hold Christ the Saviour out to people all around us.” TAP
We note that while Anglicans have been famous for their patterns of prayer and devotion, Lutherans have majored in more precise doctrinal definition and theological precision. While both sides acknowledge the essential quality of both lex credendi and lex orandi, [the law of faith and the law of prayer] it may be that Lutherans can assist Anglicans toward more careful attention to the first and that Anglicans can help Lutherans to deepen their practice of the second. TAP
Mainline Anglicans and Lutherans in full communion in North America