Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lutheran Church of America & Lutheran World Federation continue walk to wider Communion
by Peter Menkin

Bishop Mark Hanson,
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
speaks to Lutheran World Federation

Communion and fellowship are two important areas of Christianity that call Christians together wherever they may be. This worldwide phenomenon of interest in expanding the opportunity and various doctrine differences so that denominations of different persuasion, but Christian, can enter into Communion together.

The Lutheran World Federation continues to seek a broader expanse of friends who may each take Communion in the others Church. A news report from the organization Lutheran World Federation quotes its President this way in a July statement:

STUTTGART, Germany (ELCA) — The Lutheran commitment to ecumenism will not end until members can share the Eucharist with other churches, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation and presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, according to a news release from Lutheran World Information.

The Federation Assembly is the organization’s highest legislative body, and it is meeting here July 20-27. The Federation is 140 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Christians worldwide.

Speaking at a July 21 news conference following the presentation of his report to the Federation Eleventh Assembly, Hanson outlined progress made in ecumenical relations…

All well and good, yes, and promising. Christians are talking. Recently an historic merger for Christian unity took place. An historic merger between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) took place in June 2010 when the two organizations met to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) at a uniting General Council held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A message was offered and it is here: Final message from the Uniting General Council 2010 Grand Rapids, United States

In a press statement, the group describes itself as: The World Alliance of Reformed Churches is a fellowship of 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries. Its member churches are Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed and United churches with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox and others. WARC has a small secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland.

The visionary Bishop of Lutheran World Federation knows this transformation for the Lutheran World Federation is a work of lifetime effort. Results will not and do not come quickly. Is this a dream, is this a vision of future Christian fellowship, or is this pie in the sky?

Hanson acknowledged that he is unlikely to see all Christian churches communing together in his lifetime, but “if I can contribute to that vision being realized, I’ll be very grateful.”
Hanson with Pope

The press statement by Lutheran World Federation continues: Hanson’s desire to see full unity among churches extends also to unity within Lutheran churches. He is concerned about emerging conversations in some Lutheran churches about what it means to be truly Lutheran. “I sense that there is a growing desire on the part of some to look at our rich, shared confessions not as a reason for conversation about how we can live in that confessional tradition, but rather as a way of determining who is truly Lutheran and who is not. That would be an unfortunate breakdown.” Hanson acknowledged that he is unlikely to see all Christian churches communing together in his lifetime, but “if I can contribute to that vision being realized, I’ll be very grateful.”

Where is the reality of Lutheran Church Communion. Though Hanson is referring to those who qualify and are in good order for communion, and look towards mutual communion in each other’s church, let us look for a moment at the other important dimension. That is those who may not take communion,, and why. This is about a known practice of communion.

Where is the reality of Lutheran Church Communion. The practice is known as close or closed Communion. Lord of Life Lutheran Church on their website addresses the issue. This writer does not want to call it a “problem,” as Bishop Hanson pursues full unity in Communion of “all Christian churches communing.” Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Holland, Michigan says in their statement on close communion that:

Many Churches today practice “Open Communion”, which means that anybody off the street can come into their Church and take Communion. Sadly, there is no questioning about whether or not that person is a baptized Christian, whether or not they are living for Jesus, or if they even understand what they are receiving in Holy Communion. While we desire all people to be able to participate in Communion and encourage frequent communing, the Bible clearly teaches that only Christians who properly understand what they are doing and receiving in Communion, should partake.

Therefore, our Congregation and our Denomination practices what is called ‘close or closed Communion’, meaning that before you take Communion at our Churches, we ask you to take a Communion Class first to properly learn what Communion is all about. Again, we want people to be able to come to Communion, but in love for their souls and for God’s Word, we want people to first understand the important and weighty things that the Bible says about communing. This is why we ask those who are new to our Church to go through a Communion Class.

1. We should “examine” ourselves before Communion (1 Corinthians 11:28).

2. A person who does not understand Communion may unknowingly sin against God: Scripture says that if we take Communion in an “unworthy manner” we will be “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27), and that if we do not recognize the body of the Lord in Communion we ‘eat and drink judgment on ourselves’ (11:29).

3. We should walk together in a common Faith: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with fornicators— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” – 1Cor 5:9-11

Pastor McQuality:
Lord of Life Lutheran Church
in Holland, Michigan  
Their Pastor Dan Mcquality speaks at greater length on this important subject on the same page, found here.

For those who are qualified for communion, the work goes on in this movement outlined in the instances of unity cited here. The work of uniting Christians in fellowship and Communion is a strong movement, and understandably many Church groups, especially in Europe like WARC and their United General Council, continue the work. Note the number of Christians in this statement quoted here from a June press statement. It is in the millions who are involved with and interested in this current and healthy Christian movement:

Strengthening communion – deepening dialogue United General Council News interviewed Gottfried Locher, the treasurer of the new Executive Committee, about the significance of this Uniting General Council and the tasks facing the WCRC. Just two weeks ago Gottfried Locher was elected as the new President of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, which has two million members.

The Ecumenical movement is strong, yes. One reason is for the common interest of justice and even the great social issues of our World today. In this Ecumenical meeting regarding the War in Iraq; this is an opportunity for those so interested in the Ecumenical movement like Worldwide Lutheran Church to talk with others on the issues of justice, and inclusiveness:

GENEVA, Switzerland (ELCA) — In the 50-year history of the World Council of Churches, there has never been such unanimity across all church traditions on a matter of public concern for Christians, said the Rev. Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary. Raiser made the comment about WCC member churches’ opposition to war with Iraq in a meeting here with an 18-member delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The ELCA delegation includes bishops, pastors, members and staff who are involved in an “ecumenical journey,” scheduled months before war with Iraq became a probability. The purpose of the trip is to meet with international Christian leaders in Europe. Leading the delegation is the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, who is here in his role as the church’s chief ecumenical officer.

Essentially, the effort is seriously fueled by a driven by the spirit of unity and cooperation. The new entity that is World Council of Reformed Churches, knows it is a new organization and is driven in a spirit of unity and cooperation. World Communion of Reformed Churches made several decisions recently, “heard the Gospel of reconciling love,” and prepared itself to respond “in joyful hope” to a range of issues in churches and the world.

In their press statement, the Ecumenical group states: From start to finish, the focus of the gathering was on the importance of valuing diversity while establishing unity. The unity was seen in discussions, but also in the times of worship, says Setri Nyomi, general secretary of World Alliance, in an interview at the end of its 10-day meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the Upper Midwest of the United States. Their statement tells us, also:

Formed from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council WCRC represents 230 churches and 80 million Reformed Christians worldwide.

Now that the meeting is finished, the Reformed Ecumenical Council will establish a strategic planning committee to help “unpack” all that was discussed and acted on this week.

Responding to “God’s Word,” the new communion made a number of statements on Friday and Saturday on such topics as the need to focus on human rights in countries including Somalia, Sudan, Burma[Myanmar], North Korea and Cuba.

It also overwhelmingly issued a strong statement protesting the denial of more than 70 visas for delegates and others from around the world who wanted to attend the meeting.

Chris Meehan, WCRC news editor reports in the statement, “We need to be where Jesus chose to be, namely among the poor and oppressed,” said Jerry Pillay, a South African church official who was elected as the first president of the Reformed Ecumenical Council, in a sermon during the final worship service.

“God’s presence in the world tells us that business as usual is no longer acceptable.”

Images: (1) ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson greets parishioners at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva (Switzerland), where he preached. (2) ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and his wife, Ione, meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, center, during a meeting in London (3) Pastor Dan McQuality of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Holland Michigan. Pastor Nicholas Proksch is a graduate of Valparaiso University and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota. He has served congregations in Roseau, East Grand Forks, and North Mankato, Minnesota. He is also a translator for Luther’s Works: American Edition and recently presented at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University. (4) ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson greets Pope John Paul II at a meeting at The Vatican. (5) ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson addresses Pope John Paul II in a meeting with the ELCA delegation. (6) The Rev. Konrad Raiser [left] general secretary, World Council of Churches, converses with Bishop Donald McCoid, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops. (7) Following a special worship service March 29 with a Lutheran congregation in London, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson presents a gift to the Rev. Walter Jagucki [center] bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain. (8) ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson [left] and the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, address news reporters in Geneva on the eve of war with Iraq.


In a related matter, concerning Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams comments. This text is excerpted in full by permission from the Blog of David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe (Anglican) whose observations and comments comprise this Addendum.
Archbishop Rowan Williams,
Anglican Communion
Keynote speaker, Lutheran World Federation

(The Rt. Reverend David Hamid first introduces his observations, and selections from Archbishop Rowan William’s remarks…the photograph of the Archbishop is by Arni Svanur…:)

On 22 July the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered the keynote address at the Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Stuttgart, Germany. He reflected on the Assembly’s theme Give Us Today Our Daily Bread and explored a number of interpretations of this line from the Lord’s Prayer:

“The bread that is shared among Christians is not only material resource, but the recognition of dignity…and to recognise human dignity in one another is indeed to share the truth of what humanity is in the eyes of God. We feed each other by honouring the truth of the divine image in each other.”

Archbishop Williams also spoke of the close connection in the Lord’s Prayer between the prayer for bread and the prayer for forgiveness. He described forgiveness as

“the exchange of the bread of life and the bread of truth; it is the way in which those who have damaged each other’s humanity and denied its dignity are brought back into a relation where each feeds the other and nurtures their dignity”.

The Archbishop reflecting on the Eucharist, said:

“The Lord’s Supper is bread for the world – not simply in virtue of the sacramental bread that is literally shared and consumed, but because it is the sign of a humanity set free for mutual gift and service. The Church’s mission in God’s world is inseparably bound up with the reality of the common life around Christ’s table, the life of what a great Anglican scholar called homo eucharisticus, the new ‘species’ of humanity that is created and sustained by the Eucharistic gathering and its food and drink. Here is proclaimed the possibility of reconciled life and the imperative of living so as to nourish the humanity of others. There is no transforming Eucharistic life if it is not fleshed out in justice and generosity, no proper veneration for the sacramental Body and Blood that is not correspondingly fleshed out in veneration for the neighbour”..

After the address, the Archbishop answered questions from the assembly on a number of topics, including:

■on Christian unity: “When we join hands to take risks together for the sake of the Gospel, then we advance the Kingdom”

■on interfaith dialogue: “Engaging in interfaith dialogue is about sharing a vision of humanity, and joining with those of other faiths in humanising our environment”

■on loneliness and isolation: “Churches remain the one place where we are reminded we belong to each other. Your life and your death are with your neighbour”.

■on God’s love: “in the language of the prophet Hosea, God says “I cannot give you up, I cannot stop giving my love, for I am God and not a mortal”

■on sacraments: “the energy of the redeeming God is everywhere. In the sacraments a veil is lifted and we see God’s activity in Christ”.

(Bishop David Hamid concludes his observations.)

The Lutherans were deeply moved by the spiritual teaching of our Archbishop and the President of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Mark Hanson (below) spoke very warmly of Archbishop Rowan’s leadership. It made me very proud of our Anglican Primate.

The full text of the Archbishop’s address can be found here.

This article originally appeared in The Church of England Newspaper, London.

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