GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (ELCA) -- Revisions to about six paragraphs -- out of 45 -- are all that remain before a joint declaration on justification can be accepted by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. Review of the latest draft of the document was the main agenda item at the Sept. 24-Oct. 1 meeting of the LWF Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Lutheran World Federation is a worldwide communion of 122 member churches, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
When adopted, the document will declare that the Reformation-era condemnations of both churches toward each other do not apply to the present churches. A key section affirmed by the Lutherans states: "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."
The revisions will delay adoption of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic declaration. Originally scheduled for acceptance at the July 1997 LWF assembly in Hong Kong, the joint agreement now will not be adopted before the latter half of 1998. In February the LWF Council's executive committee will accept final wording of the text and distribute copies to all 122 LWF member churches.
The ELCA will act on the document at the 1997 Churchwide Assembly in Philadelphia. The delay is "not a setback," ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson said. "A document of this magnitude deserves time. It is actually better for us because we can respond to the text before the LWF makes its final decision."
LWF President Gottfried Brakemeier of Brazil admitted "a certain disappointment that we are not able to finish the work as scheduled, but it is clear that the joint declaration is endorsed and supported by the LWF. With some amendments, it will succeed."
The LWF Council's standing committee on ecumenical affairs examined the joint declaration and identified the areas requiring revision. Discussion focused on four sections dealing with the Roman Catholic view that sin is overcome by baptism, whereas Lutherans say the baptized remain simultaneously both saint and sinner.
In other sections, Lutherans must agree among themselves on the relationship between forgiveness and justification, as well as develop more Trinitarian language.
The LWF received 27 largely positive responses to the declaration from churches representing about three-fourths of the Lutherans in LWF member churches. The declaration was distributed to 17 Roman Catholic bishops' conferences. Three raised questions that were addressed in the present draft.
In other actions the council: * Elected ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson as a
council member and as an LWF vice president. * Endorsed LWF support for Augusta Victoria Hospital in East
Jerusalem. The hospital, which has served Palestinians since
Israel's founding, is about $4.5 million in debt. * Condemned renewed violence in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, recognizing the "frustration of the Palestinians
due to the lack of implementation of the Oslo Agreements." * Heard that the LWF ended 1995 without a deficit despite a
sharp decline in exchange rates for the U.S. dollar, the
German mark and the Swedish crown against the Swiss franc.
[The Rev. Edgar R. Trexler, editor of "The Lutheran" magazine,
contributed this story.]
For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service,(312) 380-2958
or AHAFFTEN@ELCA.ORG; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir.,(312) 380-2955