ELCA Bishops Adopt Resolutions on "Called to Common Mission"
3/17/1999 12:00:00 AM
ELCA BISHOPS ADOPT RESOLUTIONS ON "CALLED TO COMMON MISSION"
TUCSON, Ariz. (ELCA) In response to concerns about a full communion proposal between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church, ELCA bishops meeting here March 5-9 adopted two resolutions, including one that defines the office of bishop and a second that specifies their understanding of the proposal itself.
The bishops tabled a proposed resolution stating their "intention to vote for" the proposal and "urge the ELCA's 1999 Churchwide Assembly to cast a strong, positive vote in favor of its adoption." During a discussion on the proposed resolution, the Rev. Richard J. Foss bishop of the ELCA's Eastern North Dakota Synod, said it might anger those who oppose full communion and decrease chances of approving the agreement.
The full communion proposal, "Called to Common Mission" (CCM), was discussed at the ELCA Conference of Bishops' spring meeting. The bishops represent the 65 synods of the 5.2 million member ELCA.=20 Assembly voting members will consider the complete CCM proposal in Denver, Aug. 16-22.
Lutheran-Episcopal dialogues that began in 1983 developed a process for full communion between the two churches, "The Concordat of Agreement," and issued it in 1991. A convention of the Episcopal Church approved the Concordat in 1997. That same year, the ELCA assembly defeated the proposal by six votes and asked that the Concordat be revised, taking the assembly's debate into account. The revision is CCM.
CCM opens the door for the ELCA and the Episcopal Church to share a variety cooperative ministries, including exchange of clergy in congregations.
The ELCA and the Episcopalians agree on the doctrine of "apostolic succession" an ongoing faithful proclamation of Christ; Episcopalians bring to the relationship the "historic episcopate," a succession of bishops as a sign of unity back to the earliest days of the Christian Church.
Already, CCM has generated some opposition in the ELCA, much of it focused on the historic episcopate. Concerns have been raised about the role of bishops and Lutheran identity in a full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church. Some people opposed to CCM met in February in Mahtomedi, Minn. and another meeting is planned there in May.
To address the concern about the role of bishops, the Conference adopted a three-page document, "The Office of Ministry of the Bishop in the ELCA: A Shared Vision of Episcopacy and a Relational Agreement." It includes a description of the bishop's role in ministry, in the life of the church, its nature, purpose and organization and its role within a culture of diversity of change.
"We view these understandings to be normative of our life and work together as bishops," the document said. "They represent our collegial intentions. They presume that neither ecumenical agreements, nor the participation of this church in conciliar movements or organizations with churches that hold differing views of episcopacy, alter these understandings in any essential way."
The Rev. E. Roy Riley, Jr., bishop of the ELCA's New Jersey Synod, proposed the resolution. He said the discussion of the full communion proposal "has begun to sink below acceptable levels of decorum." Riley said he was "tired" of fighting over the historic episcopate. Clearly defining the bishop's office should "move the conversation" from the historic episcopate to the reality of the office of bishop and what it will be in the future, he said.
"If we would get comfortable with that, then I think we can be comfortable with ecumenical full communion with the Presbyterians, with Moravians, with Episcopalians and whoever else," Riley said.
In 1997 the ELCA approved full communion with three Reformed churches; a proposal for full communion with Moravians will be considered at the 1999 churchwide assemble.
The conference also adopted a separate resolution that affirms certain understandings about CCM submitted by the Rev. Curtis H. Miller, bishop of the ELCA's Western Iowa Synod. Miller was the resolution's primary author and it was reviewed by the synod's Assembly Business and Counsel committee. Parts of the resolution said:
there is "no requirement" the ELCA must eventually adopt the three-fold order of ministry;
there is no requirement that ELCA bishops be elected to serve for life;
there is "no defined role" for the presiding bishop or synodical bishops once their terms are completed;
ordination of pastors will continue to be held at synodical worship services and in congregations;
the ELCA will continue to receive ordained pastors from other traditions on its roster without re-ordination, "some of whom will not have been ordained by a bishop in the historic episcopate;"
"the Episcopal Church accepts fully, and without reservation, present Lutheran pastors and bishops who are not in the historic episcopate;"
the "ELCA receives the historic episcopate as a sign of and service to the continuity and unity of the church and in no way as a guarantee of the faithful transmission of the faith;" and
future ELCA decisions "will be made in consultation with churches with whom we have declared full communion," but the decisions don't require their concurrence or approval.
"For those who support CCM, the resolution helps clear the air, helps clarify that many of the criticisms around the edges of the conversation are not always true and characteristic of the document," Miller said. "Hopefully, it'll be a device that will lay some of those arguments aside."
"For those concerned about CCM ... the intent here is to provide some historical basis they could refer to in the future." The resolution may be adapted for use at synod assemblies prior to the Churchwide Assembly this summer, he said.
The tabled resolution was proposed by the Rev. Paull E. Spring, bishop of the ELCA's Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod. It noted how CCM was different from the Concordat and recognized that not everyone in the ELCA favored CCM.
Adoption of the two proposals and the decision to table the other were part of a wide-ranging discussion.
"As I listen to the church, I don't think it (CCM) will pass," said Foss. Foss opposes CCM "because I think it's the wrong way to do mission," but he said the resolution Miller submitted may help the churchwide assembly adopt CCM.
"It's a commentary," Foss said. "It doesn't lay out what CCM says or what it doesn't say. But it does lay out how we understand the first string of implications of what it means."
"For many Lutherans, it (CCM) is seen as a compromising of what we are as a church," said the Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop of the ELCA's Greater Milwaukee Synod, as he discussed concerns he's heard about CCM. = =20
The changes from the Concordat incorporated into CCM were "appreciated," Rogness said, but for many the changes appear insufficient.
The Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, had a different view.
"Some people sincerely believe this means a loss in our identity," he said. "I would say it's more a way for us to express our identity." The historic episcopate offers the ELCA a way to relate to other Lutherans around the world, he said.
"Beyond Lutherans, as Christians, this would give us an opportunity to identify what Jesus speaks about in John 17," Anderson said. "A full communion relationship says more about John 17 than a hundred resolutions about how nice we think the Episcopal Church is."
John 17 contains Jesus' prayer that those who believe in him "may all be one."
The two documents are helpful, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, bishop of the ELCA's Saint Paul (Minn.) Area Synod. Hanson called for the "validation of divergent vi