Confessional Lutherans, Anglicans draw closer

From left, Bishop Ray Sutton and Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America and the Rev. Larry Vogel of the LCMS visit during a break in the Feb. 8-9 session of ongoing discussions involving their church bodies and Lutheran Church—Canada. (LCMS/Frank Kohn)

From left, Bishop Ray Sutton and Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America and the Rev. Larry Vogel of the LCMS visit during a break in the Feb. 8-9 session of ongoing discussions involving their church bodies and Lutheran Church—Canada. (LCMS/Frank Kohn)

By Mathew Block 

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 work so far. Titled “On Closer Acquaintance,” the document is the culmination of six years of regular discussions among the three church bodies and highlights the discovery of significant doctrinal agreement between the Anglican and Lutheran participants.

The authors are clear that there is still much work to be done before altar and pulpit fellowship between the two sides would be possible. Nevertheless, they have found the discussions promising enough to publicly declare their prayer “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, with the result that we would welcome each other wholeheartedly to our respective altars and enjoy the blessed situation in which our clergy and people would be interchangeable with each other as we stand under the grace of God and work for His kingdom.”

In the meantime, they encourage all three church bodies to “consider the ways in which we can cooperate and come together in ways that fall short of full communion but do allow the greatest measure of cooperation while maintaining full theological integrity.”

The report can be downloaded at lcms.org/doc/acna-report.

Church leaders react

The leaders of the three churches welcomed the report warmly, reflecting on the growing relationship between confessional Anglicans and Lutherans.

“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 Rev. Dr. 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.”

LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison expressed a similar perspective.

“In these trying times for global Christianity, 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. We have been inspired by the journey of these men and women out of a church body which had abandoned the New Testament. They have sacrificed greatly, virtually all of them losing the properties of their respective congregations due to the structure of the Episcopal Church. I pray that we would be so courageous facing such difficulties.”

LCC President Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee praised the dialogue and the growing theological consensus between confessional Lutherans and Anglicans.

“These discussions have been marked by great thoroughness and theological integrity,” he noted. “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. Biblical Christians throughout North America face many pressures — not only with the secularization of our society but also because of 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 Savior out to people all around us.”

All three leaders were present for the most recent round of dialogue between the LCMS, ACNA and LCC, held Feb. 8-9 in St. Louis. A major focus of the meeting was finalizing the report on the six-year dialogue so far.

A comparison of doctrinal positions

The report begins by recounting the close history of Anglicans and Lutherans, suggesting that while they are not as yet “sister churches,” they are “the closest ecumenical cousins in Christendom.” Moreover, the current divisions in world Anglicanism mirror similar divisions in world Lutheranism. In these situations, confessional Anglicans and confessional Lutherans find they have much in common. Each tradition also has much to offer the other.

“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,” the report states. “While both sides acknowledge the essential quality of both lex credendi and lex orandi, 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.”

The report compares the doctrinal positions of the two traditions at length and acknowledges the churches have found strong agreement on a number of areas, including the subjects of the Trinity, the person of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, the creeds, original sin, justification and good works.

The talks also identified areas that require further discussion. In particular, the report notes, “The ordering of the ministry is the area where we have found the most work, study and discussion needs to be done to reach a common understanding of the connection between our practices.” To that end, the paper encourages Lutherans to “consider the ways in which the ministry of the bishop (as distinct from presbyter) is already at work among them” and encourages Anglicans to consider “how recognition of the office of bishop can go hand in hand with acknowledgement of the unicity of the office instituted by Christ.” Likewise, the report identifies the diaconate as another topic that would be beneficial to discuss.

The two sides also address the topic of female ordination in the report. The LCMS and LCC both understand the ordained ministry to preclude women. The report notes that a majority within ACNA also hold this position even as they are “engaged at the present time in a consensus-seeking discussion with the minority within its midst that takes the opposite view.”

Additional doctrinal stances compared in the report include the Church, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution and the role of Christian rulers.

Moving forward

“When our open-ended conversations began six years ago, some of the signatories to this report approached our task with a mixture of low expectations and a certain nervousness before the unknown,” the report admits in its conclusion. “All of us are somewhat surprised to have discovered the deep common bonds between us in the Body of Christ, and to have registered the large measure of consensus that we have documented above. We regard these things that we have discovered together as a gift of the Lord and trust Him to use our findings to His glory and to the good of the universal Church. As we commend this report to the people and clergy of ACNA, LCMS and LCC, we encourage Lutherans and Anglicans to remember each other in prayer, to embrace one another in Christian love, to encourage each other to confess Christ boldly in our ever darkening times, and to support each other in mission and outreach in faithfulness to Him who has laid the same Great Commission on us all.”

Elsewhere in the report the authors write, “We earnestly hope that these pages may be read and pondered as widely as possible by the clergy and people of our respective church bodies, not only in private but also in the setting of Bible classes, clergy and theological conferences, and other appropriate forums of Christian education.”

Mathew Block (communications@lutheranchurch.ca) is editor of The Canadian Lutheran and communications manager for Lutheran Church—Canada. He also serves as editor for the International Lutheran Council and blogs with First Things.

Posted Feb. 23, 2016

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15 Responses to Confessional Lutherans, Anglicans draw closer

  1. Fred Dissen February 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Anyone who knows Foley Beach and what he stands for has to feel that the LCMS is blessed by these current developments with the ACNA.

    I’ve witnessed Foley in person too many times to feel otherwise. And I’ve read my Bible too many times to believe I could even remotely be wrong in this matter.

    Fred H. Dissen

  2. Roger H. Grummer, D.Min. February 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    I find it encouraging that the LCMS and the ACNA have found so much common understanding in their theological and churchly positions. I pray that continued talks might be helpful to both church bodies in the future.

  3. Rev. Michael Mueller February 23, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    I feel that it is a blessing that the ACNA has some items in common with LCMS, but it seems that with ordination of men only, the Church, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution and the role of Christian rulers remaining on the table, that there is really not much common ground yet. The Church, the ministry and the means of grace are the crux of any possible closer fellowship. Nevertheless, a welcome milestone in the dialog.

  4. David February 23, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

    As an WELS Lutheran I am dismayed that Missouri would ponder fellowship with a denomination that has so many doctrinal differences. WELS suspended fellowship with Missouri in the 60’s because of it’s departure from pure doctrine that even their own spiritual leader Walther would have abhorred. Yet rather than return to a conservative course that would bring it back to a God pleasing dialogue with fellow conservative Lutherans, it chooses instead to chase after denominations that do not even subscribe to the Book of Concord. This is very disappointing, yet I will continue to pray for Missouri to one day to return to its strong position of orthodoxy that it held when it guided a small synod called the WELS into a conservative denomination.

    • Aaron February 24, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

      Pr. Harrison is a bulwark of Confessional Lutheranism — he knows what he’s doing.

      The problem is that we’ve neglected ecumenism (which is a very Catholic value) for far too long, letting the liberal church bodies get LARGER than us.

      At least as an LCMS Lutheran… I believe that Confessional Lutheranism has a lot to learn from Anglicans (i.e. The ordered structure, which has been maintained in MOST-if-not-ALL, confessional Lutheran church bodies, outside North America).
      I’m tired of saying “president”, I want to say “bishop”.

  5. Robert Moehle February 23, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

    Quite interesting. I left a “God as Good Buddy” type church because of the lack of respect for God Himself and ended up going to a Continuing Anglican church, staying with it for many years. Later I became a Missouri Synod Lutheran because of an LCMS church in our small town that someone said – “This is the only church in town that hasn’t become a Baptist church!” It is good tho hear these two streams of thought looking at each other and thinking that some cooperation cpould be possible.

  6. Tim Z February 25, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    As a person who was raised in a staunchly devout LCMS home by 2nd generation German immigrants (Grandparents came to America in 1920, after The Treaty of Versailles stripped them of all property). While any Christian dialogue with another denomination is positive, actually discussing “sister Church” status must be view very skeptically; after the 1997 “Deal with the Devil”, and more historicly, what Philip Melecheton did to Lutheranism by allying with the Calvinist following Martin Luther’s death in 1546. I believe the LCMS should take the same spiritual stance, trusting in God Almighty, that Luther did at the Deit of Worms in 1521. We should concord nothing our Lutheran for Fathers complied by inspiration of the Holy Spirt, in the Book of Concord.

  7. David February 27, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    I am surprised at the positivity in this report. I grew up in the LCMS and have been around many ACNA churches. It was an ACNA church that introduced me to the book of Common Prayer and I have been using it for my morning and evening prayer ever since. I use the prayers and language of BCP, and mixed it with the hymnody of the LCMS (Because I love the music.) I knew the two churches were somewhat at odds, but always felt they could do well together. With that said, I have enjoyed the 2 and haven’t liked being caught between them. Now that I read this report, it eases the tension and gives me hope.

  8. Alan Sparks February 29, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    The ACNA has a large charismatic stream running it, and is a conglomeration of strange independent diocese. I can’t see it lasting myself, still maintains many errors that haunt the ECUSA and are non confessional.

  9. Eric Rachut, M.D. February 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

    Henry VIII was evidently a reader in depth of the Lutheran works and contributed financially to the Lutheran church in Germany. He applied to, and would have been allowed to join, the Schmalkalden League, had he been willing to sign the Augsburg Confession. For political reasons he would not do so. If the Anglicans are able to shed the Calvinism that subsequently crept into their theology and undertake that subscription to the Augsburg Confession and Book of Concord, then an historic error can be corrected.
    WELS could use some improvement also. The FAQ on their website says that the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion are some form of spiritual food, which sounds very much like Zwingli, and they are receptionists. Here is the influence of the Calvinist king of Prussia who wanted to take communion with his Lutheran wife and decreed the Prussian Union – another political imposition on theology.

  10. L.Day March 1, 2016 at 9:02 pm #

    Is anyone aware that the ACNA allows dioceses to decide if they want to ordain women or not ordain them as pastors? LCMS does not support this and never has. They have also entered into ecumenical relationships with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church and have had discussions with the PC-USA, all non Lutheran bodies and all non Lutheran in doctrine in practice.

    Can we talk with them? Sure! Ecumenical discussions? Of course! Compromise and join simply to have fellowship. No!

  11. Aaron March 3, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

    I’ve been thinking… As far as the ordered structure is concerned:

    The diaconate is already in place to some degree in a few of our Districts (such as the “Mid-South District”) — and our “English District” already has in place a democratic-episcopal system with a Presiding Bishop serving as District President. So if we just made these district quirks Synod-wide, and made our presidents wear mitres… we’re not that far from the Anglicans as it is.

    (minus the whole apostolic succession thing – because that’s what the Book of Concord is for!!).

    • Tim Z. March 17, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

      Aaron, I disagree wholeheartedly. The ACNA’s stated belief/position on the Holy Sacraments is in conflict with the Book of Concord and Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms. I staunchly maintain that the LCMS must not concede one article, one line of the Book of Concord during any discussions with allowing another Church or denomination to patner with us. To do so would disgrace our Lutheran Forefathers who sacrificed everything Earthly 500 years ago to fight the papist and Calvinist to be able to preach the True Gosple of Salvation through Faith Alone.

      • Aaron April 3, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

        (ACNA) Anglicans are diverse in their beliefs – they’re a merger church. Some are from the Reformed Episcopal Church… Others from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the ECUSA… The only thing that they aren’t is Liberal.

        Anglo-Catholics are like High Church Lutherans (essentially confessional Lutheran, but Catholic for the sake of Catholic). They confess belief in the real (bodily)-presence and practice all sorts of pre-reformation traditions such as the Adoration of the Host during holy communion. I am willing to work with them… Because we (conservative Christians) are becoming a minority in this country, and we need allies.
        I don’t think (nor should we) have altar and pulpit fellowship, for a LONG TIME… But for the time being, I think (like the article says), that still have A LOT to learn from one another… Because… Whether or not you like to accept it, the LCMS is not perfect, and we can learn from my brothers and sisters in Christ in other church bodies. I love our church body, but we have failed at maintaining the historic polity of the church. Failed. At least the ELCA uses the word “Bishop”. But maybe I’m just too High Church Lutheran. 😉
        And if anything comes out of working with the Anglicans, that should be the top priority.

        Bottom line, confessional Lutherans shouldn’t be allergic to the word “ecumenical” – it recognizes that there is a “Catholic church” that includes other people besides the Missouri Synod.

  12. Fred H. Dissen March 27, 2016 at 5:33 pm #

    As “somebody” said on Maundy Thursday, “I pray that they may all be one.”

    Please talk about this on the basis of the BIBLE. That is the basis for Christ-pleasing unity. The writings of Synods and Dioceses have obvious limitations. They will all disappear. The Bible won’t. Ever. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord endureth forever.”

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