By Roland Lovstad
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod representatives came away from the first meeting of a new round of U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues with observations of openness and trust as discussions began around the theme of “The Hope of Eternal Life.”
More than 20 theologians opened Round XI of the dialogues Dec. 1-4 in Chicago. The LCMS representatives are Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, executive director of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and Dr. Dean O. Wenthe, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick appointed them.
“There was general openness to listen and a considerable spirit of trust that one could express views in a context where one they would get a fair hearing,” said Nafzger.
Wenthe observed, “It gives our church body an opportunity to show its strengths and the beauty of its theology and witness. We will have attentive conversation partners.”
Dialogues between U.S. Roman Catholics and Lutherans first began in 1965, with the LCMS participating in the first nine rounds and sending an observer to the tenth. Others at Round XI represent the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The co-chairs are Rev. Lowell G. Almen, secretary of the ELCA, and Rev. Richard J. Sklba, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“Our church body will benefit from the discussion,” Wenthe said. “We share some core convictions with the Roman Catholic Church, including our commitments to families and the sanctity of life. This will be an opportunity to share the Gospel with charity and clarity.”
The first meeting generated a list of 23 topics to address at forthcoming sessions. Among those topics, Nafzger said, is the understanding of time and space with regard to eternity, including subtopics such as purgatory and indulgences. Among other topics are rewards and retribution, relationships between current liturgical rites and teachings, positions on prayers for the dead, pre-Reformation theology, the mind of the Pope, and the authority of the church and means of grace.
“This is a very meaningful round because the topic has implications for each one of us,” Nafzger said. “We all know we will die, so we are not just dealing with theoretical matters. We are talking about what we believe, teach, and confess with regard to our own futures.
“[Dr. Wenthe and I] feel this is an important assignment,” Nafzger continued. “The topic ‘The Hope for Eternal Life’ will necessarily involve us in the discussion of issues which lie at the center of the Reformation itself, and to do so in a fair and responsible way.”
The Chicago meeting included presentations by Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians. Two presenters were Rev. Joseph A. Fitzmyer of the Jesuit community at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and Rev. John H.P. Reumann, emeritus professor from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia — both participants in the first round of dialogues that began 40 years ago.
The next meetings of the dialogue will be April 20-23 in Phoenix and Oct. 12-15 in Baltimore.
Posted Dec. 29, 2005