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.
“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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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