As a pastor in the ELCA, I find great hope in our church’s work toward unity in the larger Christian Church. After many years and fruitful dialogues, the ELCA now shares full communion agreements with six different churches: Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, The Moravian Church, and United Methodist Church. Alongside these, the ELCA continues to dialogue with other churches, such as the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, in hopes that one-day we all will be able to share in common pulpit and table. Full communion agreements do not mean we are merging or conforming into some liberal super-denomination, but instead means even with our differences we can each work together. The ELCA defines full communion as “when two denominations develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith, a mutual recognition of Baptism, and sharing of the Lord’s Supper.” (more on the ELCA’s full communion partnerships can be found at http://www.elca.org/Faith/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations/Full-Communion)
Lutherans, however, have not always been so intentional about working toward Christian unity. Unfortunately, Martin Luther himself—perhaps in the invigorating spirit of calling a thing what it is—offered many colorful illustrations of his opponents and painful condemnations against those who believed differently from him. It is no secret Luther called the papacy the Antichrist, and condemned other groups (such as the Anabaptists) through his writings. You and I, today, are able to look back at these such things Martin Luther said and wrote in his context, and say this is not what God is calling us to do or say in our attempts at participating in God’s mission for the world.
Fully aware of the history of pain and suffering that stems from Luther’s polemical words, we Lutherans must reconcile those relationships that for so long were divided and opposing. We begin by repenting of these hateful words, asking for forgiveness of them, and speaking new words of love and affirmation. Without sacrificing our core beliefs, today we are called to look and listen for the Spirit’s work through, and with, other Christian groups. Each week we confess our faith in the words of the Creed: “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.” This means--for us Lutherans, in Mead, Nebraska--we hear God’s call to work with others, we believe Christ died for all people, and we are empowered by the Spirit to seek new ways to be the church together. My hope for ecumenism in Mead, Nebraska is founded on my faith that God is working to bring us all together—despite our differences--to be the one body of Christ for the world. I pray we remember this as we continue to take steps in working together.