Methodist-Lutheran Unity Statement

As you may have heard, this past summer the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) accepted the full communion agreement with The United Methodist Church (UMC), that the United Methodist General Conference also had accepted back in the summer of 2008. So now our churches are in "full communion." We recognize one another as equal and fully legitimate expressions of the one body of Christ, proclaiming a common faith, celebrating common sacraments, with interchangeable clergy and seminaries and so forth.

I've only recently read the unity statement called "Confessing our Faith Together" (available beginning on page 12 of this study guide). It is always nice to read these ecumenical statements because they set forth what each Church considers the fundamentals of its own faith and practice, and so form a nice "refresher" in the basics of Lutheran and Methodist theology. It is also reassuring to note that the general theological flavor of this document is orthodox, especially with regards to Trinity, Christology, soteriology, and sacraments.

A couple of points are worth noting:

In the section on theological authority, paragraph 12 reminds us that Holy Scripture is the primary authority for both Churches; para. 13 points out that both see the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed as basic statemtents of the apostolic faith; and para. 17 notes important elements of the tradition that serve as practical authorities, naming the teachers of the Early Church, Martin Luther, and John & Charles Wesley as formative teachers for our common faith.

The Section on Prevenient Grace has this well-said quote:
Since all life is enveloped by the wooing activity of the Holy Spirit, God draws people to the saving grace given to us through Word and sacrament and received by faith in Jesus Christ.

The second part of this sentence is an excellent way to phrase the relationship between God's initiative in giving grace through the Bible and through the Sacraments (the "means of grace") on the one hand, and the importance of our recieving grace by faith in Christ on the other. This forms the foundation of a Christianity that is at once both sacramental and evangelical. Through the Biblical Word and through the sacraments God gives grace; while it is by faith in Christ, trusting our Lord and Savior, that we recieve his grace. In this way we hold together the Biblical truths that the sacraments really do incorporate us into salvation (see John 3:5; John 6; Rom. 6; 1 Cor. 10; Titus 3; 1 Pet. 3) and also that salvation is through faith (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10, etc.).

Note also the nice emphasis on a high eucharistic doctrine held in common by both Churches in para.s 40 & 41:

In this sharing (koinonia), Christ offers his life-giving body and blood through bread and wine to all who take part in the celebration of this meal (1 Corinthians 10:16). In the words of Christ that institute this meal stands a promise that he himself is truly present for us. These words in the Supper call us to faith...It is by the living word of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that the bread and wine become the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.

The document also implicitly calls for the celebration of Holy Communion to be as frequent as possible (in para. 46):

This meal unites us with God and with one another; the more time we spend at the Lord’s table, the more we come to love one another and appreciate the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

So, I recommend this theological statement to Methodist and Lutheran Christians, and to others interested in the unity of the Church, or the basics of the catholic faith held in common across denominational lines.

Unfortunately, this full communion agreement itself has something of a cloud hanging over it, since the same Lutheran Conference that accepted this agreement then turned around and removed the rules requiring their clergy to hold to Biblical sexual standards (in order to facilitate actively homosexual clergy; click here for an interesting description). This move will undoubtedly fracture the unity of the ELCA itself over time, leaving a big question-mark over the future of this full communion agreement.

Pondering this calls to mind the words from The Book of Common Prayer (and Wesley's revision of it): "...inspire your catholic Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and harmony and grant that all who confess your holy Name may agree in the truth of your holy Word, and live in unity..." And we see in these strange times how much we need to continue praying that prayer for the Church.
[pictured above, ELCA Bishop Hanson (left), and UMC Bishop Oden applaud the move toward full-communion]

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