Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue: The Church as Koinonia of Salvation

Article excerpt

The final meeting of the Tenth Round of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in the United States met April 22-25, 2004, at St. John's Cathedral in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The principal task of the meeting was to finalize a text on The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries. The meeting also provided an opportunity to celebrate both this dialogue and the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in a service at the cathedral on April 23, with the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mark Hanson, preaching. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee welcomed the members of the dialogue to the cathedral, and Bishops Charles Maahs and Richard Sklba, co-chairs of the dialogue, presided at the ecumenical celebration.

The 1999 signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Holy See and the Lutheran World Federation was a high-water mark in Lutheran-Catholic relations, resolving the problem of grace and good works that was at the heart of Reformation disagreements. On the basis of this agreement, scholars representing the churches have been able to go back to the theological work of applying this agreement to other issues that must be resolved if full communion is to be achieved. While this text does not call for full mutual recognition of ordained ministries or the integration of ecclesial structures, it proposes important new clarifications and pastoral steps that will serve the pilgrimage toward full unity.

The new dialogue text is a particularly long statement on the church, compared with earlier contributions of this dialogue. It provides over 100 pages of conclusions, along with the biblical, historical, and theological foundations for these recommendations. The text carefully links the biblical doctrine of justification to the development of the church in the New Testament as a community of salvation, whose structures and ministries serve the church's mission to the human family.

A detailed exposition is given to the development of the ministries and structures in the church: councils, dioceses, parishes, bishops, presbyters, and the Petrine ministry. The common history prior to the Reformation is accompanied by a clarification of the differences in theology both before and aider the Reformation, showing where a common core of the Christian faith and practice found different expressions in separate Lutheran and Catholic developments in the episcopacy, in congregational life, and both in the understanding of church structures from the Reformation and in recent ecumenical rapprochement. …