Half a loaf

Lutherans draw a line

"What a testimony it would be, in the midst of this balkanized society, if two churches, long separated, could affirm each other and begin to knit up the ministries that have so long been divided. It would be a prophetic sign; a sign that things do not have to remain as they are....” Thus had H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, envisioned the effects of his church’s entering into full communion with the Episcopal church.

The deeper the pain, the fewer the words. Appropriately, then, the first report was terse. In two sentences, the ELCA stated that its churchwide assembly had rejected the “Concordat of Agreement” by a slim six-vote margin.

The concordat, published in 1991, was the product of dialogues and agreements between Lutherans and Episcopalians over nearly three decades. Episcopal church approval required the vote of its general convention. Approval by the ELCA required the vote of its churchwide assembly. This year, 1997, was chosen as the year of decision by both groups. Both were already scheduled to meet this summer in Philadelphia, one month apart.

As decision time approached, conferences, debates, books, and on-line discussions helped to clarify the meaning and implications of “full communion.” It was not going to be a merger of the two churches, each with rich and diverse traditions. Rather, at the end of the process...

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About the Author

Jon Nilson is professor emeritus of theology at Loyola University Chicago and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.