Monday, March 22, 2004

Full Communion

The Formula of Agreement established in 1997 relationship between the ELCA, PCUSA, RCA, and UCC. The document argues that with the signing of that statement, "full communion" would come about among these churches. This, of course, is a long time coming. Of the three ecumenical proposals of 1997 to the ELCA, this is probably the one that could be called "ecumenics lite." The other two, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, and the Concordat with the Episcopal Church USA (to become Called to Common Mission in 1999) got the most schrift. At the time, I considered the JDDJ and the Concordat to be the most significant. The reasons is that they would require the most straightforward changes to ELCA practice. The Formula of Agreement, I was told, said that nothing had to change between Reformed and Lutheran. It was "all good" and that was that. I now think this is the weakest of the three proposals, not only from the perspective of what it claims, but also its success at promoting "full communion."

"Full communion" is a term that developed out of the course of the dialogues to describe the goal of ecumenical dialogue. In its use, however, this amounts simply to the older form of North American views of fellowship, viz, "pulpit and altar fellowship." This for the most part has had the force of: your pastors are ok, ours are ok, so the lay folks can go hither and yon to your altar and ours. But the 1925 Minneapolis Theses state: " fellowship, that is, mutual recognition, altar and pulpit fellowship, and eventually cooperation in the strictly essential work of the church... ." This later part is the part missing from the establishment of full communion between ELCA and PCUSA/UCC/RCA.

So clergy can go back and forth. Same deal with the Anglican agreement only after a while bishops can do that too. But what next? Is that it? The Minneapolis theses that formed the old-old ALC have a better go of it. From what I know of PCUSA polity, there would be immense difficulty in admitting ELCA bishop/synod governance to have sway in the PCUSA. In other words, is there no joint work/decision? Sure pastors may be recognized but it does seem to just stop there. At least the Reformed-Lutheran dialogues in France required the Reformed to dump their commitment to liturigical actions that suggested that Jesus wasn't present in the Supper.

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