Representatives of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in the United States met Dec. 4-7 at St. Paul’s College to finalize a text on the long-awaited study of koinonia, or communion. The extensive study is expected to be made public in April.
The Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue was established in 1965. The 10th round of the Dialogue began in 1998 with the theme The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: its Structures and Ministries. Koinonia is the New Testament designation of the Church, its unity in faith, sacraments, and decision-making, which expresses union with God and with one another.
The 1999 signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation marked a new stage in the relationship between these two churches on the road toward full communion. It put to rest the division of the 16th century over the relationship between grace and good works in God's plan of salvation. It did not, of course, resolve all of the issues that keep these churches divided.
A team of 20 scholars has been working to provide a report on issues that still divide Lutheran and Catholic churches. In spite of agreements on grace and the Eucharist, there are still differences on ordained ministry, priesthood and bishops that need to be resolved. Also, Lutherans have traditionally emphasized the local parish and its minister as the focus of local church, while Catholics have emphasized the diocese with its bishop. This study has shown the similarities and complementarities of Lutheran and Catholic understanding of church life and ministry.
On the basis of this research, the dialogue will make 10 recommendations to the two churches, which are expected to improve the mutual agreement, understanding and practice of living together that can embody the real communion on the diocese/synod and parish/congregation levels. The agreement is also expected to explain the implications of the Joint Declaration and recommend ways of strengthening the bonds of communion between the churches.
"It has been a privilege to work with a group that shows how the Spirit calls us into community," said Bishop emeritus Charles Maahs, who co-chaired the Dialogue. "This dialogue has been an exercise in rigorous, critical thinking and has been blessed by the gift of koinonia. This has enabled the dialogue, with our agreement and with our differences, to reflect ‘a firm belief in the church as koinonia of salvation.'"
Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, who also co-chaired the meeting, said: "Five years of intensive and meticulous research have produced a striking consensus within our dialogue group. It has become very clear to me that the differences between our respective Lutheran and Catholic notions and practices of ministry are not church dividing. We continue to pray for the gift of reconciliation for our churches."
During the meeting, participants worshipped with the Paulist community at St. Paul's College and at Reformation Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill.