Agreement between Episcopalians and Lutherans: Statement (1991)

The following common statement, released 18 January 1991 by Bishop Herbert Chilstrom of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning of the Episcopal Church, announces a Concordat of Agreement between the two Churches.

We are here today to announce the possibility for an unprecedented step in the history of Lutheran-Episcopal relations. The U.S. Lutheran-Episcopal dialogue, a joint team of about twenty theologians representing the two Churches, has issued a set of concrete proposals for steps leading to full communion between our two Churches. The dialogue report, Toward Full Communion, and the accompanying Concordat of Agreement, are being given to the two Churches for study, consideration, and possible future action. The dialogue completed its work at a historic meeting in Delray Beach, Florida, 6 January.

This proposal is the fruit of twenty years of dialogue between U.S. Lutherans and Episcopalians, as well as regional and international Anglican-Lutheran conversations.

In 1982 our Churches overwhelmingly agreed to a historic ecumenical action by entering an agreement for interim sharing of the Eucharist and for certain joint mission work. We also agreed to a third series in the Lutheran-Episcopal dialogue. The mandate given by the Churches was clear and direct—to hold before the Churches the goal of full communion. The dialogue also was asked to discuss any other outstanding questions that must be resolved before full communion (communio in sacris/altar and pulpit fellowship) can be established between the Churches. Included among those questions were the implications of the gospel, and the historic episcopate and ordering of ministry, specifically the role of bishops, priests and pastors, and deacons.

In 1988 the dialogue completed the first part of its mandate and published Implications of the Gospel. Both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA have encouraged the study of this report as part of the reception process of the agreement. At their respective meetings in the summer of 1991, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA will determine whether this report can be affirmed as a faithful witness to the gospel they both share and as a further step toward the possibility of full communion.

Today, the dialogue is releasing its report on the second part of its mandate, finishing the work requested by the Churches. The report is a significant study that offers the possibility of full communion between Episcopalians and Lutherans. The report merits careful study in our Churches over the next four years because of the significant and weighty nature of the proposals and its implications for the work of our Churches at all levels of their life and mission.

Full communion, as defined in the dialogue report, is ... a relationship between two distinct Churches or communions. Each maintains its own autonomy and recognises the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and each believes the other to hold the essentials of the Christian faith.

To be in full communion means that Churches become interdependent while remaining autonomous. One is not elevated to be the judge of the other nor can it remain insensitive to the other; neither is each body committed to every ancillary or secondary feature of the tradition of the other. Thus the corporate strength of the Churches is enhanced in love, and an isolated independence is discouraged.

Full communion should not imply the suppressing of ethnic, cultural or ecclesial characteristics or traditions which may in fact be maintained and developed by diverse institutions within one communion.

In order to bring our two Churches into this state of closer fellowship, both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA must take bold steps to make certain changes for the sake of the unity they seek.

After careful scrutiny at all levels of both Churches, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA must take a fundamental decision that their future lies in a shared mission and ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That decision could come in 1994 for the Episcopalians and 1995 for the Lutherans.

These documents from the dialogue cannot be taken lightly for they are rooted in the confessional and liturgical teaching and practices of both the Anglican and Lutheran traditions. They offer a practical and imaginative solution to the historic impasse that has kept the two traditions from claiming the unity that is a gift of God.

Digitized by Richard Mammana for the Episcopal Church Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, 2019.

Document Date: 
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 - 15:00