Word on the web is that Rome is opening up ecumenical conversations with confessional Lutherans. At the First Things blog, Matthew Block describes some of the activity and rationale for these discussions.
While dialogue between Roman Catholics and mainline Lutherans continues, a desire has arisen among Roman Catholics to begin looking to confessional Lutherans for more fruitful dialogue. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, while still under the presidency of Cardinal Walter Kasper, contacted the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), Dr. Klän reported, to “fathom the chances of having something like a dialogue established between the two church bodies, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany and [SELK].” Dr. Klän and SELK’s Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt were subsequently invited to visit the Unity Secretariat in Rome to meet with Cardinal Kasper and Msgr. Dr. Matthias Türk (responsible for the PCPCU’s Lutheran relations). This consultation led to the six-part discussions in Germany.
“One cannot deny that the church is influenced and affected by worldly societal trends,” said Dr. Klän in his report to the ILC. “The challenges that Christianity is facing today are not restricted to one church body. And that is why it makes sense to look for alliances with Christians and churches we might find agreement with on certain issues.”
He continued: “In many a way it may be hoped that confessional Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue on the world level could contribute to pursuing the goal of communicating foundational principles of Christian faith and defending them against being watered down, being contradicted, being challenged, and neglected not only from outside Christianity, but also within the realm of established church bodies. That is why it makes sense to me for the ILC and its member churches to enter into a theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.”
The Roman Catholic Church seems to agree. When the German discussions ended, the participants issued a report encouraging both churches to enter into formal dialogue. Responding to that report, the new president of the PCPCU, Cardinal Kurt Koch, wrote in 2011 to Bishop Voigt of the SELK, informing him that the Roman Catholic Church is highly interested in starting an official dialogue with the ILC.
(Here is a link to the International Lutheran Council.)
Block suggests that recent opposition to Obamacare is a factor in making these ecumenical discussions plausible:
In the United States of America, for example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have recently become allies over the subject of religious liberty in the face of the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate. And in Canada, very tentative discussions between the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Lutheran Church–Canada have also begun. These churches are members of the International Lutheran Council, an international association of Lutheran churches known for their more traditional interpretation of the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions—hence the term “confessional” Lutherans.
I don’t mean to remind Lutherans impolitely of Martin Luther’s chutzpah at the Marburg Colloquy, but these sort of dialogues do present a problem both for the integrity of the Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran communions and for the powers of human reason. Here I am reminded of Alan Wolfe’s interpretation of the recent thaw between Roman Catholics and Protestants in the United States (this from a sociologist of Jewish-American extraction who has no dog in the interpretive fight):
Now it is undoubtedly truth that many of these once furious debates between Catholics and Protestants have subsided in contemporary America. For the first time in our history, a generic thing called Christianity is emerging, as large numbers of switchers move from one faith to another and as young spiritual seekers respond, not to doctrinal differences between faiths, but to the vibrancy of specific sermons or the charisma of particular clergy. But if there exists a convergence among Christians today, it is difficult to imagine that the Christianity which historically divided them is precisely what is now unifying them. On the contrary, it makes more sense to argue that there is something in contemporary American culture that causes all American religions to become similar to each other (just as there is likely something in Nigerian culture that make all of Nigeria’s faiths — Anglican, Catholic, and Muslim — conservative in a worldwide context). Once something resembling a generic Christianity emerges, in other words, it confirms a relationship between democracy and Christianity, but it is not the one discovered by Tocqueville and extended by Heclo: today democracy shapes Christianity more than the other way around. (in Christianity and American Democracy, by Hugh Heclo et al, 191-192)
This is one reason why lumping causes indigestion for splitters. I don’t presume to speak for the lumpers who seem to be able to swallow anything.