A dissident group within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has vowed to continue its battle against an ecumenical agreement that would bring the ELCA into full communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The ELCA council, which met in Chicago in April, voted to continue the move towards full communion, which is scheduled to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. The agreement will not lead to a merger of the two denominations but it will mean they will fully recognize each other’s members, ministries and sacraments, and will be able to exchange clergy.
A similar agreement exists between Canadian Anglicans and Evangelical Lutherans, as the two work towards full communion next year.
The dissident U.S. group, Word Alone, opposes the move towards full communion because it says the agreement violates basic Lutheran traditions. Spokesman Rev. Christopher Hershman said “the spectre of schism [exists] because the ELCA won’t dialogue with us.”
Under the planned agreement with the Episcopalians, the 5.2-million-member ELCA would accept the tradition of the “historic episcopate,” the belief that only bishops tracing their succession back to Jesus’ apostles can ordain new bishops.
Anglican churches traditionally believe that the historic episcopate is an essential element of the church, which must be respected in any agreement for union with other churches.
Lutheran churches in some parts of the world embrace the historic episcopate, but many do not.
“The historic episcopate is an offence to many Lutherans,” said Mr. Hershman, a Lutheran pastor.
The general convention of the Episcopal Church is to consider the communion document this summer when it meets in Colorado.