Lutheran Church - Roman Catholic Church

Dialogue Statements


The Beginnings

The General Church Council of the Lutheran Church in Australia and the Australian Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church authorized discussions between these two churches. A dialogue committee met together for the first time in April 1975. The committee chose Adelaide, being the home of the only Lutheran seminary in Australia, as the venue for conversations.

The first members of the dialogue were:

Roman Catholic
Archbishop James Gleeson
Rev John O’Rourke CM
Rev Kevin Condon CM
Rev Brian Jackson CM
Rev Brian Jordan CM
Rev James O’Loughlin PP
Dr L.B. Grope, President LCA
Dr H Sasse
Dr J.T.E. Renner
Dr M. Schild
Pastor D.C. Overduin

The agreed purpose of the dialogue was:

  1. To search mutually for expressions of faith which are held in common in the two traditions;
  2. To strive for common statements of faith acceptable to both traditions, without minimising real differences
  3. To seek a deeper understanding of the faith and theological tradition of the dialoguing partner
  4. To ask whether and to what degree existing differences may be viewed as church divisive
  5. To provide information on the purpose, nature and content of the dialogue to members of both churches, especially via the respective bodies to which the dialogue teams are responsible.

Baptism 1975-1977

The committees from both churches discussed the doctrine and practice of baptism in their respective churches. They realized that both churches placed emphasis on baptism as a sacrament of initiation and incorporation in the Church, the body of Christ. Accordingly both churches favoured the celebration of baptism in the presence of the worshipping community.

In March 1976 the dialogue partners recommended to their respective churches that formal and mutual recognition be accorded to baptism in both churches.  In the following year both churches formally recongnized baptism administered by the other church.

During the course of the dialogue , members recognized that other topics needed further study: baptism of desire, original sin and faith of the infant in baptism. Other topics (including the canon of the Scriptures, Scripture and tradition, the magisterium, and the consensus fidelium) surfaced during this time. Some were discussed as background.

Eucharist 1978 – 1985

For the next eight years, the dialogue focussed on the Eucharist. Importantly both churches believe firmly in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharist.

The eucharist as sacrifice was a topic which engaged significant study and resulted in some growth in understanding of each other’s teaching.  The dialogue document, Sacrament and Sacrifice was published in July 1985.

Ordained Ministry 1986 -1990

In turning their attention to the ordained ministry, the dialogue partners found that both churches upheld the importance of the ministry as of the essence of the church.  Throughout this stage of the dialogue, the relationship between the ordained ministry and the laity was considered. They agreed that the ordained ministry is a gift from the Lord of the church for the establishment of his church and for the edification and encouragement of all service and ministry within the church.

Discussion of the authenticity of Lutheran ministry was painful. Apostolic succession was a problem area for Lutherans.

Pastor and Priest was published in 1990.

Ecclesiology 1990 – 1996

Flowing from the previous dialogue topic, the dialogue members focussed their discussion on ecclesiology. Questions centred on the relationship between nature and grace, with the Roman Catholic questioning: is it possible to speak of grace at work in the hearts of all (not limited to the visible church) who sincerely follow the dictates of their conscience, even if they are not explicit believers?

Further discussion centred on ‘church as sacrament’. Lutherans preferred to speak of the ‘sacramentality of the church’, rather than ‘the church as sacrament’

The title of the dialogue document, Communion and Mission, flowed from the fact that the dialogue found it helpful to address the doctrine of the church from the perspective of the church’s mission in the world and with the concept of communion in mind.

The statement contained concrete suggestions for greater cooperation between the two churches, including areas of social concern, shared witness, theological education, and study programs.

Justification 1995-1998

In 1983 the United States Lutheran- Roman catholic Dialogue produced a document, Justification by Faith. At the same time the Lutheran World federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity were preparing a Joint Declaration on this topic. This dialogue used the biblical basis of the US document as their starting point.

A growing convergence in understanding recognized that the condemnations with respect to the doctrine of justification issued by the Council of Trent and those contained in the Lutheran Confessions needed to be re-evaluated. At the same time, topics that need further study included the understanding of concupiscentia and the Lutheran understanding that the Christian is at the same time justified and sinner (simul iustus et peccator).

Justification: A Common Statement of the Australian Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue was completed in 1998.

The Ministry of Oversight

The Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, raised the question of the role of bishops in other Christian churches.

This summary is based on J.T.E. Renner, “Twenty-five Years of Lutheran and Roman Catholic Dialogue”  in Lutheran Theological Journal 34, 1 (May 2000)  3-13. The author was a member of the dialogue from its inception.

We express our sincere gratitude to him.

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