The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has taken an action rejecting past statements attributed to early Lutheran church reformers and expressed “its deep and abiding sorrow and regret for the persecution and suffering visited upon the Anabaptists during the religious disputes of the past,” according to a press release from the ELCA.
The Church Council is the ELCA’s board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council met in Chicago Nov. 11-13.
The council acted because past statements have become problematic for the ELCA’s present-day relationships with the Mennonite Church USA and other Christians who trace their heritage to the 16th century Anabaptist reformers, the release said.
(The Church of the Brethren shares the Anabaptist faith heritage, along with the Mennonites and other denominations.)
The council declared that the ELCA “repudiates the use of governmental authorities to punish individuals or groups with whom it disagrees theologically.” It rejected the arguments of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, two 16th century church reformers, “in which they hold that governmental authorities should punish Anabaptists for their teaching.”
The council’s action repudiated similar statements in the Formula of Concord and declared that condemnations in the Augsburg Confession directed at the Anabaptists. The Formula of Concord and Augsburg Confession are among the Lutheran confessions written in Europe in the 16th century.
Finally, the council said condemnations in the Augsburg Confession related to Anabaptist baptismal faith and practice and participation in the police power of the state “are properly the subject of future conversation between our churches.”
“The purpose of the declaration is, first, to apologize for the persecution of the Anabaptists who are the forebears of the Mennonite Church in the USA and around the world, and also to acknowledge that the situation of the 16th century no longer applies in the 21st century,” said Randall R. Lee, executive of the ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, in an interview with the ELCA News Service. “The condemnations that are contained in the Lutheran confessions may have been very important at that time, but have receded in their importance for this time and in the future.”
Hear comments from Lee at http://media.ELCA.org/audionews/061114A.mp3 and http://media.ELCA.org/audionews/061114B.mp3. For the ELCA News Blog go to www.elca.org/news/blog.
(This article is excerpted from a press release by ELCA News Service.)