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The Situation of the 16th Century No Longer Applies in the 21st Century

November 17th, 2006
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"The situation of the 16th century no longer applies in the 21st century" says Randall Lee, head of the ELCA’s

Note: this is not simply about repudiating actions by governments to persecute Anabaptists. And, anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Anabaptist movment in the 16th century knows it was not simply a case of "persecution" of "passive" Anabaptists, but of putting down civil revolt and rebellion against governing authorities.

Will confessional Lutheran church leaders repudiate this repudiation? Or will "we" simply remain passively silent? Silence is consent, as they say.

ELCA Council Expresses Regret, Repudiates Anabaptist Condemnations

CHICAGO (ELCA) — The Church Council of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took 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."

    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 here Nov. 11-13.
Assemblies are held every other year; the next is here Aug. 6-11,
     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, according to
the council’s background materials.
     In the action, 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 action said.
     The council’s action repudiated similar statements in the
Formula of Concord and declared that condemnations in the
Augsburg Confession directed at the Anabaptists do not apply to
today’s Mennonite Church USA. 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 Rev. Joseph G. Crippen, chair of the council’s program
and services committee, Northfield, Minn., introduced the
proposal to the council.
     "This is incredibly well done and has been received well by
the Mennonite Church," he said.  "We have to honor our
confessions, but we have new realities we have to address."
     "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 the Rev. Randall R. Lee,
executive, 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."
     Lee explained that the importance of the declaration now is
that it will provide a foundation for international conversations
between the Lutheran World Federation and the global Mennonite
community.  "Our action will provide energy to that conversation
in the hopes of furthering our work together," he said.
     The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, added that
the council’s action reflects "wonderful, collaborative work"
that will move the ELCA forward ecumenically while it retains its
integrity as a confessional church.

     Hear comments from the Rev. Randall Lee on the Web at:

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 17th, 2006 at 14:10 | #1

    I wholeheartedly repudiate this.

  2. Rev. Gregory J. Schultz
    November 18th, 2006 at 09:37 | #2

    The final line of this sad article is quite telling, and begs this question: how can any confessional church move forward ecumenically and retain any semblance of integrity? Any true Lutheran knows the answer.

  3. Holger Sonntag
    November 18th, 2006 at 11:24 | #3

    This is another fine piece of official-pietist ELCA-argumentation: moral arguments are mingled with theological ones. Persecutions are morally bad, of course, so everything theological remotely associated with those persecutions is bad too.
    This, clearly, leads to universalism: the crusades were bad (and Luther even agrees, though not primarily on moral grounds!), therefore everything we can somehow associate with the crusades — e.g., Christianity’s claim to be the one true religion — must be repudiated as well.
    The emphasis here is of course on the “somehow.” As Luther shows, there is no necessary connection between teaching that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and teaching that Jerusalem had to be freed from Muslims by military force.
    Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion, shows how the ELCA’s argument really leads to atheism: Some religious people do morally evil things in the name of their religion, therefore any and all religion is evil and needs to be repudiated.
    This is a classic case of shooting yourself in the foot. Anybody resisting that kind of thinking in the ELCA that’s led them into fellowship with all sorts of fellows? Or is there just disengagement between the “liberals” at the top and the “conservatives” at the bottom?

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