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ELCA, Reformed Churches Issue Report on Scripture, Moral Discernment

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and three U.S. Reformed churches that make up the "Formula of Agreement" issued a report Jan. 7 that considers the question of Scripture and moral discernment regarding human sexuality and other topics.

Nearly two years ago the Formula of Agreement churches raised questions about the "viability, focus and function" of the agreement as partners took a range of approaches on Scripture and moral discernment when it comes to human sexuality, which "had not been directly and comprehensively addressed in previous Formula of Agreement conversations," according to the report.

The goal of the conversations was not to produce a statement to which all denominations would subscribe, said the report, "but rather to explore common ground that would strengthen the capacity of churches to walk together in relationship of mutual affirmation and admonition around these issues and questions."

In the summer of 2010, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America "voted to invite Formula partners into a conversation," said the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop on ecumenical and inter-religious relations. The Rev. Sarah S. Henrich, a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and the Rev. Roger A.Willer, director for theological ethics at ELCA churchwide ministries, also served as ELCA representatives. Luther is one of eight ELCA seminaries.

Also invited in an advisory role were representatives from the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Moravian Church in North America, Northern and Southern Provinces. Each of these churches has a direct relationship with one of the Formula of Agreement churches, said McCoid.

Representatives from the churches who gathered for meetings over two years acknowledged the need for conversation, and not just on the topic of homosexuality, said McCoid, who cited the following from the report: "The practice of scriptural interpretation in moral discernment stands at the heart of many of the controversies faced (among) Formula of Agreement churches."

The report contains three major sections: "'Jesus is Lord' as the Starting Point for the Use of Scripture in Moral Discernment," "Interpreting Scripture in Moral Discernment" and "Practicing Moral Discernment in Christian Community."

Key "conclusions of our work identify powerful signals of agreement that the report expresses, celebrates and encourages," said Willer, beginning with "'our shared reception of God's gracious salvation in Jesus Christ, mediated through Word and sacrament that awakens in all of us a recital of the core Christian confession, Jesus is Lord.'"

Citing the report, Willer said representatives also affirmed and agreed that "Scripture's authority resides in its Spirit-given capacity to form, instruct and challenge the people of God, an authority demonstrated when the church encounters the living Word of God. We acknowledge that Scripture does not always shed direct light on contemporary questions, but it always illumines our Christian vocation." The report also suggested that "a broad but identifiable means of doing ethics as communities of moral discernment is beginning to emerge," he said.

The report's conclusion cited that church representatives who gathered in consultation "quickly discovered that the Formula of Agreement churches and those other churches with whom we have consulted share significant points of consonance and commonalities in our ecumenical expression of Christian faith and practice. Together, we were able to articulate some of the affirmations that marked our common ground and guided our deliberations." The conclusion also features several other affirmations and hopes.

"Those who worked on the report commend this document for use in the wider Christian family," said McCoid. "The report states, 'We hope that it will contribute to the deepening of our shared communion, both within and beyond the Formula of Agreement churches.'"

The ELCA, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ entered into an agreement in 1997 that brought together 34 years of official dialogues and conversations, resulting in a proposal for full communion between the ELCA and the three Reformed churches.

The report is available at

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