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"Oddly" fudging the issues

by Dr. Meg Madson

Date Unknown but likely 1999

Michael Root, a principal author of Called to Common Mission (CCM), has attacked my statement that “at final full communion the unified Lutheran/Episcopal ministry will be governed by the ordinals of the BCP.”(1) Root asserts that CCM ¶16 “neither states nor implies anything so odd.”(2)

But there is nothing at all “odd” about my conclusion. The 1997 Concordat was explicit on this point:

The purpose of temporarily suspending this restriction ... is precisely to secure the future implementation of the ordinals’ same principle within the eventually fully integrated ministries (¶5).

Root revised CCM on this point, using slightly more vague language, but the stated ultimate goal remains essentially the same:

The purpose of temporarily suspending this restriction ... is precisely to secure the future implementation of the ordinals’ same principle within the sharing of ordained ministries (¶16).

The critical point is not whether these ministries are characterized as “shared” or “fully integrated.” Regardless of the descriptive label, “the future implementation of the ordinals’ same principle” (the possessive plural encompasses all three ordinals) is to be secured. And the Episcopal ordinals are to be secured across the entire shared ministry, not simply the portion of the ministry applicable in The Episcopal Church.

Some ELCA bishops are saying that the ordinals are merely applied in principle, a sort of “Episcopal ordinals lite.” But that’s not what the text says. The term “same principle” is technical shorthand. CCM explicitly identifies the ordinals in question as the ordination services which establish the threefold Holy Orders of ministry:

To enable the full communion that is coming into being by means of this Concordat, The Episcopal Church pledges to continue the process for enacting a temporary suspension, in this case only, of the seventeenth-century restriction that “no persons are allowed to exercise the offices of bishop, priest, or deacon in this Church unless they are so ordained, or have already received such ordination with the laying-on-of-hands by bishops who are themselves duly qualified to confer Holy Orders” (“Preface to the Ordination Rites,” The Book of Common Prayer, p.510) (¶16).

This seventeenth-century restriction prohibits the recognition of non-episcopal ministries and establishes the threefold ministry in historic succession as the required pattern of ministry.(3) As is well known, The Episcopal Church has never declared “full” communion with a church unless that church has the “full” historic episcopate which includes the threefold ministry (¶25). Episcopalians remain unwilling to do so now. As Martin Marty recently acknowledged:

Not once in this year of intense work or in our consulting of the records of antecedent conversations through the years did we find a single Episcopal thinker who envisioned their departing from the Anglican Communion by exchanging ministries apart from the episcopate.(4)

Each of the three Holy Orders, which have been “a constant requirement in Anglican polity since the Ordinal of 1662”(¶16), has exclusive rights and privileges separately defined for each office: Only bishops can ordain. Only bishops and priests can preside at the Eucharist. Deacons are a major Holy Order, but without sacramental privileges. Laity can never preside at the Eucharist because they have not been ordained through the historic episcopate.

Thus, there is nothing “odd” about the conclusion that the ordinals will apply at final full communion. What is “odd” is Root’s denial of this. Five years ago, before Lutherans paid much attention to the Concordat, he wrote:

The recognition of ELCA ordained ministries is made specifically in light of the two churches’ common commitment to the threefold ministry in succession as the pattern of ministry in both churches.(5)

Both the 1991 and 1997 Concordats openly stated this goal: “The threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons in historic succession will be the future pattern...” (1991 ¶4; 1997 ¶3). CCM says more vaguely that both churches pledge to have a “future common pattern”(¶8) of ministry. But both churches also pledge to study jointly the ordained diaconate “and its place within the threefold ministerial office and its relationship with all other ministries”(¶9). And which pattern will be the futurepattern? The one established by the Episcopal ordinals:

The purpose of temporarily suspending this restriction ... is precisely to secure the future implementation of the ordinals’ same principle within the sharing of ordained ministries (¶16, emphasis added).

How “odd” it is that Root now expresses surprise that CCM still contains the same goal set forth in 1991: a unified ministry of Episcopal and Lutheran clergy eventually to be governed by those Episcopal ordinals which require the threefold ministry in succession.

Root also claims that J. Robert Wright, a chief author of the 1997 Concordat, agrees on “the falsity” of my statement that “at final full communion the unified Lutheran/Episcopal ministry will be governed by the ordinals of the BCP.” In response to my article in dialog, Wright wrote: “The provisions of the revised CCM are not ‘governed by the ordinals of the BCP,’”(6) That was not my claim. I had said specifically that CCM requires the application of the ordinals only for “final full communion.” Like Root, Wright, by sleight of hand, evades the real issue. To be sure, during the transition period the ordinals do not apply. But when the temporary suspension is over, the ordinals govern “within the sharing of ordained ministries” (¶16).

In the final analysis, the oddest part of this whole debate is that Root and Wright, like the ELCA Conference of Bishops and the ELCA Church Council, are no longer willing to defend openly the idea originally at the heart of the Concordat and still present in CCM¶16, namely, that both churches would be committed to the eventual adoption of the threefold ministry in historic succession.

If ELCA leaders have truly abandoned this goal, and would revise CCM to say so openly and directly, without fudging or ambiguity, then most of the controversy would disappear. But of course they cannot do that. Our Episcopal friends have never declared “full” communion with another church unless that church had the threefold ministry in historic succession. They remain unwilling to do so now.


[1] dialog 38/1 (1999) 65.

[2] dialog 38/2 (1999) 87; Root also fundamentally misunderstands the Lutheran Confessions when he states, “[T]he Confessions call us to embrace the opportunity CCM offers.” To the contrary, the satis est of AC7 is an exclusionary principle indicating that nothing more can be required for unity than that the gospel is purely preached and sacraments rightly administered. CCM requires more.

Root quotes Apology 14:1 (“our deep desire to maintain the church polity and various ranks...”), but oddly deletes the crucial last phrase, “although they were created by human authority.” This clause changes everything. Did the Reformers desire the papacy? Of course not. Did they desire a sacramental priesthood to mediate between Christ and believers? Of course not.

By “the church polity” they meant what they state elsewhere, namely, that the office of ministry is singular (AC 5), that bishops and pastors equally share the one office of ministry (AC 28:30, 53, 55), that pastors can ordain “by divine right” (Treatise 61; Smalcald 10:1-3), that “ministry is not valid because of any individual’s authority but because of the Word given by Christ” (Treatise 324:26). Root fails to deal with these texts and others which directly contradict what CCM requires: a sacramental priesthood of three non-interchangeable offices.

Root also (see Lutheran Quarterly XIII:1 [Spring 1999] 101-108) imposes on AC 7 a Platonic/Aristotelian distinction which the Reformers explicitly rejected. For Root the “true unity” of AC 7 is “essential unity” which must be lived out in “concrete historical form.” Root then uses this distinction to claim the historic episcopate as “contingently necessary” for “living out unity”

But for the Reformers, “true spiritual unity” (Ap. 7/8:31) is not to be discerned through the distinction between what is “essential” and what is “lived out,” that is, content over against form. “We are not dreaming of some Platonic republic, as has been slanderously alleged, but we teach this church actually exists” (Ap. 7/8:20). “True spiritual unity” is visible in the Word and sacraments. This basic Lutheran distinction between the church as “hidden under the cross” and “revealed” in the Word and sacraments (Ap.7/8:17-20) is how law and gospel works itself out in ecclesiology. See further my article, “Hidden/Revealed vs. Full Communion,” dialog 28 (1989) 148.

[3] “It should be clear, therefore, that while acceptance of the ‘historic episcopate’ may not involve acceptance of any one formulation of the doctrine of ministry, it does involve acceptance, in the form of a fact, of the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons...” The General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA, 1949: Statement of Faith and Order, cited in A Communion of Communions: One Eucharistic Fellowship, ed. J. Robert Wright (New York: Seabury Press, 1979) 259. On the meaning of “requirement,” see Bishop Stephen Sykes, “The Concordat – An English Anglican View,” (Section 2: The Ordinals) Address at the ELCA Consultation on the Concordat, January 1996, Del Ray Beach, Florida.

[4] Letter by Martin Marty, attached to CCM, November 14, 1999.

[5] Ecumenical Trends (July/August 1994) 104.

[6] dialog, 38/1, p.68.