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1999 Luther Colloquium

—Gettysburg Seminary

by Pastor Mark Chavez (Director, WordAlone Network)

October 27, 1999

The Luther Colloquium, Gettysburg Seminary, October 27, 1999 was on “Justification: Lutherans and Roman Catholics in Dialogue.” Two presenters were Lutheran and two Roman Catholic. Here is a report on their presentations.

The lead speaker was Gunther Gassmann, formerly of LWF and Ecumenical Institute at Strasbourg. He said the only debate about JDDJ has been in Germany. He described his German colleagues in this way: “They are ridiculous. They have charged that JDDJ is part of an international strategy to incorporate Lutheran ordained ministry into Roman Catholic ministry.” They are “emotional, irrational, bitter;” they have engaged in “subtle manipulative tricks.” “Why this broad and wild critique” from the Germans? They are stuck in “unreconciled, bitter memories” of past Lutheran/RC relationships. “They are Romophobic.” “Many are not even Lutherans but other evangelical Protestants.” “Many are not familiar with the ecumenical dialogues.” A “hermeneutic of suspicion” has developed among them so they conclude JDDJ “must be a secret process.” They are caught in “formula fundamentalism” with their “abstract critiques concerned only with right language and phrases.” Much of the audience laughed in approval as Gassmann described his German colleagues.

In response to his remarks, an ELCA pastor said, “Your description of the debate in Germany sounds very much like our debate on CCM. Is this what we have to look forward to from Lutheran opponents to ecumenical agreements?” Gassmann agreed with the questioner’s comparison with one exception: “In Germany it is a battle of generals (theologians) only. It would be nice if generals alone fought all future battles. In America the battle on CCM includes the people in the pews.”

Gassmann also said, “It was ridiculous of some to claim regarding CCM that it will not change the ELCA. The whole point of ecumenical dialogues and agreements is that we will be changed.”

Bruce Marshall, St. Olaf College, was the other Lutheran speaker at Gettysburg. He affirmed Gassmann’s description of the German opponents of JDDJ, calling it “a wonderful description.” Even though Gassmann had earlier reported that Eberhard Jungel had changed his mind and no longer opposes JDDJ, Marshall went after Jungel. Citing Jungel ’s 1997 paper, “For God’s Sake, Clarity,” Marshall said that Jungel’s “argument for justification as the single criterion is odd. It is like making a quack the single criterion for being a duck.”

The first Roman Catholic presenter at the Luther Colloquium was Frank Matera, NT Prof. at Catholic University of America. He gave a solid articulation of Paul’s central arguments in Galatians. One of his conclusions was that “when there is agreement on doctrine, each church must allow the other to retain its traditions, piety and cultural markers.”

He was asked, “Is there anything in either the Roman Catholic or Lutheran churches which subverts the doctrine of justification?” He acknowledged that some practices and traditions within his church do “have the possibility of subverting justification by faith alone” and mentioned one—Marian devotion and doctrines.

The second Roman Catholic was Margaret O’Gara of the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario. She affirmed Gassmann’s description of the debate in Germany, saying opponents of JDDJ had “launched personal attacks on JDDJ supporters.” She said the “fearful and cantankerous reaction to JDDJ in both churches” [Lutheran and RC] is evidence of our corporate simul justus et peccator.

Her main point was, “Ecumenical dialogues are be gift exchanges. Each church brings gifts to the table and shares them with all the other churches in the dialogues. But each church gets to keep the gifts that it brings to the table. In sharing its gifts, a church does not lose them.”

O’Gara said episcopacy is essential in her church for “the Roman Catholic definition of apostolic succession is the continuity in time and space of the college of bishops.” She said, “episcopacy can be authoritarian in style and hierarchical in vision.” Therefore, she believes her church and the other churches “with historic episcopacy need the Lutheran gifts to reform” their episcopates.

She stated, “Church and justification are two sides of the same coin. Since we now agree on one side—justification—we can begin working through our differences on the other side—Church.”

Mark Chavez, former pastor in East Petersburg, Pennsylvania, is the Director of the WordAlone Network.