Posted on August 13, 2013 by assemblynews
Bishop Denis Madden, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, received a standing ovation following his greeting to the ELCA 2013 Churchwide Assembly Aug. 13. The bishop, who also serves as Chairman for the United States Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, began his remarks by saying, “The theme of your church-wide assembly this week “Always Being Made New” is indeed a fitting theme under which I have been invited to offer greetings. Your theme speaks to the creative and renewing power of the Holy Spirit, alive and active in our communities, drawing all things toward him and his divine plan for the salvation of all, and working, as St. Paul says, ‘all things toward the good of those who love God.’ Today I bring with me a deep desire unity and for more communication so that all might know and be encouraged by our basic agreements and the unity we already share,” said Madden.
The bishop said his experience with Lutherans goes back to his early days growing up in the Bronx where he was active in a local Lutheran church youth group, much to the dismay of his Catholic priest.
He told the assembly that during the nine years he spent in the Holy Land he worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and also with the Lutheran World Federation at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. He also spoke of the friendship he shares with ELCA presiding bishop Mark Hanson and the Rev. Wolfgang Herz-Lane, bishop of the ELCA Delaware – Maryland Synod.
“On a national level, our two communities have been engaged in an official dialogue since 1965. Together we have explored such topics as interpretations of the Nicene Creed, the reformation, baptism, the Eucharist, eternal life, ecclesial structure and ministry, the saints and Mary, the papacy, and scripture and tradition,” said Madden. “Perhaps the most famous fruit of our ongoing dialogue was the historic, Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was received officially by the Catholic Church and member churches of the Lutheran World Federation on October 31, 1999 and received global attention.”
Madden told the members of the assembly that the 50 years of dialogue between the two church bodies has provided for more than the exploration of theological topics. He said “the dialogue has produced, perhaps in some ways even more importantly, bonds of genuine friendship, admiration, esteem, and respect. We have come to understand one another in new ways, and have learned not to view one another through the lens of what divides but through a far better one of what we share in common,” he said. “This has allowed us to see more clearly that what we have in common vastly outweighs our differences. We share a common faith in the Triune God, a common hope in his living grace in our lives and his promise of eternal life, and a common call to Christian charity giving us that blessed opportunity to manifest in the world God’s immeasurable goodness.”
The bishop did acknowledge differences in the relationship between Catholics and Lutherans saying “We experience as new, debates around ethics or human sexuality, which emerge on the global stage and within our own congregations. At times our interpretations of these themes, using the very same scriptures, can be quite diverse. And we can sense the temptation to distance ourselves once again from the “other” who sees the world from a lens different than our own while proclaiming faith in the same God. But we cannot let our differences win the day. We must push forward, even when the course ahead presents itself as more rocky than we had first imagined.”
Looking to the future, Bishop Madden noted the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 and asked the assembly, “How do we walk toward this historical landmark together?” He suggested the church bodies do something special “to approach this anniversary in a way that would be the most pleasing to the Lord. Perhaps we could do this by both of us committing ourselves unreservedly to building together a culture of encounter,” said Madden.
“Let the 500th anniversary of the reformation be not a celebration of our historical and doctrinal divisions but a celebration of our dialogue even within our differences, of our unity, our mutual respect and love for each other. In this way we can say we are collaborators in the work of the Lord who is always and ever making all things new,” said Madden.
Bishop Hanson thanked Bishop Madden for his remarks saying “you have been a faithful supporter of the ELCA Conference of Bishops’ dialogue. I look forward to serving with you as co-chair in working toward a declaration on the way toward unity, a promising step toward greater understanding and unity with our two Christian communities.”