Mennonite-Lutheran Dialogue

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The Lutheran Church


Martin Luther


73.9 million worldwide

Mennonites and Lutherans have engaged in significant formal and informal dialogues in the past several decades. Dialogues have focused largely on addressing the history of Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists during the 16th century, and moving toward repentance, reconciliation, mutual dialogue and cooperative action in the present and future.

For papers, press releases, and other materials related to these dialogues, see Reception of Mennonite-Lutheran Dialogues.

ELCA - MCUSA Conversations, 2002-2004

Representatives of the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met in Goshen, Indiana February 21-24, 2002, beginning the first in a series of dialogues between the two denominations. Included in this round of conversation were reflections upon the Protestant Reformation, the experience of each church in the North American context, and the role and authority of confessional writings. A key element in the dialogue was an examination of the persecution of Anabaptists by Lutherans and others, and the healing of those painful memories. In the course of this first round, the dialogue explored each church’s hermeneutic for interpreting Scripture, the role and authority of Church structures, and the relationship between Church and state.

From February of 2002 until March of 2004, topics included baptism, the Lord’s Supper, nonresistance and non-violence, pacifism and the Gospel of peace, anthropology and free will, and others. Throughout the dialogue, members of congregations were given opportunities to meet with and discuss these issues as the group sought to deepen levels of trust and cooperation between our two church bodies. Their continued hope is that our deepening fellowship will strengthen both faith communities for mission in the world.[1]

At the conclusion of the dialogues in 2004, the ELCA-MCUSA Liason Committee issued a summary report titled Right Remembering in Anabaptist-Lutheran Relations (.pdf), which included recommendations for future relations between the two denominations. In November 2006, the ELCA Church Council followed up on these recommendations by adopting the Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American on the Condemnation of the Anabaptists (.pdf).

Stuttgart 2010

On July 22, 2010, delegates at the Eleventh Lutheran World Fellowship Assembly in Stuttgart unanimously approved a statement expressing remorse and asking forgiveness for Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists. The statement, titled “Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of Anabaptists” (.pdf), was endorsed by the Assembly as an act of repentance for "past wrongdoings and the ways in which Lutherans subsequently forgot or ignored this persecution and have continued to describe Anabaptists in misleading and damaging ways," and included commitments to interpreting Lutheran Confessions in light of this history of persecution, and to ongoing dialogue and cooperative action between Lutherans and Anabaptists.[2][3]

The LWF Assembly's approval of the statement was the church's formal response to long-term work by the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission, which worked from 2005-2009 on a report titled "Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ," (.pdf). The report detailed Anabaptist-Lutheran relations in the sixteenth century, reflected theologically on the Lutheran condemnations of the Anabaptists and other present theological tensions, and suggested paths toward "moving beyond the condemnations." It was approved by the LWF Council in 2009. The Assembly's actions in Stuttgart the following July represented the broader Lutheran Church's commitments to act on the information and recommendations provided by the Study Commission's report.

Rev. Dr Danisa Ndlovu, President of Mennonite World Conference (MWC), addressed the LWF assembly and presented Bishop Mark S. Hanson, LWF President, with a wooden foot-washing tub as a symbol of reconciliation and mutual service. The Assembly also included a service of repentance, sharing, story-telling and "envisioning the future together" in which Mennonites joined the LWF delegates to reflect on the past and commit to a more cooperative future.[4]

Press on Stuttgart 2010

Articles and Press Releases Notes
"Apology Given for Mennonites Persecution." August 12, 2010. The Christian Index.
"...and Forgive Us: Lutherans Repent Anabaptist Persecution." (.pdf) Lutheran World Information 06, 2010. The Lutheran World Federation. (LWF newsletter)
"Lutherans Take Historic Step in Asking for Forgiveness from Mennonites." July 22, 2010,
Esposito, Nicolas. "Lutherans Ask Forgiveness from Mennonites." July 23, 2010. Ecumenical News.
Mast-Kirschning, Ulrike. “Lutherans reconcile with Mennonites 500 years after bloody persecution.” July 26, 2010. Deutsche Welle.

Ongoing Dialogue

In Germany, cooperative projects, academic forums, and joint worship services have taken place several times per year since Stuttgart 2010. For example, in October 2011, Mennonites planted trees in the symbolically significant "Luthergarten" in Wittenberg, Germany, to "mark the deepening of Mennonite-Lutheran relations."[5] MWC and LWF also shared a joint meal and worship service on September 16, 2012 in Bad Oldesloe, which included a short sermon, titled Der Weg der Versöhnung (The Way of Reconciliation), delivered by Rainer W. Burkart. The Arbeitsstelle Theologie Der Friedenskirche (Center for Peace Church Theology) at the University of Hamburg is also an ongoing site of ecumenical engagement among Mennonites, Lutherans, and other Christian groups.

On April 10, 2012, Mennonites and Lutherans gathered at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary for an event celebrating three decades of Mennonite-Lutheran dialogue. The event -- centered on the theme of "Growing in oneness of spirit -- included a "tree dedication" service in front of the new Mennonite offices in Elkhart (mirroring the tree-planting ceremonies at the "Luthergarten" last year in Germany), and culminated with an evening lecture by Kathryn Johnson (ELCA) titled “Grace and gratitude: Reconciliation among Mennonites and Lutherans.”[6][7]

See also Reception of Mennonite-Lutheran Dialogues, Ecumenical Dialogue