Reading Confessions in Life-Giving Ways

Rev. Prof. Dr Timothy Wengert, member of the LWF Task Force on the Mennonite Action. Photo: Ivo Huber
Rev. Prof. Dr Timothy Wengert, member of the LWF Task Force on the Mennonite Action. Photo: Ivo Huber

Apology to Mennonites Brings Convergence on Peace

(LWI) – Reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites initiated at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Eleventh Assembly has brought the two traditions closer on peace issues, says the chair of the LWF Task Force on the Mennonite Action, Rev. Michael Martin.

“In Germany there can be seen a convergence between Mennonites and Lutherans dealing with peace ethics,” Rev. Martin, who is also head of ecumenical affairs for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, told the task force, which met 20–24 July in Goshen, Indiana.

The meeting, which forms part of the ongoing process between the LWF and the Mennonite World Conference, focused on the meaning of the 16th century Lutheran confessional writings in the 21st century, particularly those that had expressed historical hostility towards Anabaptists, who Mennonites regard as their predecessors.

During open and friendly conversations, which included input from Prof. Dr John Roth, a Mennonite consultant from Goshen College, the task force looked at how mutual reconciliation can be achieved in light of early Lutheran teachings about Anabaptists.

Through the Mennonite action at the LWF Assembly in 2010, the LWF apologized for the Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists in the 16th century, the ignorance towards these actions till the present day and for inappropriate and hurtful portraits of Anabaptists by Lutheran authors. The Assembly prayed for healing of memories and reconciliation between Lutheran and Mennonite sisters and brothers The task force is seeking ways to implement the promises locally, regionally and globally, particularly in light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to be commemorated in 2017.

Rev. Prof. Dr Timothy Wengert of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, a member of the task force, noted that there has been a renewed sense of the importance of the Lutheran confessions in the aftermath of the apology.

“Lutherans are invited to reflect on how to read their central confession, the Augsburg Confession, in new, life-giving ways, and they are challenged to receive from the Mennonite World Conference more of the gifts God has bestowed upon that communion.”

One area of historic divergence has been the question of collaboration with the State. The task force, however, emphasized that there is a common challenge for the two traditions to take responsibility for the poor, to engage in just cooperation and to establish and sustain peace.

The opportunities to meet and worship with Mennonites and Amish in Goshen helped clarify the task of providing resources for the LWF member churches in their relationships with Mennonites, Wengert noted.

Rev. Anne Burghardt, secretary for ecumenical relations, for the LWF Department for Theology and Public Witness (DTPW), added: “We all were impressed by the deep sense of community that has been preserved by the Amish, as well as the deeply rooted peace ethics both by the Amish and by the Mennonites.”

The task force emphasized that reconciliation with Mennonites continues and that it will look at ways to nourish this in LWF’s pastoral training, and find opportunities to allow grassroots expressions of reconciliation, particularly during the Reformation anniversary in 2017.