By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — “Imagine a Roman Catholic bishop speaking in a Lutheran church on this Sunday, 400 years ago,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker during his homily for an evening prayer service commemorating the Festival of Reformation, an event sponsored by the Midlands Conference of the South Carolina Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) held at Reformation Lutheran Church.
The Oct. 29 gathering was not so much a looking back at the past but more a looking forward to a promising future where South Carolina Catholics and Lutherans continue to build on the unity they share in Jesus Christ through baptism.
The signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation last October certainly brought new insights to the gathering.
The declaration stated, “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and received by the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” “What Lutherans had tended to do in the past is use Reformation Sunday to emphasize how we are different,” said the Rev. Ronald Feltman, dean of the Midland Conference and pastor of Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Columbia. He continued, “The signing of the declaration helps us to do what we should have been doing all along, and that is to be true to the Reformation by celebrating what all Christians share, God’s gift of grace.”
In his homily, Bishop Baker highlighted the main points of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. He shared some of his own personal hopes about future dialogue and future ecumenical endeavors resulting from the declaration.
” First, ecumenism is principally the work of the Holy Spirit, not the result of our own profound initiatives whatever we accomplish ecumenically will not be authored by us. It will be the activity of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us in the Spirit’s good time, according to the Spirit’s will, leading and guiding.”
He also reminded Catholics and Lutherans of today that they are not the ones who generated the great divide that took place during the 16th century.
“You and I inherited the difficulties handed down to us by history, and it has been our generation of Christians who have cooperated with the grace of Christ to lay the foundations for unity, guided, of course by the Holy Spirit,” added Bishop Baker.
Hope, concluded the bishop, will link the present and the future, while mutual respect will help develop a “common grammar” between faith traditions that share a common language in Christ.
A more in depth look at the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification will take place Feb. 16 and 17 at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary during the bishops’ ecumenical dialogue sponsored by South Carolina LARCUM (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Methodist).
The keynote speakers will be Roman Catholic Bishop Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome and Dr. David Yeago, who teaches systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.