A Lutheran Statement 2002
The consultation took place in Malta 16-21 November 2002.
The Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the
The present statement is the outcome of a consultation
of Lutheran members of international ecumenical dialogues involving the LWF.
- For over 30 years, the Lutheran World Federation has been a partner in
international ecumenical dialogues. In these dialogues we have sought both to
witness to the gospel we have heard within our own tradition and to learn from
others who have heard that same gospel in different ways and forms. True
dialogue, pursued faithfully, should not leave its participants unchanged.
- One subject of the dialogues has been episcopal ministry and the
apostolicity of the church. These dialogues have been conducted on various
levels. On this topic, Lutherans have been able to reach increasing agreement
with other churches. Some of these agreements have led to binding forms of
communion. [i] This
development has importance for the common life of the LWF as a communion of
churches. It calls for ongoing attention to the coherence and accountability of
the LWF as an ecumenical partner at the international level.
- The present statement summarizes main aspects of the theme of the episcopal
ministry within the apostolicity of the church that have been affirmed by
Lutherans in these dialogues, as well as in LWF studies.
[ii] It is hoped that these basic perspectives serve as an
encouragement to further and necessary reflection on episcopal ministry within
the Lutheran communion and in ecumenical relations where the LWF and its member
churches are involved.
II. Mission and Apostolicity of the Church
- As the church participates in Christ and receives the blessings of his
righteousness, it also participates in the mission of Christ, who is sent by the
Father in the Holy Spirit. Christ sends his disciples as he is sent (John
20:21); "So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal
through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (II Cor.
5:20). The church is called to proclaim reconciliation and the healing love of
God in a world wounded by persecution, oppression and injustice, making manifest
the mystery of God's love, God's presence and God's Kingdom. The ministry of
oversight episkopé should be set in the context
of this mission of the church as the whole people of God.
- The apostles are sent "to make disciples of all nations." The Risen Christ
promises to be with them in this mission "to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20). The
mission to which the apostles were called remains the mission of the whole
church throughout history. As this mission shapes the church, so the church is
rightly called apostolic.
- The handing on (traditio) of this mission,
in which the Holy Spirit makes Christ present as the Word of God, is the primary
meaning of apostolic tradition. Apostolic tradition in the church means
continuity in the permanent characteristics of the church of the apostles:
witness to the apostolic faith, proclamation of the Gospel and faithful
interpretation of the Scriptures, celebration of baptism and the eucharist, the
exercise and transmission of ministerial responsibilities, communion in prayer,
love, joy and suffering, service to the sick and needy, unity among the local
churches and sharing the gifts which the Lord has given to each. Continuity in
this tradition is apostolic succession.
- In baptism, every Christian is called and empowered for participation in
this mission. God the Holy Spirit pours out his gifts upon the whole church
(Eph. 4: 11-13; I Cor. 12:4-11), and raises up men and women to contribute to
the nurture of the community. Thus the whole church, and every member,
participates in the communication of the gospel through word and life and so
participates in the apostolic succession of the church.
- As God's gift in Christ through the Holy Spirit, apostolicity is a
many-faceted reality expressed broadly in the church's teaching, mission and
ministry. Apostolic teaching is expressed in the Scriptures and historic
ecumenical creeds, in the tradition of liturgical worship, and in more recent
texts, such as the Lutheran Confessions. The Spirit uses a variety of means to
call and hold the church in the apostolic tradition that constitutes its
- As churches of Jesus Christ, the Lutheran churches claim this apostolic
identity. The Lutheran Reformers saw the apostolic character of the western
church's theology and pastoral practice threatened. The Reformation aimed at the
renewal of the church catholic in its true continuity with the evangelical
mission of the apostles.
- The church's succession with the apostles has sometimes been identified with
only certain isolated forms of continuity. "Apostolic succession" was thus
sometimes reduced to specific forms of continuity in episcopal ministry. At the
time of the Reformation, different Lutheran churches preserved different aspects
of such continuity, but all Lutheran churches understood themselves to have
maintained the one apostolic ministry instituted by God.
- Recent ecumenical discussions have moved beyond limited views of apostolic
succession to a richer and more comprehensive understanding of the apostolic
character of the whole church as it continues in the Spirit to pursue the
apostolic mission. This deepened understanding has enriched the theology and
practice of various churches and has opened new ecumenical possibilities, as
churches are more able to recognize each other's apostolic character. For this
enrichment, Lutherans can only give thanks and seek to be more faithful
themselves to the fullness of the apostolic tradition.
III. Ordained Ministry in Service to the Apostolic Mission of the Church
The Apostolicity of the Church and Ordained Ministry
- Within the apostolic continuity of the whole church there is a continuity or
succession in the ordained ministry. This succession serves the church’s
continuity in its life in Christ and its faithfulness to the gospel transmitted
by the apostles. The ordained ministry, the office of word and sacrament, has a
particular responsibility for witnessing to the apostolic tradition and for
proclaiming it afresh with authority in every generation.
- Through baptism persons are initiated into the priesthood of Christ and thus
into the mission of the whole church. All the baptized are called to participate
in, and share responsibility for, worship (leitourgia),
witness (martyria), and service (diakonia).
Baptism itself, however, does not confer office in the church, the ordained
ministry. “What is the common property of all, no individual may arrogate to
himself, unless he is called.” (Luther’s Works 36, 116; WA 6, 566). Ordained
servants of the church carry out a specific task in the service of the mission
and ministry of the whole people of God.
- The ordained ministry belongs to God’s gifts to the church, essential and
necessary for the church to fulfill its mission. The public ministry of
preaching in the church requires an authorized preacher and the administration
of the sacraments requires an authorized presider. The special ministry
conferred by ordination is constitutive for the church. It is a service
necessary in order for the church to be what God calls it to be. Since this
ministry is God’s gift, it is not the personal possession of any individual
minister. While a permanent aspect of the church, this ministry must always
remain open to new needs and possibilities, taking the shape called for by the
missionary requirements of the time.
- Ordination confers the mandate and authorization to proclaim the word of God
publicly and to administer the holy sacraments. Some churches, faced with
special circumstances, also bless or commission in various ways baptized
Christians to carry out specific aspects of the ministerial office. Service in
such a capacity is an expression of the church's ministry.
Ordained Ministry of Women and Men
- For centuries Lutheran churches, like other churches, restricted ordination
to men. Today the great majority of Lutherans belong to churches that ordain
both women and men. This practice is an expression of the conviction that the
mission of the church requires the gifts of both men and women in the ordained
ministry and that limiting the ordained ministry to men obscures the nature of
the church as a sign of God’s reconciled Kingdom (Gal. 3:27-28).
- The Lutheran World Federation as a global communion has a commitment
pertaining to the ordination of women. The LWF Eighth Assembly stated: “We thank
God for the great and enriching gift to the church discovered by many of our
member churches in the ordination of women to the pastoral office, and we pray
that all members of the LWF, as well as others throughout the ecumenical family,
will come to recognize and embrace God’s gift of women in the ordained ministry
and in other leadership responsibilities in Christ’s church.”
- In many member churches of the LWF today, and in the majority of the larger
Lutheran churches, women not only can be ordained as pastors but can also be
elected to the ministry of oversight. This is consistent with the Lutheran
emphasis on the one office of ministry.
The Ministry of Episkopé
- The supra-congregational ministry of oversight must, as it fosters the one
mission of the church, also seek to promote unity in faith, hope and love.
Although every worshipping congregation gathered around word and sacrament is
the church in the full ecclesiological sense, all local congregations are by
their very nature indissolubly connected across the boundaries of space and time
with the one church, on earth and in heaven.
- By being specially charged to care for the communion of all worshipping
congregations with the universal church, the episcopal ministry has the specific
task of safeguarding the true nature of the una,
sancta, catholica et apostolica ecclesia that transcends the boundaries
of both space and time. By definition, ordained ministry particularly includes
ordered service to the catholicity and unity of the holy and apostolic church.
The right and duty of the ministry of episkopé
are implicit in this ministry. The task of supra-congregational oversight
therefore is deliberately attached to members of the ordained ministry. In every
case they are pastors with a supra-congregational leadership task, and it needs
to be stressed that this task has to be exercised in an ongoing, structured way
because every worshipping congregation is essentially linked with the universal
- The unity of the faithful consists in their participation by faith in the
communion of love between the Father and the Son in the unity of the Spirit in
the one holy catholic church. This is the unity to which the apostles bear
witness, a gift the faithful are given in Christ and which must therefore be
received. Since the church as the body of Christ cannot be divided, unity with
God in Christ in faith, made possible through the means of grace, is the
strongest impetus to the search for communion with other Christians.
- The communion we seek must include the sharing of the one baptism, the
celebrating of the one eucharist and the service of a common ministry (including
the exercise of a ministry of oversight, episkopé).
This common participation in one baptism, one eucharist, and one ministry unites
‘all in each place’ within the whole universal church.In every local celebration
of the eucharist the church represents and manifests the communion of the
universal church.Through the visible communion the healing and uniting power of
the Triune God is made evident amidst the divisions of humankind.
- The ministry of oversight is a ministry of service, both to the church and
to the ordered ministry that serves the church. The diversity of God's gifts
requires coordination for the enrichment of the whole church. The communion of
local churches requires oversight for the sake of the faithfulness of the
church. Episkopé thus serves the purpose of
caring for the life of a whole community. Its faithful exercise in the light of
the Gospel is of fundamental importance to its life. Most Lutheran churches have
a regional minister of oversight, most often named "bishop." The bishop shares
in the one office of word and sacrament. Unlike the parish pastor, however, the
bishop's ministry is regional and oversees a group of local churches.
- The New Testament bears witness to the fact that the church never was
without persons holding specific responsibilities and authority, but it reflects
a tentative phase when different ecclesial patterns developed, coexisted and
interacted. Titles were not yet clearly defined or commonly accepted, but
especially in the Pastoral Letters the "episkopos"
figures prominently among those overseeing the household of God.
- In the 2nd and 3rd century the congregation, which
celebrated the eucharist under the presidency of the bishop, was understood as
the local church. From the beginning of the 4th century, the bishop
came to oversee, not just one eucharistic congregation, but a group of
congregations headed by presbyters (although the regions of oversight were often
small by modern standards). The local church came to be identified with the
church headed by the bishop and not with the eucharistic congregation. Insofar
as bishops today also often have their own church in which they serve as chief
pastor, something of the early tradition remains alive.
- The theological understanding and organization of episcopacy have varied
greatly in the history of the church. Nevertheless, its exercise by a single
bishop, united in collegial communion with other such bishops, came to be the
virtually universal form of church leadership. It is still the most widely
utilized form of pastoral oversight within the Christian churches.
- The Augsburg Confession (AC) assumes the continuation of the office of the
bishop in the church. Its assumption is that the true proclamation of the gospel
is helped and not hindered by this office. For historical and not theological
reasons, the title "bishop" disappeared from significant parts of Lutheranism.
- The ministry of oversight is exercised personally, collegially and
communally. Oversight is never a merely administrative or institutional matter,
but is always personal. Those set apart for the ministry of oversight are thus
set apart as persons. As a service within the
ministerium ecclesiasticum(AC 5), mandated and exercised at the regional
level of the church, it is performed in persona Christi
and stands simultaneously within and over against the community in service to
continuity in the apostolic faith.
- The ministry of bishops is understood to be a distinct form of the one
pastoral office, not a separate office. Bishops are themselves pastoral
ministers of word and sacrament, representing the ministry of Christ toward the
church. It is in this perspective that AC 28 states that “according to the
gospel, the power of the keys or the power of bishops is the power of God’s
mandate to preach the gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer the
sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with this command [John 20:21-23]:
‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you … Receive the Holy Spirit […].’”
- The episcopal ministry, however, carries responsibility for larger
geographic areas of the church than individual congregations or parishes.
Therefore, the ministerium ecclesiasticum
carried out by bishops has certain propria,
which are not shared by pastors at the local level. Bishops are called to guide
the life of the congregations in the region under their care, especially through
visitation, and to support their life together. They are authorized to ordain
pastors and to supervise their teaching and practices. In all of these
propria, care for the unity of the church universal, and its apostolic
faithfulness, is a responsibility to which bishops are especially committed.
- The personal character of the ministry of oversight cannot be separated
from its collegial aspect. As a collegium, the ministers of oversight represent
and promote the unity and common life of the many local congregations within
the church at large. They also represent their churches in the framework of the
universal church. The episcopal ministry must also be exercised collegially in
cooperation with other ministries of church leadership in the area under the
- Lutherans do not use a uniform terminology for the ministry of oversight.
However, in the course of the twentieth century, episcopacy, normally related to
some form of synodical structure, has come to be the typical (though not
universal) form of Lutheran church leadership. Further, persons who carry out
this ministry of oversight should be understood as carrying out the episcopal
office. The integrity of their ministry should be respected and it should
receive appropriate recognition. Ecumenical and popular understanding would be
facilitated if such persons in episcopal ministries were uniformly called
Ordained Ministry and Synodical Structures of Church Governance
- The ministry of oversight is not only personal and collegial but also
communal. Bishops are called to a special role of oversight in the church, but
the wider community also is called to participate in oversight and to judge the
way in which episcopal ministry is being carried out. The development of various
committees, synods, and institutions, including clergy and laypersons, which
share tasks of oversight with the bishop, is consistent with Lutheran
understandings of the church. The role of the episcopal ministry in the church
is not, in the Lutheran understanding, equivalent to church governance exercised
exclusively by bishops. In the vast majority of Lutheran churches, church
governance is carried out through synodical structures, which include the
participation of both lay and ordained persons, and in which the episcopal
ministry has a clearly defined role.
- In the church there is no absolute distinction between the directed and the
directing, between the teaching and the taught, between those who decide and
those who are the objects of decision. All stand under Scripture; all are
anointed by the Spirit; all are fallible sinners. Mutual accountability binds
together episcopal and other ministries with all baptized believers. It is
through the communio of
charisms, the total interplay of ministries within which episcopal
ministry plays a leading role, that the church trusts that it will be led into
- According to Lutheran understanding, the church exercises responsibility for
its doctrine in a positive way by teaching according to the Scriptures and by
watching over the purity of the proclamation of the gospel. The teaching
ministry is exercised in a broad ecclesial process aiming at consensus,
involving persons and church bodies with various responsibilities. It is the
responsibility of bishops to judge doctrine and to reject teaching that is
contradictory to the gospel. It is the responsibility of theological teachers in
the church and pastors in the parishes also to test their teaching to ensure its
accord with the gospel. It is the responsibility of persons in parish councils
or in church synods to ensure that also decisions taken with regard to the
institutional and practical life of the church are in good keeping with the
message of the gospel and witnesses to it.
IV. Episcopal Ministry and the Unity of the Church
Apostolicity and unity
- Apostolicity and unity are inseparable aspects of the church. The church is
confessed as una, sancta, catholica et apostolica.
Hence, all that is said above about the apostolicity of the church also
motivates concern for its unity.
- Concern for the unity of the church belongs to the very nature of the
episcopal office. The church is one in the common proclamation of the gospel
and celebration of the sacraments (CA 7). Since episcopal oversight is concerned
above all with the evangelical character of the total ministry carried out
within its region, it is concerned with what makes the church one. Most Lutheran
churches thus rightly see the bishop as having particular ecumenical
responsibilities. Bishops should be ministers of reconciliation both within and
beyond their own churches.
- The relation between the ministry of the bishop and the unity of the church
makes it theologically and symbolically appropriate that those who carry out
episcopal oversight preside at ordinations of those who will exercise the office
of ministry. Ordination is into the ministry of the one church, not simply into
the ministry of one denomination or national church or of one diocese or synod.
The presiding minister at an ordination, acting on behalf of the whole people of
God, is thus rightly the person who instrumentally and symbolically is concerned
with the unity of the one church's ministry. In addition, the role of the bishop
in ordination both realizes and symbolizes the ongoing relation between bishop
and the clergy of a region.
- Episcopal consecration (or installation) in the Lutheran tradition regularly
includes the participation of one or more bishops of other churches in the
laying on of hands as a sign of the unity and apostolic continuity of the whole
church. With the laying on of hands by other bishops, such consecrations
(installations) involve prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit. By such a
liturgical statement Lutheran churches recognize that the bishop’s service in
this place is connected spiritually, in collegiality and consultation, with the
Episcopal Ministry, Succession, and the Identity of the Church
- The continuity of the episcopal ministry in the apostolic mission is
important for the church. This continuity in apostolic mission is the primary
content of what is named “episcopal succession.” This succession is realized in
the handing on of the faithful oversight of the apostolic mission. It is
manifested or symbolized in a variety of ways, including lists of bishops who
have succeeded one another in a particular place and the succession of
consecrations by which each bishop is integrated into a network of shared
apostolic ministry reaching across time. These are signs of continuity in
apostolic mission, bearing witness to the church’s trust that God will maintain
the church in faithfulness. The laying on of hands is a prayer for the exercise
of the office conferred, and the church is confident that God has answered that
prayer continuously over the centuries and will continue to do so.
- The continuity of the episcopal ministry is to be understood within, and in
the service of, the continuity of the apostolic life and mission of the whole
church. Continuity in episcopal ministry is misunderstood when it is taken as a
guarantee of a church’s faithfulness to its apostolic mission, or as a guarantee
of the personal faithfulness of a particular bishop. However, the sign remains a
permanent challenge to fidelity and to unity, a summons to witness to, and a
commission to realize more fully, the permanent characteristics of the church of
the apostles. The ultimate ground for the apostolic continuity and fidelity of
the church is the promise of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole
- An important element in discussions about episcopacy is the relation
between episcopal structures and succession on the one hand and the identity of
the church on the other. Lutherans have insisted that the identity of the
church is constituted by word and sacraments and the divinely instituted
ministry, which serve these. An episcopal ministry of oversight in a succession
of consecrations cannot be considered essential to the church’s identity in the
same sense, nor as essential to the identity of the office of ministry. No
particular structure of church leadership is an infallible sign of the Spirit’s
- The unity and continuity of the church in the one apostolic gospel are
gifts God has promised and given to the church. The Spirit works through many
means to preserve the church in the gospel: the Scriptures, the sacraments, the
classical creeds and confessions, the witness to the truth by the saints and
prophets of past and present. A Lutheran concern with the nature of episcopal
ministry is first and foremost an interest in its capacity to serve unity and
continuity in the mission of the gospel.
- The Reformation was fundamentally concerned with the apostolicity of the
church in faithfulness to the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, upheld by
the proclamation of the Word and by the holy sacraments and received in faith.
In relation to the episcopal ministry, the churches of the Lutheran communion
around the world are maintaining and developing forms and practices to serve the
divine mission of the church. In this statement, we have stated some convictions
that we hold in common. As in all matters, our final trust is not, however, in
the strength of our convictions, the clarity of our analysis, or the wisdom of
our advice, but in the Lord whom all ministry is called to serve, Jesus Christ,
who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is worthy of eternal praise.
[i] ECUMENICAL DOCUMENTS ...Back
The present statement is to a great extent developed using formulations from
agreed texts that have been achieved multilaterally as well as between Lutherans
and ecumenical partners in bilateral dialogues:
- Several perspectives regarding the episcopal ministry in relation to the
apostolic tradition of the church, which have subsequently found a place in
ecumenical documents, were presented in the WCC/Faith and Order study document
“Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry,” in 1982.
- Among reports from bilateral dialogues involving Lutherans at the
international level, the following have considered the topic of the present
statement most directly:
- “The Ministry in the Church.” Report of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic
Joint Commission, 1982.
- The Niagara Report. Report of the Anglican-Lutheran Consultation on
- “Church and Justification.” Report of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Joint
- “Called to Communion and Common Witness.” Report of the
Lutheran-Reformed Joint Working Group, 2002.
- “Growth in Communion.” Report of the Anglican-Lutheran International
Working Group, 2002.
- Among reports from dialogues involving Lutherans at the regional level the
following have considered the topic of this statement most directly:
- The Meissen Common Statement, by the Church of England, the Evangelical
Church in Germany and the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in the GDR,
- The Porvoo Common Statement by the British and Irish Anglican Churches
and Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches, 1993.
- The Reuilly Common Statement by the British and Irish Anglican Churches
and the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches, 1999.
- “Called to Common Mission.” An Agreement of Full Communion between the
Episcopal Church in the USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
- “Called to Full Communion.” The Waterloo Declaration by the Anglican
Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, 1999.
- “Communio Sanctorum. Die Kirche als Gemeinschaft der Heiligen,” by the
Bilateral Working Group of the German Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference and
the Kirchenleitung of the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany.
[ii] LUTHERAN STUDY DOCUMENTS ...Back
LWF studies with direct relevance to the topic of the present statement have
been conducted earlier. The reports from these studies also provide a
significant part of the basis for the present statement. The documents are
published in the study book “Ministry: Women, Bishops”, LWF Geneva 1993.
The individual documents in this publication are:
- “The Lutheran Understanding of Ministry”, 1983.
- “Lutheran Understanding of the Episcopal Office”, 1983.
- “Women in the Ministries of the Church”, 1983.
- Report from “Consultation on the Ordained Ministry of Women and Men”, 1992.
Malta, 16-21 November 2002
- Prof. Dr. Anna Marie Aagaard
- Prof. Dr. André Birmelé
- Rev. Fui-Yung Chong
- Prof. Dr. Theo Dieter
- Prof. Dr. Luis Henrique Dreher
- Bishop em. Guy Edmiston
- Prof. Dr. Karl Christian Felmy
- Rev. Dr. Wolfgang Greive
- Bishop Dr. Béla Harmati
- Rev. Dr. Hartmut Hövelmann
- Archbishop Dr. D. Georg Kretschmar
- Prof. Dr. Kristen Kvam
- Superintendent Dieter Lorenz
- Prof. Dr. Eeva Martikainen
- Prof. Dr. Mickey Mattox
- Prof. Dr. Ricardo Pietrantonio
- Prof. Dr. Hermann Pitters
- Rev. Dr. Roman Pracki
- Prof. Dr. Michael Root
- Prof. Dr. Risto Saarinen
- Rev. Klaus Schwarz
- Prof. Dr. Turid Karlsen Seim
- Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Silcock
- Prof. Dr. Yoshikazu Tokuzen
- Rev. Dr. Pirjo Työrinoja
- Prof. Dr. Gunther Wenz
- LWF Staff
- Ms. Sybille Graumann
- Rev. Sven Oppegaard
- Ms. Donata Coleman
- Ms. Angelika Joachim
- Rev. Dr. Stephanie Dietrich
- Bishop Esbjörn Hagberg
- Prof. Dr. Bruce Marshall
- Bishop em. Dr. Ambrose Moyo
- Bishop Dr. Samson Mushemba
- Prof. Dr. Kirsten Busch Nielsen
- Prof. Dr. Ola Tjörhom
- Prof. Dr. David S. Yeago