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Dialogue fosters mutual understanding


The new head of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand, Bishop Paul Smith, joined Archbishop Patrick O’Regan at the Australian Lutheran Roman Catholic Dialogue (ALRCD) meeting in Adelaide last month.

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Bishop Smith was installed in February, less than two years after Archbishop O’Regan was installed as Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide.

The meeting, one of four held each year, provided an opportunity for the bishops and members to review the work of the Dialogue and to share their views and perspectives on its importance for the churches and Australian society today.

ALRCD is the longest continuous church dialogue in Australia, having commenced in April 1975. It is authorised by the Lutheran Church of Australia and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The aim of the Dialogue is that through the mutual study of the scriptures and the tradition of the church, especially their respective confessional documents, the two churches may grow in mutual understanding and confession of the truth of the gospel.

There are usually eight regular members of the Dialogue for each of the churches, including ordained, religious and lay women and men.  The current co-chairs are Rev Prof Gerard Kelly (Catholic) and Rev Dr Stephen Hultgren (Lutheran).

Reflecting on the changes in the dialogue over the years, Fr Kelly said that Catholics and Lutherans had moved from a situation of “suspicion and hostility” to one of “friendliness”.

“Rather than focus on what divides us, we are now more aware of what unites us,” Fr Kelly said.

“This becomes the starting point for engagement with each other.

“There is much more contact than previously between members of our churches at all levels and a greater sense of trust of each other and a willingness to work together in addressing significant social issues. Our two churches have also grown in mutual understanding.”

In terms of achievements, Pastor Hultgren said the Dialogue had covered a number of important topics including baptism, Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper), the ministry, the church, justification, the ministry of oversight (bishops), Scripture and tradition, and the papacy (Petrine ministry).

“Undoubtedly the most noteworthy milestone in the dialogue has been on the topic of justification, because perceived differences in the understanding of this fundamental doctrine were at the heart of the separation of the Western church over 500 years ago,” Pastor Hultgren said.

“In keeping with its guiding purpose, the focus of the current Dialogue is the Augsburg Confession, an early Lutheran confessional document from 1530 that is still important in the Lutheran world.”

The Dialogue’s joint statements, and additional documents and resources, can be downloaded from its website:

Stephen Downs is secretary of the ALRCD.


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