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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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What's the difference?

A look from the ELCA at the company we keep

Damnamus! The word loses something in translation: “We condemn you!” When writing their confessional statements during a half century up to 1580, the earliest Lutherans spilled much ink and venom as they defined what it meant to condemn the pope, the Anabaptists and the Reformed.

Most of all (family quarrels always being most intense), they disagreed with other Lutherans, the moderates among them who didn’t think it proper to “consign to the devil” those who were misled by those whom they regarded as false teachers. They also often insisted there was nothing personal—No naming of names!—in their condemnations.

More than four centuries later, debates over condemning—or not condemning—other Christians still agitate Lutherans. The ready-to-go condemners like to say the non-condemners are giving away gospel truth. Those who are reluctant to condemn think the damnamus-hurlers are arrogant disturbers along the way to Christian unity. They urge that instead of pronouncing “We condemn you,” Christians should say, “We commune with you.”

The ELCA has reached “full communion” with five church bodies and is conversing with more, with United Methodists closest to closure. That none of these have merged with others suggests that most of them identify some non-damnable differences. (You can learn more about the on-going work of ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations and also receive Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Life, a monthly e-newsletter about activities.)


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