In 1957 when Lutherans met for the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Minneapolis under the theme "Christ Frees and Unites," they came from nations on opposing sides of the Cold War. Those of us who lived during those years remember easily the hostilities that divided the world for two generations.
Fifty-two years later, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly met in the same city, but in an entirely different world of relationships. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, reminded the assembly of a decisive commitment made amid the deep suspicions of the Cold War: "Our forebears in faith decided to do the most sensible thing to do under those circumstances and that is stay together. They did not forsake one another. They did not anathematize each other. They understood that the church is the body of Christ; a creature of the gospel — and, therefore, not ours to dismember."
Those words traveled with me when I joined a delegation of ELCA members on an official ecumenical journey in late winter. Our reason for traveling was to meet with representatives of some of the world's largest and oldest Christian communities of faith and to renew our relationships in the body of Christ. The truth of Noko's words was confirmed repeatedly during the visits. Our differences became occasions to be drawn toward one another in conversation because we are already one in baptism, one in faith, one in the Spirit, one in Christ.
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