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Washington Declaration

(Declaration of Principles Concerning the Church and Its External Relationships). After the ULC was organized, its Ex. Bd. was often asked to define the attitude of the ULC toward cooperative movements looking toward ch. union and toward other organizations, tendencies, and movements. The ULC adopted the Washington Declaration 1920:

A. Concerning the Cath. Spirit in the Ch. This section declares and explains the belief in the one, holy, Cath., apostolic ch., the existence of which cannot be demonstrated but rests on “our belief in the continued life of Christ in all His Christians.” This ch. “performs its earthly functions and makes its presence known among men through groups of men who profess to be believers in Jesus Christ. In these groups the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are administered.” “Every group of professing Christians calling itself a Church will seek to express in its own life the attributes of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.… 1. By professing faith in Jesus Christ.… 2. By preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments.… 3. By works of serving love.… 4. By the attempt to secure universal acceptance of the truth which it holds and confesses.” Every such group, even if partial and imperfect, is an expression of the one holy ch. But those groups in which the Word of God is most purely preached and confessed and the sacraments administered in the closest conformity to the institution of Christ “will be the most complete expression of the one, holy Church. For this reason it is necessary that, when occasion arises, any such group of Christians shall define its relationship to other groups which also claim the name of Church, as well as to other groups and organizations which do not bear that name.” Hence each ch. should be ready “to declare unequivocally what it believes … approach others without hostility, jealousy, suspicion or pride … grant cordial recognition to all agreements which are discovered between its own interpretation of the Gospel and that which others hold … co-operate with other Christians in works of serving love … insofar as this can be done without surrender of its interpretation of the Gospel, without denial of conviction, and without suppression of its testimony as to what it holds to be the truth.”

B. Concerning the Relation of the Ev. Luth. Ch. Bodies to One Another. The ULC “recognizes no doctrinal reasons against complete co-operation and organic union” with chs. calling themselves Ev., Luth. and subscribing the Luth. Confessions.

C. Concerning the Organic Union of Prot. Chs. “… we hold the union of Christians in a single organization to be of less importance than the agreement of Christians in the proclamation of the Gospel.… We believe that a permanent and valid union of churches must be based upon positive agreements concerning the truth for which the united Church Body is to stand.”

D. Concerning Cooperative Movements Among the Prot. Chs.. This section states the earnest desire to cooperate in “works of serving love … provided, that such co-operation does not involve the surrender of our interpretation of the Gospel, the denial of conviction, or the suppression of our testimony to what we hold to be the truth.” The purpose, principles, and effect on “the independent position of our Church as a witness to the truth of the Gospel” must determine cooperation. Nine paragraphs list fundamental doctrines (including the Real Presence) which a movement or organization must hold before the ULC would enter cooperation with it. The ULC refused to enter cooperative organizations or movements “whose purposes lie outside the proper sphere of Church activity” and there are organizations (e.g., for soc. or pol. reform) which the ch. as such would not enter but commended to its pastors and mems. No syn., conference, or bd. had power of indep. affiliation with “general organizations and movements.”

E. Concerning Movements and Organizations Injurious to the Christian Faith. This section warns against these.

In 1922 the ULC did not become a regular mem. of the FCC but resolved (in the so-called Buffalo Declaration) that the “relationship shall be of a consultative character by which The United Lutheran Church may have a voice but no vote; thus securing to it entire autonomy … in regard to the decisions and actions of the Federal Council of Churches, and, at the same time, the privilege of co-operating in such tasks and problems as it may elect.” EL

Minutes of the Second Biennial Convention of The United Lutheran Church in America (Washington, D. C., 1920), pp. 92–100; Minutes of the Third Biennial Convention of The United Lutheran Church in America (Buffalo, New York, 1922), p. 86; Documents of Lutheran Unity in America, ed. R. C. Wolf (Philadelphia, 1966).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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