In 1980, when Lutherans celebrated the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, they hosted an ecumenical event and invited Mennonites to participate. What they hadn’t realized was that Mennonites are the heirs of 16th-century Anabaptists, who are condemned at several points in the AC. This faux-pas led to national dialogues between Lutherans and Mennonites, first in France (1981-1984), then in Germany (1989-1992), and finally in the United States (2001-2004). Building on these national dialogues, the LWF convened an international dialogue with the Mennonite World Conference.

Though the initial plan was to address theological differences, particularly on matters related to baptism and Christian involvement in the government and military, it soon became clear that an unresolved problem of the past was intruding on the present: the Mennonites remembered the Lutheran persecution of their predecessors in the 16th century, a fact that the Lutherans themselves had long since forgotten. Thus the dialogue shifted tactics and instead set about on an unprecedented ecumenical project: jointly telling the history of their relations in a form that both fully acknowledged as accurate. In the process, the Mennonites discovered that Lutherans had not actually executed as many of their ancestors as they’d thought; the Lutherans, however, concluded that the 100 executed Anabaptists were 100 too many. They also had to address the justifications of persecution by Luther and Melanchthon, while being relieved to discover another Lutheran reformer Johannes Brenz’s outspoken opposition to persecution.

In response to this historical discovery, the Lutherans initiated an internal process of the LWF to offer a public apology to and make a request for forgiveness from the Mennonite community. At the 2010 full assembly of the LWF in Stuttgart (Brenz’s home city), the LWF voted unanimously to take the action, and then did so. Representatives of the MWC arrived prepared to offer, in turn, their full forgiveness and assurance of God’s forgiveness, as well. This too was an unprecedented ecumenical breakthrough. The full text of the joint historical report can be accessed below.

Since the 2010 action, a third ecumenical innovation has taken place as the MWC, the LWF, and the Roman Catholic church have together begun a trialogue on the topic of baptism.

Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ: Report of the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission

Lutheran-Mennonite Study Commission Meeting 2006

Lutheran-Mennonite Study Commission Meeting 2006