Conversation and unity: LTSS professor joins Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1967, scholars from the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church have engaged in a series of dialogues for deep investigation and discussion of church doctrines with the goal of finding common ground.

Justin Nickel

“The Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues represent a renewed interest over the past 50 years in working toward visible unity in the church,” said the Rev. Justin Nickel, Ph.D., assistant professor of Lutheran studies and one of the scholars selected to take part in the latest dialogue between the ELCA and the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

“This is the thirteenth round of official dialogue that is ELCA-specific. There’s also a separate international dialogue,” Nickel explained. “Each dialogue takes five to seven years and ends with a book on the topic that hopes to offer guidance.”

During the years of the dialogue, participants correspond with one another and meet in person twice a year. The current topic will focus on the theologies guiding ordination of the bishop in the two churches, building on the previous dialogue addressing teaching within the church and who or what is considered authoritative. 

“We’re still refining and looking at the topic, but it bears on who is ordained and the distinctions we make between bishops and priests or pastors,” said Nickel.

Bishops and synod officials select participants they believe will fit the likely direction of the dialogue but also those committed to strong ecumenical relationships, as Nickel has demonstrated throughout his career. 

“It is a great honor to be asked to do this for the church and to be with such esteemed colleagues,” said Nickel. “We can respect the theological integrity of various traditions but try to overcome disunity, to live into Jesus’s prayer in John’s gospel that all Christians might be one.”  

For more than 50 years, Lutheran and Catholic scholars have met to tackle serious questions of faith and doctrine. This year, Justin Nickel, Ph.D., joined the conversation.

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