A global Lutheran councill in Germany officially apologized for its 16th century persecution of Anabaptists -- religious reformers whose descendants include Mennonites and whose beliefs profoundly influenced the founders of Seventh-day Adventism.
During a July 22 service of repentance, the Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) voted unanimously in favor of the formal apology, which expresses "deep regret and sorrow" for past persecution and requests forgiveness from both God and the Anabaptist family.
In a foreword in the recent issue of Lutheran World Information, LWF President Mark S. Hanson said the church's repentance is part of the "ministry of reconciliation" Christians are called to as "ambassadors for Christ."
Anabaptists, whose name means "to baptize again," historically urged baptism by immersion for Christians as a public expression of faith and admission into a community of believers -- radically different from the era's common practice of infant baptism.
Anabaptists were also early advocates of separation of church and state, religious liberty and justification by faith. Facing persecution from both Protestants and Catholics in Europe in the 1500s, many found solace in America.
The service of repentance, held in Stuttgart, Germany, came after three decades of reconciliation talks beginning in 1980 during the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, a defining Lutheran doctrinal text, EthicsDaily.com reported this week. At the time, Mennonite representatives questioned whether the text should be commemorated, since it denounced their teachings, the report said.
During the 1990s, Lutherans also opened dialogue with the Adventist Church, with both denominations seeking to recognize their joint Reformation heritage and achieve a better mutual understanding of and respect for their doctrinal differences.
The 1994 through 1998 talks resulted in "deep spiritual fellowship," according to a book reporting on the conversations published by both the Adventist and Lutheran churches in 2000.
In comments during the service of repentance, John Graz, director of the Adventist Church's department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, commended Lutherans for displaying "courage" through repentance.
"As Adventists, we also have our roots in the Anabaptist movement, and we appreciate very much your honesty and your sincerity," Graz told the approximately 600-member Council, which is responsible for the business of the Lutheran World Federation in between its Assemblies, held every six years.