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The term Evangelical Catholic is used by Christians who consider themselves both "catholic" and "evangelical." Evangelical Catholic (catholic is the noun with evangelical modifying) can refer to: evangelical Protestant Christians who consider themselves catholic Christians that identify with the historic Christian Church, who believe that the early ecumenical councils and the Protestant Reformation were both part of the progressive illumination of the Holy Spirit; Roman Catholics who want to identify themselves more closely with evangelical Protestants with similar ecumenical ideals and "progressive illumination"; Catholics who simply want to define themselves according to a penchant for evangelism. Evangelical Catholics may include Eastern Rite Catholic Churches or other churches that are not Roman Catholic, mainly Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist.

Lutheran Evangelical Catholicity holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. –Augsburg Confession[1]

In Lutheranism, the term evangelical catholic has a specific meaning.[2] Lutheran Protestantism differs historically from all other kinds of Protestantism in that Lutheranism is the only historical Protestant denomination that confesses belief in the efficacy of the sacraments: regeneration in Holy Baptism, Confession as the sacrament of Absolution, and the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Eucharist.[3] The Book of Concord states, contrary to "Enthusiast"[clarification needed] belief, that salvation can be received only through means of grace: God's word and sacraments.[4] The Augsburg Confession stresses that "in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Catholic Church." [5] Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession "Of the Mass" states: "Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence." Some Lutheran church bodies like the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia claim to have retained the historical episcopate and Apostolic Succession.

In early Lutheranism, the Gnesio-Lutherans like Joachim Westphal and Andreas Musculus had a 'high' understanding of the sacraments, but were strongly opposed to any compromise with Calvinism and Zwingliism, as well as with Roman Catholic doctrine. In the era of Lutheran orthodoxy, theologians Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard (especially in his Confessio Catholica) were deeply rooted in patristic theology. They saw the continuity of Catholicism in Lutheranism, which they understood not as a re-formation of the Church, but rather a renewal movement within and for the Catholic Church, from which they had been involuntarily and only temporarily separated.

The only evangelical feature of Lutheranism is justification by faith, as defined by Law and Gospel and simul iustus et peccator. The term evangelical has a different origin and meaning in Lutheranism than in "Evangelicalism". (In German, there is a difference between evangelisch and evangelikal; in Swedish, there is a corresponding difference between "evangelisk" and "evangelikal"). In Lutheran tradition, evangelical (evangelisch) refers to the gospel, with the specific meaning of "grace centered". The opposite of evangelical is not "catholic" or "liberal", but legalistic. After the so-called Enlightenment Schleiermacher, which moved Protestant thought further from traditional Catholicism, Lutheranism split into two main groups: "orthodox" (confessional) Lutheranism, and "rationalistic" Lutheranism.[6]

In the 19th century, "Evangelical Catholicism" was seen as a vision for the Church of the future. The term was used by Lutherans such as Ernst Ludwig von Gerlach and Heinrich Leo within the post-Prussian Union church in Germany who were inspired by the church of the Middle Ages, and by neo-Lutheran Friedrich Julius Stahl.[7]

The term Evangelical Catholic is often used today instead of the term "High Church Lutheranism" because it is a theological term and genuinely Lutheran. It is comparable to the term "Anglo-Catholic" within Anglicanism. Evangelical Catholic Lutheranism is not strictly defined, and can mean, for example, the theologically, biblically, and socially conservative ultra-high church Lutheranism of the strongly Roman Catholic-oriented Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church and the more Eastern Orthodox-oriented Evangelical Catholic Church, the relative high church Confessional Lutheranism found in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and espoused by Arthur Carl Piepkorn, the Evangelical Catholic Orthodoxy of Gunnar Rosendal, the more theologically liberal high ecclesiology of Carl Braaten, the very liberal Evangelical Catholicity of Nathan Söderblom, or even the more liberal Catholicism of Friedrich Heiler, or ecumenical vision of Hans Asmussen and Max Lackmann. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada defines its doctrinal basis as such: "We derive our teachings from the Holy Scriptures and confess the three ecumenical creeds of the Christian church. We hold to orthodox catholic theology as enunciated in the ecumenical councils of the first five centuries of Christianity."[8] In 1976 Joseph Ratzinger, the later Pope Benedict XVI, suggested that the Augsburg Confession might be possible to recognise as a Catholic statement of faith. This did not happen due to differences in understanding of the theology on justification.[9] [10]

Some small "Evangelical Catholic" church bodies include the Evangelical Catholic Church, Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, the Lutheran Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Marian Catholic Church, the International Lutheran Fellowship, Association of Independent Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Catholic Communion. The Nordic Catholic Church in Norway has roots in High Church Lutheranism. The current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has centered on the sufficiency of the Bible.

Among other church bodies

In recent years, the term Evangelical Catholic, has been adopted by high church elements of the Methodist and Reformed Churches. This is especially apt among the Reformed, given that one of the older documented uses of the term is by John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff, during their efforts (from roughly 1841 forward) to repristinate the theology of the German Reformed Church in the United States. In 1849 the Mercersburg Review was founded as the organ of their "Mercersburg Theology".

Beginning in 1851, William Augustus Mühlenberg, the Protestant Episcopal clergyman of Lutheran background, and father of the Ritualist movement in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America,[11] also published a periodical called "The Evangelical Catholic."

Already earlier, there was an evangelical revival in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, involving Boos, Gossner and Feneberg. This evangelical revivalist movement also spread to German Lutheranism.

The Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church in Portugal has its origins in the Old Catholic movement of the 19th century. Today it belongs to the Anglican Communion.

In England, Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938), Mar Jacobus, Bishop of Mercia & Middelesex, founded The Evangelical Catholic Communion. His succession line was brought to the United States in the 1960s and continues in Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America.[12]

New Church Bodies

In the end of 20th century, the Convergence Movement has formed some new church bodies, like the Charismatic Episcopal Church. One of the new Catholic Evangelical church is the King's Family of Churches. It governs by an Episcopal polity, embraces the Charismatic renewal, use different liturgical versions in worship, both Anglican and Lutheran, and it has a strong focus in missions and church planting according to its Mission Statement in truth.[13]

Apart from the Convergence Movement, The Evangelical Old Catholic Communion has its roots in Independent Catholicism.

See also

Further reading

  • Brodd, Sven-Erik: Evangelisk katolicitet. Ett studium av innehall och funktion under 1800- och 1900-talet. GWK Gleerup, Uppsala 1982.
  • Pryzywara, Erich: Evangelische Katholizität - Katholische Evangelizität. Katholische Krise. Düsseldorf 1967
  • Aulén, Gustaf: The Catholicity of Lutheranism. A Contribution to the Ecumenical Discussion (World Lutheranism Today. A Tribute to Anders Nygren 15 November 1950. Lund 1950)
  • Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, The Catholicity of the Reformation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996).
  • Max Lackman, Katholische Einheit und Augsburger Konfession (Graz, 1960).
  • George A. Lindbeck, “Ecumenical Directions and Confessional Construals,” dialog 30 (1991), 118–23.
  • Jaroslav Pelikan, Obedient Rebels. Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther's Reformation (New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1964).
  • Francis Beckwith, Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009)


  1. See Augsburg Confession, Article 7, Of the Church
  2. A comparison to Anglicanism here is interesting, because Anglicanism often regards itself as reformed but not Protestant
  3. In anglicanism there has also been a sacramentalism similar to that in orthodox Lutheranism, especially in the high church movement. However, historically, Anglican eucharistic doctrine has been closer to Calvinistic doctrine, which can be seen in the Black Rubric. On the other hand, those who today have strong belief in the Real Presence, usually do not want to call themselves Protestants.
  4. Augsburg Confession, Article V, The Formula of Concord, II. Free Will. Epitome 4, 13, Solid Declaration 80.
  5. Conclusion of the Augsburg Confession
  6. The Catholicity of the Augsburg Confession by Avery Dulles
  7. Stahl, Friedrich Julius: Evangelische Katholizität. -Die Verhandlungen des neunten evangelischen Kirchentages zu Stuttgart in September 1857. Berlin (pages 45-63)
  8. ELCIC — Who
  9. "The Catholicity of the Augsburg Confession" by Avery Dulles, S.J. (JSTOR, The Journal of Religion, Vol. 63, No. 4, Martin Luther, 1483-1983. (Oct., 1983), pp. 337-354.)
  10. Evangelical Catholicity, article in The encyclopedia of Christianity by Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, David B. Barrett. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 1999, ISBN 9004116958
  11. History of the Church of the Ascension, by George C. Giles, Jr. (1984)
  12. :: ::
  13. Mission of the King's Family of Churches


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