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A Protestant Understanding of Ecclesial Communion

Kundgebung (Announcement)

October 30, 1999

Translator’s Note: On November 9, 2000 the Synod of Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) adopted an official statement entitled “One in Christ – Churches on the way to fuller communion.” Representing 27 million Protestants, 14 million of them Lutherans, the document is based on Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession. On September 29, 2001 the EKD’s Advisory Commission for Theology followed that statement up by issuing the ecumenical document “Kirchengemeinschaft nach evangelischem Verstaendnis,” (“A Protestant Understanding of Ecclesial Communion”), also known as “KneV.” This document was officially adopted by the EKD on October 30, 2001.

Although it is referred to in one or two places as “A Protestant Understanding of Church Fellowship,” the correct name of the document is “A Protestant Understanding of Ecclesial Communion.” Four high level meetings were required, following the Meissen Agreement (1999) with the Church of England to clarify for the Anglican Church that the German Protestants were not speaking about “fellowship,” but “full communion.” -- KB

“Kundgebung” was translated by Pastor Kris Baudler, New York (ELCA

“KneV” was translated by Oberkirchenrat Paul Oppenheim, Hannover (EKD)

Kundgebung of the 9th Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany at its 5th Assembly

Addressing the Central Theme

“One in Christ – Churches on the way to fuller Communion”

Thanks be to God: After centuries of working against each other and next to each other, in suffering and blame, the churches of the 20th c. have begun a process of reconciliation and have begun to find their way toward one another. And yet, the communion which God desires for all of Christendom on earth, has not yet been attained by far. We are convinced: it is time for fuller ecumenical communion.

We experience communion as a widely cast net of relationships with other churches. The goal is to witness the Gospel together to the whole world in Word and deed. We need ecumenism in order to live as the church in our particular localities and in the one world. The search for visible communion in faith and worship, cooperation in mission and in joint efforts for justice, peace, and the preservation of creation are the central tasks of ecumenism.

I. We believe in one, holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic church

On Solid Ground

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

(1 Cor. 3:11). The church that is built on this foundation is well established. Its house is not built on sand, but on a rock (Matt. 7: 24-27). It cannot build itself. Christ builds and carries her: as His community in which the Triune God speaks and works. She answers Him in praise and service.

“The church is founded on Jesus Christ alone, who through His saving love in the proclamation of the Word and sacraments, gathers her together and sends her forth.

According to Reformation understanding, true unity of the church through agreement in a right teaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments is necessary and sufficient.” Such is the statement of agreement of the churches of the Reformation according to the Leuenberg Concordat.

Protestant and Ecumenical

“Christ is the head, from whom the whole body is knit together.” (Eph. 4:15 ff). Just as a body has only one head, so Christ through the Holy Spirit alone is the head of the church.

But just as a body has many members and all together form one body, so the church is recognized through the power of the Holy Spirit in its various living expressions. There are found in her many gifts, many traditions, many experiences and characteristics. Under the one head they belong together.

As such, the Protestant churches are the church of Jesus Christ. We experience in our Protestant churches communion with God and communion with one another. Not only in our church! We also recognize God’s working in other churches. We recognize the communion in faith above all confessional differences and divisions. On the basis of our baptism in the name of the Triune God we are all members of the one church.

In our encounters as the churches, certainly we become aware of divisions, disunity, and contradictions. That runs contrary to the head of Christendom and the various expressions of His body. Given these differences, we can only trust again and again in the one through whom “the whole body is knit together.” We already are one in Christ, even if we are not yet of one mind concerning the ecclesial shape of this oneness. Because we are one in Christ, we seek fuller communion of the churches. This is ecumenism. We can only then be Protestants if we are ecumenical at the same time. Confessional self-satisfaction impoverishes us.

Joint worship services, prayer for and with one another and joint Bible studies are the lifeblood of ecumenism. Common prayers, hymns, and liturgical texts nurture our ecumenical spirituality. The Women’s World Day of Prayer is both impressive and encouraging evidence. Because it is Christ who invites us to His Supper, members of other churches are also welcome at Holy Communion, in spite of outstanding differences in doctrine. We see in the mutual celebration of Holy Communion that the Lord’s Supper takes precedence in the Kingdom of God.

We wish to intensively support the already existing forms of the communion of the Christian churches and to use them as instruments for a common witness and service in the world: the Joint Working Group of the Christian Churches in Germany (ACK), the Conference of European Churches (KEK), and on the world stage the World Council of Churches (WCC).

We declare our readiness, insofar as there are no deep differences in the faith, to move forward.

Ecclesial Communion in Word and Sacrament

In the diverse historical churches we experience both painful coexistence as well as mutual enrichment. It is not the diversity that needs to be overcome, but the separation. Only by overcoming separation will the richness of diversity as a blessing to all the churches become apparent.

We strongly support the Protestant understanding of the unity of the churches, as it is expressed in the Leuenberg Concordat of 1973 which has been signed by more than 100 Protestant churches. In this ecclesial communion churches live in “reconciled diversity” and in this way witness to the unity of the church which is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We also wish to form a basic consensus with other churches in the understanding of the Gospel, which clarifies what is fundamental to the church and what can be structured to varying degrees. This accomplishes the ability of the churches to recognize one another and to grant one another (full) communion in Word and Sacrament. This includes the recognition of one another’s ordinations.

Such communion on the one hand testifies to the independence of the united churches. On the other hand, structures are necessary for the witness of the Gospel and service in the world, which brings a mutually binding responsibility to full expression. To that end in church history, the synod/council principal has been tried and proven.

II. Greater Communion among Protestant Churches

The EKD as an Ecclesial Communion

The Evangelical Church in Germany is the ecclesial communion of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches (Landeskirchen) and is itself a model for church unity. She remains open to admitting more Protestant churches. Ecumenism is a task of unity of the Evangelical Church in Germany. It occurs in cooperation with the ecumenical relationships and activities of the local congregations, the member churches, and the missions and organizations. The EKD needs the strong backing of its member churches in order to fulfill its mandate to carry out ecumenism in Word and deed. The interconfessional and international ecumenical work of the EKD still needs to be better coordinated and be made more effective.

Many German speaking evangelical congregations in foreign lands are tied to the Evangelical Church in Germany. They are important ecumenical bridge builders, often integrated in the evangelical churches of the respective countries. Ecumenical partnerships have been forged from previously German churches.

Our worldwide unity with evangelical minorities and churches in the diaspora have enriched us. Clerical exchanges, partnerships, and financial commitments are included, be it through individuals, congregations, member churches, or ecclesial projects.

The Protestant Voice in Europe

The historically established evangelical church structures based on geographical and national barriers are today being challenged by European and global developments. The Leuenberg ecclesial communion must be strengthened for its mission in witness and service. We ask (its member churches) to regularly issue invitations for consultation in order to clarify fundamental theological questions, in order to formulate Protestant positions to European questions. In this way the Protestants can have a more discernible public voice in Europe as well as in our cooperative ecumenical work.

At the same time, cooperation with the Conference of European Churches needs to be intensified, so that Protestant positions can be recognized, also in relation to social and political institutions in Europe. Above and beyond the European level we ask the Lutheran World Federation, the Reformed World Federation, and the World Council of Methodist Churches, to initiate efforts to expedite ecclesial communion on a global level and to coordinate theological dialogues with other confessions.

Communion with the Free Churches

The existing ecclesial communion with the United Brethren and the Methodist Church in Germany can be given more life than exists at present.

We want to continue to develop communion with other Free Churches in Germany, through bilateral dialogues, to achieve closer working relationships and to arrive at intermediate levels of ecclesial communion. The agreement with the Mennonites for each to invite the other to Holy Communion is a model for this. We wish to discuss with the League of Protestant Free Churches of Germany (Baptists), and in the framework of the Leuenberg ecclesial communion with the European Baptist Federation, if a reconciled difference is possible in our understanding and practice of baptism. Dialogue must be sought with the Pentecostal communions.

We are grateful for the close and sisterly connections which have developed between the regional churches (Landeskirchen) and the Free Churches through our joint venture in the Syndicate of the Christian Churches, the Protestant Alliance, the Syndicate of Protestant youth, the Diaconal Works and the Evangelical Missions.

Full Communion with the Anglican Church

From our interpretation, the mutual recognition of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Church of England through the Meissen Declaration (1988) already makes full communion possible. From the Anglican perspective, on the other hand, agreement as to the office of bishop in apostolic succession is still outstanding. Still needing to be clarified in the continuing dialogue with the Church of England, is how the differing offices of supervision can have reconcilable differences, so that full communion can be realized. Our hope and expectation is that the mutual recognition made possible in the Meissen Declaration can be further extended for full communion with other Anglican Churches.

III. Fuller Communion with Catholic and Orthodox Churches

1. Protestant – Catholic Communion

Consensus in Basic Statements

On Reformation Day 1999 the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). With it an important step was taken toward fuller communion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.

Together we can now declare: “Alone by grace through faith in the saving act of Christ, and not by reason of our works, we are made acceptable to God, who renews our hearts and equips us for and calls us to do good works.”

We see that through the Joint Declaration no communion has yet been achieved. A further understanding of the doctrine of God’s Word, the Sacraments, the church, and the office of ministry, is desperately required. It needs to be thereby established what are legitimate and mutually enriching expressions of diversity and what church dividing differences still exist. We are, however, convinced that the communion in faith is stronger than what divides us.

Different Understanding of the Unity of the Church

The Protestant understanding of ecclesial communion as the goal of ecumenism and the Roman Catholic concept of the unity of the church of Christ as a communion with and under the pope, are still at odds. The Vatican announcement of September 2000 (Dominus Jesus) with regard to the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the refusal to recognize the Protestant churches as “sister churches,” is seen by us as a clear setback to the efforts towards fuller ecumenical communion. We regard the claims made therein to be “Roman,” but not “catholic” in the Biblical sense, and in the common tradition of the confessional witness of the ancient church. We wish to work with the WCC towards “a truly universal council which will again speak for all Christians and will show the way into the future.” (Vollversammlung, Uppsala 1968).

Ecumenism from the Bottom Up

We draw attention to the document “Judging Doctrine – Church Dividing?” from 1986. According to the German Catholic Bishops Conference, the consequences for ecumenical fellowship of families and congregations is to be discussed. What has been achieved to date, in our estimation, already makes it possible for the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church to invite one another to (the Sacrament of) Holy Communion. The Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany reemphasizes this invitation and hopes that ecumenical signs can be established with regard to this at the ecumenical Kirchentag in Berlin in the year 2003. Many confessionally diverse families and ecumenical circles rightly expect, now that a fundamental consensus of faith has been established, that they not be turned away from the Table of the Lord in one church or another.

Confessionally diverse families work in confessionally uniting ways. There is often more ecumenical fellowship practiced here than elsewhere in the church. We make a plea that all churches seize hold of this reality as an ecumenical opportunity, and that all church regulations be lifted which restrict the spiritual welfare of Protestant and Catholic marriages and families. We require that Protestant weddings for Protestant – Catholic couples in future be recognized by the Catholic Church as valid without requiring any further dispensations. The visit to a Protestant or ecumenical worship service should be regarded by the Catholic Church as fulfilling Sunday (worship) requirements, at least in individual cases.

Protestant – Catholic communion occurs on many levels in the life of the church and society, in worship services, common words and actions, education, common work in church projects and organizations, including joint management of social institutions. Ecumenical education has also made inroads into the Kindergartens as well as many school programs and other educational forums. Student communities and youth organizations have become areas of exploration for creative arrangements for ecumenical partnerships. We encourage the congregations and churches in the EKD to become ecumenically open in evangelical freedom, and to find out together with their Catholic partners in their particular situation, which organizational form of ecumenical communion for the proclamation of the Gospel serves them best, and where the confessional parallel structures are required. Eucharistic compatibility with the Catholic Bishopric of the Old Catholics in Germany, was made possible by the EKD in 1985. We are grateful for the communion thus far accomplished and practiced and hope for an increase of it.

2. Protestant – Orthodox Communion

Approaches to Orthodoxy

The Protestant churches have been working together with the Orthodox churches in ecumenical committees since the beginning of the ecumenical movement. The large number of Orthodox immigrants to Germany and our immediate neighbors, have led to a mutual appreciation for the individual development of theology and spirituality and to a deeper communion. There is, however, a greater awareness of cultural and spiritual estrangement, which must be overcome through increased, encounters, visitation programs, stipend exchanges, congregational partnerships, etc. In spite of existing differences, e.g., in an understanding of what is the church, the issue of proselytes, ethical questions, and the role of women, especially as it relates to ordination – we encourage our congregations to engage our Orthodox brothers and sisters to foster ecumenical communion with them.

The Protestant - Orthodox dialogues of the last few decades have established a great deal of convergence and consensus. The mutual acceptance of the Confession of Nicaea – Constantinople of 381 is the foundation for greater Protestant – Orthodox communion. Often the same things are believed under different theological ways of thinking and speaking, so that the dialogue participants much in common ecumenically. The churches must receive the results of the dialogue. With the Orthodox churches in Germany which do not yet recognize the baptisms of the other churches, a solution still needs to be found in discussions with the Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany.

Solidarity and Partnership

The Orthodox churches in eastern and southeastern Europe experienced great oppression in the years of Communist rule, and in some parts the pain of martyrdom. The worldwide ecumenical communion often expressed little or only quiet sympathy. In coming to terms with its own history, and in being confronted with western culture and spirituality, these churches are now experiencing a religious and cultural identity crisis, which has also had negative ramifications for Protestant – Orthodox communion. Yet at the same time they offer new possibilities for great undertakings in state and society, in the renewal of the church, and in the mission proclamation of the Gospel. We wish to seek communion with these churches through understanding openness, and solidarity.

And offer our help wherever it may prove useful, e.g. in diaconal work.

The Evangelical Church in Germany must take pains to continue the decades long dialogues with the ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the patriarchs of Moscow, Bucharest, and Sofia. Further, she must push for the appropriate participation and constructive collaboration of the Orthodox churches in the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches. We hope for a renewed ecumenical openness of the Orthodox with the goal toward communion with reconciled diversities.

[Translator’s note: Section IV of the Kundgebung, while translated, is not included here. It deals with two themes, World Peace and the Environment, and asks the question of how greater ecumenical cooperation can further both causes. Much of it deals with interrelated German and European agencies that are not germane to KneV and “full communion” per se. – KB]

Advisory Commission for Theology of the EKD

  • Prof. Dr. Christine Axt-Piscalar, Goettingen
  • Vice President Dr. Hermann Barth, Hannover
  • Regional Bishop Susanne Breit-Kessler, Munich
  • Prof. Dr. Eberhard Busch, Goettingen
  • Prof. Dr. Ingolf U. Dalferth, Zurich
  • Oberkirchenrat Dr. Klaus Gruenwaldt, Hannover
  • Prof. Dr. Eilert Herms, Tuebingen
  • President Dr. Wilhelm Hueffmeier, Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Eberhard Juengel D.D. (Chair), Tuebingen
  • Landesbishof Prof. Dr. Christoph Kaehler, Eisenach
  • Oberkirchenrat Klaus-Dieter-Kaiser, Hannover
  • Deacon Dr. Marie-Luise Kling-de Lazzer, Tuebingen
  • Bishop Dr. Hans-Christian Knuth, Schleswig
  • Prof. D. Dr. Wolf Kroetke, Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Helga Kuhlmann, Hamburg
  • President Robert Leicht, Hamburg
  • Provost Dr. Karl-Heinrich Luetcke, Berlin
  • Oberkirchenrat Dr. Christoph Muenchow, Dresden
  • Prof. Dr. Herman Josef Pottmeyer, Bochum
  • Prof. Dr. Dr. Trutz Rendtorff, Munich
  • Prof. Dr. Luise Schorn-Schuette, Frankfurt/Main
  • Provost Dr. Monika Schwinge, Pinneberg
  • Prof. Dr. Ernst-Joachim Washke, Halle/Salle
  • Prof. Dr. Hans Weder, Zurich
  • Prof. Dr. Dorothea Wendebourg (Chair), Tuebingen