| ||Agreement between Reformation Churches in Europe |
March 16, 1973
1. On the basis of their doctrinal discussions, the churches assenting to this Agreement - namely, Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Europe along with the Union Churches which grew out of them, and the related pre-Reformation Churches, the Waldensian Church and the Church of the Czech Brethren - affirm together the common understanding of the Gospel elaborated below. This common understanding of the Gospel enables them to declare and to realize church fellowship. Thankful that they have been led closer together, they confess at the same time that guilt and suffering have also accompanied and still accompany the struggle for truth and unity in the Church.
2. The Church is founded upon Jesus Christ alone. It is he who gathers the Church and sends it forth, by the bestowal of his salvation in preaching and the sacraments. In the view of the Reformation it follows that agreement in the right teaching of the Gospel and in the right administration of the sacraments is the necessary and sufficient prerequisite for the true unity of the Church. It is from these Reformation criteria that the participating churches derive their view of church fellowship as set out below.
I. THE ROAD TO FELLOWSHIP
3. Faced with real differences in style of theological thinking and church practice, the fathers of the Reformation, despite much that they had in common, did not see themselves in a position, on grounds of faith and conscience, to avoid divisions. In this Agreement the participating churches acknowledge that their relationship to one another has changed since the time of the Reformation.
1. Common Aspects at the Outset of the Reformation
4. With the advantage of historical distance it is easier today to discern the common elements in the witness of the churches of the Reformation in spite of the differences between them: their starting point was a new experience of the power of the Gospel to liberate and assure. In standing up for the truth which they saw, the Reformers found themselves drawn together in opposition to the church traditions of that time. They were therefore at one in confessing that the Church's life and doctrine are to be gauged by the original and pure testimony to the Gospel in Scripture. They were at one in bearing witness to God's free and unconditional grace in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for all those who believe this promise. They were at one in confessing that the practice and form of the Church should be determined only by the commission to deliver this testimony to the world, and that the Word of God remains sovereign over every human ordering of the Christian community. In doing so they were at one with the whole of Christendom in receiving and renewing the confession of the Triune God and the God-Manhood of Jesus Christ as expressed in the ancient creeds of the Church.
2. Changed Elements in the Contemporary Situation
5. In the course of four hundred years of history, the Churches of the Reformation have been led to new and similar ways of thinking and living; by theological wrestling with the questions of modern times, by advances in biblical research, by the movements of church renewal, and by the rediscovery of the ecumenical horizon. These developments certainly have also brought with them new differences cutting right across the confessions. But, time and again, there has also been an experience of brotherly fellowship, particularly in times of common suffering. The result of all these factors was a new concern on the part of the churches, especially since the revival movements, to achieve a contemporary expression both of the biblical witness and of the Reformation confessions of faith. In the process they have learned to distinguish between the fundamental witness of the Reformation confessions of faith and their historically-conditioned thought forms. Because these confessions of faith bear witness to the Gospel as the living Word of God in Jesus Christ, far from barring the way to continued responsible testimony to this Word, they open up this way with a summons to follow it in the freedom of faith.
II. THE COMMON UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOSPEL
6. In what follows, the participating churches describe their common understanding of the Gospel insofar as this is required for establishing church fellowship between them.
1. The Message of Justification as the Message of the Free Grace of God
7. The Gospel is the message of Jesus Christ, the salvation of the world, in fulfilment of the promise given to the people of the Old Covenant.
8. a) The true understanding of the Gospel was expressed by the fathers of the Reformation in the doctrine of justification.
9. b) In this message Jesus Christ is acknowledged as the One in whom God became man and bound himself to man; as the crucified and risen One who took God's judgement upon himself and, in doing so, demonstrated God's love to sinners; and as the coming One who as Judge and Saviour leads the world to its consummation.
10. c) Through his Word, God by his Holy Spirit calls all men to repent and believe, and assures the believing sinner of his righteousness in Jesus Christ. Whoever puts his trust in the Gospel is justified in God's sight for the sake of Jesus Christ and set free from the accusation of the law. In daily repentance and renewal he lives within the fellowship in praise of God and service to others, in the as-surance that God will bring his kingdom in all its fullness. In this way God creates new life and plants in the midst of the world the seed of a new humanity.
11. d) This message sets Christians free for responsible service in the world and makes them ready to suffer in this service. They know that God's will, as demand and succour, embraces the whole world. They stand up for temporal justice and peace between individuals and nations. To do this they have to join with others in seeking rational and appropriate criteria and play their part in applying these criteria. They do so in the confidence that God sustains the world and as those who are accountable to him.
12. e) In this understanding of the Gospel we take our stand on the basis of the ancient creeds of the Church and reaffirm the common conviction of the Reformation confessions that the unique mediation of Jesus Christ in salvation is the heart of the Scriptures and that the message of justification as the message of God's free grace is the measure of all the Church's preaching.
2. Preaching, Baptism and the Lord's Supper
13. The fundamental witness to the Gospel is the testimony of the apostles and prophets in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is the task of the Church to spread this Gospel by the spoken word in preaching, by individual counselling, and by Baptism and the Lord's Supper. In preaching, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, Jesus Christ is present through the Holy Spirit. Justification in Christ is thus imparted to men and in this way the Lord gathers his people. In doing so he employs various forms of ministry and service, as well as the witness of all those belonging to his people.
14. a) Baptism
Baptism is administered in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit with water. In Baptism Jesus Christ irrevocably receives man, fallen prey to sin and death, into his fellowship of salvation so that he may become a new creature. In the power of his Holy Spirit he calls him into his community and to a new life of faith, to daily repentance and discipleship.
15. b) The Lord's Supper
In the Lord's Supper the risen Jesus Christ imparts himself in his body and blood, given up for all, through his word of promise with bread and wine. He thereby grants us forgiveness of sins and sets us free for a new life of faith. He enables us to experience anew that we are members of his body. He strengthens us for service to all men.
16. When we celebrate the Lord's Supper we proclaim the death of Christ through which God has reconciled the world with himself. We proclaim the presence of the risen Lord in our midst. Rejoicing that the Lord has come to us we await his future coming in glory.
III. ACCORD IN RESPECT OF THE DOCTRINAL CONDEMNATIONS OF THE REFORMATION ERA
17. The differences which from the time of the Reformation onwards have made church fellowship between the Lutheran and Reformed churches impossible and have led them to pronounce mutual condemnations related to the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, Christology, and the doctrine of predestination. We take the decisions of the Reformation fathers seriously but are today able to agree on the following statements in respect of these condemnations:
1. The Lord's Supper
18. In the Lord's Supper the risen Jesus Christ imparts himself in his body and blood, given up for all, through his word of promise with bread and wine. He thus gives himself unreservedly to all who receive the bread and wine; faith receives the Lord's Supper for salvation, unfaith for judgement.
19. We cannot separate communion with Jesus Christ in his body and blood from the act of eating and drinking. To be concerned about the manner of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper in abstraction from this act is to run the risk of obscuring the meaning of the Lord's Supper.
20. Where such a consensus exists between the churches, the condemnations pronounced by the Reformation confessions are inapplicable to the doctrinal position of these churches.
21. In the true man Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, and so God himself, has bestowed himself upon lost mankind for its salvation. In the word of the promise and in the sacraments, the Holy Spirit, and so God himself, makes the crucified and risen Jesus present to us.
22. Believing in this self-bestowal of God in his Son, the task facing us in view of the historically-conditioned character of traditional thought forms is to give renewed and effective expression to the special insights of the Reformed tradition with its concern to maintain unimpaired the divinity and humanity of Jesus and those of the Lutheran tradition with its concern to maintain the unity of Jesus as a person.
23. In these circumstances it is impossible for us to reaffirm the former condemnations today.
24. In the Gospel we have the promise of God's unconditional acceptance of sinful man. Whoever puts his trust in the Gospel can know that he is saved and praise God for his election. For this reason we can speak of election only with respect to the call to salvation in Christ.
25. Faith knows by experience that the message of salvation is not accepted by all; yet it respects the mystery of God's dealings with men. It bears witness to the seriousness of human decision and at the same time to the reality of God's universal purpose of salvation. The witness of the Scriptures to Christ forbids us to suppose that God has uttered an eternal decree for the final condemnation of specific individuals or of a particular people.
26. When such a consensus exists between churches, the condemnations pronounced by the Reformation confessions of faith are inapplicable to the doctrinal position of these churches.
27. Wherever these statements are accepted, the condemnations of the Reformation confessions in respect of the Lord's Supper, Christology, and predestination are inapplicable to the doctrinal position. This does not mean that the condemnations pronounced by the Reformation fathers are irrelevant; but they are no longer an obstacle to church fellowship.
28. There remain considerable differences between our churches in forms of worship, types of spirituality, and church order. These differences are often more deeply felt in the congregations than the traditional doctrinal differences. Nevertheless, in fidelity to the New Testament and Reformation criteria for church fellowship, we cannot discern in these differences any factors which should divide the Church.
IV. THE DECLARATION AND REALIZATION OF CHURCH FELLOWSHIP
29. In the sense intended in this Agreement, church fellowship means that, on the basis of the consensus they have reached in their understanding of the Gospel, churches with different confessional positions accord each other fellowship in word and sacrament and strive for the fullest possible co-operation in witness and service to the world.
1. Declaration of Church Fellowship
30. In assenting to this Agreement the churches, in loyalty to the confessions of faith which bind them or with due respect for their traditions, declare:
31. a) that they are at one in understanding the Gospel as set out in Parts II and III;
32. b) that in accordance with what is said in Part III the doctrinal condemnations expressed in the confessional documents no longer apply to the contemporary doctrinal position of the assenting churches;
33. c) that they accord each other table and pulpit fellowship; this includes the mutual recognition of ordination and the freedom to provide for intercelebration.
34. With these statements church fellowship is declared. The divisions which have barred the way to this fellowship since the sixteenth century are removed. The participating churches are convinced that they have part together in the one Church of Jesus Christ and that the Lord liberates them for, and lays upon them the obligation of, common service.
2. Realizing Church Fellowship
35. It is in the life of the churches and congregations that church fellowship becomes a reality. Believing in the unifying power of the Holy Spirit, they bear their witness and perform their service together, and strive to deepen and strengthen the fellowship they have found together.
36. a) Witness and Service
The preaching of the churches gains in credibility in the world when they are at one in their witness to the Gospel. The Gospel liberates and binds together the churches to render common service. Being the service of love, it turns to man in his distress and seeks to remove the causes of that distress. The struggle for justice and peace in the world increasingly demands of the churches the acceptance of a common responsibility.
37. b) The Continuing Theological Task
The Agreement leaves intact the binding force of the confessions within the participating churches. It is not to be regarded as a new confession of faith. It sets forth a consensus reached about central matters, one which makes church fellowship possible between churches of different confessional positions. In accordance with this consensus the participating churches will seek to establish a common witness and service and they pledge themselves to continue their common doctrinal discussions.
38. The common understanding of the Gospel on which church fellowship is based must be further deepened, tested in the light of the witness of Holy Scripture, and continually made relevant in the contemporary scene.
39. The churches have the task of studying further these differences of doctrine which while they do not have divisive force still persist within and between the participating churches. These include:
- hermeneutical questions concerning the understanding of Scripture, confession of faith, and Church;
- the relation between law and Gospel;
- baptismal practice;
- ministry and ordination;
- the 'two kingdom' doctrine and the doctrine of the sovereignty of Christ;
- Church and society.
At the same time newly emerging problems relating to witness and service, order and practice, have to be considered.
40. On the basis of their common heritage the churches of the Reformation must determine their attitude to trends towards theological polarization increasingly in evidence today. To some extent the problems here go beyond the doctrinal differences which were once at the basis of the Lutheran-Reformed controversy.
41. It will be the task of common theological study to testify the truth of the Gospel and to distinguish it from all distortions.
42. c) Organisational Consequences
This declaration of church fellowship does not anticipate provisions of church law on particular matters of inter-church relations or within the churches. The churches will, however, take the Agreement into account in considering such provisions.
43. As a general rule, the affirmation of pulpit and table fellowship and the mutual recognition of ordination do not affect the rules in force in the participating churches for induction to a pastoral charge, the exercise of the pastoral ministry, or the ordering of congregational life.
44. The question of organic union between particular participating churches can only be decided in the situation in which these churches live. In examining this question the following points should be kept in mind:
45. Any union detrimental to the lively plurality in styles of preaching, ways of worship, church order, and in diaconal and social action, would contradict the very nature of the church fellowship inaugura-ted by this declaration. On the other hand, in certain situations, because of the intimate connection between witness and order, the Church's service may call for formal legal unification. Where organisational consequences are drawn from this declaration, it should not be at the expense of freedom of decision in minority churches.
46. d) Ecumenical Aspects
In establishing and realising church fellowship among themselves, the participating churches do so as part of their responsibility to promote the ecumenical fellowship of all Christian churches.
47. They regard such a fellowship of churches in the European area as a contribution to this end. They hope that the ending of their previous separation will influence churches in Europe and elsewhere who are related to them confessionally. They are ready to examine with them the possibilities of wider church fellowship.
48. This hope applies equally to the relationship between the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
49. They also hope that the achievement of church fellowship with each other will provide a fresh stimulus to conference and co-operation with churches of other confessions. They affirm their readi-ness to set their doctrinal discussions within this wider context.
Copyright © for the English Translation: The United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom