Wait, Wait… concluded

Posted on Posted in Theology

So we’ve established that reconciliation between churches is possible if 1) there was a misunderstanding or 2) there were different traditions with a church. The third possibility that lies before us is change.

Change is famously alarming to churches and church people; but it’s a constant of church life and not good or bad in itself. Some change is good, the work of the Holy Spirit who “will guide you into all truth,” as Jesus said in John 16:13. Some change is bad, turning to a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). It’s the content of the change that requires assessment, not the fact of change.

An example of a change leading to church reconciliation can be found in the Leuenberg Agreement (1973), which laid out the basic parameters for fellowship between Lutheran and Reformed churches in Europe. One of the three major points it addressed was predestination, which used to be a dividing point between Lutherans and Reformed.

In §25, the Leuenberg Agreement says: “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.”

This is, in fact, exactly the opposite of what Reformed churches following Calvin taught in the 16th century. The Reformed churches of today have changed: they no longer believe in “double predestination,” and thus there is no longer any disagreement with the Lutherans.

It is interesting to note that this change of opinion was not the result of a “Lutheran” victory, but the influence of the Reformed theologian Karl Barth in his own church. And it wasn’t a matter of “giving up” something precious to an outsider but a deepening and maturing in theological understanding.

So if there’s been a cleared-up misunderstanding, or a decisive choice for one particular tradition out of several competitors, or a change, it’s possible for previously separated churches to say:

“[T]he doctrinal condemnations expressed in the confessional documents no longer apply to the contemporary doctrinal position of the assenting churches” (Leuenberg Agreement §32.b); or

“In light of this consensus, the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century do not apply to today’s partner” (The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification §2.13).

3 thoughts on “Wait, Wait… concluded

  1. Thanks so much for taking us along on your hike (at least via the net)! The whole idea is interesting.

    And sharing your thoughts on ecumenism as you make your way is much appreciated. The comments today on the Leuenberg Agreement are particularly helpful. But the good work of those working in the ecumenical field puts a challenge to us layfolk to receive intelligently. A tough hike with plenty of rainstorms along the way, just as with your hike through Bavaria.

  2. It seems your journey is not one to discover the ecumenism, if it exists in the doctrine of justification, between the Lutherans (and Reformed Churches) and official Roman Catholic teaching but, rather, to celebrate it. What is the official Lutheran position today among the various synods, etc? It seems we are left to examining apples and oranges unless we confine our discussion to the words of scripture alone.

  3. I wouldn’t be walking this far if I didn’t think ecumenism were something to celebrate! That doesn’t mean every piece is of equal value, but in my experience ecumenism is not lacking in detractors. Its positive contributions are less known beyond generically overcoming prejudice.

    I don’t think we can talk about the faith confined to words of Scripture alone, in the sense of just repeating them. As the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness teaches us, even the devil can quote Scripture! It matters what it means and how we understand it. Scripture is the source and norm of faith, but not the end of discussion, or we are just parrots repeating, and all our theology, hymns, prayers, etc are pointless.

    However the Joint Declaration does have a very extensive first section on the Scriptural witness on justification, and continually quotes Scripture throughout the document, so you can follow the biblical discussion in it that way.

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