What does the text of the Leuenberg Concord contain?
After four centuries of disagreements and mutual condemnations between the Protestant denominations resulting from the Reformation, the concord of Leuenberg formalizes reconciliation and communion between the different Churches. Signed on March 16, 1973 in Europe, this text prepared since 1955 and the synod of Davos records the reconciliation between the Lutheran, Reformed branches, the Moravian brothers, the United Churches and the Waldensian Churches. The scope of Concorde will be extended over the years to the United States and the Middle East.
The Leuenberg Concord establishes full communion and a common understanding of the Gospel between the signatory Churches, which become “sister Churches”. “When in another Church we observe the authentic celebration of the preached word, the authentic celebration of the Last Supper and baptism, this Church is authentically recognized as the Church of Christ, recalls André Birmelé, pastor, theologian and author of La Concorde de Leuenberg . Fifty years of ecclesial communion (1). And this despite stories, piety or theological accents that differ according to ecclesial contexts. »
These differences are, however, recognized and further protected by the fifty-year agreement. “Concord insists on respect for ecclesial minorities”, indicates the Alsatian pastor. The text lays the foundations for the mergers of Churches, as was the case in 2013 for the United Protestant Church of France (EPUdF), arguing that they cannot be done to the detriment of the particularities of each other. “The question of an organic merger between some of the participating churches can only be decided in the situation in which these churches live,” thus asserts the Leuenberg concord. Thus, within the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine, Lutherans and Reformed have kept their own synods.
Before 1973, Lutherans and Reformed had already worked together, preparing this particular vision of unity. Under the Nazi regime, the Confessing Churches of Germany opposed to Hitler already brought together several Protestant denominations. Then, at the end of the war, national agreements had emerged in the Netherlands and France, where the theses of Lyons laid the foundations of communion in 1968.
What obstacles were removed by the Leuenberg Concord?
From the birth of the Protestant Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century, several currents appeared within Protestantism. If some are part of the teaching of Martin Luther, other theologians like the French Jean Calvin or the Swiss Huldrych Zwingli give birth to other denominations, each condemning parts of the doctrine of the other. It is mainly around three points that crystallize the tensions which will be removed by the agreement of Leuenberg, this one affirming that these condemnations “do not concern the doctrine in its current state”. First stumbling block: the double predestination taught by John Calvin. According to this doctrine, God knows even before the conception of the individual if the latter will obtain salvation or not. “It was the easiest thing to eliminate because it had not been taken up, except by the few reformed conservatives,” underlines André Birmelé.
The Leuenberg Concord also lifts the excommunications issued in matters of Christology. “The problem was the following: the finite cannot contain the infinite, the fullness of God is not in the human Christ but in Christ from Easter morning, details the theologian. This teaching was denied by the Lutherans who asserted that the fullness of God was indeed in the human-true God. A final debate agitated Protestantism, centered around the Last Supper (Eucharist) and the real presence of Christ in the host and the wine. “The dispute at the time was between Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, the latter affirming, contrary to the first and to the Roman Catholic Church, that God gives himself to his own only in the biblical word, including preaching, relates André Birmelé. And that baptism and the Last Supper are only responses from believers and not moments when God gives himself to his own as he gives himself to his own in the word. The Augustinian vision of Martin Luther will finally be taken up by the concord of Leuenberg.
What follow-up to the Leuenberg Concord?
The 1973 text explicitly calls for a continuation of theological dialogue between the different denominations. To date, 17 doctrinal agreements have been signed, concerning among other topics the common understanding of the Church, ministry, authority of Scripture, etc. But above all, the concord of Leuenberg endows the Protestant Churches with a European structure and a theological framework, through the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (Cepe). This structure is a theological institution without decision-making power – the churches being attached to their local independence.
“The agreement is in fact the beginning of a process that takes place within the Cepe and that we find every six years during the general assemblies, specifies André Birmelé. In the meantime we have an executive committee that oversees the work and works to deepen the fellowship. The Cepe also provides a framework for bilateral declarations of full communion between the different Churches and for integration into the Churches of other Christian denominations, such as with the Methodists in 1997 then, more partially, with the Anglican Communion with the Reuilly agreements in 2001. Thus, ministers of worship can freely practice in other churches.
The Leuenberg Concord has similarly enabled certain Lutheran and Reformed Churches to merge, like the EPUdF, the largest Protestant Church in France which has 250,000 members and which celebrates its 10th anniversary in May. . “It is the most direct fruit of harmony,” says André Birmelé, pastor of the EPUdF. However, the theologian regrets that unity is still prevented at European level. “The Achilles heel is that we would like to have a European Synod able to take decisions,” he adds. This choice is constantly refused by the Churches wishing to keep their autonomy and especially not to depend on a European Church. If we do not manage to go beyond this stage, there is a risk of silting up this work of communion. »