among four Reform & Lutheran denominations
||"God's will for creation is the unity for all things." Ephesians 1:9
Since the Leuenberg Agreement was adopted in 1973, Reformed and Lutheran
churches in Europe have shared full communion. This agreement includes Lutheran,
Reformed, United, Methodist, Hussite Church, Waldensian Church, the Church of the
Czech Brethren, and 5 South American church groups which had been founded by German
That agreement facilitated discussions among various Reformed and Lutheran
denominations in the United States. Meetings started in 1962. Initially included were:
||A number of Lutheran denominations who trace their ancestry back to Martin Luther.
||The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Reformed Church in America,
whose history goes back to the teachings of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli.
||The United Church of Christ which "has roots in both the
Reformed...and the Lutheran tradition... One of the UCC's ancestors—the Evangelical
Synod of the West—was founded by Lutheran and Reformed immigrants from Germany."
Key events in the discussions were: 3
||1962-1966: A series of meetings resulted in the "Marburg
Revisited" document. It concluded that there are "...no insuperable
obstacles to pulpit and altar fellowship" among the denominations.|
||1972-1974: Another round of discussions concluded "that
declarations of church fellowship should be dealt with on a church-to-church body basis."|
||1981-1983: A third round prepared a joint statement "Invitation
to Action." This included agreement on a number of issues: justification, the
Lord's Supper and ministry. The document was eventually adopted by the Presbyterian
Church(USA), the Reformed Church in America, The Association of Evangelical Lutheran
Churches, the American Lutheran Church and the United Church of Christ.
The Lutheran Church in America did not adopt the document, but rather called for
||1987: The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, The
American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America merged to form
the largest Lutheran body in the U.S.: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
||1988-1992: The Lutheran-Reformed Committee for Theological
Conversations prepared a report "A Common Calling: The Witness of Our
Reformation Churches in North America Today." The committee recommended that:
declare that they are in full communion with each other. This required:
"that they recognize each other as churches in which the Gospel is rightly
preached and the sacraments rightly administered according to the Word of God;
- that they withdraw any historic condemnation by one side or the other as
inappropriate for the faith and life of our churches today;
- that they continue to recognize each other's Baptism and authorize and encourage the
sharing of the Lord's Supper among their members;
- that they recognize each others' various ministries and make provision for the
orderly exchange of ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament;
- that they establish appropriate channels of consultation and decision-making within
the existing structures of the churches;
- that they commit themselves to an ongoing process of theological dialogue in order
to clarify further the common understanding of the faith and foster its common expression
in evangelism, witness, and service;
that they pledge themselves to living together under the Gospel in such a way that
the principle of mutual affirmation and admonition becomes the basis of a trusting
relationship in which respect and love for the other will have a chance to grow."
||1997: The four denominations voted on "A Formula of
Agreement...on Entering into Full Communion on the Basis of 'A Common Calling.'
" The Formula recognized that there have been mutual criticisms in the past,
that the churches have reached a consensus on many key key doctrines, but that the
churches continue to have different emphasis on some matters. "The churches know
these stated intentions will challenge their self-understandings, their ways of living and
acting, their structures, and even their general ecclesial ethos. The churches commit
themselves to keep this legitimate concern of their capacity to enter into full communion
at the heart of their new relation."
||On 1997-JUL-18 the RCA General Synod was the first denomination to
approve of the agreement. A voice vote of 250 delegates included only a few negative
responses. They also passed a resolution which mentioned that the three Reformed churches
were already in "full table and pulpit fellowship, by virtue of Reformed
polity and the fellowship shared through membership in the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches." (Actually, this resolution is in error, because free exchange of
ministers among the churches does not exist yet. Non-celibate gay and lesbian ministers of
the UCC are not, at this time, able to preach in churches of the other denominations.)
||On 1997-JUN-19, the PC-USA General Assembly voted 489 to 38 to recommend full
communion to its presbyteries.
||On 1997-JUL-5, a committee of the UCC unanimously approved the Formula. In
keeping with their denominational motto "That We May All be One," their
General Synod voted by a wide margin (about 690 to 10) to adopt full communion.
||On 1997-AUG-18 , ELCA voted 839 to 193 in favor of the proposal at their Churchwide
||By 1998-MAR-11, a majority of the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
had voted to ratify the agreement which was passed by their General Assembly. 7
On 1998-OCT-4, "in one of the most inspiring ecumenical events of the century,
more than 2,000 crowded into Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago campus to
celebrate the new relationship of full communion between four Lutheran and Reformed
churches." The liturgy for the service was based on a joint document titled:
"Guidelines for Celebration of the Sacraments in Settings of Shared Worship,"
Eugene Turner, is responsible for ecumenical relations within the Presbyterian Church
(USA). He said that that the Formula of Agreement will lead to closer cooperation
and unity within Protestant denominations. It shows that denominational barriers among
churches continue to be lowered.
What "Full Communion" Means:
Full communion is not a plan to merge. The separate denominations continue to exit. The
agreement does commit the churches to share in their mission to work locally and
internationally and to develop procedures whereby clergy in one church body may serve as
pastor in a church of another church body. The individual denominations will remain free
to disagree on various issues. Rev. Frank Dietz of Texas, chair of the UCC's Council
on Ecumenism, commented "The Formula doesn't decide everything in advance.
It creates a foundation on which the four churches will build. Issues will be resolved as
we live our life together." 5
Two of the most troublesome disagreements among the partners in full communion are:
||The nature of Christ's presence at the Lord's table:
believe that Christ is physically present. John Thomas, the UCC's ecumenical officer,
explained: "The Reformed concern was that this perspective, if pushed too far,
could reduce God to the finite. So the Reformed stressed the sovereignty of God and the
Spirit's role in drawing the believer to Christ. But Lutherans were uneasy that this
perspective, if pushed too far, might remove Christ entirely from the Table. So we
discovered that there was truth on the other side. We said to each other: Your truth, if
held apart from our truth, is incomplete, and our truth also is incomplete without yours.
Lutherans remind the church of God's descent in Christ into the midst of human life. The
Reformed remind the church of the Spirit's power to unite us in Christ." 5
||Homosexual clergy: The UCC permits sexually active lesbians and gays, including
those in committed relationships, to be ordained. However, not all congregations allow
this. The other three denominations require that homosexual candidates for ordination
first give a pledge of celibacy. Since each denomination still retains their ordination
standards, actively gay and lesbian UCC clergy will probably not be allowed to serve in
congregations of the other three churches.