Churches on the way: overcoming ecumenical challenges
Lutheran leaders conclude Rome visit which explored ways forward in theological, spiritual and practical cooperation
(LWI) - Leaders of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) have concluded a two-day visit to Rome encouraged by Pope Francis’ exhortation to continue “with passion on our journey from conflict to communion.” That passion, said LWF Assistant General Secretary Prof. Dr Dirk Lange, is lived out, both “through our solidarity with those who suffer and through a renewed commitment to deepening our doctrinal dialogues.”
The 25 June papal audience was a high point of the visit by a large LWF delegation, including representatives from the seven regions of the global communion of churches. Earlier in the day, the director of LWF’s World Service and the Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis shared a Common Vision statement, highlighting the theological and spiritual foundations of their humanitarian work and proposing a path forward for increased collaboration with local churches.
The delegation also met with Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to discuss the next steps of the Lutheran-Catholic theological dialogue. Both sides stressed the urgency of translating the Gospel in ways that remain relevant for all generations, underlining the need for ongoing formation and contextualization for both ordained and lay people. Dr Lange noted the progress represented by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) process, which brings together five global Christian communions in joint proclamation and service. “The JDDJ continues to unfold its ecumenical potential,” he said, “thus becoming an encouraging sign of what God has done and continues to do in our midst.”
Lecture on ‘synodality from Lutheran perspective’
During a public lecture at the Dominican university of St Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge explored the concepts of synodality and Christian unity from a Lutheran perspective. Synodality, he noted, is at the heart of Pope Francis’ vision for “a church on the way.” He continued: “It is a question which “challenges each one of us, not only in our spiritual life, but in the life of our ecclesial institutions and the ways in which we define and use authority and power.”
Noting that the concept of synodality “encompasses both the realm of governance and the spiritual realm,” Junge looked back at the way decision-making was practiced in the nascent Christian community. He went on to note that Martin Luther, in his day, grappled with the same issues, writing at length about the early councils and the attempts to “confess and defend the ancient faith” while listening to the Holy Spirit at work in the life of individuals and communities.
As we listen ever more carefully to the instinct of faith, to the priesthood of all believers, and to the yearning for peace and reconciliation among all peoples, our doctrinal dialogue will be transformed.
Focusing on the connections between Luther’s insistence on the priesthood of all believers and the Catholic understanding of the sensus fidei (instinct of faith in every baptized person), Junge stressed that “every Christian is called to discern the gift of the Sprit in others, leading to unity of faith, as well as growth in communion.” Every Christian, he insisted, “is equipped to walk together on this way, ever deeper into communion, living out and witnessing to God’s act of reconciliation.”
Within a “fragmented, exclusionary, adversarial, isolationist” society, Junge said, the churches are called by God to engage in a “synodal way” in order to model “dialogue and hope in the midst of political and social tension.” But, he continued, this entails “an awareness of one’s own vulnerability” and the need for “a deep reliance on the hospitality of others.”
Welcoming the deepening of collaboration between LWF World Service and the global Catholic Caritas network, Junge noted that through "our commitment to the poor and the marginalized and suffering in this world, as we listen and learn from them, we, as individuals but also as churches are transformed in that encounter.” He concluded: “As we listen ever more carefully to the instinct of faith, to the priesthood of all believers, and to the yearning for peace and reconciliation among all peoples, our doctrinal dialogue will be transformed.”