Reorienting ourselves – From Conflict to Communion

From left: Ricardo Cardinal Blázquez, President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge, Bishop Dr Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Rev. Pedro Zamora, pastor of the Spanish Evangelical Church. Photo: Pontifical University of Salamanca

LWF General Secretary Martin Junge maps out next steps in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue

(LWI) - Outcomes of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue over the past 50 years have been an “opportunity to rethink” prevailing narratives from a perspective of unity rather than highlighting differences.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge made these remarks at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain, when he gave a lecture on “Reorienting ourselves – From Conflict to Communion” at the Congress of Ecumenical Theology, hosted by the university, 8 - 10 June.

The congress concluded in a common prayer service jointly led by the LWF general secretary and Bishop Dr Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).  The service was structured around the Common Prayer accompanying the Catholic-Lutheran “From Conflict to Communion” process. The preachers included Ricardo Cardinal Blázquez, President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, and Rev. Pedro Zamora, pastor of the Spanish Evangelical Church.

Presenting his lecture, Junge noted that  Lutheran-Catholic relations  had reached a “time of transition” and pointed out areas of further engagement in the coming years. He said the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation in Lund and Malmö, Sweden, in October 2016, was one of the major milestones.

The commemoration in Lund has raised a lively interest in common liturgies both in the Lutheran as well as the Catholic churches. “This eagerness to facilitate a reception of this international dialogue is very encouraging,” Junge said. “The common liturgies install a new element in the Lutheran and Catholic collective awareness and thus help the people of God to become aware of new realities, new ways of seeing each other.”

The liturgy had been jointly developed to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. He concluded his lecture by saying that “there are no traced paths for the coming processes; this also means that it will be necessary to leave behind the paths we have traced and have become accustomed to.”

The Lund principle: “not doing separately what can be done together”

Junge said the mutual commitment by the LWF and the Catholic Church during the joint commemoration lifted up and actualized the “Lund principle” of “not doing separately what can be done together.” He said the Declaration of Intent signed by Caritas Internationalis and the LWF during the Reformation commemoration in Malmö pointed toward renewed commitment to “give a more fervent testimony of faith in the Triune God in the field of diakonia.” Joint efforts and ecumenical commitment also implied increased participation of our respective communions in the mission of God, contributing to a public presence of the church and being “a direct contribution to the building of peace” in a fragmented world.

For the people of God the unity of the church is manifested in its most direct and tangible form in the possibility of accepting the Lord's call at his table
LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge

Church, ministry and the Eucharist three main theological topics

Church, ministry and the Eucharist are the three main theological topics Junge identified for more “study, discernment and dialogue” in the coming years. He said the Joint Statement signed by Pope Francis and then LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan during the commemoration in Lund urges Catholics and Lutherans to “explore pastoral responses” regarding the separation of interdenominational couples during Eucharist.

Junge stated  his conviction that “by intertwining a theological-dogmatic debate with the prevailing pastoral realities for many communities and parishes it will be possible to redefine the theological questions that guide this discernment.” Contextual realities will “dictate the need to address this challenge, and will inspire innovative, theologically sustained, and appropriate approaches to situations requiring a pastoral response.”

He emphasized that “for the people of God the unity of the church is manifested in its most direct and tangible form in the possibility of accepting the Lord's call at his table. With this, the shared Eucharist does not appear as the final point, as the ultimate consequence in the processes of unity, but as an incentive to reach it and receive it as a gift of God.”

Amongst encouraging steps already taken, Junge named the Declaration on the Way presented by the United States Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Commission, the explorations by the Committee for Ecumenical Studies of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) and the Swedish-Finnish study exploring the practical implications for unity arising from the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

Ecumenical accountability during upcoming anniversaries

2017 marks the first of a series of anniversaries pertaining to the Reformation. These require significant “ecumenical accountability,” said  Junge,which the LWF is committed to. He referred to the 500th anniversary of the Diet of Worms in 2021, as one of the events requiring this ecumenical sensitivity. He also mentioned the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession coming up in 2030. This anniversary of the central confessional document of Lutheran churches provides huge ecumenical opportunities, also in view of deepening the Catholic-Lutheran relations.

The LWF general secretary urged his audience to remain steadfast and be courageous in their ecumenical processes, underlining that there are no set timelines for a journey from conflict to communion, nor for unity. He called for confidence and hope, recalling  that even what is not in our calendars and diaries, is already in God’s calendar. “The Joint Commemoration in 2016 is the latest evidence of this fact,” Junge added.