Named the Leuenberg Agreement after the meeting place near Basel where the discussions took place, the text was finalized on 16 March 1973. It provided the theological basis for the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), through which the signatories committed themselves to common witness and service in Europe.
The agreement declared that the mutual condemnations from the Reformation era between Lutheran and Reformed no longer applied to the present day doctrinal positions of the signatory churches, and stated that these churches now shared “church fellowship,” sometimes called ecclesial communion.
“This has been an important step in our common quest for visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe,” .WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay said in a letter to the CPCE executive president, Rev. Dr John Bradbury, and general secretary Rev. Dr Mario Fischer.
Since 1973, the Leuenberg Agreement has been signed by 104 churches, including six in Latin America, and seven European Methodist churches belong to the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe as a result of a joint declaration between the CPCE and the European Methodist Council – though the actual number of CPCE members is now 95 as a result of church unions, mergers, or territorial reorganization.
The agreement has been an important impetus in many parts of Europe for bringing Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches together, and has been followed by other regional and national agreements between Lutheran and Reformed churches in many parts of the world.
Through its secretariat for Faith in Order and its director, the late Rev. Dr Lukas Vischer, the WCC was directly involved in convening the final stage of the discussions that led to the agreement.
Those involved in reaching the Leuenberg Agreement included one of Pillay’s predecessors as WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, who was then a young study secretary in Faith and Order, having first joined the WCC staff in 1969.
Now living in retirement in Berlin, Raiser said that those involved in the Leuenberg discussions that led to the declaration of church fellowship knew that they were introducing a new model in the ecumenical search for the unity of the church.
“Unity in the sense of church fellowship is rooted in the common understanding and affirmation of the message of the gospel in word and sacrament. It does not mean complete unanimity and full consensus in all matters of faith and order,” said Raiser.
“The different forms that churches take are themselves a reflection of historical experiences and challenges. They remain open to change,” he continued.
In this context, Raiser pointed out that the WCC has proposed the image of the pilgrimage in describing the search for the visible unity of the churches.
“Behind this idea lies the insight that unity as a living fellowship of churches is a process that cannot be finished, since the ultimate goal is the coming of the kingdom of God,” he said. “On this path together, the churches are called to encourage and to call one another to deepen fellowship among themselves.”
WCC general secretary’s letter to the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe