Study course „Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg 2021!”

Invitation to a new study course in the form of a webinar from October 4-9, 2021

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation,

The Institute for Ecumenical Research has established a new study course for Lutheran pastors and advanced students that will be held from October 4 – 9, 2021, as an online-event. The seminar is meant to contribute to a specific aspect of the self-understanding of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF): “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.” This is a commitment that is not fulfilled automatically, rather it calls for serious efforts in order to honor it. The study course has three main goals:

Firstly, the LWF has an ecumenical history of more than 60 years with several historic achievements like the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the LWF and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999, the reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites at the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart in 2010, and the historic ecumenical prayer service in Lund with Pope Francis and the leaders of LWF in commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation in 2016. The basic events and documents of this history should be transmitted to the younger generation of Lutheran pastors and theologians so that what has been achieved can continue to influence the relations between the churches involved. Unfortunately, ecumenism is not very often taught at the universities or seminaries where Lutherans are educated. The Strasbourg Institute has been involved in all these ecumenical processes, and it is committed to hand over the knowledge of the ecumenical dialogues to as many Lutheran pastors and students as possible. The teaching and studying will include the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification, The Apostolicity of the Church, From Conflict to Communion (documents with respect to the Roman Catholic Church), the Leuenberg Agreement (with respect to the Reformed Churches), Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ (with respect to the Mennonites), Lutheran-Orthodox and Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogues.

Secondly, the participants of the seminar will be asked to report about the relation between the churches in their respective countries. In hearing and discussing these reports, concepts and tools will be developed to describe and analyse the ecumenical situations in their countries. Bringing the contemporary experience of the LWF member churches into a dialogue with the insights and experience of LWF’s ecumenical history will allow for developing and proposing steps for a rapprochement between churches in the countries of the participants.

Thirdly, the seminar will take six days with a maximum of 20 participants. This will give the rare opportunity for the participants coming from very different contexts in the South and in the North, the East and the West to enter into a very intense transcultural dialogue about ecumenical theology and practice. This dialogue will be a major contribution to communion building within LWF.

We kindly ask you to identify appropriate persons of whom you might expect that participating in the seminar will benefit themselves and your church. Please consider the following requirements:

  • very good knowledge of English, since the study course is held in English
  • well-founded theological education
  • endorsement of the leadership of your church
  • pastors with some years of parish experience or advanced students with special knowledge in Lutheran theology

A certificate will be delivered upon successful participation.

Please note that participants are expected to be present for the whole time of the study course, which will take place as a webinar.

Please find attached the application form that should be returned to us as soon as possible, but not later than July 31, 2021. Due to the limited funds we have to ask the churches in North America and Western and Northern Europe to cover the costs or to subsidize their participants. The fees for participating are Euro 100,- for the whole week.

Further information about the program and technical details will be communicated after the registration deadline.

We kindly ask for your understanding if not all applications can be acceped. The number of participants is limited to 20 persons.

We ask for your cooperation, and we hope that this webinar will be of interest for your church.

Best wishes and greetings from Strasbourg,

Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth
(Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research)

Application form to be downloaded here

Matthieu Arnold elected correspondent of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres

Matthieu Arnold, professor of modern history at the Faculty of Protestant Theology of the University of Strasbourg, has been a close cooperation partner of the Institute for Ecumenical Research for many years. In March 2021, he received a special award, which we would like to briefly report here. We congratulate Matthieu Arnold on the award and wish him all the best and continued success for his future research work!

On behalf of the entire staff
Jennifer Wasmuth
Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research

Matthieu Arnold has been elected Correspondent of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres at the end of March 2021. This is a special honor for the theologian, who is particularly interested in the Reformers.
After graduating from high school with a focus on mathematics, Matthieu Arnold studied Protestant theology in Strasbourg and at the Institute of European History in Mainz; he earned his doctorate in 1994 and became a pastor first in Strasbourg and then in Baerenthal (Lorraine). “I enjoyed my studies so much that I decided to continue my research for the habilitation while working as a pastor.” In 1997, he obtained a position as professor of modern and contemporary Christian history at the Faculty of Protestant Theology in Strasbourg, where he heads the research group in modern history.

A French anthology of texts from the Strasbourg Reformation.
His work concerns two periods: First, the beginning of the Reformation through the study of the main reformers. Together with the theologian Marc Lienhard, Matthieu Arnold has led the publication of Martin Luther’s works in the “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade” (1999 and 2017). This involves more than 80 texts. ” Since 1995, I have also been working on the publication of the correspondence in original language of Strasbourg’s Martin Bucer, also a 16th-century reformer. He is a pioneer of ecumenism whose writing is very difficult to read.”

Currently Matthieu Arnold is working on a French anthology of Strasbourg Reformation texts, including writings by Catherine Zell that have not yet been published in French. Some of his sources lie dormant in the Strasbourg city archives. Another period particularly interests Matthieu Arnold: the first half of the 20th century and the study of Protestant thinkers such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, resistance fighter during the Third Reich, and Albert Schweitzer, whose “Years in Alsace” he has studied.
For him, his election as French correspondent of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres is a recognition of both his work and his research group at the Faculty of Protestant Theology.

“This proves that the Faculty of Protestant Theology has its place in academia; this election is both a personal pleasure and a broader recognition,” says the researcher, who is already looking forward to regularly attending Académie meetings and thus being in contact with scholars from many exciting fields. “I hope this can lead to new collaborations.”

L’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres
The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres was founded by Colbert in 1663 and is one of the five academies of the Institut de France. Its aim is to develop and promote research through the prizes it awards in various fields of history, archaeology, art history, philology and linguistics, literature, intellectual history and related disciplines (epigraphy, numismatics, diplomacy, etc.). It publishes high level works. It consists of two categories of members elected for life: correspondents and academics – “the latter wear the green habit,” says the researcher. Every four to five years, depending on vacancies, the contingent of 50 French correspondents is renewed by the election of eight new members. “You never ask for it yourself, you are proposed by one or more academics. The correspondents do not take part in the election; they represent, so to speak, the antechamber of the Academy,” Matthieu Arnold explains, adding that the Academy publishes the oldest scientific journal still in existence, the Journal des savants, founded in 1665.

Introduction of Faith Kokubelwa Lugazia

I am Rev. Prof. Faith Kokubelwa Lugazia from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania-North-Western Diocese.
I am an Alumni of Luther Seminary Minnesota, in the USA. There I took Masters and PhD on the doctrine of Pneumatology.
Currently, I work with the Lutheran World Federation as Thirteenth “Assembly Content Coordinator”. My task is to coordinate the contents of the theme and subtheme of the assembly. As the theme and subthemes focusing on the trinitarian God, who now and then insists for the unity (John 17:21), I will work corroboratively with the LWF Ecumenical Institute at Strasbourg-France because they are experts in expressing the unity which God aspires. I look forward to witnessing the fruitation of the Thirteenth Assembly of the LWF in God’s creation in multi transformative ways.

My academic research works are documented as chapters in a book or topics in journals.
I am married to Joeivan Kataraia and we are blessed with two lovely sons.

Section Day of the Lutheran Section of the Lippe Regional Church

On April 26, the Institute’s staff was invited to the online Section Day of the Lutheran Section of the Lippe Regional Church at the suggestion of Superintendent Dr. Andreas Lange. We had the opportunity to present our Institute and our work in the worship service through a video. The collection – also collected online – was for the roof renovation in Strasbourg and yielded 1380 €. We would like to thank all donors for this overwhelming contribution in solidarity with us!

The content of the Section Day also focused on the question “Can we also celebrate the Lord’s Supper in digital services?” Prof. em. Michael Weinrich, University of Bochum, himself a synod member of the Lippische Landeskirche, introduced the questions and, in view of the unresolved issues, cautiously pleaded for a “communion fast”. He also pointed out that the sacrament is not automatically self-explanatory, and that the connections between Cross, Resurrection and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper can no longer be recalled from the collective memory under the present circumstances of a “postmodern Gnosticism”. Also exciting was the subsequent discussion, in which it became clear how differently the individual congregations deal with the topic.

Watch our video (in German only):

Holy Communion in times of digitalization

Holy Communion is currently a hot topic under discussion, specifically whether and in what way digital celebrations may be and should be enacted. At the Institute, Dr. Frank Zeeb (associate research professor since October 2020), is primarily concerned to investigate this question within the framework of a study project using methods of New Testament exegesis, dogmatics and communication sciences.

According to Augsburg Confession article VII, one of the fundamental characteristics of the Church is that in her the “sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” Therefore, it is always worthwhile to consider Holy Communion in light of the Gospel. It is certainly more than a coincidence that this sacrament is currently being discussed fiercely along two lines: On the one hand, in the Protestant-Catholic dialogue (in view of the question whether it is possible for Protestant and Catholic Christians to celebrate Holy Communion / Eucharist together), and on the other hand, whether digital celebrations of Holy Communion are permissible.

This question has arisen again and again in some German regional churches for several years, mainly on the occasion of individual pastors inviting people to participate “in front of your screen” in television services of smaller broadcasting companies or unofficial channels. This invitation is usually justified by the fact that the congregation in front of the screen is a congregation in the full sense of the term, and that the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper is a gift of God and the Holy Spirit, who is effective “when and where it pleases God,” i.e., potentially also on virtual media.

In view of the pandemic that emerged a few weeks before Easter last year, with its restrictions on in-person contact, the question became highly relevant in a new way. Many people demanded en masse that an appropriate celebration of the Passion should include a celebration of the Lord’s Supper; a “fast from the Lord’s Supper” was out of the question for them. Pastors not infrequently declared themselves willing for pastoral reasons to conduct, permit or at least tolerate a digital celebration of the Lord’s Supper. According to a representative survey by the Evangelische Arbeitsstelle für missionarische Kirchenentwicklung und diakonische Profilbildung (midi), digital communion was celebrated in 12% of the congregations. The attitude of the official pronouncements of church leaders was inconsistent.

What emerged under high time pressure during the Passion season a year ago now needs to be theologically considered and evaluated to develop a well-argued position. Several questions – among many others – seem paramount:

  • What does “in accordance with the institution” mean in this context?
  • Is there a definition of “emergency” that justifies new and deviant forms?
  • In what way is Christ present in bread and wine and what does this mean for a digital celebration?
  • How does the “communion that Christ Himself establishes” occur when it is gathered in different places and does not meet physically?
  • How can the gift character be preserved in virtual contexts?
  • Is it constitutive that communion guests receive the consecrated elements, or can the consecrating words be related to an “idea” of bread and wine that materializes in different places in the bread or wine present there respectively?
  • Under what circumstances can a “self-communion” be permissible?
  • Which media are suitable for such a celebration, which are not?
  • How can the temporal unity of the celebration be preserved?
  • How can we prevent communion celebrations from being led by persons who are not properly called to do so?

After an initial review of the discussion and the literature that has appeared since then, the questions should be examined under aspects of Biblical exegesis, Christology, and communication science. A careful and thoughtful debate seems urgently needed at the crucial core of ecclesiology, lest we rashly create facts and legal norms that may be theologically questionable.


It was with great shock we discovered that in several places in our building, even on different floors, water staining and moisture damage has occurred. Investigation quickly revealed that the cause was the roof. Therefore, renovation work on the roof of the building is urgently required and must be done in the current year of 2021 – our building will not be able to fulfill its tasks under a roof that cannot provide shelter due to structural defects. And further hesitation would be irresponsible, as the damage must be repaired before winter before it gets worse.

All in all, the cost estimates that have been obtained are in the range of as much as nearly € 100,000 — an almost insurmountable task that yet must be tackled. Please contact us if you can help in any way. If you wish, we will be happy to mention your support on the Institute’s website; financial support may be tax deductible under the tax laws of your home state.

Donations are welcome to the following bank account:
IBAN: 76 3008 7330 0900 0102 8300 193

Establishing of “Strasbourg Society for Ecumenical Theology”

The “Strasbourg Society for Ecumenical Theology” was founded as a support association for the Institute. Its goals are directed towards the idealistic and material promotion of our Institute as well as improved communication with the supporters of our work. At the founding meeting, Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth (Chairperson of the Board) and Ms. Elke Leypold were elected to the Board of the Society, Mr. Fritz Schroth was elected as Deputy Chairperson, and Dr. Frank Zeeb was appointed as Managing Director. The process for recognition as a “e.V.” is currently underway, which is a prerequisite for the society to be recognised as “non-profit” according to German law.

You can find the statutes of the society and a membership form (in German) at …

Study course 2021Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg!

Invitation to a new study course in the form of a webinar from October 4-9, 2021

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation,

The Institute for Ecumenical Research has established a new study course for Lutheran pastors and advanced students that will be held from October 4 – 9, 2021, as an online-event. The seminar is meant to contribute to a specific aspect of the self-understanding of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF): “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.” This is a commitment that is not fulfilled automatically, rather it calls for serious efforts in order to honor it. The study course has three main goals:

Firstly, the LWF has an ecumenical history of more than 60 years with several historic achievements like the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the LWF and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999, the reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites at the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart in 2010, and the historic ecumenical prayer service in Lund with Pope Francis and the leaders of LWF in commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation in 2016. The basic events and documents of this history should be transmitted to the younger generation of Lutheran pastors and theologians so that what has been achieved can continue to influence the relations between the churches involved. Unfortunately, ecumenism is not very often taught at the universities or seminaries where Lutherans are educated. The Strasbourg Institute has been involved in all these ecumenical processes, and it is committed to hand over the knowledge of the ecumenical dialogues to as many Lutheran pastors and students as possible. The teaching and studying will include the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification, The Apostolicity of the Church, From Conflict to Communion (documents with respect to the Roman Catholic Church), the Leuenberg Agreement (with respect to the Reformed Churches), Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ (with respect to the Mennonites), Lutheran-Orthodox and Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogues.

Secondly, the participants of the seminar will be asked to report about the relation between the churches in their respective countries. In hearing and discussing these reports, concepts and tools will be developed to describe and analyse the ecumenical situations in their countries. Bringing the contemporary experience of the LWF member churches into a dialogue with the insights and experience of LWF’s ecumenical history will allow for developing and proposing steps for a rapprochement between churches in the countries of the participants.

Thirdly, the seminar will take six days with a maximum of 20 participants. This will give the rare opportunity for the participants coming from very different contexts in the South and in the North, the East and the West to enter into a very intense transcultural dialogue about ecumenical theology and practice. This dialogue will be a major contribution to communion building within LWF.

We kindly ask you to identify appropriate persons of whom you might expect that participating in the seminar will benefit themselves and your church. Please consider the following requirements:

  • very good knowledge of English, since the study course is held in English
  • well-founded theological education
  • endorsement of the leadership of your church
  • pastors with some years of parish experience or advanced students with special knowledge in Lutheran theology

A certificate will be delivered upon successful participation.

Please note that participants are expected to be present for the whole time of the study course, which will take place as a webinar.

Please find attached the application form that should be returned to us as soon as possible, but not later than July 31, 2021. Due to the limited funds we have to ask the churches in North America and Western and Northern Europe to cover the costs or to subsidize their participants. The fees for participating are Euro 100,- for the whole week.

Further information about the program and technical details will be communicated after the registration deadline.

We kindly ask for your understanding if not all applications can be acceped. The number of participants is limited to 20 persons.

We ask for your cooperation, and we hope that this webinar will be of interest for your church.

Best wishes and greetings from Strasbourg,

Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth
(Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research)

Application form to be downloaded here

Andrei Aioanei, scholarship holder of the Institute

My name is Aioanei Andrei, and I’m a graduate of Orthodox Theology at the A.I. Cuza University of Iaşi (Romania). During my four-year bachelor studies in Old Testament theology at the University of Iasi, I have developed a keen interest in studying ancient Near Eastern societies. With determination and enthusiasm, I wanted to continue to explore the interactions between them, especially since recent sciences can offer many discoveries. Currently, I’m a student in the second year of the Master’s program “Religious reference texts: contexts, issues, and reception” at the Faculty of Protestant Theology of the University of Strasbourg. My Master’s thesis project, co-supervised by Prof. R. Hunziker-Rodewald (Strasbourg) and Dr. A. Aston (Oxford), is dedicated to interpreting Old Testament traditions from the 1st millennium BC. For the future, I want to continue with a thesis at the doctoral school and to commit myself to interdisciplinary research between theology and anthropology. Another point of interest for me is my research’s ecumenical implications and how it could contribute to various ecumenical issues.

Presentation of Dr. Frank Zeeb

Dr. Frank Zeeb studied Protestant theology and ancient Oriental Studies. He received his doctorate from the Faculty of Philosophy in Münster in 2001 with a thesis on ancient Babylonian economic texts from northern Syria. After a period in parish ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg, he was head of department for theology, worship, church and society in the department “Theology and Worldwide Church” in the Church office in Stuttgart from 2009-2020. In addition to the Old Testament and linguistics, his main focus and research interests are liturgy and church history in the Upper German region.

Frank Zeeb is a member of the Liturgical Committee of the United Evangelical Church and delegate of the Evangelical Church in Germany  in “Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland” (Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany) on the federal level. Since 2020 he has been working at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. He focuses on the question of the content and design of the Holy Communion in the postmodern-media society.

54th International Ecumenical Seminar 2021

Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue: Similarities and Differences

Modern societies are pluralistic – not only, but also, in a religious sense. The three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in particular often occur within the same countries and live together. In addition, there are differences between groups within the respective religions. Classical ecumenism in the Christian domain is concerned with denominational divisions and seeks to overcome them. But Judaism, Islam and Buddhism also have internal divisions that are often fought out in bitter quarrels, as in Christianity.

How can conflicts be overcome in the coexistence of different currents within a religion or different religions within an area? Is it possible to build a bridge between Christian ecumenical work and other intrareligious dialogues, such as within Islam? Are ecumenical models of unity and methods transferable to interreligious dialogues?

Special times require special measures: Due to the current pandemic situation, we are breaking new ground with this seminar and will therefore offer it as online-Seminar. The lectures of internationally renowned speakers, who belong to different denominations and religions, will therefore take place in digital form.

The core of our summer seminar is the exchange between participants from many parts of the world and intensive discussion of the lectures. To make this possible even under unusual conditions, we will offer alternative ways of working and dialogue formats.  Especially in times of necessary distance, we would like to enable intensive conversation in order to appreciate ecumenism and interreligious dialogue for what they are: understanding among nations and building peace.

More detailed information about the program and the technical requirements will be announced in time.


The conference language is English.


Due to the pandemis situation, the Seminar 2021 will be held as an online event. The cost for online-participation is € 150,-.

Financial support may be granted through the participants’ home churches or other institutions. We encourage participants to contact their church leaders in this regard. – As in previous years, a part of participant fees is used to cover the cost of participants who are not able to pay the seminar fees.


From July 5  to July 10, 2021.

Registration and Information

Registration until May 31, 2021.
Postal address: 8, rue Gustave Klotz, F – 67000 Strasbourg
Conference office: Ms. Elke Leypold,

Download the flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-21

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2020 “Zoominar”

2020 would have marked the twelfth seminar co-taught by the Institute’s Profs. Theodor Dieter (Strasbourg) and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Tokyo) in Wittenberg, a full-immersion experience for participants from around the world. Just as with so many other live events, this one had to be postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic.

However, thanks to the innovative thinking of Pr. Inken Wöhlbrand and her colleagues at the LWB Zentrum in Wittenberg, the original plan pivoted: graduates of the program, which now number over 200, were invited to join an online “refresher” version of the seminar. The response was very strong and 22 alumni joined in.

Dieter and Wilson recorded ten hours of lectures on Luther’s key writings in advance of the seminar. Participants had access to these videos several weeks in advance. Then, during the middle two weeks of November 2020, the participants—split into two groups in order to accommodate the extremely wide range of time zones—met every day for an hour and a half on Zoom with one or the other of the professors.

The live sessions were very fruitful. They began with an opportunity from each participant to share from their context; then, the professors answered questions sent in advance based on the lectures and readings. A 20–30 minute session followed in the breakout rooms to allow participants more personal discussion on a smaller scale. At the end, final questions were gathered up and answered. Each session began and ended with prayer.

All in all, the experience surprised all participants at how well it worked. Although many have become a little tired of online “meetings,” the structure of these seminars was excellent and engagement was high. Of course, all the participants had already been in Wittenberg for a live two-week course, so they had a basis of familiarity from which to work. However, few of the participants had been in each other’s particular seminar, and the professors personally had taught only about half the participants. Thus it was all the more surprising that each group “gelled” so well. The only complaint was that each day’s session ended too soon!

While live seminars are still much to be preferred, the success of this Zoominar was so great that the LWB Zentrum staff and the Institute professors are discussing ways to use their 10 hours of video material in other settings and to pioneer other courses for other groups. Stay tuned for updates!




News from the Institute for Ecumenical Research

“The angel of the Lord touched Elijah and said, ‘Get up and eat! For you have a long way to go.” (I Kings 19:7)
(Monthly verse for July 2020 from the Ecumenical Bible Reading)

We hope that you are well and have been able to stay healthy through the time of the corona epidemic so far!

Since the strict exit restrictions in Strasbourg have been relaxed and it has become possible again to cross the German-French border without any problems, we have again opened the Institute. Slowly our daily work routine resumes.

The time in the home office was well used for our various research projects. Nevertheless, the corona epidemic has also confronted us with new questions. They concern in particular the digital age and the many new forms of church internet presence that have been observed in recent weeks and months. How can these be classified theologically? What do they mean ecumenically?

We have once again come to appreciate the technical achievements which, even in these times, have allowed us to keep channels of communication open and stay in touch over long distances. We therefore want to make better use of these possibilities for our seminars and plan to offer online courses in the near future.

However, these cannot be a substitute for personal contact. We therefore regret that the planned 54th International Summer Seminar could not take place this year, but we look forward all the more to the International Summer Seminar next year. The date has already been set: It will take place from 6 to 12 July 2021, and the theme will be: “Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue – Similarities and Differences”. You will find further information on our homepage in fall.

With all good wishes – stay safe!

On behalf of the whole team,


Jennifer Wasmuth

The Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism 2020 Awarded to Three Winners

Harding Meyer, a leading figure in the ecumenical movement of the past fifty years, passed away in December 2018. He had a decisive influence on the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, and many methodological approaches of contemporary ecumenism can be traced back to him, such as reconciled diversity, differentiating consensus, and so on.
In order to continue to promote his ecumenical approaches, Harding Meyer’s widow Dagmar zur Nedden in collaboration with the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg has sponsored the Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism. The prize is to be awarded every two years and has a value of 3000 EUR. For the 2020 prize, ten outstanding works were submitted by applicants from different countries and different Christian traditions. Three of them each received a prize of 3000 EUR. These three works are important contributions to Catholic-Lutheran dialogue as well as to intra-Protestant dialogue, continuing Harding Meyer’s methodological approaches.

The work of Mennonite theologian Anne Cathy Graber (France), entitled: Marie. Une lecture comparée de Redemptoris Mater (Johannes Paul II) et du Commentaire du Magnificat (Luther) (Mary: A Study Comparing John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater and Luther’s Commentary on the Magnificat in Light of Ecumenical Dialogues) (2017), draws on Harding Meyer’s methodological approaches, explaining that in many traditionally controversial questions of Mariology there is a differentiating consensus, even if some areas still need further clarification.

The work of the German Protestant theologian Jan Gross, Pluralität als Herausforderung. Die Leuenberger Konkordie als Vermittlungsmodell reformatorischer Kirchen in Europa (Plurality as a Challenge: The Leuenberg Agreement as a Mediation Model for Reformation Churches in Europe) (2018), is dedicated to the Lutheran-Reformed dialogue in Europe. Gross shows how Harding Meyer’s approaches not only marked the emergence of the Leuenberg Agreement; they also shaped the realization of church fellowship in the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE).

The work of the Roman Catholic theologian Jakob Karl Rinderknecht (USA), Mapping the Differentiated Consensus of the Joint Declaration (2016), offers a differentiating analysis of the Joint Declaration and the controversy it triggered. Harding Meyer was the author of the first draft of the Joint Declaration. In this work, the method of differentiating consensus is explained and further developed in terms of language theory.

The Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism is normally awarded during the international summer seminar organized by the Institute for Ecumenical Research each year. Due to the current pandemic, the award ceremony will take place during the Summer Seminar in 2022.

The next call for applications for the award will be published in summer 2021 (application from September 1, 2021, until February 15, 2022). Information and applications should be sent to: Institute for Ecumenical Research, 8 rue Gustave-Klotz, F 67000 Strasbourg (; keyword: Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism).

The Summer Seminar 2020 will not take place

The international Summer Seminar on “Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue: Similarities and Differences” unfortunately will not take place this year due to the current coronavirus pandemic. We would like to thank all those interested for their lively response, as well as our speakers for their commitment and willingness to help shape the seminar and make it a valuable experience for all.
Since the seminar topic was in demand from many sides and is of continuing relevance to our time, we are making efforts to offer the topic in the future. But since we cannot do so in 2020, as a “bridge” until the next seminar, we will offer smaller writings on the topic in consultation with and in cooperation with the originally planned speakers. These will be available on our homepage from the time of the seminar. We will let you know when they’re up in a future message.

With good wishes for your health and all blessings,  greetings from

Your team at the Institute for Ecumenical Research

Sacramental Communion in the Time of Pandemic

What most unites us as churches at present is abstinence from gathering for worship: services are forbidden in many places. The celebration of Holy Communion is suspended. The Corona pandemic forces us to behave in a way that fundamentally contradicts us as churches. We are no longer allowed to invite people to worship but must close the doors to the people. We are no longer allowed to gather together but must keep our distance from each other.

In such a situation, the question arises how we can pass on the Gospel, which we perhaps especially need right now, and especially how we can celebrate the communion in the Body of Christ given to us in the Lord’s Supper when we are denied any form of physical communion.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Lange has formulated some thoughts on this in a blog. We find them so important and stimulating that we would like to link to them here. After all, could it not really be, as Dirk Lange put it, that we are invited in this time of pandemic “into the spiritual discipline of trust, waiting, vigilance, hope, and a deep desire to be united in community”?

The blog can be found at


News from the Institute for Ecumenical Research

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1,7)

The corona epidemic has hit us at the Institute for Ecumenical Research also, unexpectedly and with drastic consequences: Since rigid measures have been imposed in Strasbourg to contain the pandemic, we have had to temporarily close the Institute.

After weeks of intensive travel and planning, we are now faced with the need to cancel events and postpone projects. At the moment, the state is imposing severe restrictions on our movements: even going beyond our own doorstep must be justified.

In this situation we learn once again to appreciate what all our work is aimed at: an ecumenical breadth that makes community possible beyond borders, lived togetherness, exchange of ideas, and common prayer.

For us the present situation is therefore an incentive not to allow ourselves to be thrown back on our own four walls, but to use the time for research work: to better understand the ecumenical challenges of the present and to give answers to them.

In our “home office” we are available at regular hours. We will provide timely information on current developments in our program of events.

In ecumenical fellowship
and with all good wishes – stay healthy and protected!


Jennifer Wasmuth


“MORE Conference” in Augsburg, 3–6 January 2020

After 2018, the “MORE conference” took place again in Augsburg under the title “Colors of Hope.” The conference, which was held on the premises of the Augsburg Fair, was organized by the Augsburg Prayer House, for which Dr. Johannes Hartl is largely responsible.

This Catholic theologian who, together with his wife, founded the house of prayer in Augsburg in 2005, was also a key figure at the conference: in addition to the opening speech, he gave a lecture on Saturday, January 4, on central concerns of Christianity today with the title, “Ecology of the Heart.” For this, he used three important categories: “Connection – meaning – beauty.”

Based on biblical statements, Hartl developed a look inside the Christian self, in which he particularly emphasized the meaning-making and thus connecting dimension. From here it was also possible to make references to current movements such as ecological ones. The lecture was framed by the praise typical of the prayer house movement, which is part of the uninterrupted prayer that is the hallmark of this house of prayer.

In addition to lectures and scholarly discussions with theology professors, the conference also offered opportunities to experience praise, to take part in Christian concerts, to receive information on Christian publishers and groups in large exhibition areas, as well as to participate in confession and blessings, Protestant services and Catholic masses. There was a special conference especially for children. The most prominent speaker at MORE on Monday was probably Kurt Cardinal Koch, who as President of the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity was the highest-ranking representative of the Vatican who attended the conference.

From the Strasbourg Institute, Maria Hinsenkamp, ​​who is doing her doctorate on the prayer house movement and current charismatic reorientations in Christianity, and Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck took part in the conference.

Publication of the Study “Lutherische Identität. Lutheran Identity”

The study »Lutheran Identity« is a contribution of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg to the self-understanding of the Lutheran churches worldwide. In its first set of theses, the basic theological convictions of Lutheran churches are described, explained, and their historical and actual contexts are addressed. In the second series of theses, the relation of Lutheran churches to the unity of the church is discussed, along with how it is articulated in the Lutheran World Federation and in ecumenical engagement. Finally, present-day challenges for the Lutheran churches and their identity are addressed in an ecumenical perspective. The study intends to encourage Lutheran churches to reflect on a clear, historically well-founded, self-critical, and inviting understanding of their identity.

Flyer to order the study: Dieter_LutherischeIdentität_6219

“The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church”:

Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue in Albania

he first preparatory meeting for the 18th plenary session of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission took place from 24 September to 1 October 2019 in Tirana, Albania. In addition to the long-standing co-chairman on the Orthodox side, His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the dialogue welcomed for the first time Bishop Dr. Dr. h.c. Johann Schneider of the Protestant Church in Central Germany as Lutheran co-chair.

The venue was the Skete of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers near St. Vlash Monastery, which, in its remoteness, provided an ideal location for the discussion of the theme “The place and the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.” To this end, talks were given by the Orthodox and Lutheran side, drawing on previous dialogue results to discuss the action of the Holy Spirit, especially in baptism, ministry and the Eucharist (more details in the attached communiqué below).

Following the conclusion of the sometimes difficult joint discussions on the official question (for more information see:, it became clear that there were many similarities in the theology of the Holy Spirit, but also some unanswered questions. Both were recorded in a joint working document, which will serve as a basis for future discussions. There was a need for clarification in particular with regard to a theologically appropriate relationship between the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the world, which is why the main focus of the next phase of the dialogue will lie here.

In addition to daily devotions celebrated in the beautiful Skete Chapel, the meeting also participated in the well-attended Divine Liturgy in the Resurrection Cathedral of Tirana, presided over by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres, and all of Albania. At the subsequent reception, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios reported on the impressive revival of religious life in Albania, which of all formerly communist countries was most strongly committed to total secularization and is now characterized by state-guaranteed religious freedom.

The next preparatory meeting is planned for 29 May to 4 June 2020 in Germany.

You can read the Communique here: Communique Luth-Orthod 2019

One-Day-Seminar for 28 Theologians from Lutheran Churches in Australia and the Philippines

From 16 to 18 November 2019, a group of Lutheran theologians from Australia and the Philippines led by Rev. Dr. Farnbacher (Mission EineWelt) visited Lutherstadt Wittenberg. On Sunday, Prof. Theodor Dieter of the Institute gave the group a Reformation history introduction while touring through the Lutherhaus. As a fruit of new research, he was able to correct many misconceptions about Luther’s doctrine and teachings and offer guests a new look at the Reformer.

This tour was a good introduction to  one-day-seminar on “Luther on preaching,” for which Prof. Dieter gave four lectures. The first lecture dealt with the content of a sermon; the second was an analysis of Luther’s first Invocavit sermon, undertaken together with the participants; the third lecture was about being a preacher (“How to become a theologian according to Martin Luther”); and the fourth took up the theme “Luther Preaches by Song,” examining two hymns theologically and rhetorically (“From Heaven Above” and “Praise Be to You, Jesus Christ”). It was very gratifying that the participants were highly focused and interested in the matter from the first minute to the last. Luther still connects people today—even across continents!

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2019

In November, Prof. Theodor Dieter of the Strasbourg Institute along with Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Visiting Professor of the Institute currently based in Tokyo, taught the course Studying Luther in Wittenberg for the 11th year running. This means they have entered their second decade of teaching the class together!

As usual, the participants came from all over the world. Twenty-two pastors, bishops, theologians, and doctoral students arrived in Wittenberg from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ghana, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Finland, Germany, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, and the United States. It was the first time the Seminar was able to include people from Iceland, Norway, and Thailand!

The special topic for this year was “temporal authority,” the term used by Luther to discuss political and governmental matters. The choice of topic, which was also covered back in 2014, reflected the unique timing of this seminar: it coincided with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Accordingly, the seminar paid a trip to Berlin on November 9th to see among other things the remains of the wall.

Thus, after covering the foundation of Luther’s theology in the first week with a review of early Reformation history, penance and repentance, the distinction between law and gospel, justification by faith, and the sacraments, in the second week we turned to Luther’s writings “On Temporal Authority,” “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved,” and “The War Against the Turk.”

However, recognizing the enormous historical changes since Luther’s time—such as the technological advent of nuclear weapons and advanced surveillance systems, and the development of political theories ranging from liberal democracy to totalitarianism—the last days of the seminar turned to questions of present-day application, including reflection on modern Lutherans who have addressed just these questions. Two such examples were the Norwegian bishop Eivind Berggrav, who was placed under house arrest by the Nazis during World War II, and bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania whose Bagamoyo Statement from the 1990s challenged government corruption. The seminar discussed the reports of participants about the sometimes very difficult conditions of their churches in Muslim or Hindu dominated countries like Indonesia and India. In addition, an introduction was given into the modern theory of the state with the concepts of sovereignty, legitimacy, separation of powers, human rights, fundamental rights, constitution. The difference between the view in the Reformation period that the order of the state was given by God and the modern view that it was produced by people and therefore particularly in need of justification was reflected in detail.

As always, we enjoyed a lively and engaging group of participants, who brought a wide range of questions and insights from their extremely diverse political situations, from advanced secularization to state persecution of Christian believers. The foundational theological reflection stemming from such texts as “The Freedom of a Christian” and the Large Catechism were further well matched by daily morning prayer in the Fronleichnamskapelle, Sunday worship at the City Church, a visit to local congregations during the week, and a concluding festive service with holy communion. In addition to these highlights were visits with representatives of the LWF, the ELCA, local leaders, and meals cooked by the participants themselves

As always, we are grateful to the Executive Director of the LWF Center, Pr. Inken Wöhlbrand, for her friendly cooperation and organization, as well as that of Pr. Joachim Zirkler, to whom we bid a fond farewell as he embarks upon retirement next year. We are also glad for the always-cheerful presence of Annette Glaubig and all the staff at the Colleg Wittenberg.

Profs. Dieter and Wilson will again teach the course in November 2020 on the topic “Creation, Sex, and Sanctification: Readings from Luther’s Genesis Commentary,” a relatively unknown but immensely rich set of lectures from the last ten years of the reformer’s life. For more information, visit


Developments in the financial markets means that as an Institute we increasingly rely on donations for our work. Only thanks to continuous donations from, for example, the Evangelical Lutheran churches in Germany, Finland, and Norway can we hold events such as the International Summer Seminar. The study course „Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg,“ which we offered for the first time this year, would not have been possible without the financial support generously given by the Fondation Oecuménique Oscar Cullmann in Basel (Switzerland) and the Protestant Church in Württemberg. But also visitors to the Institute have repeatedly presented us with donations both small and large. Every donation helps us a lot. We wish to offer our most sincere thanks to all donors!

Photo: Pr. Kornelius Gölz, parish council chairman Friederike Wagner, and Roman Catholic deacon Martin Jablonsky presented Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth with a donation of 507 euros for the Ecumenical Institute in Strasbourg. The money comes from the proceeds of the ecumenical community festival in Diersburg, Germany.


Ecumenical Course in Zaragoza, Spain

The former Carthusian Monastery (Cartuja Aula Dei) in Zaragoza, Spain, hosted a week of Ecumenical Studies from 10 to 17 November 2019. Every week since 2013, this week, in response to a request from the Communauté du Chemin Neuf, has been carried out by the Strasbourg Institute in conjunction with the diocese of this city. This year, commemorating the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification 20 years ago, focused on the doctrine of salvation, which is today the focal point of foundational consensus.

For the 53 participants who attended the course, this was new territory. Apart from some Protestant and Anglican Christians, all came from predominantly Catholic countries and so far had not been made aware of the Joint Declaration. The daily four-hour lectures in French by the Strasbourg Institute’s Prof. Dr. André Birmelé, with simultaneous translation into Spanish, Italian, English, and Polish, were embedded in a lively spiritual life praying the hours. Many personal conversations accompanied these days and helped to dispel many old misconceptions.

Particularly impressive was the Lutheran holy communion service, which was headed by a Lutheran pastor. In spite of some plenary discussions in which the lasting differences between our churches became clear, of the approximately one hundred worshipers, 80 came to communion. This fact, which is still unthinkable in many countries of northern Europe, is a development in the European Latin world, as well as in many countries of the Global South, which is increasing from year to year. The relation of ecclesiastical doctrine and spiritual life among the faithful is changing and urgently needs a closer study by ecumenical theology.

The church in Zaragoza is strongly influenced by the Opus Dei movement. The University of Navarre, located in nearby Pamplona, ​​is one of the most important places for this Catholic community. So it is all the more gratifying that the theological faculty of Pamplona now wants to invite Lutheran and Reformed theologians to a consultation to take place in the next year or two. The question of church office is the expected topic of discussion.

“Truth does not fear dialogue”

Ecumenical Symposium in New York    

In an encyclical from 2010 the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople pointed out as leitmotif for the dialogue of the Orthodox Church with plural societies: “Truth does not fear dialogue.” Taking up this motif, a symposium took place on 13 and 14 November 2019 at Saint Peter’s Church in New York, focusing on ecumenical dialogue.

The opening lecture on November 13 was held by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, who was ordained to his office in June of this year. Based on a historically sound analysis of previous dialogue results, he formulated a clear commitment to the continuation of the ecumenical dialogues as a biblical-based commandment. In their co-papers, Monsignor John Radano, formerly director of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Paul Egensteiner, the newly elected Bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, affirmed in their own way that the ecumenical movement has historically provided a new paradigm that permanently places ecumenical relations on a new footing.

The first lecture on the 14th of November was given by Prof. Dr. William Rusch of Yale Divinity School, in which he lucidly explained the method of “differentiated / differentiating consensus” and asked about the consequences of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” for future ecumenical dialogues.

The next lectures pursued methodological considerations: Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth, who was invited to the symposium as a representative of the Strasbourg Institute, analyzed the history of Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue and called for a consistent application of “differentiated / differentiating consensus” in the international Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue. In the co-lecture Prof. Dr. John Behr of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, however, questioned from his patristic studies of the 2nd/3rd century fundamentally ecumenical objectives which are oriented towards the formulation of a doctrinal consensus.

Whether the “differentiated / differentiating consensus” method can be recommended for the Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue was the subject of stimulating reflections by an ecumenical expert who works at the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, Dr. Teresa Francesca Rossi. In response to her judgment, achieved after a careful weighing of the arguments, Prof. Dr. Dale M. Coulter from Regent University in Virginia shared in her conclusions. Accordingly, the “differentiated / differentiating consensus” method can and should, under certain conditions, also be used in Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue.

The symposium was summed up in concluding remarks by Franciscan brother James Loughran, SA, and the approximately 40 participants in the symposium once again had the opportunity to ask questions and formulate their impressions.

The invitation to New York included a one-day study day on Lutheran-Catholic and Catholic-Pentecostal dialogues at Yale Divinity School. The participants of the study day were very interested and the time quickly turned to intensive discussions. Moreover, insights into the extraordinary study and research opportunities at the divinity school were possible.

The invitation to New York thus allowed many new discoveries and beautiful encounters. To the organizational team, especially Prof. Dr. William Rusch and Pastor Jared Stahler, many thanks are due!

The symposium was recorded and can be seen at:

“We Believe in the Holy Spirit”

LWF Consultation in Addis Ababa

To grow together as a community of Lutheran churches requires an understanding of what constitutes this community in its diversity and unity. The LWF has therefore opted for a study process spanning several years, with the goal of better understanding Lutheran identity or identities in a global context.

As a guiding theme for the study process, the doctrine of the “Holy Spirit” was chosen. This choice was made in light of the dynamic charismatic elements that many Lutheran churches both practice and face. Above all, however, this theme seemed to be particularly suitable for making theory and practice, theology and liturgy, church and faith, community and individual alike come into focus in the study process.

The prelude to this process took place in Ethiopia. More than 70 participants, including LWF youth with their impressive presence, were invited to a conference in Addis Ababa from 23 to 27 October 2019. In accordance with the objective, there were units that served the purpose of deep theological reflection, as well as units that made it easier to get to know the different Lutheran churches and traditions.

The three main lectures held each morning, which were followed by intensive panel discussions, addressed different aspects of the Holy Spirit. Rev. Dr. Kenneth Mtata, Secretary General of the Council of Churches in Zimbabwe, described the Holy Spirit as a promise and gift based on the life and theological work of the South African Bishop Manas Buthelezi. Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth, who was invited to represent the Institute, shed light on the ecclesial dimension of the work of the Holy Spirit with reference to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Finally, Prof. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen from Fuller Theological Seminary in California addressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the public forum and possible criteria for discerning the spirits.

In the afternoon, shorter lectures on different aspects of global Lutheran identity were held and actively discussed in different working groups. The most important aspects that came up in the working groups were subsequently presented to the plenary. This approach not only allowed participants to gain a vivid impression of the richness of Lutheran churches, but also crystallized those questions that will provide the basis for the planned survey of member churches on the theme.

The conference, mainly organized by Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer, Study Secretary for Theology and Practice of the LWF, not only provided a diverse intellectual exploration of the topic, but also gave the necessary space for “We believe in the Holy Spirit” in common prayers and worship services as well as personal exchange on spiritual experiences. This contributed to the success of the conference, as did the extraordinary hospitality of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, which was shown through the constant attendance at the conference by President Rev. Yonas Dibisa, as well as the always helpful on-site organizing team and the impressive musical performances. The visit to worship services in various local communities was certainly one of the highlights of the conference.

According to the LWF’s self-understanding that “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical,” ecumenical guests were invited to the conference who were present at all times and brought greetings and contributions to the discussion. The discussions were thereby enriched not only in content, but the ecumenical guests also served as a guarantee that thinking about Lutheran identity ought not be sought primarily through differentiation from other denominations.


The entire conference was accompanied and documented by the LWF Communications Department headed by Rev. Árni Svanur Daniélsson. The result is exquisite articles, pictures, and videos that can be accessed through the following links:








40th Anniversary of the Protestant Council of Strasbourg

In November 1979 the Protestant Council of Strasbourg was founded. It includes the Protestant communities from the metropolitan area of ​​Strasbourg as well as the communities of the adjacent German city of Kehl. Even the historic free churches (Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Mennonites) were founding members. Catholics and Orthodox are involved as guests. The CPS currently comprises 81 congregations, half of which are new communities (including those from the city of Kehl) that are not part of any historic church and organized on a congregationalist basis. This corresponds to the French situation in which such communities include more believers than traditional denominations.

The 40th Anniversary of the Protestant Council of Strasbourg was celebrated on the 7th of November. The theme of the day was “Is the method of international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue applicable to the relationships of churches, congregations, and communities within the Protestant Council of Strasbourg?” The goal of the day was to seek ways to allow Council members to take new steps towards a church fellowship.

The celebration began with a lecture by André Birmelé, in which he explained the method of “differentiating consensus” and made clear that this path is possible if the Bible itself is understood as a “differentiating consensus.” The ensuing discussion focused on the issue of scriptural hermeneutics and made it clear that the understanding of the word of God must be the focus of further work. It also became clear that in doing so the churches are only at the beginning of a path. It is pleasing that several Pentecostal and Evangelical communities have agreed to participate in theological reflections on the understanding of the Word of God.

The issue discussed in the Council on that day extends far beyond the Strasbourg area. That hermeneutics is a fundamental problem especially in relation to new, non-denominational communities is seen today in many places. Since some of these communities are ready for conversation, theological study days will soon be called in to discuss this topic. The Gregorian Catholic University in Rome, where Prof. Etienne Vetö, one of the leaders of the Communauté du Chemin Neuf, teaches, is expected to convene a first meeting on this topic in February.

Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Joint Declaration in Lyon and Strasbourg

In France, there have been two church unions of Lutheran and Reformed churches over the past 15 years. In 2006 the Union of the Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine was formed in Alsace-Lorraine, and in the other regions of the country the United Protestant Church of France formed in 2013. Both church unions are members of the Lutheran World Federation as well as the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Since the Lutheran churches were among the signatories of the Joint Declaration, both new unions have incorporated the Joint Declaration into their constitutions, but without discussion. This was not really perceived by the more Reformed churches, especially by their parishioners. Since the World Communion of Reformed Churches signed the Joint Declaration in 2017, it was decided to take “Twenty Years of Joint Declaration” as an opportunity to celebrate the participation of both church unions in this declaration.


This happened first from October 6 to 8 in Lyon, France. Lyon is the city of many meetings of the United Protestant Church of France, as this place can be reached in less than two hours from all regions in which there are larger Protestant communities. The Strasbourg Institute’s Prof. Dr. André Birmelé preached there at the festival service on 6 October. The current Catholic bishop was involved in this celebration. The following day there was a theological study day, attended by 50 pastors and priests. On October 8, a public lecture at the Catholic Theological Faculty concluded these days. In Strasbourg, after a public talk on 16 October, a service was held on 3 November in which André Birmelé gave the sermon.


“We Are Not Ashamed of the Gospel”

Reception of the European Communicators of the LWF at the Institute

Once again from 8 to 11 October 2019, a meeting of the communicators from the three European regions of the Lutheran World Federation took place and this time the choice of venue was Strasbourg. The meeting, which served the cross-national exchange of the communicators, was chaired by Dr. Praxedis Bouwman on behalf of the European Desk of the LWF. It is also thanks to her initiative that the communicators visited the Institute during their stay in Strasbourg. In the social setting, not only was it possible to present the Institute’s own work but also to have an exchange with communicators, learn more about current challenges in the assorted countries, and to make contacts for the future. It was very enriching and interesting!

See more at

Dialogue of the VELKD with Old Catholics in Germany in Frankfurt am Main on November 14, 2019

The dialogue between the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD) and the Diocese of the Old Catholic Church in Germany (AKD) is already looking back on a decade-long tradition. The current discussion group, which also includes Prof. Stefan Dienstbeck from the Strasbourg Institute, met for the first time in 2016 with the aim of seeing whether the formerly failed attempts to establish church unity between the two churches now meet other requirements.

The dialogue group has already explored numerous ways and directions and is trying to keep up the momentum of its extremely harmonious dialogue. The topics “Church and ministries” will therefore be treated at the next meeting in February 2020 in Bonn.

Seminar “Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg”

With the seminar “Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg” (2–12 October 2019), the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg has created a new format for its seminars. Unlike the International Ecumenical Summer Seminar, which takes place every year in July, only Lutheran pastors from the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are invited to attend these seminars. The purpose of these seminars is to raise awareness of the issues, outcomes, and challenges of the dialogues that the LWF has undertaken with other churches and church communities over the past 50 years and to make them known to as many people in the member churches as possible. The hope is to kindle an ecumenical fire to ignite the unity of the church. In addition, the Research Council of the Institute of Ecumenical Research is eager to gain the widest possible knowledge of the various ecumenical constellations in LWF member churches. In this way, it fulfills the LWF commitment: “to be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.”

The 12 participants in this year’s seminar came from Cameroon, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Tanzania. Others were expected but unable to attend: a pastor from Liberia was denied a visa while the one from Japan fell ill. The seminar was designed for a limited number of participants, during a relatively long time period of time, studying a clearly defined theme, and offering enough free time for joint ventures and private studies. It created an intense, inspiring atmosphere of encounter and learning; a concrete form for deepening community in the LWF.

The mornings during the seminar focused on an introduction to the ecumenical movement and its dialogues and especially the study of ecumenical texts. In the afternoons, the morning’s topics were given over to free-ranging discussion. Participants reported on their respective ecumenical situations, presenting a colorful picture of the worldwide ecumenical situation. Topics included the World Council of Churches (WCC), Vatican II, the Leuenberg Agreement, models of unity in the church, the Catholic / Lutheran Dialogue on the Lord’s Supper, “The Apostolicity of the Church,” the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the method of differentiating consensus, the Lutheran / Orthodox dialogue, the history of the Pentecostal movements and their challenge to ecumenism, the Anglican / Lutheran dialogue, the Lutheran / Mennonite reconciliation, and the concept of receptive ecumenism. It has proved to be a great advantage that members of the Institute’s Research Council had participated in many of the dialogues discussed in the seminar and were thus able to report on their experiences with these dialogues so that the texts came to life.

Strasbourg, with its rich history as a hub of the Reformation and its present-day cosmopolitanism, made it an ideal location for such a seminar. The Saturday afternoon in the middle of the seminar offered a chance to get to know the city with a guided tour of the wonderful Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady and the Lutheran St. Thomas Church. On Sunday, the group took a trip through the Alsatian countryside, culminating in a service of holy communion held by the participants in the old church in Waldersbach, where Lutheran pastor Johann Friedrich Oberlin (1740–1826) served for 59 years. In this at the time remote, hard-to-reach area, Oberlin did phenomenal work: he was a Pietist, Enlightenment scholar, an educational reformer inventing pre-school education, developing adult education, and pioneering teacher training, an economic promoter innovating in local agriculture, constructing roads, and establishing a fund for small-scale loans. Moreover he practiced basic medicine, served as a pastor and was a zealous preacher, and exchanges ideas in a vast correspondence with many great personalities of his time. All of these facets of his fascinating life are presented in a modern museum built in the old rectory. After lunch at a country inn in the mountains, the group concluded the day with a visit to the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, which houses the world-famous Isenheim altarpiece with the crucifixion painting by Matthias Grünewald. Careful viewing with commentary opened up the artistic, theological, and spiritual dimensions of this unique work of art.

The Fondation oecuménique Oscar Cullmann, the Church of Wurttemberg and the German National Committee have generously supported the Seminar financially. We are very grateful for this support!

The response of the participants to the seminar were very positive. It is to be hoped that this seminar will provide many impulses for ecumenical work in their local and national churches.

“We Are Not Ashamed of the Gospel”

Reception of the European Communicators of the LWF at the Institute

Once again from 8 to 11 October 2019, a meeting of the communicators from the three European regions of the Lutheran World Federation was took place and this time the choice of venue was Strasbourg. The meeting, which served the cross-national exchange of the communicators, was chaired by Dr. Praxedis Bouwman on behalf of the European Desk of the LWF. It is also thanks to her initiative that the communicators visited the Institute during their stay in Strasbourg. In the social setting, not only was it possible to present the Institute’s own work but also to have an exchange with communicators, learn more about current challenges in the assorted countries, and to make contacts for the future. It was very enriching and interesting!

See more at

Consultation in Klingenthal, September 17-20, 2019

The Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Foundation once again made available the Klingenthal Chateau to the Institute for a scholarly consultation this year. The picturesque chateau is an excellent venue for academic study due to its secluded location. Prof. Dr. Marie-Paule Stintzi, our host, made the participants of the consultation most welcome. We are very grateful for that!

This year’s consultation was dedicated to the theme of the Institute’s new study project. After the completion of the previous study project on “Lutheran Identity” in 2019, the Institute will now focus on “The Unity of the Church in the context of a pluralizing Christianity” in the years ahead.

In order to get a handle on this complex topic, the consultation invited researchers who have already dealt in depth with models of ecumenical unity. Part of the lectures therefore sifted through classical models in Protestant, Anglican, and Roman Catholic theology, discussing the merits and disadvantages of each. Another part of the lectures turned to how the models of unity are explicated as encountered in the ecumenical consensus texts that have had a controversial reception. These include the text “Communion in Growth” (2017), which grew out of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in Finland, as well as the “Joint CPCE and PCPCU Report on Church and Communion” (2018). Since the theme of “models of unity” should not only be considered dogmatically but also in the context of a “pluralizing Christianity,” another focus was on a sociological analysis of current developments and the question of how to assess them from a sociological point of view.

After instructive lectures and focused discussions, the key questions developed at the end of the consultation will underlie the study project. These questions will keep us busy at the Institute—however, an important cornerstone has been laid during the consultation in Klingenthal.



Conference of European Churches Conference in Finland

From 24 to 26 September 2019, the first meeting of the Ecumenical Officers and Secretaries of Theology took place in Kaunisniemen Leirikeskus, Finland, about an hour’s drive from Helsinki, within the framework of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). Over the two days there were opportunities to learn the latest news from member churches of the CEC and to shape its ongoing ecumenical program.

In addition to the reports from the member churches, the ecumenical meeting was enhanced by contributions from the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) by Prof. Dr. Martin Friedrich and a report from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) by Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck (Strasbourg). In addition, Dr. Marc Witzenbacher presented the plan for the 2021 Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe, Germany.

The group plans to meet annually to address the theme of “migrant churches” and in general to explore new steps for ecumenism in Europe.



Diverse Visits at the Institute

Visit of the Pastoral Convention of Neukölln

On September 12, 2019, the Institute for Ecumenical Research welcomed the Neukölln Deanery to its rooms in Strasbourg. The guests were introduced to the work of the Institute, focusing on the three facets of research, dialogue, and education. In addition, current ecumenical challenges were highlighted. The current study project of the Institute, which attempts to address constructively the question of unity in a Christianity that is becoming ever more pluralistic, was also a topic.

In the ensuing lively discussion and personal exchange over coffee and tea, the topics were pursued with great interest, and personal connections were made. The Institute was happy about the visit and wishes to express its thanks for the intensive discussions and the friendly contact.


Visit of Congregational Representatives from Lahr 

Congregational representatives from Hugsweier and Langenwinkel (Lahr) visited the Institute on 21 September 2019. The presentation of the Institute’s work and its current challenges in ecumenical work led to an intensive exchange, for which the Institute warmly offers its thanks.

The personal meeting with coffee and tea as well as the congregational members’ impressions were extremely pleasing and helpful for the Institute’s work. We look forward to further encounters and suggestions.




Visit of the Pastoral Convention from Wunsiedel 

On 17 October 2019 the Institute welcomed a pastoral convention from Wunsiedel to the Institute. After a small coffee reception the Institute work’s was presented. This led to a lively discussion on current issues in ecumenism and sketches of the challenges facing churches in society today.

The Institute thanks the Pastoral Convention of Wunsiedel for the intensive exchange of ideas and impulses as well as encouragement for further work. We look forward to seeing you again in Strasbourg!

Dialogue of the VELKD with Old Catholics in Germany in Frankfurt am Main

The dialogue between the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD) and the Diocese of the Old Catholic Church in Germany (AKD) is already looking back on a decade-long tradition. The current discussion group, which also includes Prof. Stefan Dienstbeck from the Strasbourg Institute, met for the first time in 2016 with the aim of seeing whether the formerly failed attempts to establish church unity between the two churches now meet other requirements.

The dialogue group has already explored numerous ways and directions and is trying to keep up the momentum of its extremely harmonious dialogue. The topics “Church and ministries” will therefore be treated at the next meeting in February 2020 in Bonn.

The Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism

On December 1, 2018, Harding Meyer died. He was one of the most important personalities in the recent history of the worldwide ecumenical movement. As a guiding intellectual force and pioneer, he opened up and broke new ground. Many recent developments in worldwide interchurch relations go back to him.

Establishment of the Prize

In close association with Harding Meyer’s family, the Board of the Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research has decided to establish the Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism. This Foundation, located in Geneva, was founded in 1963 by the Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation. In 1965, the Foundation set up the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, where Harding Meyer worked for over 25 years.

A prize of 3000 €, donated by the family, will be awarded every two years. The prize will be formally presented at the International Ecumenical Seminar, organized by the Institute for Ecumenical Research each year in the first week of July.

Outstanding Contributions

The prize will be awarded to works dedicated to the ecumenical dialogue between Christian confessions. Monographs (such as doctoral theses, habilitation theses) and important theological works in the service of ecumenism are to be awarded in this way. This will both honor the theological legacy of Harding Meyer and promote the continuation of his vision.

Oversight of the Prize and Jury

Responsibility for the prize lies with the Foundation for Interconfessional Research.

The jury of the award consists of former research professors of the Institute who worked with Harding Meyer, a member of the Institute’s current research council, a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and a representative of the Johann Adam Möhler Institute in Paderborn. If necessary, additional recognized researchers may be asked to review the submitted work. 


Applications for The Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism 2022 can be sent in from September 1, 2021, until February 15, 2022, to:

Institute for Ecumenical Research
ATTN: Harding Meyer Prize in Ecumenism
8 rue Gustave-Klotz
F-67000 Strasbourg, France


54th International Ecumenical Seminar 2020

Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue:
Similarities and Differences

Modern societies are pluralistic—not only in a religious sense, but in this sense as well. The three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in particular often occur within the same countries and live together. In addition, there are differences between groups within the respective religions. Classical ecumenism in the Christian domain is concerned with denominational divisions and seeks to overcome them. But Judaism, Islam, and even Buddhism know internal divisions and conflicts that separate believers from each other. In particular, the internal Islamic conflict between Sunnis and Shiites has been, like in Christianity’s separation between Protestants and Catholics, often bloody.

How can conflicts be overcome in the coexistence of different confessional families within one religion, or between different religions in one area? Is there an inner connection between Christian ecumenical work and interreligious dialogue, like Islam could lead it? Is it possible to learn from the innerreligious work of other religions to help in one’s own? Are the methods of dialogue and models of unity transferable?

The Seminar will seek to pursue these questions and their solutions, as well as attempting to think in new ways. The aim is to make an exciting attempt to bring ecumenism and interfaith dialogue toward that which both are committed to: dialogue. For this purpose, speakers of various religions and confessions will come to Strasbourg to discuss the topic in lectures and discussions.

In addition to the theological discussions, the Seminar fosters opportunity for conversation among the participants, reports of their own ecumenical or confessional experiences, the posing of questions and offering of responses. Since participants come from many different churches and countries, this exchange is always especially exciting and enlightening, both in the plenary sessions and in small group work. The conversation continues over delicious French food at the Stift’s dining hall or a glass of wine in one of the charming restaurants in the old city of Strasbourg.

English and German are the main languages of the Seminar. Simultaneous interpretation of every lecture and discussion is available. In the plenary participants can also offer interventions in French.

The cost of the Seminar, including full pension and a single dormitory room, is € 750,-. Financial support may be granted through the participants’ home churches or other institutions. We encourage participants to contact their church leaders in this regard. As in previous years, a portion of participant fees are used to cover the cost of participants from Eastern Europe and other continents.

Registration and Information
Registration until April 15, 2020
Postal address:  8, rue Gustave Klotz, F – 67000 Strasbourg, France
Conference office: Ms. Elke Leypold

Download flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-20

Charismatic and Lutheran Intersections in Sweden

Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, a Visiting Professor of the Strasbourg Institute based in Tokyo, spent a week during October 2019 as a guest of the Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen (Swedish Evangelical Mission, SEM), a renewal group within the Church of Sweden. The SEM traces its roots back to the Pietist revivals under the guidance of Carl Olof Rosenius and today embodies the intersection between Lutheran theology, Pietist practice, and Charismatic spirituality.

The Livsväg (“Life Way”) conference, an annual event hosted by the SEM at the Johannelund School of Theology in Uppsala, welcomed several hundred young adults aged 18 to 35 for a long weekend of worship, prayer, study, and fellowship. Prof. Wilson delivered the sermons at the worship services, preaching about “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” “The Power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit,” and “The Fruit of the Holy Spirit.” Given that Sweden is considered one of the most secular nations in the world, it was deeply inspiring to see such a large gathering of youth committed to their faith and a mutual ministry of prayer.

After this uplifting weekend, Prof. Wilson spent two days giving lectures for theology students as well as a wider audience of professors and community members. Her first set of lectures discussed the history of Pentecostalism, case studies in Charismatic renewal within Lutheran churches, and places for fruitful conversation between the theology of Martin Luther and Charismatic practice today. The next day she turned to an extended exploration of the distinction between law and gospel, and how this distinction can be used to analyze and challenge preaching, church practice, and society at large. There was very lively engagement on the part of the audience, asking good questions and delving deeply into the material.

In addition to lecturing, Prof. Wilson spent time in conversation with both the leadership of the Swedish Evangelical Mission and the faculty of the Johannelund School of Theology, further exploring the tasks of spiritual discernment, catechesis in the church, and theological education for pastors and church leaders.

In the final portion of her visit, Prof. Wilson traveled south to the city of Malmö to visit with the ministry team of United Church, a large congregation from a Pentecostal background that recently joined the Church of Sweden via the Swedish Evangelical Mission. Over two days Prof. Wilson discussed with them their journey toward Lutheran theology and liturgy, the gifts of Pentecostal spirituality that they wanted to preserve, and how to address the post-Christian context in Sweden. Here again it was inspiring to see that Luther’s penetrating insights into the sinful human soul and the boundless grace of God still speak with surprising relevance and helpfulness to Christians five hundred years later.

Altogether it was a very fruitful trip and heartening to see the devotion to the gospel that continues to bear its witness in the Nordic countries. It is also clear how greatly Charismatic renewal and Lutheran theology can support and foster one another for the good of the whole church. Special thanks are due to Prof. Wilson’s host, Prof. Dr. Tomas Nygren, who teaches theology at the Johannelund School of Theology and has done much to communicate the theology of Luther to both church and society in Sweden.

Audio recordings of some of Prof. Wilson’s talks will be available later this year on her podcast, “Queen of the Sciences.”

International Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialogue in Antananarivo, Madagascar

On September 7–13, 2019, the LWF-Pentecostal dialogue met for the fourth time during its five-year cycle of conversations, which are built on the proto-dialogue pioneered by the Institute in Strasbourg. We were hosted by the Malagasy Lutheran Church (MLC) in Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo to undertake the topic of healing and deliverance from evil, with special attention to the verse from Luke 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Visiting Professor of the Institute currently working in Tokyo with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, served as Consultant to the dialogue.

Madagascar was a particularly appropriate place for this year’s discussions. The Malagasy Lutheran Church has a unique and highly developed healing ministry that came about through four revivals (Fifohazana) over the course of the last 125 years, each of which is still alive and well!

We heard papers from professors and synodical leaders of the MLC, Rev. Dr. Joseph Randrianasolo and Rev. Dr. Noel Rabemanatsoa, on two of the four revivals: the Soantanana revival and the Ankaramalaza revival. Remarkably, two of these revivals were headed by women, of which the MLC is very proud. Although women are not ordained to the pastoral office in the MLC, they serve as preachers, catechists, theologians, and “shepherds” (or exorcists). Overall, the MLC has perhaps the most extensive lay ministry of any Lutheran church in the world.

The papers from Lutheran speakers were well complemented by one from Rev. Dr. Opoku Onyinah, theologian and former head of the Church of Pentecost based in Ghana which has congregations and ministries in over 100 countries. He discussed Pentecostal understandings of freedom, healing, and deliverance, with special attention both to biblical foundations and the difficult but crucial work of discernment.

Ecumenists often observe in a dialogue the growth over time in understanding and trust. This is certainly the case with the LWF-Pentecostal dialogue. While there was strong good will and openness already at our first meeting in Baguio, Philippines, in 2016, we have by now spent enough time getting to know each other and our respective traditions that this year we were able to have especially lively and penetrating discussions. The Malagasy setting in particular brought to the fore the perhaps surprising amount of convergence we share on this topic, the common challenges we face, and how our distinctive respective emphases may serve as leaven in one other’s traditions and practices.

In addition to intensive discussion, the dialogue group enjoyed many great opportunities for worship and fellowship. In addition to twice-daily devotions led by dialogue members, we joined the annual meeting of the Antananarivo Synod held for five hours on a Sunday morning in an outdoor amphitheater, attended by over 5000 people, all of whom received holy communion! We were hosted with ecumenical guests at a festive dinner by the church, the highlight of which was the powerful and impassioned singing by the university youth choir of one of the local Lutheran churches. We also attended a service at the toby (revival camp) started in Antananarivo by Germaine Volahavana, better known as Nenilava (1918–1998), which gave space for the mentally and physically ill and addicted to pray publicly, give testimony, and read out Scripture, followed by a service of exorcism and laying-on of hands for healing.

Another interesting detail of the dialogue was that we were in Madagascar at the same time as Pope Francis. While he met with the local churches, we ourselves did not have a chance to have an audience with him; however, everywhere we went we saw signs of welcome for the Holy Father, adding an extra dimension of interconfessional richness to our gathering!

In 2020 the LWF-Pentecostal will meet in North America for its fifth round to prepare its final report for public release. Our short time together already has been so fruitful that we hope and pray our churches will support a new round of dialogue after this one reaches completion.

Visit of the Castell Deanery at the Institute (17 July 2019)

In the Institute library we had the pleasure of welcoming the Castell deanery of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. After a coffee reception, the director of the Institute, Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth, gave an overview of the history and work of the Institute. Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck then presented the current projects of the Institute and gave an overview of the ecumenical situation at present. Following a number of very interesting questions, suggestions, and discussions, as well as the pleasure of getting to know each other, we regarded the day as a positive stimulus for our work at the Institute. The deanery’s financial contributions to our study course in Strasbourg will help us continue to provide ecumenical education to a worldwide audience.

Council Meeting of the Lutheran World Federation (12–18 June 2019)

The Institute for Ecumenical Research participated in the Council of the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva from 12 to 18 June 2019.On this occasion, Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth and Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck accompanied the conference until Sunday June 16 as guests. In particular, the new organizational structure of the Lutheran World Federation and the location of ecumenism directly under the Secretary General was of great importance from an institutional perspective. Apart from being able to present the initiatives and work of the Institute, the personal conversations and suggestions as well as the social interaction on the sidelines of the official events were motivation for further work at the Institute as well as a personal delight. The Institute in Strasbourg is encouraged to continue accompanying and shaping the path of the LWF in ecumenism.


Visit of the Lahr Pastoral Convention at the Institute (4 June 2019)

The Institute was pleased to welcome the pastoral convention from the nearby town of Lahr on June 4, 2019 with coffee and cake. On the program was a presentation of the Institute by the director, Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth, an overview of current ecumenical challenges by Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck, and a lecture on cross-border cooperation and the ecumenical situation in France by Prof. Dr. André Birmelé. In addition to stimulating discussions and interesting suggestions we especially enjoyed the personal discussions. We look forward to our next meeting!


Ecumenical Advisory Board of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (21–22 May 2019)

On 21–22 May 2019, the constituting meeting of the newly assembled Ecumenical Advisory Board took place in Vienna. Serving the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), this board advises on ecumenical questions, draws up proposals, and makes recommendations for possible steps in current dialogues conducted by the CPCE. The Institute is represented in the Commission; Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth and Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck both attended the meeting. The first working steps were agreed upon and new contacts were made. Topics included the 50th anniversary of the Leuenberg Agreement in 2023 and current ecumenical challenges. The Advisory Board will meet again in Berlin next year.


Seminar 2019: Doctrine divides – Spirituality unites?

The theme of this year’s International Ecumenical Summer Seminar, which was organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg from 3 to 10 July, was: “Doctrine divides—Spirituality unites?” In his introductory lecture, Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter stated that the thesis “doctrine divides” is both correct and incorrect. It does not apply when ecumenical dialogues have overcome the divisive nature of differences and have been received by the churches, as in the case of the Leuenberg Agreement (1973) between Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches in Europe. The thesis, on the other hand, does apply in the case of the rejection of Eucharistic hospitality between the Roman Catholic church and Protestant churches. Here many theologians and church leaders see divisive differences in teaching and practice. And yet it is precisely in this question that the thesis “doctrine divides” does not hold true, as when one thinks of many Christians in the churches who have forgotten the traditions of their churches and so cannot understand why shared communion should not be possible. The churches have lost much in importance in their existence as institutions for a large number of people; that also applies to their doctrines, which find little resonance. In contrast, many forms of spirituality have become attractive. A slogan expresses this: “Church is out, spirituality is in.” Many Christians adopt practices of spirituality that are originally located in other churches. So it pays to ask if and how certain forms of spirituality connect people from different churches or, under certain circumstances, create new divisions.

Prof. Dr. Corinna Dahlgrün (Jena, Germany) described structurally in her lecture “What is Spirituality?” the broad and diffuse field of what may be called “Christian Spirituality”: in response to the call of God in the double commandment of love, in relation to the individual and the community, with the task of distinguishing the spirits and the importance of having a spiritual counselor. She then distinguished between different forms of God-seeking.

Bishop Dr. Karin Johannesson (Uppsala, Sweden) addressed a specific kind of the Lutheran tradition, which is historically reserved toward or even opposed to matters of piety and spirituality. She explained the challenge of this tradition by the teachers of the Carmelite Order (Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and especially Thérèse of Lisieux, 1873–1897), and showed how their teaching helps to rediscover certain theological and spiritual motifs of Martin Luther. Indeed, certain motifs of Luther and the Carmelites have mutual resonance, and Bishop Johannesson indicated what significance such an encounter could have in postmodern Sweden.

Prof. Dr. Asamoah-Gyadu (Legon, Ghana) spoke about “The Holy Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostal / Charismatic Spirituality and Uniting Elements of African Churches.” He sketched the history of the Pentecostal movement from its beginnings and explained it from a biblical perspective with the words “promise” (of the Holy Spirit), “fulfillment,” and “experience.” Here the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles play a special role because of the conviction that the powerful spiritual events portrayed in these books are not limited to the time of the apostles. Although the Pentecostal movement has become a “denomination” over time (with attendant distinctions of who belongs to it and who is not), it should first be seen from the perspective of spirituality that can be found in every denomination, with the characteristics of democratizing the charisms, oral theology, and a special sense of community. Many churches in Africa share this spirituality without understanding or calling themselves Pentecostal. Therein lies the unifying power of this spirituality.

Prof. Dr. Etienne Vetö (Gregoriana, Rome) spoke about the spiritual movement of the Chemin Neuf, an ecumenical order originating in France and now active in many countries. It is an interesting combination of two very different forms of spirituality: the disciplined form of the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola and the more spontaneous, impulsive piety of the Charismatics. Prof. Vetö explained how both forms fertilize and make the movement powerful.

Another example of connected spiritualities was put forward by Sister Dr. Nicole Grochowina of the Christian Brotherhood in Selbitz (Bavaria, Germany). This Protestant order has a Franciscan character and is now in a certain form of communion with the Franciscan monasteries. Sister Nicole explained the encounter of spiritualities with the concept of friendship, which indicates mutual enrichment without loss of one’s identity. She explained how this friendship creatively has shaped the history and profile of her Order.

On Saturday, world-renowned and esteemed violinmaker Martin Schleske spoke on the subject of “Violinmaking as a prayer of the hands—the prayerful life as sacred art.” In a moving, inspiring way, he developed from the steps of violin-making his penetrating observations and insights into human existence and spiritual life, about silence, hearing, resonance, sound, beauty, friendship with Jesus, and immersion in the biblical word. The creative activity of violinmaking becomes a prayer for him. In the second part of his talk, Schleske took the triad of which Paul speaks in Romans 15:18: Word–Work–Miracle as his point of departure. According to this triad, faith should become the instrument of grace, so that grace in the world can work, so that the unholy may become holy and the sick may become healed. According to Mark 11:23, this does not require great faith but only faith “that lets itself be played by grace.” Faith is receptivity to the work of grace, listening to what grace wants to do with it, becoming one with it. It is a path not of knowledge but of discovering, risking something with readiness, willingness to be disappointed and to learn from this. It is a spirituality that takes that word of Jesus seriously.

Prof. Dr. Julie Ma (Korea / USA) showed the powerful spread of Pentecostalism in Asia using the examples of Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, and India. It is characterized by the emphasis on baptism in the Holy Spirit and an intense expectation of God’s supernatural intervention in the form of healings, through prayer movements (prayer and fasting, prayer mountains in Korea), the formation of networks of small spiritual communities (“cells”), and comprehensive social commitment for the needy. While the traditional churches have long rejected the Pentecostal movement, they are now greatly influenced by it due to its strong growth and are now opening up to it.

Rainer Harter, founder and leader of the non-denominational prayer house in Freiburg, Germany, presented the house where prayers are said twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He explained the biblical (I Chronicles 16:4, Revelation 4:8) and church history background (Cluny, Zinzendorf) for this pattern of unceasing prayer. The focus is on the intimacy of meeting with God, the beauty of prayer, the sanctification and unity of the church. The prayer house shines on the churches and on the city. It has 140 coworkers, 30 of them employed; they all live from donations. There are more than twenty such prayer houses in Germany.

Dr. Anna Briskina-Müller (Halle-Wittenberg) presented from the Orthodox perspective aspects in which Orthodox and Protestant theology and piety converge. Brother Richard of Taizé explained the “spiritual path of Taizè” based on the history of this community. According to Brother Roger, there is no spirituality and theology of Taizé; Taizé should not be a form alongside or even in competition with other forms. But there is spirituality in Taizé; it is like a spring to which pilgrims come, to then move on and return to their churches. The short form of the songs was initially developed as an emergency measure in view of the many especially young people who came from many different countries. In order not to exclude them in worship for linguistic reasons, you had to have simple songs that you repeated. This has led to a rediscovery of ancient prayer forms. Scripture and chants are the elemental forms; reconciliation of Christian traditions is the goal.

Finally, Fr. Dr. Augustinus Sander OSB (Maria Laach, Germany / Vatican) introduced into the Liturgy of the Hours as a widely used basic form of prayer: praying in the presence of God, the need of those who pray, the trinitarian reality, prayer as a form of Psalm piety, christocentric prayer in the light of Easter, and personal prayer in connection with the prayer of the Lord.

Complemented by other topics discussed in the working groups, participants in the seminar were presented with a wealth of elements and aspects of spirituality that challenged and inspired them and made them think about each presentation’s ecumenical relevance.

The Sunday outing took the group to Waldersbach, a village deep in the mountains of the Vosges, where Pastor Oberlin (1740-1826) worked for fifty-nine years (!) as a pastor. In addition to his preaching, Oberlin was an educational reformer (he invented pre-school education, in fact he made education compulsory in the villages under his care long before the national introduction of compulsory education), a Pietist, an Enlightenment thinker, an economic reformer, a patron of medical care, an expert in physiognomy—and all this combined with extensive correspondence with many important people throughout Europe. The group joined in worship at Oberlin’s church. After lunch at a ferme auberge (farm hostel), the trip continued through beautiful weather to Mt. St. Odile, the sacred mountain of Alsace, which offers a wonderful view of the Rhine Valley. This was followed by an extensive wine tasting and ended with the classic food of Alsace, tarte flambée. The seminar concluded with a service of holy communion in the church of St. Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasbourg.




Five Christian World Communions Reflect on the Joint Declaration and its consequences for their communion at the University of Notre Dame

From the 25th to the 18th of March, representatives of five Christian World Communions gathered at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana (USA): the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the Methodist World Conference, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Anglican Communion.

All of these communions have (albeit in different ways) declared their agreement with the content of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). It is a novum in the history of the church that these World Communions can indeed declare agreement on how we understand our relationship with God, and not in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church but precisely in dialogue with it. The joy over this fact was palpable at the meeting in Notre Dame.

Prof. Theodor Dieter of the Strasbourg Institute attended the event and was the only participant who took part in the process of creating the JDDJ. Speaking from his own experience, he reported on the process that led to the JDDJ as well as how Methodists and Reformed could come to affirm the JDDJ without having been original partners in its creation. For Prof. Dieter himself, it was a lovely experience to hear how the concept of “differentiated consensus” or “differentiating consensus” was used reflexively by all the participants. This concept was developed right here in Strasbourg and brought into the ecumenical arena by previous Institute Director Harding Meyer. The concept and the methods that work in tandem with it were publicly valued as key to the whole ecumenical discussion.

What remains now is for these five Christian World Communions to deepen the agreement as stated in the JDDJ and to see how they can from this common foundation proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to people today—people who have often forgotten about God entirely.

Read the Final Statement here: JDDJ ND Final Statement

The Institute’s Visiting Professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson Launches a Theology Podcast

Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, who served on the staff of the Institute from 2008 to 2016 and now works with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tokyo, has just launched a new theology podcast.

It is entitled “Queen of the Sciences: Conversations between a Theologian and Her Dad.” The first part of the title alludes to the medieval evaluation of theology as the “queen” of all knowledge—which was meant to be humorous, since theology is today regarded as anything but that! The second half of the title indicates the other host of the podcast, namely Prof. Wilson’s father Paul R. Hinlicky, who is a Professor of Theology at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia (USA).

Each episode lasts about an hour and takes up a theological topic, not only for other theologians but for all interested Christians wishing to understand their faith more deeply. So far ten episodes have come out on topics ranging from prayer to the early church father Athanasius to justification by faith to the Gospel of Mark. A new episode is released every other Tuesday.

The podcast is available on all major podcasting programs. To learn more about it or to find a link to your podcast provider, please visit here.

Executive Committee of the Bavarian Synod at the Institute

From the 3rd to the 5th of May the Executive Committee of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria met at the Strasbourg Institute, comprised of 14 synodal representatives under the leadership of President Dr. Annekathrin Preidel. The Institute itself owes its beginnings to a special relationship with the Church in Bavaria: Bishop Dietzfelbinger was the crucial founding father of the Institute, his successor Bishop Hanselmann was for a long time a member of the board of the Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research which operates the Institute, and Bp. Friedrich was a board member as well. Today Oberkirchenrat Martin represents the Bavarian Church to the Institute. As such, the Institute is profoundly grateful to the Bavarian Church for its gifts of vision, personnel, and finances. For this reason we were particularly happy to welcome the visit of the Synod.

After an introduction to the history and work of the Institute by Director Prof. Jennifer Wasmuth, Prof. Theodor Dieter took up the topic—at the request of the guests!—“The End of Lutheranism?” The question pertained to what “Lutheran” even means today, who can judge and distinguish among claims to be “Lutheran” and how such might take place, what sort of problems arise when comparing the difference between the Reformation situation and ours today, as well as matters such as the global spread of Lutheranism and the relationship of Lutherans to the Catholic Church. In response to the lecture a long, intense, open, and even self-critical discussion arose, which even continued the next day in smaller working groups. The talk stimulated the Synod representatives to look again at the process of reform within their own church and to ask what exactly is “Lutheran” about it and whether it is necessary to effect changes in this regard.

Prof. Stefan Dienstbeck gave the second lecture. He dealt with the theme of “Protestantism and Modernity,” addressing both critically and constructively the theory of history put forward by American scholar Brad Gregory in his book The Unintended Reformation. According to Gregory, the Reformation contributed essentially to the creation of modernity, which he views in frankly negative terms as unrestrained subjectivism, consumerism, loss of values, and loss of transcendence. This topic added further nuances to the question of what counts as “Lutheran” today.

On Saturday afternoon, the group took an excursion led by Prof. Dieter through Alsace to visit the Oberlin Museum in the small village of Waldersbach. Johann Friedrich Oberlin (1740-1826) served as pastor at the Lutheran church in Waldersbach for an astonishing 59 years! The museum superbly documents the extraordinary life work of Oberlin as pastor, pedagogue, social reformer, and economic reformer. On the way back to Strasbourg, the group stopped off to see the Romanesque church in Rosheim and heard Synod pastor Hohenberger give a talk on the Jewish luminary Josel von Rosheim, who in the first half of the sixteenth century was a respected advocate for Jews in the German territories.

On Sunday the group visited the beautiful church of St. Pierre-le-Jeune for a German worship service, complemented by a tour of the building, and then later a walk through the city ending with a visit to the St. Thomas Church.

In looking back on the visit, we rejoice again at the inspiring and stimulating atmosphere of the encounter and for the great interest of our Bavarian guests in the work of the Institute.

Cooperation with the “Chemin Neuf”

For years now the Institute has worked with the ecumenical community of Chemin Neuf. This originally charismatic Catholic movement has come to include members of a whole range of Christian denominations and is present now on all continents. The Institute’s Prof. André Birmelé has been a particularly invited Protestant theologian to accompany the community in its life and work.In March 2019, Chemin Neuf organized a three-day international conference in the Abbaye de Hautecombe, Savoie, for an encounter with members of the Pentecostal movement. Two hundred people and above all youth took part in the event. After historical and theological introductions the focus shifted to dialogue. This dialogue was, however, not in the form of a traditional colloquium; rather, it was primarily common worship. The liturgy of the hours, evening prayers, and worship according to various traditions were all central. Only at the edges, so to speak, were the customary theological questions asked. Potentially controversial questions (for example, about the understanding of the church) were secondary, such that common joy in God could have primary expression.

For the Strasbourg Institute, involvement in this kind of work is of the greatest significance. It is a serious question put to our usual way of doing ecumenical research. Certainly, the work that has been done so far must continue, but at the same time it is clear that entirely other avenues of approach to ecumenism exist, especially in the younger generations. Establishing new connections and exploring new paths is an important challenge in the movement for the unity of the church.

Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research

Shortly before Easter, on 11-13 April 2019, the Board of the Institute for Ecumenical Research met and discussed at length a number of issues pertaining to the Institute’s work and personnel. Two new additions to the Board were welcomed, both renowned theologians and ecumenists: Lukas Kundert from Switzerland, who is Professor of New Testament at the University of Basel and President of the Church Council of the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Basel-Stadt (Switzerland), as well as Timothy Wengert, retired Professor of Church History from the United States who is known especially for his work on Philip Melanchthon and his long service on the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. The Board, thus once again fully staffed, is eager to accompany the Institute by means of its international connections and ecumenical expertise.

For more information about the Board, click here



The Board and the Staff

Conference on “Where Are you Heading, Ukraine?”

Conference and Discussion on “Orthodoxy in Ukraine: A Far-Reaching Conflict?”

In early April at a conference hosted by the Protestant Academy in Loccum, Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth of the Institute presented a short lecture in which she sketched out the historical situation of the church in Ukraine today. Orthodox priest Bohdan Ogulchanskyi of the Open Orthodox University Sophia/Kiev, who originally belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and then switched to the newly founded Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), presented the current ecclesiastical situation and emphasized the right of Ukraine to its own Orthodox church independent of Moscow.

As representative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), influential principally in western Ukraine, priest and professor Dr. Thomas Nemeth of the Eastern Church Institute in Würzburg, Germany, shed light on the possibilities for rapprochement between the various churches in the Ukraine through the founding of a new Orthodox church, which in fact would be a merger of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The difficulties, which have resulted through the bestowal of the tomos (recognition of autocephaly) on the OCU by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the associated recognition of it, were emphasized by Dr. Václav Ježek of the University of Prešov in a lecture on “Orthodox Churches of the Czech Lands and Slovakia,” who pointed out the ways in which the conflict in Ukraine is simply a reflection of the need for clarification of Orthodox ecclesiology and a decision regarding an already long-standing conflict. Dr. Dagmar Heller of the Konfessionskundliches Institut in Bensheim, Germany, laid out the significant consequences that a supposedly only local conflict between the churches in Ukraine might pose for worldwide ecumenism.

Through intensive discussion the lectures drew up the following sets of questions for further reflection:

1. Regarding the developments that affect all the churches in Ukraine: How will the established as well as the new churches relate to one another in the future? Will the majority of the congregations of the UOC-MP end up crossing over to the OCU? Or will, as it now appears, two concurrent Orthodox churches remain, of which the UOC-MP will probably be the dominant one? Will the new foundation of the OCU end up cementing a division in the nation, that will end up being solved in the same way? And how do things stand with the UGCC and the OCU? Will the two draw near to one another? Will it perhaps set a precedent that will be meaningful for worldwide Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism? Or are these only hopes that come out of current events but will be of no real consequence for dealings with the Catholic church?

2. Possibilities and Boundaries of the Establishment of the OCU: Will the OCU succeed in being the “Church of Ukraine”? A national church that can contribute to reconciliation? What does the new church stand for? For a modern, open, Western-oriented Orthodoxy? Or maybe, to the contrary, a church whose values are even more traditional than those of the UOC-MP? What dangers lie in the establishment of a Moscow-independent church? Will the OCU, in these circumstances, perhaps be instrumentalized by the Ukrainian government for its own political ends? Or will the church, for its own reasons, allow itself to be thus instrumentalized?

At the end of the forum there emerged altogether the impression of a situation that, at the moment, could turn in any direction, and requires ongoing observation of developments in the country.



Hommage à André Birmelé

On the occasion of the seventieth birthday of André Birmelé, the Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses—the journal of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Strasbourg, of which Birmelé was Dean from 2001 to 2006 and where he taught until 2014—has dedicated in issue in his honor.

This issue collects both French and German contributions around the theme “What Is Truth?” Authors include not only specialists in systematic theology and ecumenism like Birmelé himself, but also biblical exegetes, historians, philosophers, and pastoral theologians. (Additional articles around this theme will appear in a future issue.) The nine essays in the current issue are accompanied by a complete bibliography of Birmelé’s writings, which bear witness to the international reception of his many and important works.

This issue of more than 200 pages may be specially ordered from the Classiques Garnier publishing house in Paris: Flyer-RHPR

Photos of the ceremony of the handing over of the Festschrift at Strasbourg University on April 26, 2019:


The Finnish Bishops’ Conference at the Strasbourg Institute

The Strasbourg Institute welcomed the Bishops’ Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland on March 25–28 under the leadership of Archbishop Dr. Tapio Luoma. The Finnish guests, counting among them Board Member Bishop Dr. Matti Repo, were greeted on the evening of the 25th with a reception at the Institute, at which among other things the new ecumenical statement “Communion in Growth” of Finnish Lutherans together with representatives of the Catholic Church in Finland was presented.

The “study day” on March 26 began with a talk from Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth on the work of the Institute. It continued with a presentation from Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck on the theme “Vulnerability in Ecumenical Dialogues”. Prof. Dr. André Birmelé spoke about the current challenges for ecumenical dialogues as well as the new tasks to which the Institute has set itself. Prof. Wasmuth led in connection with this an interactive session of questions regarding how Lutheran identity today can be thought of globally. The day concluded with dinner in the city.

After a visit to the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights on March 27, the bishops met Dr. Gottfried W. Locher, the President of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches. On March 28, the bishops returned for a tour of Alsace accompanied by Institute staff, paying visits to the Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar and the newly reopened Humanist Library in Sélestat. Thanks to Ms. Elke Leypold the guests from Finland went on their way with eager promises to return soon. The meetings and conversations were personally as well as materially very exciting and inspired further communication and dialogue.

Photos: Elke Leypold, Maria Hinsenkamp

Meeting of the Bishops’ Conference of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (UELCG) at the Strasbourg Institute

The Institute for Ecumenical Research had the joy and honor of hosting the session of the bishops of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany from March 15 to 18, 2019, on the theme “The Episcopal Office, Lutheran Identity, and Leadership in the Church.” Following a reception on the first evening, the issues at hand were addressed the following day at the Séminaire Protestant in Strasbourg. The bishops of the seven member churches of the UELCG, along with ordained pastors serving in church leadership roles and representatives from both the UELCG and the German National Committee of the Protestant Church in Germany, took part in the conference. In addition, guests from the Lutheran churches of Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, and Silesia were invited to attend.

On Saturday the theme of the conference was addressed from a variety of perspectives. Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth (Director of the Strasbourg Institute) spoke about the Lutheran understanding of church leadership and thereby laid the groundwork for the discussion. In connection with this, Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter shed light on the Lutheran understanding in terms of its history in church controversies and with reference to current developments within the Lutheran World Federation. The third contribution from the Institute came from Prof. Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck, who dealt critically with the question of church leadership from the perspective of theologian Paul Tillich. To conclude, PD Dr. Holger Böckel reflected on church leadership from the perspective of organizational logistics and theological responsibility. At the end of the lectures there was time to discuss the various perspectives and facets of the Lutheran understanding of the ministry of leadership.

On Sunday March 17, the day began with a festive eucharistic worship service at the St. Thomas Church, which included a greeting from the chair of the bishops’ conference, Bp. Ralf Meister, and a sermon from French pastor Philippe Günther, the local inspecteur ecclésiastique. The service concluded with a welcome for the conference participants from the President of the Union of Protestant Churches in Alsace and Lorraine, Christian Albecker. After a tour of the Strasbourg cathedral led by Prof. Dr. Dieter and a report from the various international guests regarding the situation in their countries, the conference participants had the opportunity to speak with European delegates Arne Leitz (S&D) and Rainer Wieland (EVP) about the role of the church in Europe.

Monday morning was reserved for the business portion of the meeting, during which the international guests had a further look around Strasbourg, especially the old church St. Pierre-le-Jeune. After lunch, and thanks to Ms. Elke Leypold who undertook all the arrangements, the guests went on their way with a blessing for travel.

Photos: Henrike Müller, Elke Leypold


The German Ecumenical Studies Committee at the Strasbourg Institute, 6–8 February 2019

The Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg hosted a gathering of the German Ecumenical Studies Committee from February 6 to 8, 2019.

Under the auspices of a study day, the committee dealt with the theme “Where is Lutheranism Going? Opportunities and Challenges in the 21st Century.” Dr. Dr. Benjamin Hasselhorn (Wittenberg) and Prof. Dr. Ralf Frisch (Nürnberg) pointed out prospects for the Lutheran church in response to present-day challenges. In his lecture on “Lutheran Identity,” Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter of the Institute placed high priority on the communication of the theological content held by worldwide Lutheranism. Another portion of the working time focused on, among other things, ecumenical documents emerging from various national Lutheran-Catholic dialogues. After discussing the Finnish declaration on “Communion in Growth”, the committee wrapped up with a report on the German document “Gott und die Würde des Menschen” (God and the Value of Human Beings).

The German Ecumenical Studies Committee is a branch of the German National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation, which takes up the theological work of the LWF for the purpose of accompanying German Lutheranism and contemporary themes in ecumenical theology. To this committee belong representatives of Germany’s Lutheran Landeskirchen and Institutes for Ecumenical Research, delegates of the  United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) and a  member of the German National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation. Ecumenical guests participate as well.

Learn more (in German) at:

Dr. Mirjam Sauer

“A Call to Pan-Orthodox Unity”

Under the motto “A Call to Pan-Orthodox Unity,” the first conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) took place in Iaşi, Romania, from 9 to 12 January, 2019. More than 300 speakers from 35 countries were invited to give lectures in 70 assorted sessions as part of this Association, which was founded only in 2017.

At the center of many of the discussions was the conflict in Ukraine and its consequences for worldwide Orthodoxy. Within the framework of the conference, however, the topics did not deal only with the analysis of the situation as it is. Much more time was devoted to the foundational historical and theological presuppositions of the conflict and possibilities to overcome it.

In a session of the Ecclesiology Group on the theme of “Critical Ecclesiology,” Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth of the Institute gave a lecture on “New Orthodox Ecclesiological Approaches in an Ecumenical Perspective.” Different approaches to Orthodox ecclesiology were presented there and discussed with regard to their potential for solving intra-Orthodox conflicts as well as to how they could contribute to greater ecumenical understanding.

More information about IOTA can be found at:

Photo: IOTA

American Students Visit the Institute

On January 11, a group of 12 students from Wartburg Theological Seminary (Iowa) visited the Institute under the leadership of Prof. Nathan Frambach. The group had paid a visit to the Communion Office of LWF in Geneva, and after two days in Strasbourg they continued their journey travelling to Taizé. Prof. Theodor Dieter offered two lectures on the ecumenical work of the LWF in which the Institute has been involved for more than 50 years: the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the reconciliation with the Mennonites, the commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation (“From Conflict to Communion”) with the ecumenical prayer service in the Cathedral of Lund (Sweden) with Pope Francis and the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation on October 31, 2016.

Here is the feedback from Prof. Frambach to Prof. Dieter: “On behalf of our entire J-term group from Wartburg Seminary, I wish to thank you once again for your gracious hospitality and warm kindness during our visit to Strasbourg and the Institute. It was a day of profound learning for all of us, and the students were so very impressed with the breadth and depth of your knowledge and your passionate commitment to the work of ecumenism, unity, and peace. And I must say, the personal tour of the magnificent Strasbourg cathedral was brilliant and above and beyond the call of your hospitality. Thank you, Theo, and I do hope that our paths will cross again soon in the near future.”

Photo: Nathan Frambach

Ecumenism “ad fontes”

From May to July 2018 I had the opportunity to do an internship at the Institute for Ecumenical Research, following my year of study at the Protestant Faculty at the University of Strasbourg. As a result of a conversation with Prof. Jennifer Wasmuth I decided to devote my work to researching the history of the Institute. The core of this research project was intensive reading of yearly reports and letters dating back to 1963, as well as the reports written for the assemblies of the Lutheran World Federation starting in 2003.

Given the wealth of material and shortness of time, I quickly decided to concentrate on the early history of the Institute. In the many documents from the early years concerning the establishment of the Institute there is to be found a deep ecumenical passion paired with an active interest in research on the part of those who directed the development of the Institute. I found both of these aspects still to be alive and well in all of the Institute staff, and I am extremely thankful to them for enriching my own personal ecumenical work with this glimpse at ecumenism at the source.

Katrin Haas, Pastor of the Evangelische Landeskirche in Württemberg

Harding Meyer (1928 – 2018)

Obituary by André Birmelé 

The worldwide ecumenical movement lost in Harding Meyer’s death on the first of December this year one of its most important figures. Meyer was an ecumenical visionary and a pioneer. Many of the developments in global bilateral relationships can be traced back to him. We have much to thank him for.

Originally, however, Meyer had no particular interest in ecumenism. In 1958 he took a post as docent at the Lutheran theological faculty in San Leopoldo, Brazil. As a good Lutheran theologian, he was principally interested in the truth. In those days, before the Second Vatican Council, he met and spoke with representatives of the locally very strong Catholic church, through which Meyer gradually became convinced that concern for the truth could not be divorced from the question of the unity of the church. When, in 1966, he was called to the role of Secretary for Ecumenical Questions at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, he was able to bring this conviction to the global level. The first international dialogue in which he participated was the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue, which began in 1967. He took part in this dialogue for twenty-five years.

In 1971 Meyer moved to the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. The LWF had founded the Institute at its assembly in Helsinki in 1963 to accompany Lutherans’ global dialogues with other Christian churches. At the outset the Institute had multiple difficulties so it fell to Meyer to give it the necessary direction and drive to do its work. His focal points were equally conducting dialogue and intensive investigation of the Lutheran heritage, on the principle that it is only dialogue partners who fully know their own identity can successfully engage in a dialogue that is not satisfied with compromises but always looks to the ultimate goal of the unity of the church throughout the world.

Due to his already vast experience, Meyer dreamed of an Institute where Lutheran scholars from many different countries around the world in all their diversity would work together. Thus these representatives, while eachworking on the global level to converse with a specific Christian family, would also need to keep their attention focused on their local contexts. This was bound up with travel to give lectures and courses in locations all over the world. Meyer developed this dream and contributed to the Institute’s international recognition which it continues to enjoy to this day. Specific theologies and church institutionsas seen individually in countries were too narrow a scope for him. He was convinced that there was not just one way to be church, and the Institute should not speak as if there was. For this reason he insisted that the directorship of the Institute would rotate among the staff every two years. This was an important structural principle to keep the Institute open to voices from around the world without the post turning into a matter of bureaucratic administration. Meyer himself took on this two-year post a number of times, but he was equally happy when a colleague from Eritrea, Indonesia, Finland, or the US held it. So he enacted within the Institute’s structure his fundamental conviction: unity in diversity! Not only dialogue with other churches, but first of all dialogue within Lutheranism.

The many activities that Meyer took part in, his numerous publications, and the impetus he gave to others are so many and so wide-reaching that it is not possible to enumerate them in detail. But two in particular have had such great significance that they are worth saying a few words more about.

As mentioned above, Meyer took part in the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue from the beginning. He was the Lutheran expert. Already in its first report (1972) the dialogue achieved a wide-reaching consensus on the understanding of salvation. This was further verified in the understanding of the Lord’s Supper (1978). There it was asserted that a basic consensus existed on the doctrine of the Eucharist, and only the question of the office of ministry remained an obstacle. Accordingly, the dialogue then turned to the ministry. It was acknowledged in the 1981 report that in this domain there remained unresolved questions.

Meyer was of the opinion that only an official statement at the highest ecclesiastical levels would lead to the widespread reception of these dialogue results. His first attempt, under the title “Facing Unity,” was however rejected. In response, he took up a suggestion originating in the US to work on a “Declaration” that would express the basic consensus on the understanding of salvation and how the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century could be lifted between the two churches today. The outcome was the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), which was signed in 1999 by the Vatican and the churches of the LWF. This declaration is of the highest significance, since it is to date the one and only declaration that the Roman church has signed with a church of the Reformation. Meyer himself wrote the first draft of the JDDJ. He initiated the whole process. This first draft was thoroughly edited,and the project wascarried on after Meyer’s retirement by others, mainlyhis successor, Theodor Dieter. Nevertheless, Meyer accompanied the entire process, even from a distance, from beginning to end. His personal contacts also played a critical role in the process, for instance his good relationship with Cardinal Lehmann and, not least of all, with Pope John Paul II, who received him in private audiences. The JDDJ is an important result of recent ecumenical efforts. It in large part can be traced back to the preliminary workby Meyer.

The second momentous contribution that Meyer made that should be mentioned here concerns methodology. When scholars enter into dialogue, they are charting new territory. They must address not just the topic itself but the goal of the conversation and the ways to get there. Much that is taken for granted today here also can be traced back to Meyer’s innovative work. In particular he formulated two principles that are used throughout the world today, even by people who have no idea who authored them.

The first principle concerns models of unity. Meyer advocated for “unity in reconciled diversity.” Unity as uniformity was a totally foreign concept for him. Diversity is essential for church life. The problem lies in the divisive character of certain differences. This divisive character is specifically what must be overcome. That is the goal of the dialogues. Dialogue therefore reaches its goal when differences have been reconciled, which is to say that they are seen as legitimate expressions of the same gospel. A prime example of this is the four Gospels in the holy Scripture. They are different, have different emphases, and nevertheless they agree in the essentials.

In this same way, Meyer argued, the various Christian families should seek to be reconciled to one another without sacrificing their own distinctive identities. This vision was not that of the World Council of Churches, and there were some very tense conversations between the Institute in Strasbourg and Lukas Vischer, the leader of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission. Meyer’s approach eventually won the day, as is witnessed not only by the JDDJ but by many other ecumenical developments as well.

The second principle that can be traced back to Meyer and has since been adopted worldwide is “differentiated consensus.” It is closely connected to “unity in reconciled diversity.” If unity is not uniformity, then so also must any consensus that would lead to unity cannot contradict the principle of “reconciled diversity.” Therefore consensus must not merely tolerate remaining legitimate differences in silence but expressly name and claim them as reconciled and therefore not divisive differences. In this way, consensus itself must be differentiated.

Here again the best example is the JDDJ. It makes clear that a consensus in the doctrine of justification exists and that the same fundamental truths can be said by the respective partners in different ways. However, since the notion of “differentiated consensus” has been misunderstood in many ways leading to different valuations of consensusas more or less full consensus, it is better now to speak of “differentiating consensus.” This in any event better expresses what Meyer intended and what today many bilateral dialogues confirm.

It is an interesting fact that even civil society has adopted these principles. The former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, visited Meyer in Strasbourg in order to better understand his approach. Thus this way of engaging in dialogue takes place today not only in Strasbourg, but also in Brussels.

Deeply rooted in the Christian faith and faithful to his Lutheran heritage, Harding Meyer always strove for the unity of the church. But for him it was much like elderly Moses at the edge of the promised land. Meyer saw the unity of the church from afar but it was not given to him to enter into it. But he did much to set the churches on the right course and direct them. All of us, his colleagues and successors, are indebted to his approaches to ecumenism and are eager to continue along the road he first explored.

Harding Meyer died in the night of the first Sunday of Advent. A candle is lit and we are on the way to meet the Lord. Meyer has already arrived there. He sees now fully what we see only in part.

Thank you, Harding!

Download: Kurzbiographie Harding Meyer


Photo: D. zur Nedden

Third Meeting of LWF with Pentecostals

In October the international Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue met for the third time in its five-year process, on this occasion in Santiago, Chile. Exploring over the course of its meetings Luke 4:18–19 (cf. Isaiah 61:1–2), this year the dialogue took up the theme “to proclaim good news to the poor.” Following on the previous meetings’ focus on self-introductions and the call to proclaim the gospel, this year turned to a more critical examination of the so-called prosperity gospel.

Often conflated with Pentecostalism, though unjustly so, prosperity theology declares that God has guaranteed material prosperity and worldly success to those who have “real” faith. The troubling aspects of this teaching are numerous: blaming people for their own poverty, denying the faith of those who suffer, breaking solidarity between people, and turning God into a mechanical giver of favors.

In contrast, both Pentecostal and Lutheran speakers emphasized the long legacy of service to the poor in their communities, not to mention the experience of poverty by members on both sides. Both called for a truly evangelical understanding of prosperity as the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that God desires for all people, not for a select few and not for some at the expense of others.

As usual, the dialogue teams made a point of engaging with local churches, Lutheran and Pentecostal alike, and inviting local theologians to sit in on and participate in the conversation. An added ecumenical dimension was that the dialogue met at the Catholic retreat center of San Francisco Javier in Santiago. A visit to the museum of human rights, detailing the brutal dictatorship in Chile from 1973 to 1989, reminded all present vividly of the worst outcomes of failed solidarity and lopsided prosperity.

Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, a Visiting Professor of the Institute who currently works in Japan as a pastoral missionary with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, served as Consultant to the dialogue, as she has in the past two years and will again in 2019, when the dialogue meets in Africa, and in 2020, when the dialogue will conclude this process by preparing a public statement. Prof. Wilson also took part in the final two years of the proto-dialogue initiated by the Institute (2004–2010) and wrote A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans, which includes a chapter on prosperity gospel.

For more on the Santiago meeting, see the press release from the Lutheran World Federation.

Ecumenical Course in Zaragoza, Spain

Eight years ago the ecumenical community Chemin Neuf adopted the Charterhouse of Aula Dei, a Carthusian monastery in Zaragoza, Spain.

The monks who built up this world-famous charterhouse over the course of centuries could no longer maintain it, due to their much-reduced numbers. However, the Chemin Neuf community—which is active in many countries around the world—took over the area and renovated it, turning into a center of theological education. Engaged Christians of all different denominations and confessions meet there for three- or six-month-long courses. At present the emphasis is equally on substantial continuing education in theology as well as on sharing a common spiritual life.

Already back in 2013 the community invited André Birmelé of the Strasbourg Institute to teach a week-long course in the program. He did so for the sixth time in November 2018. Fifty-six students from eleven nations gathered together in Zaragoza. They came were Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Copts from Egypt, Orthodox, and Maronites.

Previously Prof. Birmelé focused his week’s teaching on a general introduction to ecumenism. This year it was decided to address the ecumenical issue on the basis of a specific theme,  that of sin, grace, and salvation. This realization allowed for an existential approach to ecumenical questions. Almost none of the participants had ever heard before of the consensus in matters pertaining to salvation, namely the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was signed in 1999 by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches. Methodists, Anglicans and the Reformed associated some years later. In fact, up to that point almost none of the participants had ever even had an ecumenical encounter. As a result, there was great interest in the topic and many discoveries were made in the context of getting to know other churches.

In this framework a Lutheran worship service was held, presided over by Pastor Cathy Birmelé. Differently from in previous years, this time neither Lutheran nor Reformed participants attended the course in Zaragoza. In spite of this it was important to celebrate this service to further the cause of mutual understanding. The majority of participants took part in holy communion. It was an occasion of intense spiritual fellowship.

Photo: Chemin Neuf

Identity and Authenticity in the Church of the Global Village

The Eastern Churches Institute of the Diocese of Regensburg (“Ostkircheninstitut der Diözese Regensburg“) founded only in 2016, sponsored a symposium on October 5 and 6 of this year on the topic “Identity and Authenticity in the Churches of the ‘Global Village’: Ecclesial Rapprochement of East and West through Common Goals?” The symposium, which took place at the initiative of the new director of the Institute, Dr. Dietmar Schon, enabled a development of themes blending traditonal theological approaches such as exegesis, church history, and dogmatics with newer results of scholarship on identity stemming from fields like religious studies, sociology, and psychology. Bp. Dr. Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Metropolitan Panteleimon (Arathymos) of Congo-Brazzaville delivered the main lectures. While Voderholzer stressed the possibility of Roman Catholic-Orthodox consensus in view of wide-ranging dogmatic agreement on ecclesiological questions, Metropolitan Panteleimon confirmed its necessity: in the context of Africa, the churches have had to become missional together. The extent to which a “values-based ecumenism” can be a model of the future of confessional cooperation was the topic taken up by Strasbourg’s Prof. Jennifer Wasmuth in her lecture. All the contributions to the symposium will appear next year in a volume of a new series of “Papers from the Eastern Churches Institute of the Diocese of Regensburg.”

Visit from the Theological Faculty of Humboldt University

A group of students from the theological faculty of Berlin’s Humboldt University visited the Institute in the context of an excusion to Strasbourg in May 2018. The excursion took place under the leadership of Dr. Andrea Hofmann, dedicated to the theme of “The Reformation in Strasbourg”. The visit to the Institute served a specific aspect of this theme and at the same time its present-day relevance: the emergence and persecution of Mennonite congregations, alongside the intensive dialogue process between the Lutheran World Federation and the Mennonite World Conference, which led to a service of reconciliation between the two groups in Stuttgart in 2010. Lectures from Prof. Jennifer Wasmuth and Prof. Theodor Dieter opened the way for a lively conversation, with the future of ecumenism as the central point of concern.


The Tenth Anniversary of “Studying Luther in Wittenberg”

In November 2018, the Strasbourg Institute’s Prof. Theodor Dieter (Germany) and Visiting Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Japan/USA) taught their tenth consecutive seminar on Studying Luther in Wittenberg.

The seminars Studying Luther in Wittenberg were developed as part of the work of the LWF Center Wittenberg in recognition of the need to deepen the meaning of the word “Lutheran” in the self-description of the churches and their organizations. The idea was to bring Lutheran pastors from all over the world together in order to offer them the opportunity of studying carefully Luther’s key writings, getting acquainted with the context of Luther’s theological thinking by staying in Luther’s own city and visiting the sites of Lutheran history, relating Luther’s insights to the many different contexts from which the participants come, and of building friendships and increased awareness of the global Lutheran communion.

Uncertain at first of the reception of the project, the professors have over the past decade been no less than astounded at the enthusiasm the participants have shown toward the seminar. With now over 200 graduates of the program—many of whom have gone on to become bishops and LWF council members—they can say with confidence that Luther is not an irrelevant figure from the dustbin of history, but a potent, prophetic voice still speaking to our personal, ecclesial, and social situations even half a millennium later. Deep knowledge of Luther’s profound theological vision is essential for pastors today and instrumental in building up the Lutheran communion across the globe.

This year’s special topic was Luther’s spirituality. As usual, the first week laid a foundation with an overview of the Middle Ages and the sixteenth century, Luther’s biography, and the key theological topics of justification by faith and the distinction between law and gospel. The professors have found that it cannot be taken for granted that either of these “key” topics will in fact have been effectively communicated to participants, but they are foundational to any further reading of Luther. The second week then turned to Luther’s writings on prayer, reading the Bible, pastoral care, and the sacraments, and finally his hymns, illustrating the “mighty, active” nature of faith that strives to live soberly in the flesh, justly with the neighbor, and devoutly before God.

Participants came from all over the world: Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Swaziland, and the United States. They visited the Luther and Melanchthon houses, met the mayor of Wittenberg, traveled to Erfurt and the Wartburg, and joined the local English conversation evening. New and lasting friendships were made, and daily prayers framed this intensive immersion in the gospel of Christ. Ten years of Studying Luther in Wittenberg were celebrated with a nice reception in the Colleg Wittenberg with many stories commemorating a decade of Luther seminars.

Theodor Dieter und Sarah Hinlicky Wilsonare especially grateful that they had the opportunity to work together with Rev. Hans Kasch for more than nine years. Hans served as director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg until his retirement in 2018. Their cooperation with Hans was always trustful and appreciative, with a clear division of labor and responsibilities, it was really a pleasure. Many thanks to Hans, and best wishes for his retirement! The professors have beenglad to begin a new partnership with Inken Woehlbrandthis year, the new director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg. They look forward to many more years of Studying Luther in Wittenberg in the LWF Center under Inken’s leadership.

To apply for the seminars in 2019, please visit the website of the LWF Center:

Photos: Glaubig, Woodward

New Seminar on “Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg!”

Invitation to a new seminar offered by the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg

Strasbourg, October 2 – 12, 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation!

The Institute for Ecumenical Research has established a new seminar for Lutheran pastors and advanced students that will be held for the first time in 2019 (October 2-12) in Strasbourg. The seminar is meant to contribute to a specific aspect of the self-understanding of the LWF: “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.” This is a commitment that is not fulfilled automatically, rather it calls for serious efforts in order to honor it. The seminar will have three main goals:

First, LWF has an ecumenical history of more than 60 years with several historic achievements like the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the LWF and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999, the reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites at the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart in 2010, and the historic ecumenical prayer service in Lund with Pope Francis and the leaders of LWF in commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation in 2016. The basic events and documents of this history should be transmitted to the younger generation of Lutheran pastors and theologians so that what has been achieved can continue to influence the relations between the churches involved. Unfortunately, ecumenism is not very often taught at the universities or seminaries where Lutherans are educated. The Strasbourg Institute has been involved in all these processes, and it is committed to hand over the knowledge of these ecumenical dialogues to as many Lutheran pastors and students as possible. The teaching and studying will include the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, The Apostolicity of the Church, From Conflict to Communion (documents with respect to the Roman Catholic Church), the Leuenberg Agreement (with respect to the Reformed Churches), Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ (with respect to the Mennonites), Lutheran–Orthodox and Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogues.

Secondly, the participants of the seminar will be asked to report about the relation between the churches in their respective countries. In hearing and discussing these reports, concepts and tools will be developed to describe and analyze the ecumenical situations in their countries. Bringing the contemporary experience of the LWF member churches into a dialogue with the insights and experience of LWF’s ecumenical history will allow for developing and proposing steps for a rapprochement between churches in the countries of the participants.
Thirdly, the seminar will take 10 days with a maximum of 20 participants. This will give the rare opportunity for the participants coming from very different contexts in the South and the North, the East and the West to enter into a very intense transcultural dialogue about ecumenical theology and practice. This dialogue will be a major contribution to communion building within LWF.

The seminar will take place in Strasbourg (France), a beautiful old city with a rich Reformation history and with a conflicting history between Germany and France, a city that after World War II has become a symbol for reconciliation and a bridge between the German speaking world and the Latin world. The European Parliament meets every month for a week in Strasbourg.
We kindly ask you to identify appropriate female or male persons of whom you might expect that participating in the seminar will benefit themselves and your church. Please consider the following requirements:

  • very good knowledge of English since the seminar is held in English
  • good theological education
  • endorsement of the leadership of your church
  • pastors with some years of parish experience or advanced students with special knowledge in Lutheran theology

A certificate will be delivered upon successful participation.

The itinerary of the seminar will be as follows:
Oct. 2 Arrival in Strasbourg
Oct. 3-5 Seminar, part 1
Oct. 6 Sunday worship service and outing into beautiful Alsace
Oct. 7-11 Seminar, part 2
Oct. 12 Departure

Please note that participants are requested to be present for the whole time of the seminar. Personal trips or excursions after the seminar are possible at one’s own expense and responsibility and should be indicated in the application form.
Please find attached the registration form that should be returned to us as soon as possible, but not later than January 31, 2019. Due to the limited funds we have to ask the churches in North America and Western and Northern Europe to cover the costs or to subsidize their participants. In addition to travel expenses participants need EUR 1.000 for accommodation, food, the excursion, entrance fees, and materials etc. Participants from other regions of LWF are kindly asked to consider what they could contribute. The fair membership fees in the LWF for all member churches could be a model for this. The more money we save, the more participants we can invite in the future.
We kindly ask for your understanding if not all applications can be accepted. In 2019, we cannot have more than 20 participants. But there will be seminars in the future.
We ask for your cooperation, and we hope that this brand new seminar will be of interest for your church.


Visit of Orthodox Theologians at the Institute

A group of Greek Orthodox theologians under the leadership of Rev. Prof. Dr. Christos Filiotis visited the Institute on July 4, 2018. After a brief introduction to the Institute’s work and a report about the state of Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue by Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth, there followed an intensive discussion about the Communiqué released within the framework of the International Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue on the theme “Ordained Ministry/Priesthood.” The participants were all agreed that the Communiqué ought to be considered important, for it records a first consensus on the difficult theological questions surrounding the office of ministry, though further clarification will still be needed.

Read the text of the Communiqué:

53rd International Ecumenical Seminar 2019

Doctrines divides – Spirituality unites?

Strasbourg, France, July 3 – 10, 2019

Ecumenical dialogues have in the last decades occupied themselves chiefly with controversial questions of doctrine, even while knowing full well that the relationships between churches and people encompass a great deal more than matters of doctrine. Much has been achieved in these dialogues, as was seen clearly in the ecumenical celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The dialogues, however, have their limits. On the one hand, in many cases it is hard to see how the divisive character of certain doctrines might be overcome. On the other hand, it is important to maintain that doctrine is intended to orient the Christian life and assist it. But even when agreement is reached on matters of doctrine, the relationship between the respective churches is altered only over a long period of time, and only if the doctrine is actually anchored in the living faith of the church members. Now, for many people today, questions of doctrine have lost their meaning, but spirituality and the experience of faith have grown ever more important.

Strasbourg Cathedral. Photo: Andrew Wilson, 2015

Therefore, it is ecumenically of great interest to see how certain forms of spirituality that originally arose in one church or another are now being practiced in greater and greater numbers by Christians in other churches. Ignatius Loyola’s spiritual exercises, Orthodox icons, the Jesus Prayer, the Herrnhut Daily Watchwords, and charismatic praise music are just a few examples of this. Such forms of spirituality connect Christians across the borders of their churches. What ecumenical potential lies in such commonly practiced spirituality? What faith content is actualized and lived out in them? How can the respective forms of spirituality relate to the doctrines of different churches with their distinctive approach to the Christian faith?

These are the questions that the seminar will ask and try to answer. In so doing we are altering the old ecumenical motto “Doctrine divides, service unites” to try out instead “Doctrine divides, spirituality unites?”—but with a question mark at the end. Speakers from different churches, communities, movements, and nations will present examples of cross-confessional spirituality, report on their experiences, reflect on them, and in so doing try to break new ecumenical ground.

In addition to the theological discussions, the Seminar fosters opportunity for conversation among the participants, reports of their own ecumenical or confessional experiences, the posing of questions and offering of responses. Since participants come from many different churches and countries, this exchange is always especially exciting and enlightening, both in the plenary sessions and in small group work. The conversation continues over delicious French food at the Stift’s dining hall or a glass of wine in one of the charming restaurants in the old city of Strasbourg.


English and German are the main languages of the seminar. Simultaneous interpretation of every lecture and discussion is available. In the plenary participants can also offer interventions in French.


The cost of the seminar, including full pension and a single dormitory room, is € 750,-. Financial support may be granted through the participants’ home churches or other institutions. We encourage participants to contact their church leaders in this regard. As in previous years, a small portion of participant fees are used to cover the cost of participants from Eastern Europe and other continents.


Arrival July 3, 2019 (registration in afternoon, welcome dinner and reception in evening). Departure July 10 (breakfast provided), 2019, in Strasbourg, France.

Registration and Information

Registration until April 15, 2019. For information please contact Elke Leypold:

Download flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-2019


Séminaire Protestant



Seminar 2018: Fundamentalism as Ecumenical Challenge

“Fundamentalism as an Ecumenical Challenge”—the theme of this year’s Summer Seminar at the Institute—drew more than 50 theologians from around the world and from many different churches to Strasbourg from July 2 to 9, 2018. The seminar took place in the centrally located Protestant Seminary, which made for a very pleasant setting for a rich week of exchange and encounter. Thanks to first-rate lectures in the plenary session and intensive discussion during the smaller working groups, participants had the opportunity to dive into the theme in its many aspects.

Two American researchers opened the conference. Prof. Dr. R. Scott Appleby from Chicago, who has worked on the definitive Fundamentalism Project from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, offered a conceptual clarification of the term “fundamentalism” that focused on its broad empirical basis and its precisely identified criteria, in distinction from the sweeping and polemical usage more often encountered in popular speech. Prof. Dr. Mark Granquist from Minnesota deepened the terminological reflections through a presentation of the history of fundamentalism in the U.S. Regional perspectives were put forward in lectures from Bishop Dr. Ndanganeni Phaswana (Johannesburg/South Africa) and Prof. Dr. Gisa Bauer (Leipzig/Germany), respectively focusing on fundamentalist tendencies in Africa and Europe.

Insofar as such tendencies can be found in all different kinds of Christian denominations as well as in all different religions, vivid lectures were presented by theologian Prof. Dr. Sonja Angelika Strube (Osnabrück/Germany) regarding “Fundamentalist Tendencies in the Spectrum of Roman Catholic Faith” and by religion researcher Prof. Dr. Vasilios Makrides (Erfurt/Germany) on “Rigorism/Fundamentalism in Orthodox Christianity,” along with lectures from Islamic scholar Dr. Ghasan El Masri (Berlin/Germany) on “Exegetic Approach to the Koran” and Archimandrite Dr. Alexi Chehadeh (Damascus/Syria) on “Is a Dialogue with Islamists Possible?”

Since fundamentalist tendencies not always but often go together with a particular understanding of Scripture, one portion of the seminar was devoted to various traditions of interpretation. Two French theologians, Prof. Dr. Christian Grappe (Strasbourg) and Prof. Dr. David Bouillon, offered highly informative lectures on this topic.

At the end of the seminar it was much clearer than at the beginning what can be meaningfully designated “fundamentalism” and in what way it presents a striking ecumenical challenge. How to go about dealing with it remains an open question. The Strasbourg Institute will continue to deal with this issue in the future.

Along with the academic topics, the seminar also offered the opportunity to get to know Strasbourg and its environs. An important element each day was prayer in the St. Thomas Church next door and closing worship with the Lord’s Supper at the venerable church of St. Pierre-le-Jeune.

Some reactions by Seminar participants:

“We shared opinions and research papers without digging in or rejecting other’s opinions and were able to admit that we all have fundamentalist tendencies in certain situations. The operating definition of the term of “fundamentalism” presented us with a dilemma, because it presupposed one correct notion against the other. The reality is that the term originally referred to a ‘foundation’ that cannot be left out, such as laying a firm foundation for the house or any building. The violent actions of fundamentalists should not sidetrack us from the positive meaning of the term.” (Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana, South Africa)

“As a Pentecostal academic and clergyperson working among African migrants, the seminar helped me to appreciate my identity, as well collaborate with others in our work of faith.” (Dr. Joseph Bosco Bangura)

“I am really thankful for participating. It was my first time and for sure I will go home with many things to think about. It was a great privilege to meet so many different and interesting people and to hear their opinions and thoughts. It was also a great pleasure to take part in the daily devotions. I wish all the best for the Institute’s work.” (Theodora Mavridou, Greece)

“It was a wonderfully stimulating seminar with many great encounters. The breadth of speakers was exceptionally enriching.” (Rev. Peter Fahr, Germany)

“Rarely in my life have I experienced in a one-week seminar such a variety of deeply informed lectures alongside profound conversations in internationally diverse working groups. The opportunity to be in a learning community of scholars and participants is a special feature of the Strasbourg Seminar. And of the wonderful Alsatian food nothing more needs to be said! Thanks.” (Rev. Stephan Mühlich, Germany)

“The Summer Seminar took the theme and shed great light on it. The lectures from scholars were very profitable in their practical application. It was an opportunity to get to know other participants who brought their own experiences and questions. A week that will keep me thinking all year! Many many thanks!” (Rev. Tabea Baader, Germany)

“The Seminar leaves me with open-ended questions and more reflections to think about, even after leaving Strasbourg. To find answers why fundamentalism is both a challenge and an opportunity for ecumenism; to ask why it sounds negative when the meaning of the root is positive. The presentations were great, so was the arrangement of the schedules, and of course the friendly people we met during our stay in Strasbourg.” (Jenny Purba, Indonesia)

“Helpful—friendly—stimulating—well-run and well-fed—the Ecumenical Seminar in Strasbourg was ‘great once again’.” (Rev. Ulrich Heinzelmann, Germany)

“What an astonishing privilege to attend the 52nd International Ecumenical Seminar. It has been highly intellectual, theologically challenging and pastorally missional! This Seminar is very enriching. Thank you!” (Bishop J. Priestly Balasingh, India)

“Intercultural, constructive, productive. The whole approach shed great light on the theme. The breadth of the lectures especially revealed many different aspects of the topic at hand.” (Dr. Stefan Dienstbeck, Germany)


8th International Conference for Orthodox Theology

Over 120 representatives of various Orthodox churches and academic institutions gathered from May 21 to 25, 2018, for the Eighth International Conference for Orthodox Theology. Organized by the Theological Faculty of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, it took place under the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. The conference took up the theme “The Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church—Orthodox Theology in the 21st Century,” which is why the focal point of the numerous lectures was the complicated pre-history of the Council and its dramatic twists and turns, such that only ten of the Orthodox churches came together for the 2016 Council in Crete.

Invited to the conference was also an array of ecumenical guests to offer an evaluation of the Council from their own perspective. In a podium discussion in the magnificent plenary room of the university, Roman Catholic theologian Fr. Dr. Frans Bouwen, Anglican theologian Canon Dr. Jamie Hawkey, Dr. Odair Mateus of the World Council of Churches, and Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth of the Institute in Strasbourg all basically declared the Council to be positive for ecumenism, though at the same time there were critical remarks regarding the prospects for future dialogue. All in all the conference left the impression of a very lively, ongoing theological discussion about how the Orthodox churches can face the many challenges of the 21st century. Read more about the conference here.


Photos: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Theology

Academic Celebration for Prof. Dr. Karl Christian Felmy

Prof. Dr. Karl Christian Felmy, who for many years participated in the LWF dialogue with the Orthodox churches, was honored on May 5, 2018, on the occasion of his 80th birthday with an academic celebration hosted by the Protestant Faculty of Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

The celebration was organized by the General Secretary of the Martin-Luther-Bund, Pastor Michael Hübner, in cooperation with the Protestant Faculty. It took place in Wassersaal, in the sparklingly restored banquet hall of the Orangerie in the Castle Garden, with the participation of numerous international guests. After a greeting from Prof. Dr. Anselm Schubert, the current chair of the Protestant Faculty, a laudatio was presented by Prof. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth of the Institute in Strasbourg, along with lectures by Prof. Dr. Heinz Ohme (Humboldt University, Berlin) and Prof. Dr. Daniel Benga (Ludwing Maximillian University, Munich). The program, which was framed by the organ music of the University’s music director, Prof. Dr. Konrad Klek, was led by Prof. Dr. Haçik Rafi Gazer, who during the winter semester of 2006/2007 was called to take the position formerly held by Prof. Felmy. In the various presentations, the contributions of Prof. Felmy’s work, especially in the area of prayer in the Orthodox liturgy and iconography, as well as his multifaceted ecumenical engagement, were brought forward and their ongoing significance explored. The contributions are available online in German in the journal Ostkirchliche Studien.


Traineeship at the Institute

Sebastian Madejski with Profs. Wasmuth and Dieter at the InstituteMy name is Sebastian Madejski and I have studied Protestant theology in Warsaw, Poland, and in Bonn, Germany. From January to March 2018, I did a traineeship with Prof. Dr. Dieter at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. It was a very intensive time for me: each day I studied the document “The Apostolicity of the Church,” which is the result of many years of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. I focused on the understanding of ministry in these two theological traditions. I followed the argumentations of both sides to understand the conclusions presented in the text.

In Strasbourg I was able to gain better knowledge of how ecumenical dialogue develops. I could see how experts around the world discuss foundational issues of theology. In my point of view, “Apostolicity” is a testimony to true theological debate, which is based on tolerance and respect. Finding a common language and theological arguments that could explain differences and common dimensions of faith is what I saw at the Institute for Ecumenical Research. I had the feeling that modern theology was being created before my very eyes!

I am very glad to have been part of the Institute for a short time and that I was able to contribute to the work of the professors there. During my time in Strasbourg I prepared a presentation about the contribution of the Reformation Anniversary 2017 in Poland and a film about the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. I hope that my paper and the results of my research in Strasbourg will help to bring about the reception of ecumenical dialogues also in Poland.

Consultation in Klingenthal 2018

Every 18 months, the Institute brings together ecumenical experts from different countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, USA) and different churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Roman Catholic) in the château Klingenthalin order to discuss both results of the ecumenical dialogues and challenges. The last consultation took place from March 20 to 23, 2018. The topic was: “The ecumenical harvest of the commemoration of the Reformation and future ecumenical challenges.” The difficult way to a joint Catholic-Evangelical/Protestant commemoration of the Reformation was analyzed – an outstanding fruit of this work is the Lutheran/Roman Catholic document “From Conflict to Communion” (translated into 20 languages). It served as the basis for the ecumenical worship service jointly led by Pope Francis and the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation in Lund on October 31, 2016. The consultation mentioned the very many ecumenical services, seminars, presentations, exhibitions and actions – this ecumenical dimension of the commemoration of the Reformation, surpassing by far all expectations, seems to have been the most remarkable fruit of the commemoration year 2017. The consultation reflected the special significance that signs, symbols, pictures, and actions played in this process beside the contribution of ecumenical theology. With respect to the future of ecumenism, clarification of the conceptions of the unity of the church was emphasized as urgent task. The participants also reflected on the so-called in-via-declarations whether they allow for receiving officially insights of the ecumenical dialogue in a binding form by the churches, even though consensus has not been achieved on all divisive questions. The promising ecumenical perspectives that the pontificate of Pope Francis offer were taken into consideration. It is important to use the possibilities that this Pope offers.

On the Way to Fellowship

Auf dem Weg zur Gemeinschaft. 50 Jahre internationaler evangelisch-lutherisch/römisch-katholischer Dialog ["On the Way to Fellowship: 50 Years of International Evangelical Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue], eds. André Birmelé und Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn and Leipzig: Bonifatius and EVA, 2018), 423 pp.

In April 2018 (finally!) this volume appeared which contains the contributions to the 2016 Summer Seminar hosted by the Institute. The book is dedicated to Theodor Dieter, who celebrated his 65th birthday during the seminar. Its theme was the same as the first Lutheran-Catholic international dialogue decided upon at the Institute in April 1966, which had its first meeting in 1967. The organizers of the seminar saw to it that participants from various rounds of the dialogue assembled at the seminar. In pairs, a Catholic and a Lutheran speaker illuminated the road traveled so far. Reports on the developments on various continents, methodological reflections, and perspectives for the future completed the picture.

The book is introduced by the contribution of the recently deceased Cardinal Lehmann and the conclusion comes from Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. Special thanks are due Elke Leypold, the Institute’s Administrative Assistant, who undertook all the necessary editorial tasks for the production of the volume. The book may be thought of as a reference guide that lays out the history, background, and development of the dialogue, leading up to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 and the key role of Pope Francis at the Reformation jubilee worship service in Lund, Sweden, in 2016.

Colloquium in Venice

Colloquium in Venice 2018The St. Bernardino Institute of Ecumenical Studies in Venice, which is the ecumenical institute of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Italy, has been closely associated with the Strasbourg Institute for many years now. Every two years it hosts a theological conference between the Venetian and the Strasbourg teams. This encounter is important, as the Italian scholars have hardly any opportunity to meet with Lutheran theologians, excepting in the city of Rome.

This year’s conference took place from April 5 to 7. Our Italian friends expressed the wish to work on the Strasbourg Institute’s major study on “Lutheran Identity.” To the lectures and questions of the Italian scholars the Strasbourg team responded with lectures by J. Wasmuth, M. Arnold, T. Dieter, and A. Birmelé. A major theme of the conversation was the understanding of the office of ministry and especially the issue of whether the office of ministry belongs to the “essence” of the church, according to Lutheran theology. It became once again clear how important it is for the Strasbourg Institute to undertake foundational ecumenical work precisely in those countries where the desire and effort toward unity are present but have not yet reached the point that has been achieved in places like Germany or the United States.

The next colloquium is scheduled for 2020 and will probably deal with the theme of models of unity.

Rev. Selma Chen from Taiwan: A new Member of our Board of Trustees

I am a pastor of the Lutheran Church of Taiwan, R.O.C. The church was founded in 1956 through the works of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (= FELM). It started from rural areas in Southern Taiwan. There are 19 congregations with 1900 members. After my theological, training I served in an urban congregation and was ordained in 2004. Five years ago, I moved back to my hometown, the first mission area for FELM, and restarted a congregation. In LCT-ROC I have been working on trainings for pastors and lay leaders and the church development including mission work and church planting.

The terms “ecumenical” or “interconfessional” are close to the Christians’ lives in Taiwan, but far away from the understanding of its meaning. When I heard about the Institute for the first time, it opened my eyes to see the importance of ecumenism and deepen my understanding of the body of Christ. For a Lutheran Christian from a society where Christianity is a minority with many denominations, the role and work of the Institute are so important and helpful. The fruitful achievements in the past will bear the new fruits in the future. May the grace of our Lord Jesus keep us and guide us to walk in his will as a communion!

Harding Meyer celebrated his 90th birthday

On January 19th, our emeritus colleague Harding Meyer celebrated his ninetieth birthday! Several times holding the two-year directorate, he was active full-time at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg from 1971 to 1993.

A Lutheran pastor of the Church of Hanover, Prof. Meyer did his doctoral work on the philosophy of Blaise Pascal under Helmut Thielicke. He served for a period as a professor at the faculty of theology in San Leopoldo, Brazil, until being called to serve in the ecumenical unit of the Department of Theology at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva. He took part in the very beginnings of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in November 1967, which he stayed with until retirement in 1993. He was not only a participant but indeed the Lutheran expert in this dialogue, whose imprint is visible in its resulting documents. He hoped for a real breakthrough with the statement “Facing Unity,” as an opportunity for the two churches to take decisive steps toward one another. However, the time was not yet ripe. Nevertheless, he devoted himself to the preparation of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. He retired before the JDDJ was publicly accepted and signed; nevertheless, the document clearly bears the signs of his work and his passion for the unity of the church.

The dialogue with Rome demanded a greater elaboration of ecumenical methodology. This was moving into unknown territory, so new ways had to be pioneered in terms of models of unity, the concept of consensus, reception, and so forth. This was the other major focus of Harding Meyer’s work. Formulations such as “unity in reconciled diversity” and “differentiated consensus” come from his pen. They are now used everywhere, and not only in ecumenical circles.

The Strasbourg Institute has much to thank Prof. Meyer for! His impact has been decisive and his contributions essential to the work of international ecumenism.

God’s blessings and best wishes to him on his birthday!

Lectures in Malta

On December 5, Theodor Dieter offered the 21st St. Augustinian Lecture 2017 at the University of Malta upon the invitation by the Augustinian friar Prof. Salvino Caruana. There have been Augustinian friars at Malta since 1420. In 2018, we commemorate 500 years of the disputation that Martin Luther held in Heidelberg in 1518; thus the appropriate topic for the lecture was: “Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation (1518). The Programmatic Theses of an Augustinian Friar 500 Years Ago.” The Augustinian Institute in Malta is very committed to translate basic works of Augustine into Maltese language and to spread the knowledge of Augustine’s theology at Malta. The second lecture of Theodor Dieter, offered at this Institute, had the topic: “The Theological Profile of Dr Martin Luther.”  The audience was highly interested to learn more about the theology of this theologian who was an Augustinian friar for nearly 20 years. The two lectures of Theodor Dieter in Malta completed a long series of lectures and presentations on the topics of “Luther, the Reformation, and Ecumenism” that in 2017 led him around the world, in Germany among others to these cities: Erfurt, Cologne, Augsburg, Wittenberg; Rome (Italy; symposium at the Gregoriana: “Luther and the Sacraments”), Thessaloniki (Greece; “Reformation in Orthodox and Protestant Perspectives”), Washington D.C. (USA; “Luther and the Shaping of the Catholic Tradition”), Salamanca (Spain; “Del Conflicto a la Communiòn”), Opole (Poland; International Lutheran/Roman Catholic Commission on Unity), Leuven (Belgium; Inaugural lecture at the Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology-Conference Ecclesia semper reformanda), Geneva (Switzerland; “Interpretation of Luther’s 95 Theses”), Tokyo (Japan; National Academic Conference of the Japan Association of Christian Studies), Aarhus (Denmark; Conference “Rethink Reformation”: “Reflections on Ecumenically Remembering the Reformation”), and the Vatican (Ratzinger Price 2017).

Some pictures of Malta: 

Photos: Augustinian Institute Malta

More pictures of 2017: 

1517 – 2017: The Institute’s Implication in the Celebration in Southern Europe

The Luther Year of 2017 is finally drawing to a close. There were uncountable memorial events in countries across the world. For the Institute, the celebration in southern Europe was especially important. In these countries the Lutheran presence, if it’s there at all, is tiny at best.

The invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to the Institute to participate in a colloquium in March 2017 with the Theological Faculty of Thessaloniki has already been reported on. The Catholic church in the countries of southern Europe—Italy, Spain, and France—took similar initiatives. They turned to the Institute to help put thought into action.

In Spain, the Catholic church and its theologians asked the Institute to share in a colloquium at the University of Salamanca. Matthieu Arnold, André Birmelé, and Theodor Dieter took up this request. In addition, the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Dr. Martin Junge, delivered a well-regarded lecture. For our Spanish friends, this offer was new territory indeed, in that the person of Luther, Luther research, and Lutheranism itself play no part in their everyday work. A volume with the documents will soon appear in Spanish in order to make the contributions of the colloquium available to the public.

Particularly impressive was one evening when the Salamanca faculty presented the Bach cantata “Jesus Christ Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.” The cantata was then sung a second time after a detailed theological exposition on its content, which comes from one of Luther’s hymns. Also moving was the closing worship service, which was the Lund Liturgy, led by the Archbishop of Salamanca and Martin Junge.

Another colloquium was organized by the Institute in cooperation with the Catholic University in Toulouse, France. It was a self-consciously ecumenical symposium to which Lutheran and Catholic theologians from all different francophone countries were invited. The theme was not the theology of Luther alone but also the ecumenical developments that have taken place in recent years. Thus Cardinal Koch, leader of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the closing lecture in response to a lecture by André Birmelé. The contributions of this colloquium will also be published in due course.

It’s also worthwhile to mention some events that the Institute did not directly organized but still took part in. In Italy, the Bose community organized a colloquium in May with contributions from Matthieu Arnold and André Birmelé. The Conference of Italian Theology Professors invited André Birmelé to its annual meeting in September in Bologna. Worth noting is also the interest of Catholic orders, especially the Benedictines, in this commemoration. André Birmelé was invited to offer a great number of multi-day courses in various Catholic monastic communities (Pradines,  Prailles,  La Pierre qui Vire) as well as at various locations of the ecumenical community Chemin Neuf (Abbaye de Hautecombe, Abbaye des Dombes, Cartuja de Saragossa, and Berlin).

Some pictures of the Colloquium in Salamanca, Spain:

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2017

This November, for the ninth year in a row, Prof. Theodor Dieter and Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute taught the annual two-week seminar “Studying Luther in Wittenberg” in cooperation with the LWF Center and much support from the German Lutheran churches. Of course, this year was a special one, marking the 500th anniversary of the Ninety-Five Theses and the beginning of the Reformation.

Participants arrived from all over the worl just days after forty thousand people gathered in the small town of Wittenberg to celebrate the anniversary. The countries represented this year were Angola, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Jordan/the Holy Land, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, the United States, and Zimbabwe. The participants worked variously as vicars, pastors, and bishops.

The special theme for the year’s study was “Luther as Preacher and Teacher.” Following the first week’s usual focus on the Reformation breakthrough, the Ninety-Five Theses, justification by faith, and law and gospel, the second week studied examples of Luther’s writings for both students and parishioners. Of the former, the class took a look at his disputational method; of the latter, attention turned to Luther’s sermons, hymns, and especially his Large Catechism. Although it has often been remarked that Luther was not a systematic writer, he certainly was a consistent one, and across this wide variety of his texts the same core ideas and convictions came through again and again.

As always, the Seminar was more than classroom time alone. There were many visits to the Lutherhaus, the Melanchthonhaus, and the Town Hall, as well as occasions to converse with representatives of the German Lutheran churches and the Lutheran World Federation. Participants spent one evening with members of local churches in outlying villages. Over the course of several evenings participants also presented their home churches and prepared delicious local dishes.

Year after year we are amazed at the energy, commitment, intelligence, and passion of the participants at the seminar. We are also amazed at how lively Luther’s writings remain even five hundred years later, and how potently they speak to the situations we find ourselves in today, even across the globe. If this year’s participants are representative of world Lutheranism, we have good reason to hope for ongoing faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Lutheran churches during the next five hundred years!

52nd International Ecumenical Seminar 2018

Fundamentalism as Ecumenical Challenge

July 2 – 9, 2018

In recent years we have seen the growth in both political and religious life of movements that can be called “fundamentalistic.” As they represent a great challenge for churches today as well as for ecumenism overall, the Summer Seminar will take the occasion to probe deeply the matter of fundamentalism. A specific definition of fundamentalism will not be given in advance; rather, during the Seminar we will pursue greater conceptual clarity. For example: in which contexts is this term used? Dot qualify as an objective description of a sociological phenomenon? Or is it rather chiefly a polemical label applied to an opponent’s position? Who are the leaders in the fundamentalist movement(s)? What defines the fundamentalist outlook?

After these initial steps toward getting a handle on fundamentalism we’ll take up versions of Christian fundamentalism as they appear in various geographic contexts: in the American, African, Asian, and European settings. What kinds of movements predominate in each place? To what extent do they resemble one another despite their different contexts? In what ways are they different? And to what degree are positions “fundamentalistic” in one location but accepted as perfectly normal in another?

Séminaire Protestant

Séminaire Protestant

From the ecumenical point of view, the question is especially relevant as to how fundamentalist movements manifest themselves in confessionally unique ways. Therefore in the Summer Seminar we will look at the particular expressions of fundamentalism in Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, seeking again their commonalities as well as their differences. The one thing that all fundamentalist movements have in common, however, is the claim to be the ones who interpret holy Scripture (whether the Bible or the Koran) authentically. In the Seminar thus the central question will be: what constitutes a fundamentalistic approach to Scripture that can be distinguished from other exegetical approaches; what makes this approach so compelling to those who stand by it; and what are its limits?

Seminar participants are encouraged to share their own experiences with fundamentalist movements in the discussions following lectures and in group work sessions. How best to respond to fundamentalist movements is still, from an ecumenical perspective, an open question. The Seminar will offer the opportunity to discuss this question in all its dimensions and bring forward fresh ideas for consideration.

In addition to the theological discussions, the Seminar fosters opportunity for conversation among the participants, reports of their own ecumenical or confessional experiences, the posing of questions and offering of responses. Since participants come from many different churches and countries, this exchange is always especially exciting and enlightening, both in the plenary sessions and in small group work. The conversation continues over delicious French food at the Stift’s dining hall or a glass of wine in one of the charming restaurants in the old city of Strasbourg.


English and German are the main languages of the seminar. Simultaneous interpretation of every lecture and discussion is available. In the plenary participants can also offer interventions in French.


The cost of the seminar, including full pension and a single dormitory room, is € 730,-. Financial support may be granted through the participants’ home churches or other institutions. We encourage participants to contact their church leaders in this regard. As in previous years, a small portion of participant fees are used to cover the cost of participants from Eastern Europe and other continents.


Arrival July 2, 2018 (registration in afternoon, welcome dinner and reception in evening)
Departure July 9, 2018 (breakfast provided)

To Sign Up

Participants are strongly encouraged to register by April 15, 2018 by contacting Elke Leypold at

Download the flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-2018

The 2017 Ratzinger Prize Awarded to Theodor Dieter

At the Vatican on November 18, 2017, Prof. Theodor Dieter received the Ratzinger Prize from Pope Francis in recognition of his contributions toward the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The previous day the three award recipients (the Catholic theologian Prof. Karl-Heinz Menke from Bonn and Eastern Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt from Estonia) had the opportunity to meet Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for half an hour.

Prof. Dieter reports of his experience: “The pope emeritus, although he was visibly quite weak, received us with great friendliness, cordiality, attentiveness, and cheer. He remembered well the meeting of his former students that he convened at Castelgandolfo in 2012 where I gave a presentation on Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. I took the opportunity to thank him for the fact that when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998 and 1999 he played an essential role in bringing a happy conclusion to the Joint Declaration, whose future for awhile hung in the balance before it was finally signed on October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. His memory is still so acute that he immediately remembered that time and in particular his conversations with Bishop Hanselmann of the Lutheran church in Bavaria. We talked about many topics, among others Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation; Paul Hacker’s interpretation of Luther, toward which he as Joseph Ratzinger inclined—I explained my objections to this interpretation; about the Reformation anniversary of 2017; about the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg; and about seminars in Tübingen that he held some 50 years ago. The conversation was not only about theological topics, though; it also took a turn towards matters of great spiritual intensity and depth, which are best kept private. The pope emeritus let me go with a special greeting for the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. It was a wonderful, unforgettable encounter!”


The awards were formally granted on November 18 at a festive ceremony in the Sala Clementina, presided over by Pope Francis. Prof. Dieter’s family was in attendance, along with Bishop July from Stuttgart, the Chair of the Board of the Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research (which supports the Institute in Strasbourg). The magnificent hall was filled with more than twenty cardinals, along with numerous bishops and very many dignitaries of the Catholic Church. At the beginning and ending of the ceremony the choir of the Sistine Chapel sang. Pater Lombardi, SJ, the representative of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, greeted Pope Francis. Cardinal Koch briefly introduced each of the award recipients. Then followed the ceremonial bestowal of the prizes in alphabetical order. A moving experience for Prof. Dieter was the handshake with Pope Francis and his expression full of warmth and good wishes, followed by the presentation of the award certificate to the applause of all present.

Pope Francis then offered a brief address to the assembly. He recalled that the motto of Joseph Ratzinger when he was Archbishop of Munich was Cooperatores veritatis, “Collaborators of truth.” He continued: “This motto is displayed on the diplomas of the Prizes I have awarded, meaning that the Prizewinners too have devoted their lives to the highest mission of serving the truth, the diaconia of truth. I rejoice that the illustrious individuals receiving the Prize today come from three Christian denominations, including the Lutherans, with whom we have experienced particularly important moments of encounter and common progress this year. The truth of Christ is not for soloists, but is symphonic: requires docile collaboration, harmonious sharing. Seeking it, studying it, contemplating it, and translating it into practice together, in charity, draws us strongly to full union between us: Truth thus becomes a living source of ever closer ties of love.”

Afterwards Arvo Pärt performed an Our Father he had composed on a grand piano that Pope Benedict was given and used to play on himself. He was accompanied by the wonderful voice of one of the boys in the Sistine Chapel Choir—a moment of ethereal beauty. Before Pope Francis left the Sala Clementina he once again congratulated the award recipients with great cordiality.

In the evening there was a gala dinner to honor the award recipients in the house of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre with a great number of guests present, among other the ambassador of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland to the Vatican, Annette Schavan. The dinner was not only delicious food but also many chances for conversation and discussion. The award recipients had the opportunity to express their thanks for the award. Arvo Pärt did so by playing his famous work “Für Alina” in his characteristic Tintinnabuli style.

As Theodor Dieter emphasized, the two days in Rome were a profound experience of heartfelt friendliness, goodwill, and appreciation on the side of the Catholic Church toward him and his family, for the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, and for Lutheran ecumenism— in this very 500th year of the Reformation. The special significance of the award lies in the fact that in 2017, eighteen years after the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, it has once again been confirmed and recognized by the highest authorities of the Catholic Church that the way of the Joint Declaration is still of the utmost importance for Lutheran-Catholic ecumenism, still fruitful and still pointing the way toward the future.

The Institute congratulates Prof. Dieter for this well-earned recognition of his impressive scholarly accomplishments in the field of ecumenical theology!

See also the article in LWI from October 27, 2017


Watch the video of the celebration on  YouTube: video Ratzinger Price

Text of Theodor Dieter’s speech: Words of Thanks by Theodor Dieter

Pictures of the encounter with Pope em. Benedict XVI on November 17 and of the price awards ceremonies on November 18, 2017:

Pictures of former encouters between Pope em. Benedict and Theodor Dieter:

Private Audiences and  the Meeting of former students of Pope em. Benedict XVI at the Castelgandolfo:

Photos: private, Luca Caruso, Fondazione Vaticana Joseph Ratzinger, Osservatore Romano

Second Meeting of the Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialogue

Following on its first meeting in the Philippines last year, in September 2017 the teams of the international Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue met in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, a location chosen for the historic significance of the year. As with the annual Studying Luther in Wittenberg seminar, the meeting took place at the Colleg Wittenberg, a short distance from the City Church. The dialogue members enjoyed daily worship in the Corpus Christi Chapel and participation in a tree planting at the Luthergarten, as well as the warm hospitality of the Colleg and beautifully renovated sites all over the city.

The second in a five-year process, this year turned attention to the theme of proclamation, taking as its inspiration Luke 4:18, “he has anointed me to proclaim.” Two papers were presented: the first by Tham-Wan Yee (Malaysia/Philippines) about Pentecostal theologies of mission and the other by Johannes Zeiler (Sweden) on Lutheran theologies of mission. Rich discussion followed both papers, and the whole theme of proclamation was deepened by a presentation from Andreas Finke on the unique post-Christian and post-communist environment of eastern Germany. Team members were encouraged to discover immense overlap in their perspectives on mission, and what contrasts existed were welcomed as salutary challenges and correctives. A document was drafted detailing the findings of the week, which will be used in preparing a final report in the fifth year of the dialogue.

The Pentecostal participants were Dr. Jean-Daniel Plüss, co-chair (Swiss Pentecostal Mission, Switzerland), Rev. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Pentecostal theological consultant, Finland/USA), Rev. Dr. Cecil M Robeck, Jr. (Assemblies of God, USA), Rev. Gani Wiyono (Assemblies of God, Indonesia), Rev. Tham Wan Yee (Assemblies of God, Malaysia) and Dr. Olga Zaprometova (Church of God, Russia). The Lutherans were Rev. Dr. Walter Altmann, co-chair (Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil), Rev. Tamás Gáncs (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary), Rev. Dr. Wilfred J. Samuel (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malaysia), Rev. Dr. Cheryl Peterson (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and Rev. Johannes Zeiler (Church of Sweden). Rev. Dr. Amos Buntausa (Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria) was unable to attend. Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka (Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations with Lutheran World Federation, Switzerland/Finland) and Rev. Anne Burghardt (Secretary for Ecumencial Relations, Switzerland/Estonia) represented the Lutheran World Federation and coordinated events. Rev. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson served as consultant on behalf of the Institute for Ecumenical Research.

Next year the dialogue will meet in Latin America to take up the theme “good news to the poor,” with a specific focus on the so-called prosperity gospel.

Photo: Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Seminar 2017: The Identity of the Reformation Churches

This jubilee year of the Reformation invites reflection on the contemporary identity of the Reformation churches. The Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg took up this challenge by devoting its 51st annual seminar to this very theme. The Institute had already published a series of theses on Lutheran identity (available online) and used it as preparation for the seminar itself.


A first approach to the subject was taken by Professor Matthieu Arnold of the Institute on Luther’s intentions in his reforming work. This perspective was complemented by presentations from a Lutheran in Germany, Horst Gorski, and one from Tanzania, Ypyana Mwamgubole, as well as by American Lutheran Dirk Lange, who showed how the spiritual, cultural, and musical dimensions round out a more doctrinal approach to the topic.

The second step was ecumenical, handing the conversation over to representatives of the other major Christian families to hear their views on the identity of the Reformation churches. Prof. Dr. Michael Beintker, Reformed (Münster, Germany) addressed the self-understanding of the Churches of the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe. Catholic scholar Eva-Maria Faber underlined the progress that has been made and the great present-day consonance, especially in the area of ecclesiology. Professor Christos Filiotis insisted on the positive impact of the Reformation, which has contributed strongly to theological reflection in Orthodoxy, while acknowledging that true dialogue has only just begun and remains difficult. The Brazilian director of the Faith and Order Commission, Odair Mateus, noted the great doctrinal convergence between the Reformation churches today. Faithful to his Reformed tradition, Mateus advocated the necessity of a more precise and up-to-date confession of faith, particularly in the churches of the Southern hemisphere. Anglican professor Charlotte Methuen showed that this tradition is strongly indebted to the Reformation even while having a more complex relation to it than is often recognized.

It fell to Professor Frédéric Chavel to reflect on Christian identity in a globalized society where the former confessional approaches have lost their relevance, an analysis confirmed by Brazilian Pentecostal theologian Rosalee Velloso Ewell. She showed how the new Christian communities, often of a fundamentalist evangelical type, are too often falsely understood as “Protestant,” when in fact they claim new identities directly tied to contemporary social evolutions and exploring a new form of biblical witness.

Forty-five participants from fifteen countries representing eight confessional traditions participated in the seminar, enriched by a cultural program not least of all including a visit to the exciting exhibit on Luther at the National University Library of Strasbourg.

Photos: Junita Lasut, Elke Leypold

Prof. Dieter Receives an Honorary Doctorate from the Catholic University in Leuven (Belgium)

On February 15, Prof. Theodor Dieter of the Institute received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, an exceptionally large university with 55,000 students. Along with the University of Cologne, Leuven was the first university to condemn the teachings of Martin Luther in 1519. But Leuven today very consciously chose to bestow this honorary doctorate on a Luther researcher and ecumenical theologian.

The faculties of Philosophy, Theology, and the Arts together prepared the honorary doctorate, the rationale being that the University wished to recognize Dieter’s “meticulous research into Luther’s early philosophy, which reveals a stronger affinity with medieval scholasticism in terms of openness to Aristotelian concepts; for [his] contributions to the development of a different view on Luther which puts his condemnations in a more nuanced perspective, including the one by our University; for [his] ceaseless efforts to defend the most important Joint Declaration by Lutherans and Catholics on the Doctrine of Justification despite the ongoing polemics; and for [his] key role in the international ecumenical dialogues between Catholics and Lutherans as the main driving force of all consensus documents of the past 20 years.”

In the Laudatio it was further underscored: “With this honoring of Prof. Dieter, we honor also the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. This Institute has diligently taken up new methods of ecumenical hermeneutics and the development of new models of unity, and with the formulation of probing questions has taken a pioneering role in ecumenism.” This was a moving commendation of the ecumenical theological work of both the honoree and the whole Institute.

The celebration of the honorary doctorate took place on the feast day of the university’s patron, Mary, who is understood in the tradition as the sedes sapientiae (“seat of wisdom”) with the Christ child on her lap. The celebration began with those being so honored—along with Prof. Dieter, there were also two professors of medicine from the U.S., a nutrition scientist from the Netherlands, and a Commissioner of the European Union—being ceremonially entered into the Golden Book of the University and in the magnificent late Gothic city hall’s Golden Book of the City.

After lunch with numerous colleagues a large number of professors in their academic gowns processed through the city from the university to the cathedral to take part in a worship service accompanied by the wonderful singing of the student choir. After worship the bestowal of the honorary doctorates took place at the university in the presence of a big group of professors and guests, including the Cardinal of Leuven. In the chancel sat the promotores, namely those expert advisers who defended the cause of the honorary doctorate for each of the recipients. Prof. Dieter’s promotores were the theologian Prof. Peter de Mey, the historian Prof. Violet Soen, and the philosopher Prof. Andrea Robiglio. After the Laudatio, delivered by Peter de Mey, the Rector read aloud the doctoral diploma and attached the sash, signifying an honorary doctorate, to Prof. Dieter. Afterwards in an atmosphere of good will and joy there was a reception with the opportunity to engage in conversation with professors from a whole host of different disciplines.

For a Luther researcher and ecumenical theologian to be recognized, along with the Institute for Ecumenical Research, not only in such a top-notch academic environment but also in the very place where Martin Luther was first condemned—what an extraordinary and unforgettable event!

Prof. Peter de Mey’s LaudatioEhrenpromotion KU Leuven für Theodor Dieter. Laudatio Prof. de Mey

See more at:

and: Flickr

Bilder: Huisfotograaf KU Leuven; Elke Leypold, Institute for Ecumenical Research

“Luther and the Sacraments” at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome

A conference on the subject of “Luther and the Sacraments: A Catholic Re-Reading in Ecumenical Perspective” took place from February 26 to March 1 at the Gregoriana, a Jesuit university in Rome. The conference was prepared and led in cooperation with the Johann Adam Möhler Institute in Paderborn, Germany, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).

The event itself was already a special achievement—Luther’s sacramental teaching was actually discussed in Rome, at the Jesuit university no less; and two cardinals gave lectures on the topic, one at the beginning (Cardinal Koch, President of the PCPCU, on “The Reformation and the Catholic Church”) and one at the end (Cardinal Müller, Chair of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “The Church as the Place of Justification”) !

The conference was consistently organized in dialogical fashion: a Protestant speaker would deliver a lecture on Luther’s teaching about baptism, confession, the Lord’s Supper, or the office of ministry, and then a Catholic would respond. Theodor Dieter from the Institute presented Luther’s understanding of the sacrament of penance (which can be seen on YouTube: ). His Catholic respondent was Prof. Michel Fédou SJ from Paris. Together with the Paris colleague Prof. Dieter led a workshop on Luther’s encounter with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg in 1518, in which participants analyzed the respective texts of Luther and Cajetan.

The conference had a wide resonance: about 250 attended the lectures and took part in intensive discussions, and the media reporting was extensive. While the conference did not break new ground from the perspective of ecumenical research, it did indeed draw a wider public into the ecumenical conversation, all the way up to leaders in the church. Such fundamental engagement with Luther’s theology always opens up more ecumenical doors in unanticipated ways. It is also important for ecumenical progress to correct old and deep-seated prejudices that persist on both sides.

The lectures and discussions were framed by worship and prayer in various churches. The beauty of the liturgy as well as the physical environment gave the conference a special and spiritual quality. The wonderful hospitality of the Gregoriana and the perfect organization of the event were impressive indeed.

Photos: Dirk Vogel

An Honorary Doctorate from Erfurt for Prof. Dieter

The Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Erfurt bestowed on Dr. Theodor Dieter of the Institute an honorary doctorate on January 24, 2017, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This honorary doctorate in Catholic Theology (Dr. theol. h.c.) was given “in recognition of his contributions to research into Martin Luther’s theology in its historical context and its meaning for the present, his scholarly dedication to ecumenical theology, including the methodology and hermeneutic of the dialogues between the churches, and his outstanding achievements especially in the area of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue.”

The celebration took place in a historically significant place: Coelicum, the room in which Martin Luther gave his first lecture. After the festive entrance of the scepter of the faculty, the faculty’s dean welcomed all those present, among them numerous prominent personalities, such as the Magnus Cancellarius (Great Chancellor) of the Faculty, Bp. Ulrich Neymeyr, bishop of the diocese of Erfurt; Regional Bishop Ilse Junkermann from the Evangelical Church in Central Germany, the heartland of the Reformation; Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome; Erfurt’s Bishop Emeritus Dr. Joachim Wanke; Suffragan Bishop Dr. Reinhard Hauke; Dr. Dorothee Kaes of the German Bishops’ Conference; the Regional Bishop of Halle-Wittenberg, Provost Dr. Johann Schneider; Prof. Dr. Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr from the Theological Faculty of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena; and Rector Prof. Dr. Volker Zerbe from the Professional School of Erfurt. The presence of Bp. Farrell at the celebration showed, as the dean emphasized, the great importance of ecumenism for the Catholic Church. In her impressive Laudatio, Prof. Dr. Mirjam Wijlens set this honorary doctorate from the Catholic Theological Faculty in the Coelicum in the larger context of the Reformation, the division of the church, and the ecumenical movement, expressing appreciation in clear and vivid language of the kind of theological work that Theodor Dieter has done for Catholic-Lutheran ecumenism.

The new Dr. h. c. Dieter thanked the assembly for the honorary doctorate with a lecture on the topic, “The Ecumenical Worship Service in Lund on October 31, 2016: A Theological Commentary.” In it he described the difficult task set before the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Commission on Unity to sketch the theological basis for an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation anniversary. He explained the solution that the commission came upon with the document “From Conflict to Communion” and showed how the contents and structure of this document shine through the liturgy crafted for the ecumenical service in Lund. That Pope Francis presided over the worship service along with the leaders of the Lutheran World Federation was a moving confirmation of how far fifty years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue have come.

Members of the trombone choir of the Evangelical parish in Erfurt graced the celebration with music, including among other pieces songs by Martin Luther. The ensuing reception took place in the Kilianikapelle, where Luther was ordained a priest. Thus was the challenging figure of Martin Luther present at the event as much as ecumenical efforts. The participation of many people in the area of theology as well as ecumenism, their shared joy as well as the historically unique location, made the event a wonderful celebration of ecumenism, marked by great cordiality and human warmth and esteem.

Photos: Elke Leypold, Institute for Ecumenical Research; Désirée Haak, University of Erfurt

Conference in Thessaloniki: 500 Years of Reformation

An important international conference on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation took place in March of this year at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was organized in cooperation with the universities in Strasbourg and Kiel, Germany, along with the Institute for Ecumenical Research. The festive opening lecture was given by André Birmelé.

Given the number of conferences being held on the Reformation anniversary, this one may not initially seem particularly noteworthy. However, a rich scholarly discussion about the Reformation took place indeed precisely in a place where that had never yet happened, marked as it is by the Orthodox heritage of Greece. More than forty internationally renowned researchers of various ecclesial backgrounds were invited to offer lectures under the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The great hall of the university was packed at all times. Among the attendants were numerous students and docents of the university who were greatly engaged in the wider conversation.

On the Orthodox side there was interest first of all in the classical themes of Reformation history. Accordingly the Institute staff offered lectures on these themes: Theodor Dieter presented Luther’s theology in ten concise theses, while Jennifer Wasmuth demonstrated the Reformation’s reception of central aspects of the Nicene Creed.

Furthermore, the ecumenical dialogues of the present era were accorded great significance—as a fruitful harvest of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, striving to overcome divisions that occurred in the Reformation era. The various dialogues were described in some detail along with their most important outcomes. As a participant in the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission, Jennifer Wasmuth gave a brief introduction to the history of this dialogue and pointed out prospects for future work.

Additionally, questions of method occupied a good portion of the conference. Theodor Dieter was for this reason invited to speak about the method and goals of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. The texts that have emerged from it, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” and “From Conflict to Communion” played an important role in this and other lectures and discussions, taken up on the Orthodox side with impressive eagerness.

Altogether, within the framework of the conference a meaningful exchange took place on questions of both content and method, which it may be hoped will continue to reverberate beyond the confines of the conference itself. A publication of the conference papers is in the works.






Photos: Theodor Dieter

Study on “Lutheran Identity”

In 2017, the 500th jubilee of the Lutheran Reformation, many churches will ask themselves what exactly it means to be “Lutheran.” What is a Lutheran church or Lutheran theology? What is the “Lutheran DNA”?

The Institute for Ecumenical Research, based in Strasbourg and affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), is taking up these questions because Lutherans are always pressed during ecumenical dialogues to specify the teaching of their church. Ecumenical encounters demand a meticulous study of each side’s tradition. As they regard the teaching of their tradition as a gift to the whole church, Lutheran ecumenists must be able to account for the teaching of their own church in a way that is intelligible to the other churches.

Forty years ago the Institute published a booklet entitled Lutheran Identity. In the first part it discussed “Basic Theological Convictions as Essential Components of Lutheran Identity.” This series of theses was originally drawn up by the Institute’s research professors engaged in intensive dialogue with numerous colleagues. The theses were discussed critically over the course of five regional consultations. The present text takes up these original theses and reworks them to suit the contemporary context. They constitute the First Set of Theses of this book.

The Institute for Ecumenical Research has, for more than fifty years now, been in the service of Lutheran ecumenism, first of all through participation in the international dialogues of the LWF. A theological reflection on the experience of these dialogues constitutes the Second Set of Theses in this book. It also collects the fruits of consultations organized by the Institute for more than twenty years now at the Château de Klingenthal near Strasbourg, which events have been attended by ecumenical specialists from a variety of churches and different countries.

The Lutheran churches today must face many challenges that could prevent a living transmission and development of Lutheran identity. The challenges touching most directly on ecumenical research have been dealt with by the contributors from different churches during the annual international Summer seminars organized by the Strasbourg Institute. A first sketch of these challenges was prepared by the Institute’s staff and discussed intensively during a consultation at Klingenthal by theologians from several countries, whose number included two collaborators from the Geneva office of the LWF. These efforts led to a Third Set of Theses, which pay attention to the considerable challenges that the Lutheran churches must face today.

Through these three sets of theses the Strasbourg Institute wishes to be of service to the Lutheran communion and promote its ecumenical engagement. The review of the essential teachings of the Reformers calls to mind what it is to be “Lutheran.” The presentation of the basics of Lutheran ecumenism shows the “catholic” relevance—which is to say, the relevance for the church universal—of Lutheran teaching. This study intends, finally, to show where Lutheran teaching must especially test itself and develop in order to face the great challenges of our day

Download Study on “Lutheran Identity”: Lutheran Identity

Téléchargement de l’étude “Identité luthérienne”: Identité luthérienne


(Picture: © jmp-bildagentur, J.M. Pietsch, Spröda, mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Stadtkirchengemeinde Wittenberg)

The Latest News from Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Although Prof. Wilson left her full-time post at the Institute a year ago, she remains busy as a Visiting Professor of the Institute in a number of venues in the United States.

In the past several months she has given two public lectures at the Concordia University-St. Paul, a Minnesota college affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The first was the annual Reformation Heritage Lecture at CSP, entitled “Remaking the World with Law and Gospel.” She explored common misunderstandings of Luther’s distinction between law and gospel as a way to offer a fuller and more accurate portrait of this central Lutheran teaching. The second was a convocation for students, “Martin Luther and Women: Breaking the Law and Proclaiming the Gospel.” Beginning with the intriguing fact that Luther’s dying act was to break the law in favor of a woman—namely, by leaving everything to her in his will—Wilson told the stories of three sixteenth-century women who heard the gospel as Luther taught it and responded each in her own way: Katharina von Bora, Elisabeth Cruciger, and Argula von Grumbach.

Prof. Wilson also spent two weeks as the Copenhaver Scholar in Residence at Roanoke College in Virginia, where she delivered three public lectures, took part in the Lutheran Writers Projects, joined two panel discussions, taught several classes, and visited with students. Of particular interest was her lecture on “Martin Luther and Global Pentecostalism,” in which she looked at early Pentecostals’ appeal to Luther, Lutheran Charismatics’ efforts to integrate confessional Lutheranism with charismatic practice, and contemporary Classical Pentecostal use of Luther’s theology of the cross. A student respondent from the Assemblies of God expressed her appreciation at having her own faith tradition validated by receiving serious academic attention at a Lutheran college.

Prof. Wilson has kept in touch with the larger community of the Lutheran World Federation by serving as the North America region jury member for the Youth Preaching Contest. Approximately forty sermons were submitted for evaluation; the jury read all of them and graded them, and the top ten finalists were invited to submit video excerpts from their sermons. The winner, soon to be announced, will preach the closing sermon at the Assembly in Namibia this May.

Finally, the Luther Reading Challenge sponsored by the Institute and overseen by Prof. Wilson is down to its last half-year before the anniversary. A vast collection of Luther texts is available for free on the website. It’s not too late to join!

In Memoriam: Günther Gassmann (1931–2017) and Per Lønning (1928–2016)

The Institute mourns the death of two former colleagues who have died in recent months.

Günther Gassmann (pictured left) served from 1969 to 1976 as Research Professor at the Strasbourg Institute, after which he moved to Hanover to work in the leadership of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD) and later in Geneva as the Director of Faith and Order. He was largely responsible for tasking the Institute with a major role in the ecumenical dialogues of the Lutheran World Federation. His specialty was Anglican-Lutheran dialogue at the international level.

Per Lønning (pictured right) came to the Institute in 1981. His special interest was in the ecumenical dimensions of fundamental theological questions that up until that point had occupied little attention on the agenda of the dialogues. He conducted a study project on creation and, taking into account input from many churches, drew up conclusions that remain to this day of great significance for reflection on the responsibility of the church for the care of creation. Questions about God were also of great interest to him, and he wrote much on this topic. In 1987 he was called to be bishop of Bergen in Norway.

The Institute thanks God for the service of these two theologians, who strove mightily on behalf of the unity of the church.

Two Honorary Doctorates for Theodor Dieter

In early 2017 Institute professor Theodor Dieter received two honorary doctorates. The first came from the University of Erfurt, in the very city where Luther studied and entered the monastery. The chapel in which Luther was ordained is presently owned by the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University…

The second honorary doctorate was awarded to Prof. Dieter by the University of Leuven/Louvain in Belgium, whose sixteenth-century Catholic faculty stood at the forefront of the battle against the Wittenberg Reformation. These two doctorates honor Dieter’s work, especially his leading role in the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which involved extensive written contributions to the statement “From Conflict to Communion” and the liturgy celebrated by Pope Francis and LWF leaders in Lund in October 2016.

Both universities emphasized that through the awarding of the honorary doctorates upon a Lutheran theologian they wished to underscore the importance of Reformation theology. The festive celebration in Erfurt took place on January 24, and the one in Leuven on February 15.

Celebrating the Reformation Commemoration in Southern Europe

Many were surprised to learn already in February 2016 that Pope Francis would participate in the opening festivities of the Reformation commemoration year in Lund, Sweden, which took place on October 31. A special interest in the Reformation has been developing in the southern countries of Europe. For the Catholic Church of France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, Lutheranism is a virtually unknown church, as only very tiny Lutheran churches have ever existed in these countries. There is a curiosity about these minorities churches, their origins and also the ecumenical progress that allowed the pope to take this stuff. So it is not altogether surprising that a number of inquiries have been coming to the Strasbourg Institute from these places. Many started via university contacts. The Strasbourg Institute staff has already met several times with the ecumenical institute in Venice; now another colloquium is planned for June 2017 in Salamanca, Spain. Various Institute colleagues will additionally offer lectures at universities in Italy (Prof. Elisabeth Parmentier at Padua, Prof. André Birmelé at Bologna), in Luxembourg, and in France. Individual congregations and dioceses have also issued invitations to speak (Prof. Birmelé has already traveled to Orléans and Tours, and will next visit Dijon, Lyon, and Le Havre). Even Catholic monastic orders have gotten involved and arranged for meetings, such as the French Benedictine nuns in Pradines and Prailles and Benedictine monks at La Pierre-qui-Vire. In addition there are the already long-planned events at the Monasterio di Bose in Italy and in the assorted communities of the Chemin Neuf in Zaragoza, Spain, and the Abbaye des Dombes and Hautecombe Cloister in France. A final note of interest has ben expressed by the Orthodox churches. The staff of the Institute has been invited for a colloquium in Thessaloniki in March 2017 hosted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Summer Seminar 2017: Reformation Identity in Ecumenical Perspective

The year 2017 is an invitation to celebrate. At all levels of church life and in countless countries the anniversary of the 16th century Reformation will be commemorated. But that always poses the question of what exactly is to be celebrated in a situation unlike any previous Reformation centenary.

The ecumenical dialogues have profoundly altered the relationships between the churches. Churches are growing faster in the global South now, shifting the weight of Christianity away from the north. New Christian movements and churches are popping up all over the place. In a fast globalizing world, most socieities are evolving toward being multireligious. Despite the secularism that dominates so many nations, the question of religion is taking on a surprising new urgency, especially with regard to the threat of religious violence. These new challenges are best taken up out of a strong sense of identity and groundedness.

For this reason, the question of “What is Reformation identity?” will be the theme of the next Summer Seminar, which will be hosted by the Institute for Ecumenical Research, affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation, in Strasbourg, France, from July 3 to 10, 2017.


This exploration of Reformation identity will not take place in isolation from other churches but rather expressly in dialogue with them, in the exchange of self-perception and recognition of the other, in mutual friendship as well as in critique. How do others perceive the strengths and weaknesses of the Reformation churches? What would they like the Reformation churches to learn from their own tradition?

While the foundational theological convictions of the Reformation churches will be the point of departure, questions of identity also involve matters of spirituality, culture, and customs. That which most often concerns theologians can be of virtually no consequence to the identity of church members. For example, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians mutually identify more by shared experiences, practices, and behaviors than by shared teaching. For many contemporary Christians, their confessional location plays hardly any role in their faith, and they know themselves merely as Christians. Thus identity is a multivalent reality giving rise to a variety of identity markers.

The Summer Seminar will pose all these questions and more. Only those churches with an alert and reflective relationship to their own identity can be open to dialogue with others and in this situation find new ways to accomplish the task of proclaiming the gospel.

In addition to the theological discussions, the Seminar fosters opportunity for conversation among the participants, reports of their own ecumenical or confessional experiences, the posing of questions and offering of responses. Since participants come from many different churches and countries, this exchange is always especially exciting and enlightening, both in the plenary sessions and in small group work. The conversation continues over delicious French food at the Stift’s dining hall or a glass of wine in one of the charming restaurants in the old city of Strasbourg.



English and German are the main languages of the seminar. Simultaneous interpretation of every lecture and discussion is available. In the plenary participants can also offer interventions in French.


The cost of the seminar, including full pension and a single dormitory room, is € 730,-. Financial support may be granted through the participants’ home churches or other institutions. We encourage participants to contact their church leaders in this regard. As in previous years, a small portion of participant fees are used to cover the cost of participants from Eastern Europe and other continents.


Arrival July 3, 2017 (registration in afternoon, welcome dinner and reception in evening)
Departure July 10, 2017 (breakfast provided)

To Sign Up

Participants are strongly encouraged to register by April 15, 2017 by contacting Elke Leypold at

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2016

For the eighth year running, Profs. Dieter and Wilson of the Institute taught the two-week Studying Luther in Wittenberg seminar this November. They were joined by twenty participants coming from Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, Taiwan, Tanzania, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

The year’s special focus was “Studying Luther in Wittenberg, Teaching Luther Worldwide.” The participants were all teachers and professors at all levels, and the seminar gave them the opportunity to deepen and refine their understanding of Luther’s theology in order to communicate it more effectively in the classroom.

The course began with an examination of the 95 Theses, of special relevance since their 500th anniversary is next year. This gave a broader context for the whole historical development of the Reformation. The 95 Theses, however, represent only a beginning phase of Luther’s theology, not its mature statement. Therefore attention next turned to another disputation “On the Remission of Sins,” in which Luther’s Reformation breakthrough can be more properly seen. Luther’s famous early treatises followed: “Two Kinds of Righteousness” and “The Freedom of a Christian,” which present a clear portrait of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith and the nature of the Christian life.

From there the focus shifted to the sacraments. First the group studied the selections on baptism and the Lord’s Supper from “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” Luther’s early major writing that challenged medieval sacramental practice and offered another view of the sacrament based on the promise-faith relationship. That in turn led to a review of challenges to Luther’s teaching, namely the Anabaptist practice of rebaptism and Zwingli’s memorial view of the Supper, and how Luther responded to them. Finally, the group reviewed the Small Catechism and discussed at length interpretive questions of sacramental practice in context.

The last portion of the seminar dealt with Luther’s ecclesiology and his understanding of temporal authority, including a review of the many widespread misunderstandings of this doctrine. As the seminar took place just days after the Lund service of commemoration of the Reformation in which Pope Francis participated, the participants learned about the process leading up to it in the ecumenical document “From Conflict to Communion” and watched the service of common prayer in Lund.

In between study sessions, participants had the chance to visit the many famous Luther sites: the Lutherhaus, the Melanchthonhaus, City Church, Castle Church, the newly built Panorama, the Wartburg, Erfurt, and Torgau. They met with various persons, such as the Lord Mayor of Wittenberg and Arni Danielsson as representative of the Lutheran World Federation. Very important for the participants was also a visit to two small congregations in the neighborhood of Wittenberg, sharing evening prayer and dinner with them and intense conversation. Each evening saw a dinner cooked in national style by one of the participants, always a delicious adventure. And, as always, none of it could have been possible without the great engagement of Rev. Hans Kasch, Director of the LWF Center, Rev. Joachim Zirkler, Tutor of Studies, and program assistant Annette Glaubig, together with the staff of the Colleg Wittenberg.

You can join an international community of Luther readers by signing up for the Institute’s project, the Luther Reading Challenge.

First Meeting of the International Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialogue

In September the very first gathering of the new International Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue took place at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio City in the Philippines, with the Institute’s adjunct professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, author of A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans, serving as consultant.

Although this was the first formal meeting, the dialogue has been a long time in preparation. Already in the 1970s there was interest in the Lutheran World Federation to understand better the rapid growth of all kinds of Pentecostal movements around the world as well as the rise of Charismatic movements within Lutheran churches. Initially, however, these conversations were largely internal to the Lutheran family, rather than being in a situation of exchange and encounter with Pentecostal Christians.

Early in the new millennium, the Institute’s adjunct professor Kenneth Appold reached out to Cecil M. Robeck Jr., a prominent Pentecostal ecumenist, to inquire whether dialogue between Lutherans and Pentecostals might be possible. That led to the six-year process of “proto-dialogue” between Lutherans, represented by the Institute’s staff and invited guests, and members of trinitarian Classical Pentecostal denominations. The result was the handbook Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue, released in 2010.

Now, six years later, at the warm encouragement of the LWF Council, a formal dialogue has been established to take place over the next five years, organized around Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In this first year, the two teams attended to the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” as both communities understand themselves to be called by the Spirit into fellowship with God and to undertake the Spirit’s mission in the world. This already establishes common ground between them. A good portion of the discussion was devoted to self-description of each church community and tradition to the other, with lively questions and observations exchanged.

An essential aspect of this encounter was attending worship on Sunday. The dialogue visited first an Assemblies of God service and then one of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines—both, interestingly, conducted in English, since this is the common language of the Philippines amidst the many indigenous languages. The dialogue also paid a visit to the Lutheran seminary in Baguio, and several days later received a delegation of Filipino Lutheran and Pentecostal pastors, most of whom were meeting each other for the first time and only because of the dialogue meeting. This strongly reinforced the sentiment in the dialogue that international work must also have a regional and local effect. The dialogue is committed to fostering these encounters in the years to come.

The next meeting will take place in September 2017 in Wittenberg, Germany, in recognition of the jubilee year of the Reformation. Drawing on the words  “he has anointed me to proclaim” from Luke 4:18, it will focus on proclamation, evangelism, and mission. The Latin America gathering in 2018 will turn to “good news to the poor” while the Africa meeting in 2019 will focus on “freedom, recovery and release.” The final meeting of this round in 2020 will take place in North America to draft a statement based on the previous years’ work and make recommendations for Lutheran-Pentecostal fellowship.

Dr. Jean-Daniel Plüss, a Swiss Pentecostal historian and theologian, is continuing in his role from the proto-dialogue as Co-Chair of this dialogue. The Lutheran team welcomes the well-known Brazilian theologian Walter Altmann, author of Luther and Liberation, as the other Co-Chair.

The other Lutheran participants at the Baguio meeting were Rev. Tamás Gáncs from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, Rev. Dr. Wilfred J. Samuel from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malaysia, Rev. Dr. Cheryl Peterson from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Rev. Johannes Zeiler from the Church of Sweden. Rev. Dr. Amos Buntausa of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria was unable to attend. Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka represented the LWF in her capacity as Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations.

The Pentecostal team was represented by the aforementioned Rev. Dr. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. of the Assemblies of God in the USA; Rev. Dr. Teresa Chai of the Assemblies of God in Malaysia, Rev. Gani Wiyono of the Assemblies of God in Indonesia, Dr. Olga Zaprometova of the Church of God in Russia, Rev. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen serving as consultant, and Rev. Tham Wan Yee of the Assemblies of God in Malaysia, who, as President of Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio, also served as host for the meeting. Rev. Dr. Edmund Rybarczyk of the Assemblies of God in the U.S. and Dr. Nico Horn of the Apostolic Faith Mission in Namibia were unable to attend.

Colloquium on Lutheran Identity

Twenty Lutheran theologians gathered at the Château Klingenthal outside of Strasbourg in mid-September for a colloquium on questions of Lutheran identity. The Institute is planning to a release a series of “theses” on Lutheran identity in 2017 as a contribution to the Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, which will take place in Windhoek, Namibia, in May of next year.

The first set of these will address Lutheran identity as regards basic teachings of the faith. The second will move into questions of the unity of the church, and further sections will look at specific contexts and contemporary challenges for Lutherans and Lutheran churches today. The Klingenthal group drafted a template for the first two sections and sketched out the basics of sections three and four as well.

The theologians present at the meeting came from various Lutheran churches. The meeting itself was the result of close cooperation with the LWF’s Department for Theology and Public Witness, and Bp. Frank O. July from Stuttgart—who is both a Vice-President of the LWF and the Chair of the Institute’s board—participated in one day of the colloquium.

Over the next several weeks the text thus far will be developed and further revised. The Institute anticipates that at the beginning of 2017 a final text will be produced. The Institute wishes to express its special thanks to the Goethe-Stiftung in Basel, Switzerland, for once again extending such wonderful hospitality in Klingenthal.


A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans

The Institute is pleased to announce the publication of a new book by one of the staff: A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans by adjunct professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson.

The book’s prehistory began when Wilson participated in one of the meetings of the “proto-dialogue” between Lutherans and Pentecostals in Zürich in 2008. The Institute conducted this dialogue for six years. She attended the next and final meeting as well, where she participated in the drafting of the proto-dialogue’s final statement, Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue. Over the next several years, as the LWF worked toward establishing a formal dialogue with Classical Pentecostals, Wilson saw an increasing need for a reliable source of information and interpretation about Pentecostalism and its many varieties for Lutherans. That ultimately let to the writing of this new guide, which happily appears at the same time as the first formal dialogue meeting, which will meet in the Philippines in September.

One of the greatest challenges of engaging with Pentecostals ecumenically is both their enormous numbers—by some counts, over 600 million and still growing—and their enormous variety. Scholars of Pentecostalism generally divide them into Classical Pentecostals (denominations arising in the early 20th century out of the Azusa Street Revival), Charismatics (who engage in typical Pentecostal practices but remain in historic churches and reinterpret Pentecostal phenomena in keeping with their church’s theology), and Neocharismatics (everyone else—which can mean everything from American television preachers, to Brazilian prosperity megachurches, to Chinese house churches, to African-Initiated Churches). Thus, referring to “Pentecostalism” can mislead more than it enlightens, much like the word “Protestantism.” More tools are needed to understand and analyze the variety of Pentecostalism one is encountering.

In this Guide, Wilson opens with a chapter on “Azusa,” describing the revival that turned Pentecostalism into a worldwide phenomenon, and the various offshoots that come out of it. The next chapter on “Pentecostals” goes into more detail on all the different kinds of Pentecostals one is likely to find today. The chapter on “Lutherans” offers readers an overview of their own history and theology as a basis for a meaningful encounter with Pentecostals.

The next three chapters address the most obvious points of difference in theology and practice between the two churches: “Baptism I” looks at the accounts of baptism and the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts; “Baptism II” applies these topics to issues like baptism in the Holy Spirit, infant baptism, and rebaptism; and “Charismata” looks at Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, especially in I Corinthians 12–14.

The final four chapters take up less obvious but nevertheless important and relevant themes that come up in discussion between Lutherans and Pentecostals. “History” looks at the ways that interpretations of the ebb and flow of church history are used to bolster one church’s status or undermine the status of another church, and the recurring if problematic need many Christians have to locate themselves in a detailed schema of church history and its eventual end in the second coming of Christ. “Power” examines both the gift and the abuse of power in the church, whether of the spiritual or ecclesiastical kind, and how these relate to the question of church unity. “Prosperity” tackles a difficult topic that many Lutherans associate with Pentecostalism, although its origins lie elsewhere, and offers tools for both recognizing and dismantling prosperity theology. Finally, “Experience” takes up the contested issue of whether and to what extent personal and communal experience can play a role in theology and church practice.

As the Institute is committed to dialogue with fellow Christians, this book was written in conversation with Pentecostals, rather than in the position of a detached observer. The preface is by the Co-Chair of the LWF-Classical Pentecostal dialogue, Jean-Daniel Plüss, and an endorsement on the back of the book is offered by Cecil M. Robeck Jr., a committed Pentecostal ecumenist. Kaisamari Hintikka, Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations at the LWF, also offers an endorsement, and before publication the manuscript was reviewed by readers from all seven LWF regions in order to give the broadest possible scope to the book.

It is hoped that Lutheran readers from all over the world will not only understand Pentecostalism better and gain an appreciation for it, but will also be deepened in their understanding of Lutheran theology and practice. Improved self-knowledge always leads to stronger friendship with the neighbor. This is, at heart, what ecumenism is all about.

The book may be ordered from Wipf & Stock; readers in Europe and Australia can contact the international sales department for reduced shipping rates. Interested readers with limited access to printed books can download the Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans as well.

Summer Seminar 2016: Fifty Years of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue

Fifty years ago, at a meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) which took place at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, a commission was formed to foster the relationship between the the two churches. With that began half a century of international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue that continues to this very day and has led to decisive ecumenical progress.

This anniversary prompted the Strasbourg Institute to dedicate its fiftieth Summer Seminar to the topic of this dialogue, in cooperation with the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute (Paderborn, Germany). From 4 to 11 July of this year, speakers who have been active participants in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue were invited to review the various phases of the dialogue.


Over the week’s work, 60 participants coming from 22 countries and 8 churches sought to understand, describe, and analyze this dialogue. After a general historical introduction, a more incisive review was undertaken of the years from 1967 to 1994. This was the time of important statements (“The Eucharist,” “The Ministry in the Church,” and the vision of unity that came from them, “Facing Unity”). A highpoint was the day that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed. This took place in 1999 when the Vatican and the LWF established the foundational consensus upon which all other progress would rely. This fact was especially underscored at the Seminar by Cardinal Lehmann. Subsequent dialogues led to the statement “From Conflict to Communion,” an important document looking toward the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. This new phase was discussed in detail and led on the last day to a presentation of various perspectives on the future and new ground to be broken.

A second dimension of this seminar was the presentation of regional dialogues and their consequences in Latin America, the U.S., Tanzania, France, and Germany. Much has been accomplished in each of these areas, though of course much remains to be done. 


At the end of the Seminar, the group together celebrated the common liturgy that will also be celebrated on 31 October 2017 in Lund by the LWF, Pope Francis in attendance. Since the drafters of this liturgy were present at the Seminar, it made for an entirely fitting conclusion to the event. Catholic Archbishop Grallet of Strasbourg and Lutheran Bishop July of Württemberg (who is also the chair of the Institute’s board) presided at the worship service.

Finally, during the course of the Seminar Prof. Theodor Dieter, a major player on the Lutheran side of this dialogue, celebrated his 65th birthday. All of the papers presented at this year’s seminar will be published as a Festschrift in his honor.

Worship service on July 9 (Lund liturgy) in French and German: Programme Célébration oecuménique 2016

Sermon by Archbishop Grallet (in French): Homélie Msgr Grallet

Comments from participants:

“Thank you for the gift of the seminar that celebrated 50 years of dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Though I was a pastor during those same 50 years, I came away very grateful for the servants who gave of their time and skills to keep the conversation going. At the same time, I carry within me a concern for the future conversations. Who will continue the dialogue that is needed until we have full communion? The setting of Strasbourg and the seminary campus was just spectacular in every way. Thanks again.”  —Rev. Frank Lee, D.Min. (USA)

“It has been a big gift from God for sending me to this conference through which I learned in first person about the whole story of Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue that started 50 years ago. I was deeply touched by the strong desire for reconciliation and admirable perseverance from our German brothers. Returning to Hong Kong, I was urged to promote  the achievements of JDDJ and the recent document ‘From Conflict to Communion.’ The pioneers and the team of bilateral dialogue have been doing marvelous work, and I hope the reception of their achievements will be widely recognized by various denominations all over the world.”  —Sister Theresa Lumo Kung (Hong Kong)

“The Summer Seminar was a very educational experience. The academic lectures from a group of highly skilled international guests and the question-and-answer sessions after the lectures were especially instructive. The working groups, which focused on specific issues and ecumenical documents, were also very informative in both dogmatic-theological and practical-ecclesial perspectives. The instruction, debate and discussion was especially unique because of the very international character of the group. Virtually every corner of the world was represented among the participants and presenters. We had the opportunity to talk about the different challenges that the churches across the world are facing and also to address the hopes for the future. The work of ecumenism is not, however, only a matter of theological discussion and debate. We also took time to worship together in the beautiful Church of St. Thomas. The meals at the seminar, including the wonderful French wines, were, needless to say, superb. We also had time to enjoy the lovely city of Strasbourg and the beauty of God’s creation. The final day trip to the Alsace countryside, the trip to Colmar (Isenheim Altarpiece) and the wine-tasting were all very memorable events. The Summer Seminar is not something to miss!”  —Dr. Paul Silas Peterson (Tübingen, Germany)

Lecturing on Luther in Taiwan

It is always a matter of surprise and joy how enthusiastically Luther’s theology is received outside of his European homeland. At the end of April, Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson offered a three-day conference at China Evangelical Seminary in Taipei, Taiwan, on the topic “Reconsidering Martin Luther for the 2017 Reformation Anniversary: Theological Insights and Ecumenical Hopes,” to a very engaged and enthusiastic audience.

Each day offered two lectures on Luther, followed by a third and final lecture on the relevance of the day’s topic to ecumenical and interfaith matters. Wilson began with an introduction to Luther’s historical setting in the medieval Western church, which led into a detailed analysis of the 95 Theses and the lesser-known but theologically richer Theses of 1518 on the Remission of Sins. This set the stage for a review of Lutheran-Catholic relations in the past half-century, with a special emphasis on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Taiwan’s Christians are roughly half Catholic and half Protestant, but so far there is not much ecumenical engagement between them.

The second day focused on Luther’s law-gospel hermeneutic, beginning with a detailed discussion of what exactly it means: the law is what God commands, while the gospel is what God gives. Wilson then turned to the Large Catechism, to show how both structurally and in its details the Catechism embodies the law-gospel dynamic. Yet all-too-common misinterpretations of the law aspect have fostered an unacceptable anti-Judaism in certain strains of Lutheran (and broader Christian) thought. Accordingly, the final lecture of the day dealt with Luther’s legacy regarding the Jews. Acknowledging the hateful writings Luther produced against the Jews toward the end of his life, Wilson also showed the many places where Luther praised the Old Testament, Moses, and the law, and argued that Israelites and Christians have the same religion and the same justifying faith.

On the final day, Wilson took up the topic of baptism. The first lecture laid out Luther’s fundamental understanding of baptism: as a law commanded to the apostolic ministry to baptize all nations, but even more importantly as a gift to be received by all nations. Thus baptism is primarily God’s act, not an act of the human baptizer or the baptized. This in turn raised the question of Luther’s defense of infant baptism and its setting within the context of the faith of the church, the apostolic command, and the sheer grace of baptism itself. Lastly, Wilson presented the story of the Lutheran-Mennonite reconciliation at the 2010 LWF assembly in Stuttgart, with some suggestions for how Christians who baptize infants and those who do not can work toward mutual recognition and respect and avoid the scandal of rebaptism.

On the first two days, members of the Taiwanese Christian community, both professors at China Evangelical Seminary and local pastors, offered insightful remarks in response to Wilson’s lectures. On the last day, students and other participants at the conference were invited to ask questions, which were thoughtful and wide-ranging. The excitement and energy of Christianity emerging in a new context were evident throughout.

Crucial to the success of the conference was Prof. Yuan-Wei Liao, who teaches theology at CES. He participated in the Studying Luther in Wittenberg seminar taught by Wilson and Prof. Theodor Dieter, from which emerged the invitation to Wilson to offer lectures in Taiwan. (In fact, Wilson had the opportunity to meet with all four of the Taiwanese pastors who had participated in the Wittenberg seminar.) Prof. Liao interpreted all nine of the lectures with extraordinary ease and skill, in addition to facilitating the travels, meals, and even some sightseeing for Wilson and her family, who also came along with her to Taiwan. Prof. Wilson and her husband Andrew attended Prof. Liao’s class on Luther’s theology on the last day of their visit to answer questions and talk about their pilgrimage from Erfurt to Rome in 2010 in Luther’s footsteps, about which Andrew Wilson has written a book. Additionally, Prof. Liao arranged for Wilson to preach at a local Lutheran congregation at Sunday worship and to lead a discussion of Luther’s basic political insights as they might apply to the unique political situation of Taiwan.

Following the lectures at CES, Prof. Wilson also paid a visit to China Lutheran Seminary in the neighboring city of Hsinchu at the invitation of Prof. Jukka Kääriäinen. CLS is the only Mandarin Chinese-language Lutheran seminary in the world, as well as the main center of cooperation for the six Lutheran denominations in Taiwan. Wilson offered a talk on law and gospel during the chapel service and enjoyed lunch and a tour of the beautiful library (complete with both the American and the Weimar editions of Luther’s Works). The CLS faculty are both Taiwanese and from other parts of the world, fostering an exciting international dynamic in the seminary community.

Wilson’s lectures, revised and expanded, are due to be translated into Chinese and published by Taosheng Publishing House.

Altogether the Wilsons were deeply moved by the friendliness and hospitality of the Taiwanese Christian community and hope very much for opportunities for further cooperation.

Colloquium in Venice on Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Ecumenical Institute in Strasbourg plays an important role in the preparation for this anniversary and thus in the coming year the Institute staff will participate in multiple colloquia and conferences on the topic. In recent years, too, the Institute has played a decisive role in leading ecumenical research work for the Lutheran World Federation, for example in the drafting of the text of “From Conflict to Communion” in cooperation with the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institut in Germany, which itself worked as a representative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The two Institutes also prepared the liturgy which will be celebrated by the Pope during a meeting of the LWF and the PCPCU on October 31 of this year in Lund, Sweden.

This grand opening of the Reformation year by the pope may cause some surprise. What exactly it will mean and what will come about as a result of it will only be seen in the course of time. This fact, however, prompts many questions and queries to be put to the staff of the Strasbourg Institute.

Italian Catholic theologians at the Istituto di Studi Ecumenici San Bernardo in Venice invited the Institute staff to join them for a discussion of just such questions. The Venice Institute, dedicated to question of ecumenism particularly as they apply to the situation in Italy, has partnered with the Strasbourg Institute for several years now for joint work. From April 14 to 18 the two research teams gathered to examine in depth the aforementioned statement “From Conflict to Communion.” Prof. Theodor Dieter discussed the history of the text and described its contents. Prof. André Birmelé dealt more with the overall context of the anniversary as it will be celebrated in an entirely new way, since the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 forever altered the relationship between the Catholic and Lutheran churches. The Catholic contributions at the colloquium discussed the remaining open questions in the dialogue between the two churches. Their lectures expressed great hope and joy over what has already been achieved.

Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson’s departure from the Institute

After seven and a half years as Assistant Research Professor at the Institute, Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is returning with her family to the United States. During her time in Strasbourg, Wilson served as Consultant to the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission and sponsored several ventures in cooperation with Orthodox theologians, including a conference on Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and the creation of the Lutheran-Orthodox Theological Fellowship. She also joined the proto-dialogue with Pentecostal theologians undertaken by the Institute, participated in the planning for the formal dialogue between the LWF and Classical Pentecostals, and wrote a study entitled A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans.

In addition to these primary ecumenical duties, Wilson has been active in teaching, writing, and speaking about Lutheran theology for both Lutheran and non-Lutheran audiences. With colleague Prof. Theodor Dieter she taught at the two-week Studying Luther in Wittenberg program every year since 2009, and she has traveled throughout Europe, the United States, and Africa to present lectures. She has edited the American theological journal Lutheran Forum throughout her stay in Strasbourg and will continue to do so upon her return to America. In addition she has published numerous articles in both scholarly and popular magazines and books.

Despite their great affection for the city of Strasbourg and commitment to the work of the Institute, Wilson and her family felt it was time to return to their homeland. Wilson will continue to write and lecture from her new home base. She will serve as Consultant to the Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue, which begins this fall, and remain active in the Institute’s work in the capacity of Visiting Adjunct Professor.

The Institute is very grateful for Wilson’s great commitment to Lutheranism, the Lutheran World Federation and its ecumenical activities, and to the Institute’s work in all its dimensions.She is a very reliable colleague, ready to help, to assist and to offer her service whenever it is needed or asked for. She has a sharp intellect, and she is very quick in writing and drafting and correcting texts written in inaccurate English. It was very good to have her as a colleague in the Institute, and we are looking forward to cooperating with her in the capacity of Visiting Adjunct Professor.

Ecumenical Training for Interreligious Contexts: A Seminar for 13 Pastors from the Gambia

From 9 to 13 January, the Institute in Strasbourg hosted a group of 13 pastors from the Gambia, a small country in west Africa. The pastors came as representatives of 7 of the denominations belonging to the Gambia Christian Council: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, and Assemblies of God. Already having basically positive relationships as a tiny minority of Christians in this predominantly Muslim country, the GCC wanted to deepen and strengthen the ecumenical fellowship in the Gambia.


The initial idea came from Bp. Samuel S. Thomas of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gambia, who in 2014 participated in the Studying Luther in Wittenberg seminar offered by the Institute’s staff each November. Excited by the work the professors were doing, he brought home news of the Institute to the Gambia and encouraged involvement in the Institute’s activities. Over the course of many discussions, both the GCC and the Institute concluded that the best way to proceed was to bring representatives from the Lutheran church and all the churches with which Lutherans have had dialogues to Strasbourg for an intensive seminar. That dream finally came to fruition this January.

Although the time was relatively short, a great deal of ground was covered. Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson began with an overview of church history with a focus on division, followed by an account of ecumenical efforts and milestones in the 20th and 21st centuries. In later sessions she turned to the question of baptismal recognition, both between divided churches and between infant-baptizers and believer-baptizers. The group studied the first section of the Faith and Order Commission’s “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” and talked about whether it might be possible for the churches of Gambia to create a baptismal covenant, recognizing each other’s baptisms despite differences in ministry, theology, and method.

In turn, Prof. Theodor Dieter reviewed the conflicts of the 16th century leading to the division between the church of Rome and the various Protestant groups with a particular focus on the case of Martin Luther. This laid the foundation for a review of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and the concept of differentiated consensus, which lies between the extremes of accepting everything, on the one hand, and requiring uniformity in every particular, on the other. At the end of the seminar, he talked about the specific case of reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites in 2010 and the “Five Ecumenical Imperatives” at the end of From Conflict to Communion, the 2013 statement of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

The Gambian participants also worked on analyzing their own particular situation as many Christian churches in a Muslim context, and the challenges they face in more fully living out their unity in Christ. While 44 churches belong to the Gambia Christian Council, only 3 are full members, who make the primary decisions about activities and projects, which can lead to less involvement on the part of the other 41. The participants decided to return and advocate for more active inclusion and participation of a larger number of churches in the Council. They also face challenges of “sheep-stealing,” people moving from one church to another in search of various goods, rebaptism, and duplication of both congregational and diaconal ministries. Nevertheless, the will was strong in the group to face and overcome these difficulties for the sake of their witness to Christ. The group brainstormed practical approaches to reaching their goal: “We can achieve collective plans such as: a) doing evangelism together, b) doing diaconal work together, c) planning measures in Christian-Muslim relations. Strategies: a) each member church of the GCC is encouraged to do mission and evangelism in areas where there are no churches yet; b) member churches should be encourage to do development work collectively to avoid duplication; c) member churches should meet together to discuss Muslim-Christian relations; d) GCC should train personnel in theology, development, and social service.”


Beyond the hard work, the participants enjoyed time for fellowship and visits in the area. The seminar took place mainly at the Centre St. Thomas, a Catholic retreat center near the European institutions in Strasbourg. On Sunday, the whole group attended worship at St. Alban’s Anglican Chaplaincy, where they were very warmly welcomed by the congregation, which held a reaffirmation of baptismal vows in observance of the Baptism of Christ. The service was followed by a luncheon hosted by the church, after which Prof. Dieter gave the participants a guided tour of the cathedral to explain its overall theological message as expressed in the artwork. On Tuesday, leaders of the Union of Protestant Churches in Alsace and Lorraine shared lunch with the participants at the Séminaire Protestant, and afterwards the Regional Bishop Jean-Jacques Reutenauer gave the group an overview of the excellent ecumenical fellowship and interreligious relations enjoyed in Strasbourg. This in turn was followed by a visit to St. Thomas, the principal Lutheran church in Strasbourg.

On the final afternoon, the whole group took an excursion into the Vosges Mountains. The first stop was Mt. Ste. Odile, a convent perched on a mountaintop dedicated to the patroness of Alsace. A particular delight was the heavy snow—a first for most of the Gambians! Afterwards a visit was paid to the Musée Oberlin, which presents the life’s work of John Frederick Oberlin, a Lutheran pastor who spent his entire fifty-nine year pastorate in a poor and insignificant village and yet became known worldwide for his piety, preaching, and development projects for these despised and forgotten villagers. The day concluded with a classic Alsatian meal of tarte flambée—though most of the Gambians confessed they’d have been just as happy with rice, their traditional food at every meal!

We at the Institute were particularly glad to have the opportunity to host this seminar as we reflect on ways in which to extend our ecumenical work more intensively into the Global South. It became clear that attention to division and unity in the body of Christ is just as urgent in the South and among younger churches as it is among the older churches of the North. We gained many insights for future work and projects.


This impression was confirmed by the Gambians themselves, who offered many positive comments on the seminar:

“I would like to share my good experience of the mature nature and gentleness of the people at the Institute, very experienced, calm, and polite ways of teaching, which can be a good example to our churches and Christians.”

“The concept of ecumenism is Christian unity or cooperation as well as bringing or gathering the renewal of the whole life of the church to make it more responsive.”

“I will share with my people the importance of ecumenism. In order for us to unite we must first accept one another’s differences. If we do that, then we will have no problem in moving together toward our goal of uniting as a body. Thank you for a job well done and for accepting young pastors such as ourselves. I encourage you to take on other young African pastors because the youth of today are the future leaders.”

“What I learned about ecumenism was how all Christians can be under one umbrella with their fellow human beings. Christ said that in seeking him we will find one another, and we should intend to stay together. What I found most helpful was to learn more about the teaching of other churches and the good teaching on Christianity, which helps me to know Jesus in the true perspective.”

“I learned that Christians should recognize each other’s baptism. As long as one is baptized with water using the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it should be acceptable to any Christian church.”

“A very touching thing was visiting the cathedral. After knowing how many years the church took to be built, I came to realize that many people who contributed to building the church were not there to see it when it was finished. And this helped me to realize that we do not benefit from our own labor but we labor for something that other people will benefit from. This is a very good sign of what it means to be Christian.”

“I would like to take this chance to thank the professors for taking their time to teach us about the unity among churches. I will inform my bishop about it so that all Christian churches will have such ecumenical training and improve our standard of understanding each other in Christ.”

“I learned to accept God’s judgment on whatever I do in the world. Sometimes I have tried to serve God through my own understanding, putting my own loyalties before loyalty to Christ. Our separation has stopped us from correcting one another in Christ. The world is in the hands of the living God, who is Jesus, who lived and died and rose from the dead. I also learned that God has broken the power of evil once and for all, and the doors were open for freedom and happiness in the Holy Spirit. The judgment on our history and on everyone’s deeds will be the judgment of the merciful Christ. At the end of his mission there will be the triumph of his kingdom when we shall understand how much God has loved the world. When I go back, I will have so many things to discuss with my fellow pastors in the Gambia.”

“This is one of the best seminars I have ever attended. It has been a very, very excellent stay in Strasbourg, a very nice stay indeed. Our two able lecturers showed me the whole scope of Christianity and division that I was never aware of. A great moment.”

Some photos of the event:

Cooperation with Strasbourg University. Conclusion of Doctoral Theses

A special emphasis of the Institute is its cooperation with the University of Strasbourg. This especially concerns students whose doctoral work focuses on ecumenical themes and are happy to take advantage of the extensive theological competence and good library of the Institute. Two doctoral theses on ecumenical subjects were defended in December 2015, both of which received the highest rating of “excellent.” While neither student was a Lutheran theologian, both have been active in recent years in various Institute activities, including offering lectures at our yearly Summer Seminar.

Emmanuel Dobre is a Romanian Orthodox. His work compared the Orthodox understanding of icons with the Reformation understanding of the Scripture. He was able to show that in the Orthodox understanding, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that icons become bearers of the gospel. After presenting the Protestant understanding of Scripture, he stated the observable analogies between them. Dobre belongs to a group of younger theologians whom Patriarch Daniel of Romania has deliberately sent to Strasbourg to study so that they can be best educated in ecumenical matters at both the University and the Institute.

Anne Cathy Graber is a Mennonite and one of the four leaders of the Communauté du Chemin Neuf. She compared John Paul II’s encyclical on Mary, Redemptoris Mater, with Martin Luther’s commentary on the Magnificat. On this basis she stated the convergences and differences between them and showed how on the theme of Mary the questions that emerge in the context of ecumenical dialogue about the church can be recognized. This is not surprising, since even in newer Catholic theology the analogy between Mary and the church is always underlined. In this way in close cooperation with the Institute and under the direction of André Birmelé a work of more than 500 pages on the current state of dialogue about Mary comes forth. And it is the work of a Mennonite!

Creation of an Elisabeth Behr-Sigel Archive at the Institute

The Institute for Ecumenical Strasbourg is pleased to announce the creation of an archive of books and articles by and about Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (1907–2005). This well-regarded Orthodox theologian and ecumenist was born in Strasbourg and was one of the first women to graduate with a degree in theology from the University of Strasbourg. It is thus extremely fitting that this collection should find a home in Strasbourg.

Behr-Sigel was the author of seven books, many of which were translated into other languages, including English, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, and Greek. She was also a prolific author of articles, reports, and book reviews. The archive at the Institute holds copies of all of her books in French, along with several English translations. This collection includes a first edition of Behr-Sigel’s Prière et Sainteté dans l’Eglise Russe, with the pages still uncut, and a rare copy of her dissertation on Alexander Bukharev, which was recalled from publication soon after its release, apparently for its controversial content.

In addition to the books, most of Behr-Sigel’s published articles in French and English are collected in the archive. Most useful for future researchers are her many brief reports and meditations that appeared in Bulletin de la Crypte, the parish newsletter of the francophone Orthodox community in Paris, which are otherwise quite hard to access. The archive additionally includes certain unpublished papers from conferences and private letters, including specimens of her handwriting. Finally, researchers will find a number of reviews of Behr-Sigel’s own books and theology in the collection, and Olga Lossky’s biography of Behr-Sigel, Vers le Jour sans Déclin, along with the English translation Toward the Endless Day.

The archive was established by Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute, who met Behr-Sigel in 2000 in Paris and went on to write her dissertation on Behr-Sigel’s advocacy of women in the priesthood. This research was published as Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (T & T Clark, 2013). This book, which can also be found in the Institute library, contains the most complete bibliography of Behr-Sigel’s writings to date, including careful tracing of reprints of articles in different venues.

Books held in the archive by Elisabeth-Behr Sigel:

  • Prière et Sainteté dans l’Eglise Russe, first edition (1950) and reprint edition (1982)
  • Alexandre Boukharev, un Théologien de l’Eglise Orthodoxe Russe en Dialogue avec le Monde Moderne (1977)
  • Le Ministère de la Femme dans l’Eglise (1987), plus English translation The Ministry of Women in the Church (1991)
  • Le Lieu du Coeur: Initiation à la Spiritualité Orthodoxe (1989), plus English translation The Place of the Heart (1992)
  • Lev Gillet, “Un Moine de l’Eglise d’Orient” (1993)
  • L’Ordination des Femmes dans l’Eglise Orthodoxe, with Kallistos Ware (1998), plus English translation The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church (2000)
  • Discerner les Signes du Temps (2002)

Pope Francis at the Lutheran Church in Rome

On November 14, 2015, Pope Francis visited the Lutheran Christ Church in Rome and participated in the worship with the German-language congregation. The event deserves in every respect great attention. The service can be watched on Youtube. It shows how the pope celebrated this liturgy with great warmth and in an easy-going atmosphere amidst Protestant Christians; and how sensitively and well thought-out the service was in its preparation by the congregation and its pastor. In his greeting, Pr. Dr. Jens-Martin Kruse recalled the words that Pope Francis had said upon his election: “And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another.“ Before the evening prayer began, three members of the congregation were able to pose questions to the pope. It is impressive and moving to listen to his answers. For this reason we offer here a small extract of the conversation; the complete text in German can be found here.


First Question:

My name is Julius. I am nine years old, and I really like to take part in the children’s services at this congregation. I am fascinated by the stories of Jesus, and I also like how he acted. My question is: what do you like best about being pope?

Pope Francis:

The answer is simple. What I like best… If I asked you what you like most to eat, you will say: cake, dessert. Or maybe not? But you have to eat everything. What I honestly like best is to be a pastor, to be a shepherd. I don’t like the office work. These jobs I don’t like. I don’t like giving official interviews—this here is not a official but informal—but I have to do them. What do I like best? Being a pastor. Now, I am gladly a pastor, and when I am being a pastor, what I like best is being with children, talking to them, and you learn a lot, yes, you learn a lot with them. I am glad to be a pope in the style of a pastor… I also really love to visit prisons, but not that they bring me behind bars! Because talking to prisoners… you understand maybe, what I’m saying to you—because each time, when I step into a prison, I ask myself, “Why them and not me?” And then I feel the salvation of Jesus Christ, the love of Jesus Christ for me. For he is the one who has saved me. I am no less of a sinner than they are, but the Lord took me by the hand. I feel that too. And if I go into a prison, I’m happy. To be pope is to be bishop, pastor, shepherd.

Second Question:

My name is Anke de Bernardinis, and like many people in our congregation I am married to an Italian, a Roman Catholic Christian. For many years we have lived happily together and share both joy and sorrow. For this reason it really hurts us that we are divided in our faith and cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper together. What can we do, to finally reach fellowship on this point?

Pope Francis:

Thank you, Mrs. de Bernardinis. To answer the question about a common Lord’s Supper is not easy for me, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper. I’m afraid to do so! I make your question my own—so I ask myself: to share the Lord’s Supper, is it the end of the way or strengthening on the way to making progress together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand it. It’s true that in a certain sense “share” means that no differences exist between us, that we have the same teaching—I underline the word, a word that is hard to understand—yet I ask myself: don’t we have the same baptism? And if we have the same baptism, we must walk together… When you pray together, then baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your children who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus has done for us, you do the same thing in Lutheran as well as in Catholic language, in fact it is the same. The question: And the Supper? There are questions which one—only when one is honest with himself and the modest theological lights that I have—likewise must answer, you see. “This is my body, this is my blood,” the Lord said, “do this in remembrance of me.” And that is a strengthening along the way that helps us make progress… To your question I answer only with a question: How can I make it happen with my husband so that the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my way? It is a problem that each person must answer. A pastor friend of mine said to me however, “We believe that here the Lord is present. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. What is the difference?” ”Well, there are the explanations, the clarifications”… Life is greater than explanations and clarifications. Always make reference to baptism: “One faith, one baptism, one Lord,” Paul says to us, and the inference can be drawn from there. I will never dare give permission to do this, for it is not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I dare not say more.


Pope Francis concluded his sermon on Matthew 25:31–46 by deviating from his prepared manuscript with words that pointed a way forward: “It pleases me—and with this I will close—when I reflect on the Lord as a servant who serves; then it pleases me to ask him that he will be the servant of unity who helps us to make progress together. Today we have prayed together. To pray together, to work together for the poor and needy, to love one another with the true love of sisters and brothers. ‘But, Father, we are still different, because our dogmatic books say one thing and yours say another.’ A great church member from among you once spoke about how the time had come for reconciled diversity. Let us pray today for this grace, the grace of this reconciled diversity in the Lord, that is in the servant of YHWH, the God Who has not come to us to be served but to serve (Mk. 10:42). I thank you very much for this brotherly hospitality. Thank you.”

The “great church member” to whom the pope refers was Prof. Dr. Harding Meyer, former director of the Institute in Strasbourg, whose pioneering work in ecumenism developed the strategy of “reconciled diversity” that made the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification possible.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis presented Pr. Kruse with a eucharistic chalice and paten; something he otherwise only does in visits to Roman Catholic dioceses. A remarkable sign! May this visit of the pope in a Lutheran church promote the cause of the ecumenical movement and touch many people!

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2015

This November saw the 12th Studying Luther in Wittenberg hosted by the LWF Center and the 7th to be taught by Professors Theodor Dieter and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute in Strasbourg. Twenty participants gathered from 5 continents and 17 countries: Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Guyana, Hong Kong, Latvia, Madagascar, Myanmar, Poland, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Tanzania, and the United States.

The special theme for this Seminar was Luther’s teaching on the Holy Trinity. In the first week, after a review of the medieval context, the foundational texts of Luther’s Reformation thought were covered: the 95 Theses and the lesser-known Theses on the Remission of Sins from 1518, The Freedom of a Christian, The Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness, A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels, and, as a summary, Luther’s hymn “Out of the Depths” and his coat of arms, commonly known as the Luther Rose. This offered a solid foundation of the doctrine of justification and the righteousness given first as a gift in Christ before being an activity of the justified person herself. We also spent time reviewing the way the doctrine of justification shapes Luther’s practice of baptism, including infant baptism. In the afternoon sessions, we broke up into groups to discuss what Luther’s writings meant for the participants’ varied contexts.

The second week turned more specifically to the topic of the triune God, though already in the first week it was clear how deeply interwoven trinitarian thinking is with all of Luther’s other theology. The texts under consideration were the Large Catechism on the First Commandment and the Creed, a sermon on John 14, The Last Words of David, The Three Symbols or Creeds of the Christian Church, and again several hymns, “We Praise You Jesus Christ,” “We All Believe in One True God” and “Dear Christian Friends Let Us Rejoice.” Luther’s teaching on the Trinity is basically drawn from the early church with no challenge or deviation. His one contribution, perhaps, is to insist that the Trinity is “for us,” and that knowing this fact is intrinsic to knowing the Trinity at all.

Alongside the many hours of study and discussion, the participants had many opportunities for engaging Wittenberg, its community, and its resources, including a visit with the Lord Mayor. The representative of the Bishop for Reformation and Ecumenism, Siegried Kasparick, reported on the preparations for 2017; Ralston Deffenbaugh from Geneva presented the work of the LWF. One evening the participants travelled to local outlying parishes for an evening of prayer and fellowship; on another occasion they joined the English-language Stammtisch. Over the weekend were trips to Eisenach, the Wartburg, Erfurt, and Torgau, as well as worship at both the Castle Church and the City Church. Each evening, participants prepared a dinner of their country’s traditional food—and such a culinary trip around the world was greeted with enthusiasm every time! On the final evening everyone enjoyed a festive meal of dishes from Luther’s time, served by Hans Kasch and Annette Glaubig, who dressed up as figures from the sixteenth century and displayed their acting talents to everyone’s great entertainment.

As always, the Seminar was an enriching experience for all participants, an important contribution toward theological continuing education as well as the deepening of the worldwide Lutheran communion. As one participant put it, quoting Luther, our time together was a “joyful exchange.” Pastors and theology students from all LWF member churches are warmly welcomed to apply for future seminars. Those who cannot attend in person can join the Luther Reading Challenge sponsored by the Institute.

Ecumenical Education in Zaragoza, Spain

For more than 20 years now, the Institute has been involved in the educational work of the Communauté du Chemin Neuf (“New Way Community”). Chemin Neuf was founded 40 years ago in Lyon by Jesuit priest Laurent Fabre. It is an ecumenical community consisting today of more than 300 celibate women and men and 1200 families. It came out of the charismatic movement and is concerned with connecting the historic churches with various Pentecostal movements. 10% of its members come from Reformation churches. Although its center of gravity still lies in France, there are communities of the Chemin Neuf in more than 30 countries now. Over 100 houses, academies, and former cloisters are sites for its assorted activities.

A particular emphasis of Chemin Neuf is theological education. In many places training centers have been built that range from continuing education for laypeople to full-blown theological faculties (France, Switzerland, Holland, and also Spain). The Carthusian cloister in Zaragoza welcomes married couples and families, 60 people in all, for a twelve-week course from September to Christmas. One of the weeks of this educational program is dedicated to the achievements of the ecumenical movement. Foundational and methodological questions of ecumenism as well concrete implementations of these proposals comprise the conversation. For the third year in a row, Prof. André Birmelé of the Institute was the lecturer for a week in November in the Cartuja Aula Dei. Representatives of Chemin Neuf are also always participants in the Summer Seminars at the Institute each July.

The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe Meeting at the Institute

From 23 to 25 October, the working group on “Church Fellowship” of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) met at the Institute. The close cooperation of the Institute with the CPCE has been in existence for more than 40 years. The Institute was the place where, in 1972, the Leuenberg Agreement was worked out from the Lutheran side. The first Secretariat of the Leuenberg Fellowship of Churches (later the CPCE) was established in Strasbourg. Since then, researchers at the Institute have always participated in the various projects of the CPCE.

The General Assembly of the CPCE in Florence in 2012 called for a doctrinal conversation with the task of producing a study on “Church Fellowship.” The goal of this study is, on the one hand, to draw up an evaluation of the issue, and on the other hand to propose concrete suggestions for the further work of the next General Assembly, which will take place in Basel, Switzerland, in 2018. While the operational model of unity of the CPCE, namely “reconciled diversity,” has certainly proved itself, it nevertheless requires deepening and reinforcement.

After the first meeting of this working group in Strasbourg, a first draft was submitted to the churches in 2014. The churches in turn sent representatives to a larger consultation, which took place in February 2015 in Holland. On the basis of the feedback, it reworked the first version. This led to the consultation in Strasbourg. The group worked out a new template, which will in due course be sent to the churches. After the churches submit their feedback, a definitive version for the General Assembly should be finalized by another meeting in Strasbourg in early 2017. Michael Beintker of the University of Münster and André Birmelé of the Institute are the directors of this doctrinal conversation.

History of the Ecumenical Movement: A Joint Project with the University of Bologna

The Fondazione per le scienze religiose Giovanni XXIII (Foundation for Religious Sciences John XXIII, FSCIRE) of the University of Bologna is best known for its work in ecumenical circles. It has published already more than 20 years ago a history of the Second Vatican Council under the direction of G. Alberigo. The publication of a further study of the Council’s decrees and the Confessions of the Reformation churches is just about to be finalized. Now the FSCIRE has a new goal of producing a multi-volume history of the ecumenical movement.

A small group of editors, of which the Lutheran representative is the Institute’s Prof. André Birmelé, is responsible for seeing this project through. The task force meets at the Monasterio di Bose in Italy. Initially it sought to put together a wide-ranging picture of the current ecumenical situation. A first colloquium in the fall of 2014 served toward this end. Its results were published as Toward a History of the Desire for Christian Unity: Preliminary Research Papers: Proceedings of the International Conference at the Monastery of Bose (November 2014): With a Foreword of Enzo Bianchi and a Postface of André Birmelé, ed. Luca Ferracci (LIT Verlag, 2015).

A further consultation took place from 26 to 28 October 2015, once again at Bose. It occupied itself with the models of unity that have been developed over the past years. The results of this consultation will also be published in due course. One the basis of these first colloquia, the contents of the various volumes of the comprehensive history of the ecumenical movement will be determined.


Reformation Heritage Lectures at Beeson Divinity School

On October 27, 28, and 29, Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute presented the annual Reformation Heritage Lectures at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Founded only twenty-five years ago and guided during all this time by the ecumenical vision of Dean Timothy George, a Baptist minister and theologian, Beeson seeks to ground its students, who come primarily from Evangelical Protestant churches, in the “Great Tradition” of Christianity. The annual Reformation Heritage Lectures are an expression of that commitment.

Prof. Wilson’s series was entitled “Soundings in Lutheran Spirituality: Songs, Sinners, and Saints.” The first lecture was actually a sermon during the weekly chapel service. She presented four sixteenth-century Lutheran hymns—by Nikolaus Herman, Elisabeth Cruciger, Paul Speratus, and Martin Luther—and their distinctive way of setting both doctrine and comfort to music, allowing the entire congregation to engage in a form of preaching. The Beeson congregation and a small choir participated in singing the hymns, which were interwoven with the sermon.

The second lecture dealt primarily with baptism—“spirituality for sinners.” After discussing how, for Luther, baptism is primarily a gift of God to human beings, rather than a command of God to be obeyed by humans, Prof. Wilson offered an account of the rationale for infant baptism from a Lutheran perspective, while offering critiques when infant baptism is misused. Since Beeson students come from both infant-baptism and believer’s-baptism traditions, this inspired a lively conversation.

The final lecture concerned saints, a topic that the Institute dealt with at some length during the 2013 Summer Seminar. Here Prof. Wilson made a case for taking a fresh look at what the veneration of saints could mean from an Lutheran perspective, based on Luther’s first hymn about the Antwerp martyrs and Melanchthon’s program for evangelical hagiography in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.

In addition to the lectures, Prof. Wilson recorded a podcast with Dean George and met with the Women Students’ Fellowship. Altogether it was a very positive visit, and the Beeson community proved itself to be warm, welcoming, and eager for intellectual engagement. The time together exemplified the ideals of ecumenism, growing together through mutual encounter.

50th International Ecumenical Seminar 2016

50 Years of International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue: Assessment and Outlook

Strasbourg, July 4-11, 2016


50 years ago, in the summer of 1966, the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity decided to begin an official theological dialogue. Shortly before the end of the Second Vatican council, a bilateral working group had been established, which after two meetings at the newly founded Strasbourg Institute for Ecumenical Research (April 1966)  recommended such dialogue at the world level. As a result, the first international bilateral dialogue group was summoned and began its work as of 1967.

Much has been achieved by this dialogue. The first round clarified already a far-reaching consensus on the understanding of gospel (1972). Thereafter the topics of the Lord’s Supper (1978) and the ministry of the church (1981) were taken up. This first dialogue phase led to a common vision, which appeared in 1986 under the title “Facing Unity.” The work was always being accompanied by national dialogues, in particular those of Germany and the USA. Now the time was ripe for concrete steps and decisions by the church. After a new dialogue round on the understanding of the church (1993), the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was reached, which in 1999 was officially signed by both the Vatican and the LWF. This differentiating consensus on the understanding of salvation is a milestone that put an end to 500 years of conflict, but which also shed light on the remaining tasks. The open question is still now as it was then the understanding of the church. Therefore, the next theme to be taken up was the apostolicity of the church, which concluded in 2006. After this, in view of the Reformation jubilee in 2017, decisive progress was made in clarifying the way forward with “From Conflict to Communion” (2013).

These 50 years of dialogue are the theme of the 2016 Summer Seminar, which the Institute in Strasbourg is organizing in cooperation with the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism (Paderborn, Germany). Theologians who have taken part in various rounds of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue have already committed to presenting at the Seminar. The lectures will first of all present and analyze the important stages of this dialogue and especially its theological findings. Then the various national dialogues, and the reception of the dialogues in the churches, will come into focus. In addition, the methodology of the dialogues that has developed over the years will be more precisely reflected upon. What has been accomplished so far? What has not yet been accomplished? Where do the obstacles lie? Finally, new paths and possibilities for future dialogue for these two Christian world communions will be explored.

Münster Strasbourg

This will be the 50th Summer Seminar to take place at the Institute in Strasbourg.  The lectures will be subsequently published as a special contribution to the observance of 2017.

The Seminar is not restricted to theological debates, though. Just as important is the personal conversation among participants, their sharing of ecumenical and confessional experiences, their questions and attention. Precisely because the participants come from many different churches and nations is this exchange so especially exciting and illuminating. Therefore, plenty of time is offered in the plenary and working groups for such discussion. Not planned in advance but for this reason all the more important are the many conversations that take place over superb French food in the dining hall or over a glass of wine in one of the restaurants of the old medieval city of Strasbourg.

Meeting of the bilateral working group at the Institute, 1966

English and German are the main languages of the Seminar. Lectures and discussions will be simultaneously translated into and out of these languages. Participants may also express themselves in French in the plenary discussions.

The charge for the seminar, including full pension (i.e., room and meals) in a seminary dormitory (single rooms) is € 700. Financial support is often provided by churches or other institutions, so participants are encouraged to apply to their appropriate church offices.
As last year, a smaller part of this amount will be used to assist some participants from Eastern Europe, the South and from Latin America, persons who likely would not be able to participate without our help.

From July 4 (arrival during the afternoon; evening reception) to July 11 (departure after breakfasts), 2016, in Strasbourg, France.

Inquiries by email should be directed either to Elke Leypold:

Download flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-2016

Download schedula: seminar schedule 2016

A Visit with the Orthodox Community in France

Over the weekend of 10–11 October, Prof. Wilson of the Institute joined the gathering of the ACER-MJO (Association Chrétienne des Etudiants Russes – Mouvement de Jeunesse Orthodoxe), which took place at the Centre National de Formation Scouts et Guides de France, outside of Paris. The theme of the event was the ministry of the laity in the church. The timing was significant: it was ten years ago this November that one of the most important lay theologians of French Orthodoxy, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, “fell asleep in the Lord.”

Prof. Wilson was invited to address the assembly on Behr-Sigel’s understanding of the lay ministry. While Behr-Sigel is best known for her writings in support of the ordination of women to the Orthodox priesthood, she also wrote extensively on the calling of all Christians, lay and ordained alike, to become “permeable to Christ” and carry the light of Christ with them everywhere they go. Church is not only something that happens in the liturgy; it is what Christians are everywhere they go and no matter what they do. The faith is not something to hide and protect but to carry into every corner of the world.

The text of Prof. Wilson’s address may be found here: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel et le role du laicat dans l’Eglise (in French). For more about Behr-Sigel, see Olga Lossky’s biography, Toward the Endless Day, and Prof. Wilson’s study, Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

Joint Seminar with Institute and Catholic Faculty in Strasbourg

The Institute hosted a seminar with Prof. M. Denken (Catholic Theological Faculty) and Prof. T. Dieter (Institute for Ecumenical Research) for master’s degree students of both the Catholic and Protestant theological faculties of the University of Strasbourg in the library on September 25, 2015. As the university catalogue describes it:

“Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue: Malta, the Joint Declaration, and From Conflict to Communion. This seminar deals with the study of ecumenical dialogue working from the Lutheran-Catholic example. From Vatican II and its decree Unitatis Redintegratio to the recent From Conflict to Communion written in view of the Luther anniversary in 2017, interconfessional dialogue has permitted churches to revisit their histories, to grapple with ecumenical concerns, to consider what makes for consensus, and to apprehend with courage and clarity what still divides them. This chronological presentation offered by two voices, one a Catholic professor and the other a Protestant theologian specializing in ecumenical dialogue, will be followed in the second semester by a systematic study of number of themes raised by this dialogue such as the church, the sacraments, and in particular the order of ministry and the eucharist.”

Seminar with Pastors from Lippe

From August 31 to September 4, twenty Lutheran pastors from the German region of Lippe, under the leadership of Superintendent Andreas Lange, visited the Institute for a continuing education seminar. Prof. Birmelé of the Institute gave an introductory lecture on “Being Protestant in France and Alsace.” Prof. Dieter offered an overview of the work of the Institute focused on the three main areas of research, dialogue, and reception, while reviewing the contributions of the Institute toward ecumenism in the past fifty years.  Prof. Dieter gave another presentation on “The Lutheran DNA: What is it?” leading to a lively discussion.

The participants further tested a liturgy intended for ecumenical celebrations of the Reformation in 2017 and made helpful suggestions for further refinements of the liturgy. During one of the afternoons of the seminar, Prof. Dieter led the group to the Strasbourg cathedral and expounded on the theological aspects of the cathedral’s imagery. In addition, the group paid a visit to the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar and the John Frederick Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach. Both days at the Institute itself showed once again how fruitful the conversation between ecumenical research and congregational praxis can be.

Herewith several comments from participating pastors:

willwacher-bahr-5b93b350Pr. Christa Willwacher-Bahr, Detmold: What we are celebrating in 2017 is for Roman Catholics a date linked to the painful memory of the splintering of the church. We can remember it together and in the process also get a better sense of how the Catholic church was challenged by the Reformation to reconsider itself. In ecumenical relationships it is essential to face the past, the the mutual condemnations and persecutions in the name of religion, and through an earnest apology open up the path toward future discussions about theological differences and commonalities.

lorenz_0Superintendent i.R. Dieter Lorenz, Bad Salzuflen: It made quite an impression on me how the professors (Birmelé and Dieter) communicated the basic insights of the Reformation in a clear, engaged, and theologically comprehensible way. For me the discussion about the category of “binding on the conscience” was especially illuminating.

eberhardt-b3fc4bc9Pr. Dr. Gönke Eberhardt, Lemgo: It is a great treat to be able to peek behind the backdrop of the process of ecumenical agreements. How much patience, tact, and solid theological work are necessary for working on dialogues between the confessions one can only guess at from the outside. Anyone who’s had the chance to visit the Institute herself to work on the major contemporary themes comes away with new tools for communicating these matters at the congregational level.

lange_0Superintendent Andreas Lange, Lemgo: Only someone who knows what he stands for is also capable of engaging in real communication. The Institute performs a valuable service toward this end. To be Lutheran is not something special but it is nevertheless something distinctive. For that reason, the question about “Lutheran DNA” is not something superfluous but in fact essential. If such questions can be addressed in a way that is as competent and at the same time as friendly as we experienced at the Institute, then we can only rejoice that we had this opportunity for further learning in Strasbourg.

kirchhof-921b575ePr. Lars Kirchhof, Detmold: To pose the question “What do we have in common after 500 years with our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers?” and not so much the perspective of “What divides us?” gives me as a parish pastor new motivation to undertake theologically well-grounded conversations and projects looking toward 2017 that will reflect this knowledge.

langenau-668123ccPr. Steffie Langenau, Bad Salzuflen: The talent of the professors got me enthused to try to successfully communicate theologically demanding ideas in a limited amount time without oversimplifying matters. We were by no means a homogenous group, but the ability to join in the conversation with this kind of background was extraordinarily helpful. Moreover I greatly enjoyed with amazement the great friendliness with which we were welcomed, accompanied, and shown around the city.

Summer Seminar 2015: Ecumenism in the Arts

Christians are visibly divided in their jurisdictions and at their altars. Yet these same divided Christians sing the same songs of praise to the triune God; they are inspired by the same marvelous cathedrals and churches that pre-date their divisions; they are moved by the same icons, paintings, and sculptures of biblical scenes; and they enjoy the same novels and films that explore the meaning of the Christian faith. Whether we recognize it or not, we have a great deal of unity among Christians in the arts.

It was this unexplored unity through the arts that the Summer Seminar investigated in July. After an introduction to the problematic and its possibilities by the Institute’s director, Prof. Theodor Dieter, we heard a study on nearly the oldest literature enjoyed by Christians as well as Jews, namely the Psalms. Prof. Mark Elliott of St. Andrew’s University in Scotland led us on this journey, with special attention to the use of the Psalms by various Christian communities through church history.


His lecture was followed by that of Prof. Matthew Milliner of Wheaton College in the United States on the theme of “Visual Ecumenism.” As a scholar of art history, Milliner traced many fascinating of intersections of Christian artistic themes across confessional divisions, most powerfully in the Virgin of the Passion icon, which originated in suffering Cyprus after the ravages of the Crusades and gradually found its way to the West.

On Friday morning, Prof. Dr. Ottmar Fuchs developed a wide-reaching theological reflection on justice and grace based on the film “Incendies,” adapted from the stage play by Lebanese-Canadian playwright and director Wajdi Mouawad. Against a background of unimaginable cruelty in the Lebanese civil war, the film poses the question of an all-inclusive forgiveness alongside the sharpest possible accusations against evildoers.

Then Prof. Sooi Ling Tan, who teaches at three seminaries in Malaysia as well as Fuller Seminary in the U.S., gave an overview of the history of Contemporary Christian Music. This is one of the most successful denominational-crossing artforms of all time. The lecture included plenty of opportunity to listen to CCM and sing along.

This year, unusually, one of the lectures involved a “field trip” that fit with the theme of Ecumenism in the Arts—to the huge and beautiful cathedral of Strasbourg. We were honored to have Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Doré as our tour guide. He knows the cathedral well and his written significant works about it, so we truly got an intimate theological portrait of an amazing church.

Prof. Dr. Meinrad Walter, a Catholic scholar of Johann Sebastian Bach, spoke on Saturday morning. He illustrated the many surprising ways that the great composer’s work was an early “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” drawing together themes across the divisions of Catholic and Protestant in the eighteenth century. The participants also had the opportunity to hear an inspired performance of two Bach cantatas in one of Strasbourg’s churches.

One evening the participants viewed the film “All Is Lost,” an almost-wordless story of one man adrift alone at sea. On Monday, Prof. Dr. Hans Martin Dober spoke about film in theological and ecumenical perspective, building on the mysterious themes of providence and presence in “All Is Lost.”

The Seminar heard an Eastern Orthodox presentation in the lecture of Emanuel Dobre, a Romanian doctoral student at the University of Strasbourg. He explored the ways in which the Scripture and icons serve the same purpose of making Christ present to the faithful.

The Institute’s Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson introduced the famous American Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, whose dark and disturbing stories almost always feature Protestants, despite the author’s very firm and passionate Catholic commitments. O’Connor’s letters also reveal the author’s complex and changing judgments about different Christian groups, illustrating many of the basic findings of ecumenism.

On the last day, Prof. Theodor Dieter discussed the ecumenical meaning of the fact that numerous hymns by Lutheran authors can be found in the new German Catholic hymnal Gotteslob. In this regard he examined two hymns by Martin Luther (“From Deepest Woe I Cry to Thee,” “From Heaven Above”) and one by Lutheran pastor Paul Gerhardt (“The Golden Son”). From this it became clear how the use of a Psalm text, a concentration on the person of Christ, or the taking up of a basic human experience (such as the religious perception of the dawn of a new day) makes possible the creation of trans-confessional commonalities. Poetry can enable the presentation of theology in poignant and easily accessible ways.

A highlight of the Seminar was the “Ecumenical Singalong,” in which participants Ruth and John Rollefson led the group in singing great Christian songs and hymns from across the world and all different confessional divisions.

The final lecture by Jérôme Cottin of the Protestant Faculty of the University of Strasbourg drew together the many assorted themes of the Seminar by looking at typical confessional works by Protestants and Catholics. He then showed works by contemporary Christian artists who deliberately downplay their confessional affiliation and seek a more abstract style of art in order to cross boundaries.

In addition to the formal lectures, we enjoyed many short presentations by participants about everything from music to painting to theater. The Sunday excursion took us to the marvelous Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar as well as a rebuilt Catholic church in Germany designed by a graffiti artist, followed by a wine tasting and tarte flambée.

This seminar was unexpectedly characterized by an incredible heatwave, but at the same time an extremely positive and friendly spirit, especially during the “choir competition” on the second night of the seminar. The staff greatly enjoyed the company of participants from twenty-one countries and six churches.

The dates for next year’s seminar are July 4–11, 2016, and the theme is Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in honor of the sixty-fifth birthday of Prof. Theodor Dieter. Mark your calendars now!

Bilder vom Seminar: 

Beautiful photos that Pastor Hans-Joachim Jeromin has kindly given us the link to can be found here: Dropbox Pictures

Study Guide for “From Conflict to Communion”

In 2013, the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue released its groundbreaking study, “From Conflict to Communion.” It assessed how Lutherans and Catholics could jointly commemorate the Reformation’s beginnings during the anniversary year of 2017, with appropriate elements of both repentance and celebration. Like many such ecumenical statements, it assumes a high level of familiarity with both churches’ theology and history, and as such is not immediately accessible to many people who would otherwise be very interested in the subject. For that very reason, leaders from local Lutheran and Catholic churches got together to produce an excellent study guide for use in the congregation.

The study guide was drafted and published by the Southwest Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Greensburg and the Pittsburgh Byzantine Archdiocese. It walks readers through the sections of “From Conflict to Communion,” guided by instructions for prayer and open-ended questions to foster further conversation. It’s an outstanding example of reception of international work at the local level.

Download Study Guide: From Conflict to Communion

Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue Meeting in Rhodes

The 16th Plenary of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission met from April 28 to May 5 in Rhodes, Greece, continuing a tradition of meeting that has taken place annually without interruption since 1981. Unusually, this plenary followed upon three preparatory meetings—normally there is only one preparatory between each plenary—due to the extremely complex topic at hand, namely the ministry of the church.

The preparatories over the past three years have looked at the ordained ministry/priesthood in the Old Testament and New Testament; in the early church and the Reformation; and examined liturgical rites of ordination and practices regarding the ordination of women in our respective churches. The plenary convened to review the work done thus far and take the first step toward drafting a common statement. Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute participated as the official consultant to the dialogue.

Although a great deal has already been addressed in this broad topic, the plenary concluded that further work was required before taking the step of issuing a public statement, including the understanding of the episcopate and apostolic succession. The next preparatory and plenary will take up these issues.

Significant events awaiting both churches was also a topic of conversation. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church is scheduled to take place in 2016, and 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Lutheran Reformation.

As always, the work of the dialogue was interspersed with prayer and visits. We enjoyed the warm welcome and hospitality of His Eminence Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes, who led us in prayer at the Holy Monastery of the Mother of God Faneromeni, as well as the Sunday liturgy at the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and a visit to the Ecumenical Center of the Evangelische Kirche deutscher Sprache in Griechenland. Local Orthodox parishes provided excellent dinners to the participants. A tour of the old city of Rhodes was a highlight of our time together.

Although we are always aware of the significant differences between our churches which at times seem insuperable, every meeting reconfirms our conviction that meeting together for dialogue and prayer is an essential task in our fidelity to Jesus’ prayer that we may be one.

Read more details in the LWF news release.

The Institute Celebrates Its 50th Birthday

At a festive day-long event on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, the Institute celebrated five decades of service to the Lutheran World Federation and the ecumenical movement. The program included greetings and lectures by a number of dignitaries from many Christian World Communions as well as from within the Lutheran World Federation family, interspersed with soloist performances on violin and piano. The highlight of the occasion was a worship service at the St. Thomas Church to give thanks to God for the work of fifty years and ask for blessing in the continued pursuit of the unity of the church.

The day’s events opened at the Séminaire Protestante in Strasbourg with a greeting from Bp. Dr. Frank O. July, bishop of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Württemberg and Chair of the Foundation for Interconfessional Research, which governs the Institute. His remarks were followed by those of the Institute’s director, Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter, who outlined the history, mission, work, and challenges of the Institute and thanked the many people and institutions that have supported it over the last 50 years and have contributed to its work and outcome.

Bp. Frank O. July

Warm words of appreciation and hope for the future then followed from partners and friends of the Institute. The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Martin Junge, spoke powerfully of the Institute’s contributions to the development of world Lutheranism and the extraordinary progress in ecumenical rapprochement, most especially in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) and the Mennonite Action (2010). He remarked, “[I]t is in the Institute for Ecumenical Research’s very DNA to care so passionately for the theological rootedness and accountability of ecumenical dialogues, and… from the LWF’s perspective, the Institute is so firmly linked both to the ecumenical vocation of its member churches, as well as to the actual theological dialogues that give expression to the ecumenical engagement. In theological terms: for the LWF, the Institute with its research capacity and its support of the communion’s ecumenical relations is not an adiaphoron, a ‘could be,’ but a necessity, a ‘must be.’”

Bp. Brian Farrell of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity followed with his own words of gratitude for the long partnership of the Institute with Catholic ecumenism. For the Roman Catholic church, he said, “the Strasbourg Institute stands as a visible sign of how seriously the Lutheran World Federation takes its engagement in the ecumenical movement.”

Further greetings and accolades came from Bp. Dr. Michael Bünker, a Lutheran bishop in Austria as well as General Secretary of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), who acknowledged the important contributions Institute professors made to the coming-into-being of the Leuenberg Fellowship and its development up to the present day; Rev. Dr. Gabriel Tschonang, a Catholic priest and scholar in Strasbourg, who wrote his dissertation at the Institute; and Prof. Dr. Christos Filiotis, a Greek Orthodox priest and professor at the University of Saloniki. The morning’s program concluded with remarks from Rev. Dr. Larry Miller, formerly General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference who participate in the Lutheran-Mennonite dialogue and presently serving as General Secretary of the Global Christian Forum, whose offices are located at the Institute, and Church President Christian Albecker of Strasbourg.

The beautiful festival worship service took place at noon in the St. Thomas Church, with Bp. July presiding and Church President Gottfried Locher of the Swiss Evangelical Church Federation/CPCE, also a member of the Institute board, offering the sermon. A beautiful buffet feast then awaited at the Médiathèque of the Séminaire Protestante.

The afternoon’s program featured four speakers from across the world. Bp. Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and Council Chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany, recalled the special history of Bavarian bishops and the Bavarian Lutheran church with the Institute and strongly emphasized the need for ecumenism for both practical and theological reasons. He was followed by Bp. Dr. Ndanganeni Phaswana from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, who made an impassioned plea for the Institute’s increasing involvement in theological education and guidance for the Lutheran churches of the Global South. Rev. Dr. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. of Fuller Theological Seminary and a leading Pentecostal ecumenist spoke enthusiastically of his own involvement in the Institute’s preparatory dialogue on behalf of the world’s Lutheran churches with Classical Pentecostals. The day’s program concluded with a commendation from Prof. Dr. Friederike Nüssel of the University of Heidelberg about the academic contributions made over the years by the Institute’s theologians.

In addition to the official speakers, many other guests attended the celebration. Board members beyond those already mentioned included Rev. Naoki Asano from Japan, Rev. Dr. Duane Larson from the USA, and Bp. Dr. Matti Repo from Finland. Former board members attended as well, namely Bp. ret. Dr. Johannes Friedrich of Germany and Bp. ret. Dr. Eero Huovinen of Finland. There were also former Institute staff members, namely Prof. Dr. Harding Meyer, Prof. Dr. Marc Lienhard, Rev. Dr. Flemming Fleinert-Jensen, and Ms. Alice Heyler. Past and present LWF colleagues included Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka, Rev. Sven Oppegaard, and Ms. Sybille Graumann.

Local attendance was naturally very strong. Ecumenical friends from France included Monseigneur Joseph Doré, former Archbishop of Strasbourg; Prof. Dr. Franck Lemaître, Ecumenical Secretary of the Episcopal Conference; Rev. Claire Sixt-Gateuille, Ecumenical Relations, EPUdF; and Mme Jane Strantz, Ecumenical Relations, FPF. From Strasbourg proper we welcomed Vice President Christian Krieger; Prof. Dr. Matthieu Arnold; Prof. Dr. Karsten Lehmkühler; Past. Reutenauer, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; Past. Wolf-Bonsirven, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; Past. Hetzel, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; Past. Jundt, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; and Past. Gerber, Inspecteur ecclésiastique.

From further abroad both Lutheran and ecumenical guests arrived to share their well-wishes, including Monsignore Dr. Matthias Türk of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Dr. Jean-Daniel Plüss from Switzerland, Chair of the Pentecostal team for the forthcoming Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue; Bishop Dr. Manzke, Bückeburg, Catholica-Beauftragter of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany; Privatdozent Dr. Günther Frank of the Europäische Melanchthon-Akademie Bretten; Dr. Fleischmann-Bisten of the Konfessionskundliches Institut Bensheim; Dr. Haizmann of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft christlicher Kirchen in Württemberg; Dean Rev. Wilfried Braun from Backnang, Germany; and Rev. Dr. William Rusch from the USA.

Finally, a number of theologians were invited to attend the celebration and then proceed immediately for the two-decade-long tradition of ecumenical conferences at the Klingenthal château. Among these were Dr. Beate Bengard, Germany/France; Prof. Dr. Martin Friedrich, CPCE, Austria/Germany; Prof. Dr. Hans Jochen Hilberath, Germany; Prof. Dr. Hervé Legrand, France; Prof. Dr.  Annemarie Mayer, Belgium/Germany; Prof. Dr. Peter de Mey, Belgium; Prof. Dr. Jeremy Morris, UK; Prof. Dr. Friederike Nüssel, Germany; Prof. Dr. Johanna Rahner, Germany; Prof. Dr. Risto Saarinen, Finland; The Rev. Canon Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky, UK; OKR Dr. Oliver Schuegraf, DNK, Germany; Prof. Dr. Walter Sparn, Germany; Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen, Germany; and Prof. Dr. Henk Witte, The Netherlands.

The accolades and encouragement were a wonderful way to celebrate 50 years of service. We thank and praise God for what has been done and ask for another 50 years to continue in the search for a church that is truly one.

First Meeting of the Lutheran-Orthodox Theological Fellowship

The first gathering of the St. Athanasius Lutheran-Orthodox Theological Fellowship took place at the Centre St. Thomas in Strasbourg, France, from March 25 to 29, 2015. The Fellowship is a new initiative of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in Volos, Greece, and the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg.

The Fellowship was founded in order to foster friendship and intellectual exchange between Lutheran and Orthodox theologians. Building on the great advances made by the regional and international dialogues between the two church communities, the Fellowship aims to combine the two traditions’ respective resources for a symbiotic effect in addressing the urgent questions facing both church and society in the twenty-first century.

Participants in the Fellowship traveled from all over Europe and North America for the several days of mutual conversation and reflection. The Orthodox team included Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Greece), Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies and Orthodox chair of the Fellowship; Rev. Dr. Radu Bordeanu (USA), Associate Professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh; Dr. Anna Briskina-Müller (Germany), Martin-Luther-Universität of Halle-Wittenberg; Dr. Konstantinos Delikonstantis (Greece/Switzerland), Professor at Athens University and Institute of Postgraduate Studies in Orthodox Theology in Chambésy; Rev. Heikki Huttunen (Finland), General Secretary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council; Dr. Assaad Elias Kattan (Germany), Professor and Chair of Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster and Mr. Georgios Vlantis, M.Th., (Greece/Germany) Scientific staff member of the Volos Academy and the Department of Orthodox Theology at the University of Munich and Orthodox secretary of the Fellowship.

The Lutheran team included Rev. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (France/USA), Assistant Research Professor at the Institute in Strasbourg and Lutheran chair of the Fellowship; Mgr. Anna-Mária Benková (Serbia/Slovakia), Lutheran Theological Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava; Rev. Mgr. Anne Burghardt (Estonia/Switzerland), Secretary for Ecumenical Relations at the Department for Theology and Public Witness of the Lutheran World Federation; Rev. Prof. Dr. Reinhard Thöle (Germany), Professor at the Theological Faculty and Seminar for Eastern Church Studies at the Martin-Luther-Universität of Halle-Wittenberg; Rev. Dr. Olli-Pekka Vainio (Finland), Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the University of Helsinki; and Mr. Martin Kopp (France) at the Protestant Theological Faculty of the University of Strasbourg and Climate Justice Advocacy Officer for the Lutheran World Federation as well as Lutheran secretary of the Fellowship.

To set a firm foundation for future work, this initial meeting of the Fellowship sought to map out the themes, new directions, and areas for development in the theology of the two churches. The topics of the papers were: “Classic Themes in Lutheran Theology” (Sarah Hinlicky Wilson), “Church and World in Orthodoxy: Theory vs. Reality” (Anna Briskina-Müller), “History and Current Trends in Luther Research” (Anna-Mária Benková), “Orthodox Theology and Hermeneutics: A Critical Overview” (Assaad Elias Kattan), “Lutheran Theology and Postmodern Philosophy” (Olli-Pekka Vainio) and “New Developments and Current Trends in Orthodox Theology” (Pantelis Kalaitzidis).

After lively and intensive discussion, the Fellowship resolved to meet again in 2017 to take up the topic of “Historical Hermeneutics,” with particular attention to the various roles that the past can and does play in shaping our churches and theology in the present and future. The topic is particularly appropriate, as the 2017 meeting will follow directly upon the Pan-Orthodox Council planned for 2016 and will take place during the 500th jubilee year of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Sessions were tentatively planned for 2019 and 2021 on the themes of “Theological Anthropology” and “Political Theology.” Publication is anticipated of the Fellowship’s papers in due course.

The Fellowship selected the patronal name of St. Athanasius in recognition of this church father’s importance to both of our communities, especially for his strong christological teaching.

The Volos Academy for Theological Studies functions as an open forum of thought and dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the broader scholarly community of intellectuals worldwide.

The Luther Reading Challenge

Since 2009, members of the Institute staff have taught the two-week Studying Luther in Wittenberg program every November, which gathers Lutheran pastors from all over the world. It has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience to see how the writings of a sixteenth-century reformer can still speak so powerfully to people half a millennium later—and not just in the old territory of Christendom but all around the world. More than once we have asked ourselves how to carry this amazing experience of careful reading of Luther’s theology in a global setting to a bigger audience.

While we can’t invite every person interested in Luther from the whole world to join us in Wittenberg, we can at least take advantage of our new interconnectedness via the World Wide Web! So we invite you to join the Luther Reading Challenge, a new initiative of the Strasbourg Institute to foster international, cross-confessional conversation about Martin Luther as a preparation for the forthcoming Reformation anniversary.

From now until October 2017, we’ll be featuring various writings of Luther’s on the LRC website—starting with the 95 Theses and including his pastoral and spiritual writings, portions of his biblical commentaries, his Catechisms, his will and his hymns. While it is impossible to avoid polemical or controversial elements, our focus is on Luther as a teacher and preacher of the Christian faith. Too often theology is taught with reference to enemies; our hope is to present here a Luther for the whole church.

To participate in the Challenge, simply visit the site: and sign up for a free account. Each text begins with a brief introduction, explaining the context and the key points. Readers can add their comments and questions on the righthand side of the page. New features will be added as we go. Come and join us!

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2014


Profs. Dieter and Wilson led the 10
th seminar hosted by the LWF Center in Wittenberg on Luther’s theology, November 8–22, 2014. Our 20 participants came from every corner of the globe, representing the nations of Australia, Botswana, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, the Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Africa, Taiwan, and the United States.

As usual, we began in the first week with an intensive review of Luther’s foundational teaching on the gospel and justification, as well as its implications for preaching and the sacraments. Together we worked carefully through the Ninety-Five Theses, the Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness, the 1518 Theses on the Remission of Sins, the Freedom of a Christian, What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels, and excerpts from the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, the Large Catechism, and Concerning Rebaptism.

In the second week we turned to this year’s special topic, namely “The Christian and the Government: Luther’s View of Temporal Authority.” Given the enormous political changes that have taken place over the past five hundred years, it was necessary to set Luther’s writings within their historical context even more than is usually the case. From this perspective we turned to his treatises on Temporal Authority, Admonition to Peace, Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved, and On the War Against the Turk. Luther discusses intensively the tension between the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount not to withstand evil (Matt. 5:29) and the charge laid by God upon state authorities to overcome the evil with force or “the sword” when necessary (Rom. 13:1-7). He seeks a solution by introducing various distinctions. One distinction is between two groups of people: the true believers who do not need any authority over them, and unbelievers who need to be protected from one another by state authority. A second distinction is between the activity of a Christian on his or her own behalf and that done on behalf of others in a particular office. In both cases, love takes a different form depending on the circumstances: enduring injustice vs. combatting injustice. A third distinction is between the two ways that God reigns: the worldly way, which includes the body and material things, and the spiritual way, which deals with the soul or more specifically the person in relationship with God.

Luther thus creates a foundation for both obedience to the authorities as well limits to such authority, so that he can supply a theological basis for nonviolent resistance and the right to religious liberty (even though he did not follow his own best insights later in his dealings with the Anabaptists). Luther discusses the conditions for a justified war and the conditions under which military service must be refused. War against the Turk may in no case be conducted as a war in defense of Christendom, as a religious entity; rather, it is a war of the emperor and princes in defense of their subjects just like in any other case when one’s subjects are threatened.

After this we needed to address the question of the difference between the state in the early modern period and the constitutional democracies of today in order to see what, if any, meaning Luther’s insights could have for Christians engaged in political issues today. Democracies take seriously the insight of the inherent sinfulness of human beings (as Thomas Hobbes put it, homo homini lupus: “man is a wolf to man”), especially in the recognition that it is not only the citizens but the leaders who are potential wolves, and they more power they have the more dangerous they become. To prevent the leader from becoming the worst wolf of all, power is divided; in a constitutional democracy, there is no sovereign with unlimited power but assorted authorities with carefully demarcated powers.

In addition to the intensive course of study, participants enjoyed trips to the Lutherhaus, Melanchthonhaus, Torgau, Erfurt, Eisenach, the Wartburg, and local congregations. A unique feature of this year’s gathering is that it coincided with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, so the group was able to participate in the commemorations of that event in nearby Berlin during the first weekend of the Seminar. Each day’s work concluded with a delicious meal prepared by the participants, so we feasted our way around the world. Daily morning prayer and a closing Lord’s Supper service knit us together into a Christian fellowship and served as a foretaste of all the nations gathered together before the heavenly throne.

Next year’s topic will be “The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in Luther’s Theology.” Visit the LWB-Zentrum website for more information.

Prof. Wilson Teaching at SALT Seminary in Madagascar

Madagascar is known to many as the Great Red Island, the home to lemurs and chameleons, one of the most ecologically diverse places on earth but also one of the most threatened. It is less known as the home of a large, vibrant, and growing Lutheran church of at least three million members. At the end of October this year, Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute spent two weeks at SALT, the 25-year-old graduate seminary of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, teaching a course for master’s level students.

Together with her husband Dr. Andrew Wilson, Prof. Wilson offered an in-depth study of Martin Luther’s writings on the ordained ministry, the priesthood of all believers, and Christian worship, with special attention to Luther’s liturgical reforms. The course began with a review of “what is the gospel?”, drawing on Luther’s explanation of the Creed in the Large Catechism. All of Luther’s theology of the ministry and worship derive from his primary understanding of the gospel, and this allowed students to see how the foundation of church life is in the salvation given to them through Jesus Christ. The method of starting with the gospel and then moving on to topical issues emerges directly out of the Institute staff’s experience teaching Luther’s theology in Wittenberg every November.

However, the Wilsons did not go to Madagascar only to teach, but also to learn. The Malagasy Lutheran Church has developed church offices to suit its particular setting and ministry needs, including catechists, evangelists, and shepherds. This last category is a ministry of healing and exorcism that arose from indigenous Lutheran revival movements with the church. Unlike the fate of most revivals in northern countries, the Malagasy have managed to keep their revivals integrated into the church, to the benefit of both. The success and growth of the church in Madagascar is directly attributed to the revivals and the shepherding ministry, which speaks potently to the needs of the Malagasy people today. It is inspiring to see how Luther’s doctrine of ministry continues to take new forms, even five hundred years later.

Any talk of revival in the Malagasy Lutheran Church also requires a mention of Nenilava (1920–1998), a prophetess and evangelist whose remarkable ministry touched countless people and accounts for perhaps 2/3 of all members in the Lutheran church today. Everywhere you go in Madagascar, people are talking about her, remembering her fondly, testifying to the difference she made in their lives. It is not an exaggeration to say that she is probably the most influential Lutheran woman who has ever lived—even if her reputation is little known outside her own country. We can hope that as we continue to build international and cross-cultural relations, that will begin to change.

49th International Ecumenical Seminar 2015

Ecumenism in the Arts

July 1 – 8, 2015

The ecumenical movement seeks the visible unity of divided Christians. The visibility and tangibility of the unity and communion of Christians and the churches have many different dimensions and aspects. This multiplicity needs to be taken up anew and given fresh attention. In this regard, the arts have a particular role to play. The Christian faith has been expressed since its earliest beginnings in works of art. These works cross the boundaries between the churches. Therefore it is valuable to ask whether and how art can be helpful in seeing and experiencing the unity of Christians.


What does it mean that Protestant hymns can be found in Catholic hymnals and Catholic hymns in Protestant ones? In the music of Johann Sebastian Bach the Lutheran understanding of the gospel takes melodious form, and yet many Catholics treasure his music as well. Gospel music and praise songs of charismatic and Pentecostal origin are widely spread and extremely popular. Icons are an essential expression of Orthodox Christian faith that have met with warm appreciation among Western Christians in recent years. Also in modern painting and visual art Christian themes appear. Magnificent church buildings—like the Strasbourg cathedral—with lavish exteriors incorporating theological programs are valued not only by their own members. Christian authors are read across confessional boundaries. Even the cinema is a place where Christian motifs can be recognized.

We will investigate examples of this kind of border-crossing artwork and their ecumenical significance. Thus also the foundational themes of ecumenism will be taken up, such as unity and diversity, the connection between the believed, hidden, and visible church, and the perception, experience, and recognition of other Christians and other churches.
The Seminar is not restricted to theological debates, though. Just as important is the personal conversation among participants, their sharing of ecumenical and confessional experiences, their questions and attention. Precisely because the participants come from many different churches and nations is this exchange so especially exciting and illuminating. Therefore, plenty of time is offered in the plenary and working groups for such discussion. Not planned in advance but for this reason all the more important are the many conversations that take place over superb French food in the dining hall or over a glass of wine in one of the restaurants of the old medieval city of Strasbourg.

English and German are the main languages of the Seminar. Lectures and discussions will be simultaneously translated into and out of these languages. Participants may also express themselves in French in the plenary discussions.

The charge for the seminar, including full pension (i.e., room and meals) in a seminary dormitory (single rooms) is € 700. Financial support is often provided by churches or other institutions, so participants are encouraged to apply to their appropriate church offices.
As last year, a smaller part of this amount will be used to assist some participants from Eastern Europe, the South and from Latin America, persons who likely would not be able to participate without our help.

From July 1 (evening reception) to July 8 (departure after breakfasts), 2015, in Strasbourg, France.

Inquiries by email should be directed either to Prof. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson or Elke Leypold:

Download flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-2015


Annette Brownlee and Ephraim Radner: Scholars in Residence at the Institute

In June the Institute was delighted to welcome as resident scholars Ephraim Radner and Annette Brownlee, a married couple, both Anglican priests and theologians.

Brownlee serves as Chaplain as well as Director of Field Education at Wycliffe College, an Anglican seminary in Toronto, Canada. She teaches in the Pastoral Theology Department with a particular interest in preaching. During her sabbatical at the Institute, her special area of research is the pastoral ministry of André Trocmé, the remarkable Reformed pastor in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, whose congregation rescued 3500 Jews from the Nazis during World War II. While many have focused on this specific heroic work of Trocmé and his flock, Brownlee is investigating what practices Trocmé fostered in the community that made such heroic actions possible.

Radner serves as Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe. He is the author of a number of well-known and much-discussed books on ecclesiology, among them The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West and A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church. He has also dealt extensively with questions of scriptural interpretation, for example in Hope among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture and a commentary on Leviticus in Brazos Press’s Theological Commentary on the Bible series. In this vein, while at the Institute he will be complete a study of the figural method of scriptural interpretation, as well as beginning a new book on matters pertaining to theological anthropology.

The staff at the Institute has already benefited from their participation in its work and studies and looks forward to further stimulating conversation for their duration of their stay through the end of 2014.

A Dialogue on Baptism in Brazil

Over the course of the past decade, the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB) has undertaken an internal dialogue with Charismatic members of the church on the topic of baptism. Difficulties arose when a small minority of the Charismatic leadership began rebaptizing persons who had already been baptized as infants; in other cases there was uncertainty about whether the previous baptism was valid or had included elements of other syncretistic religions.

The IECLB ultimately published a collection of all the documents related to this discussion, both public letters and private ones, church statements and responses to them. In partnership with the IECLB, the Institute in Strasbourg has sponsored a translation of this Portuguese book into English so that other members of the Lutheran family will be able to study, review, and where appropriate apply the results of the dialogue in their own church contexts.

Baptism: A Dialogue with the Charismatic Movement in the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil is available for download as a PDF.

Non-denominational and Trans-confessional Movements

48th International Ecumenical Seminar, Strasbourg,

July 2-9, 2014


Members of the historic Christian churches are often baffled by the new face of Christianity springing up all around them. Entirely independent congregations meeting in warehouses suddenly have ten times the weekly attendance of the long-established parishes that meet in beautiful old churches. The secularization of Europe and North America seems to mean the withering of Christianity, while at the same time immigration from other parts of the world leads to a vibrant renewal in the very same places. Confessional and structural boundaries are still major topics of discussion between Catholics, Orthodox, and Reformation-era Protestants, but otherwise unconnected Evangelicals and Pentecostals seem to have no trouble sharing altars and pulpits. This year’s Summer Seminar set out to make sense of the baffling landscape of twenty-first century Christianity.

The Institute’s André Birmelé began the discussion with an overview of the landscape and its impact on ecumenism as it has developed in the past fifty years. From there we leapt into one of the most controversial features of some newer Christian movements, namely the prosperity gospel. Kate Bowler, a church historian at Duke Divinity School in the United States, described the history of the movement, its best-known proponents, and its basic beliefs, offering a critical view while at the same time helping us to understand why exactly prosperity has been so successful.

From there we turned to a closer look at the Evangelical world, which is comprised of denominations, networks, and congregations that claim a Reformation heritage without formally belonging to the historic confessional churches and that place a strong emphasis on personal renewal and evangelism. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in the United States, illustrated the American scene with special reference to Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ecumenical initiative that brought together historic enemies for conversation and joint action. Thomas Schirrmacher, Rector at the Freie Theologische Hochschule Gießen in Germany, shared a more global view of the Evangelical movement and its complex interrelationship with ecumenism. Wolfgang Thönissen, Director of the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institute in Germany rounded out the discussion with a description of how the Roman Catholic church sees and relates to Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and other new Christian communities.

From the distant and general we shifted focus to the very local. Three representatives of local migrant churches in Strasbourg described the situation of their immigrant communities who have brought their faith and practice with them and have a variety of kinds of relationships to the churches around them. Vasile Iorgulescu talked about the Romanian Orthodox in Strasbourg as they relate to other Orthodox and other Christians. Bio Terrence informed us about the variety of West African Pentecostal groups in the city. Zaka Habberstad described the various Malagasy congregations, from Lutheran to Reformed to United to Anglican.

The next series of lectures addressed trans-confessional efforts at renewal. Andy Buckler, a Reformed pastor in France, explained the “Fresh Expressions” movement in the Church of England that has allowed for a greater variety of worship styles and liturgies. Adam Strojny presented the Chemin Neuf community of which he is a member, a largely Roman Catholic movement stressing lay participation and charismatic renewal, that is devoted to ecumenism. Friedrich Degenhardt, a pastor, described the efforts of Lutheran congregations in Hamburg to create friendships with African Pentecostals for the sake of mutual renewal in worship. Hubert van Beek followed up with a presentation of the Global Christian Forum, of which he is the former Secretary, which fosters friendship and conversation on a much wider scale between longterm ecumenical churches and more recent arrivals on the scene, such as Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

We concluded the Seminar with two lectures, wrapping up many of the themes we had heard throughout the week. Jean-Daniel Plüss, a leading Pentecostal scholar and ecumenist from Switzerland, discussed the place of Pentecostals in the ecumenical movement, from their early passionate commitment to unity to more recent forays into bilateral and multilateral ecumenism. Ephraim Radner, a professor at Wycliffe College in Canada, concluded the Seminar with a reflection on how we all Christian churches, despite divisions, can be mutually accountable to one another and to the gospel.

As usual, throughout the Seminar there were many opportunities for group discussion and questions for the speakers. On the Sunday outing we visited popular sites in Alsace such as Colmar to see the Isenheim altarpiece but especially for this year, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, we visited the preserved battlefield of Col du Linge—a beautiful place with a terrible history.

Some of this year’s Seminar lectures will be available for download; see below. It’s not too soon to start planning to attend next year’s Seminar, which will be on the topic of Ecumenism in the Arts.



André Birmelé: Introduction / Einleitung  (in French and in German)

Kate Bowler: A History of the Prosperity Gospel

Timothy George: American Evangelicals and Christian Unity_ The Case of ECT

Thomas Schirrmacher: Evangelicals in the Global Ecumenical Momement

Wolfgang Thönissen: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and New Christian Communities in Roman Catholic Perspective

Vasile Iorgulescu: The Romanian Orthodox Church in Strasbourg

Bio Terrence: West African Pentecostalism in Strasbourg

Zaka Habberstad: Malagasy Congregations in Strasbourg

Andy Buckler: “Fresh Expressions” and the Church of England

Adam Strojny:The Charismatic Movement and the Ecumenical Community of the Chemin Neuf

Friedrich Degenhardt: Präsentation Degenhardt Straßburg 2014

Hubert van Beek: The Global Christian Forum

Jean-Daniel Plüss: Pentecostalism and Ecumenism of the Spirit

Ephraim Radner: Historic Churches and New Christian Communities_ Looking for Ecclesial Accountability in a Changing Religious Landscape


On the Way to the Ecumenism of Tomorrow

Prof. Dr. André Birmelé

Prof. Dr. André Birmelé

A 65th birthday is an occasion to look back, but we decided instead to look forward to celebrate our colleague André Birmelé’s 65th birthday on March 14, 2014. He has dedicated a large part of his life to the church and academic theology in the domain of ecumenism. For this reason we invited ten younger theologians to the Institute and asked them to develop their thoughts on the “ecumenism of tomorrow,” based on their own experience and scholarship. All this took place at a symposium in Strasbourg from March 12 to 14 of this year. The following is Theodor Dieter’s introduction to the symposium, outlining the topics covered by the various participants.

Introduction to the Symposium by Theodor Dieter

Dear André and colleagues at the symposium “On the Way to the Ecumenism of Tomorrow”:

I warmly welcome you to the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg! I am delighted to have you here and wish to thank you for your willingness to take part in our little experiment by contributing to this symposium. It is an experiment in that, on the occasion of this 65th birthday, we have chosen to look forward rather than backward. Time passes very quickly for those who are hard workers; for this reason it is appropriate to pause at this significant date and ask: what has been achieved in the past years, above all in the last forty years during which André Birmelé has been attached to the Institute and active in ecumenism? What has been accomplished? What of it will remain?

But we have another anniversary to celebrate next year, too: the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of our Institute. These questions will be asked once again on that occasion, and we hope to answer them to the satisfaction of the highest representatives of the church. But too much self-reflection turns out to be too much of a good thing and ends up only awakening suspicion of an incurvatio in seipsum. Therefore, we sought another solution for the celebration of André Birmelé’s birthday. Instead of inviting long-time professional ecumenists, we invited younger theologians, asking them to formulate their thoughts on the future of ecumenism out of the scholarship, experiences, and insights that they have gained in the course of their theological existence. We consciously avoided giving out any themes to be addressed; so it will be quite exciting to see what will emerge in the course of the Symposium. We expect no finished conceptions but rather new initiatives and suggestions from very different perspectives. The result will be a colorful academic bouquet of assorted lectures to present to André.

We begin with Rome, since it was only a year ago that something unheard-of happened. Informative observations on the situation there will come from Rome, and look at Rome, but from a Lutheran perspective—a unique intersection, indeed! Dr. Jens-Martin Kruse, pastor of the Lutheran congregation in Rome, will speak on how “Ecumenism Belongs to the Office of the Bishop of Rome: The First Year with Pope Francis.”

We continue then with Prof. Dr. Christoph Raedel, who has recently edited a volume with the title “‘Co-Workers of Truth’: The Witness to Christ and Critique of Relativism in Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI in Protestant Perspective” (“Mitarbeiter der Wahrheit”. Christuszeugnis und Relativismuskritik bei Joesph Ratzinger/Benedikt XVI. aus evangelischer Sicht). The Pope Emeritus thanked Raedel for this work in a very friendly letter in which he wrote, “It is comforting and encouraging for me that Protestant theologians have dealt with my work in a positive critical fashion and have entered into a common struggle for the right understanding of the Christian faith.” Raedel is a Methodist and teaches ecumenical theology at the CVJM-Hochschule in Kassel, Germany. He will present a constellation of forward-looking themes in Christian ecumenism under the title “Unity to the Greater Glory of God.”

With the breathtaking success of the Pentecostal movement—or movements—in the last hundred years, many old questions have appeared again and need to be discussed further in ecumenism. Pentecostalism has overtaken the usual controversies about clerical office and the general priesthood, the threefold office, and the role of doctrine and teaching authority, and is now bringing them back to the center of attention in a modified form. Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, who has worked at the Institute for five years now, will reflect on the methodological problems of dialogue with Pentecostals.

Thursday morning will begin with a lecture which has the charming title of “Ecumenism: Elbow Room for Freedom.” Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth (Humboldt University, Berlin) is an expert on Orthodox theology and churches. I am excited to learn whether this “elbow room for freedom” will be secured in the spirit of Orthodoxy or in opposition to it! We then continue right on with a Finnish contribution. Docent Dr. Olli-Pekka Vainio, a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Helsinki, will shed light on the old question of analogia entis in light of more recent discussions on the topic. As is well known, for Karl Barth the analogia entis was an invention of the Antichrist and the main reason not to become a Catholic, while his former student Eberhard Jüngel claimed that the analogia entis doesn’t say too much but rather too little about God, insofar as it emphasizes that the dissimilarity between creator and creature is much greater than the similarity, though in the light of the incarnation as specified in the Fourth Lateran Council it should be quite the reverse. This extension of ecumenical questions into philosophy and doctrine will be carried further by Dr. Madeleine Wieger (University of Strasbourg) into the domain of modern theories of religion, where she will examine the foundational issue of ecumenism, namely the question of unity and diversity. To see the basic issue of ecumenism taken up in such a different context promises to deliver interesting insights.

The afternoon begins with a lecture from Prof. Veronika Hoffmann (University of Siegen). She did her habilitation work on the theme of the gift, which for many years now has been intensively discussed in philosophy and theology and has proven fruitful in such controversial topics as justification, sacrifice, the eucharist, love of God and love of neighbor. Because questions of gift, giving, and receiving are to be found at the center of these controversies, discussion of the former should go a long way toward resolving the latter; that complex discussion is oriented around the phenomenon of giving rather than traditional concepts. The afternoon’s session will conclude with a contribution from Dr. theol. habil. Marc Vial (University of Strasbourg), who will recall to mind the discussion surrounding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and in particular the reactions of Eberhard Jüngel, which garnered a great deal of attention at the time.

Friday morning then turns to communities in which ecumenism is lived out, first of all Taizé, as seen through the unique angle of the relationship of the philosopher Paul Ricoeur to that community. It will be for many people surely a surprising aspect of his life that will make us especially curious to hear more. Dr. Beate Bengard (University of Leipzig) will introduce to us the results of her research on the subject. Sister Nicole Grochowina, a private docent in Erlangen in modern history, will finish off the lectures with a presentation on the meaning of intentional Christian communities for ecumenism. I think that the lived ecumenism within such communities as well as that between Protestant communities and Catholic orders is something like a proof of the Spirit and of the power of the possibility and efficacy of ecumenism. Thus this contribution is well suited to be the final flower for our birthday bouquet.

But the concluding high point of Friday morning will be the birthday boy’s own reflections on his more than forty years of engagement on behalf of ecumenism.

Lutheran-Mennonite-Roman Catholic Trialogue Meeting at the Institute


from left: Larry Miller (Menn.), Kaisamari Hintikka (Luth.), Marie-Hélène Robert (RC), Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Luth.), John Rempel (Menn.), Luis A. Castro (RC), Alfred Neufeld (Menn.), Friederike Nüssel (Luth.), Rebecca Osorio (Menn.), Luis Melo (RC), William Henn (RC), Fernando Ens (Menn.), Gregory Fairbanks (RC), Peter Li (Luth.)

During the last week of January, the Institute hosted the second meeting of the Trilateral Dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation, the Mennonite World Conference, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Roman Catholic). The purpose of the trialogue—only the second three-way conversation in ecumenical history!—is to discuss baptism. This itself is an outgrowth of major reconciliations that have taken place between the churches, in particular the official act of repentance and apology of the Lutherans to the Mennonites during the LWF’s 2010 assembly in Stuttgart, Germany. Having addressed the painful history of persecution, all three felt prepared to tackle the serious issue of baptism.

The reason this is difficult is because the Mennonites, as heirs of the Anabaptist movement, do not recognize the validity of infant baptism. Unique among the Reformation movements, they opted for a practice of believers’ baptism following a public confession of faith. As such, baptism is closely correlated to a deliberate choice on the part of the person to pursue a life of discipleship in following Christ. Such discipleship always takes place in the communion of believers; it is always a decision to join the church. Thus for Mennonites the ecclesiological question precedes the baptismal question. By contrast, both Lutherans and Catholics retained the practice of infant baptism, though of course both baptize adults in cases of conversion from other religions or none at all. While many of their arguments in favor of the practice overlap, they are by no means identical. However, they both believe that baptism itself gives rise to the church.

Such a dialogue, of course, needs to cover a wide range of issues. The specific topic this year was “Baptism: God’s Grace in Christ and Human Sin.” In particular, each group took up the question of how baptism relates to the forgiveness and/or elimination of sin. Original or hereditary sin is not a central aspect of Mennonite theology, though it is not necessarily denied, either. Since baptism is linked so strongly to the choice for discipleship, it makes little sense to them to conceive of baptism as “salvation” from original sin, nor would there by any point in “emergency baptism” as practiced by Lutherans and Catholics. Nevertheless, all three traditions came together in struggling over the question of the persistence of sin in the life of the baptized. On the one hand, why do adults who have willingly chosen to hand their lives over to Christ still find themselves so at odds with His will? How does that impact discipleship? At the same time, if there is no apparent difference in the life of a baptized child who has been “cleansed” of original sin, why do it? There was much lively discussion of this and other issues, such as the extent of the freedom of the human will, the meaning of sacraments, and the practice of baptism in and out of Christendom contexts. These discussions were complemented by Bible studies of relevant scriptural texts that also brought in issues to consider from all corners of the globe. Finally, as each team takes turns presenting its own church’s baptismal rites, two Lutheran presentations were offered on the history of baptismal rites in the Lutheran church and the current practice of Lutheran baptism in sub-Saharan Africa.

The next meeting of the trialogue will take place in February 2015 in the Netherlands and will be hosted by the Mennonites on the theme “Baptism: Communicating Grace and Faith.” These annual meetings will continue until 2016. Hopes are to conclude with a report that will be useful at all levels of church life and will emphasize the importance of baptism to all three traditions despite the apparent differences among them.

Baptismal Liturgies in Lutheran History

Prof. Wilson at the Protestantism Conference at Gordon College

From Nov. 14 to 16, Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute participated in the conference on “Protestantism? Reflections in Advance of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, 1517–2017” that took place at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, USA. The speakers were drawn from across the Western Christian tradition, both Catholic and Protestant, mainline and Evangelical, to examine the impact of this nearly half-millennium old movement, for good and for ill, and to make suggestions for its commemoration less than four years from now.

A most impressive list of lecturers kept the conference lively and interesting at all times. The keynote address was delivered by eminent church historian Mark D. Noll on “The Chaotic Coherence of Sola Scriptura,” arguing for the simultaneous “bane and blessing” of sola scriptura, but with an emphasis on the latter. The next morning, the widely respected legal scholar John Witte Jr. took up “Protestantism and the Shaping of Western Law,” concluding with a careful and compelling examination of Luther’s legacy regarding the Jews (in short, Luther said hardly anything directly about the Jews, and the horrible things he did say were virtually unknown in the West until the Nazi period itself). This presentation was followed by that of Brad Gregory, professor at Notre Dame in Indiana and author of the recently published The Unintended Reformation, arguing for better integration of all parties in the Reformation, including the Radical element, into historiography, and raising questions about the political impact of divided Christendom over against increasingly powerful nation-states.

Prof. Wilson then gave voice to Luther’s own central convictions feeding into what came to be known as the Reformation in her lecture “Martin Luther at 500 and the State of Global Lutheranism,” emphasizing the real presence of Christ as a key motif in his thought. She also drew attention to the dramatic change in Lutheranism—as in all other branches of the church—over recent centuries through the mission and growth of Lutheran Christianity outside of its old North Atlantic stronghold. This was followed by Karin Maag, a history professor and Director of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies at Calvin College, speaking about “The Reformation and Western Higher Education,” demonstrating how the university-centered magisterial Reformation addressed the need for better educated clergy. Finally, Matthew Lundin, a history professor at Wheaton College, discussed trends in the historiography of the Reformation and, like many others at the conference, called for the “return of religion” in Reformation studies, stressing how religious belief motivated the key figures of the Reformation rather than being a cover for their “real” concerns with money, power, and so on.

The next day, the conference began with a lively presentation by Philip Jenkins, a professor at Baylor University whose many books have brought world Christianity to the consciousness of North Atlantic Christians for the first time. In asking “What Hath Wittenberg to Do with Lagos?” Jenkins argued that the study of the Reformation and the study of world Christianity today are mutually enriching, as both are upheavals in the church of the incredible magnitude and demonstrate some striking parallels, innovations in social media being but one of many. Sung-Deuk Oak, professor of Korean Christianity at UCLA in California, took up this theme with a case study in the growth of Protestant Christianity in Korea, considering challenges of inculturation, rapid growth and equally rapid division, and current stagnation.

In the afternoon, Hermann J. Selderhuis, the director of the Refo500 network of Reformation anniversary events, talked specifically about Reformation commemoration in post-Christian Europe as well as the more explicitly financial and touristic aspects of 2017. Matthew Levering, a prolific Catholic theology professor at Mundelein Seminary, favorably compared Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin’s ecclesiologies. The program wrapped up with Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, speaking of 2017 in the light of ecumenism and the tremendous growth in respect and appreciation between Catholics and Evangelicals in particular.

Both full days of the conference concluded with panel discussions with the day’s speakers, allowing the many conference attendees and Gordon College students to put their specific queries to the group. These were moderated by Gordon professor Tal Howard, the mastermind behind the conference and gracious host of the entire event. The conference was made possible by the partnership between Gordon College’s Center for Faith and Inquiry, the University of Notre Dame, the Boston Theological Institute, and Refo500.

A forthcoming book will collect all of the conference lectures.

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2013: The Church

Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter and Prof. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, the eighth in a series of seminars on the theme “Studying Luther in Wittenberg” took place from November 2–16, 2013. While it was the eighth seminar altogether, this was the fifth one taught by the staff of the Institute in Strasbourg. There were so many applications this time that they would easily have filled up four seminars! In the end, twenty-one applicants were accepted. These pastors came from all different countries across the world: Argentina, Australia, Columbia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Latvia, Madagascar, Myanmar, Senegal, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.


The theme of this seminar was Luther’s teaching on the church. We began with an introduction into Luther’s life and times, and then proceeded to close study of numerous texts of the reformer. Through both lectures and discussions we analyzed Luther’s teaching on justification by faith through the treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” Fifty Theses on the Remission of Sin, and the sermon on “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” Law and Gospel were considered through his writings “How Christians Should Regard Moses” and “What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels.” Then we took up Luther’s understandings of the sacraments of baptism and communion through selections from “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” and “On Repbatism.” In the third segment of the seminar we turned to Luther’s more specifically ecclesial writings, dealing with the marks of the church (notae ecclesiae), the priesthood of all believers and the pastoral and episcopal offices, the treatise “That a Christian Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Doctrine,” and selections from the Small Catechism, concluding with Articles IV-VIII of Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession and the ordination liturgy used in Wittenberg.

Each day began with morning prayer in the little freestanding chapel next to the city church. The rest of the morning was devoted to lectures on the Luther texts, while the afternoon period was for personal study or visit to the Lutherhaus, followed by common discussion of how Luther’s views could be brought to bear on the individual contexts of the participants. An especial high point of each day was the supper prepared by one of the participants according to a recipe from his or her homeland—so by the end of the seminar, we had all experienced a trip around the world via the kitchen. The evenings after supper were spent giving each of the participants a chance to introduce his or her country and church. Representatives of the local German church and the Lutheran World Federation also visited and reported on their work. On top of this, there were excursions to the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt, the Wartburg castle in Eisenach, and Torgau (the burial place of Katharina von Bora Luther and home to the first church built as a Lutheran church). The program was further enriched by lectures from Dr. Rhein of the Melanchthonhaus on the relationship between Luther and Melanchthon. A particularly memorable event was a visit to share in peace prayers with the little church communities in the villages of Krina and Pouch.

It is always fascinating to experience how Luther’s theology can draw together such diverse persons from so many different contexts and how intense the encounter with his thought is. When we take the time to get to know one another and become open to each other, our diversity as so many different people and views becomes profoundly enriching, even while we remain united around a common center. And it is simply beautiful when people begin to reflect and think theologically together!

Our special thanks go, as always, to Pastor Hans Kasch, the director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg, for his tireless efforts and enthusiasm, and to our other partners at the Colleg Wittenberg for their energetic hospitality.

Please contact us if you are interested in applying to a future seminar in Wittenberg!

Seminar in Wittenberg 2013   20131105_104322a

48th International Ecumenical Seminar

Non-denominational and Trans-confessional Movements

July 2 – 9, 2014, in Strasbourg, France

Over the last hundred years, innumerable new Christian congregations, churches, and movements have come into being throughout the world. Widely divergent in size and character, they exist both in and outside of the historic churches. As a result of globalization and worldwide migration, this ecclesial trend has grown massively. With it, the face of global Christianity has been profoundly altered. Many of these congregations and churches have deliberately distanced themselves from the ecumenical movement or have even denounced it, while others have been engaged in it. New alliances and affinities have evolved, oriented toward a common understanding of Scripture, particular shared ethical convictions, or specific common forms and styles of piety.


In this year’s Summer Seminar, aspects of this situation will be taken up and discussed through case studies, reports from representatives of these congregations and churches, and theological analysis. We will not merely talk about such churches in this Seminar, but rather with them, striving to understand them better. How is Christian discipleship understood in these communities? How do they see their relationship to other Christian communities, including the historic churches? How is the understanding of the church as the body of Christ expressed in their communities? Which models of the unity of the church are implicitly or explicitly at work among them?

Emphases of this Seminar will be: the Evangelical movement both within and outside of the historic churches; the Pentecostal movement alongside the charismatic revival within the historic churches; the so-called megachurches; communities whose focus is the prosperity gospel; and finally ethnic churches abroad, for example the Malagasy and Romanian churches in Strasbourg.

The Seminar is not restricted to theological debates, though. Just as important is the personal conversation among participants, their sharing of ecumenical and confessional experiences, their questions and attention. Precisely because the participants come from many different churches and nations is this exchange so especially exciting and illuminating. Therefore, plenty of time is offered in the plenary and working groups for such discussion. Not planned in advance but for this reason all the more important are the many conversations that take place over superb French food in the dining hall or over a glass of wine in one of the restaurants of the old medieval city of Strasbourg.

Languages:  English and German are the main languages of the Seminar.  Lectures and discussions will be simultaneously translated into and out of these languages.  Participants may also express themselves in French in the plenary discussions.

Costs:  The charge for the seminar, including full pension (i.e., room and meals) in a seminary dormitory (single rooms), is € 700.  Financial support is often provided by churches or other institutions, so participants are encouraged to apply to their appropriate church offices.

As last year, a smaller part of this amount will be used to assist some participants from Eastern Europe, the South and from Latin America, persons who likely would not be able to participate without our help.

Dates:  July 2 (arrival and evening reception) to July 9 (departures after breakfast), 2014, in Strasbourg, France.

Information:  Inquiries by email should be directed either to Prof. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson or Elke Leypold:

Download Flyer: Flyer-Seminar-e-2014



André Birmelé: Introduction /Einleitung (in French and in German)

Kate Bowler: A History of the Prosperity Gospel

Timothy George: American Evangelicals and Christian Unity_ The Case of ECT

Thomas Schirrmacher: Evangelicals in the Global Ecumenical Momement

Wolfgang Thönissen: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and New Christian Communities in Roman Catholic Perspective

Vasile Iorgulescu: The Romanian Orthodox Church in Strasbourg

Bio Terrence: West African Pentecostalism in Strasbourg

Zaka Habberstad: Malagasy Congregations in Strasbourg

Andy Buckler: “Fresh Expressions” and the Church of England

Adam Strojny:The Charismatic Movement and the Ecumenical Community of the Chemin Neuf

Friedrich Degenhardt: Präsentation Degenhardt Straßburg 2014

Hubert van Beek: The Global Christian Forum

Jean-Daniel Plüss:Pentecostalism and Ecumenism of the Spirit

Ephraim Radner: Historic Churches and New Christian Communities_ Looking for Ecclesial Accountability in a Changing Religious Landscape


Prof. Theodor Dieter Participates in a Private Audience with Pope Francis

On Monday October 21, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue document From Conflict to Communion was formally presented to Pope Francis during a private audience. The Commission on Unity had produced the document as the theological foundation for a common Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Theodor Dieter devoted four years to the preparation of this document as the official consultant to the dialogue. Therefore, it was a particular joy for him to encounter the new pope personally at this event.

01394_21102013aBp. Huovinen, the Lutheran co-chair of the commission and retired bishop of Helsinki, presented the document to the pope, along with the Catholic co-chair, Bp. Kenney, and auxiliary Bp. Diez. The first copy of the document was in Spanish, then English, German, and finally Finnish—the last of which elicited a hearty laugh from the pope. Along with Prof. Dieter and Bp. Huovinen, other members of the Lutheran delegation were Bp. Dr. Munib Younan (Jordan and the Holy Land), the President of the Lutheran World Federation; Martin Junge (Chile), the General Secretary of the LWF; Vice-President Bp. Susan C. Johnson (Canada); Prof. Dr. Gloria Roja Vargas (Chile); Ms. Eun-Hae Kwon (South Korea); and Bp. Dr. Milos Klatik (Slovakia). From the Catholic side of the dialogue, Cardinal Kurt Koch and Monsignor Matthias Türk of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Prof. Wolfgang Thönissen of the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism took part in the audience.

Pope Francis said during his speech, “This year, as a result of theological dialogue that is now in its fiftieth year, and in view of the commemoration of the fifth centenary of the Reformation, the text was published of the Commission for Lutheran-Catholic Unity, with the significant title: From Conflict to Communion: The Lutheran-Catholic Interpretation of the Reformation in 2017. The effort seems very important to me that we all confront one another in dialogue on the historical necessity of the Reformation, on its consequences and on the answers that have been given to it. Catholics and Lutherans can ask for forgiveness for the evil caused to one another and for the offenses committed before God, and together to rejoice for the nostalgia of unity that the Lord has reawakened in our hearts, and which makes us look ahead with a look of hope.”

Afterwards, General Secretary Junge presented Pope Francis with a teapot made by a woman who had fled from Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya that is run by the LWF. Junge briefly introduced the refugee work of the LWF and spoke of the challenge to all Christians to help all those in need. The pope was visibly moved by the gift of the teapot; he took it as a sign of another form of ecumenism, that of mutual help, much like the ecumenism of the martyrs whose blood is not divided, as he emphasized. Whatever their religion, refuguees are human beings who, sheerly to save their lives, must take flight. Despite all differences, they are to be seen as children of God. Thus in the papal audience the two foundational dimensions of ecumenism were brought to the fore: the theological and the diaconal. Both are essential parts of the ecumenical task in the eyes of the LWF and Pope Francis.

The Dombes Group on the Lord’s Prayer

The ecumenical Dombes Group, which has gathered twenty Catholic and twenty Protestant theologians for regular meetings since 1937, started out as a prayer group, searching for ways to give life to the desired unity of the church. In time it became also a group for research and publication. It now meets every summer at the Abbaye de Pradines, a Benedictine community of sisters, for a week of retreat, prayer, and work on a burning theme in the quest for unity. Its goal is to contribute to the wider ecumenical task and to encourage the churches and believers to let themselves be transformed by a living encounter with the “other” church. The Institute’s Elisabeth Parmentier is a longstanding participant.

The most recent publication of the Dombes Group is a book entitled ‘Vous donc, priez ainsi’. Le Notre Père, itinéraire pour la conversion des Eglises (Paris: Bayard, 2011), which means “Pray Then Like This: The Lord’s Prayer, A Path for the Conversion of the Churches.” The ninth book to be published by the Groupe des Dombes, it is set against the current stagnation in ecumenism when no one speaks anymore of a “grand vision” of unity. All controversial themes have been studied, all the subjects that divide are well known, and that should theoretically lead toward unity. But the churches make no advance, at least if their official declarations are considered. Thus the concern of this book is to motivate pastors and laity to pursue the quest for unity in this climate of ecumenical withdrawal. It is a short plea on behalf of ecumenism, simultaneously intending a reception of the results thus far and also motivating Christians to keep at the task.

What is it exactly that obliges us to pursue the quest for unity? It must emerge from the experience of the Christian life: and prayer constitutes the principal sign of Christian identity, rather than dogmas or institutions. And what do we all pray? The Our Father! Since 1966 there have been common ecumenical translations of the Lord’s Prayer in many different languages used in many different Christian liturgies. Has this given rise to a change in our ecumenical perception?

The purpose of this book is to show just how the Lord’s Prayer obliges us to move toward reconciliation rather than remain stuck in our personal preferences. At the heart of Christian identity lies the message of reconciliation in Jesus Christ. The path laid out by the book is unprecedented: this time the Dombes Group is starting not from the point of view of division but from that of an already given unity. The book shows how it has nevertheless served not the cause of unity but that of confessionalism… and that tells us exactly where we are in need of conversion. For prayer changes us. Prayer is understood here not as a responsibility of the believer, but as the overflow of a gift received. This particular prayer should become the test case: can we pray the Lord’s Prayer together? (See §164 for the answer!)

This approach of the Dombes Group is an updated return to the problematic of identity and conversion. The Dombes Group book that has been the most theologically fruitful is Pour la Conversion des Eglises (in English, For the Conversion of the Churches, 1993), which posed the question of how to think of conversion without betrayal of one’s own identity. Conversion to what, exactly? The book spoke of three identities: Christian, ecclesial, and confessional. Christian identity is belonging to Christ; ecclesial identity is belonging to a Christian church, though it is often confused with confessional identity, which is described as a “partial manner of living out ecclesial and Christian identity,” leading to stereotypes.

This path reorders the importance of such identities: Christian identity is the most important issue, allowing for genuine conversion to the gospel. In this spirit, the point is to let oneself be converted together with others in order to become one church, in a “full recognition of the ecclesiality of the other” (§14). What, then, to do with one’s confessional heritage? One recognizes its value, but at the same time “one questions it on the basis of the values that others have,” and “one renounces its failures as well as its sinful dimensions.”

The Table of Contents is as follows:

Part 1: The problem

Part 2: Historical diagnosis

Part 3: Biblical foundations

Part 4: Ecumenical foundations and challenges

This last part sketches out a theological itinerary based on part 3’s discussion of the “foundations” of the Lord’s Prayer and its major theological orientations as well as an ecclesiological perspective. The foundations are the Father, the kingdom, bread, forgiveness, and temptation. What follows in the discussion of “ecumenical challenges” is the “conversion” based on the same elements, but in a slightly different order: the gift received (namely the Father we have in common), forgiveness, temptation, bread, and the kingdom. Each petition of the Lord’s Prayer is understood in its theological sense: for the individual, as a challenge for the world, then as a challenge for the churches. From this emerges a plea to the faithful but also to the leadership of the churches to incite a change in our attitudes toward and conceptions of “the other.”

New book by André Birmelé, L’horizon de la grâce: La foi chrétienne

couverturebuchab2013André Birmelé, L’horizon de la grâce: La foi chrétienne [The Horizon of Grace: The Christian Faith] (Paris and Lyon: Cerf and Olivétan, 2013), 508 pp.

To bring to the attention of a large public in only 500 pages the fundamental convictions of the Christian faith: that was the initial request. This book endeavors to take up the challenge. It is addressed to engaged laity, catechists, preachers, and deacons in the hope that pastors, priests, and students of theology will also be able to find what they need in it. The book offers a systematic review of fundamental Christian convictions presented without simplification but in accessible language. The work is characterized by the conviction that simplicity and a high level of thought are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary.

The major themes are taken up in twelve chapters: God, the word of God, faith, sin, Jesus Christ, his cross and resurrection, salvation by grace, the Holy Spirit, the gift of grace, the church as communion of saints, last things, ethics of consequence, and the world to come. After a general introduction, each chapter begins with an overview of the biblical witness, revisits the great moments in the history of Christianity, then proposes major contemporary approaches, all deliberately eschewing the minutiae of scholarly debates.

The work is centered on the gospel of the love of God for human beings, the divine logic that passes all understanding, the invitation to change perspective, to change the horizon of one’s thought. In deciding to come to the world via the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God invites humanity to enter into the horizon of grace, a new orientation, a dynamic that gives meaning to life. Since the future belongs to God, the present becomes possible.

The approach taken here is consciously ecumenical. The book shows that many subjects that have provoked divisions between the churches are at present the locus of a confession of common faith and the foundation of a reconciled diversity. Openness to the approaches of other ecclesial traditions does not signify any kind of relativization of the differences that remain, however, as indicated for example by the chapters devoted to ecclesiological challenges.

A detailed thematic index of 9 pages and a biblical index of 16 pages allows the reader to use this book as a reference manual. It is not a “dogmatic,” however, in the classical sense of the term. Professional theologians will be astonished by the absence of footnotes or a substantial bibliography. The choice is deliberate. Any other approach would be out of the question in a summary of the profound convictions of the faith restricted to 500 pages.


Slovak Lutheran and Catholic Doctoral Students at the Institute

The Institute invited seven Slovak doctoral students—four Lutheran, two Roman Catholic, and one Old Catholic—along with Prof. Dr. L’ubomir Batka from the Lutheran faculty in Bratislava to participate in an intensive ecumenical seminar in Strasbourg from June 23 to 30. The Lutheran and the Catholic church in Slovakia have have few contacts with each other on account of the very painful conflicts of the past which still make their effects felt in the present. The idea of the seminar was that common work on relevant ecumenical documents far from home could create a new opportunity for young Catholic and Lutheran theologians to talk with one another.

slovak3The texts under examination were the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and the new Catholic-Lutheran statement “From Conflict to Communion,” which deals with the question of whether and how Lutherans together with Catholics can commemorate the 2017 anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Under the direction of Institute Prof. Theodor Dieter, the two documents were carefully and precisely read and then discussed in detail. At the same time, the conversations ranged widely and often lasted until late in the night. There was an atmosphere of openness, listening, and desire to understand that furthered the sense of trust, which the particpants welcomed gladly. The group work will continue in Bratislava: a plan was formed for a group of Catholic and Lutheran students to translate “From Conflict to Communion” into Slovak, which will create further opportunities for taking up theological questions on the relationships between Catholics and Lutherans.

The theological work was complemented by a visit to the Council of Europe, expeditions into the city and cathedral accompanied by a lecture on the church history of Strasbourg, and a trip to the Humanist Library in Sélestat, the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, the Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach, and finally a wine-tasting and dinner of tarte flambée.

Among the many positive comments from the participants were these:

“The week of intensive study at the Ecumenical Institute has strengthened my conviction of the necessity of a common ground between Catholic and Protestant positions. I hope that this view and knowledge that I have gained will useful for only for myself but also for my Catholic church community in Slovakia.”

“Thank you that I could spend such a wonderful week in Strasbourg! It really appreciate that I could participate and learn a lot from the discussions we had with Prof. Dieter. They enriched my theological knowledge and encouraged me to continue in the ecumenical dialogue in Slovakia. Thank you for your hospitality! I am really glad I could see this beautiful part of Alsace with its rich traditions. The museums in Sélestat, Colmar, and Waldersbach were awesome! Finally, I have to confess that the wine you have there is a delightful gift from God.”

“I would like to express to my deepest gratitude to you for the possibility to participate in the seminar at the Institute for Ecumenical  Research in Strasbourg led by Prof. Theodor Dieter. I also really enjoyed informal conversations and activities with Prof. Dieter and the other students from different Christian traditions. I can definitely say that it was not only a formal study week, but a real ecumenical experience!”

“It was in every respect an instructive week. The impressions were very positive. I can say that with your erudition, experience, and humanity, you won everybody over for ecumenism.”

This seminar was made possible through the financial support of Lutheran parishes in the towns of Ettlingen and Backnang in Germany. Please contact us if you would like to discuss participating in or underwriting further study opportunities at the Institute for theologians from Eastern Europe or the Global South.


Saints without Borders

“Saints without Borders: Ecumenical Reflections on the Great Cloud of Witnesses” was the theme for the 47th annual Summer Seminar. Over 60 participants from 25 countries and many different churches came together to hear a wide-ranging group of speakers address the question of saints, martyrs, and witnesses. Despite the historic disagreements on the subject of the saints, speakers and participants alike found a great array of convergences and common perspectives, giving us hope that this topic, at least, need not be church-dividing.

dsc_0954aProf. Akma Adam (US-UK/Anglican) started us off with a study of the “hagioi” in the Bible, finding that “the saints” is generally used in the New Testament to refer to all the faithful in Christ, yet at the same time there is certainly reference to exemplary believers and actors in the history of salvation. The church-historical scene was set with the account offered by Prof. Arnold Angenendt (Germany/Catholic) of the development of the cult of the saints in the early church.

Prof. Klaus Baumann (Germany/Catholic), who is both a priest and a licensed psychologist, then addressed the need for models in the religious life and how they shape Christian identity and action. Two further lectures took up test cases of widely admired saints: Prof. Elisabeth Parmentier (France/Lutheran) of the Institute looked at Mary, and in particular the ecumenical convergence and ongoing disputes about her in Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue, while Prof. Stephen Haynes (US/Presbyterian) presented compelling evidence for the reception of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a saint by Protestant Christians in America and elsewhere.

Distinct confessional approaches to the question of saints had their place in the Seminar, too. Prof. Michael Plekon (US/Orthodox) presented the story of Maria Skobtsova, a highly unconventional Russian nun who ministered among the destitute in Paris and died in a concentration camp, as an example of canonization in the Eastern church today. Prof. Aimable Musoni (Rwanda-Vatican/Catholic) presented the process of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Catholic Church, speaking from firsthand experience. Prof. Jeremy Bergen (Canada/Mennonite) described the role played by Martyrs Mirror, a seventeenth-century martyrology, in the formation of Anabaptist and Mennonite identity and life. Prof. Theodor Dieter (Germany/Lutheran) of the Institute rounded out this overview with an explanation of the Reformers’ critique of the invocation of the saints and questions about the church’s authority to canonize, while hinting at Luther’s own constructive approach to the questions of saints. Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (US-France/Lutheran) of the Institute continued this line of inquiry by exploring parallel and alternative versions of saint veneration in Lutheranism and made proposals toward an evangelical understanding of the saints for the churches today.

Complementing the confessional perspectives were three explicitly ecumenical approaches. Prof. Marc Lienhard (France/Lutheran) formerly of the Institute recalled the witness of several Catholic and Protestant ecumenical pioneers, and Archbishop Alfons Nossol (Poland/Catholic) recounted his own active role in the ecumenical movement and efforts toward bridge-building between Germans and Poles after the Second World War during a special evening presentation. Finally, Brother Guido Dotti (Italy/Catholic) described the process that led to the ecumenical Monasterio di Bose’s martyrology, which remembers and honors Christians who gave their lives for Christ across all denominational borders. 

In addition to the usual excursion on Sunday—this year to the Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach and Mt. Ste. Odile, which are pilgrimage sites for Protestants and Catholics respectively—the group had an opportunity to visit the European Parliament and speak with Rainer Wieland, a Vice-President of the Parliament from Germany, about the challenges of European unity and the hopes for the churches’ role in peacemaking.

While this year’s Seminar topic was about the great cloud of witnesses, for once we had no clouds in the Alsatian sky but day after day of sunshine! After such a cold winter, it was greatly appreciated and added to the conviviality of the week’s activities.

The lectures from the Seminar are available here.

Lutheran-Orthodox Preparatory Meeting in Sibiu, Romania

Gathering together for their 32nd consecutive year, members of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission met in Sibiu, Romania, from 24 to 29 May for a preparatory meeting on the doctrine of ministry. This is the second time the Commission has met in Romania; in 2004, the Orthodox hosted the meeting in Durau. This time, however, the Lutherans were the hosts in the historic city of Sibiu, also known as Hermannstadt, home to a centuries-old community of Saxon German immigrants. After the fall of communism in 1989, most of the Saxons in Romania repatriated to Germany. Today’s community numbers only about 13,000. However, those who remain are strongly committed to their language, faith, and heritage, which includes the very impressive “Saxon fortified churches” built to protect the city’s inhabitants from invasion.

It was also a happy place for an ecumenical meeting because of Sibiu’s remarkable ecumenical history. Western and Eastern Christians coexisted peacefully during the late Middle Ages. When the Reformation swept through Europe, Johannes Honterus, a Saxon living in Romania, went to study in Wittenberg and brought back the evangelical teaching with him. While most of the Saxons accepted the Reformation, those who did not weren’t forced to convert or leave. In fact, the new Lutherans built worship spaces for those who wanted to remain loyal to the pope. The earliest known religious tolerance accord in Europe was issued by the local government, which led in turn to the Saxon cities becoming major centers for religious refugees, including Jews and Unitarians.

The topic under discussion in Sibiu was ministry and ordination, following upon last year’s preparatory meeting in London, which discussed the meanings of priesthood and ordained ministry in the Old and New Testaments and the early church. In Sibiu, attention turned to the development of the Lutheran doctrine of ministry in the context of the Western medieval tradition and rites of ordination today. For their part, the Orthodox offered papers on apostolic succession and an assessment of Luther’s teaching from an Eastern perspective. A text was drafted to aid the work of the plenary group, which will assemble in 2015. It was decided by the group that a third preparatory meeting will be required in 2014 to discuss liturgical texts for ordination rites and the ordination of women.

It was a particular pleasure for the Lutherans this year to welcome two new members to the team. Bp. Prof. Dr. Christoph Klein of Sibiu itself took the helm as Lutheran co-president, replacing Bp. Donald McCoid of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who had served for many years as co-chair. Representing the LWF was Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka from the Church of Finland, the new Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Director of the Department for Theology and Public Witness. We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with them as we pursue unity and reconciliation with our Orthodox sisters and brothers.

Lutheran-Orthodox Preparatory Team in Sibiu, 2013

CPCE Doctrinal Conversations on “Church Communion” at the Institute

During its 2012 General Assembly in Florence, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) commissioned new doctrinal discussions to take place. One of these was to deal with the question of “church communion,” which is the model of unity lived out between these churches. It requires constant deepening and reworking, not least of all regarding the binding commitments and mutual obligations of the churches of the CPCE. What do we wish to achieve? How can it be increased? How can the various churches, whose diversity is an asset, live a common life in Europe together?geke-kirchengemeinschft

As in previous doctrinal discussions, the Institute in Strasbourg was involved in this work. André Birmelé was charged with the responsibility for doing so. He together with Michael Beintker, a Reformed theologian in Münster, led the group. A first meeting of a smaller working group took place in Strasbourg at the end of May. It drew up a preliminary outline of the project. This will then be revised in consultation with churches and theologians so that a first colloquium with representatives of the member churches can take place. The results will be presented to the churches in 2016, so that at the next General Assembly in 2018 concrete conclusions can be drawn.

2013 Gudina Tumsa Theological Forum

Most Lutherans will not have heard of Gudina Tumsa, even though he has been called “the Ethiopian Bonhoeffer” by those who knew him. Rev. Gudina was an extraordinary evangelist, preacher, and church leader in the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus during its transition from a mission to an independent church. He articulated a wholistic vision of ministry, refusing to serve only the soul or only the body, but integrating service to both in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he was also a pioneer in Ethiopian ecumenism, responsible for organizing the first Ethiopian Council of Churches—a bold move against the oppressive communist Derg regime, which responded by abducting and murdering him in July 1979.

Speakers at the 2013 Gudina Tumsa Forum

In loving memory of Gudina’s remarkable witness and to continue his legacy of wholistic ministry, the Gudina Tumsa Foundation was established by his daughters Lensa and Aster Gudina. It has published a volume of his extant writings (most were destroyed when the Derg confiscated the church’s property in 1981), undertakes development projects and educational seminars throughout Ethiopia, and hosts the Gudina Tumsa Theological Forum. This year’s conference took place on April 12 and 13 at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. The topic was “Ecumenical Challenges: Working in Love, Transforming Lives.” The goal of the conference was to develop a biblical understanding about the present challenges of ecumenism, the relationship between “faith and partnership,” and to reflect on what it means to be the body of Christ across national, confessional, and ethical borders.

Prof. Sarah Wilson of the Institute was one of the conference speakers this year. She spoke on “The Challenge of African Churches in the Ecumenical Discussion, with Special Reference to Ethiopia.” It is very clear after fifty years of bilateral dialogue that many, if not most, church divisions are rooted in human sin—failures to listen and understand, political motivations, refusals to forgive, misplaced priorities. On the other hand, not all divisions are sinful; some are rooted in the struggle to perceive truth. Genuine disagreement born of a struggle to understand, as opposed to false disagreement born of a failure to love, is a triumph and a blessing. Ecumenism therefore does not seek to eliminate all differences and replace them with a single, final, silencing mono-theology. Recent improvements in understanding the cross-cultural nature of the gospel can give us a helpful analogy: ecumenism prompts us out of our home territory to voyage to other places, which are different from home and expand our horizons. We are not asked to leave our home forever, but through encounters with others become better both at home and away. In doing so, we grow in our ability to critique our home as well as see its genuine strengths, while appreciating those of the other place too. This is the basic insight of the ecumenical strategy known as “differentiated consensus”: the same truth may be found in very different cultural and linguistic forms.

The Mekane Yesus church offers an excellent test study in this kind of ecumenism. During the 1970s, through encounters with Pentecostal missionaries, young Lutheran members of the church experienced a charismatic revival. They met with a great deal of resistance and were so frustrated that they were prepared to leave Mekane Yesus altogether. But Gudina Tumsa challenged them: “Jesus died, but he was raised from death. Don’t build a new church, but rebuild your old church. Raise it from death.” Under his leadership, a team of forty people got together to revisit biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit, the Augsburg Confession, and other historic churches’ responses to charismatic renewal. The end result was a report to guide the incorporation of charismatic renewal, especially in worship practice, into the Mekane Yesus church, while remaining faithful to Lutheran doctrine. It is worth noting that, at the time this decision was made, the church had about 200,000 members; today is has approximately 5.6 million members. There is little doubt that this respectful, open, biblical approach to an ecumenical challenge served Mekane Yesus extremely well!

This example is also evidence against the destructive slogan “service unites, doctrine divides” or “spirituality unites, doctrine divides,” which is sometimes heard in ecumenical circles. It is wise here to follow Gudina Tumsa’s foundational insight: there must be a wholistic approach to ecumenism as well. Service, spirituality, and doctrine all go together. To leave out one is to fatally impoverish the others. Yet one often gets the impression that the world church looks to Africa to be progressive on matters of service and spirituality but to leave doctrine to the side as unimportant, or as if it were a luxury for happy and secure times. But doctrine is the basic articulation of who God is, which tells us therefore how to serve and how to express our spirituality. Thus it would be a great benefit if the Ethiopian church could take up the challenge of articulating a wholistic christology on which to base its wholistic ministry. Resources to do so can already be found in the theology of Martin Luther, who laid great emphasis on the unity of the person of Christ, and even farther back in Cyril of Alexandria, the great African theologian and champion of the Council of Ephesus and still posthumously influential at the Council of Chalcedon. It is an extra ecumenical benefit that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a direct and faithful heir of Cyril’s christology.

Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2012

During the first two weeks of November, Profs. Dieter and Wilson taught the 6th International Seminar “Studying Luther in Wittenberg,” which is offered every March and November; the Institute staff always lead the theological seminars of the November section. This year’s Seminar had a particular focus: “Studying Luther in Wittenberg, Teaching Luther Worldwide.” All 17 participants were teachers of Luther’s theology in their homelands: Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, India, Australia, South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Finland, Sweden, and Latvia. The Seminar was an opportunity for these teachers to focus afresh on Luther’s writings, deepening and refining their knowledge in order to enhance their own teaching back home.


As always, the Seminar program was intensive. Each morning we had three hours of close textual work in Luther’s writings, and in the late afternoon we spent an hour and a half on open discussion of either the writings or interpretive/contextual issues that arose from them. In between the participants had several hours for private study or visits to the Lutherhaus. We started the first week with Luther’s Reformation “breakthrough” and the various testimonies to it found in his own early commentary on Romans, a letter to Johann Staupitz, and his remembrances late in life. From there we moved on to the early controversies surrounding the Heidelberg Disputation, the Ninety-Five Theses, and Luther’s less known but possibly more important 1518 Theses on the Remission of Sin. After the Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness, we spent a full day on the treatise The Freedom of a Christian to give wide scope to Luther’s doctrine of justification. We also considered his teaching on law and gospel as found in How Christians Should Regard Moses and A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels.

In the second week, we turned to the subject of the sacraments. We started, fittingly, with baptism, focusing on Luther’s discussion in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church and On Rebaptism. We then spent several days on the many aspects of the Lord’s Supper, including communion in two kinds, the sacrifice of the mass, and the real presence of Christ, by looking again at The Babylonian Captivity as well as at Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper and The German Mass. We concluded our readings in the Large Catechism and Augsburg Confession on both sacraments. On the last day, the participants offered their own perspectives on what in particular they wished to take home and emphasize in their own teaching.

The study program was complemented as always by the LWF Center’s Pr. Hans-Wilhelm Kasch and his energetic organization of trips and visits. Participants visited the Lutherhaus and the Melanchthonhaus and heard lectures from resident scholars there; they spent a Saturday in Eisenach and visited the Wartburg; they traveled to Torgau to see the grave of Katharina von Bora and the first church built as a Lutheran church; several participants planted trees on behalf of their home churches in the Luthergarten. In addition, Pr. Kasch organized discussions with the mayor of Wittenberg, the local Lutheran bishop, and English speakers in Wittenberg. As usual, a highlight of the Seminar was the nightly global cuisine prepared by participants, from Korean bulgogi to Tanzanian pilau to Brazilian feijoada. The participants were enthusiastic all through both weeks of study, and they left Wittenberg passionate about Luther’s theology and eager to share more of his work with their own students back home.

The Seminars are open to members of LWF churches, and others are welcome to apply as well. They fill up quickly, so if you are interested in the 2013 Seminars, don’t hesitate to apply!

40th Anniversary of the Ecumenical Institute in Tantur, Jerusalem


The Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem celebrated its 40th anniversary on October 26, 2012. This Institute was founded in 1972 by Pope Paul VI and the Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullmann. Strasbourg’s professor André Birmelé was invited to give a lecture about and in honor of Cullmann as a former student of his.

You can read Prof. Birmelé’s lecture: Oscar Cullmann: In the Service of Biblical Theology and Ecumenism

Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter at Castelgandolfo

Theodor Dieter, the Director of the Institute, was specially invited to present the key points of Lutheran theology to a private audience of Pope Benedict XVI and his former students at the Castelgandolfo outside of Rome on September 1, 2012. This annual gathering treats topics of timely interest for Catholics theologians, and this year’s topic was ecumenism. Along with speakers on the topic of Anglican-Catholic dialogue and Lutheran principles of biblical interpretation, Prof. Dieter gave an overview of Martin Luther’s theology as well as an interpretation of the past fifty years of dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans. His presentation was warmly received by all.


Read here Prof. Dieter’s lecture, Von der Trennung zur Gemeinschaft. Zum katholisch-lutherischen Dialog

46th International Ecumenical Seminar

July 4 – 11, 2012, in Strasbourg, France

Theme: What to Do about 2017?
The Ecumenical Challenge of an Anniversary

Seminar 2012: Participants

Read more!


Strasbourg – Kehl Mimram Bridge