Community of Protestant Churches in Europe: Leuenberg Church Fellowship

The Leuenberg Church Fellowship was established in 1973, with the adoption of the "Agreement between Reformation Churches in Europe", known as the Leuenberg Agreement. The signatories of the Leuenberg Agreement, now counting 104 churches, grant one another fellowship in word and sacrament, on the basis of a common understanding of the gospel as expounded in the agreement. They commit themselves to common witness and service at local, regional and European levels and to continuing theological work. A series of important documents has been produced since then, among which the study "The Church of Jesus Christ" (1994), the first concerted Protestant ecclesiology on the European level, stands out. The intensified sense of community of the member churches and the claim formulated at the last general assembly in 2001 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to bring forward a Protestant voice in Europe, is clearly expressed through the new name "Community of Protestant Churches in Europe" (as from 1 November 2003).

Ninety-seven churches have signed the Leuenberg Agreement since 1973 as so-called signatory churches. Besides the classical Reformation churches, pre-Reformation churches such as the Waldensians (Italy) and the Brethren (Czech Republic), and five South American churches emanating from migration, belong to the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE). Seven Methodist churches are part of it on the basis of a "Joint Declaration of Church Fellowship". Five Scandinavian Lutheran churches have participated in the Leuenberg Church Fellowship since 1973 as so-called participating churches, without signing the agreement. Out of these, two churches (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark and the Church of Norway) have lately signed the Leuenberg Agreement.

The Leuenberg Agreement is the fruit of a long process of dialogue, mainly between Lutheran and Reformed Churches, which began after the second world war. This text drawn up in the European context met with astonishingly rapid and sustained approval of the churches. The divisions could be overcome by means of doctrinal discussions among the churches of different denominations. The preamble of the agreement, referring to the key statement of the Confessio Augustana (CA VII), confirms: "In the view of the Reformation it follows that agreement in the right teaching of the gospel and in the right administration of the sacraments is the necessary and sufficient prerequisite for the true unity of the church."

The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe serves to promote the unity and community of the Protestant churches through joint theological doctrinal conversations. It also represents the positions of Reformation churches on important spiritual and social challenges such as the question of a just war, the Christian understanding of freedom, the relationship of church, state, people and nation.

The CPCE has an intentionally loose organizational structure for the sake of flexibility. General assemblies take place about every six years, in which basic outlines of future work, new subjects for theological conversations are determined and the new executive committee elected. The executive committee, led by the presidium, is responsible for the work between the general assemblies. The secretariat, which operates under the direction of the executive committee, has been located in the head office of the Union of Evangelical Churches in Berlin from 1987 to 2007. Since 2007 the CPCE office is located in the Vienna head office of the Lutheran Church in Austria (Evangelische Kirche A.B. in Österreich).   

Well aware of its limits, the CPCE has the whole ecumenical scene in view and considers itself as a step on the way towards the unity of the universal church of Jesus Christ in a reconciled diversity. For this reason it maintains working relations with the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches as well as with the Anglican churches and the European Baptist Federation.