Study Projects

An essential task of the Institute is to contribute to the realization of the ecumenical-theological responsibility of the Lutheran churches. One of the ways the Institute fulfills this task is by undertaking study projects. These study projects are larger research projects designed for a period of two to three years and are not the responsibility of individual members of the research staff, but of the staff as a whole.

Current Projects

The New Ecumenical Landscape

The religious landscape is becoming more and more differentiated. Megatrends such as digitalization, globalization, developments of postmodernism, etc. are also shedding new light on some aspects of religion. For ecumenism, it is worth noting that boundaries are often no longer drawn along the lines of denominations with their respective doctrines, but across denominations according to other criteria, e.g., aesthetic criteria. The confusion of the landscape in worldwide Christianity is made more complex by the fact that these processes take place quite differently in different contexts. The current study project is devoted to these questions and their consequences for ecumenism.

Reference: J. Wasmuth / St. Dienstbeck / O. Schuegraf: Die neue ökumenische Unübersichtlichkeit, ÖR 70, 2021, S. 126–135.

Concluded Projects

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.

Growth in Dialogue

The bilateral dialogues between Christian churches seek to address in a direct but mediating way the doctrinal differences and conflicts that have caused divisions between churches. Since the 1960s, Lutherans have been involved in dialogues with other church families, such as Anglicans, Baptists, Mennonites, Methodists, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Reformed and Roman Catholics. The Institute's staff is invited by the Lutheran World Federation to serve as consultants in these dialogues. Our staff participates in the preparation and reception of the dialogues, is involved in the drafting and revision of ecumenical texts, and in the evaluation of dialogue results.

Topics of the Dialogues

The Anglican and Lutheran churches came into existence as distinct entities within the Western church in the sixteenth century, and during that period had a great deal of mutual exchange and influence, as can be witnessed in the similarities that the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles bear to the Augsburg Confession. The twentieth- and twenty-first-century dialogue has sought to be build on these already existing similarities in theology, liturgy, and church culture in order to bring the respective global communions into closer fellowship. Official dialogue on the international level has taken place since 1972, greatly enhanced by a number of significant full-communion agreements on the regional level. The major texts are listed and linked below.

The Pullach Report (1972)

The Helsinki Report (1982)

The Niagara Report (1987)

The Meissen Agreement (1988)

The Porvoo Common Statement (1992)

The Hanover Report (1996)

Called to Common Mission (1999)

The Reuilly Declaration (1999)

Growth in Communion (2000)

The Waterloo Declaration (2001)

Further opportunities for dialogue on a more informal level are convened by the Society of Anglican and Lutheran Theologians (SALT) and the Anglican-Lutheran Society.

The LWF and the Baptist World Alliance started exploring the possibility of dialogue in 1975. The resulting Baptist-Lutheran Joint Commission met four times from 1986 to 1989 and produced the statement Baptists and Lutherans in Conversation: A Message to Our Churches. No formal theological dialogue has been pursued since then, though some of the same issues have been addressed in the Lutheran-Mennonite dialogues regarding baptism.


In 1980, when Lutherans celebrated the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, they hosted an ecumenical event and invited Mennonites to participate. What they hadn’t realized was that Mennonites are the heirs of 16th-century Anabaptists, who are condemned at several points in the AC. This faux-pas led to national dialogues between Lutherans and Mennonites, first in France (1981-1984), then in Germany (1989-1992), and finally in the United States (2001-2004). Building on these national dialogues, the LWF convened an international dialogue with the Mennonite World Conference (Mennonite World Conference).

Though the initial plan was to address theological differences, particularly on matters related to baptism and Christian involvement in the government and military, it soon became clear that an unresolved problem of the past was intruding on the present: the Mennonites remembered the Lutheran persecution of their predecessors in the 16th century, a fact that the Lutherans themselves had long since forgotten. Thus the dialogue shifted tactics and instead set about on an unprecedented ecumenical project: jointly telling the history of their relations in a form that both fully acknowledged as accurate. In the process, the Mennonites discovered that Lutherans had not actually executed as many of their ancestors as they’d thought; the Lutherans, however, concluded that the 100 executed Anabaptists were 100 too many. They also had to address the justifications of persecution by Luther and Melanchthon, while being relieved to discover another Lutheran reformer Johannes Brenz’s outspoken opposition to persecution.

In response to this historical discovery, the Lutherans initiated an internal process of the LWF to offer a public apology to and make a request for forgiveness from the Mennonite community. At the 2010 full assembly of the LWF in Stuttgart (Brenz’s home city), the LWF voted unanimously to take the action, and then did so. Representatives of the MWC arrived prepared to offer, in turn, their full forgiveness and assurance of God’s forgiveness, as well. This too was an unprecedented ecumenical breakthrough. The full text of the joint historical report can be accessed below.

In response to this historical discovery, the Lutherans initiated an internal process of the LWF to offer a public apology to and make a request for forgiveness from the Mennonite community. At the 2010 full assembly of the LWF in Stuttgart (Brenz’s home city), the LWF voted unanimously to take the action, and then did so. Representatives of the MWC arrived prepared to offer, in turn, their full forgiveness and assurance of God’s forgiveness, as well. This too was an unprecedented ecumenical breakthrough. The full text of the joint historical report can be accessed below.

Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ. Report of the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission.


Zwischen 1979 und 1984 trafen sich Vertreter des LWB und des World Methodist Council (WMC) fünfmal zur Ausarbeitung des Dokuments The Church, Community of Grace. Seither gibt es zwischen Lutheranern und Methodisten eine Reihe von regionalen Erklärungen der vollen Gemeinschaft, z.B. in Deutschland, Norwegen, Schweden und den Vereinigten Staaten. Viele methodistische Kirchen haben sich der Gemeinschaft evangelischer Kirchen in Europa angeschlossen, die als eine Initiative der Gemeinschaft zwischen Lutheranern und Reformierten begonnen hatte. Das WMC hat sich bei seiner Vollversammlung im Jahr 2006 in Südkorea der Gemeinsamen Erklärung zur Rechtfertigungslehre angeschlossen, die von Lutheranern und Katholiken 1999 unterzeichnet worden ist.

The first Lutheran-Orthodox contacts took place already in the sixteenth century, through a visit of a Romanian Orthodox deacon to Wittenberg, where he befriended Melanchthon. Melanchthon and others undertook a translation of the Augsburg Confession into Greek for the benefit of the Ecumenical Patriarch, but the text never reached him. Several decades later, in the 1570s, many letters were exchanged between the Lutheran theologians in Tübingen and Jeremias II, the Patriarch of Constantinople at that time. The spirit of the exchange was irenic and interested, though the two parties were not able to establish much common ground.

The Orthodox entered the ecumenical movement right at its beginning in the second decade of the twentieth century, but bilateral dialogue with Lutherans didn’t begin until late in the century. After some years of mutual interest and negotiation, the first formal meeting of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission took place in Espoo, Finland, in 1981. Following after and running alongside a number of highly successful regional dialogues, the Joint Commission had met every year without fail since its inauguration and has produced twelve statements, which can be accessed below.

Divine Revelation (3rd Plenary, Allentown 1985)

Scripture and Tradition (4rd, Crete 1987)

The Canon and the Inspiration of the Holy Scripture (5th, Bad Segeberg 1989)

Authority in and of the Church: A. The Ecumenical Councils (7th, Sandbjerg 1993)

Authority in and of the Church: B. Understanding of Salvation in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils (8th, Limassol 1995)

Authority in and of the Church: C. Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy (9th, Sigtuna 1998)

The Mystery of the Church A. Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church (10th, Damascus 2000)

The Mystery of the Church B. Mysteria/ Sacraments as Means of Salvation (11th, Oslo 2002)

The Mystery of the Church C. Baptism and Chrismation as Sacraments of Initiation into the Church (12th, Durau 2004)

The Mystery of the Church D. The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church (13th, Bratislava 2006)

The Mystery of the Church D.2 The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church. Preparation, Ecological and Social Implications (14th, Paphos 2008)

The Mystery of the Church E. The Nature, Attributes, and Mission of the Church (15th, Wittenberg 2011)

Prof. Risto Saarinen of the Theological Faculty at the University of Helsinki and a former member of the Institute staff has helpfully archived almost all of these statements, as well as many of those coming from regional dialogues, on his website. He is also the author of an essential book on the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue: Faith and Holiness: Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue 1959-1994 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1997).

n 2004, the Institute prepared the way for conversations with Trinitarian Pentecostals on an international level. Six years of meetings followed in Strasbourg, Pasadena, Tousand Oaks, Zurich and Tampere. In 2010, the Institute, together with the David Du Plessis Center for Christian Spirituality in Pasadena and the European Pentecostal Charismatic Research Assocation in Zurich, published the world's tiniest ecumenical document in terms of format (the booklet measures 10.80 x 14 cm), Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue. Intended to be a handbook for future dialogues, the booklet describes the group's dialogue process, lists recommended goals, explores similarities and differences under the heading "how we encounter Christ" (in proclamation, sacraments/rites, and charisms), and concludes with three long articles on the history of Lutheranism for Pentecostals and the history of Pentecostalism for Lutherans, as well as Lutheran responses to Pentecostal and charismatic movements. The text of the document can be downloaded below.

The Lutheran World Federation has decided to continue a formal dialogue with Trinitarian Pentecostals at the international level.

Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue

The relationship between Lutherans and the Reformed can be compared to the one between Jacob and Esau: an intense struggle of sibling rivalry. The two came into existence at almost the exact same time and held a huge amount in common. But on two or three crucial issues they could not see eye to eye. An initial harmony turned into a complete breakdown. Politics more than theology dictated their relations in the centuries to come.

However, since the second half of the twentieth century, there have been more declarations of church fellowship between Lutherans and Reformed than Lutherans have managed with any other Christian family. The seminal statement in this regard was the Leuenberg Agreement of 1973, which addressed the three issues seen to be most divisive in the 16th century: the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, christology, and predestination. The LA declared that the current-day churches’ beliefs on these matters were no longer church-dividing, and thus it should be possible for the respective parties to enter into full communion with one another. Since the signing of the LA, almost 100 European churches have joined the resulting fellowship, called the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe including now Methodist, Brethren, and Waldensian churches, and even some Latin American churches have signed on. On the basis of LA, other Lutheran-Reformed fellowships have been established, such as the Formula of Agreement signed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. Since the establishment of the CPCE, Lutherans and the Reformed have continued to work together on topics of common theological concern .

In addition to the significant regional work of the CPCE, the LWF conducts ann international dialogue with the World Communion of Reformed Churches (a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council). One of the most recent joint statements produced by the dialogue is Communion: On Being the Church .

Further texts by members of the Institute staff:

André Birmelé: Contribution to the Festschrift for Walter Cardinal Kasper -Zur Ekklesiologie der Leuenberger Kirchengemeinschaft

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, Lutherans and Roman Catholics met for the first time to explore the possibilities of dialogue on an international level right here in Strasbourg at the Institute in 1965. Since then it has been one of the most productive and far-reaching of bilateral dialogues, releasing a great many joint statements. The staff of the Institute were closely involved with the development of “unity in reconciled diversity” or “differentiated consensus,” a hermeneutical theory that proposed the possibility of common content behind and beneath varieties of expression. On this basis, Lutherans and Roman Catholics were able to sign together the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999.

The Centro Pro Unione in Rome provides a detailed list of meetings and reports of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity. A few of the most important are directly linked below.

The Gospel and the Church (“The Malta Report), 1972

All Under One Christ (on the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession), 1980

Martin Luther: Witness to Jesus Christ, 1983

Facing Unity, 1984

Church and Justification, 1993

Gemeinsame Erklärung zur Rechtfertigungslehre, 1999

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999

The Apostolicity of the Church, 2005

From Conflict to Communion, 2013

Another seminal text in this dialogue available in book form is  Lehrverurteilungen kirchentrennend? Tl. 1, Rechtfertigung, Sakramente und Amt im Zeitalter der Reformation und heute. Karl Lehmann und Wolfhart Pannenberg (Hg.), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1988.

Further texts by members of the Institute staff: