Some perhaps tedious background is useful in understanding what is going on with the text Justification and Freedom from the Evangelical Church in Germany which has created some stir.
The text comes from the Evangelical Church in Germany, the organization of the various regional Protestant churches in Germany. Article 1 of the EKD Constitution [Grundordnung] states: “The Evangelical Church in Germany is the community [or communion or fellowship; the German Gemeinschaft can mean all three] of its Lutheran, Reformed, and United member churches.” Well, is the EKD a church or isn’t it? Hard to say, but note that the EKD member churches have distinct confessional identities (and are organized in confessional subgroups, creating a baffling maze of organizations). Decisions on doctrinal matters lie with the member churches, not the EKD; member churches set ordination standards. The member churches, and not the EKD itself, belong to organizations like the Lutheran World Federation or the World Council of Churches. Nevertheless, surveys have shown that outside ecclesiastical circles, most Germans think of the EKD as the Protestant Church of Germany and it is the EKD that has taken the lead in the national commemoration of the anniversary of the Reformation for 2017.
Relations between the EKD and the Catholic Church (which between them include the vast majority of Christians in Germany) have recently been bumpy. In the 1980s, the EKD and the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference undertook a major ecumenical dialogue aimed at lifting 16th-century condemnations related to justification, ministry, and sacraments. The results were impressive. But when it came time for action, the Vatican, which for understandable reasons prefers to deal with world-level organizations rather than an endless series of national churches, turned to the Lutheran World Federation in a process that led to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The problem was that the United and Reformed EKD regional churches (a slight majority in terms of membership) were thus excluded from the process, which did not make them happy. They contended that the Vatican had pulled an ecumenical bait-and-switch. This unhappiness was one element in the rocky road the JDDJ had to German acceptance.
More recently, the EKD has taken positions on questions of sexual ethics that have increased its distance from the Catholic Church. Last year, an EKD position paper on families urged the full acceptance of a wide range of family structures, including same-sex couples (see my comments here,unfortunately behind a pay wall). Predictably, this did not make the Catholic Church happy.
So, the 2017 process begins with some smoke in the air.