On the Way to the Joint Declaration

Posted on Posted in Theology

Since Lutherans have said for centuries now (to be precise, since Franz Turretini in 1682) that the doctrine of justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls, it’s not surprising that it has been central to Lutheran-Catholic discussions. Four heavy-hitter statements deserve notice:

The Gospel and the Church,” popularly called the Malta Report (1972)

Justification by Faith, a report of the national U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue (1985)

The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide? (1988)

Church and Justification: Understanding the Church in the Light of the Doctrine of the Justification” (1994)

But here’s the funny thing about ecumenical dialogues: nobody is required to pay the slightest attention to them. Much less like them or follow their advice. Some receive popular acclaim on some level or another; others are cold-shouldered, perhaps because they’re moving too fast (another Lutheran-Catholic statement, “Facing Unity,” was probably ignored for exactly this reason); and still others take years before anything happens, as was the case with the Leuenberg Agreement between European Lutheran and Reformed churches, which sat on a shelf for about 20 years before people were willing to act on it.

However… the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) is NOT like that. It is actually a mutually binding statement. All the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, and the Catholic Church itself, accepted the content of the Joint Declaration as doctrinal teaching. It’s the first time the two churches have ever officially made a doctrinal statement together in the whole history, too. It’s not yet the goal, but it’s definitely a milestone.

4 thoughts on “On the Way to the Joint Declaration

  1. I can corroborate on the observation, that nobody is required to pay attention.
    My observation within my Württemberg church body among many clergy and laity is, that most of them are happy with those documents paving the way towards more ecu­menism on the one hand, but the same people are much less interested in reading and digesting the document, beware of heeding its advice. The same with the Leuenberg agreement — it is a hallowed token but nobody wants to read the fine print.
    Therefore my suspicion: Are these documents sorts of indulgencies? By getting the document you can absolve your self from the burden of theological painstaking.

  2. Dear Johannes, this comment is a great challenge to us all! “Ecumenism” that is really just patting ourselves on the back for our progress, but doesn’t involve deeper catechesis, change of heart, and meaningful fellowship, is just something for show and a case of dishonesty. We need always to be challenged to do better than that!

  3. I have always been under the impression the the statement ” the doc trine of jus ti fi ca tion is the doc trine on which the church stands or falls” is from Luther himself. Is that not the case?

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