On the Way to the Joint Declaration
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)
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.