October 6, 1999


CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and a vice president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), will be among church representatives from around the world assembling Oct. 31 in Augsburg, Germany, to sign the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification," an historic agreement with the Roman Catholic Church. Anderson is the only Lutheran from North America expected to sign the agreement.

The Joint Declaration is "a significant milestone in the reconciliation of our two church traditions. By acknowledging that there is agreement on this crucial article of the Christian faith, our two churches have bridged a theological divide that has separated us for nearly 500 years," Anderson said.

"This agreement will have a positive effect on the mood of conversations between our two communions. I hope that this theological breakthrough will lead to other agreements in the future," he said.

The doctrine of justification says people become "right with God" because Jesus Christ won their salvation through his life, death and resurrection. This means salvation is strictly a gift through faith in Jesus and not because anyone else has earned it.

"By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works," said the Joint Declaration.

With the major issue -- over which the two churches "damned" each other in the 16th century -- taken care of, Lutherans and Roman Catholics are able to tackle the remaining list of issues, said the Rev. Daniel F. Martensen, director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs. Such issues include the office of ministry and the authority of the pope.

Roman Catholics and Lutherans are saying "we don't have any church-dividing difference between us any longer on the teaching of justification by grace through faith," he said. "There is a difference in how we interpret the Christian life after being saved by grace through faith. There is where discussions will go on."

Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett, Roman Catholic Diocese of Seattle, called the declaration "a powerful gift from God." Brunett, chairman of the committee for ecumenical and interreligious affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed the ELCA's 1999 Churchwide Assembly.

"The deepest significance of our common understanding of the grace of Christ as central in our lives, in a culture dominated by competition, by status, by merit and self-reliance, is that what we receive as a gift we must recognize also comes to us as a common task and challenge," he said.

"What we understand anew we must teach anew and live out together anew. This is the last stage that opens between us as Lutherans and Catholics. There are many aspects of our life together in the Church which, over time, I am confident will be touched and reshaped as a result of the accord expressed in the Joint Declaration," said Brunett.

Anderson stressed the possibilities of ceremonies and celebrations in Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes across the United States. "American Lutherans especially greet this announcement with enthusiasm, because the work of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue on the doctrine of justification, published in 1985, contributed significantly to this international agreement," he said. Anderson was Lutheran co-chair of the dialogue at that time.

"We encourage local joint celebrations of this agreement between Lutheran congregations and Roman Catholic parishes, using the Service of the Word approved for joint Lutheran-Catholic worship or the prayer offices that are the common inheritance of the whole Church," said a statement from The Liturgical Conference. The conference, a Roman Catholic organization when it was founded in 1940, is now an ecumenical association that works to renew liturgy within the churches.

LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko and Bishop Christian Krause of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brunswick (Germany), LWF president, will sign the document with the LWF's five vice presidents: Anderson; Bishop Julius Filo, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic; Parmata Ishaya, Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria; President Huberto Kirchheim, Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil; Dr. Prasanna Kumari, Arcot Lutheran Church, executive secretary of the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India.

Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will sign for the Vatican.

The Joint Declaration is the result of more than three decades of international dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. This is the first time such a declaration has been recognized between the two churches.

The LWF circulated a draft of the Joint Declaration among its member churches. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved the document in 1997.

On the basis of such responses, the LWF Council affirmed the Joint Declaration on June 16, 1998. On June 25 the Roman Catholic Church gave its response to the same declaration. At that time it was clear that the two dialogue partners had not affirmed the Joint Declaration in the same way, Noko said.

Signing the Joint Declaration could only happen if both the LWF and the Vatican had the same understanding of the significance of such a signing, he said. The two parties developed an "Official Common Statement" about that significance and a short explanatory "Annex" to the statement, which make the signing possible.

The statement and annex underscore that a consensus in basic truths regarding the doctrine of justification has been reached and the mutual condemnations from the time of the Reformation concerning the doctrine of justification do not apply to the teaching on justification as set forth in the Joint Declaration.

Lutherans and Roman Catholics around the world have listened carefully to each others' teachings about a key Christian doctrine and have come to the conclusion that they agree on the core doctrine and have minor differences on related issues, according to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

The role of "good works" or "Christian living" is a related issue that Lutherans and Roman Catholics now declare to be "not church dividing." Roman Catholics hold that good works contribute to growth in grace and that a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Lutherans emphasize that justification is complete in Christ's saving work and that Christian living is a sign of that unmerited justification.

October 31 is significant because on that day in 1517, 482 years earlier, Martin Luther introduced his 95 theses or points of contention against the Vatican. Among other things, Luther denounced the sale of indulgences -- letters replacing punishment for the sins of repentant Christians. Lutherans consider Oct. 31 the birthday of the Reformation.

Augsburg is important to the Lutheran tradition because in 1530 Emperor Charles V assembled a conference of Luther's followers to draft a statement outlining the beliefs and practices of the churches in Germany. The resulting Augsburg Confession has served as a founding document of the Lutheran Church.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of Lutheran churches, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Founded in 1947, the LWF now has 128 member churches in 70 countries representing 58 million of the world's 61.5 million Lutherans. LWF central offices are in Geneva, Switzerland.

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The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and relatedreso= urces are linked from <http://www.elca.org/ea/jddj/index.html> on the World Wide Web.

For information contact: John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or [email protected] http://listserv.elca.org/archives/elcanews.html