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Lutherans, Catholics Celebrate Ecumenical Milestone

Archbishops, bishops, theological professors and pastors joined the general secretary of the LWF and the president of the Pontifical Council to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the Joint Declaratio
( [email protected] ) Nov 02, 2004 12:12 PM EST

The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), Oct. 30, 2004. Joining several hundred Lutherans and Catholics at the service hall, the two leaders emphasized the historical implications of the JDDJ – the milestone development that brought Catholics and Lutherans closer together in dialogue for the first time in 500 years.

“The doctrine of justification has divided us for almost 500 years, bringing great suffering to individuals and to many of the peoples of Europe. Through our missionary work we even exported our differences to other continents,” said PCPCU President Walter Cardinal Kasper, during his keynote address at an ecumenical seminar on Oct. 30.

The seminar was part of the celebration marking the anniversary of the JDDJ signing that took place on Oct. 31, 1999, in Augsburg Germany.

The JDDJ, which many have called “one of the boldest ecumenical developments in modern church history,” is the confirmation between the Catholics and Lutherans that they have reached a consensus on the basic truths regarding justification. The JDDJ also states that the condemnations of the 16th century Reformation do not apply to the teachings presented in the JDDJ.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther and other reformists broke from the Catholic Church on several bases, one of that being the understanding of justification.

Kasper explained that the JDDJ has led to a “shared understanding of justification” between the two Christian groups, and that the declaration was a “wise compromise” that focuses on the essential issues of faith, salvation and grace.

“We have reached an important staging post but are not yet at the final goal,” he said.

LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko meanwhile emphasized the need to translate the doctrine of justification into terms more understandable by laymen.

“The doctrine of justification is not very well known, even among active church members,” Noko said, “but God’s divine gift to us of justice by grace has implications for our human practices of social justice.”

Noko went onto explain that the celebration of the JDDJ was set in South Africa because of the message of justification was central to overcoming the ideology of apartheid ten years ago.

“It sets us free to be who we are – free from the bondage of oppression by others, from self-righteousness, and from the temptation to give up in resignation,” said Noko.

Reiterating the traditional Lutheran belief on Justification, Noko exclaimed, “In the name of God’s gift of justification by grace and faith alone I say: Never accept anyone telling you that you are not worthy, on the basis that you are a woman, a young person or an older person!”

Noko also said there were many more agreements that need to be drawn and extracted from the JDDJ.

“We must allow some time for the ripe fruits of this beautiful tree to be harvested,” he said, “The most important thing is that we now really have a common expression of points of faith.”

Kasper agreed, naming several point that could be developed further.

First of all, one would have to review the questions that have been left open after the “Joint Declaration,” such as the link of justification with baptism and the Eucharist, as well as with the issue of church ministry, the ministry of bishops in apostolic succession, and the Petrine ministry, said Kasper.

“We have thus to translate both the questions and answers of the past into the language and problematic of today, so that our language will touch and hit again our deepest experiences and discover anew the deep meaning of justification. Let us ask: What does it mean to believe to be saved and redeemed? What does this imply for our personal and our common life?”

The seminar, which was hosted by the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, attracted archbishops, bishops, principals of theological seminaries, lecturers and students of theology, and pastors from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian sect in the world with over one billion followers. The Lutheran Church is the largest Protestant denomination with over 67 million adherents worldwide.