LWF and Vatican urged Churches worldwide to celebrate the fifth anniversary

Giving Common Witness to the Gospel amid Increasing Secularization
( [email protected] ) Mar 04, 2004 12:58 PM EST

GENEVA: The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) have jointly invited the LWF member churches and Roman Catholic Church worldwide to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) by focusing on the ecumenical resources that the agreement represents.

Representatives of the LWF and Roman Catholic Church jointly signed the JDDJ on 31 October 1999 in Augsburg, Germany, officially stating that there is consensus between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on basic truths related to the doctrine of justification. "It is our heartfelt view that the Fifth Anniversary of the [JDDJ] signing calls for celebrations and for renewed study around the world," write LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko and PCPCU President Walter Cardinal Kasper in a joint letter to the churches.

Since the declaration was signed, the LWF and PCPCU have undertaken many joint initiatives to deepen the consensus reached so far. In 2001, Lutherans and Roman Catholics invited the Methodists and Reformed to a consultation on the theme "Unity in Faith * The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of

Justification in a Wider Ecumenical Context." At this forum the question was raised how other Christian world communions could relate to the agreements reached in the JDDJ. Currently the World Methodist Council is preparing a theologically substantiated affirmation of the JDDJ.

Within the LWF, a significant part of the JDDJ follow-up has been the study program on the contemporary meaning of justification, "Justification in the World's Contexts" (LWF Documentation 45/2000,) and the 2002 international symposium that resulted in the publication "The Doctrine of Justification: Its Reception and Meaning Today," 2/2003). These events brought together those involved in official dialogues with those examining questions about the current relevance of justification in different situations.

Further follow-up includes the fourth phase of the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, which is working on the theme of the "Apostolicty of the Church" including the question of ministry.

To consider the broader biblical basis for the doctrine of justification, a symposium of biblical scholars is being planned. The letter also mentions the 2001 symposium on the meaning of indulgences today co-hosted by the LWF, PCPCU and World Alliance of Reformed Churches in light of concerns expressed by Lutheran and Reformed Christians on the occasion of ecumenical celebrations related to the Jubilee Year 2000.

Noko and Kasper point out that substantial further work remains to be done before agreement in all its fullness is reached between Lutherans and Roman Catholics regarding the significance of the doctrine of justification in church life. They underline that "the Joint Declaration itself (cf. paragraph 43), and the Official Common Statement by which the Joint Declaration was confirmed, both call for continued ecumenical efforts by the two sides."

In their letter, Noko and Kasper affirm the JDDJ signing as "not yet the final goal but an important milestone on our common pilgrimage to full visible unity." As a result of the declaration, they note, "we can give common witness to the essence of the gospel. This is highly important in our present-day world of growing secularization and loss of the meaning of life."

They see the JDDJ's fifth anniversary on 31 October 2004, as an opportunity for churches and dioceses around the world to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the issues and challenges that still remain. They recommend a day of study around the time of the celebration, arranged in cooperation with seminaries or theological faculties, as a good way for pastors and theologians to deepen their understanding of what has been achieved and what remains to be done.