The reports on the tenth anniversary of the historic Joint Declaration on Justification - the first with a Protestant church - provide a good status report on the ecumenical dialog with the Protestants, the fourth Christian group with whom the Church is wprking towards unification (after the Lefebvrians within the Church itself, the Orthodox Churches, and the Anglicans, all of whom have been very much in religion news lately).
Churches celebrate 10th anniversary
of 'Justification' agreement
By Joshua Goldberg
Nov. 1, 2009
Methodists, Lutherans and Roman Catholics worldwide on Saturday observed the tenth anniversary of the signing of a landmark ecumenical agreement considered as one of the most significant since the Reformation.
On Oct. 31, 1999, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation got together to sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in which the two church bodies together confessed:
"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."
Members of the World Methodist Council later adopted the document by unanimous vote as well, in 2006, sharing the belief that a common understanding of justification was "fundamental and indispensable" to overcoming the division between Catholics and Protestants.
During an ecumenical service in Augsburg, Germany, the Catholic Church's ecumenical representative, Cardinal Walter Kaspar, said the JDDJ was a sign of the workings of the Holy Spirit but also emphasized that it was only one step in a longer journey.
“Ultimately, ecumenism is not an end in itself: it aims to go beyond itself toward reconciliation, unity and world peace,” said the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) in his sermon.
Following Kaspar, the Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of LWF, took to the pulpit, stating how sharing in God's mission through the power of the Holy Spirit enables Christians "to overcome the ever-present forces of division in church and in society.”
“It helps us to seek responsible ways of reducing the enemy images that isolate and separate us from the gift of communion with God and with one another," he stated.
Though differences remain over language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification with regard to such matters as good works, Lutheran and Catholic churches say those differences do not destroy the consensus regarding the basic truths of the Christian doctrine.
"Even if open questions still remain, the Joint Declaration is a very important step by the two churches toward removing the tension from the divisive core area when it comes to the way the churches understand the message of justification," commented Cardinal Karl Lehmann, bishop of the Mainz diocese in Germany.
“The wording 'consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification' aptly describes the present [state]: it is a genuine agreement in basic truths of the doctrine of justification, not a consensus covering all issues," affirmed Lehmann, according to LWF.
According to JDDJ, justification is the forgiveness of sins; liberation from the dominating power of sin and death, and from the curse of the law; and acceptance into communion with God – all of which is from God alone, for Christ's sake, by grace, through faith in the gospel of God's Son.
The document was the culmination of two decades of dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, which claims to represent 66.7 million of the world's 70.2 million Lutherans.
Representing about 75 million people, the World Methodist Council comprises most of the world's Wesleyan denominations.
Here are the reports from the site of the World Lutheran Federation:
Celebrations in Augsburg
AUGSBURG, Germany/GENEVA, 31 October 2009 (LWI) – Celebrations in Augsburg, Germany, marking the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) ended today with a festive ecumenical service. Methodists, Lutherans and Roman Catholics underlined how much had been achieved in ecumenical dialogue over the past ten years.
In his sermon in the Augsburg Cathedral, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) Walter Cardinal Kasper stated that the JDDJ was a sign of the workings of the Holy Spirit.
“We cannot be thankful enough for that and for many, many other steps that have been possible since. The godless complaining about the supposed standstill in the ecumenical movement and the miserable moaning about what has not yet been achieved, forgetting all that has been given us in the last few years - all that is sheer ingratitude,” he asserted. “We need a spiritual ecumenism, and it has grown, thank goodness, in the last few years.”
Kasper’s closing words were: “Ultimately, ecumenism is not an end in itself: it aims to go beyond itself toward reconciliation, unity and world peace
. Let us thus be the vanguard and precursors of this unity and this peace.”
The second preacher at the festive ecumenical service, Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), evoked “our sharing in [God’s] mission through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
This enables Christians “to overcome the ever-present forces of division in church and in society. It helps us to seek responsible ways of reducing the enemy images that isolate and separate us from the gift of communion with God and with one another.”
Noko went on to say that, “As citizens of Christ’s kingdom rooted in God’s forgiveness we are brought into life in communion with God in Christ and with one another. Walls of separation, isolation and imprisonment are broken down.” Both Noko and Kasper were among the JDDJ signatories on 31 October 1999.
In his greeting, Augsburg’s Roman Catholic Bishop Dr Walter Mixa, praised what had been achieved, expressing his conviction that, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a milestone on this path of growing consensus. A milestone is an important marker but not the goal. To be honest, we have to admit that we still have a long way to go until all differences in faith have been worked through. Let’s get moving. Today is also an opportunity to pray: Ut unum sint.”
Earlier, on Saturday morning, Dr Walter Klaiber, former bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany and Karl Cardinal Lehmann, former chairperson the German Bishops’ Conference, paid tribute to the Joint Declaration.
In his paper, Klaiber underscored the timeless significance of the message of justification. “It frees people from the destructive compulsion to have to justify their own lives through success, performance or possessions, and from the fatal despair of thinking that for lack of such self-justification, their life is a failure and without value and meaning,” he said.
Klaiber stressed, “We must thus spell out - with the successful and the unsuccessful, with the self-satisfied and those doubting and despairing of themselves - what God’s Yes to their life means for them: liberation for a dignified life that does not lie in the ‘product’ of our action or fail for lack of achievement, but is founded in God’s love.” The Methodist World Council affirmed the JDDJ in 2006.
Cardinal Lehmann emphasized the need to continue the ecumenical dialogue on the basis of the JDDJ. “Even if open questions still remain, the Joint Declaration is a very important step by the two churches toward removing the tension from the divisive core area when it comes to the way the churches understand the message of justification."
"The wording ‘consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification’ aptly describes the present [state]: it is a genuine agreement in basic truths of the doctrine of justification, not a consensus covering all issues,” affirmed Lehmann.
There were still a few areas deserving further attention in the future ecumenical conversations. In Augsburg, Lehmann expressed his regret that in some respects the JDDJ had so far not led any further, “because it has not been further deepened, implemented and thus made spiritually fruitful. It must thus become the sign of a new beginning. Then it can become even more fruitful in the coming and ongoing ecumenical dialogues, particularly on the urgent topic of the Church and justification.”
The anniversary celebrations began on Friday evening, 30 October, with a festive hour in the Golden Hall of Augsburg town hall, during which, the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) Presiding Bishop Dr Johannes Friedrich said decades of patient dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics had paid off with respect to the Joint Declaration.
Augsburg’s Lord Mayor Dr Kurt Gribl praised the JDDJ as a “historic document” marking an “ecumenical milestone” in church history. The keynote lecture by Prof. em. Dr Eberhard Jüngel (Tübingen) was titled “What Does Our Happiness Have to Do with Our Blessedness?” (864 words)
Cardinal Kasper says ecumenism
need not be re-invented
AUGSBURG, Germany/GENEVA, 1 November 2009 (LWI) - When signing the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) ten years ago, "we committed ourselves to a joint ecumenical journey," said Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
He was speaking at celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of the JDDJ signing in Augsburg, Germany, on Saturday 31 October in the Golden Hall of Augsburg's town hall.
On 31 October 1999 "we did not doubt that we will walk together on new ways. We acted in full awareness of the remaining difficulties between us," Noko recalled. "And yet," he added, "we did not allow the remaining theological disagreements to keep us from taking this significant step."
On Reformation Day 1999 the LWF and the Vatican agreed in a solemn act of worship that the centuries of repeated mutual condemnations on the decisive question of justification were no longer the subject of present-day teaching in their churches. The member churches of the World Methodist Council affirmed the JDDJ at their 2006 assembly in Seoul, South Korea.
"The mutual condemnations from the past remain a part of our history; that history cannot be changed," Noko stressed. "Ten years ago, in this city of Augsburg, we said that these memories of separation and hostility would not be the memories of our children," he added.
"Even when we disagree with one another, even when our remaining difficulties are irreconcilable, the very sharpness of our disappointment shows the new quality of our relationship," Noko concluded.
For Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), a new beginning does not mean starting all over again.
"We do not need to reinvent ecumenism," he declared. "It has been successful as consensus ecumenism and it shall remain so. It builds on the consensus that remains between our churches, despite all painful divisions: the confessing of one Lord Jesus Christ as the one Savior and Mediator between God and us human beings, as testified to in Scripture and our common Apostolic Creed."
"That is not the old hat nor is it a matter of splitting theological hairs," Kasper went on to say. "That is the Christian response to the questions about the ultimate meaning, happiness, and where we come from and where we are going in life."
"Quite a few people have expressed the criticism that the Joint Declaration has had no consequences for the teaching and practice of the church," commented the PCPCU president.
He cautioned, however, "It is simply not true that nothing has happened and that there have been no steps forward. The last joint Lutheran-Catholic document on the apostolicity of the Church, deliberately built on the Joint Declaration and made notable progress in so doing."
This document was adopted at the March 2007 LWF Council meeting in Lund, Sweden, after eight years of deliberations. "Admittedly, we have not experienced a great breakthrough to date," Kasper conceded.
In Kasper's view, "we should soberly add that much remains to be done. We will need patience but also impatience on the rest of the way. Both are part of God's Kingdom. There are many people - not just in Germany - who are waiting with longing and impatience for the one Church at one Lord's Table, who pray for it and work hard that all may be one."
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 11/2/2009 12:05 AM]