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Religious Tolerance logo

Catholic - Lutheran - Methodist
Joint Declaration on Justification

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Sponsored link.

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Irreconcilable Differences?:

Lutherans, Methodist, Roman Catholics, and most other Christians, agree that:

bullet Individuals are initially hopelessly lost in sin and separated from God.
bullet Separation between God and man is overcome through Justification -- "the free and unmerited assistance or favor or energy or saving presence of God in his dealings with humanity..."). 4
bullet Justification is brought about through God's grace.
bullet Justification is in no way earned by the individual.

The beliefs of the Roman Catholic church and of historic Protestantism agree that when a person is "justified,"  "they are brought into right standing and into a right relationship with" God. 3 Lutherans "refer to justification as 'the chief doctrine upon which the church stands or falls'." 3 Martin Luther considered justification to be the "first and chief article" of belief, 7 and the the "ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines." 8

But beliefs about the precise mechanism of justification is perhaps the most difficult to attempt to harmonize between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It was one of the most important theological disputes of the Reformation. It is also difficult to harmonize the beliefs of various Protestant denominations as they have evolved. All Christian faith groups use the same terms (baptism, grace,  justification, sacrament, salvation, sanctification, etc.) but they often assign different meanings to the words. However, with a great deal of effort, and some creative editing, it is possible for two faith groups create a single document that they can both agree on. However, the words themselves will often mean quite different things to followers of the two groups. This appears to have happened in the case of a joint effort by Lutherans and Roman Catholics, later joined by the Methodists

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Impact of the Joint Declaration

Disagreements over the nature of Justification were "in the 16th century, a principal cause of the division of the Western Church" 1 into Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. At the time of the Reformation, both Protestants and Catholics condemned each other in the most vicious terms over their disagreements in the doctrines of justification. These conflicts were published in a number of Lutheran Confessions and other documents during the 16th century. They also appeared in the statements issued by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent. These remained valid church teachings up to the time of the Joint Declaration.

The Joint Declaration was able to resolve some differences. They agreed that the remaining differences were not sufficiently substantial for the 16th century condemnations to continue in force.

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The Joint Declaration:

Largely as a result of the changes brought about by Vatican II, ecumenical dialog has permeated much of Christendom in recent decades. This includes various Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialog groups which have tackled the justification question since the early 1970's. The 1998 Joint Declaration was largely based on the efforts of those groups.

Partial agreement was jointly reached between the Lutheran World Federation (ILWF) and the Roman Catholic Church. The Joint Declaration had been circulated among the 124 Lutheran denominations who formed the Federation; a significant majority approved the document. In 1998-JUN, the Lutheran World federation Council unanimously approved the Joint Declaration.

Also in 1998-JUN,  Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, responded on behalf of the Vatican. He said: "I wish to stress that the consensus reached on the doctrine of justification, despite its limitations, virtually resolves a long disputed question at the close of the 20th century, on the eve of the new millennium."

In 2006-JUL, at its general assembly in Seoul, South Korea, the World Methodist Council added its approval. The assembly consists of representatives of 76 different Methodist communities worldwide, and is held every 5 years. 13

Some of the important points mentioned in the Joint Declaration are: 1

bullet "From the Reformation perspective, justification was the crux of all the disputes" between Protestants and Catholics.
bullet They are "now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ. It does not cover all that either church teaches about justification; it does encompass a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification..."
bullet "Diverse treatments" of righteousness, justification, and salvation are described in many Biblical passages, including:
bullet Matthew 5:10; 6:33; 21:32
bullet John 16:8-11
bullet Hebrews 5:1-3; 10:37-38
bullet James 2:14-26
bullet Galatians 5:1-13
bullet Romans 3:21-31; 5:11; 6:7; 6:11; 6:23
bullet 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1:31
bullet 2 Corinthians 1.1; 5:17; 5:18-21
bullet Lutherans and Catholics attribute different shades of meaning and roles to many terms associated with justification. These differences remain; they are basic and currently irresolvable. The document simply listed explanations, both from the Lutheran and Roman Catholic belief systems.
bullet They agreed that "The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration."
bullet There are many unresol
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