Catholic - Lutheran - Methodist
Joint Declaration on Justification
Lutherans, Methodist, Roman Catholics, and most other Christians, agree that:
||Individuals are initially hopelessly lost in sin and separated from God.
||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...").
||Justification is brought about through God's grace.
||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
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
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.
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
||"From the Reformation perspective, justification was the crux of all the
disputes" between Protestants and Catholics.|
||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
||"Diverse treatments" of righteousness, justification, and salvation are described in many Biblical passages,
||Matthew 5:10; 6:33; 21:32
||Hebrews 5:1-3; 10:37-38
||Romans 3:21-31; 5:11; 6:7; 6:11; 6:23
||1 Corinthians 1:2; 1:31
||2 Corinthians 1.1; 5:17; 5:18-21
||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.|
||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."|
||There are many unresolved issues, including: "the relationship between the Word
of God and church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, authority in the church, ministry,
the sacraments, and the relation between justification and social ethics."|
||The declaration will be signed in Augsburg, Germany on 1999-OCT-31. 10
The date is of particular significance because it is the 482nd
anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther's 95 theses - a date generally
regarded as the birthday of the Protestant Reformation.|
Response to the Joint Declaration:
The declaration has received negative reviews among some religious conservatives. 5
According to a news item circulated by Ecumenical News International on 1998-NOV-16:
"The Lutheran World Federation - which represents the majority of the world's
Lutheran churches - has said that 'further consultation' with the Vatican is needed before
it can sign a major doctrinal statement drawn up by representatives of the two communions.
The 'joint declaration on justification' aims to resolve a four-centuries-old theological
dispute dating from the time of the Reformation. [ENI-98-0515]"
The Roman Catholic church announced that they would sign the document, but the Vatican
was ambiguous on whether it would lift its condemnations of Lutheran teaching. Joint
meetings finally led to a resolution:
"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church have
reached agreement on an historic document which aims to resolve a theological controversy
dating back to the 16th-century split between Martin Luther and the papacy. The two
communions are to declare officially on 31 October  that mutual doctrinal
condemnations pronounced at the time of the Reformation no longer apply. It is believed to
be the first time that the Vatican has ever declared that Catholic doctrinal condemnations
no longer apply to a Protestant communion." 9
Negative responses to the Declaration by conservative Lutherans:
In 1997-SEP, the Department of Systematic Theology of Concordia
Seminary in St. Louis, MO issued an analysis of the Joint Declaration,
in response to a request by the President of the Lutheran Church, Missouri
Synod. 11 They made a number of points in their review:
||Roman Catholicism has changed greatly since the Second Vatican
Council; many Lutherans tend to look upon that church as it existed
at the time of the Council of Trent.
||The declaration shows that Lutherans and Catholics are both
Christian groups who have "much more in common than what divides
||Because the Roman Catholic Church is so large, and because so many
Protestant denominations are abandoning historical Christianity,
dialogue between conservative Lutherans and Catholics is very important.
||The declaration shows that the two groups have not reached a "shared
understanding of justification." As the declaration notes, there are
differences of language, differences of theological elaboration, and "differences
of emphasis in the understanding of justification." Yet the document
finds these differences are "acceptable."
||The principal difference between Lutherans and Catholics remains
unresolved: Lutherans believe that justification of the individual is "through
faith" only. Roman Catholics believe that faith and church
sacraments are both involved. Finally, the document extensively uses the
phrase "in faith" which is not defined.
||The Document's description of the role of good works is ambiguous
and self-contradictory. It says that good works "contribute to growth
in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and
communion with Christ is deepened." Yet, it also says that "righteousness
as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is
always complete." It cannot be under development and complete at the
||"...there remain very significant theological differences, in
language, theological elaboration and emphasis, regarding the doctrine
of justification. It is not a 'breakthrough.' In fact, the document
shows that very little headway at all has been made."
By 1999-OCT, a group of more than 240 Protestant German theologians had signed a
petition which criticized the agreement. 12
Additional negative comments in 2006:
At the time of the Methodists' agreement, some Catholic World News
subscribers sounded off:
"Those who seem to think
the document is doing anything other than offering a most simplistic
kind of agreement aren't getting it. Has anyone EVER disputed the FACT
that without God's Grace we can never be justified? no matter what we
do? Its so bottom line basic, an attempt to find common ground & a
snippet of unity. It does not attempt to address the multitude of issues
that distinguish & save, like belief, obedience, the Sacraments.
Although true, its only a fragment of the Catholic truth."
"Yes, I read it; I read
it when it was initially promulgated a couple of years ago as a joint
Catholic-Lutheran statement....As I wrote, this is a repudiation of
Trent. Shame on the Vatican, shame on Kasper, and shame on the Fathers
of Vatican I!."
||"J Brown 629:"
"It's so nuanced, and
given the Catholic Annex, the statement is symbolic. Neither side is
admitting to error, so unless they were both right to begin with (and
that is heretical to believe in itself), this is just smoke and mirrors.
And, more important, Methodists and Lutherans are, in the main, liberal
Protestants, one step away from humanists and definitely not allies of
the Church in the battle for respect for Natural Law." 13
References 1,2, and 5 appear to be no longer available online. The full text
of the declaration is at:
"Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification," approved by the
ILWF on 1998-JUN-16. See: http://www.tcsn.net/fbchurch/fbcdecla.htm
"Irreconcilable Differences: Catholics, Evangelicals, and the New Quest for
Unity," transcription of a television broadcast, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, (1995) .
G.A. Mather & L.A. Nichols, "Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the
Occult," Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, (1993), Page 171.
Rosemary Goring, "The Wordsworth Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions,"
Wordsworth, Ware, UK, (1995), Page 197.
Dennis Costella, "The One world Church is Coming Together," essay at
the web site of The Fundamental Evangelistic Association at: http://www.tcsn.net/fbchurch/fbconewo.htm
ILWF Press Release, "Council Unanimously Approves Joint Declaration with Roman
Catholics; Document Ends 400-year Dispute on Doctrine of Justification," issued
"The Smalcald Articles, II, I," Book of Concord, 292.
"Rector et judex super omnia genera doctrinarum," Weimar Edition of
Luther's Works (WA), 39, 1, 205.
"Lutherans and Catholics to sign away justification dispute on
31 October," News Highlights, Ecumenical News International, 1999-JUN-11.
"Lutherans and Catholics to sign joint declaration,"
Evangelical Press News Service, quoted in Maranatha Christian Journal at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3328.htm
"An Evaluation of 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
1997'," The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, 1997-SEP-17, at:
- Ecumenical News International, News Highlights, 1999-OCT-22.
"Methodists join Catholic-Lutheran statement on justification,"
Catholic World News, 2006-JUL-27, at:
Copyright © 1999 and 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2006-AUG-04
Author: B.A. Robinson