30 September 2009
The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 10 Years Later
Tomorrow night, representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Roman Catholic Church, and the United Methodist Church will gather in Chicago to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It was, and remains, a significant moment in the relationship between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, who were the first to be separated by the condemnations of the Reformation and subsequent disagreements.
Here's the thing, though: the JDDJ isn't worth much more than the paper on which it is printed.
Don't misunderstand: our relationship with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters is better now than it has been for centuries, and that is a good thing, worthy of celebration. But let's not pretend that unity exists where it does not, and the JDDJ has not removed the difference between us in how we view salvation:
The good Cardinal George shows us the difference that still exists between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on the doctrine of justification. Lutherans believe that works are not meritorious - that, in fact, works can be a dangerous distraction from the grace freely and fully given by Christ without our cooperation or worthiness. As Luther himself said, "The Law says, 'Do this,' and it is never done. Grace says, 'believe this,' and everything is already done."
This is not to say that Lutherans despise works, either - we merely note that their place is completely separated from salvation. Good works are the deeds of one who has already been saved by the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Good works are an important part of the faith we share as Christians; indeed, Luther also described Christians as "most free lords of all, subject to none, and most dutiful servants of all, subject to all." As Paul writes in Galatians, "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but rhough love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Works are important - they are the means by which we live out the grace God has bestowed upon us. But a theology that confesses that works are meritorious is not a salvation of justification by grace through faith apart from the works of the law, and we shouldn't pretend that it is.
Ten years ago, Lutherans and Roman Catholics gathered at a church in Augsburg to sign a document stating that we no longer condemn each other as we once had. That, in itself, is a noteworthy accomplishment in the history of our blessed church, the Body of Christ in which we are indeed one regardless of what our differences may be. Those differences remain, however, and should not be minimized or glossed over. Let us continue to converse with one another, to speak the truth to each other, and pray for the day when we can, at last, celebrate an agreement about salvation upon which we fully and completely agree.
Grace & peace,
The picture is the pulpit in the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, Germany. Luther's tomb is just under the pulpit.