This is a unique ecumenical text that draws on 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in preparation for the 500th Reformation anniversary coming in 2017. Major sources are dialogues at the global level. But, as happened in the formation of the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, there’s mutual reinforcement between global and more local conversations, including those in the U.S.
The heart of the Declaration is the Statement of Agreements. On church, ministry and Eucharist, the Declaration draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them. An elaboration of these agreements grounds them in the dialogues’ work. Finally, a more tentative section identifies some “remaining differences” – not intending to be comprehensive but suggesting some ways forward.
By demonstrating how far Lutherans and Catholics have come together on three crucial topics, the Declaration indicates much ground that need not be retraced again, and it offers these Agreements to the churches to be received into their common life. In this way it helps inspire continuing work toward the visible Christian unity, which is Christ’s prayer.
In October 2015 the Statement of Agreements was unanimously affirmed by the ELCA Conference of Bishops, which requested the Church Council also accept them and forward the Declaration to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly for reception. The text has been shared with The Lutheran World Federation.
Also in October, the 32 Agreements were unanimously affirmed by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which commended the Declaration on the Way to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, for further reflection and action.