ELCA NEWS SERVICE
October 2, 2009
Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists Mark 10th Anniversary of Joint Declaration
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Much work needs to be done for the meaning of a historic ecumenical agreement to take root among Catholic and Protestant believers, said a U.S. Roman Catholic leader, who preached Oct. 1 at a special worship and prayer service here at Old St. Patrick's Church.
The Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory, Roman Catholic archbishop of Atlanta, made the comment at a 10th anniversary celebration of the signing of the Joint Declaration on Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). He also said the JDDJ should be shared with new generations of church leaders "as a standard of faithful preaching of the gospel."
More than 300 people celebrated the anniversary of the JDDJ's signing, recognized as a significant achievement in the history of Christian ecumenical relations.
The agreement was signed in 1999 by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church in Augsburg, Germany. It declared that the LWF and the Catholic Church had reached a common understanding on justification, agreeing that believers are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works.
Lutherans and Catholics also declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer applied. Interpretations of justification caused disagreement in the church nearly 500 years earlier, which led to the Protestant Reformation. The World Methodist Council affirmed the JDDJ in 2006.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and LWF president, and Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hosted the event. Members of the ELCA Conference of Bishops attended, along with several ecumenical guests including Methodist representatives.
In his homily Gregory said scholars must continue the work of "theological reception" of the JDDJ, even as they begin new studies "that seek to remove impediments to full Eucharistic communion." He cited how Lutherans and Catholics have reached a point at which both read Scripture and interpret moral law "so differently on the matter of human sexuality."
In August the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a social statement on human sexuality. Voting members also adopted a series of proposals to change ELCA ministry policies, including a change to make it possible for Lutherans in lifelong, publicly accountable, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.
"The decisions taken at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August, even as they have yet to unfold in concrete procedures for their implementation within the church, pose a serious challenge to our relationship, and, I might further add, a new agenda for our dialogues," Gregory said. "Further rounds of our bilateral conversations must undertake a careful study of the foundation of moral discernment in our respective traditions."
Gregory said the subject of human sexuality and the church can also be an opportunity "for deeper and more energetic engagement in the work of reconciliation."
Looking ahead, the archbishop called for renewed study among Lutheran and Catholic theologians and more emphasis on prayer among members of both traditions.
The Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, Geneva, addressed the congregation, saying the JDDJ is about the present and future, not the past. It is a testimony to how much can be achieved when Christians work together, said Noko, an original signer of the JDDJ.
Noko said the action of the World Methodist Council to affirm the JDDJ "was a decision to join in the ecumenical journey in search of unity for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." He noted that in August, the ELCA and United Methodist Church (UMC) formally entered into a relationship of full communion.
Looking 25 years into the future, Noko said because of the JDDJ, clergy from the churches will have been ordained into a different ecclesial reality "in which we are no longer communities defined by these mutual condemnations. Let us commit ourselves to be serving congregations that reflect that difference."
Prayers at the celebration were offered by bishops of the ELCA and the UMC, and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, New York, general secretary, National Council of Churches USA. Carlos Peña, Galveston, Texas, ELCA vice president, was lector. Cardinal William Keeler, Roman Catholic archbishop emeritus of Baltimore, also attended.
A second ecumenical worship service recognizing the 10th anniversary of the JDDJ signing will be held Oct. 31 in Augsburg.
Photos from the celebration are at http://photos.ELCA.org/ELCA-news-service on the Web. A video is also available at http://www.ELCA.org/JDDJvideo on the Web.
Information about the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is at http://www.ELCA.org/ecumenical on the ELCA Web site.
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