Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Joint Declaration: A Faith and Order Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Joint Declaration: A Faith and Order Perspective

Article excerpt

The North American Academy of Ecumenists, since its foundation, has been an important forum for the discussion of the issues confronting the churches as they seek to manifest more visibly the unity of the church. Through critical analysis of the trends, values, and reports of national and international bilateral dialogues, the Academy offers to the churches and the ecumenical movement significant insights that aid their further work and reflection. Since the membership of the Academy includes those who are involved in ecumenical teaching and research, as well as those who have responsibility for ecumenical leadership in churches and councils of churches, a central feature of the N.A.A.E.'s contribution lies in the preservation and transmission of the ecumenical memory. Through this it is able to offer valuable perspectives for the development and coherence of the ecumenical agenda. Many members of the Faith and Order Commission have benefitted from the Academy from the beginning of its existence. Therefore, I value the opportunity to participate in these discussions and to express gratitude for the work of the N.A.A.E., which contributes to our deliberations in Faith and Order.

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was signed in Augsburg on Reformation Day, 1999, is a significant achievement. It brings to completion a long process of dialogue and affirms that the condemnations, which marked the separation and alienation of communities, no longer apply on the basis of a contemporary common understanding of a central doctrine of the Christian faith. The doctrine of justification, since the time of the Reformation, had functioned not simply as a theological differentiation between communities but also as a flag of identity. Now the opportunity is presented for the communities to seek ways of no longer defining themselves over and against each other.

In December, 2000, an important discussion between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Edward Cardinal Cassidy took place in Louisville. In the course of his presentation on "The Catholic Church and Ecumenism at the Beginning of the 21st Century," Cassidy asked whether it would be possible to find a way in which the Reformed and others might join Lutherans and Catholics in affirming a basic consensus on the doctrine of justification. (1) The suggestion arose in light of his account of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and of the agreement that was evident in the subsection on "Justification by Grace through Faith in the Common Confession of Faith," which had formed part of Towards a Common Understanding of the Church (1990), the dialogue report of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC).(2) It seemed to him that there could be a basic consensus achieved arising out of these two reports.

This proposal was reiterated by Bishop (now Cardinal) Walter Kasper on a visit to the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva on February 1, 2001, when he said: "It would now be a case of examining how far the differentiated consensus worked out with the Lutherans could be extended to other Reformation churches and so broaden the basis of consensus." (3)

A response to this proposal was evident in the report to the P.C. (U.S.A.) General Assembly Council when Anne Case Winters spoke of the possibility of reaching differentiated consensus on key doctrinal matters with the Roman Catholic Church, presumably alluding to justification by faith as one of these issues. (4) Such a proposal had already been made at the World Methodist Council Executive Meeting in Hong Kong (September, 1999) when it resolved that "exploration be undertaken of a possible tripartite consultation between Methodists, Lutherans and Catholics concerning the best use to be made of the Joint Declaration in so far as it may have favourable consequences for others, including Methodists"--a proposal that was transmitted to the Lutheran World Federation Council meeting in Turku in the greetings of Ralph Young on behalf of the W. …

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