Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Agreement on Justification: Its Ecumenical Significance and Scope from a Methodist Point of View

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Agreement on Justification: Its Ecumenical Significance and Scope from a Methodist Point of View

Article excerpt

When, in 1998 and 1999, Lutherans and Roman Catholics reached and signed their international bilateral agreement on the doctrine of justification, it might have seemed that all the Methodists had to do was politely offer their congratulations on the achievement and step aside. It was none of their direct business. Nevertheless, alert Methodists perceived that the matter was of at least indirect interest to them also. For one thing, the history of Methodism depended on the sixteenth-century Reformation, albeit in its English form, which had inadvertently led to the splitting of Western Christendom. Further, Methodists themselves had recently been engaged in bilateral dialogues with both of the partners to the new agreement. Finally, the agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, if it began the healing of the perduring division of the Western church, was bound to affect the entire ecumenical scene, of which Methodists have been a part since the beginning of the modern movement in favor of Christian unit y. So, not content with being formally represented at the impending solemn signing of the texts at Augsburg on October 31, 1999, the World Methodist Council resolved at the meeting of its executive committee in Hong Kong in September, 1999, to approach the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity with a desire to explore whether Methodists might in some way become associated with the original achievement and benefit from it, for their own and the greater ecumenical good. In considering the implementation of their agreement, the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics recognized the possibility of its wider implications, and the L.W.F. and the P.C.P.C.U. consequently invited the World Methodist Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to a consultation. Thanks to the generous initiative of the Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist seminaries located in Columbus, Ohio, such a quadripartite meeting was planned to take place in that city in late November, 2001.

I am responsible for the coordination of dialogues on behalf of the World Methodist Council, and, since 1986, I have co-chaired the Joint Commission for Dialogue between the W.M.C. and the Roman Catholic Church. What I have to say at this stage, however, comes from me as simply an individual theologian.

The first and fundamental question to be asked by a Methodist theologian with ecumenical intentions is whether the Lutheran-Catholic text--the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and its protocols--is compatible with Methodist doctrinal standards. (1) Given a Methodist interest in affirming heir text, Lutherans and Catholics, for their part, would concurrently or subsequently need to ask, contrariwise, whether Methodist teaching is compatible with the Joint Declaration; that question in the reverse direction by definition lies beyond my competence. Separately or together, however, Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists will presumably all want to examine the match between the Joint Declaration and what has been stated on the theme in the respective bilateral dialogues between Lutherans and Methodists as well as between Methodists and Catholics, even though the reports from those dialogues have not received a solemn approval equal to that given by the L.W.F. and the P.C.P.C.U. to the Joint Declar ation. I shall, therefore, as a second step call attention to Lutheran-Methodist and Methodist-Catholic references to the doctrine of justification. Those references may need to be factored into the answers to the first two-way question. My third step will be to reflect briefly on the manner or manners in which Methodists might become associated with the Joint Declaration, assuming that mutually satisfactory answers were returned to the opening questions by all parties. Fourth, I will ask how Methodists might then contribute to the further implementation that the Joint Declaration itself envisages in its final two paragraphs, even while recognizing that the original text remains fixed. …

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