Magazine article The Christian Century

Reformed Churches Affirm Catholic-Lutheran Accord

Magazine article The Christian Century

Reformed Churches Affirm Catholic-Lutheran Accord

Article excerpt

Amid ceremonies marking this year's 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of Protestantism's leading branches has officially said it now agrees with the Vatican on the main issue at the root of its split from the Roman Catholic Church half a millennium ago.

The World Communion of Reformed Churches, holding its worldwide General Council in Leipzig, Germany, signed a declaration in early July endorsing the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement on how Christians might be worthy of salvation in the eyes of God.

The ceremony took place in nearby Wittenberg, where in 1517 Martin Luther unveiled the 95 Theses that launched the Reformation and with it centuries of dispute about whether eternal salvation comes from faith alone--the position of the new Protestant movement--or if it also requires good works as Catholics argued.

This decision by the WCRC--representing 80 million members of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting, and Waldensian churches--marked another step in a gradual reconciliation on this issue among Christians who once fought wars over just such questions.

"We rejoice together that the historical doctrinal differences on the doctrine of justification no longer divide us," the WCRC said in the document signed at an ecumenical prayer service.

The World Methodist Council formally endorsed the Catholic-Lutheran accord, known as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in 2006. The Anglican Communion is expected to do the same later this year.

The Joint Declaration effectively closes the centuries-old faith versus works debate by merging the Lutheran and Catholic views on salvation rather than setting them against each other.

"By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part," its key passage said, "we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works."

Historic though it is, the resolution of this theological dispute will not soon lead to changes that people in the pews would notice, such as the sharing of communion between Catholics and Protestants or the mutual recognition of each other's ministers.

"While it brings us closer with the Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and Anglicans on this particular issue, it does not necessarily immediately move us closer in concrete ways that will be felt in our member churches," said WCRC spokesman Philip Tanis.

A statement by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said the Wittenberg signing ceremony "must be seen as another important milestone on the journey towards the full visible unity of Christians; not yet the end of the road but a significant stage on the way. …

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