Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
the product of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue.
The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) is a significant ecumenical achievement and the culmination of a thirty-year dialogue between the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council (now Dicastery) for Promoting Christian and the Lutheran World Federation. It was later co-signed by the World Methodist Council (in 2006) and The World Communion of Reformed Churches (in 2017). The doctrine of justification (how and on what basis we are reconciled to God) was at the heart of the dispute that led to the sixteenth-century division of the Western Church into Catholic and Protestant branches. To have arrived at such a broad consensus on the doctrine is therefore a matter of very great significance for the healing of the Church’s divisions. Ecumenical dialogues typically look to the Joint Declaration as a model of what can be achieved and as the high watermark of formal ecumenical agreements between churches.
Not all Catholics and Lutherans accept the Joint Declaration, and this is recognised by the authoring bodies and subsequent co-signers. The Declaration itself conceded that amid consensus there are also ongoing areas of difference and disagreement. It may be felt by some in the Uniting Church that the debate over justification with its detailed and legal language is an outmoded form of discourse or that it is an historic debate that need not be revisited. Yet nothing can be more foundational to our understanding of the Gospel than the reconciling work of God in the person of Christ the justifier, the foundation for all other acts of reconciliation and of our Christian unity and identity.
Paragraph 10 of the Basis of Union reminds us of the need for ‘the congregation of Christ’s people … again and again [to] be reminded of the grace which justifies them through faith [and] of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier.’ The Joint Declaration is a sign of our common faith and a reminder of what can be achieved when our hearts are open to one another in a spirit of unity and understanding. Paul urged the Roman Christians of the first century, ‘Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.’ (Rom 5:1) Such grace, peace, and hope are the glorious privilege, not of any one denomination or faith community but of all God’s people.
The Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission (MERCIC) launched its new five year-round in Rome in October 2022 and gave some consideration to of all God’s people, he ways in which the insights of the Joint Declaration could be shared more widely with congregations. Pope Francis met with members of the Commission and reminded them that the dialogue was not about Methodists returning to the Catholic fold. Invoking the story of the Prodigal Son, Pope Francis insisted that Methodists and Catholics alike had strayed from the Father’s house, and all stood in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. In recognising that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a document of Continuing Witness, the Uniting Church in Australia, commits to a deepening of its own understanding of God’s reconciling love as a gift to the world.
The Continuing Witness Task Group has developed these liturgical resources for presbytery worship as you engage with the document.
Questions for Discussion
The link below takes you to a form containing questions for discussion. Please complete the form to provide your feedback to the Continuing Witness Task Group.