How have relations between Christian World Communions that have adhered to the JDDJ changed over the past two decades? How can they make more visible the new trust and friendships that have grown up between them? And how can they put their powerful message of reconciliation at the service of a deeply divided world?
Those questions have been at the heart of a consultation, which took place at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, United States from 26 to 28 March. The gathering brought together ecumenists from the five global Christian communions who affirmed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), a landmark 1999 agreement which effectively resolved the central, church-dividing conflict of the Reformation era.
Originally signed by leaders of the Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the agreement has since been broadened to include the World Methodist Council, the Anglican Communion and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. All these communions now agree on the core message of salvation in and through Christ. Standing together on this basis, participants expressed a new urgency to bring this life-giving message to today’s world, while continuing their theological work towards the goal of Christian unity.
On the opening day, participants heard presentations from the five communions, reflecting on how their commitment to begin “always from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division” can help them find solutions to remaining obstacles, including recognition of ministry and eucharistic sharing.
Later, at an ecumenical prayer service in the University Basilica of the Sacred Heart led by local priests and pastors, participants renewed their baptismal vows and pledged to continue their shared journey.
In a concluding statement, participants highlighted the way in which the JDDJ process led to the overcoming of centuries-old controversies. They also noted how its method of differentiating consensus, which allows for core agreement while maintaining different confessional expressions, can be used to deal with past, present and future obstacles relating to both doctrinal and ethical questions.
They recommended the development of shared resources, including online materials, that can be used for ecumenical education and formation. They also called for the creation of common resources for the celebration of baptism and renewal of baptism vows, where this does not already happen. A steering committee, comprised of members of each communion, will be set up to carry this work forward.
“We no longer look at each other from the perspective of what that church is lacking, but rather how it is an effective instrument to proclaim the gospel of Christ calling people to faith hope and love.” LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge
“This is a remarkable gathering from around the world. A major issue of church division is now simply behind us. What might the Spirit be working in such a reconciliation? What new possibilities arise now for faithful witness and work together?” Kathryn Johnson, ELCA director for ecumenical and inter-religious relations
Junge: Breakthrough and strong sense of shared ownership
LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge described the meeting as “a breakthrough” which demonstrated “a strong sense of shared ownership” of the JDDJ. “It is no longer a bilateral agreement that others have adhered to,” he said, “but it is now owned and shared equally by all five communions.” A tangible result is that increasingly “we no longer look at each other from the perspective of what that church is lacking, but rather how it is an effective instrument to proclaim the gospel of Christ calling people to faith hope and love,” he said.
He stressed that “Our message of justification by grace through faith alone is a timely and urgently needed response to the individualisms, commodification and short term approaches” of the contemporary world.
With this in mind, participants at the consultation also focused on the three sub-themes of the Twelfth LWF Assembly in Namibia: Salvation not for Sale, Human Beings not for Sale and Creation not for Sale, asking how this framework could help engage humankind with the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to current existential questions and challenges.
General Secretary Junge concluded: “We need to define our identity, not in opposition to but together with the others, based on the significant common ground we have identified – our salvation in Christ by grace through faith alone.”