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Reformed churches endorse Catholic-Lutheran accord on key Reformation dispute

Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist leaders look on in St. Mary's City Church in Wittenberg, Germany, as the Rev. Chris Ferguson, World Communion of Reformed Churches general secretary, signs the declaration expressing Reformed churches' support for the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Photo courtesy of WCRC/Anna Siggelkow

PARIS (RNS) Amid ceremonies this year marking the 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 once-in-seven-years worldwide General Council in Germany, signed a declaration this week endorsing the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement on how Christians might be worthy of salvation in the eyes of God.

The ceremony took place in 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 on Earth 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 but remarkable reconciliation on this issue among Christians who once fought wars and declared each other heretics over just such questions.

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.

Attendees of the World Communion of Reformed Churches General Council in Wittenberg, Germany, on July 5, 2017. Photo courtesy of WCRC/Anna Siggelkow

The WCRC “now joyfully accepts the invitation to associate” with the Joint Declaration, it said in the document signed at an ecumenical prayer service. “We rejoice together that the historical doctrinal differences on the doctrine of justification no longer divide us.”

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 sharing Communion between Catholics and Protestants, or 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.”

Pope Francis, left, embraces the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, during a prayer service in the cathedral in Lund, Sweden, on Oct. 31, 2016. Photo courtesy of Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Pope Francis, who attended an ecumenical ceremony in Sweden last October launching the Lutherans’ yearlong commemoration of the Reformation, sent a message saying he hoped this latest step would “mark a new stage of fellowship and cooperation in the service of justice and peace in our human family.”

The process of reconciliation between the Vatican, representing 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and the smaller international federations of the leading Protestant denominations has been slow.

Lutheranism and the Reformed movement, based on the writings of the French theologian John Calvin, are two of the main branches of Protestant Christianity. Luther taught that eternal salvation is attained by faith alone, while Calvin and other Reformed thinkers put it in the wider context of God’s covenant with man. Lutherans have bishops while most Reformed churches are less hierarchical.

Dialogue among Protestant and Catholic theologians led to a general consensus in the “faith versus works” debate as early as the 1980s, but it took longer for the various church hierarchies to reach official agreement.

Before endorsing the Joint Declaration, the WCRC spent several years considering a specifically Reformed approach to the issue, Setri Nyomi, a former general secretary of the WCRC, told RNS.

“When looking more deeply at it, we noted that it lacked a connection between justification and justice, which has long been one of our priorities, but ways and means to take this up weren’t readily at hand,” he said.

”Sometimes it just takes time for a discussion to properly mature to reach a level of action on the international ecumenical level.”

A second document signed at the prayer service, called the Wittenberg Witness, might bear fruit sooner because it was concluded only between the WCRC and the Lutheran World Federation.

It stated that nothing theological separated the Reformed and Lutheran churches and both sides should do their best to promote unity, from their worldwide institutions right down to the local level.

Among ideas for closer cooperation is for the WCRC and LWF to hold joint general assemblies rather than separate meetings.

In several European countries, including the General Council’s host Germany, Lutheran and Reformed churches are linked in a single national Protestant federation.

“We rejoice that there is no longer any need for our separation,” the document said. “We give thanks for the examples of those Lutheran and Reformed churches that have already declared church communion and now bear common witness together by sharing in worship, witness, and work for the world.”

About 1,000 clerics and laypeople attended the General Council, which was held mostly in the nearby city of Leipzig.

(Tom Heneghan is a correspondent based in Paris)

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Tom Heneghan

Tom Heneghan is a Paris-based correspondent

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  • I think we should all be ashamed that this is even an issue between Christians. Faith v Works, how juvenile that this was so powerful it pulled us all apart. As a catholic, I will totally admit that Luther had his points with regard to the way the RCC abuses it’s power and privilege during that time period. How can anyone believe that Faith does not come first? How can anyone believe that just through works we can ever earn salvation. No, it is faith in Jesus, born of the BVM, taught us all what God wants of us, who suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead on the third day. It is He alone who has purchased for us all salvation from sin. It is through this salvation, our faith, that motivates us to do good works in this world as our Father does good for His creations. Any works without faith, is vanity, and works that do not stem from our love of Jesus and the Father, are self glorification.

  • Romans 3:21-28: 21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
    22even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
    23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
    24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
    25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
    26for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
    27Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.
    28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

    The “Reformed” organizations who participated in this have sold their birthright.

  • This is a bunch of bull dung! True confessional Lutherans have NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING to do with this! I wish you media people would report these sorts of things accurately. True confessional Lutherans would never “merge” our beliefs on justification by faith with the Roman Catholics because they are mutually exclusive to one another – like water and oil, they don’t mix. Ya’ll need to repent!

  • Faith vs works a juvenile issue….yeah right. Tell this to St. Paul who said “should anyone preach a Gospel other than the one we preach….anathma!”

  • Good news in some ways. We’ll have to see how it’s carried out. If it is.
    I wish news organizations especially responsible ones like RNS would quit lumping Anglicans with Protestants.
    We come down from the ancient and undivided Church in the same way as the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
    It’s a matter of history and geography, of soldiers, merchants, refugees, and missionaries from the east.

  • This planet is toying with nuclear war (U.S.A. threats against North Korea), global hunger is shameless, ecological suicide is in the air, ground, and sea, with obscene increases of poverty, brutal wars, and chemical warfare, and THIS is what takes the news? A doctrinal agreement among elitist representatives of dying Christian denominations? This is as shameful, obscene, and irresponsible as what the rest of the world does to push us further into oblivion. No wonder so many in the world want nothing to do with the Christian religion. It’s sheer hypocrisy, and self-serving when Jesus himself condemned doctrinal orthodoxy and threw his lot with the poor, the abandoned, the violated, and the marginalized of the earth. How useless and empty a declaration smelling of so much pomp and meaningless celebration. I wonder how much it cost to foot the bill for the plane fares, meals, hotels, and ground transportation for all these Sanhedrin leaders?

  • Christians need only reference the epistles of Paul and James to gain a sensible understanding of the question under review. Salvation occurs apart from works through faith, but that faith is amply and properly demonstrated by the evidence of good works. It’s just that simple. Each person will have to confirm by their own conscience whether their works truly demonstrate the heart of faith necessary to obtain salvation.

  • Each person by their own conscience is exactly what the RC church protests. Only She will decide doctrine!

  • As a reformed Protestant, I too am very happy to see this. Its long struck me that arguments of faith-vs-works tended to rely on misunderstanding, or outright misrepresentation, of each others’ beliefs. In my experience, my faithful Catholic friends have just as much ‘faith’ as any Reformed, and my Reformed brothers are just as committed to practicing ‘good works’ as any Catholic. If the two understandings were indeed drastically different, that wouldn’t be possible.

    Perhaps now that we are not fighting over this topic, we can have more room to correct the misunderstandings in our own churches over this. Plenty of my fellow Protestants have under-emphasized sanctification and get ‘fat on grace’, and you do see Catholics who place their faith in wearing of scapulars or works of devotion to Mary, which I think official Catholic theology would correct.

  • Will someone answer this simple question?:

    Does the accord affirm that Church of Rome’s sales of Indulgences to finance construction of St. Peters was entirely wrong and corrupt?

    If yes, then Luther has been vindicated. If not, Lutheranism is dead.

  • All need to repent, but in this particular instance, the writer of this article needs to repent for not keeping confessional lutherans, who have NOTHING to do with this tragedy, out of the vat.

  • Well, in a practical sense, the “faith vs works” issue is very much alive today!

    I’m a Lutheran, and we take a broader stance than the one expressed here in this article. ELCA-type Lutherans believe that the faith with which one reaches out to God, is ITSELF a gift! Some other Christian churches seem to believe that faith is something you must “work at,” so in a real sense, believers are still “earning” their salvation from God!

    These same churches, although preaching salvation through faith alone, are rather specific in listing the fruits that all believers must bear! They claim they’re not passing judgment on anyone, and simply beg off by saying they’re just “fruit examiners!”

    With these beliefs in place by so many churches yet today, that “faith vs works” issue will still be around for a long time!

  • I am a member of an ELCA congregation, and mostly horrified by what appears to be the Progressiv-ation of my national Church.

    That said, I am not well versed on the “accord.” Does the accord affirm that the Church of Rome’s sales of Indulgences to finance construction of St. Peters was entirely wrong and corrupt?

  • Several years ago I was facing a dilemma. God instructs us in the Scriptures to not neglect meeting together with the fellowship of believers. At the same time, among other unbiblical teachings entering the Protestant churches, there were churches that were aligning themselves with Rome. My question to God was how were we to obey His command of fellowship if the truth was being compromised in a lot of Protestant churches? That is when the Holy Spirit impressed on me that the church is neither the building nor the denomination, but the body of Christ.

    So protestant leaders can continue to be ignorant of or disregard the Scriptures and continue to make their unholy alliances. I will have no part of it, and will continue to find fellowship outside of your four walls.

    https://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-will-be-exalted.html?m=1

  • Ultimately, this accord has to do with the relationship between faith and works. Luther said that the doctrine by which the church stands or falls is “justification by faith”. Rome has always said – well not always but for a very long time – that man is justified by faith AND works and not just faith. This is why penance is a sacrament in the Roman church, you work off your sins by doing good deeds.

    Since confessional lutheranism stands by “justification by faith apart from works”, this “accord” is a bit moot. Because it’s either by faith and faith alone or it is not. Those who fellowshiped up with Rome here call it “compromise” but what compromise? Basically they agree with Rome that we are just by faith and works, thus abandoning orthodox teaching, St. Paul’s teaching, and the truth.

  • Does the accord affirm that Christians are to perform good works as a response to Grace, not as a condition of salvation? If so, I don’t see the problem. Grace is Grace, and despite naysayer assertions of the opposite, it is not “cheap.”

  • That’s the million-dollar question. If such were the case, than the Roman church would essentially be giving up one primary piece of doctrine, not to mention trivializing the doctrine of penance and purgatory, which I don’t believe could or would happen. I believe that the greater compromise here is with the lutherans who signed this accord. I think that the ultimate issue here though is that this reformed group of churches and the roman church don’t see justification by faith as a key doctrine, but one that can be trifled with or trivialized in the name of unity. That’s unsafe, because confounding this doctrine also make’s Christ’s death on the cross a meaningless thing.

  • I have likely oversimplified Luther, but in the end, I truly see the issue surrounding the sale of Indulgences to finance construction of St. Peters as the most illustrative of the conflicts between Luther and Rome. Indeed, to sell, and purchase, an Indulgence is to nullify Grace–to lose the entire meaning of Christ’s life and death.

    If all signatories to the accord cannot in good Faith agree that Rome’s sale of indulgences 500 years ago was indeed wrong and corrupt, then the Reformation must continue. If I understand the nature of the accord, and your comments regarding penance and purgatory, two Roman Church traditions with no Biblical foundation, sadly Luther’s central conflict with Rome has NOT been resolved.

  • Yes, but although I was raised as a Catholic, I am not one now and will have to take my chances. I respect Catholics as fellow brethren after the faith, but scripture, which supersedes RC doctrine, is my guide.

  • Question that matters, though, Tom Heneghan, is whether John Calvin, Martin Luther and the Catholic Magisterium during Reformation time would’ve made the same “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (JDDJ) as these present-day namesakes of theirs, these Reformed, Lutheran and Catholic clergies. Over their dead bodies, they wouldn’t, of course not – no, sir! Because what follows straight from JDDJ …

    – “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works” –

    … wasn’t at all “the Doctrine of Justification” they had been fighting over to the death. (And let’s remember well, the winners of that fight were the Reformers. But no more; today’s winners are – you got it – Vatican City!). The first thing they’d Protest(antize) is about these words in the original gospels and epistles being missing in JDDJ:

    (1) “justify or make righteous”, in Luke 10:29 and 16:15, Romans 3:30 and Galatians 3:8.

    (2) “justifies or makes righteous”, in Romans 4:5 and 8:33.

    (3) “justified or made righteous”, in Luke 18:14 and Romans 8:30.

    (4) “being justified”, in Titus 3:7.

    (5) “is (or are) justified or made righteous”, in Matthew 11:1, Luke 7:35, Romans 3:24, 28 and 10:10 and Galatians 3:11.

    (6) “have been (now) justified”, in Romans 5:1, 9.

    (7) “was (or were) justified or made righteous”, in Romans 4:2 and 1 Corinthians 6:11.

    (8) “may be justified”, in Romans 3:4.

    (9) “might be (or would be) justified”, in Galatians 3:24 and 5:4.

    (10) “will be (or to be) justified”, in Matthew 12:37, Romans 2:13 and 3:20 and Galatians 2:16-17.

    (11) “justification or the state or process of being made righteous”, in Romans 4:25 and 5:16, 18.

  • Go with God. Best place. Where He’s glorified in Jesus and where the Son’s glorified in the Father God.

  • Religion News Service is still the best. One reason is this article. 20,000 other reasons are the other 20,000 articles.

    Breathe in, brother David Traverzo.

    Now breathe out.

    That’s better. Word for today is:

    T O L E R A N C E

  • Jesus gives us His criteria for salvation in Matthew 25. Jesus is the judge and he tells us the standard he will use:

    “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

    He also tells us how not to be saved:

    “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.”

    “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” and “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

    Jesus also tells us in the same Gospel (around 7:21ish) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

    Our works are our faith because we do what we believe. I may say I believe stealing is wrong, but if I am cheating on my taxes, getting free cable, not correcting the cashier when she gives me too much change, then I believe that stealing is right regardless of what I say about it. We do what we believe and others know what we believe by what we do. Where there is love there are good works, and when the good works cease, the love ceases to be.

    And in the Book of James, where the whole faith vs. works argument seems to arise, faith is not simply an agreement to some idea or principle, but it is a commitment to living a certain way of life — a life of discipleship. Faith is adopting a mode of being and doing, not just a mode of assenting to ideas.

    In the end, it turns out that it is not faith VERSUS works, but it is a faith THAT works.

  • Now see? That’s what this bogus Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is all about. It’s all about you, brother Mojo, getting away with your unchanging dogma of 7-Sacraments-based Justification, when we all know brothers Martin and John wouldn’t let you back then. I dare you go through the verses of justification per the original gospels and epistles that I posted yesterday and tell me whether Catholics can live up to that original dogma of crucifixion-burial-resurrection-based justification. No can do? Thought so.

  • Rome long ago declared that those who did that did it in error, and that it was an abuse of the authority of the Church. Simply because the Church is protected by the Holy Spirit does not mean that the people within it – or even that lead it – are protected from error.

    When Luther posted his theses on the Wittenberg church door, the messenger from Rome was already en route to invite him to Rome to discuss them. But (speaking as one of German descent) politics, pride, and German stubbornness got in the way of that possible reconciliation. Thanks be to God that cooler heads, who take Jesus’s prayer “that all may be one” seriously, are trying to find a way back.

    Sola gratia, fides de gratia, opera ex fide. Only by grace, faith from grace, works out of faith. Salvation is a pure gift from God, and our faith is also a gift from Him which we accept, and out of which must flow good works. The works are the evidence of our faith, not acts which earn us anything.

  • The Church has long taught that salvation was through the acceptance of the gift of faith, and that good works flow from that faith. Unfortunately, this is often confused to the misstatement, “Salvation is through faith and works.” As stated, this has NEVER been a teaching of the Church; those who taught it so misrepresented the actual teaching.

    Nothing in our faith could have compelled the Savior to die for us on the Cross, in the Acceptable Sacrifice; this was a pure gift of God. To say that salvation is “by faith alone” ignores this simple fact. The Sacrifice of the Cross opened the door of salvation; the Holy Spirit grants us the gift of faith to invite us to walk through the door.

    Salvation is a pure gift of God, as is faith in Him and in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The only “work” necessary for salvation is the acceptance of this faith; good works flow from this living faith as flowers flow from a well-tended garden, not as a requirement but as an unavoidable consequence.

    Salvation through grace alone, by acceptance of the gift of faith, from which good works flow as the evidence of that faith.

  • SOMETIMES EASTERN CHURCHES HAVE A WAY OUT OF THE CORNERS WE PAINTED OURSELVES INTO IN THE WEST …

    Justified by “Faith IN Jesus Christ” (Western Churches Baptist to Catholic making it about US) or
    Justified by “Faith OF Jesus Christ” (Eastern Orthodox Churches making it about CHRIST)

    Following comments copied and shared from Gérard Zabik about this article in a Facebook post:

    Someone once asked about “justified by faith”. I found this little gem written by Vladika Lazar.
    “There is something that occurs to me when I read the Epistles in Old Slavonic (and it is something that St Antony Khrapvitsky has mentioned in passing). We find reference to “being made right with God – translated into English as ‘justified’– by the faith OF Jesus Christ.” Often this is translated as “faith IN Jesus Christ,” however, that is not what is said. It is the faith OF Jesus Christ who, on behalf of humanity, surrendered Himself totally to the will of God: surrendered His whole human will and human nature to the will of the Father, even unto torture and death, trusting that God was able and would raise Him from the dead. These acts necessarily were accepted by His human will and nature, and on behalf of mankind. This is. perhaps, not without significance.”

    This is a good snapshot of the Western Churches. Where are the Eastern Churches with this. As the post I put above. I never grew up with “as justified in the faith in Jesus Christ.” It was “made right in the faith OF Jesus Christ. So the group I grew up in had a different variation of the reading and hence a very different understanding. There is a giant difference between “the faith IN Jesus Christ” and “the faith OF Jesus Christ”.

  • Harry, as has been pointed out before, the sale of indulgences was a corrupt practice that has been condemned by all parties. But like so many misunderstandings in the Reformation there is a difference between the practice and a theology.

    I don’t know why it’s so important for some Protestants to hold onto those sins from 500 years ago with a death grip. It’s a 2,000 year history we have. We all have sins from the whole spectrum to account for! And so do Protestant churches, who largely re-created many of the same sins in their new churches (if they are being honest with themselves).

  • Works are a sign that the faith has taken hold. As James writes, “faith without works is dead.”

  • The indulgence issue is a perfect illustrator of theology–even when taken to the extrreme. It answers the salient question: Are we justified by Faith alone?

    Still, even after 500 years, Protestants remain perplexed by the Roman Church’s non-biblical concepts of purgatory and penance, and how they degrade the concept of Justification by Grace. It is an intractable conflict.

  • Please don’t forget the rest…

    “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

    Paul’s Conclusion
    31 Do we then overthrow the law/Instructions by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law/Instructions.”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:29-31‬ ‭

    “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

    James’ conclusion…
    24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
    ‭‭James‬ ‭2:20-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    If we would just study our Father’s word for ourselves. James’ conclusion of the matter of Faith evident by Works seems to be the pattern all through Scripture, in both Testaments.

  • I would like to think that we all would be discerning enough at this point to realize that while studying the Word of God has it’s place, understanding what we’re studying is another matter altogether. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:2,3)–So…what is Paul saying that James has a problem with, Monty? You need to correctly unpack the two statements in order to reach a concerns between the 2 apostles, otherwise an intractable contradiction will present itself, no? Yes. You can’t have it both ways here; it’s one or the other, Monty. I await your reply.—Peace in Christ!! ?.

  • Actually, no you don’t, Michael. Henry the 8th created the Anglican church so he could legally divorce his wife. Britain was pretty much anti-Catholic after that so in that regard Anglicans ARE Protestants.

  • Have you ever read a Catholic understanding of these concepts? You might be surprised. You may not agree, but there is some very powerful theology there.

  • That’s not Paul’s conclusion. Paul never heard of chapter and verse. Read further: Romans 4:1-8 “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. ”

    James is clearly talking about justification before men: show me your faith and I’ll show you mine.

    So justification before God is without works, because God sees the heart. Justification before men is by works, because we can’t see into a man’s heart.

  • “Justification,” “grace,” and “faith” are three words which have entirely different meanings in Catholic and Lutheran theology. The JDDJ was an agreement on an empty formula and nothing more. It’s an intellectually dishonest attempt to sidestep the issue which lies at the heart of the Christian faith and make insubstantial “nice-nice’ with the same post-modern abandon which has sapped the meaning and intellectual integrity out of so much ecumenical dialog and modern discourse generally. This “agreement” means just as little as the equally vacuous “agreement” concerning the Lord’s Supper between the nominally Lutheran LWF and the Reformed decades ago. This is a story to mourn over, not rejoice at, because it’s one more piece of evidence that liberal Christianity has lost every iota of intellectual integrity in the pursuit of a false and empty peace.

  • Anyone who reads James in context understands that what he meant by “faith” was intellectual assent, whereas what Paul (and Luther) meant was existential trust. Catholicism historically has usually used the word in the sense that James used it .There is no real conflict between the two. As Luther himself insisted over and over, faith without works isn’t faith. The question doesn’t arise.

    Yet good works performed to earn God’s favor rather than out of gratitude and love are an insult to God and an abomination. This was an issue when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, and it will always be an issue as long as the self-serving human ego tries, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase, to “stand before God and say, ‘I have done my duty.'”

    The point that we are sinners saved by God’s mercy rather than as a reward for spiritual achievement lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. A faith which does not, as Luther said, produce good works before the question of whether they are to be done is even asked saves nobody because it’s not what Paul and Luther meant by faith. But as Paul makes plain in so many words in Galatians, an attempt to be saved by personal effort and merit constitute apostasy and is a denial of Christ.

  • I wish that it were true that Rome declared the condemnation of Luther’s position by the Council of Trent to be in error. Unfortunately, it’s not.

    I’m not sure where you,catholicchristian, got the idea that a messenger from Rome was en route to Wittenberg to discuss Luther’s theses before they were even posted (through the gift of prophesy, perhaps?), but I’m sure the ashes of Jan Hus, burned at the stake for espousing Luther’s position on justification, would have rejoiced. Perhaps it would be helpful if the Catholic church declared that it was in error when it anathematized the Lutheran position at Trent. Yet in fact the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent remain binding Catholic dogma.

    And therein lies the problem. The Catholic church cannot in fact and truth agree with Luther’s position without renouncing its own claim to indefectibility. The “agreement” which the JDDJ inappropriately celebrates would be a blessed event indeed, but on the day it happens the Roman church renounces its claim to divine protection from error and admits to being just one denomination out of many.

  • catholicchristian, you are exactly right. Which is the problem. The “acceptance” of faith itself is an act of faith. The “acceptance” of the gift of salvation is possible only for those who already possess that gift. Otherwise it becomes a good work itself, and the very concept of salvation by grace alone through faith alone is denied, and we are saved by the good work of accepting them.

    Every Lutheran confirmation student memorizes the words of Luther’s Catechism Reformation teaching, denied as they are is by most of American Protestantism as well as by Catholicism: ” I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”

  • Works are an inevitable product of faith. But note that James was describing mere historical knowledge, such as the devils have, and tremble. Justifying faith in the Pauline and Lutheran sense add to this assent and trust, neither of which any devil has ever had.

  • The notion that the JDDJ represents any real agreement between Rome and the Reformation is pretty much destroyed by the official teaching of Catholicism itself: I quote Rev. Paul McCain, in an opinion piece in First Things:

    “Asked whether there was anything in the official common statement contrary to the Council of Trent, Cardinal Cassidy said: ‘Absolutely not, otherwise how could we do it? We cannot do something contrary to an ecumenical council. There’s nothing there that the Council of Trent condemns” (Ecumenical News International, 11/1/99).

    With this statement by Cardinal Cassidy in mind, one is led to wonder how a document that is alleged to be a faithful Lutheran statement of justification contains nothing that Trent condemned.

    What Did Trent Condemn?

    Canon IX: If anyone says that the ungodly is justified by faith alone in such a way that he understands that nothing else is required which cooperates toward obtaining the grace of justification . . . let him be condemned.

    Canon XII: If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sin for Christ’s sake, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be condemned.

    Canon XIV: If anyone says that a man is absolved and justified because . . . he confidently believes that he is absolved and justified . . . and that through this faith alone absolution and justification is effected, let him be condemned.

    Note: These canons clearly indicate that something more than trust in Christ is necessary for salvation

    What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach?

    Cardinal Cassidy stated without qualification that Trent is still a normative ecumenical council for the church. Though perhaps more carefully stated, in more gentle language, the Catechism of the Catholic Church still asserts the position of Trent, frequently footnoting Trent in its many discussions of church doctrine. Here are some quotes from the Roman catechism. Emphasis is added.

    “No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods” (Catechism, par. 2027).

    “Merit is to be ascribed, in the first place, to the grace of God, and secondarily to man’s collaboration. Man’s merit is due to God” (Catechism, par. 2025).

    “Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man” (Catechism, par. 2019).

    “Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons”(Catechism, par. 2021).

    “The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearning of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom” (Catechism, par. 2022).

    “The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful” (Catechism, par. 2008).

    “Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the body of Christ” (Catechism, par. 2003).

    “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins” (Catechism, par. 1394).

    “As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God” (Catechism, par. 1414).

    “Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father?Every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes the forgiveness of our sins” (Catechism, par. 1437).

    “Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is called “penance” (Catechism, par. 1459).”

  • Then see what the Council of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church have to say on the issue. They both speak with Rome’s official voice.

  • If your contention about confession were true, then absolution would be conditioned upon performing the good works – and it is not. The absolution comes first; the “penance” is prescribed not to “work off the sin,” but because we as humans have a NEED to make up in a temporal sense for the evil we have done. God does not require it of us, except in the sense that He made us to have an inherent moral sense.

  • Because Luther had already had correspondence with Rome concerning his ideas, which were profound enough to draw notice from Rome. Simply because a few of them were mistaken (even in the opinion of Lutherans today) does not reduce the importance of Luther’s thought.

    But “sola fide” is simply not true. We are saved by God’s grace; faith is our voluntary cooperation with that grace with the assistance of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Good works are simply the fruit of that faith.

    Faith is undeniably essential to our salvation, just as opening our mouths is essential to eating; the latter cannot happen without our voluntary “work” of the former. But just as the food that feeds us is not itself dependent upon us opening our mouths, salvation itself is not dependent upon our faith. We are saved by grace, and by faith we “work out our salvation in fear (likely better translated ‘awe’) and trembling.”

  • According to the definition of a Sacrament (in the Roman church), it is a efficacious sign of grace….by which divine life is dispensed. This is out of the catholic catechism.

    If this is true, then penance, as a sacrament, dispenses divine life, aka. grace, to the confessed and absolved. And if the penance isn’t done in accordance with the wishes of the priest, does the person truly receive grace?

    Again, this smells of works-based salvation or works-based grace and not grace given unconditionally.

    Article XII of the Augsburg Confession deals with this issue specifically, and condemns ANY notion of grace being earned or “dispensed” through good works.

    http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article12

  • The sale of indulgences was more of a symptom of the greater issue – that grace can be earned (by the sale of indulgences, penance, holy pilgrimages, etc). This MUST be rejected completely in a Lutheran church or such a church is no longer lutheran.

  • The problem (from the viewpoint of a Catholic) with this Lutheran teaching is that it seems to border on Calvinism in that it leaves no place for the cooperation of the Christian in his own salvation. The Gospels are full of examples of those who were called to follow Christ and did not; a plain reading of Luther’s statement seems to leave only two possibilities for those people: Either they were saved anyway because the sin of rejecting Christ was forgiven and they were “kept in” the True Faith regardless of their free will, or they were predestined to be lost and not a part of the Church.

    In any case, it seems that no place is left for the free will of man to accept or reject the gift of salvation.

    OTOH, carrying the rejection of “works” to the point where even the act of the Apostles leaving their nets and following Jesus would be rejected as a “work,” a decision on the part of those men, seems absurd.

    Do we simply have a different definition of “works”? How does a Lutheran answer these concerns? (I hope it’s obvious that I’m not trying to ridicule anything here; I would really like someone to enlighten me as to how Lutherans view this.)

  • I DO wholeheartedly agree that many protestant churches now repeat many of the same errors that Luther fought against. Just watch TBN! Would-be preachers selling “anointed oil” and other shenanigans promising all sorts of strange things, all so that they can afford their private planes and mansions. But the teaching informs the practice and the practice informs the teaching. One can’t have a specific theology and then a practice that’s different; they go hand in hand. This is why I agree with you. but I will say that we Lutherans (we aren’t “protestants” in the sense that it means today) still see penance, pilgrimages, indulgences, etc., and the earning of grace issues as the most horrible of anti-christian teaching, and the Roman church still teaches much of it.

  • But is such theology, as you call it, scriptural? Where is purgatory in Scripture? Where does Christ teach us that we must earn His grace with good works, and when we don’t earn, we pay off in purgatory? For that matter, where does Scripture teach us that Mary had no other children, or that she was born sinless from a sinless womb? This isn’t “powerful theology”, this is confounding of God’s Word.

  • For every positive step the reformers made, they also took a step backwards. This is what is disappointing about the Protestant Reformation. Growing up a Catholic, I think it’s just silly to be so upset about practices such as the veneration of Mary, “praying” to the saints and religious artwork. We Catholics know these are gentle, meaningful practices that enrich our lives and don’t diminish the Gospel one bit. So the Reformers come along and try to control everybody… because someone MIGHT misinterpret religious artwork, their solution? “Let’s destroy 1,500 years of civilization!” Anyone who thinks the Reformation was a high point for human civilization has only heard one side of the story. In their zeal, many of the Reformers destroyed statues, paintings, churches all over Europe. The entire practice of religious artwork was obliterated. This is NOT what a civilized people do. It was all about control and fear and it was excessively patriarchal.

    I grew up Catholic and still am Catholic. I’m sympathetic to some of the concerns of the reformers–corruption, censorship, and too much hierarchical control. However, in a 2,000 year history, I don’t see any need to focus exclusively on the sins in the year 1517. Yes, it was particularly bad then, but corruption and such were not limited to only that time period. And for every bit of corruption, excessive control, the denominations that came out of the Reformers were not necessarily better. Puritans, anybody??? Southern Baptists? It is only recently that women got a greater role in ministry in some denominations, but not all. Ask the Anabaptists if the Protestants were any kinder or more merciful than the Catholics.

  • Remember that St. Paul spent much of his time (as we read in many of his letters) defending the faith and doctrine, and calling out any false doctrines. He had no patience with anything that, even minimally, detracted from salvation by faith and faith alone.

    Well, Lutherans follow step. It’s not about control or anything like that — and frankly, it wasn’t Luther or us Lutherans who go after religious art or symbols in the church – that’s the post-reformation folks and the minimalists and the rationalists.

    But we DO go after any doctrine or dogma which detracts from faith and is not clearly built upon God’s Word. Granted, the Roman Catholic church has become much softer since Vatican II in the 1960’s on a lot of things. You even have a pope now who seems to be embracing homosexuality in some way, and is willing to fellowship up with churches who are also in fellowship with the universalists.

    For us LCMSers, none of this is acceptable because it is all a confounding of the clear doctrine — after all, we’re not dealing with people’s feelings here. We’re dealing with SALVATION vs. DAMNATION. Shouldn’t we want to get it right?

  • Isn’t that interesting. Since there are at least 9,000 denominations that came out of the Protestant Reformation, you don’t have to take responsibility for anything, do you? It’s always some other group. As a Catholic, if one pope said something a thousand years ago, we are all immediately lumped together.

    There isn’t a single Catholic doctrine that isn’t built off of Scripture. Some of it has evolved over time, but I would also challenge you to recognize that what Lutherans do today has also evolved out of Scripture, as well–take the doctrine of the trinity for example. You won’t find it in the Bible! The Bible never said that the church should not continue to develop and evolve. The Bible itself is a product of the ongoing evolution of the church.

  • John it appears that you are adding conjecture into your argument. Let’s let the scripture speak for itself…I’ll remove chapter and verse and let the words of James stand alone.

    “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

    You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

    Abraham had nothing to boast of…it was the Instructions of Yehovah that Abraham obeyed. The same could be said concerning Noah as well…Noah did build the Ark, but could he boast? Certainly not! Yehovah guided Noah by His Instructions. He also obeyed the Father! Justified by his works and not by Faith alone.

    ‭‭

  • No conjecture at all. I’m simply harmonizing, looking for consistency.

    Paul says, in Romans 4 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

    James says we’re justified by works.

    I believe not only in Sola Scripture, but in Tota Scriptura. So these two statements must both be true.

    How do *you* find the consistency? I already told you how I do it, and it’s pretty straightforward.

  • To answer your question, yes, the person does receive the grace, unless they sought absolution with a deceptive intent (e.g., they never intended to do ANY penance even if assigned); whether they actually wind up doing the penance has no bearing on the grace imparted by the sacrament.

  • What about Lutherans collecting money to mange their church buildings and build news ones, during their services, how is that any different ?

  • I must disagree with your assertion that “There isn’t a single Catholic doctrine that is not based on Scripture.” For context, I am a strong LCMS Lutheran, but I have spent the majority of my career teaching music and art in Catholic schools. Because the arts are so heavily intertwined with religion, I make it a point to make sure what I teach goes with the beliefs of the organization I work for. If I’m going to teach at a Catholic school, I need to know Catholic theology, if nothing else than to make sure I don’t start teaching theology that will lose me my job. Once a month, all of our teachers participate in a Catholic Catechesis class. I could pull out many stories of differences between Scripture and what is being taught (also, what is formally stated in the Catholic Catechism), but here is something that stood out to me:
    The difference between our beliefs lies in a specific definition of what “justification” covers. Many times our instructors have used the analogy that sinning is like hammering nails into a board. You can pull the nails out (forgiveness) but the holes remain. When one earns an indulgence (not buy it, earn it, by certain prayers or acts of worship), you’re given a “new board.” As Lutherans, the analogy would be that God doesn’t even look at our board, he looks at Jesus’ perfect board instead. (This better fits the image of the sacrificial Lamb- all of our sins are out on Jesus as he was crucified.)
    Catholic doctrine state’s that justification (by faith alone) is what “earns” heaven, but we, as sinners, are still unclean. Hence the need for purgatory- a place to purify is from our sins until we are pure enough for heaven. Rev. 21:27 is quoted: “Nothing impure will ever enter (heaven), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” But to keep this in context we also need to look at 1 John 1:9, which states: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Notice it does not say that we will be purified through our works or suffering, but God will do the purifying for us. Lutherans put a lot of emphasis on Romans chapter 3, but I will point out verses 23-25: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.” God “passed over” those sins. God looks at the sacrifice of Jesus, not our own attempts at purification. Isaiah said our good works are like “filthy rags” to God. And no matter how you look at it, a need for “purification” either through works or suffering, is still “earning” a way into heaven. Granted, if you’re in purgatory, you are technically already going to heaven, but there’s that extra bit of stuff YOU need to do before getting there. It cheapens Christ sacrifice to believe this. Christ’s sacrifice took care of ALL of it.
    Just because you use Scripture to back up a theological idea, it doesn’t mean it is being used correctly in context. Again, on the topic of purgatory, Matthew 5:36 is quoted: “Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” This seems to suggest that we must be cleansed for every last bit of our impurity. However, you need to look at the verse in context: it is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This verse is in the context that if you try to take your brother to court before trying to work things out with him privately first, you are probably going to end up on the wrong end of the court decision, meaning you will go to jail, where… “Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
    Context. Context is key. You have to judge Scripture with Scripture, and not by the ideas of man.

  • Um, because that doesn’t give you salvation. You get salvation whether you put money in the offering plate or not. Because I mean, if no one chips in any money, how will the building have electricity, staff, etc? You chip in because as a congregation you’ve made the decision to have a place of worship. Earthly logistics, man. But in no way does that earn your forgiveness.

  • In James chapter 2 we can find a discussion on the subject of faith and works. The thief on the cross did not live to be able to accomplish any good works. Therefore he was saved by faith alone. Had he come down from his cross and lived, he would be expected to show good works because he is grateful for having been saved by God. Good works are a way of doing what we can as Christians, but we can never repay what Christ did for us on the cross. Therefore we are saved by faith alone, just like the thief on the cross. I hope that helps. I am 7th Day Adventist, which is probably the most extreme Protestant religion at this time. I believe all Christians must love one another, but a compromise of principles must never happen. Love and respect, but never give up what you believe! Read the Great Controversy if you need to understand why separation is necessary. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Jn 14:15. That means the Ten Commandments which can be clearly read in Exodus 20. I ask anyone reading this to please read God’s commandments in Exodus 20 because they are not short, as most Catholics abbreviate them. If you read, you will see the true reasons for the Protestant reformation and more. Namely, I am pointing to “You shall have no other Gods before Me,” “you shall not bow down to them (carved images),” and “the seventh day (Saturday) is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.” The Pope is the “vicar of God,” by his own words. And Mary is the “mediatrix” in the Pope’s words. No!!!! There is no substitute or mediator for God on Earth. “There is one Mediator between God and men; that is the man Christ Jesus.” !!!!! 1Tim 2:5.

  • Sure. May _I_ ask where in the Bible it states that every true teaching must be found in the Bible? You first.

  • I look to the bible for all truth. If a doctrine isnt in the bible it doesnt make it wrong, but if it doesnt line up consistently with the bible then I have to question that doctrine. I know the verse that calvinists teach it says faith is a gift but the proper greek.for that verse actually are referring to salvation being the gift, through faith. Faith is a response to God’s character. The trusting that God will honour all He says He will, His promises. We cannot force God to fulfil His promises, rather He wills that He will fulfil His promises and therefore we can trust Him. We can have faith that He will do as He says. And He will give salvation to those who trust Him and give eternal life. I believe in man having free will just as God has free will. Man is made in the image of God. It makes God no less sovereign by willing that man has free will. But He does make us accountable for our choices. Take away free will and make faith a gift and then so many questions need to be answered which the bible cant answer. Such as why God only desired some to be saved yet says He wills that all be saved. Why He told israel to not sin against Him but they sinned even sins that never crossed His mind. Free will means anyone on earth can come. Anyone. But God had to draw them first. Then it’s mans choice from there.

  • Then to those who do not agree with their churches’ participation and approval of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, you are free to start up your own sect, like there are already 30,000 sects which goes against 1 Cor 17.

  • The Devil for centuries has confused many truth seekers from all denominations regarding “faith vs. works” I believe;however God almighty has made it very transparent what He was trying convey. James 2:14-16 “faith without works is dead” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2%3A14-26&version=NKJV James 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word,and not hearers only,deceiving your own selves. Faith comes before works,faith and works are brothers of each other,you can’t have one without the other.There must be fruit,salt and light from from believers,if not we call God a liar.

  • you talikng about the pagan gods i see as in Jesus Christ he is formed from paganism and why christianity celebrates the pagan holidays Jesus is an abomination as YHWH said there were NONE before me and there will be NONE after me !

  • There is no such consensus. While the Catholic participants seem to have participated in good faith, the LWF representatives seem not to have noticed that they have agreed on a meaningless formula. “Justification,” “grace,” and “faith” are all terms which have different meanings in Roman Catholic and Reformation theology, and the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent continue to condemn the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions on the subject. https://baptismalwaters.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-ecumenical-lie-no-there-is-no.html

  • We all do, but that doesn’t make falsehood true. Bearing in mind the requirements of the Eighth Commandment, though, I choose to assume that the author of this article is simply badly informed.

  • The “accord” simply ignores the differences between Lutherans and Catholics on the subject and agrees on a meaningless formula which means entirely different things to each side. Indulgences are not at issue here; the question is whether we are indeed saved by grace alone or by grace and works. The Catholic answer, in substance, is the same as it has always been.

    Note that while in Reformation understanding “grace” is God’s totally unmerited favor, in Catholic theology it’s God’s help through the Sacraments to do good works and to become personally holy. In Catholic theology, “justification” includes what Lutheran and Reformed Christians would call “sanctification.” The Catholic participants in the dialog make it quite clear that Rome continues to teach that other than God’s initiation of His relationship with a sinner, God’s blessings must be merited.

    The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent continue to condemn the Lutheran teaching, and the Catholic church has made it clear that it has not backed off that condemnation.

    I’m a former ELCA pastor who left when it became clear to me long ago that the ELCA is no longer committed to either the Scriptures or the Confessions, but to intellectual gymnastics by which Scripture can be eisegeted in order to arrive at the desired predetermined conclusions and the Confessions simply ignored. I tried for years to warn you guys what was happening. And frankly, I’m a little shocked that most folks in the ELCA seem still not to see what has already happened.

  • No. And that’s the problem. “Grace” means different things to Catholics and to Lutherans. For Catholics, it’s GRATIA INFUSA- “infused” grace, meaning God’s help in meriting salvation. The Catholic church continues to insist on the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, which anathamatize what you and I would understand by “salvation by grace alone.” In fact, the Catholic participants all but acknowledge in the footnotes that the LWF position- which they say is NOT condemned by Trent- is not the position of the Lutheran Confessions!

  • Ephesians 2: 8-10 would be a start. Also pretty much the entire Pauline corpus, especially Romans and Galatians.

  • It doesn’t, and that’s not our position. Our position is that the Bible is unique in that, as all Christians until recently agreed, we can know for certain that it contains divine revelation. Therefore while there are all sorts of true and helpful things taught by tradition and by the theologians of the ages, agreement with Scripture is not the test of whether it is true, but whether it can be insisted upon by divine authority. Tradition and everything else must therefore be submitted to the test of Scripture. If it conflicts with Scripture, it must necessarily be false; if it simply cannot be supported by Scripture, it must be evaluated by other means but can never under any circumstances be insisted upon as dogma.

    Our complaint about much of Catholic theology is not that it isn’t in the Bible, but that 1) much of it (including the idea that we cooperate in our salvation) is emphatically contrary to it, and 2) that a great deal else which may in fact be true but is not taught by Scripture and does not clearly follow from what Scripture does teach is insisted upon as dogma.

    Transubstantiation is a good example. Lutherans, too, believe that we receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, but a number of theories about the “how” circulated before the Catholic church officially made transubstantiation dogma at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Lutherans (contrary to what Reformed and Catholic Christians often assert) do not have an official doctrine of the “how,” although Luther often used examples from another theory, consubstantiation, merely as an illustration of the point that the Real Presence is not an unreasonable teaching.

    But the Lutheran position continues to be Luther’s: we have no objection whatsoever to transubstantiation, as long as it is not made into a binding dogma which defines the physics of a miracle. We continue to say, with Luther, that we “would rather drink blood with the Pope than wine with Zwingli.”

  • You’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem with the Catholic teaching from the Lutheran perspective is precisely that it DOES leave a place for the cooperation of the Christian *in his own salvation-* and that *gratia infusa* is simply not “grace” in the sense in which we’re saved by grace. Though more on this point in a moment.

    To clarify a possible source of confusion, the problem isn’t with the defintion of “works.” The problem is the propositon, which Paul expressly denies over and over again, that any work which we do can merit salvation. Our position is summed up quite well by Ephesians 2:8-10. Salvation comes as a pure gift, and is given to existential trust in Christ which itself is a gift (though one which without divine help we by nature can do nothing but refuse)- not a historical knowledge, such as the devils have, but to the sum of knowledge, assent, and trust. “Assent” presupposes repentence, which, again, Scripture portrays as a gift (see Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25).

    And yes, the gift of faith can absolutely be rejected. The point is that without God’s help, rejecting it is ALL we can do. But He forces nobody into the Kingdom.

    Luther differs from Calvin in that he regards predestination as a mystery (this is a point which Calvinists almost always miss). Thus, he sounds very much like Calvin in, say, THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL. But a key part of his theology which they miss is his distinction between the hidden God (DEUS ABSCONDITUS) and the revealed God (DEUS REVELATUS).

    We cannot comprehend the hidden God- God as He is in Himself. He is simply beyond our capacity to understand. That is why Lutherans distrust philosophy as a source of revelation. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts, our thoughts. Moreover, what was true of sinful Moses is also true of sinful human beings today: He is a consuming Fire, upon whose face we or any creature infected by sin cannot look and live. To paraphrase Luther, if you come across the hidden God in a dark alley, run for your life! He is your natural Enemy, and the Enemy of anything sinful.

    But where do we flee? To the revealed God. To Jesus Christ. To God clothed in our humanity and in His own promises. To the Baby in the manger. To the Derelict on the Cross. There, we see the Face of God as He desires us to look upon it. Luther regarded predestination as belonging firmly in the realm of the hidden God. If you would see God’s heart, you look to Christ.

    Those who are saved, Luther insisted, are saved by God’s doing alone; those who are lost are lost by their own fault alone. How both things can be true, he left to the hidden God. But he insisted- and we insist- that He has clearly and unequivocally revealed both things to us in Scripture. Lutheran theologicans refer to the question “why are some saved, while others are lost?” as “the Theolgian’s Cross.” No one answer can biblically be given to both sides of the equation.

    ANYTHING which human beings do is a work. But as Ephesians 2:10 points out, even our good works are a gift. They are really less our doing than Christ’s doing in and through us. We affirm, with St. Augustine, that free will does not extend in the natural man to spiritual matters. Even the *Catechism of the Catholic Faith* clearly states that the process of salvation is begun by God’s initiative and cannot be merited.

    In baptism (or conversion), we come to possess a FREED will in spiritual matters. It remains weak, and must be strengthened through the Word and the Sacraments. The key point here is that at this point, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are forensically declared righteous by God and therefore justified then and there.

    Contrary to a common Catholic misunderstanding, this is NOT a “legal fiction!” God’s Word is creative. What He pronounces true becomes true. When He said, “Let there be light!,” there *was* light. And when He says to justifying faith, “You are holy. You are my child,” what He declares comes true.

    This is another point at which Catholics and Lutherans (and, it seems, the JDDJ, at least at times) tend to get confused. Catholics use the term “justification” for the entire process of God accepting one as His child and the holiness which is His gift becoming manifest. Lutherans restrict it (as we believe Paul does) to God’s accepting us as His child and proleptically pronouncing us righteous- a pronouncement which brings about what it says, as our status as God’s holy child gradually manifests itself through a growth in holiness which takes place throughout our lives and ends only in heaven. This process of growth Lutherans distinguish from justification, and call *sanctification.*

    Was it a “work” when the Apostles left their nets and followed Jesus? Absolutely A good work, too, and a God-pleasing one- but not a meritorious one. It did not contribute to their salvation, but was a RESULT of their salvation- just like the good works you and I do and every Christian does. And like our good works, it was really God’s work in them.

    It was their work, too- just as the good works of all other Christians are our good works. And God accepts them, not because they themselves are so wonderful, but because depite all the doubts and mixed motives involved the merits of Jesus make up for their imperfections. Our hearts are changed by Christ; our wills, though weak, are freed. But not even our most selfless act can be meritorious in the eyes of a holy God unless the merit comes from Jesus, the only human who has any.

    You see, we not only don’t knock good works, but we emphatically insist that nobody gets into heaven without them. We only reject the idea that they contribute in any sense to our salvation, or are in themselves meritorious. Rather, we argue that they are the inevitable consequence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the life of Christ within us, such that a person with faith is already doing good works before the question of good works is even raised. Ephesians 2:8-10 is about as eloquent a statement of our position as I can think of.

    Well, that, and one other verse. I already know what you’re going to say, and I’m afraid it’s a non-starter.

    Romans 3: 27-28: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

    Catholics find fault with Luther for adding the word “alone” to that verse. That’s odd, because he was hardly the first to do so, for the simple fact that it adequately expresses what is clearly and unequivocally the meanng of the text.

    To be justified APART from the works of the law is to be justified by faith ALONE. The word “apart” excludes all contribution or merit of our own. Faith, in the Pauline sense, is never alone. But the good works which inevitably flow from it are the result of our justification, not a contributing cause to it.

    The interesting thing is that some of the more productive Lutheran-Catholic dialogues have cut to the chase and seen that the real problem here is the term “merit.” Grace, in the Pauline sense, by its very nature cannot be merited. One cannot earn a gift.

  • Because in the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Rome continues to condemn the very Gospel. That’s kind of a big deal.

    I agree that the sale of indulgences is not the issue here. But it did spring from the unbiblical idea that salvation is other than a pure gift, and that IS the problem.

  • It may have been “illustrative” of those conflicts, but it was not in itself the conflict. The Catholic church does agree that the sale of indulgences was wrong. That isn’t the issue. The issue is that it also continues to teach that our salvation requires a contribution of our own by means of merit rather than money.

  • “Those who are saved, Luther insisted, are saved by God’s doing alone; those who are lost are lost by their own fault alone.”

    And here is one point where Lutheran teaching is not only innovative, but contrary to the ancient teaching of the Church. “God our Savior, [who] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 3b-4)

    If those who are saved are saved by God’s doing alone, man having no part whatsoever in his own salvation, then how is it that ANY can be lost? You can’t have it both ways; if we can affect our salvation in ANY way, then there is nothing in Scripture or in the ancient teaching of the Church that says that we are limited to affecting it NEGATIVELY. To say, as does Lutheran teaching, that this is a “mystery” is circular, as it assumes that the proposition has already been accepted – based on the proposition! No, the “mystery” is really only “why don’t Lutherans recognize the problem here?”

    Your misinterpretation of Rom3:27-28 is because you are calling our cooperation with our own salvation “works of the Law,” and such cooperation does not even begin to have anything to do with the Jewish Law to which Paul referred here, but only the change in our lives, relationships and yes, actions, which conform ourselves to the Mind of Christ. This cooperation is “works of faith,” which grow out of faith and do not replace it but complement it – indeed, cannot help but do so if the faith is true.

    And yes, we can never “merit” salvation; it flows from our faith (itself a gift), which in turn flows from the gift of God’s grace. But if we do not cooperate actively with those gifts, but remain lukewarm, Christ will vomit us out of his mouth as surely as His word tells us. Building the Kingdom of God on earth, the better to make the Gospel available to our fellow men, is a part of the purpose of our own salvation; if we do not, then get out those bushel baskets to hide our God-given light.

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