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A Betrayal of the Gospel: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

February 21st, 2013
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More than years after it appeared, we still continue to hear that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a “breakthrough” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. The media loves to perpetuate this myth. In fact, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a fraud. It was a sell-out by revisionist liberal Lutherans to Rome. The Vatican certainly knows this is not true. Liberal Lutherans and those who support them keep repeating it, in spite of the fact that it is simply not true. Here are resources to help you counter this lie and this betrayal of the Gospel.

When, or if, you hear any Lutheran, or Roman Catholic, claim that the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church have reconciled their differences on the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone this is simply untrue. It is a lie. A complete and total fabrication.

Rome is not to be faulted in any of this. The Vatican has consistently maintained and upheld the historic position of the Roman Church and did not change it. Mainline liberal Lutherans, however, compromised the key doctrine of the Scriptures and the very heart of the Lutheran Confessions. When I served as Assistant to the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, at the time this statement came out in 2000, we prepared an extensive set of documents illustrating precisely why the JDDJ is a fraud and a betrayal of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You might want to save this post on your computer somewhere for future reference.

When you hear or read someone asserting that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a “breakthrough” feel free to share this material with them. We must continue to correct this erroneous view of the JDDJ.

Was Trent set aside by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

No, quite the contrary. The Vatican was very careful to make it clear that it has not set aside the Council of Trent and that Trent still remains authoritative, binding dogma for the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christianity Unity, the individual responsible in large part for Rome’s involvement in the Joint Declaration, went out of his way to clarify this point in a press conference held when the JDDJ was signed. Here is what he had to say:

“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).

What Response did the Vatican issue to the JDDJ?

There was a formal response issued by the Vatican that is careful to point out that the condemnations of Trent still apply against significant Lutheran doctrines. The Vatican’s response clearly affirms Rome’s historic position that justification is a process involving both God’s grace and the good works of human beings, in other words, the classic Roman position that salvation is not by grace through faith alone, but by grace plus human merit and good works.

What follows are quotes from the document Response of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration of The Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation On The Doctrine of Justification. It is available at the Vatican’s www site by clicking here. It is found on the web page devoted to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

“The Catholic Church has noted with satisfaction that Note 21, in conformity with Canon 4 of the Decree of Justification of the Council of Trent, states that man can refuse grace; but it must also be affirmed that, with this freedom to refuse, there is also in the justified person a new capacity to adhere to the divine will, a capacity that is rightly called cooperatio . . . it is difficult to see how the term “mere passive” can be used by Lutherans in this regard, and how this phrase can be compatible with the affirmation by Lutherans in Note 21 of the full personal involvement in faith”

“The Catholic Church also maintains with Lutherans that these good works of the justified are always the fruit of grace. But at the same time, and without in any way diminishing the totally divine initiative, they are the fruit of man, justified and interiorly transformed. We can therefore say that eternal life is, at one and same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merit.”

“God’s gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation ? this must be understood in the sense that the gifts of God’s grace do not depend on the works of man, but not in the sense that justification can take place without human cooperation.”

“The level of agreement is high, but it does not yet allow us to affirm that all the differences separating Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine concerning justification are simply a question of emphasis or language. Some of these differences concern aspects of substance and are therefore not all mutually compatible, as affirmed on the contrary in Note 40.”

“If, moreover, it is true that on those points on which a consensus has been reached the condemnations of the Council of Trent no longer apply, the divergences on other points, must, on the contrary, be overcome before we can affirm, as is done generically in Note 41, that these points no longer incur the condemnations of the Council of Trent. That applies in the first place to the doctrine on “simul iustus et peccator.”

How is Justification Confessed in the Book of Concord?

The following quotations from the Book of Concord are merely but a few examples of the Lutheran Confessions’ insistence that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone is the only way to avoid obscuring the glory and merit of Christ. Note also that these quotes clearly refute the statements quoted from the Catholic Catechism and the Council of Trent.

“The doctrine of repentance has been completely corrupted by the pope and his adherents, who teach that sins are forgiven on account of the worth of our work. Then they bid us to doubt whether forgiveness is obtained. Nowhere do they teach that sins are forgiven freely for Christ’s sake and that by this faith we obtain the remission of sins. Thus they obscure the glory of Christ, deprive consciences of a firm consolation, and abolish true worship (that is, the exercise of faith struggling against despair)” (Treatise, 44).

“It is completely erroneous to imagine that the Levitical sacrifices merited the forgiveness of sins before God and that by analogy there must be sacrifices in the New Testament besides the death of Christ that are valid for the sins of others. This notion completely negates the merit of Christ’s suffering and the righteousness of faith, it corrupts the teaching of both the Old and the New Testament, and it replaces Christ as our mediator and propitiator with priests and sacrificers who daily peddle their wares in the churches. If anyone argues, therefore, that the New Testament must have a priest who sacrifices for sin, this can only apply to Christ. The whole Epistle to the Hebrews supports this interpretation. We would be setting up other mediators besides Christ if we were to look for some other satisfaction that was valid for the sins of others and reconciled God” (Ap. XXIV:57—58).

“We believe, teach, and confess that if we would preserve the pure doctrine concerning the righteousness of faith before God, we must give special attention to the ‘exclusive terms,’ that is, to those words of the holy apostle Paul which separate the merit of Christ completely from our own works and give all glory to Christ alone. Thus the holy apostle Paul uses such expressions as ‘by grace,’ ‘without merit,’ ‘without the law,’ ‘without works,’ ‘not by works,’ etc. All these expressions say in effect that we become righteous and are saved ‘alone by faith’ in Christ” (FC Ep. 11.7)

“We believe, teach, and confess that the contrition that precedes justification and the good works that follow it do not belong in the article of justification before God. Nevertheless, we should not imagine a kind of faith in this connection that could coexist and co-persist with a wicked intention to sin and to act contrary to one’s conscience. On the contrary, after a person has been justified by faith, a true living faith becomes “active through love” (Gal. 5:6). Thus good works always follow justifying faith and are certainly to be found with it, since such faith is never alone but is always accompanied by love and hope” (FC Ep. 11.8).

An error that can not be tolerated in the church: “That our righteousness before God does not consist wholly in the unique merit of Christ, but in renewal and in our own pious behavior. For the most part this piety is built on one’s own individual self-chosen spirituality, which in fact is nothing else but a new kind of monkery” (FC Ep. 5.3).

“In the words of the Apology, this article of justification by faith is “the chief article of the entire Christian doctrine,” “without which no poor conscience can have any abiding comfort or rightly understand the riches of the grace of Christ.” In the same vein Dr. Luther declared: “Where this single article remains pure, Christendom will remain pure, in beautiful harmony, and without any schisms. But where it does not remain pure, it is impossible to repel any error or heretical spirit.

And St. Paul says specifically of this doctrine that a little leaven ferments the whole lump. Therefore he stresses the exclusive terms, that is, the terms by which all human works are excluded, such as “without the law,” “without works,” “by grace alone.”* He stresses these terms with such zeal in order to indicate how very important it is that this article, side by side with the true doctrine, we clearly segregate, expose, and condemn the false contrary doctrine.

Therefore to explain this controversy in a Christian way according to the Word of God and to settle it by his grace, we affirm our teaching, belief, and confession as follows: Concerning the righteousness of faith before God we believe, teach, and confess unanimously, in accord with the summary formulation of our Christian faith and confession described above, that a poor sinner is justified before God (that is, he is absolved and declared utterly free from all his sins, and from the verdict of well deserved damnation, and is adopted as a child of God and an heir of eternal life) without any merit or worthiness on our part, and without any preceding, present, or subsequent works, by sheer grace, solely through the merit of the total obedience, the bitter passion, the death, and the resurrection of Christ, our Lord, whose obedience is reckoned to us as righteousness. The Holy Spirit offers these treasures to us in the promise of the Gospel, and faith is the only means whereby we can apprehend, accept, apply them to ourselves, and make them our own. Faith is a gift of God whereby we rightly learn to know Christ as our redeemer in the Word of the Gospel and to trust in him, that solely for the sake of his obedience we have forgiveness of sins by grace, are accounted righteous and holy by God the Father, and are saved forever. Thus the following statements of St. Paul are to be considered and taken as synonymous: “We are justified by faith” (Rom. 3:28), or ‘faith is reckoned to us as righteousness’ (Rom. 4:5), or when he says that we are justified by the obedience of Christ, our only mediator, or that “one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18). For faith does not justify because it is so good a work and so God-pleasing a virtue, but because it lays hold on and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel. This merit has to be applied to us and to be made our own through faith if we are to be justified thereby. Therefore the righteousness which by grace is reckoned to faith or to the believers is the obedience, the passion, and the resurrection of Christ when he satisfied the law for us and paid for our sin” (FC SD III.6ff).

“If the article of justification is to remain pure, we must give especially diligent heed that we do not mingle or insert that which precedes faith or follows faith into the article of justification, as if it were a necessary or component part of this article, since we cannot talk in one and the same way about conversion and about justification. For not everything that belongs to conversion is simultaneously also a part of justification. The only essential and necessary elements of justification are the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith which accepts these in the promise of the Gospel, whereby the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us and by which we obtain the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, adoption, and the inheritance of eternal life. Thus there cannot be genuine saving faith in those who live without contrition and sorrow and have a wicked intention to remain and abide in sin, for true contrition precedes and genuine faith exists only in or with true repentance” (FC SD III.24—26).

“There are excluded completely from the article of justification all our own works, merit, worthiness, glory, and trust in any of our works, so that we might or should not view our works as either the cause or the meritorious basis of our justification which God takes into consideration in this article or matter, or rely on them, or make or regard them as entirely or one-half or even only to the smallest degree factors in our justification.

“That faith’s sole office and property is to serve as the only and exclusive means and instrument with and through which we receive, grasp, accept, apply to ourselves, and appropriate the grace and the merit of Christ in the promise of the Gospel. From this office and property of application and appropriation we must exclude love and every other virtue or work.

“That neither renewal, sanctification, virtues, nor other good works are our righteousness before God, nor are they to be made and posited to be a part or a cause of our justification, nor under any kind of pretense, title, or name are they to be mingled with the article of justification as pertinent or necessary to it. The righteousness of faith consists solely in the forgiveness of sins by sheer grace, entirely for the sake of Christ’s merit, which treasures are offered to us in the promise of the Gospel and received, accepted, applied to us, and made our own solely through faith” (FC SD III.37—39).

“We must criticize, expose, and reject the following and similar errors as contrary to the preceding explanation:

That our love or our good works are a meritorious basis or cause of our justification before God, either entirely or in part.

That by good works man must make himself worthy and fit to have the merit of Christ applied to him.

That our real righteousness before God is our love or the renewal which the Holy Spirit works and is within us.

That righteousness by faith before God consists of two pieces or parts, namely, the gracious forgiveness of sins and, as a second element, renewal or sanctification.

That faith justifies only because righteousness is begun in us by faith, or that faith has priority in justification but that renewal and love likewise belong to our righteousness before God, in such a way, however, that they are not the principal cause but that our justification before God is incomplete or imperfect without such love and renewal.

Likewise that the believers are justified before God and are righteous both through the reckoned righteousness of Christ and through their own inchoate new obedience, or in part by the reckoning of Christ’s righteousness and in part by the inchoate new obedience.

Likewise that the promise of grace is made our own through faith in the heart, through the confession which we make with our mouth, and through other virtues.

It is also an error when it is taught that man is saved in a different way or by a different thing from the one by which he is justified before God, as though we are indeed justified solely through faith without works but that we cannot be saved without works or that salvation cannot be obtained without works. This is wrong because it is diametrically opposed to Paul’s statement that salvation belongs to that man to whom God reckons righteousness without works (Rom. 4:6). Paul’s reason is that we receive both our righteousness and our salvation in one and the same way; in fact, that when we are justified through faith we simultaneously receive adoption and the inheritance of eternal life and salvation. For this reason Paul uses and urges exclusive terms (that is, terms that wholly exclude works and our own merit, such as ‘by grace’ and ‘without works’) just as emphatically in the article of salvation as he does in the article of justification” (FC SD III.45—53).

What has the Missouri Synod said about the JDDJ?

During its 1998 convention, the Synod adopted a resolution titled: To Express Deep Regret and Profound Disagreement with ELCA. Here an excerpt from the convention resolution that speaks to the Joint Declaration:

“The ELCA in 1997 also formally accepted the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The purpose of this statement is “to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ” (p. 2). While recognizing that this common understanding “does not cover all that either church teaches about justification,” this statement declares that “the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnation” (p. 2). However, these “differences in … explication” as articulated in this statement itself have to do with such critically important issues as the following:

The centrality of the doctrine of justification in its relationship to all other teachings of Scripture (para. 18)

The Roman Catholic view “that persons ‘cooperate’ in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action” (para. 20)

The relationship between the Lutheran understanding that “the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness” and the Roman Catholic emphasis on “the renewal of the interior person through the reception of grace imparted as a gift to the believer” (para. 23-24)

The precise role of faith in justification; i.e., the significance of the difference in the Lutheran understanding that “God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide)” and the Roman Catholic understanding which only “sees faith as fundamental in justification” (para. 26-27)

The compatibility of the Lutheran understanding of “the Christian as a being at the same time righteous and sinner” and the Roman Catholic view that the inclination toward sin in the justified Christian is not really “sin in the authentic sense” (para. 30)

It is clear that Roman Catholics and Lutherans have not yet resolved substantive points of disagreement over the doctrine of justification.

Resolved, That in faithfulness to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions, and motivated by our love and concern for the people and pastors of the ELCA, we express our deep regret and profound disagreement with these actions taken by the ELCA” (1995 Synodical Convention, Resolution 3-08).

From the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ Document: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in Confessional Lutheran Perspective: An Evaluation of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic “Joint Declaration” by the Departments of Systematic Theology of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis

“JDDJ does not settle the major disagreement between Lutheran theology and Roman Catholic theology on justification. Lutherans teach that justification is essentially a declaration of ‘not guilty’ and ‘righteous’ pronounced by God on a sinner because of Christ and His work. Roman Catholics teach that justification involves an internal process in which a believer is transformed and ‘made’ more righteous. The non-settlement of this issue forms the chief defect of JDDJ” (pg. 8).

“Although JDDJ uses the biblical phraseology ‘through faith’ or ‘by faith’ at critical points it speaks of justification ‘in faith.’ This new wording is ambiguous and allows for the Roman Catholic idea of infused grace. It does not clearly state that faith’s role in justification is exclusively to receive Christ’s benefits given to sinners by God in His grace. Therefore, it fails to make clear that the cause of justification is God’s saving work in Christ, not ourselves or anything in us” (pg. 8).

“If grace now means infused grace, a spiritual power poured into the soul by which we love God and merit salvation, then such infused grace and works in justification are related as ‘both/and.’ Neither the Joint Declaration nor the background dialog have come to terms with these contradictory meanings of ‘grace.’ This would have unraveled the illusory ‘consensus’ on justification” (pg. 19).

“By failing to state clearly the instrumental nature of justifying faith, we fail to identify clearly the cause of our justification as found entirely in God’s saving action in Christ. The cause of our faith is outside of us, not “in faith,” not in us. When we speak this way, we rob Christ of all the glory in the justification of sinners and we deprive sinners of the maximum comfort which can only be gotten when Christ is the sole cause of salvation. The document’s treatment of the assurance of salvation is also, at best, ambiguous. It is a good example of how the primary purpose of the ‘Joint Declaration’ is to maximize agreement and minimize the disagreements” (pg. 44).

“Is this Declaration a significant breakthrough in a document that has long divided Rome from Wittenberg? Again, the answer is easy: No. First of all, as even the document itself shows, there remain very significant theological differences, in language, theological elaboration and emphasis, regarding the doctrine of justification. It is not a ‘breakthrough.’ In fact, the document shows that very little headway at all has been made. Secondly, it cannot constitute a significant breakthrough, since such a breakthrough will only be achieved through honest dialogue, each side not only seeking what unites, but also honoring what still divides. A breakthrough predicated upon a faulty methodology, upon imprecise theological language and upon an ahistorical treatment of our foundation documents is no breakthrough at all. Those who in this round of the discussions represented the ‘Lutheran’ side failed. We should not only view this document with alarm for the potential damage to faith it could cause, but we should seek every opportunity to enter into the dialogue with the Roman Catholics. Otherwise, who will fairly and with integrity represent the Lutheran Confessions and deal honestly with the condemnations?” (pg. 46).

What was Dr. Barry’s earlier press release on this subject?

The text of the press release titled, “A Betrayal of the Gospel” follows:

ST. LOUIS, October 15, 1999-On October 31, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church will meet in Augsburg, Germany, to sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Participating Lutheran leaders have hailed this accord as a “magnificent breakthrough.” They say it resolves the long-standing division between Lutherans and Roman Catholics over the doctrine by which the Christian Church stands or falls: the teaching of how God saves (or justifies) a sinner by grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone, through faith alone. But is this “agreement” really a breakthrough? In a word, no.

Disclaimers and Clarifications

In truth, the Joint Declaration is an ambiguous statement whose careful wording makes it possible for the Pope’s representatives to sign it without changing, retracting or correcting anything that has been taught by the Roman Catholic Church since the time of the Council of Trent in the 16th century. [For more on the Council of Trent-and a familiarity with Trent is essential for anyone following this story-see the sidebar story on Page 3.]

We who are members of a confessional Lutheran church body must say with all boldness and vigor that the Joint Declaration is hardly the dramatic advance some claim it to be. The document does not represent a change in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It does nothing to repudiate the doctrinal formulations put forth by the Council of Trent.

Rome has indicated that the agreement does not represent an agreement on the role of renewal and sanctification in the Christian life. For the Roman Catholic Church, this renewal and sanctification are part of justification; for Lutheranism, justification is by faith alone, apart from any works of the Law (Romans 3:28).

Still another Roman clarification concerning the declaration (the absence of any such Lutheran clarifications is telling) states that “eternal life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merit.” This assertion contradicts Holy Scripture (such as Ephesians 2:8-9), which clearly teaches that the salvation of the sinner is always and only by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith alone, apart from works.

We would underscore the Vatican’s perceptive observation that even though the Lutheran World Federation has attempted to gain signatures from a wide variety of Lutheran groups in an effort to achieve a great consensus, “there remains, however, the question of the real authority of such a synodal consensus, today and also tomorrow, in the life and doctrine of the Lutheran community.” In other words, the Lutheran World Federation does not speak officially for world Lutheranism-a point clearly recognized by the Vatican.

A Surrender of Sacred Truth

If, then, the Joint Declaration is not quite the breakthrough event its Lutheran signatories say it is, what is it? It is two things: It is an opportunity for Rome to appear ecumenical without conceding a thing, and it is but the latest example of Lutherans sacrificing God’s truth on the altar of unity.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and its many partner churches around the world, as well as any number of Lutheran communions not part of our confessional fellowship, have not accepted the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. We consider the Joint Declaration to be a surrender of the most important truth taught in God’s Word. It represents a clear, stunning departure from the Reformation and thus is contrary to what it means to be a Lutheran Christian.

That being said, Lutherans not participating in the Joint Declaration continue to pray for true, God-given unity in the confession of the Christian faith. We thank God for the grace He gives to all believers in Jesus Christ throughout world Christendom. We rejoice in what we have in common with the Roman church. And, indeed, that is much. However, it is a great tragedy when those who claim to be leaders of Lutheranism depart from the very essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their participation in, and support for, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. These leaders, in their quest to achieve unity, fail to see the declaration for what it truly is: a woefully inadequate and misleading document and a betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Background on The Council of Trent

The Council of Trent (Trent being a town in northeastern Italy) met in three periods, under three different popes, between 1545 and 1563. This ecumenical conclave was the Roman church’s first formal answer to the challenge of the Protestant Reformation.

Council members issued a number of decrees, all of which served to codify and reaffirm Catholic doctrine. Some of those decrees, in the form of “canons,” concerned the doctrine of justification. Here are three:

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 anathema.

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

CANON XIV: If anyone says that a man is absolved from sins 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 anathema.

These canons say that faith alone in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is not sufficient to justify a sinner. Something more is needed?i.e., the performance of good works. Such thinking, from which the Roman church has not budged, the Joint Declaration notwithstanding, is antithetical to historic Lutheran thinking, which holds that if salvation is of works, or even partly of works, then it is not by grace. Put another way, if we are justified by the Law, then Christ is of no advantage to us.

No amount of sophistry, such as that found in the Joint Declaration, can elude this truth.

The Lutheran Stance on Good Works

Lutheran doctrine says that we are justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law (i.e., good works). As the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions affirm, good works will always be present as fruits of faith, but are in no way to be considered as part of the reason God justifies us. We are justified totally on the grounds of Christ’s work for us and not by any good works that we do, either before or after we come to faith.

Yet, the wording of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification says that a believer must intrinsically qualify justifying faith before God by doing good works. The document also states that the “renewal” of man (his doing of good works) is also part of justification. This, of itself, is a gross mixing of Law and Gospel.

What did one of our Synod’s leading authorities on the doctrine of justification have to say about the Joint Declaration and Rome’s position on justification?

“Trent (VI, Canon 12) rejected the Lutheran teaching that justifying faith was trust in the grace and mercy of God for Christ’s sake. ‘If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be anathema.’ Trent understood perfectly what the Lutheran position was on this point. Trent does not hesitate to speak of justifying faith and (using Pauline language) of justification by faith. But in opposition to the Lutheran doctrine, the Tridentine fathers described justifying faith according to the old scholastic pattern of thought as an infused virtue and a faith formed by love. Chapter 7 states, ‘For faith, unless hope, and love are joined to it, neither unites perfectly with Christ nor makes on a living member of His body.’ Just previously the chapter had stated that man who is grafted into Christ receives in justification the remission of sins and at the same time ‘all these infused virtues: faith, hope and love.’

“Nowhere do Trent or later Roman Catholic theologians define justifying faith as trust, at least not trust in the mercy of God. Rather, faith is considered a virtue which along with hope and love, constitutes the beginning of the justification process (Catechism, par. 1814). Trust, however, was considered an element of faith. Even prior to Baptism, which is the instrumental cause of justification and without which no one has ever been justified (Trent, chap. 7) or saved, one who is not yet engrafted into Christ can possess these virtues incipiently. Trust, then, or certitude, is akin to dogmatic faith, a firm conviction and acceptance of the dogmas of the faith and the authority of God who reveals them. Considered relative to justification, it is not appropriate to be classified as receptivity. In the nature of the case, a virtue is a good work and does not function as a ‘receiving organ’ of God’s grace and mercy by which one is justified. It is in this sense that Trent understand the per fidem of Romans 3:28. Clearly, how one defines justifying faith and trust will determine how one understands the role faith plays in one’s justification before God.” (Robert Preus, Justification and Rome, Concordia Academic Press: 1997, p. 84).

Was the Missouri Synod Alone in Expressing Disagreement with the JDDJ?

No, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has by no means been alone in expressing its grave concerns and reservations regarding the Joint Declaration. Here are two notable examples of expressions of concerns by other Lutherans.

A Statement by 247 German Luther Scholars

This statement was produced by the world’s premier Luther scholars. Many of the individuals who signed this warning against the JDDJ are without question the 20th century’s top Luther scholars, who have produced studies of Luther that are universally recognized as the best scholarship available on Luther today. It can not be said that these individuals do not understand Luther and or do not understand the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The text of the statement follows:

“In realization of their responsibility for theology and church, the undersigned theological instructors in higher education issue the following position statement in relation to the planned signing on 31 of October 1999 of the Official Common Statement of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (OCS) with which the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) shall be confirmed:

1. The OCS together with its Annex does not remove the critical objections which have been raised against the JDDJ on the part of theological instructors in higher education and which have been put forth by many synods in their position statements to the JDDJ. Above all, the criticism related to the lack of consensus in the JDDJ on the meaning of word and faith for justification, on the certainty of salvation, on the nature of the justified human being as sinner, on the meaning of good works for salvation as well as on the critical function of the doctrine of justification; further, the criticism related to the still insufficient consensus on the relationship between law and gospel; finally, the criticism related to the lack of consideration of the Old Testament. None of these points of criticism has actually been refuted by the OCS.

2. It is acknowledged in the OCS that further work on many theological questions–including the doctrine of justification itself–is needed. However, the hoped for clarifications from this future work on these fundamental questions must be attained before a Joint Statement can be signed responsibly.

3. To be sure, the OCS does include a few Lutheran formulations, for example “simul iustus et peccator” or “by faith alone,” but it interprets these statements in a Roman Catholic sense against their Reformation meaning. The declaration of the OCS that the condemnations of the Council of Trent no longer apply to the Lutheran church is only valid with the condition of this interpretation. (In relation to the “simul” phrase and to the doctrine of concupiscence, this was subsequently confirmed and emphasized not only by the Council for Unity but also by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). This interpretation, which has been adapted to the Tridentine condemnations, fundamentally calls into question the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification to which all Lutheran pastors and bishops are obligated to uphold in their ordination vows.

4. If it is claimed, in contrast to this, that the Roman Catholic Church accepts through the OCS hitherto condemned Reformation insights, then this contradicts not only the contents of the OCS but surely its function. Indeed, it (the OCS) became necessary only and solely to remove the contradictions to the condemnations of the Tridentinum which the Roman Catholic Church displayed in its official response to the JDDJ from the 25th of June 1998.

5. Through the OCS, the JDDJ is supposed to be confirmed “in its entirety.” This would thereby affirm the whole Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue process as mentioned in the JDDJ, together with the ecumenical perspective of purpose which has been one-sidedly influenced by the ecumenism-program of the Roman Catholic Church. Further, this assessment is not contradicted by the OCS phrase about “unity in diversity, in which remaining differences would be ‘reconciled.’ ” since this phrase refers expressly to the “basis of the agreements reached” in the sense of the Roman Catholic interpretation and is subsequently valid only within this framework.

6. The signing of the OCS would result in no improvements whatsoever in the practicalities of Protestants and Catholics living together in families and in congregations. At this point it becomes clear that the meaning of the Doctrine of Justification as the center of the teaching and life of the church has been ineffectual in these texts.

7. A signing of the OCS would mean passing over the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation responsible for doctrinal questions. None of their synods has yet taken a position on the OCS, let alone affirmed it. Neither the interpretation of the JDDJ and of Lutheran doctrine contained in the OCS nor the intention to confirm the JDDJ in its entirety can be based upon official votes on the JDDJ by member churches.

Summation: Because the OCS in the content of its statements fundamentally calls the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification into question, presupposes an ecumenical notion of purpose which is irreconcilable with Reformation criteria, has not received the consent of the instances responsible for doctrinal questions, results in no practical consequences for ecumenical togetherness on the ground, the undersigned theological instructors in higher education consider themselves occasioned to express their weighty objections against the OCS and to warn against its signing.

Signatories (247)
Prof. Dr. Barbara Aland, Münster

PD Dr. Christian Albrecht, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Dr. Günter Altner, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Erik Aurelius, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Elke Axmacher, Bielefeld

Prof. Dr. Horst-Robert Balz, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Bartelmus, Kiel

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Barth, Halle

Prof. Dr. Dr. Peter F. Barton, Wien

PD Dr. Michael Basse, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Hans-Dieter Bastian, Bonn

Stud.-prof. Dr. Günter Bauckmann, Münster

Prof. Dr. Jörg Baur, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Oswald Bayer, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Becker, Kiel

PD Dr. Uwe Becker, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Michael Beintker, Münster

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Beißer, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Otto Betz, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Albrecht Beutel, Münster

Prof. Dr. Franz-Heinrich Beyer, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Karlmann Beyschlag, Erlangen

Prof. Dr. Christoph Bizer, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Peter C. Bloth, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Thomas Bonhoeffer, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Karin Bornkamm, Bielefeld

Prof. Dr. Günther Brakelmann, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Egon Brandenburger, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Martin Brecht, Münster

Prof. Dr. Hans-Christof Brennecke, Erlangen

Prof. Dr. Axel Denecke, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Hermann Deuser, Frankfurt /M.

Prof. Dr. Karl Dienst, Frankfurt /M.

Prof. Dr. Jörg Dierken, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Irene Dingel, Mainz

PD Dr. Angelika Dörfler-Dierken, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Dr. Herbert Donner, Kiel

Prof. Dr. Volker Drehsen, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Drescher, Dortmund

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Ebeling, Zürich

Prof. Dr. Klaus Ebert, Köln

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Eckey, Wuppertal

Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Eckstein, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Engemann, Münster

Prof. Dr. Erwin Fahlbusch, Frankfurt/M.

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm-Ludwig Federlin, Frankfurt/M.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Fischer, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Christofer Frey, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Jörg Frey, München

PD Dr. Martin Friedrich, Hagen

Prof. Dr. Hans Friedrich Geißer, Zürich

PD Dr. Jan Ch. Gertz, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Carl-Friedrich Geyer, Frankfurt/M.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Geyer, Darmstadt

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Gräb, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Erich Gräßer, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Friedrich W. Graf, Augsburg

PD Dr. Dirk-Martin Grube, Groningen

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Härle, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Helmut Hanisch, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Christoph M. Haufe, Leipzig

PD Dr. Rainer Hauke, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Peter Hauptmann, Münster

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Hauschildt, Bonn

Doz. Dr. Matthias Heesch, Wuppertal

Prof. Dr. Horst Heinemann, Kassel

Prof. Dr. Martin Hengel, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Peter Henke, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Hennig, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Richard Hentschke, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Michael Herbst, Greifswald

PD Dr. Jan Hermelink, Halle

PD Dr. Siegfried Hermle, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Eilert Herms, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Franz Hesse, Münster

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Heumann, Oldenburg

Prof. Dr. Dietrich von Heymann, Freiburg

Prof. Dr. Peter Höffken, Lüneburg

Prof. Dr. Otfried Hofius, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Martin Honecker, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Friedrich W. Horn, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Gottfried Hornig, Bochum

PD Dr. Michael Hüttenhoff, Solingen

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaas Huizing, Würzburg

Prof. Dr. Bernd Janowski, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. J. Christine Janowski, Bern

Prof. Dr. Traugott Jehnichen, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Werner Jetter, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Helmar Junghans, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Otto Kaiser, Marburg

PD Dr. Jürgen Kampmann, Münster

Prof. Dr. Karl-Hermann Kandler, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann, München

Prof. Dr. Günther Keil, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Dr. Siegfried Keil, Marburg

PD Dr. Rudolf Keller, Neuendettelsau

PD Dr. Hans-Martin Kirn, Münster

Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Oberursel

Prof. Dr. Günter Klein, Münster

Prof. Dr. Dietrich-Alex Koch, Münster

Prof. Dr. Traugott Koch, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Matthias Köckert, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Köpf, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Körtner, Wien

Prof. Dr. Dietrich Korsch, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Rolf Kramer, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Reinhard G. Kratz, Göttingen

PD Dr. Friedrich Krause, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Friedhelm Krüger, Osnabrück

Prof. Dr. Peter Lampe, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Dietz Lange, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Hans-Günter Leder, Greifswald

Prof. Dr. Martin Leiner, Neuchatel

Prof. Dr. Hermann Lichtenberger, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Heinz Liebing, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Wulf-Volker Lindner, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Liwak, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Lott, Bremen

Prof. Dr. Ingetraut Ludolphy, Dresden

Doz. Dr. Hartmut Ludwig, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Dieter Lührmann, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Inge Mager, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Theodor Mahlmann, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Christoph Markschies, Jena

Prof. Dr. Rudolf Mau, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Gerhard May, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Günter Mayer, Mainz

PD Dr. Wichmann. v. Meding, Kiel

PD Dr. Martin Meiser, Erlangen

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Mell, Kiel

PD Dr. Ute Mennecke-Haustein, Jena

Prof. Dr. Otto Merk, Erlangen

Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer-Blanck, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Dr. Koloman N. Micskey, Wien

Prof. Dr. Bernd Moeller, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Michael Moxter, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz zur Mühlen, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Mühlenberg, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Hans Martin Müller, Tübingen

PD Dr. Michael Murrmann-Kahl, Wien

PD Dr. Susanne Natrup, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Gottfried Nebe, Bochum

PD Dr. Heinz-Dieter Neef, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Nethöfel, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Neuser, Münster

Prof. Dr. Karl Ernst Nipkow, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Dr. Kurt Nowak, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Manfred Oeming, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Jörg Ohlemacher, Greifswald

Prof. Dr. Martin Ohst, Wuppertal

Prof. Dr. Jürgen van Oorschot, Jena

Prof. Dr. Gottfried Orth, Braunschweig

Prof. Dr. Eva Oßwald, Weimar

Prof. Dr. Gert Otto, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Hermann Peiter, Kiel

Prof. Dr. Lothar Perlitt, Göttingen

PD Dr. Christian Peters, Münster

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Petzold, Jena

Prof. Dr. Martin Petzoldt, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann, Münster

Prof. Dr. Reiner Preul, Kiel

PD Dr. Erwin Quapp, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Klaus Raschzok, Jena

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Rau, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Henning Graf Reventlow, Bochum

PD Dr. Ingrid Riesener, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Joachim Ringleben, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Ringshausen, Lüneburg

Prof. Dr. Hartmut Rosenau, Duisburg

Prof. Dr. Günther Roth, Oldenburg

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Rothfuchs, Oberursel

Prof. Dr. Udo Rüterswörden, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Dieter Sänger, Gießen

Prof. Dr. Arno Sames, Halle

Prof. Dr. Jörg V. Sandberger, Münster

Prof. Dr. Christa Schäfer-Lichtenberger, Bethel

Prof. Dr. Arnulf von Scheliha, Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Rolf Schieder, Landau

Prof. Dr. Dr. Johannes Schilling, Kiel

Prof. Dr. Martin Schloemann, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Heinz Schmidt, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Ludwig Schmidt, Erlangen

Prof. Dr. Walter Schmithals, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Hans Schneider, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Günther Schnurr, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Ingrid Schoberth, Wuppertal

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schoberth, Bayreuth

Prof. Dr. Johannes Schreiber, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Hans-Walter Schütte, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Gerd Schunack, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Hans Schwarz, Regensburg

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Schwarz, München

Prof. Dr. Klaus Schwarzwäller, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Horst Schwebel, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Schweitzer, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Christoph Schwöbel, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Gottfried Seebaß, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Horst Seibert, Darmstadt

Prof. Dr. Martin Seils, Jena

Prof. Dr. Kurt-Victor Selge, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Notger Slenczka, Göttingen

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Slenczka, Riga

Prof. Dr. Walter Sparn, Erlangen

PD Dr. Angela Standhartinger, Frankfurt/M.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Steck, München

Prof. Dr. Dr. Hartmut Stegemann, Göttingen

PD Dr. Johann Anselm Steiger, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Lothar Steiger, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Konrad Stock, Gießen

Prof. Dr. Udo Sträter, Halle

Prof. Dr. Hans Strauß, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Peter Stuhlmacher, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Robert Stupperich, Münster

Prof. Dr. Jens-Wilhelm Taeger, Münster

Prof. Dr. Martin Tetz, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Winfried Thiel, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Angelika Thol-Hauke, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Dr. Hermann Timm, München

Prof. Dr. Michael Trowitzsch, Jena

PD Dr. Dr. Jörg Ulrich, Jena

PD Dr. Harald Wahl, Marburg

Prof. Dr. Ernst-Joachim Waschke, Halle

Prof. Dr. Johannes Wallmann, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Dr. Günther Wartenberg, Leipzig

Prof. Dr. Edmund Weber, Frankfurt/M.

Prof. Dr. Hans Weder, Zürich

Prof. Dr. Horst Weigelt, Bamberg

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Weiß, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Dr. Michael Welker, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Dorothea Wendebourg, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Wilfrid Werbeck, Tübingen

Prof. Dr. Martin Weyer-Menkhoff, Schwäb.-Gmünd

Prof. Dr. Stephan Weyer-Menkhoff, Mainz

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Wickert, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Günter Wied, Dortmund

Prof. Dr. Johannes Wirsching, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Oda Wischmeyer, Erlangen

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wischmeyer, Wien

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Wölfel, Kiel

Prof. Dr. Michael Wolter, Bonn

PD Dr. Werner Zager, Bochum

Prof. Dr. Dietrich Zilleßen, Köln

Prof. Dr. Hellmut Zschoch, Wuppertal

Prof. Dr. Jean Zumstein, Zürich

An Open Letter to Cardinal Edward Cassidy President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity From American and European Lutheran Theologians

Your Eminence, we, in our capacity as Evangelical-Lutheran professors of theology, feel the obligation to bring to your attention the following declaration:

1. The signing of the “Official Common Statement” (OCS) by the president of the Lutheran World Federation, together with other representatives of LWF, is not binding for the member churches, since the LWF does not have any doctrinal authority. Neither are we, who as teachers have a share in the responsibility for our churches, bound by the ratification of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (JDDJ) “in its entirety,” which is implied in the signing of OCS, and the interpretation of JDDJ that goes with it.

2. Rather, we declare that neither JDDJ “in its entirety” nor the “Annex to the OCS” are reconcilable to the Confessions of the Evangelical-Lutheran Churches.

3. Because of the special responsibility we have as teachers of theology we will resist every attempt to interpret or regulate the doctrine and preaching in our churches along the lines of JDDJ as it has been interpreted in the light of OCS (with its Annex). We rather contradict all attempts to reinterpret or undermine Martin Luther’s central biblical rediscovery of salvation and its expression in the Lutheran Confession.

4. We caution the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church and their pastors and teachers not to consider dissident statements from the LWF as scriptural and confessional expressions of current Lutheran doctrine and preaching.

5. For the same reason we caution against the construction of additional doctrinal agreements regarding the Lord’s Supper and the ordained ministry, which would be based on the alleged agreement in “basic truths regarding the doctrine of justification.” Rather we ask Roman Catholic Christians, in the dialogues concerning the Lord’s Supper and the ordained ministry, to take into account the scriptural doctrine of justification in its fullness.

6. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s high priestly prayer, “ut omnes unum sint” (Jn 17:21), commands all who believe in Him to obey the delivering and binding truth of the justification of the ungodly (Rom 4:5). At the same time it prohibits church-political strategies according to the wisdom of this world (1 Cor 1:20; Rom 12:2).

The unity of the true Church that is given in our one and only Savior Jesus Christ is still hidden beneath our painful disagreements because the churches do not hear and understand the Gospel of salvation in the Son in one single, identical way. Therefore we are forbidden to sacrifice the recognized truth which binds us in our conscience, even in the face of humanly understandable urging in favor of a visible and institutional church union and reasoning with a view towards evangelism, for which this kind of sacrifice is said to be necessary.

7. The doctrinal condemnations that the Council of Trent directed against central tenets of our faith–whether as a result of misunderstanding or a correct interpretation–have no relevance before the judgement seat of God. Therefore even their “correction” would be of no spiritual consequence for us and our congregations.

Their true correction regarding the relations between the churches is not to be achieved through reconciling formulae. It could only be achieved through a fresh understanding that accords with the Gospel. This requires from all churches, which now de facto exist in particularity, the renunciation of all preemptive and monopolistic claims to mediate salvation in Christ. The paper that was signed on October 31, 1999 just as JDDJ itself bears no trace of such a renunciation.

8. “Moreover it be required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1

Cor 4:2).

Hic iam quaeritur inter dispensatores ut fidelis quis inveniatur.

Prof. Dr. Erik Aurelius, Lund, Universität Göttingen, Theologische Fakultät

Prof. Dr. Jörg Baur, Universität Göttingen, Theologische Fakultät

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Forde, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Prof. Dr. Leif Grane, University of Copenhagen, Teologisk Fakultet

Prof. Gracia Grindal, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Prof. Dr. Bengt Hägglund, University of Lund, Teologiska Fakulteten

Prof. Dr. James Kittelson, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Prof. Dr. Steffen Kjeldgaard-Pedersen, University of Copenhagen, Teologisk Fakultet

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Krodel, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, PA

Prof. Dr. Inge Lønning, University of Oslo, Teologisk Fakultet

Prof. Dr. James Nestingen, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Prof. Dr. Steven Paulson, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Prof. Dr. Tarald Rasmussen, University of Oslo, Teologisk Fakultet

Prof. Dr. Joachim Ringleben, Universität Göttingen, Theologische Fakultät

Is it true that over 45% of the world’s Lutheran churches did not support the JDDJ?

The Lutheran World Federation’s press releases stipulated that 35 of its 124 member churches did not cast a vote for the JDDJ. Of the 89 that did cast a vote, 80 said “yes” and five said, “no.” Four cast votes that were hard to interpret. The LWF determined that one was probably a “yes” and three were probably “no” votes. That means 43 LWF member churches did not support the JDDJ. The LWF has refused to release the names of the LWF member churches that did not cast “yes” votes for the JDDJ.

124 churches are members of LWF.

43 of LWF member churches did not indicate support for the JDDJ.

35% of the LWF’s own member churches did not support the LWF.

Then, one can add those Lutheran churches that are not members of the LWF that did not support the JDDJ. Here is a partial listing of some of these

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina

The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of France and Belgium

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil

Lutheran Church–Canada

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chile

The Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Denmark

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England

The Confessional Lutheran Church of Finland

The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Guatemala

The Lutheran Church–Hong Kong Synod

Japan Lutheran Church

The Lutheran Synod of Mexico

The Good News Lutheran Church of New Guinea

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay

The Free Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa

The Lutheran Church of Southern Africa

China Evangelical Lutheran Church (Taiwan)

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

The Lutheran Church of Venezuela

Total: 21 churches

124 churches members of the LWF.

Total churches: 145

Other churches in America that did not support the JDDJ:

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Evangelical Lutheran Synod

American Association of Lutheran Churches

Lutheran Churches of the Reformation

Apostolic Lutheran Church of America

Association of Free Lutheran Congregations

Church of the Lutheran Brethren

Church of the Lutheran Confession

Eielsen Synod

Total of others: 9

Total churches: 154

So, given even this partial listing of the world’s Lutheran church-bodies.

154 churches

73 churches not supporting the JDDJ

47%

These figures do not include a number of other church bodies in the world, and so the percentage would only be significantly higher than 45% in the final analysis. It is often said by way of rejoinder that 80% of the world’s Lutheran population is included in those churches that did vote “yes” for the JDDJ. This figure is somewhat meaningless in light of the fact that the largest Lutheran churches include state churches that number entire national populations as “Lutheran.” As many have observed, the majority of persons in these countries rarely darken a church door. The most important fact to bear in mind is simply that the pure confession of the truth is not judged by the numbers of individuals claimed as members of a given church but by a church’s faithfulness to what is actually taught in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

Why was “Toward True Reconciliation” Considered Necessary?

President Barry had attempted to have our Synod’s position on the Joint Declaration noticed by the public media before the JDDJ was signed in October 1999. He prepared the press statement, “A Betrayal of the Gospel” and it was sent to all major US papers and the major news services. Few media outlets gave much attention to it, noting in most cases simply that the LCMS did not sign the JDDJ. President Barry received many messages expressing encouragement and also urging that the LCMS position be made more widely available directly to the congregations of the Synod and also the public media.

Because this issue concerned the very Gospel of Christ itself, and because many media were misrepresenting the facts and distorting what actually had taken place, it necessary to state clearly and succinctly what the belief of our church is in this matter.

Many major media did not carefully distinguish Lutherans in this country, implying to the American public that a “breakthrough” had been reached between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, without distinguishing that in this country alone, nearly three million Lutherans were not part of this alleged breakthrough.

“A Betrayal of the Gospel” was posted on the Internet and available for world-wide distribution and access via the LCMS www site. The statement, “Toward True Reconciliation” was seen as an extension of President Barry’s efforts to represent the position of our Synod on this critical issue.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Board of Directors’ Policy Manual under Policy 5.7.5 “Contacts with the News Media” the policy stipulates that “In communicating synodwide policies and positions, the synodical President, or his designated representative, shall be the chief spokesperson.” President Barry exercised his right under this policy to communicate the Synod’s position on justification. Further, the policy indicates that the president is to work through the Board for Communication Services when addressing the public media. This too Dr. Barry did, working with the Synod’s Director of Public Relations.

President Barry believed that as the chief spokesman for the LCMS, and in line with his duties as the chief ecumenical officer of the Synod, and with the knowledge that the Synod in convention had spoken out against the JDDJ, and in light of the media’s misrepresentation of the Joint Declaration, that it was absolutely necessary to address this concern in the same forum where it has been so woefully misrepresented: the public media. This was necessary in order to set the record straight and, most importantly, clearly to state what the Gospel is and why we differ with Rome on the chief article of the Christian faith.

Hasn’t Rome changed its doctrine? I know Catholics who believe the way we do.

As the statement printed in the newspaper makes abundantly clear, we do in fact have much in common with our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church. Sadly, however, the most important truth of the Christian faith is not taught accurately and faithfully in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a very painful reality.

It is not possible to accurately evaluate what the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is on the basis of private opinions by certain Roman Catholics. Thank God for those Roman Catholics who do fully embrace the pure Gospel! We must evaluate the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of official and normative doctrinal statements by the Roman Magisterium.

The Pope’s representative went out of his way, on numerous occasions during this process, to clarify that the Council of Trent was not overturned, changed or otherwise retracted or modified by Rome’s participation in the JDDJ. The Vatican’s “Clarifications” make this very clear.

The Roman Catholic Church continues to affirm the false doctrine that was made official church dogma during the 16th century Council of Trent. Here is one example: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be condemned.”

The newest edition of the Roman Catholic Catechism states: “We can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed to attain eternal life.” According to Rome, grace is a spiritual power infused into man that makes it possible for him to do the good works that then merit forgiveness and eternal life. This view contradicts the Biblical doctrine of justification: A sinner is saved by God’s grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone, through faith alone. For Rome, faith is not that “receiving hand” which God gives us in order that we may hold on to Christ, but rather a virtue given to man that receives the initial grace that makes possible man’s ability to merit more grace, etc. by means of the works that merit grace. It is a subtle form of the old error of Pelagius.

Luther once said, “We can not pin our hope on anything that we are, think, say or do . . nor can our satisfaction be uncertain, for it consists not of the dubious sinful works which we do, but of the sufferings and blood of the innocent Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

The Pope’s recent announcement of a special Jubilee indulgence underscores the fact that Rome teaches a different Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). Until the doctrine of Trent is renounced, the claim that Roman Catholicism has embraced the true Gospel will continue to be untrue. It is a terrible tragedy that those who claim to be heirs of Luther have permitted this to happen.

The Book of Concord,the collected doctrinal statements of the Lutheran Church, asks this poignant and timeless question, “Who would not gladly die in the confession of the article that we receive the forgiveness of sins, freely given for Christ’s sake, and that our works do not merit the forgiveness of sins?”

The Office of the President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
January 13, 2000

Q. I would like to understand the main problem your church body has with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (signed October 31 by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church). Is it the fact that it implies that we are saved as a result of both faith and works?

A. Yes, you are on the right track here. The recently signed Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) does not signal a change in the Roman Catholic church, but rather, a willingness on the part of the Lutherans who signed it to allow Rome’s doctrine of justification to stand as a valid interpretation of what the Bible teaches us about justification. This is something that the Lutheran church has never done before, and in fact, it is a great tragedy and a profoundly sad moment in the history of Lutheranism.

Rome historically has always taught that we are saved by grace, and grace alone. They emphasize that very strongly. The 16th century Council of Trent makes this point very clear. Thus, there is nothing new on this in the Declaration on this point, even though some Lutherans have made it sound as if Rome’s words about grace signal some marvelous breakthrough.

What you probably have not heard is that the JDDJ very carefully avoid precise definitions of the words grace, faith, sin, etc. That is no accident. Careful definition of those terms would have shown how far apart our two churches actually are on the doctrine of justification.

The problem with Rome’s view of justification is that they view it as a process, whereby we cooperate with God’s grace in order to merit eternal life for ourselves, and even for others (that is a paraphrase of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches). They view grace as a sort of “substance” that God infuses into us that permits us to do those works that are necessary in order that we might earn more grace. The Bible describes grace as the loving and favorable disposition of God; in other words, grace is all about what God is doing and giving.

We distinguish between the result of justification, which is the Christian life, and the work of God to save us. Rome mixes sanctification with justification. Why is this view troublesome? Because it teaches that something other than trust in Christ is necessary for or salvation. That “something other” is what we bring to the table. And the only thing we do bring to the table is our sin, not our good works. Our works are a response that God works in us, but not a contributing cause to our justification.

The Roman Catholic Church is very careful to state that even this “something other” is made possibly only because God has given us the “initial” grace to desire more grace. But in practical reality, it is apparent that the Roman Catholic Church is finally throwing people back on relying on what they are doing, or can do, to merit eternal life. When we mix in our works in the picture of our salvation, the glory and merit of Christ always end up becoming obscured.

But the Bible is clear that it is purely by grace, not by works, or else grace would just be a “help” for us to do the works that finally are what merit God’s forgiveness. In the Roman Catholic view, justification is a process by which we participate with God in achieving our salvation. The Biblical view is that justification is God’s declaration of our complete righteousness and total forgiveness, apart from any works. This gift is received by faith alone–apart from works (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).

Another point to be made is this: If, in fact, Rome does teach justification as the Bible teaches it, then there should be an immediate change in its view of indulgences, prayer to the saints and the myriad of other extra-biblical traditions that it has embraced. For if justification is the heart and center of the Bible, then these other things are incompatible with it.

I hope this helps you see that the Roman Catholic view of justification and the classical Lutheran view are definitely not complementary, but diametrically opposed to one another. The JDDJ did not change that fact. The Lutherans who signed the document did not insist on careful definition of terms so as to make absolutely clear that our salvation is by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

The best short study of the historic differences between Rome and Lutheranism on the doctrine of justification is available in a book called “Justification and Rome” by Robert Preus. You may purchase a copy of this book from Concordia Publishing House (CPH) (800-325-3040).

The most complete treatment of this subject is in the 16th century Lutheran response to Trent, which still stands today as the best and most complete treatment of Trent by a Lutheran. It is “The Examination of the Council of Trent” by Martin Chemnitz, also available through CPH.

And here is a superbly done analysis of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which shows how, tragically, Lutherans compromised the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Categories: Roman Catholicism
  1. Steve
    April 21st, 2010 at 16:54 | #1

    It appears that the real question is “What does it mean to be a Lutheran?” Do we hold to the Lutheran Confessions as the proper understanding of Christian doctrine or as just one understanding? Do we claim to be Lutheran due to cultural or family ties but could go to any Christian church? Is Lutheranism just Roman Catholic lite?

  2. Michael Mapus
    April 22nd, 2010 at 08:19 | #2

    I remember 10 years ago in my old ELCA congregation, the Diocese’s of Norht West Ohio sent a letter asking us not to celebrate Reformation Day to show our support of the signing of this declaration. I argued tooth and nail against this document and the request from the NW Ohio Diocese, needless to say, I lost. Shortly after, I went looking for a WELS congregation and ended up in the LCMS. I thank God for both.

  3. Steve P.
    April 23rd, 2010 at 08:21 | #3

    I’ve been struggling over this question for a long time. As Trent’s Canons XII and XIV are explicit condemnations of pelagianism, why do we hold fast to the idea that Trent is anathematizing US (with those particular two canons)?

    The canons say that if faith is defined as a mere fallen human virtue and you say that that mere human virtue saves you then you are “anathema.” While I cannot swallow the idea that simple faithful people are damned (isn’t that what “anathema means?) just because they aren’t good theologians–I also don’t why such a big deal is made over those two particular canons. They are correct. If you want to find the parts of Trent that deny the gospel you have to look elsewhere.

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    April 24th, 2010 at 06:19 | #4

    Actually, anathema means “dedicated”. The meaning comes from that to which the entity is dedicated. The meaning has changed over time. It is not entirely synonymous with excommunication. The latter are of two types, ferendae sententiae, the action of a church court or official, and latae sententiae, which happens immediately upon commission of the act, as for example I fervently hope applies to me by hanging with you guys. Of the ferendae sententiae, anathema is done only by the Pope, from a book called Pontificale Romanum, of the Pontifical in English. The formula of anathema ends with a proclamation that there is nothing further the church can do for the person, he is banned not only from the church both on earth and in heaven, he is to be excluded from social communication with all Christians (this is vitandus, shunned, as opposed to toleratus, where social contact is allowed) and judged to be damned and delivered to Satan and his angels in the hope, there being nothing more to be done, that this shock therapy, so zu sagen, will effect repentance. That is why the liturgical colour for this ceremony is purple, not black, and it is important to understand this is not held to be damnation itself, but a solemn proclamation from God’s church of what will happen from God and not the church if the behaviour continues unrepentant. A similar penalty can be pronounced against an entire area, and this is called interdict. The more common terms now are major and minor excommunication, and the postconciliar Pontificale does not have the “bell, book and candle” ritual.

  5. February 20th, 2013 at 05:35 | #5

    Very gratfeul for the LC-MS’s stand on this, then & now, Paul.
    Regrettably the Lutheran Church of Australia celebrated the signing but it is notable that it has not been taken to a General Convention of Synod for formal acceptance.

  6. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    February 21st, 2013 at 08:40 | #6

    I don’t know how anyone who has actually read this document can honestly say that Rome and the Lutherans have reconciled on the doctrine of justification. The Catholic theologians knew what they were doing, and the Lutheran theologians were so hopeful for reconciliation that they were ready and willing to agree to just about anything, and so Rome gave up nothing and the Lutherans tossed out the most important doctrine of the faith so that they could have a piece of paper with the signatures of a lot of important people. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.

  7. EGK
    February 21st, 2013 at 14:03 | #7

    I have taken students through JDDJ over the last decade in several of my courses. Comparing the statements in JDDJ with our confessional documents and with the Confutatio is particularly enlightening, since many of the statements in JDDJ parallel the Confutatio and are explicitly rejected by CA and the Apology. It would not be hard, as well, to see parallels to JDDJ in the Leipzig and Augsburg Interims. To say “no one is saved apart from grace” says nothing unless the term “grace” is clearly defined, which the document does not do. It is quite clear also that the document nowhere actually defines the term “justification.” In the end, at best the document says nothing, and at worst it is a complete capitulation to Trent.

    • February 21st, 2013 at 18:47 | #8

      I think that must be an excellent teaching and learning opportunity.

  8. CRB
    February 22nd, 2013 at 08:52 | #9

    Here is an excellent article on the topic by Gottfried Martens

    http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/kluglutheranconfessions.pdf

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