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November 20, 1999     Arkansas Catholic
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CATHOLIC November Z0, 1999 Page 15 ast week presented a remarkable contrast in the state of interreli- gious dialogue between Catholics and other religions. On hand, the world witnessed the of an agreement between the World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on justification. It was the end of a disagreement that began nearly Martin Luther was at odds with the Church over how Christians are saved and posted his 95 theses. While this is not a concrete move to unify us, there is hope that more will be done to observe our common elements. Lutherans have already made repairs With the Reformed churches, which broke from Luther early and divided the denomination. ! Relations with Orthodox churches clearly need more work. The pope's respect for their faith is evident since he will not visit any f ' 9 Orthodox cotmtrieswithout the consent o the country s patriarch. Catholics have maintained "dia- around the globe, there are still people logues" with nearly every denomination who hate the Catholic Church, and and religion, including Muslims, Jews, Christianity in general. There was an Baptists, Methodists and Orthodox. unusually high degree of ecumenical dis- These discussions include hierarchy from cussions surrounding Pope John Paul each church and a topic of some com- II's recent trip to Georgia, an Orthodox monality. For example, on the surface country, and India, a Hindu country. one might not think there is anything to People there were very leery of the pope proclaim in common with Jews and making comments about Christian and Muslims, but the belief in one God is the Catholic conversions. He was treated foundation of these religions, more like a head of state than the visible Much progress has been made since leader of the Catholic Church. Vatican Council II in the area of inter- While the trips were not marred with faith discussions. But unfortunately, protests, there clearly was an animosity toward the Church because residents were concerned about what the pope's trip will mean. In Georgia, the head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, did not make any ecumenical statements, choosing to speak about the country. Relations with Orthodox churches clearly need more work. The pope's respect for their faith is evident since he will not visit any Orthodox countries without the consent of the countries' patriarchs. As we try to live out the words of the Vatican Council, we are urged to continue to watch and pray for opportunities to further this dialogue on a local and universal level. The writers of the council documents wrote that ecumenism should be a top concern for the Catholic Church. The hope is that all of Christianity will be united some da) y' The Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation declared Oct. 31 in Augsburg, Germany, that they had achieved consensus on the basic truths of the doc- trine ofjustification, which had been a major issue dividing them since the Reformation. But will this agreement's impact be felt by Catholics and Lutherans in local communities? J on Nilson, associate professor of theology at Loyola University Chicago and a Catholic member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in ' the United States, thinks that even if the declara- lion's impact isn't felt strongly by local-church members today, there is little doubt its impact will be known by their grandchildren. And Pastor Frank Senn of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Ill., says that any lack of immediate prac- Jon Nilson Pastor Frank C. Senn tical consequences doesn't mean the declaration lacks profound implications. If this agreement could be reached, agreement also is conceivable on other important matters, including the papacy. remam a n All Saints Day, Nov. 1, 1999, Martin Luther and Pope Leo X, who excommunicated him, probably toasted one another in heaven with Italian wine -- maybe a robust German beer! ! day before in German) church leaders signed the Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" embraced one another. A long-sought bridge Catholics was built at last. This declaration's signing must mean an end to usual" for our two churches. But will it. , discovered oneness with each other has to and lived out between Lutherans and level. l'he signatures on the declaration of Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Vatican's Pontifical for Promoting Christian Unity, and of Lutheran Bishop Christian Krause of Germany, president of the Lutheran made history. this first official agreement between the Church and a church rooted in the Reformation, they declared a consensus in q asic truths" of the doctrine of justification. , in faith in Christ's saving work and not because merit on our part, we are accepted by God and the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while and calling us to good works." a major reason for our separation no longer exists. The condemnations Catholics and Lutherans hurled against one another no longer apply. But what about Susan and Bill Johnson of Trinity Lutheran Church and Jack and Mary Smith of St. Martha's Parish? Will their faith lives be any different next October, a year after the declaration's signing? Probably not. The declaration is a great accomplish- ment. Yet it is a milestone, not a destination. It does not resolve all the issues that still need clarification. No one can predict when Catholics and Lutherans can join hands and receive the Eucharist from the same altar. Moreover, the declaration might be just a gesture for the foreseeable furore -- a powerf , ges- ture because it makes history, but still simply a gesture. High-level ecumenical agreements, says Father Michael Fahey of Marquette University, are like air- planes that keep circling in the clouds because no one gives them permission to land. That is, official statements often make no difference in the day,o- day lives of the churches. For example, the ground- breaking "Final Report" of the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (1981) called for "significant initiatives [to] be boldly undertaken to deepen our reconciliation." Sadly, there were none. Luther himself said the church stands or falls by the doctrine of justification. So this declaration, plus a commitment to the cause of full visible unity of Christ's church, will keep the crucial question burning: "If we can find agree- ment on this central issue, can't we find it on all the other points that now divide us?" By Pastor Frank C. Senn here don't seem to be any practical consequences to signing the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. We're not becoming one church, not entering ihll communion, not at the point to officially share the Eucharist at one another's "altars. But this doesn't mean the joint declaration doesn't have profbund implications. Mutual animosities over four and one-half centuries often led to war and bloodshed. People today recall when Lutherans and Catholics didn't even recognize each other as fellow Christians. For Lutherans justification has been "the article on which the church stands or falls." Now we agree that this doctrine takes its place along with other articles of faith, such as the Trinity, Christology and the means of grace. ff we agree on this article, we must affirm that the Roman Catholic Church is a standing church, not a fallen one; we must ask whether, from our viewpoint, other issues need to be church-dividing. I believe that with so much work having been done in dialogue on Christ's real presence in the Eucharist and on the eucharistic sacrifice, it is not inconceivable that a similar joint declaration on the Eucharist could be drafted. I also believe basic agreement on ordained ministry is achievable -- and here there are no condemnations to deal with. Most significantly, Lutherans never closed the door to an office for the preservation of Christian unity at the level of all Christendom: a papal office. Philip Melanchthon, who drafted the 'Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope" at Smalcald in 1537, delineated how the pope could bear the marks of the anfi-Oafist when opposing the Gospel. Neverthdess, in his codicil to the T-omalcald Arfides," Melanchthon wrote, Concerning the pope I hold that, if he would allow the Gospel, we, too, may concede to him that superiority over the bishops which he possesses by human right, making this concession for the sake of peace and general unity among the Christians who are now under him and who may be in the future." Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on Christian unity, invited con- smactive discussion from the separated brethren on how the papal office may serve Christian unity. If Lutherans could reach agreement with Rome on an understanding of the papal office, is the possibility of full communion with Rome only an eschatological dream? It's almost more difficult to imagine how the world's Lutherans, in their autonomous church bodies, could act together on such an issue. But the process of endorsing the joint declaration has pushed the LWF member churches into a closer realization of being a communion of churches. Perhaps the LWF should invite the world commurfions of Anglican and Reformed Churches, with which our Lutheran churches are in full com- munion, to consider whether they too can fign this agreement. Were this pos- sible, we would achieve even wider concord among the churches of the West. Finally, it also is important for Christians to speak with one voice. Achieving unity on our message in a world with many false Gospels is per- haps thejoint declaration's most important implication. I hope it will clar- ify preaching and teaching in our churches.