A resolution from the Anglican Consultative Council welcoming an agreed Roman Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification will feature at a service in Westminster Abbey October 31. The service will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses, critical of Catholic teaching on justification, to the door of All Saints’ Church – the Schlosskirche – in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther’s actions kick-started the Reformation, and led to bloody and violent actions and counter-actions between Roman Catholics and Christians in the newer Lutheran and other Protestant churches which emerged as the Catholic monopoly in Europe came to an end.
After extensive ecumenical dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was agreed in 1999. In it, the two Churches state that they now share “a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.” The agreement paved the way for a closer relationship between Catholics and Lutherans, culminating in Pope Francis’ participation in a service in Malmö, Sweden, last year at the start of a year of activities to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The pivotal Joint Declaration was adopted by the World Methodist Council in July 2006 and by the World Communion of Reformed Churches in July this year.
In April 2016, the Anglican Consultative Council, at their meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, “welcomed and affirmed” the substance of the Joint Declaration. In a resolution, the ACC said that it “recognises that Anglicans and Lutherans share a common understanding of God’s justifying grace . . . that we are accounted righteous and are made righteous before God only by grace through faith because of the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and not on account of our works or merits.”
The resolution went on to recognise “that in 1986 the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) produced a statement Salvation and the Church, which observed that our two Communions are agreed on the essential aspects of the doctrine of salvation and on the Church’s role within it.”
In February, the Church of England’s General Synod noted the ACC resolution when it approved a motion welcoming “signs of convergence between the churches on the doctrine of salvation.” The synod commented initiatives taking place to mark the anniversary “to foster mutual understanding and reconciliation between churches, for the sake of our deeper renewal in the grace of God and our ability to share the gospel of salvation with all the world.”
At next week’s Westminster Abbey service, the Archbishop of Canterbury will present copies of the ACC resolution to the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
“The Joint Declaration was a historic breakthrough in overcoming the divisions that emerged from the Reformation through a fresh statement of its key concern, how sinners can be put right with God and empowered to live in a new way,” the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, said. “The good news of forgiveness and freedom through Jesus Christ is what unites us as Christians. It’s the word of grace and hope that – together – we want to share with all the world.”
The Anglican Communion’s director of unity, faith and order, Canon John Gibaut, said: “In our separate bilateral dialogues with both the Catholic Church and the communion of churches in the Lutheran World Federation, Anglicans have explored the questions of justification, and are agreed on the essential aspects of our salvation in Christ.
“During the historic 2017 anniversary, Anglicans rejoice in the extraordinary achievement that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification represents as a sign of healing after 500 years of division.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury will preach the sermon at the October 31 service, which will be led by the Dean of Westminster, John Hall. It has been organised with the Council of Lutheran Churches in the U.K. A new anthem, commissioned for the occasion from Danish composer Bent Sørensen, will be performed by the Westminster Abbey Special Service Choir.