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This is a unique ecumenical text that draws on 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in preparation for the 500th Reformation anniversary coming in 2017. Major sources are dialogues at the global level. But, as happened in the formation of the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, there's mutual reinforcement between global and more local conversations, including those in the U.S.
The heart of the Declaration is the Statement of Agreements. On church, ministry and Eucharist, the Declaration draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them. An elaboration of these agreements grounds them in the dialogues' work. Finally, a more tentative section identifies some "remaining differences" – not intending to be comprehensive but suggesting some ways forward.
By demonstrating how far Lutherans and Catholics have come together on three crucial topics, the Declaration indicates much ground that need not be retraced again, and it offers these Agreements to the churches to be received into their common life. In this way it helps inspire continuing work toward the visible Christian unity, which is Christ's prayer.
In October 2015 the Statement of Agreements was unanimously affirmed by the ELCA
Conference of Bishops, which requested the Church Council also accept them and forward the Declaration to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly for reception. The text has been shared with The Lutheran World Federation.
Also in October, the 32 Agreements were unanimously affirmed by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which commended the Declaration on the Way to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, for further reflection and action.
An electronic version of Declaration on the Way is available for download. Find the Executive Summary for Declaration on the Way below.
**Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist was developed as a resource by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was authorized by the committee chairman, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski. It has been directed for publication by the undersigned.
Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, JCD
General Secretary, USCCB
This Declaration on the Way is both an expression of the consensus achieved by Lutherans and Catholics on the central topics of church, ministry and Eucharist and an indication of differences still remaining to be resolved. The document consists of five sections:
II. Statement of Agreements on Church, Ministry and Eucharist
III. Agreements in the Lutheran/Catholic Dialogues—Elaborated and Documented
IV. Remaining Differences and Reconciling Considerations
V. Conclusion: Next Steps on the Way
The Introduction explains the inspiration for the Declaration and its purposes. The inspiration comes from Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), who in December 2011 proposed such a Declaration "on the way" on these three topics; from the ecumenical leadership of Pope Francis and General Secretary Martin Junge of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF); and from the 2012 document of the International Lutheran—Roman Catholic Commission on Unity entitled From Conflict to Communion.
Two key points from the conclusion of From Conflict to Communion guided the work:
1) Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
2) Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with each other and by mutual witness of faith.
The Declaration seeks reception of the Statement of Agreements from the LWF and the PCPCU and their commitment to address the theological questions that remain. The Declaration also seeks from Catholics and Lutherans at local levels a deeper commitment to Christ and greater engagement and collaboration with one another. Thus the Declaration makes more visible the unity Catholics and Lutherans share as they approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Section II presents 32 Statements of Agreement drawn from the international and regional dialogues of the last fifty years. This powerful litany of consensus reflects the real, if still incomplete, common affirmation possible in these crucial and inter-related areas. For example:
(1) Catholics and Lutherans agree that the church on earth has been assembled by the triune God, who grants to its members their sharing in the triune divine life as God's own people, as the body of the risen Christ, and as the temple of the Holy Spirit, while they are also called to give witness to these gifts so that others may come to share in them.
(14) Catholics and Lutherans agree that all the baptized who believe in Christ share in the priesthood of Christ. For both Catholics and Lutherans, the common priesthood of all the baptized and the special, ordained ministry enhance one another.
(31) Catholics and Lutherans agree that Eucharistic Communion, as sacramental participation in the glorified body and blood of Christ, is a pledge that our life in Christ will be eternal, our bodies will rise, and the present world is destined for transformation, in the hope of uniting us in communion with the saints of all ages now with Christ in heaven.
The following Section elaborates and documents each of the 32 consensus affirmations which comprise the Statement of Agreements. The longest and most detailed part of the document, this section grounds the Agreements in the work of the international and regional dialogues
Section IV looks to the future. It treats fifteen topics that have arisen in dialogue where there are varying degrees of doctrinal difference. A number of them are seen not to be church dividing, and some possible ways forward are sketched. This Section is more tentative and not intended to be comprehensive; it shows the "on the way" character of the Declaration.
The concluding section, practical in tone, speaks of next steps. It recommends that the LWF and the PCPCU "together receive, affirm and create a process to implement consequences of the 32 statements." Recognition of these agreements is itself a further step on the way to unity.
This reception and affirmation naturally lead to practices that advance the growing communion between Lutherans and Catholics. Thus the Conclusion also invites the PCPCU and the LWF to create a process and timetable for addressing the remaining issues. It suggests that the expansion of opportunities for Catholics and Lutherans to receive Holy Communion together would be a sign of the agreements already reached and the distance traveled. It also encourages attention to "moral issues that are often deemed to be church dividing" that would be conducted "in the same spirit of mutual respect and commitment to unity characterized by work on justification, church, Eucharist and ministry." Reception of the Statement of Agreements also invites local and regional responses. While much is already being done together, communities may look afresh at their collaboration. The Conclusion offers suggestions for initial, continued or enhanced collaboration at local and regional levels.
This Declaration on the Way invites church leaders, church scholars and church members to act in the spirit of Jesus' prayer "That all may be one" (John 17:21).
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