In a small town about 25 miles outside of Augsburg, Germany, Lutherans and Roman Catholics share a single church building.
A partition runs down its middle, separating the two worshiping communities. There's a door in the partition, but it had not been opened for decades — until Oct. 31, 1999. The door was flung open that day when Lutheran and Vatican leaders signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
This door represents a new openness that could lead to joint worship between Lutherans and Catholics, followed by more common initiatives and joint action. Eucharistic sharing now has a better chance of realization.
More official ecumenical relationships have been forged in the last 30 years than in any period of church history. But nothing has quite the impact of the Joint Declaration, which is worldwide. It also has deep ELCA influences and must be counted among the most vital contributions of U.S. Lutherans in the 20th century.
William Rusch, former head of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, approached the Vatican in 1993 about the possibility of a worldwide statement on the meaning of justification. He took his idea to Pope John Paul II, who, Rusch says, replied: "We can do it. Can you?"
The new millennium's challenge is for the ecumenism that has been reached on paper to be lived out by the faithful in all churches.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers