Enthusiasm, skepticism and uncertainty about what difference it makes — so go the initial reactions to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.The document, a product of 30 years of conversations between Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians, says "a consensus in the basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists" between the two churches. Justification was the basic issue that divided the church during the 16th century. It concerns how human beings come into a right relationship with God, receive forgiveness of sins and the Spirit's gift for repentance and new life.
After the Lutheran World Federation Council approved the document June 16, Swedish Lutheran Archbishop K.G. Hammar, rejoiced: "The reasons for the rift of the 16th century are no longer applicable for our present moment."
But others have been more reserved. While the LWF approved the agreement, the Catholic Church accepted it June 25 with the reservation that "we cannot yet speak of a consensus such as would eliminate every difference" in how the churches understand justification. Forceful critics in Lutheran circles worldwide remain unconvinced about how much agreement exists.
Does the document justify the archbishop's announcement that the rift which divided the Western church for more than 450 years has been bridged?
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