Methodist leaders said they will accept an invitation from Pope Benedict XVI to join a 1999 statement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics that put to rest centuries of disagreement on the nature of salvation.
The pope urged officials of the World Methodist Council during his first official meeting with them in December to endorse the 1999 accord, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, on how people achieve salvation. He called it “a significant step” toward Christian unity.
“We are expecting ... to be able to sign an agreement whereby all three parties will declare and demonstrate their agreement on this doctrine that was crucial and which remains crucial to our preaching and teaching of the gospel,” said the Methodist council president, Bishop Sunday Mbang of Nigeria, following the meeting in Rome with the pontiff.
Martin Luther sparked the 16th century Reformation in part by challenging the Catholic doctrine of justification, which held that good works are essential to attaining salvation. Luther contended that salvation was God-given and achieved by faith alone. In the 1999 statement, both sides agreed that salvation is achieved through God’s grace, which is reflected in good works.
Mbang said he expects the joint declaration to be ratified when the World Methodist Council meets next summer for a worldwide conference in Seoul, South Korea. The council represents more than 70 Methodist church bodies, including the 8.3 million-member United Methodist Church in the U.S.
Bishop Michael Putney, a Vatican participant in Roman Catholic-Methodist relations, said Methodism’s relatively short history—it emerged as an 18th century renewal movement in the Anglican Church—could be an asset to future dialogue. “We don’t have the historical baggage to deal with that has caused centuries of pain and distrust with other” denominations, he said.
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