Martin Luther’s intention 500 years ago was reformation of the church, not division. Unfortunately, he lived at a time when open critical dialogue was not commonly possible. The church of the 16th century was deeply mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power at the time. Excommunication was often used as a means of silencing those who expressed criticisms.
For the past 50 years Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders have engaged in extensive ecumenical dialogue toward overcoming long-standing and outdated divisions. In 1999 a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was created and agreed to, by the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), stating that the mutual condemnations of the 16th century were no longer valid. Other Protestant denominations have recently signed this agreement as well.
Catholic and Lutheran Christians began a “Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017” already on October 31, 2016. Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge led the common prayer service with leaders from the Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm.
“From Conflict to Communion” is a joint statement for the commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. (Online link: [PDF]From Conflict to Communion – The Lutheran World Federation).
Five commitments are included as imperatives:
- 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. (#239)
- Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith. (#240)
- Catholics and Lutheran should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal. (#241)
- Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. (#242)
- Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world. (#243)
We are living in a time when Catholic and Lutheran leaders are focusing more on our common unity in Jesus Christ rather than former divisions. What a healing moment this is for our families and congregations!
Pr. Joyce Piper