A former member of the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace, Israel Fouché, considers the recent international and ecumenical consultation on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
Between 26 to 28 March, representatives of five world communions “drawn by a common urgency to present the message of God’s liberating grace and hope for this world” met at the University of Notre Dame to affirm the ecumenical work that has been done, discuss the implications of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) and drafted the Notre Dame Consultation Statement.
The JDDJ was originally signed by leaders of the Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation in 1999 and was the fruit of more than three decades of ecumenical dialogue. The declaration, which states that: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ`s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works”, has since been broadened to include the World Methodist Council, the Anglican Communion and the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
The first time I heard about the JDDJ was back in 2014 when I watched a video of the late Bishop Tony Palmer speaking at the KCM Ministers conference on the ecumenical work they have been doing and boldly said in relation to the JDDJ that “Luther's protest is over”.
I was studying ministry in Northern California at that time and was amazed at that statement and couldn’t quite comprehend its implications. This statement which I would think about quite often came to life for me when I joined the Community of St Anselm in 2017 and my eyes were opened to the ecumenical movement. My heart was stirred by the words of our Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby on the importance of Church unity. Christ prays in John 17 for the unity of believers “so that the world may believe”. It is the unity of believers which gives our witness credibility.
The Notre Dame Consultation statement affirms the JDDJ and states “that the message of God`s grace is powerful and urgently needed in our time. We commit ourselves to communicate this message to people of our time in meaningful and relevant ways through our common witness and service.”
And, “We affirm through our discernment that the Holy Spirit uses one another’s ministries, worship and church life, in order to do the Holy Spirit’s work to create its fruit, in faith, hope and love.”
It also affirms the statement in From Conflict to Communion (Lund 2016): We “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,” and that they will review the application of the Lund Principle of 1952: “that churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately”.
I can't help but ask myself: If indeed Luther's protest is over what does it mean to me to be protestant? If it was the protest keeping us from unity and that has been dealt with, then we need to learn how to disagree well as a family choosing to walk in unity “so that the world may believe.”