"…Different understandings of the doctrine of justification
were key factors in events that led to the Protestant
Reformation, separating Lutherans and Catholics for nearly 500
years. With the Joint Declaration, the Lutheran World Federation
(LWF) and The Vatican agreed to a common understanding of the
doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century
condemnations of each other no longer apply. The LWF is a global communion of 138 member churches in 77 countries, representing nearly 65 million Lutherans.
Pope John Paul II described the Joint Declaration as a
“milestone,” Kasper said. “The image fits the situation
exactly,” he said. “We have reached an important staging post
but are not yet at the final goal. The Joint Declaration is
important even though it has limits. Its greatness lies in the
fact that we can now give joint witness to what is at the heart
of our faith, and with this common witness we enter together a
new century and a new millennium.”
The increasingly secularized world "needs such common
witness," Kasper declared.
Kasper pointed out that the Joint Declaration does not
address other “problems” that remain between Protestants and
Catholics. Those questions include understandings of “simul
iustus et peccator,” a Lutheran doctrine that enables a believer
to be justified and sinner at the same time; cooperation; how to
speak about “merits”; and the central “normativity” of the
doctrine of justification, he said. The Joint Declaration
represents what Kasper called “differentiated consensus rather
than total agreement.” Lutherans and Catholics are continuing in
an international theological dialogue on many questions.
It is not possible for Lutherans to commune in most Roman
Catholic congregations, a point Hanson raised in an audience with
Pope John Paul II at the Vatican last year. ELCA congregations
generally welcome all who believe in Jesus Christ and are
baptized to participate in Holy Communion.