The Reformation is over. Kinda.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy
sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

“Justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls.” – Martin Luther

It’s been nearly 500 years since the split of the Church in the west, which was started largely by Martin Luther and his claim of salvation being obtained only through faith alone. Unfortunately, this split the Church and many other doctrines were changed by the Protestant Reformers before long. But the good news is that there is finally some hope for reunification again! This is going to take a loooonnnnggg time, but the most critical issue, the one mentioned in the quote above, has been resolved! The Lutheran bishops and the Catholic Church made a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, and even the World Methodist Council adopted it as well in 2006.

Praise God for softening both sides towards each other so that they would be open to clear dialogue on the issues at hand. It seems like a large issue that separated the sides over the years is the language used. Words like “righteousness” and “justification” have many different meanings and contexts in scripture, so of course on a charged issue it would be easy to rush to judgement instead of having a complete understanding of both sides before drawing a conclusion. In the end, both made great points, stressing how only by God and faith someone can be saved, but also how our good works play a critical role in cooperating with God’s grace in bringing about the Kingdom of God in our lives. I’m not a theologian so that’s the best summary that I can give πŸ˜‰

There is still quite a bit in the way of the complete reunification of the churches in the West, but this is a very important and exciting first step that resolves the most critical issue!

Here are some of my favorite parts:

Paragraph 1:

The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the “first and chief article” and at the same time the “ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines.”

Paragraph 5:

The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Paragraph 15:

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.

Paragraph 19:

We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation.

Paragraph 22:

We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ.

Paragraph 25:

We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life.

Paragraph 28:

We confess together that in baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person. But the justified must all through life constantly look to God’s unconditional justifying grace. They also are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Rom 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Gal 5:16; Rom 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.

Paragraph 31:

We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the gospel “apart from works prescribed by the law” (Rom 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

Paragraph 37:

We confess together that good works – a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love – follow justification and are its fruits.

Paragraph 40 (BOOM!):

The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics.

Paragraph 41 (BOOM!):

Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.

Paragraph 44:

We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.

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Cases for the Catholic Church: Authority

I’m starting a series of posts on why all Christians should be Catholic. I plan on writing a number of different posts covering different angles of this ecumenical issue. This first one is on authority.

Let’s not even take the idea of “church” for granted. Why should we join a Christian church in the first place? How do we decide which Christian church to follow? Don’t you think that Jesus would have helped us out a little bit more with this crucial decision?

Any bible believing Christian would notice that Jesus founded a church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Let’s look deeper into that verse, highlighting significant points:

Point #1: JESUS founded the Church. God founded the Church. Not a human being. It wasn’t “made up” by people who wanted positions of power. Jesus founded the Church so that it would play a role in establishing God’s kingdom on earth, offering salvation to all of humanity and sharing the good news of the Gospel.

Point #2: Clearly, Jesus founds A Church. One Church. Not 30,000, but 1.

Point #3: We can also notice that Jesus founds His Church on a single person, Peter. Peter is the leader of the Apostles, charged by Jesus to “feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep” (John 21:15,16), shepherding/leadership/servant roles to oversee the Church throughout the world. Peter of course went on to become the first Pope, the Bishop of Rome. This line of succession of the Popes continues today as they lead the Church.

Point #4: Jesus guarantees that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. So.. no matter what, the Church will stand. It will not be destroyed. It will not falter in the faith. God’s got this.

So there’s a bunch that we can get out of one verse, and it answered the basics of the our original questions. We can infer from scripture that Jesus founded a Church led by Peter, the first pope.

How about a few more questions on authority:

What gives someone the authority to start their own church? Since Jesus founded one Church, what need is there for any other churches? Jesus founded one Church with no divisions (1 Cor 1:10). He founded the Church as one body with one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (Eph 4:4-5). He founded a Church that is one as the Eucharistic loaf is one (1 Cor 10:17). St. Paul warned against those who create dissensions against what he originally taught the Christians (Romans 16:17) and urged them to be in the same mind and thinking the same thing (Phil 2:2).

What gives someone the authority to determine doctrine? Obviously we can’t just change the doctrine of the Church to be whatever we want it to be, but have to make sure that it squares with God. How is this done? Well, we know that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). Jesus gave His authority to the Apostles to in Matthew 18:18, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” An example of this was during the first ecumenical council, the council of Jerusalem, in Acts 15:28-29, even highlighting that it is by the Holy Spirit (God!) that the decision was made, which the Church received at its “birthday,” Pentecost. The Church is even shown to represent God in the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, where St. Peter says “You have lied not to human beings, but to God.” So in sum Jesus gave the Church an authoritative voice in the world representing God, and it can make decisions on doctrine at a council where all Apostles/Bishops are gathered together. (This is very basic, I’m sure I missed some points here.)

What gives someone the authority to interpret the bible? Can anyone do it? If so, how can we explain all of the different interpretations of scripture? Obviously, I’ve been quoting scripture to back up my claims so far. People might argue with my interpretation of scripture. But ultimately I do not interpret scripture myself but learn from how the Church interprets it. We see this in scripture itself in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.” This means that only by the Holy Spirit can scriptures be interpreted properly, and the Magesterium (teaching body of bishops) of the Church has helped us with this throughout history.

Other Cases for the Catholic Church:
Universality
Sacraments