From the Catholic Herald:
Somewhere in Pope Francis’s office is a document that could alter the
course of Christian history. It declares an end to hostilities between
Catholics and Evangelicals and says the two traditions are now “united
in mission because we are declaring the same Gospel”. The Holy Father is
thinking of signing the text in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the
Reformation, alongside Evangelical leaders representing roughly one in
four Christians in the world today.
Francis is convinced that the Reformation is already over. He
believes it ended in 1999, the year the Catholic Church and the Lutheran
World Federation issued a joint declaration on justification, the
doctrine at the heart of Luther’s protest.
The German firebrand had accused the Catholic Church of teaching that
man was saved by faith and good works, rather than “by faith alone”.
In 1999, after extensive talks, Catholic and Lutheran theologians
concluded that the two communions now shared “a common understanding of
our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ”.
There are certainly many who wish that Luther's protest was, indeed, over. It appears Francis is one of them. It appears he has decided to arbitrarily end the protest from his side of things. As Pope, Francis has shown a propensity to punt in theological disputes. Unlike Benedict XVI, Francis does not speak so much theologically as he does practically and pastorally. So he is more inclined to defer to others the great theological divide and declare hostilities ended while leaving it to the the theologians to figure out what this means.
Francis hasn’t given any public sign of whether he will sign the
declaration. But he has taken steps that seem to prepare the ground for
it. Days after his friend’s death he became the first pope to visit a
Pentecostal church, offering an apology for Catholic persecution of the
movement in Italy. Last month he asked forgiveness of the Waldensians, a
communion regarded as the world’s oldest Evangelical church.
Any spouse who has declared to husband or wife that their argument is now over and resolved knows the danger of declaring something that has yet to be agreed upon. Francis may or may not decide to try to take the wind from the Protestant sails and declare the Reformation done and the warring parties reconciled but Protestantism is not homogenous and the true heirs of the Reformation (Confessional Lutherans) do not exactly fit into those ready to say it is done. I personally do not see how this would actually have much impact upon the LCMS or Protestants in general. A few will applaud. Some will get angry. Most will continue as if the Pope had said or done nothing relevant to them at all.
As one who wishes the Reformation were over, I can hardly believe that the issues on which Luther and his heirs stood could ever be resolved by papal fiat. They were not trivial or superficial but go to the heart and core of what the Gospel is. The JDDJ concord ended up less with a reconciled doctrine of justification than an agreement to words on a page while Rome continued to write out indulgences and Lutherans quietly continued to stick by the term anti-Christ for any and all who refuse justification by grace through faith alone.
Francis may wish to end everything with a few generous gestures and his own personal declaration that hostilities are over but the great divide is too great for most Protestants and too deep for Confessional Lutherans to be papered over and then punted to others to figure out what this means.