Amid ceremonies this year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of Protestantism’s leading branches has officially said it now agrees with the Vatican on the main issue at the root of its split from the Roman Catholic Church half a millennium ago.The Reformed noted that nothing separated them from the Lutherans. Hmmmm. I am not sure what part of the word agreement is being missed here but something is definitely being missed. When people agree to a common vocabulary but fail to agree with what the words in vocabulary actually mean, it is not agreement. It is an agreement that disagreement does not matter. There is no real reconciliation if we all get to use the same words but attach different meanings to them. Reconciled diversity is not communion or agreement. And, if Calvinists and Rome and Lutherans can all say they agree without addressing the historic differences between them, it is the most shallow and weak form of ecumenism which will bear no good fruit. Listen here. . .
The World Communion of Reformed Churches, holding its once-in-seven-years worldwide General Council in Germany, signed a declaration this week endorsing the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement on how Christians might be worthy of salvation in the eyes of God.
The ceremony took place in Wittenberg, where in 1517 Martin Luther unveiled the 95 Theses that launched the Reformation and with it centuries of dispute about whether eternal salvation comes from faith alone — the position of the new Protestant movement — or if it also requires good works on Earth as Catholics argued.
This decision by the WCRC — representing 80 million members of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting and Waldensian churches — marked another step in a gradual but remarkable reconciliation on this issue among Christians who once fought wars and declared each other heretics over just such questions.
The World Methodist Council formally endorsed the Catholic-Lutheran accord, known as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in 2006. The Anglican Communion is expected to do the same later this year. [The Anglican Communion will probably do the same later.]
It is a great photo op but it is little more. Hail the agreement as something profound but that does not fix what is missing here. I do not want to disagree and would rejoice the day we could all come together and confess with one voice justification by grace through faith. Yet even then, if we cannot agree on the second part of it, sanctification, we remain distant and at loggerheads. I long for true ecumenism and for true unity, as every child of the Augsburg Confession should, but in this, because the Reformed, Methodist, Anglicans, and Romans say "we agree," it make me more hesitant than ever to sign on the dotted line and say it must be so. Pray for true agreement and for something more than an anniversary photo op.