Vatican and Protestants Begin New Talks on Justification

November 13, 2001 Columbus, Ohio, USA .... [Bettina Krause/ANN]

The Christian doctrine of justification will be the focus of a series of discussions between Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed Church leaders, beginning later this month in Columbus, Ohio, United States. While participants in the talks aim to move beyond the broad doctrinal consensus on justification already reached between Catholics and Lutherans, observers say there are still significant barriers to complete agreement between the groups.

"While it wouldn't be surprising if all the participants are able to come to a broad-strokes agreement on the issue, there continue to be deeply entrenched differences in theological understanding, especially regarding the Catholic practice of granting 'indulgences,'" says Dr. Bert B. Beach, director of inter-church relations for the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide.

In 1999, the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation signed a "joint declaration on the doctrine of justification." Hailed as a "milestone in ecumenism," Catholic and Lutheran leaders said the document represented agreement on the idea that salvation can only be found through faith in Jesus, not through good works.

Catholic and Lutheran leaders have suggested that the upcoming talks in Ohio may move the denominations closer to mutual acceptance of each others' communion, or Eucharist, services, narrowing the 484-year breach between the two groups.

The involvement of additional Protestant groups in this next round of discussions is an "interesting development," says Beach. Representatives from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council will participate in the November talks with the Anglican, or Episcopalian, Church sending observers.

According to Beach, moving beyond the 1999 agreement will be difficult. Besides the issue of indulgences, Beach points to a controversial Vatican declaration, Dominus Iesus, issued in September last year, which reaffirmed the Catholic Church's traditional claim that it is the "one true church." The statement, which referred to Protestant churches as merely ‘ecclesial communities,’ angered many in the Protestant community and "certainly won't help the Vatican's ecumenical efforts," says Beach.

Disagreement about the doctrine of justification--or the way humans gain salvation--was central to the 16th century split between Protestants and the Catholic Church, known as the Reformation. It is a division that has largely defined Christendom ever since. Martin Luther, father of the Reformation, proclaimed that justification is through faith alone, and he condemned the Catholic Church's emphasis on works rather than faith. -” --Source: Adventist News Network