‘Declaration on the Way’ document buries the hatchet between Lutherans and Catholics.

Catholics and Lutherans have been at odds for close to 500 years. The genesis of their shockingly long spat came about in 1517, when Martin Luther, then a Catholic monk, nailed a 95 point thesis to a castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His thesis sparked the protestant reformation and led to the formation of many Christian protestant denominations, including the Lutherans. The schism between Catholics and Lutherans appeared to be everlasting. However, current events portray a relationship that is on the mend.

In a move that has been 50 years in the making, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) at its Church wide Assembly has approved a document recognizing that “there are no longer church-dividing issues” with the Roman Catholic Church.

In an overwhelming majority of 931-9, the 2016 ELCA that was held last week (August 10) at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans decided to approve the ‘Declaration on the Way’. The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton termed the declaration “historic” and expressed her views in a statement shortly after the vote: “Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity. … This ‘Declaration on the Way’ helps us to realize more fully our unity with Christ with our Catholic partners, but it also serves to embolden our commitment to unity with all Christians.”

The document lists 32 “statements of agreement” that cover areas where Lutherans and Catholics do not have any significant differences (church-dividing differences) such as church, ministry and the Eucharist. The ‘Declaration on the Way’ also explores and examines the differences that remain with a view of fostering greater unity between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics. Eaton remarked, “After 500 years of division and 50 years of dialogue, this action must be understood in the context of other significant agreements we have reached, most notably the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ in 1999.”

A task force had been formed to create a forum for dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics. It comprised of co-chair Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and ELCA Presiding Bishop Emeritus Mark Hanson as co-chair and other members. In a bid to commemorate the occasion, Eaton gifted Bishop Madden with communion ware that had been crafted specifically for the assembly.

During the assembly, Bishop Madden commented, “I feel so privileged and so grateful to have spent these few days with you. Speaking with you, sharing time with you, and praying with you. I thank you for allowing me and my colleagues to join you in the Eucharist celebrations which have been a great joy and always a remembrance that soon we will be celebrating these together as one body.”

As the Lutheran and Catholic leadership grow ever closer together and the divide between the two religious faiths narrows, it remains to be seen how the faithful belonging to the two camps will take these new developments. 

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