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Church and Justification

Church and Justification

Understanding the Church in the Light of the Doctrine of the Justification


      1.1. Justification and the Church as Truths of Faith
      1.2. Justification and the Church Founded in the Mystery of Christ and of the Trinity
      1.3. Justification and the Church as Unmerited Gift of Grace and Challenge


      2.1. Jesus Christ as the Only Foundation of the Church
      2.2. The Election of Israel as the Abiding Presupposition of the Church
          2.2.1. God's Grace as the Continuum of Israel's History
          2.2.2. The Election of Israel for the Nations

      2.3. The Foundation of the Church in the Christ-event
          2.3.1. The Proclamation of the Reign of God in Word and Deed
          2.3.2. Cross and Resurrection
          2.3.3. The Church as the People of God from all Nations

      2.4. The Church as "Creature of the Gospel"
          2.4.1. The Proclamation of the Gospel as Foundation of the Church
          2.4.2. The Proclamation of the Gospel in the Holy Spirit
          2.4.3. The Proclamation of the Gospel by the Apostles


      3.1. The Trinitarian Dimension of the Church
      3.2 The Church as God's Pilgrim People, Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit
          3.2.1. The Church as God's Pilgrim People
          3.2.2. The Church as Body of Christ
          3.2.3. The Church as Temple of the Holy Spirit

      3.3. The Church as Koinônia/Communio Founded in the Trinity
          3.3.1. The Unity of the Church Sustained and Formed by the Triune God
          3.3.2. Koinônia/Communio through Preaching, Baptism and the Lord's Supper
          3.3.3. Koinônia/Communio as Anticipatory Reality

      3.4. Ecclesial Communion - Communion of Churches
          3.4.1. Common Witness
          3.4.2. The Lutheran Understanding of Local Church
          3.4.3. The Roman Catholic Understanding of Local Church
          3.4.4. Tasks of Further Dialogue


      4. 1. The Church as Congregatio Fidelium
          4.1.1. The Lutheran View
          4.1.2. The Catholic View
          4.1.3. Common Witness

      4.2. The Church as "Sacrament" of Salvation
          4.2.1. The Church under the Gospel and the Twofold Salvific Mediation of the Gospel
          4.2.2. The Catholic View
          4.2.3. The Lutheran View
          4.2.4. The Unity and Distinctness of Christ and the Church

      4.3. The Church Visible and Hidden
      4.4. Holy Church/Sinful Church
      4.5. The Significance of the Doctrine of Justification for the Understanding of the Church
          4.5.1. The Problem and the Original Consensus
          4.5.2. Common Basic Convictions
          4.5.3. The Areas of Controversy
   Institutional Continuity of the Church
   Ordained Ministry as Institution in the Church
   Binding Church Doctrine and the Teaching Function of the Ministry
   Church Jurisdiction and the Jurisdictional Function of the Ministry


      5.1. The Church's Mission
          5.1.1. Common Challenges to our Churches in a Constantly Changing World
          5.1.2. Reflection on the Church's Mission in Light of the Message of Justification
          5.1.3. Mission as Sharing in God's Activity in the World
   Common Understanding
   Two Traditions
     The Lutheran Teaching on the Two Kingdoms
     The Roman Catholic Teaching on the "Proper Autonomy of Earthly Affairs"
          5.1.4. The Fundamental Components of the Church's Missionary Task
   Commission to Evangelize
   Centrality of Worship
   Responsibility of the Church and the Service of Humanity

      5.2. The Eschatological Consummation of the Church
          5.2.1. Sanctorum Communio
   Common Faith
   Community of Perfected Saints
   Communion of the Church on Earth with the Perfected Saints
          5.2.2. The Church and the Kingdom of God
   New Testament View
   Lutheran View
   Catholic View
   Perspective in Ecumenical Dialogue
   Common Witness

Translated from the Original German Text: Kirche und Rechtfertigung, published by: Verlag Bonifatius-Druckerei, Paderborn 1994 (ISBN 3-87088-828-8), Verlag Otto Lembeck, Frankfurt am Main 1994 (ISBN 3-87476-299-8), Lutheran World Federation, Geneva 1994 -English Edition (ISBN 3-906706-14-1).


    Visible unity has always been and continues to be the ultimate goal of the international dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Communion. In 1992 this dialogue, sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, celebrated its 25th anniversary, having begun its work in Zürich in 1967, just after the close of the Second Vatican Council.

    With this document the dialogue completes the third phase of its work, a phase which has addressed an issue at the heart of Lutheran-Roman Catholic relations: the role of the Church in salvation. This theme grew organically out of the reports of the first two phases.

    The Malta Report, The Gospel and the Church (1972), marked the end of the initial phase of dialogue. It ascertained a "far-reaching consensus" in the doctrine of justification and demonstrated a convergence of views in the area of Scripture and Tradition. The Malta Report became the foundation for further dialogue, establishing its direction and demonstrating its feasibility. The breadth of its scope led naturally to a series of documents in the second phase dealing with more particular dogmatic issues seen as church-dividing since the l6th century Reformation.

    Having before it not only the confessional documents of the Reformation era, but also the documents of Vatican II, and benefitting from the labors of theologians in biblical, liturgical, dogmatic and historical studies, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Commission was able, in its second phase, to transmit to the churches common documents on The Eucharist (1978) and The Ministry in the Church (1981). It also produced statements marking two Reformation anniversaries: "All Under One Christ" was a common statement on the Confessio Augustana in observance of the 450th anniversary of its presentation in 1530, and "Martin Luther - Witness to Jesus Christ" was issued in 1983, the 500th anniversary of the Reformer's birth. Both documents and the many other articles and addresses that these anniversaries also occasioned are important contributions toward the goal of Catholic-Lutheran unity.

    Two further documents from the second phase of dialogue addressed themselves to how visible unity might be realized in concrete ways: Ways to Community (1980) and Facing Unity - Models, Forms and Phases of Catholic-Lutheran Church Fellowship (1984).

    When in 1985 the question of how to proceed to a third phase was addressed, a joint memorandum began with this judgment:

The dialogue has brought us to a point from which it is no longer possible to go back. Thus the question about the actualization of Catholic-Lutheran church fellowship should be the framework for the further dialogue...

    A statement from the 7th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (1984) was then quoted with approval:

In the third phase of the continuing theological dialogue, the themes must be so formulated that the implications for church fellowship of the consensus expressed or the convergence achieved are clearly sought.

    After a reference to the doctrinal condemnations of the Reformation era, the joint memorandum concludes:

It can be observed that... Catholics and Lutherans keep coming back to the question about the understanding of the church, more precisely to the central question of the church and the nature of its instrumentality in the divine plan of salvation (church as sign and instrument; "sacramentality" of the church)... This question immediately raises again, especially for the Lutheran side, the question of the doctrine of justification. It is less a matter of the understanding of justification as such... rather it is a matter of the implications of the mutual relationship of justification and the church.

    It was noted how this brings the discussion back to an issue present already in the first phase of dialogue. Almost two decades later, however, the new Joint Commission had to take account of how the issue of justification had surfaced again in its documents on eucharist and ministry and be aware of the growing intensity of a new debate as to whether a "fundamental difference" between Protestantism and Catholicism really exists.

    The third phase of dialogue was instructed to deal with the question of the church in light of sacramentality and justification. It began its work in the spring of 1986, completing it in 1993. Plenary sessions were held annually. In most years there was a drafting meeting scheduled between plenary sessions.

    Once the work had begun it was the responsibility of the Joint Commission to shape, clarify and determine its own course. Though the joint statement here presented clearly follows the original mandate in the joint memorandum of 1985, two developments should be noted which may assist the reader in understanding our work. First, because of the developments between 1972 (Malta Report) and 1986, the Joint Commission found itself compelled to test the claim of a "far-reaching consensus" on justification. In so doing they relied heavily on the comprehensive American dialogue statement, Justification by Faith (1985), and on the justification chapter of The Condemnations of the Reformation Era - Do They Still Divide? (1986).

    Second, as work progressed on what has become Church and Justification, ecclesiological themes not originally part of the schema required attention. The scope of the project had to grow if the result was to be persuasive. Thus it has become the most extensive statement to be presented by the international dialogue to date.

    In submitting its work the Joint Commission asks that this report be seen together with the documents from the second phase The Eucharist and The Ministry in the Church as well as Ways to Community and Facing Unity. It asks whether, taken together, these documents constitute the sufficient consensus which would enable our churches to embark upon concrete steps toward visible unity which have become more and more urgent.

Würzburg, 11 September 1993

Bishop of Würzburg
Bishop (retired)
Lutheran Church in America



AAS Acta Apostolica Sedis.
AG Ad Gentes, Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity, in The Documents of Vatican II, Walter Abbott, S.J., General Editor, America Press/Association Press, 1966.
Apol Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531).
BC The Book of Concord. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (tr. and ed. T. Tappert; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959).
BEM Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111, Geneva, 1982.
CA Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession).
CD Christus Dominus, Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church, in The Documents of Vatican II
DH Dignitatis Humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom in The Documents of Vatican II
DV Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, in The Documents of Vatican II
FC Ep Formula of Concord (1577), Epitome.
FC SD Formula of Concord (1577), Solid Declaration.
GS Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, in The Documents of Vatican II
LC The Large Catechism of Martin Luther (1529).
LG Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in The Documents of Vatican II
LW Luther's Works, American Edition
LW Phil. Ed. Luther's Works, Philadelphia Edition
NA Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, in The Documents of Vatican II
PO Presbyterorum Ordinis, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, in The Documents of Vatican II
SA The Smalcald Articles (1537).
SC Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, in The Documents of Vatican II
UR Unitatis Redintegratio, Decree on Ecumenism, in The Documents of Vatican II
WA Martin Luther, Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe.
WADB WA Die Deutsche Bibel.

Bible quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, 1989



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