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July 11, 2007

LWF Dismayed by Vatican Document Despite Significant Ecumenical Results; General Secretary Noko Affirms Lutheran Churches' "Understanding to Be Fully Church"

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has expressed dismay and disappointment that a document released this week by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reasserts again for Roman Catholic theologians that the title church is not properly to be extended to Christian communities such as the LWF and its member bodies.

In a statement issued today in response to the Vatican document, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko affirms that Lutheran churches do not accept the understandings of church or the description of our lived reality of faith, found in the document.

Referring to the September 2000 document Dominus Iesus - On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, Noko notes that while the current position of the Vatican is not new to the LWF, we are saddened and disappointed that it is reasserted again for our current context, in which the work of ecumenical partnership has produced such significant results.

Noko points to the common understanding articulated by the October 1999 adoption of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) as recognition of a decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. He says the affirmation of the JDDJ by the World Methodist Council, in July 2006, has shown the declaration's power to become more than a statement on a sixteenth-century issue.

Understanding ourselves to be fully church, where the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered, we remain committed to ecumenical dialogue, including continued conversation with our partners in the Roman Catholic Church, the LWF general secretary stresses.

He adds that the LWF understands Christian unity to be both God’s gift to the one Body of Christ and the task of the People of God.

The full text of the LWF statement follows:

Statement by Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko
General Secretary, The Lutheran World Federation


The Lutheran World Federation learns with dismay of the Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, issued from the Vatican this week by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This document clarifies for Roman Catholic theologians that the title church is not properly to be extended to Christian communities like the member bodies of our Lutheran communion, which were shaped by the crucible of Reformation. While this position is not new to us, we are saddened and disappointed that it is reasserted again for our current context, in which the work of ecumenical partnership has produced such significant results.

On 31 October 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church together adopted a Joint Declaration that articulated a common understanding on the Doctrine of Justification and so accomplished what the signers recognized as a decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. In the years since 1999, as the Declaration was affirmed also by the World Methodist Council, it has shown its power to become more than a statement on a sixteenth-century issue: its generous spirit provides an example of ways that our churches have come to new insights - both about their own particular traditions and about one another. In this Joint Declaration, a clarifying note states that the word church is used in the document to reflect the self-understanding of the particular churches, without intending to resolve all the ecclesiological issues related to them. This stance allowed the dialogue to proceed as between partners ( par cum pari ). The mutual respect and reserve of such an approach, so essential to the Joint Declaration, are helpful also in the wider ecumenical relations among churches. Without such an approach, problems arise not only on the world level but also locally, where pastors and faith communities are developing relationships as genuine ecumenical partners as they seek faithfully to serve God in their communities.

Lutheran churches do not accept the understandings of church or the description of our lived reality of faith which are found in the Responses. Understanding ourselves to be fully church, where the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered, we remain committed to ecumenical dialogue, including continued conversation with our partners in the Roman Catholic Church. We understand Christian unity to be both God's gift to the one Body of Christ and the task of the People of God. We will continue to pursue our vision of Christian unity as willed and prayed for by Christ himself.

Geneva,
11 July 2007

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(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world, with a total membership of nearly 66.7 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and interfaith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination with 174,555 baptized members in 620 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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