LWF General Secretary Noko Says Walls of Separation Are Broken Down
AUGSBURG, Germany/GENEVA, 31 October 2009 (LWI) – Celebrations in Augsburg, Germany, marking the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) ended today with a festive ecumenical service. Methodists, Lutherans and Roman Catholics underlined how much had been achieved in ecumenical dialogue over the past ten years.
In his sermon in the Augsburg Cathedral, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) Walter Cardinal Kasper stated that the JDDJ was a sign of the workings of the Holy Spirit. “We cannot be thankful enough for that and for many, many other steps that have been possible since. The godless complaining about the supposed standstill in the ecumenical movement and the miserable moaning about what has not yet been achieved, forgetting all that has been given us in the last few years – all that is sheer ingratitude,” he asserted. “We need a spiritual ecumenism, and it has grown, thank goodness, in the last few years.” Kasper’s closing words were: “Ultimately, ecumenism is not an end in itself: it aims to go beyond itself toward reconciliation, unity and world peace. Let us thus be the vanguard and precursors of this unity and this peace.”
The second preacher at the festive ecumenical service, Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), evoked “our sharing in [God's] mission through the power of the Holy Spirit.” This enables Christians “to overcome the ever-present forces of division in church and in society. It helps us to seek responsible ways of reducing the enemy images that isolate and separate us from the gift of communion with God and with one another.” Noko went on to say that, “As citizens of Christ’s kingdom rooted in God’s forgiveness we are brought into life in communion with God in Christ and with one another. Walls of separation, isolation and imprisonment are broken down.” Both Noko and Kasper were among the JDDJ signatories on 31 October 1999.
In his greeting, Augsburg’s Roman Catholic Bishop Dr Walter Mixa, praised what had been achieved, expressing his conviction that, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a milestone on this path of growing consensus. A milestone is an important marker but not the goal. To be honest, we have to admit that we still have a long way to go until all differences in faith have been worked through. Let’s get moving. Today is also an opportunity to pray: Ut unum sint.”
Earlier, on Saturday morning, Dr Walter Klaiber, former bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany and Karl Cardinal Lehmann, former chairperson the German Bishops’ Conference, paid tribute to the Joint Declaration.
In his paper, Klaiber underscored the timeless significance of the message of justification. “It frees people from the destructive compulsion to have to justify their own lives through success, performance or possessions, and from the fatal despair of thinking that for lack of such self-justification, their life is a failure and without value and meaning,” he said. Klaiber stressed, “We must thus spell out – with the successful and the unsuccessful, with the self-satisfied and those doubting and despairing of themselves – what God’s Yes to their life means for them: liberation for a dignified life that does not lie in the ‘product’ of our action or fail for lack of achievement, but is founded in God’s love.” The Methodist World Council affirmed the JDDJ in 2006.
Cardinal Lehmann emphasized the need to continue the ecumenical dialogue on the basis of the JDDJ. “Even if open questions still remain, the Joint Declaration is a very important step by the two churches toward removing the tension from the divisive core area when it comes to the way the churches understand the message of justification. The wording ‘consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification’ aptly describes the present [state]: it is a genuine agreement in basic truths of the doctrine of justification, not a consensus covering all issues,” affirmed Lehmann.
There were still a few areas deserving further attention in the future ecumenical conversations. In Augsburg, Lehmann expressed his regret that in some respects the JDDJ had so far not led any further, “because it has not been further deepened, implemented and thus made spiritually fruitful. It must thus become the sign of a new beginning. Then it can become even more fruitful in the coming and ongoing ecumenical dialogues, particularly on the urgent topic of the Church and justification.”
The anniversary celebrations began on Friday evening, 30 October, with a festive hour in the Golden Hall of Augsburg town hall, during which, the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) Presiding Bishop Dr Johannes Friedrich said decades of patient dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics had paid off with respect to the Joint Declaration.
Augsburg’s Lord Mayor Dr Kurt Gribl praised the JDDJ as a “historic document” marking an “ecumenical milestone” in church history. The keynote lecture by Prof. em. Dr Eberhard Jüngel (Tübingen) was titled “What Does Our Happiness Have to Do with Our Blessedness?” (864 words)
Further information may be found on the LWF web site at: www.lutheranworld.org