Next year marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s “95 Theses,” the traditional starting point of the Protestant Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics and others are preparing for an ecumenical celebration, rooted in the supposed “consensus” on justification achieved in 1997 with the publication of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican.
But wait a minute. Did that document really achieve the consensus claimed? I’ve written about this before. At the time, looking through Rome-colored classes, I thought it did. But over the years I came to think that optimism was unfounded. It didn’t deal with any of the key issues of the day. “Indulgences” is never mentioned, nor “purgatory,” which were critical issues in 1517. They managed to come up with a weak statement of justification that Catholics were able to incorporate into their full theology without bothering to address the implications of justification by faith alone that split the church in the 16th century.
For a more complete review of the issues from a confessional Lutheran perspective, take a look at this article by Lutheran theologian Paul McCain, “A Betrayal of the Gospel: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” published in First Things in 2010.
Ten years after it appeared, we still continue to hear that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a “breakthrough” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. The media loves to perpetuate this myth. In fact, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a fraud. It was a sell-out by revisionist Lutherans to Rome.
For documentation of the claim, you’ll have to read McCain’s essay.