In a historic step on the road toward Christian unity, the World Methodist Conference adopted the Catholic-Lutheran joint declaration on justification July 23. The declaration had been previously approved by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called the signing in Seoul, South Korea, “historic” and “a gift of God.”
The agreement on justification, which explains how people are made just in the eyes of God and saved by Jesus Christ, "provides a basis for a more profound common witness before the world," the cardinal reportedly said at the signing.
Two representatives from each of the three church bodies signed the agreement.
Cardinal Kasper expressed his hope that the joint agreement would lead to a commitment to deepen common prayer; to continue theological dialogue, and to “an increase in joint witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Dialogue between the Methodist and Roman Catholic churches has been ongoing for more than four decades. A Methodist statement about the declaration was drafted and circulated among all member churches of the World Methodist Council for consultation and approval, and all responses were positive. On July 18, delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously to adopt the declaration.
The 1999 declaration said: "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works."
The Methodists said the declaration "corresponds to Methodist doctrine.”
"The Methodist Movement," which grew out of the Anglican Church, "has always understood itself as deeply indebted to the biblical teaching on justification as it was understood by (Martin) Luther and the other reformers," the resolution said.
"But it has also always embraced elements of the doctrine of justification which belong to the Catholic tradition of the early church."
As a guest speaker, Methodist Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said the signing was “a giant step to … overcoming Christian divisions.”
“Our world needs a church that bears witness to the Gospel in word and deed,” he added.