In a Reformation reversal, Lutherans and Roman Catholics will sign a historic agreement tomorrow in Augsburg, Germany, on the doctrine of justification--one of the key theological issues over which the Catholic Church split 500 years ago.
Catholics and Lutherans worldwide will celebrate the event with joint services on Reformation Day, the Sunday in the Lutheran liturgical calendar closest to--or on--Oct. 31. On that date in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, or points of disagreement with the Vatican, on the door of the church in Wittenberg.
Locally, there will be an afternoon prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. Choral performances begin at 3:30 p.m., followed by a prayer service led by Bishop Ronald H. Haines, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Bishop Theodore F. Schneider, of the Metropolitan Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Auxiliary Bishop William E. Lori, of the Catholic Archdiocese, who will give the homily.
The service is open to the public, and ordained clergy and deacons of all denominations are invited to wear their vestments and join the procession into the cathedral.
The New Testament teaches that everyone sins but can be saved through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus--a process called justification because the believer is justified, or made blameless and righteous in God's sight.
The Protestant doctrine of justification declared that salvation comes by faith alone through God's grace, not by good works. This was largely a response to the 16th-century Church's practice of selling indulgences, or forgiveness of temporal punishments for sin, and the Reformers' contention that the Church placed deeds before grace.
The "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" is the result of three decades of theological discussions. The document attempts to explain salvation, faith and works in terms acceptable to both Catholics and Lutherans. Salvation comes through faith, which results in "calling us to good works," the document states.
(The full text is available on the Web at www.elca.org.)
To sign the agreement, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will lead a Vatican delegation to the city where Luther and his followers drafted the beliefs and practices that became known as the Augsburg Confession, the foundational document of Lutheranism.
The Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and six other leaders will sign on behalf of the 128-church Lutheran World Federation. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the second-largest Lutheran body in the United States, is not a federation member and opposes the signing.