It was on Oct. 31, 1999, that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), considered one of the most significant agreements since the Reformation, was signed by church officials from the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, which claims to represent 66.7 million of the world's 70.2 million Lutherans. Members of the World Methodist Council later adopted the document by unanimous vote as well, in 2006, and will be present for this weekend's commemorative events.
"For hundreds of years, the issue of justification by faith divided Catholics and Protestants," said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, in a released statement. "This agreement celebrates consensus on the basic truths of the doctrine of justification."
As the LDDJ states, "justification was the crux of all the disputes" between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran tradition, which broke from the former church body and gave rise to the Protestant Reformation. Thus, the two faith groups believed that a common understanding of justification was "fundamental and indispensable" to overcoming the division.
Still, differences remain over language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification with regard to such matters as good works but the Lutheran and Catholic churches say those differences do not destroy the consensus regarding the basic truths.
The JDDJ was not signed without objections. Some in the Lutheran tradition were shocked to see their leaders make what they described as a compromising move. Nevertheless, the joint declaration is often cited as a significant achievement in religious history.