Most confessional Lutherans know WWJD ought to be replaced by WDJD, i.e. “What Did Jesus Do?” should be asked instead of “What Would Jesus Do?”  Not nearly enough of us know what JDDJ stands for.  JDDJ is short for the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.  This document was prepared between 1995 and 1997 by Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians.  The important things to know is not that the Lutheran World Federation (It’s really not any one of those three words.) sponsored it but that the ELCA officially adopted it in August 1997 by a 97% majority and the Vatican was a sponsor of it.


It is not too much to say that if we could agree on justification, we would come to agree on every other doctrine.  It is way too much to say – as this document did – that we do agree on justification. Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne cites two recent (2006) statements from a prominent Roman Catholic cardinal that show even some Catholics know this.  The late Cardinal Avery Dulles said before it was too late, “’But if I were in a position to do so, I would prohibit these Lutheran positions from being preached in Catholic pulpits or taught in Catholic seminaries and catechisms.  And conversely, I suppose that many Lutherans who subscribe to JD consider the Catholic positions described in that document misleading and even false’” (“Flights from the Atonement,” CTQ, 72-3, July 2008, p. 199, fn. 14).  Well, 3% of the ELCA at least does.


Cardinal Dulles goes on to identify the chasm between Lutherans and Catholics that JDDJ said had been bridged.  “’If Lutherans hold that the justified person remains always and inevitably a sinner, sinning in every act, and worthy of condemnation in the sight of God, while Catholics hold that justified persons have been cleansed of all sin and can by their good works truly merit the crown of eternal life, are the two parties not truly opposed to each other’” (Ibid., p. 206)?  A hint to 97% of the ELCA: the answer is “yes.”


However, the march (Hear Star Wars Death Star music.) continues and will intensify to “justify” two positions that cannot be aligned with each other as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.  I can see the Vatican making Luther a saint, and Lutherans saying he went too far.  Once more the Lutherans will be the only one’s compromising for Rome will only be declaring what already is.


Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism could get together under a “What would Jesus Do?” banner but never under a “What Did Jesus Do?” banner.  Rome answers, “Not enough”; Lutherans answers, “More than enough.”


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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