The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification
An Analysis

Includes a Critique of the Comments of Roman Catholic, Robert Sungenis, on the Joint Declaration

By William Webster


The Lutheran–Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification has fueled much speculation that the nearly 500 year old dispute between Protestants and Roman Catholics is on the verge of ending. Many have suggested, as a result of the Declaration, that the Roman Catholic Church has acquiesced and capitulated to the Protestant teaching of faith alone on justification. The Joint Declaration makes confident statements that a consensus of doctrine has now been reached but a close examination of the document does not suggest that this is actually the case. Nevertheless, there are statements given in the Joint Declaration that could lead one to this conclusion. This is why Roman Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, in his analysis of the Joint Declaration voices a great deal of concern that the Declaration could be misinterpreted as a repudiation of the Roman Church’s historic position on justification. As a result he goes to great lengths to modify the statements of the Declaration and to assure his readers that the teachings of Rome have not changed. He quotes extensively from the Council of Trent to bolster his position and to interpret the Joint Declaration in light of those teachings. The problem here, however, is that there are many statements in the Declaration which cannot be reconciled with Trent and which, quite frankly, are completely contradictory to it.

This analysis includes many of the comments of Robert Sungenis on the Joint Declaration. The text of his comments can be accessed through this web site. His critique is interesting and valuable from the standpoint of gaining a conservative Roman Catholic perspective on the subject. His analysis demonstrates quite conclusively that the dispute between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches is not about to end any time soon. He gives a very straightforward and unambiguous documentation of the historic Roman Catholic position on justification. At the same time, his analysis reveals a profound ignorance of the historic Protestant teaching on justification and salvation resulting in a misrepresentation of the teaching of the Reformers.

This analysis will evaluate the Joint Declaration under the following seven headings with comments upon the observations of Robert Sungenis: 1) A Consensus of Understanding, 2) Salvation Means More than Justification, 3) The Source of Salvation and Justification, 4) The Need for Prevenient Grace, 5) Baptism, 6) Faith, Works and Merit and 7) Justification.

1) A Consensus of Understanding

The Joint Declaration begins by declaring that a consensus on basic truths on the doctrine of justification has been reached between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. It is important to note that this Joint Declaration involves only the Lutheran World Federation which does not speak for all Lutheran Churches. Also, the assertion that a consensus has been reached refers only to what is referred to the basic truths related to justification. The statements affirming this consensus are as follows:

13. Opposing interpretations and applications of the biblical message of justification were in the sixteenth century a principal cause of the division of the Western church and led as well to doctrinal condemnations. A common understanding of justification is therefore fundamental and indispensable to overcoming that division. By appropriating insights of recent biblical studies and drawing on modern investigations of the history of theology and dogma, the post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogue has led to a notable convergence concerning justification, with the result that this Joint Declaration is able to formulate a consensus on basic truths concerning the doctrine of justification. In light of this consensus, the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century do not apply to today’s partner.

14. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church have together listened to the good news proclaimed in Holy Scripture. This common listening, together with the theological conversations of recent years, has led to a shared understanding of justification. This encompasses a consensus in the basic truths; the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.

40. The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics. In light of this consensus the remaining differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification described in paragraphs 18 to 39 are acceptable. Therefore the Lutheran and the Catholic explications of justification are in their difference open to one another and do not destroy the consensus regarding basic truths.

There is an affirmation here of a consensus on basic truths but the signatories also acknowledge that there are still significant differences dividing the two communions. Just what these differences are is not specifically addressed in the Joint Declaration although a few are alluded to:

43. Our consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification must come to influence the life and teachings of our churches. Here it must prove itself. In this respect, there are still questions of varying importance which need further clarification. These include, among other topics, the relationship between the Word of God and church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, authority in the church, ministry, the sacraments, and the relation between justification and social ethics. We are convinced that the consensus we have reached offers a solid basis for this clarification. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches.

Robert Sungenis makes the point that this is not an insignificant issue for there are major doctrines taught by Rome which impinge on the meaning of justification which are not addressed in the Joint Declaration. He states:

Many disputes that the Lutheran World Federation has with the Catholic Church have not even been addressed, and certainly not resolved, e.g., the Mass, the priesthood, the papacy, authority, tradition, Scripture, indulgences, purgatory, confession, contraception, Mary, the saints, to name a few. To illustrate the point, Luther wrote of the Catholic Mass: “No other sin, manslaughter, theft, murder or adultery is so harmful as this abomination of the popish Mass” (Weimar edition, 15, 774). Lutherans of today, including those of the Lutheran World Federation, have given no indication that they have discarded, or intend to discard, Luther’s opinion on the Mass, nor was this, nor any of the other dogmas listed above, part of the recent dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics. The significance? The Mass, confession, indulgences and purgatory are all part and parcel with Catholic justification. According to Church dogma, those who knowingly refuse to accept them are still under anathema.

Therefore, the problem with asserting that there is a consensus is the fact that the Joint Declaration does not lay a foundation of properly defining terms so that one can understand historically what each communion means by the terms it uses. In some areas the Declaration is quite clear in its meaning such as in its teaching on Baptism and the necessity for prevenient grace. But unfortunately there is a degree of imprecision in the use of theological terms with a resultant ambiguity of what the two sides have actually agreed upon. This imprecision is seen in the fact that for Roman Catholicism the doctrine of justification embraces two meanings. There is first of all what is called initial justification which is then followed by the process of justification. This fact is not addressed in the Joint Declaration and therefore when a consensus on certain aspects of justification is affirmed one is not certain if that consensus applies only to initial justification or to the concept of justification as a whole. The distinction is an important one for there are truths that relate to initial justification which the Roman Catholic Church could readily affirm with Protestant teaching which would not apply to the process of justification. Because of this ambiguity the Roman Catholic Church has found it necessary to issue clarifications of the Declaration to offset what it says are erroneous interpretations that have emanated from it. A further example of this ambiguity and lack of precision of definition is seen in the following statement:

Appendix, Part 4.3: If we translate from one language to another, then Protestant talk about justification through faith corresponds to Catholic talk about justification through grace; and on the other hand, Protestant doctrine understands substantially under the one word, ‘faith,’ what Catholic doctrine (following 1 Cor. 13:13) sums up in the triad of ‘faith, hope, and love’” [LV:E 52].

This statement is completely misleading and is in fact contradicted by many other statements in the Joint Declaration itself. The Protestant teaching of justification through faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone is the complete antithesis of the Roman Catholic teaching of justification by grace and works and the Protestant doctrine of faith, while certainly agreeing with the Roman teaching that it includes faith, hope and love, is completely opposed to the Roman teaching that faith, hope and love actually merit justification.

It will become apparent as we examine this Joint Declaration, that in light of historic Roman Catholic teaching, there really is no consensus on the basic truths even as they are formulated in this Joint Declaration, unless of course Rome is willing to admit that she has repudiated the basic teaching of the Council of Trent.

2) Affirmation of the Truth that Salvation means More than Justification

One of the important points that is affirmed in this Declarartion is the fact that salvation is comprised of a number of interrelated truths and that justification is just one aspect of the overall work of salvation. This is both biblical and an affirmation of the teaching of the Reformation. Over and over again in the paragraphs that follow the truth is reiterated that salvation involves not only justification but also regeneration or renewal of the inward being of the one justified so that he becomes a new creation, sanctification, faith and adoption. Both sides are intent upon affirming the essential biblical truth that saving faith that unites to Christ will always result in the transformation of the individual and a life of sanctification. The important point that the Lutherans are emphasizing is that salvation means much more than imputed righteousness for justification and affects the entire man delivering him not only from guilt and condemnation but also from sin’s slavery and dominion in a practical sense. These truths are expressed in the following paragraphs:

9. In the New Testament diverse treatments of “righteousness” and “justification” are found in the writings of Matthew (5:10; 6:33; 21:32), John (16:8-11), Hebrews (5:1-3; 10:37-38), and James (2:14-26).(10) In Paul’s letters also, the gift of salvation is described in various ways, among others: “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1-13; cf. Romans 6:7), “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; cf. Romans 5:11), “peace with God” (Romans 5:1), “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11, 23), or “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1:31; 2 Corinthians 1:1). Chief among these is the “justification” of sinful human beings by God’s grace through faith (Romans 3:23-25), which came into particular prominence in the Reformation period.

18. Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion, which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ. When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification. Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ, who is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts [cf. Sources, section 3].

22. We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ. When persons come by faith to share in Christ, God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love. These two aspects of God’s gracious action are not to be separated, for persons are by faith united with Christ, who in his person is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30): both the forgiveness of sin and the saving presence of God himself.

23. When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one’s life renewed. When they stress that God’s grace is forgiving love (“the favor of God”(12)), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian’s life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.

24. When Catholics emphasize the renewal of the interior person through the reception of grace imparted as a gift to the believer,(13) they wish to insist that God’s forgiving grace always brings with it a gift of new life, which in the Holy Spirit becomes effective in active love. They do not thereby deny that God’s gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation [cf. Sources, section 4.2].

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative Word. Because God’s act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one’s way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.

28. We confess together that in Baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person. But the justified must all through life constantly look to God’s unconditional justifying grace. They also are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Romans 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Galatians 5:16; Romans 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12; 1 John 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.

Appendix, Part 4.2. “The Lutheran doctrine has never understood the ‘crediting of Christ’s justification’ as without effect on the life of the faithful, because Christ’s Word achieves what it promises. Accordingly the Lutheran doctrine understands grace as God’s favor, but nevertheless as effective power . . . ‘for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation’” [VELKD 86, 15-23].

Appendix, Part 4.3. “As Lutherans, we maintain the distinction between justification and sanctification, of faith and works, which, however, implies no separation” [VELKD 89, 6-8].

Appendix, Part 4.3. “Catholic doctrine knows itself to be at one with the Protestant concern in emphasizing that the renewal of the human being does not ‘contribute’ to justification, and is certainly not a contribution to which he could make any appeal before God. Nevertheless, it feels compelled to stress the renewal of the human being through justifying grace, for the sake of acknowledging God’s newly creating power; although this renewal in faith, hope, and love is certainly nothing but a response to God’s unfathomable grace” [LV:E 52f].

Appendix, Part 2A) “We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power (...)” (JD 22). Justification is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous, through which God “imparts the gift of new life in Christ” (JD 22). “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Rom 5:1). We are “called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 Jn 3:1).We are truly and inwardly renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit, remaining always dependent on his work in us. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). The justified do not remain sinners in this sense.

These affirmations are important in light of the Roman Catholic and Protestant debates which have gone on for centuries. Much misrepresentation of the Protestant position has been promoted by the Church of Rome. Here, the Lutherans are affirming what the Reformers unanimously taught. The truth that salvation is multifaceted. It involves the essential truths of justification, regeneration, sanctification, adoption, repentance, faith, conversion and glorification. The teaching of sola fide and imputational justification has never meant a denial of the necessity for regeneration and the works of sanctification. As Martin Luther stated:

From all this it is easy to perceive on what principle good works are to be cast aside or embraced, and by what rule all teachings put forth concerning works are to be understood. For if works are brought forward as grounds of justification, and are done under the false persuasion that we can pretend to be justified by them, they lay on us the yoke of necessity, and extinguish liberty along with faith, and by this very addition to their use they become no longer good, but really worthy of condemnation. For such works are not free, but blaspheme the grace of God, to which alone it belongs to justify and save through faith. Works cannot accomplish this, and yet, with impious presumption, through our folly, they take on themselves to do so; and thus break in with violence upon the office and glory of grace.
We do not then reject good works; nay, we embrace them and teach them in the highest degree. It is not on their own account that we condemn them, but on account of this impious addition to them and the preverse notion of seeking justification from them. It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognise the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent...
(Concerning Christian Liberty. Found in Luther’s Primary Works (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1896), Henry Wace and C.A. Buchheim Ed., , pp. 275-277, 288).

And as R.C. Sproul has commented:

Technically the term justification does refer to the declarative judicial act of God and not to the person who receives the benefit of this declarative act and is said to be justified. The declaration changes the status of the believer and not his or her nature. However, as John Gerstner relentlessly points out, it is not a declaration about or directed toward people who are not changed in their constituent nature. God never declares a change in status of people who are unchanged in nature. Justification, technically considered, may not mean the change of human nature but it certainly involves a change in nature...It is proper, of course, to distinguish between justification and sanctification or regeneration but we must not seprarte them. They are intimately involved with one another. Indeed if they are not involved there is no justification...The Reformers did not exclude the infusion of grace. Grace is poured into the soul. The issue was the grounds of our justification. For the Reformers the sole grounds are the imputed righteousness of Christ, not the inherent righteousness of the believer or the infused righteousness of Christ (Justification by Faith Alone, Ed. by Don Kistler (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), R.C. Sproul, Justification by Faith Alone: The Forensic Nature of Justification, pp. 43-44, 36).

One can reference two articles on this web page which give extensive documentation of the teaching of the Reformers and Reformed theologians on these issues.

In his response to the Joint Declaration, Robert Sungenis suggests that the Lutheran Church has departed from the teaching of Luther and Calvin on the issue of regeneration. He implies that both Reformers taught a stricly imputational concept of salvation as opposed to other Reformers and the later Lutheran Church who have taught what he calls a transformational justification. He states:

Andreas Osiander believed in transformational justification, opposing both Luther’s and Calvin’s idea of imputated justification. The Swiss Reformers such Martin Bucer, Huldreich Zwingli, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Heinrich Bullinger all believed in the concept of transformational justification in opposition to Luther and Calvin. After the first Lutheran/Catholic dialogue in the mid 1960’s, John Paul II had noticed such sweeping changes in the Lutheran church that in 1980 he suggested the Catholic Church might remove some of the anathemas issued at the Council of Trent. In the Lutheran/Catholic dialogues of Geneva in 1995, Lutheran theologians had acceded to the Catholic concept of “transformational” justification, that is, that because of infused grace a man was justified from the inside, not merely the outside...“We are truly and inwardly renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit”: does this mean that Lutherans now believe in transformational justification and are repudiating the forensic justification taught by Philip Melanchthon or not? The Declaration does not say. (See Canons 11, 12).

These statements are a complete misrepresntation. No Reformer separated the necessity of regeneration and sanctification from justification. All of the Reformers taught a concept of transformational salvation but they did not teach that the work of transformation (regeneration and sanctification) was the basis of justification. Note, for example, the following statements from John Calvin, Huldrich Zwingli and Philip Melancthon:

John Calvin: To prove the first point—that God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating—he (Osiander) asks whether God leaves as they were by nature those whom he justifies, changing none of their vices. This is exceedingly easy to answer; as Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctification. Whomever, therefore, God receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the spirit of adoption [Rom. 8:15], by whose power he remakes them to his own image...The grace of justification is not separated from regeneration, although they are things distinct (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Found in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Volume XIX, Book III, Chp. XI.6,11; pp. 732, 739.

Huldrych Zwingli: When, therefore, Divine Majesty formed the plan of redeeming man, it did not intend that the world should persist and become inveterate in its wickedness. For if this had been the plan, it would have been better never to have sent a redeemer than to have sent one under such conditions that after redemption there should be no change from our former diseased state. It would have been laughable if He to whom everything that is ever to be is seen as present had determined to deliver man at so great a cost, and yet had intended to allow him to immediately after his deliverance to wallow in his old sins. He proclaims, therefore, at the start, that our lives and characters must be changed. For to be a Christian is nothing less than to be a new man and a new creature (II Cor. 5:17) (Huldrych Zwingli, Commentary On True and False Religion (Durham: Labyrinth, 1981), p. 120).

Philip Melanchthon: Christianity is freedom because those who do not have the Spirit of Christ cannot in any way perform the law; they are rather subject to the curse of the law. Those who have been renewed by the Spirit of Christ now conform voluntarily even without the law to what the law used to command. The law is the will of God; the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the living will of God and its being in action (agitatio). Therefore, when we have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, who is the living will of God, we now will spontaneously that very thing which the law used to demand...Those who are in Christ are led by the Spirit to do the law and they really act by the Spirit. They love and fear God, devote themselves to the needs of their neighbor, and desire to do those very things which the law demanded. They would do them even if no law had been given. Their will is nothing else than the Spirit, the living law (Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes Theologici. Found in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), Volume XIX, p. 123).

The above quotes demonstrate that the Reformers were consistent in their teaching on the necessity for transformation. Mr. Sungenis’ allegations are utterly baseless. Thus, the Lutherans were not acceding to the Catholic concept of transformational salvation at Geneva in 1995 as if they had previously denied this teaching. The question asked above by Sungenis as to whether or not the Lutherans now believe in transformational justification in opposition to what he calls Melancthon’s purelyely forensic concept is seen to be a gross misrepresentation. The Joint Declaration itself actually affirms the truth of forensic justification. And in addition to this, Melancthon taught the the necessity for transformation. The Joint Declaration leaves us in no doubt as to what the view of the Lutherans is. They are completely consistent with the teaching of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Melancthon on this point. They have always taught the necessity for transformation as is apparent from the words of Luther himself. What seems to be occurring however is that Rome appears to be acceding to a number of essential points on justification that the Protestants have always emphasized but which Rome has historically rejected, such as the forensic nature of justification. The Joint Declaration states:

“. . . a faith centered and forensically conceived picture of justification is of major importance for Paul and, in a sense, for the Bible as a whole, although it is by no means the only biblical or Pauline way of representing God’s saving work” [USA, no. 146] (Appendix, Part 3).

Sungenis remarks that the Roman Catholic Church has always taught a transformational concept of justification, that is, that an individual is justified from the inside and not just from the outside. As we have seen, the Reformers taught a view of salvation that included both an imputational concept of justification, based on the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, as well as the necessity for transformation by the grace of God. But the Church of Rome has not taught the concept of imputational justification, where an individual is justified from the outside by the righteousness of Christ. This teaching, as we will see, was explicitly condemned by the Council of Trent.

But the teaching of the Reformers brings up an important point that needs to be emphasized. They consistently maintained that a distinction, though not a separation, should be made when speaking of the different aspects of salvation. They were very careful not to confuse terms so that one aspect of salvation might be subsumed into another. Thus, in the Joint Declaration, the Lutherans are careful to point out that they wish to maintain a distinction between the different aspects salvation effected by God:

In the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one’s way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith (#26)...As Lutherans, we maintain the distinction between justification and sanctification, of faith and works, which, however, implies no separation” [VELKD 89, 6-8] (Appendix, Part 4.3).

This affirmation is both biblical as well as true to the teaching of the Reformation. What the Lutherans are saying is that justification is a completed work of salvation in its own right, not to be confused with sanctification. The distinction is important to maintain although, as they emphasize, in the experience of salvation the two cannot be separated. If a person is justified, he is simultaneously sanctified. Why is this distinction important? Because historically, the Roman Catholic Church has not maintained this distinction. The Church of Rome has taught that the doctrine of justification embraces the doctrines of regeneration, sanctification and adoption. Trent states:

Chapter VII: This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not the remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, so that he may be an heir according to the hope of life everlasting.

In Roman Catholic theology, justification is not a completed work in its own right but is comprised of and is dependent upon sanctification. Such confusion of terms leads to a distortion of the biblical teaching of salvation and justification. It is significant that the distinctions indicated above are declared separately by the Lutherans indicating that this particular point was apparently not assented to by the Roman Catholics.

3) The Source of Justification and Salvation

The Joint Declaration declares that the source of salvation and justification is the work of the triune God which is applied to the individual through union with Christ.

10. Paul sets forth the Gospel as the power of God for salvation of the person who has fallen under the power of sin, as the message that proclaims that “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” (Romans 1:16-17) and that grants “justification” (Romans 3:21-31). He proclaims Christ as “our righteousness” (1 Corinthians 1:30), applying to the risen Lord what Jeremiah proclaimed about God himself (23:6). In Christ’s death and resurrection all dimensions of his saving work have their roots for he is “our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). All human beings are in need of God’s righteousness, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 2:23; cf. Romans 1:18-3:22; 11:32; Galatians 3:22). In Galatians (3:6) and Romans (4:3-9), Paul understands Abraham’s faith (Genesis 15:6) as faith in the God who justifies the sinner and calls upon the testimony of the Old Testament to undergird his gospel that this righteousness will be reckoned to all who, like Abraham, trust in God’s promise. “For the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; cf. Galatians 3:11; Romans 1:17). In Paul’s letters, God’s righteousness is also power for those who have faith (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In Christ he makes it their righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Justification becomes ours through Christ Jesus “whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith” (Romans 3:25; see 3:21-28). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ.
16. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith.

28. We confess together that in Baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person.

The Joint Declaration declares unanimously that justification is a work of God and the source of salvation and justification is the person of Christ. However, it does not define what it means by this teaching. It is clear that the two communions are affirminmg a consensus of belief in the fact that through baptism and faith, an individual is united to Christ and is justified. But just what this means is not clearly enunciated. Again, there is an imprecision of expression for when the Lutherans profess a belief in the fact that Christ is the source of justification, they mean something quite different from what has historically been taught by the Roman Catholic Church. The Lutherans believe that in union with Christ the work of justification is complete and is independent of works because Christ himself is the believer’s justification. This is what the Lutherans mean by being justified by grace through Christ. Rome, on the other hand, teaches that Christ is the source of grace which enables an individual to do works which are the basis for justification. The two perspectives are hardly compatible. These differences will become more manifest as we examine the actual teaching on grace and justification.

4) The Need for Grace

The Joint Declaration also unanimouisly affirms the necessity for prevenient grace for salvation. Both Roman Catholic and Lutheran participants affirm that man is incapable of responding to God in faith apart from the grace of God initiating the response, and that faith itself is a gift of God. In addition, both parties affirm the need for grace throughout one’s Christian experience:

19. We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say:

20. When Catholics say that persons “cooperate” in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.

27. The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through Baptism as hearers of the Word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him.(14) This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God’s graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Romans 3:27). [See Sources, section 4.3.]

26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative Word.
The Joint Declaration, while affirming in general terms the need for the grace of God for an individual to respond savingly to God and exercise faith, this does not resolve the differences in the actaul meaning of grace as employed by the two communions. While both have a true consensus on the necessity for prevenient grace and baptism for the reception of this grace, the two most certainly do not agree on the meaning of grace itself as it applies to salvation and the living of the Christian life. Such discrepancy is seen in the following statement:

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

The statement in paragraph 25 that nothing following the gift of faith in the life of the believer merits justification would be repudiated by historic Roman Catholic teaching. While Lutherans believe that justification is a once for all finished work based solely on the work and righteousness of Christ alone, the Roman Catholic Church historically has taught that justification is not a once for all completed work but is a process dependent upon grace empowered works in the life of the individual. Consequently, there is certainly no consensus on this issue unless, again, Rome is willing to concede that it was wrong in its teaching at the Council of Trent and repudiates it. In their willingness to sign the Joint Declaration which includes such a statement as that in paragraph 25 above, the Roman Catholic participants have given that impresssion. But as Robert Sungenis has pointed out, this Joint Declaration is not an infallible document and Roman Catholicism stands committed to its historic teachings.

5) Baptism

The Joint Declaration unanimously affirms that baptism is the means by which an individual is united to Christ and made a partaker of justifying grace:

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life.

27. The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through Baptism as hearers of the Word and believers in it.

28. We confess together that in Baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person.

6) Faith, Works and Merit

Faith

The Joint Declaration unanimously declares that faith is a necessary condition for justification:

16. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith.

27. The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place.
Faith and Works

The Joint Declaration also states that men are justified by faith alone and that the faith that justifies is accompanied by regeneration and will bear fruit in a life of sanctification in that it is active through love.

15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: 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 and calling us to good works.(11)

23. When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one’s life renewed. When they stress that God’s grace is forgiving love (“the favor of God”(12)), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian’s life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative Word.

27. The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place...While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Romans 3:27). [See Sources, section 4.3.]

31. We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the Gospel “apart from works prescribed by the Law” (Romans 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the Law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

Appendix, Part 4.1“The strict emphasis on the passivity of human beings concerning their justification never meant, on the Lutheran side, to contest the full personal participation in believing; rather it meant to exclude any cooperation in the event of justification itself. Justification is the work of Christ alone, the work of grace alone” [VELKD 84, 3-8].

Appendix, Part 4.3. “The Reformers . . . understood faith as the forgiveness and fellowship with Christ effected by the Word of promise itself. This is the ground for the new being, through which the flesh is dead to sin and the new man or woman in Christ has life (sola fide per Christum). But even if this faith necessarily makes the human being new, the Christian builds his confidence, not on his own new life, but solely on God’s gracious promise. Acceptance in Christ is sufficient, if ‘faith’ is understood as ‘trust in the promise’ (fides promissionis)” [LV:E 50].

Appendix, Part 4.3.“According to Protestant interpretation, the faith that clings unconditionally to God’s promise in Word and Sacrament is sufficient for righteousness before God, so that the renewal of the human being, without which there can be no faith, does not in itself make any contribution to justification” [LV:E 52].
“As Lutherans, we maintain the distinction between justification and sanctification, of faith and works, which, however, implies no separation” [VELKD 89, 6-8].

Works

The Joint Declaration declares in unambiguous terms a consensus on the necessity for faith for justification and what that faith entails. In paragraph 26 it states that men are justified by faith alone and in paragraph 31 it states that men are justified by faith apart from the works of the law. That this encompasses the works of the moral law previous to as well as after the reception of saving faith is evident from paragraph 25 which states:

Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

The Lutherans explained further what they meant by justification being by faith alone and apart from the works of the Law in the Appendix when they state:

Appendix, Part 4.1“The strict emphasis on the passivity of human beings concerning their justification never meant, on the Lutheran side, to contest the full personal participation in believing; rather it meant to exclude any cooperation in the event of justification itself. Justification is the work of Christ alone, the work of grace alone” [VELKD 84, 3-8].

This paragraph clearly states that justification excludes any human cooperation because it is an exclusive work of Christ alone. The Declaration then goes on to affirm that the faith that justifies is accompanied by the renewal of the inner man (regeneration), and by love and the works of sanctification. These statements seem clear enough. A man is justified by Christ through faith alone, which means completely apart from works, either before or after one has experienced the grace of God, but the experience of the grace of God in faith will result in the works of sanctification, but such works are not meritorious for justification. Such statements have led to the some to the false conclusion that the Church of Rome has capitulated to the teaching of the Reformation and has repudiated the Council of Trent and fully embraced the concept of sola fide or faith alone. Is this in fact the case? Does the Roman Catholic Church actually embrace this teaching? The answer is no. The Church of Rome can affirm much of what is stated above with respect to initial justification, but certainly not with respect to the process of justification. In fact, the Roman Church issued a clarification of the language of the Joint Declaration on the issue of faith in which it purposefully avoided using the phrase faith alone and simply stated that a man is justified by faith. The problem here is once again a lack of adequate definition of terms.

Robert Sungenis voices concern about drawing wrong conclusions about the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in the light of its historic teaching:

Let me say first of all that although the media has displayed continual excitement over the Joint Declaration, newspaper reports have been notorious in exaggerating and sometimes distorting the areas of agreement between Lutherans and Catholics, so much so that the Catholic side has had to issue a statement warning of the “various erroneous interpretations by the communications media” (June 22, 1999). Here’s a sample of the kind of distortion that still takes place: From the Scripps Howard News Service, on October 12, 1999, columnist Thomas Hargrove wrote:

“The great 482 year dispute between Catholics and Protestants is about to end. In three weeks, representatives of Pope John Paul II and the Lutheran World Federation will meet in Augsburg, Germany, to sign a theological declaration that salvation comes only through faith in God.” Unfortunately, Mr. Hargrove’s assessment is an exaggeration verging on misrepresentation....It is precisely for such sweeping generalizations that the Vatican issued the press release titled “Clarification to the Doctrine of Justification” on June 22, 1999, which pointed out the “various erroneous interpretations by the communications media.”

On a recent radio program of the Catholic Family Network, Jeffrey Gros, a spokesman from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, was interviewed about the meaning of the Joint Declaration. When asked if Catholics can now say that individuals are justified by faith alone, Brother Gros said:

“Yes, in fact the text says that very clearly. If one looks very closely at the Council of Trent, its understanding, its definition of faith is somewhat different than the one that emerged in the Reformation texts. But as you look at the texts closely together and look back at St. Paul’s letter to the Romans at grace and faith and what God does for us in Jesus Christ, we see that what Lutherans mean by faith alone is total reliance on the grace of God.”

Is this correct? Does the Catholic Church now teach that men are justified by faith alone? Does the phrase “faith alone” mean that one totally relies on the grace of God and that those who only use the word “faith” are in some fashion relying on themselves? Well, to begin to answer this question, let’s look at what the Council of Trent really said:

“If anyone shall say that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to understand that nothing else is required to cooperate in the attainment of the grace of justification, and that it is in no way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will: let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 9).

Canon 14 is just as explicit:

“If anyone shall say that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he believes for certain that he is absolved and justified...and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are perfected: let him be anathema.”

Canon 19 says the same:

“If anyone shall say that nothing except faith is commanded in the Gospel, that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free, or that the ten commandments in no way pertain to Christians: let him be anathema.”

Canon 29 adds the necessity of the Sacrament of Penance:

“If anyone shall say that he who has fallen after baptism cannot...but by faith alone without the sacrament of penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church taught by Christ the Lord and His apostles, has hitherto professed, observed, and taught: let him be anathema.” (See also Canons 10, 11, 12, 20).

Thus, it is very clear that the Catholic Church does not believe in justification by “faith alone.” The Council of Trent understands “faith alone” very literally, that is, it means that “nothing else” is understood to be added to faith for justification. So what would make someone like Brother Gros think that the Catholic Church does believe in “faith alone”? Well, besides any hidden agendas that may be active, unfortunately, one of the major reasons is the ambiguity in the Joint Declaration itself. For example, in paragraph 2C, the Annex to the Joint Declaration says: “Justification takes place ‘by grace alone’ (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified ‘apart from works’ (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25).” But in paragraph 2 the Annex says: “Together we confess: 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...” Likewise, in paragraph 2A it says: “‘Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God’ (Rom 5:1).” Obviously, the Annex has given us two versions of this very crucial issue: one version specifying “faith alone,” the other version specifying “faith” without any qualifier. One can only conclude that the ambiguity created in the Annex is deliberate (for surely no one is going to believe that it happened by accident).

In effect, the Annex’s equivocation between “faith” and “faith alone” reveals the very nature of the Joint Declaration: it is an effort to combine Lutheran and Catholic beliefs in such a fashion so as not to deny either side’s opposing beliefs or offend the opposing side. Each side can extract statements from the Joint Declaration with which it agrees and interpret them the way it likes. On the Catholic side, Cardinal Cassidy summed up the Joint Declaration as: “What we have tried to do in the dialogue has not been to pass judgment, neither on the Council of Trent nor Martin Luther.” Instead, Cassidy stated, the two churches wanted to “say what are Lutherans and Catholics able to say together today.” What will be said “tomorrow,” then, remains to be seen.

As noted above, the Vatican issued a “Clarification on the Doctrine of Justification” on June 22, 1999, which was intended to guide the Catholic interpretation of the Joint Declaration. Interestingly enough, the “Clarification” did not use the phrase “faith alone.”... Yet the impact of this “Clarification” is itself ambiguous, for the “Clarification” is NOT what the Lutherans signed on October 31, no matter how much the Vatican insists that the “Clarification” represents the “correct” interpretation of the Joint Declaration. Again, this just proves that both sides can extract from the Declaration what they desire to extract.

I must respectfully disagree with Sungenis when he says that the language of the Joint Declaration is ambiguous on faith. The Joint Declaration is not presenting two versions of faith—faith and faith alone. It is understood in the Declaration that when the word faith, without the adjective alone, is used with respect to justification it means faith alone. This is seen from the fact that in the very paragraph that Sungenis quotes, where the word faith is used independent of the word alone, its meaning is qualified by the expression ‘not because of any merit on our part’, which means faith alone. The same is done in paragraph 25:

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ...Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

Here the word faith is used by itself without any qualifiers and yet the last sentence expresses the meaning of the term when it says that faith excludes all works of merit for justification, works that either precede or follow the gift of faith. In other words when they say that justification is by faith they mean by faith alone. There is no ambiguity of language.

Sungenis is very forthright and straightforward in presenting the historic Roman Catholic position. The Church of Rome clearly has never taught the concept of faith alone as it applies to the overall doctrine of justification. It teaches that justification is achieved by the grace of God infused into the heart of the individual which enables the individual to perform works which merit justification but such merit, because it has its cause in grace excludes all boasting. This is why the Roman Catholics in paragraph 7 can state:

While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Romans 3:27). [See Sources, section 4.3.]

They are not saying here that the works motivated and empowered by grace do not contribute to justification, but that such works do not contribute to justification in such a way that a person could boast before God. They are affirming here that works do indeed contribute to justification. Robert Sungenis makes the same point in his analysis of the Joint Declaration. In explaining the Roman Catholic doctrine he is careful to point out that the Roman Catholic Church does not teach that a person can ‘earn’ his salvation:

The Catholic Church has never taught that we “earn” salvation. To “earn” something means that it is yours by legal right, without any deference to grace or benevolence. It means that God owes us salvation as a matter of legal debt. But that is not at issue in this debate. Listen again to the words of the Council of Trent:

If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema (Canon 1).

Chapter 8 of the Council is even more specific:

...because none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace itself of justification.”

It couldn’t be clearer that the Catholic Church is against the idea of “earning” salvation. Is this just an old and outdated teaching of the Catholic Church? Not according to the 1994 Catholic Catechism. Paragraphs 604, 1996 and 2010 state:

...God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part...Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call...Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.

Hence, both the Council and the Catechism are clear that God initiates the whole process by His grace alone. The Catholic Church believes that through faith, which is prompted by God’s grace, we accept the atoning work that Christ underwent for us. The Council of Trent said:

“...we are therefore said to be justified by faith because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God” (Session 6, Chapter 8).

The 1994 Catholic Catechism says that faith is “a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him...” (Para. 153). There’s a lot of grace in these statements but nothing about “earning salvation” or “faith alone.”

Mr. Sungenis wants it clearly understood that the Roman Catholic Church has never taught that a person could ‘earn’ salvation. But Sungenis does not inform his readers that he is dealing here with only one aspect of Roman Catholic teaching on justification and that has to do with initial justification. All the quotes from Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church given above have to do with that particular aspect of justification and not with the process itself once one has come under the influence of grace. What both Trent and the Catechism are saying is that no one can merit justification by works done by one’s own natural powers apart from the grace of God. Thus, initial justification is totally dependent on grace and has absolutrely nothing to do with works. Note the language of Trent as quoted by Sungenis:

If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema (Canon 1).

While a person cannot be justified before God by his own works on the basis of his own natural powers, yet once he has experienced the grace of God he can justify himself before God on the basis of works. Or note the quote given from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

...God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part...Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call...Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.

The wording here is important. Note that the Catechism is dealing with the initial grace of forgiveness and justification at the beginning of conversion. Again, once an individual experiences the grace of God he is able to merit forgiveness and justification. All of this will become clear when we examine the subject of merit. But this Roman Catholic teaching is clearly contradictory to the Lutheran position expressed in this Declaration in the following paragraph that works do not cooperate in achieving justification:

Appendix, Part 4.1“The strict emphasis on the passivity of human beings concerning their justification never meant, on the Lutheran side, to contest the full personal participation in believing; rather it meant to exclude any cooperation in the event of justification itself. Justification is the work of Christ alone, the work of grace alone” [VELKD 84, 3-8].

Works as Fruit

Where the Joint Declaration consistently states that justification is by faith alone apart from works, it goes on to affirm the necessity for regeneration and the works of sanctification. It states over and over again that saving faith is accompanied by the renewal of the individual and is a faith formed by love and which works through love:

12. The justified live by faith that comes from the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and is active through love (Galatians 5:6), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). But since the justified are assailed from within and without by powers and desires (Romans 8:35-39; Galatians 5:16-21) and fall into sin (1 John 1:8, 10), they must constantly hear God’s promises anew, confess their sins (1 John 1:9), participate in Christ’s body and blood, and be exhorted to live righteously in accord with the will of God. That is why the Apostle says to the justified: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). But the good news remains: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), and in whom Christ lives (Galatians 2:20). Christ’s “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Romans 5:18).

16. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God’s gift through the Holy Spirit who works through Word and Sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works.

26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative Word. Because God’s act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one’s way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.

31. We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the Gospel “apart from works prescribed by the Law” (Romans 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the Law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

37. We confess together that good works—a Christian life lived in faith, hope, and love—follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.

Appendix, Part 4.3. “We emphasize that faith in the sense of the first commandment always means love to God and hope in him and is expressed in the love to the neighbour” [VELKD 89, 8-11].

Appendix, Part 4.3.“According to Protestant interpretation, the faith that clings unconditionally to God’s promise in Word and Sacrament is sufficient for righteousness before God, so that the renewal of the human being, without which there can be no faith, does not in itself make any contribution to justification” [LV:E 52].
“As Lutherans, we maintain the distinction between justification and sanctification, of faith and works, which, however, implies no separation” [VELKD 89, 6-8].

Annex 2A) “We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power (...)” (JD 22). Justification is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous, through which God “imparts the gift of new life in Christ” (JD 22). “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Rom 5:1). We are “called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 Jn 3:1).We are truly and inwardly renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit, remaining always dependent on his work in us. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). The justified do not remain sinners in this sense.

The point that is being made here is that which was emphasized earlier that salvation means more than justification. The signers of the Declaration are clearly stating that the works of sanctification are an essential aspect of the overall work of salvation but that such works are not meritorious for justification but are the fruits of justification. This is clear from paragraphs 37 and 39:

37. We confess together that good works—a Christian life lived in faith, hope, and love—follow justification and are its fruits.

39. The concept of a preservation of grace and a growth in grace and faith is also held by Lutherans. They do emphasize that righteousness as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is always complete. At the same time, they state that there can be growth in its effects in Christian living. When they view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one’s own “merits,” they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited “reward” in the sense of the fulfillment of God’s promise to the believer. [See Sources, section 4.7.]

So the Declaration is unambiguous on this point. Thus, by faith alone it is quite obvious that the Lutherans do not mean that justifying faith is not accompanied by love or the works of sanctification. No Reformer ever taught that faith alone meant that faith was alone in that sense. It simply means that with respect to justification, no work can be the basis for its attainment because justification is a work of Christ alone. Thus, the Protestant Reformers could state that an individual is justified by faith alone but the faith that justifies is never alone—it produces the fruit of sanctification. The Joint Declaration makes the point that when the Lutherans use the term faith, it is understood that they mean a faith that also includes hope and love. Robert Sungenis objects to such a theological construct, stating that it contradicts the theology of Luther and engages in word games because the faith is not really alone:

To it’s credit, the Joint Declaration points out that what today’s Lutherans understand by “faith” the Catholic Church understands as “faith, hope and love.” Well, okay, but if that’s the case, let’s point out two crucial facts:

1. Luther believed, in opposition to Thomas Aquinas, that the faith which justified was “unformed” by love, that is, love was excluded from any connection with faith at the moment of justification (which apparently, the Lutheran World Federation no longer believes).

2. If “faith,” according to today’s Lutherans, includes hope and love, then they should be willing to admit that their faith is not alone — unless, of course, they desire to engage us in word games. This is precisely what many Evangelicals do today — they propagate the common but confusing adage: “a man is justified by faith alone but a faith that is not alone.” Thus, they can claim to believe in “faith alone” and give the impression they are maintaining the heritage of Luther, but they don’t mean the same thing as Luther. One thing we can say of Luther: at least he was honest with his own definition of “faith alone.”

Mr. Sungenis needs to go back and study history. He has completely misrepresented Luther. Luther never said that the faith that justifies was unformed by love. What he repudiated was the concept that the work of love could in any sense be the grounds for the attaining of justification because Christ had done all the work necessary for justification and it was received as a gift by faith alone and not by human works of any kind. What he thoroughly repudited was the concept of merit, not the concept of works or a faith that was accompanied by love. The following quotes from Luther and Melancthon prove this to be the case:

Melancthon: Paul is here (1 Corinthians 12–13)...demanding love in addition to faith. This is what he does elsewhere in all his letters, demanding good works from believers, i.e. the justified...And when he says that he who has all faith but no love is nothing, he is right. For although faith alone justifies, love is also demanded...But love does not justify because no one loves as he ought. Faith, however, justifies...There is also the passage in James 2:17: ‘So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ He did well to say this, for he was reprimanding those who thought that faith is merely a historical opinion about Christ. For just as Paul calls one type of faith ‘true,’ and the other ‘feigned,’ so James calls the one kind ‘living’ and the other ‘dead.’ A living faith is that efficacious, burning trust in the mercy of God which never fails to bring forth good fruits. That is what James says in ch. 2:22: ‘Faith was completed by works.’...Therefore, the whole point that James is making is that dead faith...does not justify, but a living faith justifies. But a living faith is that which pours itself out in works. For he speaks as follows (v. 18): ‘Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.’ But he does not say: ‘I will show you works without faith.’ My exposition squares most harmoniously with what we read in James: ‘So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ Therefore, it is obvious that he is teaching here merely that faith is dead in those who do not bring forth the fruit of faith, even though from external appearances they seem to believe (Philip Melanchthon, Love and Hope. Found in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), Volume XIX, p. 112).

Luther: Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore the Apostle calls it ‘the righteousness of God.’ in Rom. 1:17: For in the gospel ‘the righteousness of God is revealed...as it is written, “The righteousness man shall live by faith.” ’...This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sin in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he...Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.
The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness. This is the manner of life spent profitably in good works, in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self, of which we read in Gal. 5:24: ‘And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’ In the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear toward God...This righteousness is the product of the righteousness of the first type, actually its fruit and consequence...This righteousness goes on to complete the first for it ever strives to do away with the old Adam and to destroy the body of sin. Therefore it hates itself and loves its neighbor; it does not seek its own good, but that of another, and this its whole way of living consists. For in that it hates itself and does not seek its own, it crucifies the flesh. Because it seeks the good of another, it works love. Thus in each sphere it does God’s will, living soberly with self, justly with neighbor, devoutly toward God
(Martin Luther, Two Kinds of Righteousness. Taken from Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), pp. 156–158).

Both Luther and Melancthon are stating that faith alone justifies but that justifying faith will always give evidence of itself in the fruit of works, especially the works of love. This is precisely what the Lutherans are saying in the Joint Declaration and what the overall Declaration itself seems to be stating. The statement ‘a man is justified by faith alone but the faith that justifies is not alone’ is a perfectly legitimate way to explain the relationship of faith to justification and works. It comes back to the issue that salvation means more than justification. Out of union with Christ a person is simultaneously justified, regenerated and sanctified but neither regeneration nor sanctification contributes to justification because justification is a once for all declarative act that is dependent on the work of Christ alone. Works are the fruit of faith and union with Christ as Melancthon and Luther point out. Sungenis says:

Thus, they can claim to believe in “faith alone” and give the impression they are maintaining the heritage of Luther, but they don’t mean the same thing as Luther. One thing we can say of Luther: at least he was honest with his own definition of “faith alone.”

Again, by such a statement Sungenis is misrepresenting the teaching of Luther and of those who followed in his steps. Those who teach that a man is justified by faith alone but the faith that justifies is not alone are indeed teaching the same thing as Luther. But as Sungenis points out, this teaching that works are simply the fruit of faith and are in no way meritorious for justification was anathematized by the Council of Trent:

Here is what the Council of Trent said about such grace-oriented works in Canon 24:

If anyone shall say that justice received is not preserved and also not increase in the sight of God through good works but that those same works are only the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of its increase: let him be anathema.

Notice that, in opposition to Luther, the Catholic dogma assumes that justification “increases” and is not a one-time, static event. It also says that good works are not merely the fruits of justification (as Luther believed) but are “a cause” of justification’s increase...Thus, anyone who says that good works are merely the fruits of justification but in no way “merits” justification (that is, graciously merited), he is anathematized.

While Rome historically has condemned the teaching, it is nonetheless promoted in the Joint Declaration. Regardless of what the historical record tells us, Rome gives the appearance of whistling a different tune. But in the final analysis it is only an appearance. Rome will not actually change in its fundamental beliefs. For the purposes of ecumenical dialogue it is willing to clothe its doctrine in purposefully ambiguous language. It has always taught that works merit justifcation and eternal life and that brings us to a consideration of the concept of merit in the Joint Declaration. As we have seen works apart from grace are rejected by Rome while works done in a state of grace are promoted as meritorious. But the Joint Declaration repudiates this notion in very clear terms.

Merit

The Joint Declaration gives the following statements on the issue of merit:

15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: 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 and calling us to good works.(11)

17. We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God’s saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.

19. We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace.

25. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

39. The concept of a preservation of grace and a growth in grace and faith is also held by Lutherans. They do emphasize that righteousness as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is always complete. At the same time, they state that there can be growth in its effects in Christian living. When they view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one’s own “merits,” they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited “reward” in the sense of the fulfillment of God’s promise to the believer. [See Sources, section 4.7.]

Annex 2. “Together we confess: 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 and calling us to good works” (JD 15).

These declarations conclusively repudiate any notion of merit as far as justification is concerned. The statement from paragraph 25 clearly states that no work, either a work before the experience of grace or a work afterward, is meritorious: ‘But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.’ And paragraph 17 states that justification is a gift that is received by faith and cannot be merited in any way. And yet, paragraph 38 leaves the door open to the concept of merit:

38. According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened. When Catholics affirm the “meritorious” character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.

Again, while the Roman Catholic Church rejects the whole notion of merit for initial justification, this is not so when applied to the process of justification. The above statement in paragraph 38 explicitly confirms a teaching of merit. When the Roman Catholic Church defines merit as meaning a reward in heaven is promised for works, the reward it is referring to is eternal life. The above statement goes on to affirm that justification is always dependent on the unmerited grace of God and that works are a gift from God. But in Roman teaching justification is dependent on those works and not the work of Christ exclusively. The Council of Trent states:

Canon XXXII. If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified...does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life— if so be, however, that he depart in grace,—and also an increase of glory: let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1919 ed.), Decree on Justification).

Roman Catholic theologian, Ludwig Ott states:

Habitual grace is a constant supernatural quality of the soul which sanctifies man intrinsically and makes him just and pleasing to God. According to the teaching of the Council of Trent, ‘no one can be just to whom the merits of Christ’s Passion have not been communicated.’...It is a fundamental doctrine of St. Paul that salvation can be acquired only by the grace merited by Christ.

As God’s grace is the presupposition and foundation of (supernatural) good works, by which man merits eternal life, so salutary works are, at the same time gifts of God and meritorious acts of man...By his good works the justified man really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God...A just man merits for himself through each good work an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life (if he dies in a state of grace) and an increase of heavenly glory
(Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), Book Four, Part I, p.219; 3.5, p. 222; Book III, Part 2, Chapter 2.III.11.3, p. 190; Book IV, Section 2, Chapter 3.23.2, 3.25.1, pp. 264, 267).

At this point the statements of the Joint Declaration are hopelessly contradictory primarily because the Roman Catholic statements are contradictory. On the one hand it states that no works either before or after the reception of grace merits justification and then it states just the opposite. Robert Sungenis gives a clear portrayal of the historic teaching of Roman Catholicism on this point:

But, you may ask, if the Catholic Church believes you cannot earn your salvation, why would they, namely, the Council of Trent and the 1994 Catechism, be opposed to using the words “faith alone” in a justification formula? There are several reasons. (1) The Bible, (which Lutherans claim as their only source of truth), never says an individual is justified by “faith alone.” In fact, the only time the Bible uses the phrase, it is preceded emphatically by the words “not by,” to read: “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). If the phrase “justified by faith alone” were so important to the discussion, one would think the Bible would at least mention it once. Rather, as we see in James, it not only avoids such phrasing, it specifies the converse. But what did the Joint Declaration do? Well, as Luther did in his German translation of Romans 3:28, the Joint Declaration slipped in the word “alone” into St. Paul’s meaning. As noted above, in paragraph 2C, the Joint Declaration stated in reference to Romans 3:28: “Justification takes place ‘by grace alone,’ by faith alone, the person is justified ‘apart from works’ (Rom 3:28...).” Obviously, the word “alone” was added to satisfy the Lutheran contingent of the Joint Declaration.

What Sungenis fails to inform his readers is that Luther was not the first to explain the meaning of Romans 3:28 to be that of faith alone. As Joseph Fitzmyer points out, Thomas Aquinas did so and the term faith alone was used by a number of prominent theologians throughout the history of the Church:

At 3:28 Luther introduced the adv. “only” into his translation of Romans (1522), “alleyn durch den Glauben” (WAusg, 7.38); cf. Aus der Bibel 1546, alleine durch den Glauben” (Wausg, DB 7.39); also 7.3-27 (Pref. to the Epistle). See further his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, of 8 Sept. 1530 (WAusg 30.2 [1909], 627-49; “On Translating: An Open Letter” [LuthW 35.175-202]). Although “ alleyn/alleine” finds no corresponding adverb in the Greek text, two of the points that Luther made in his defense of the added adverb were that it was demande by the context and that sola was used in the theological tradition before him.

Robert Bellarmine listed eight earlier authors who used sola (Disputatio de controversiis: De justificatione 1. 25 [Naples: G. Giuliano, 1856], 4.501-3):

Origen, Commentarius in Ep. ad Romanos, cap. 3 (PG 14.952).

Hilary, Commentarius in Matthaeum 8:6 (PL 9.961).

Basil, Hom. de humilitate 20.3 (PC 31.529C).

Ambrosiaster, In Ep. ad Romanos 3.24 (CSEL 81.1.119): “sola fide iustificati sunt dono Dei,” through faith alone they have been justified by a gift of God; 4.5.(CSEL 81.1.130).

John Chrysostom, Hom. in Ep. ad Titum 3.3 (PG 62.679 (not in Greek text]).

Cyril of Alexandria, In loannis Evangelium 10.15.7 (PC 74.368 [but alludes to Jas. 2:19]).

Bernard, Canticum serm. 22.8 (PL 183.881): “solarn iustificatur per fidem,” is justified by faith alone.

Theophylact, Expositio in ep. ad Galatas 3.12-13 (PG 124.988).

To these eight Lyonnet added two others (Quaestiones, 114-18):

Theodoret, Affectionum curatio 7 (PC 93. 100; ed. J. Raeder [Teubner], 189.20-24).

Thomas Aquina, Expositio in Ep. I ad Timotheum cap. 1, lec. 3 (Parma, ed.1 13. 588): Non est ergo in eis [moralibis et caeremoniabilus legis] spes iusticationis, sed in sola fide, Rom. 3.28: Aitramur justificari hominem per fidem, sine operibus legis” (Therefore the hope of justification is not nd in them [the moral and ceremonial requirements of the law], but in faith alone, Rom 3:28: We consider a human being to be justified by faith, without the works of the law). Cf. In ep. ad Romanos 4.1 (Parma ed., 13.42a), “reputab itur fodes eius, scilicet sola sine operibus; exterioribus, ad iustiatiam” In ep. ad Galatas 2.4 (Parma ed., 13.397b): “solum ex fide Christi” [Opera 20.437, b4l]) (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 360-361).

When James states that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone he is referring to a particular kind of faith that justifies. As Melancthon points out James is referring to a living faith in contradistinction to a dead faith. James begins the discussion by asking the question, If a man says he has faith but he has no works can that faith save him? He is dealing with the nature of saving faith. And the kind of faith that saves is a faith that gives evidence of its existence in works. This is why James says, I will show you my faith by my works. Living faith works. So what he is saying is that only those are justified whose faith is not alone, that is, it is more than an intellectual assent like that of the demons. It is a faith that works. And so he he says, a man is not justified by faith alone, or by a faith that is alone but by works, that is, by a faith that works. That this interpretation is the correct one is seen by correlating this passage with Paul’s words in Romans 3:28: ‘For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.’ The Joint Declaration interprets these words as an expression of faith alone. When Paul states that justification comes by faith apart from the works of the law he is saying that justification comes by faith alone. Not in the sense that there is no sanctification but in the sense that justification is an exclusive work of Jesus Christ as he goes on to expound in Romans 5. Sungenis continues:

(2) There is a great difference in saying (a) “a man is justified by faith alone,” as opposed to saying (b), as Romans 3:28 actually says, “a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” The first sentence, if taken as literally as the Council of Trent understood the term “alone,” means that nothing can be added to faith for justification, not even love. But, of course, that would contradict St. Paul’s teaching in Galatians 5:4-6 that a man is “justified by....faith working through love,” and his teaching in 1 Corinthians 13:2 that faith without love “is nothing.” The second sentence (“faith apart from works of law”) merely means that “works of law,” whatever they mean to St. Paul, is the only thing that cannot be added to faith for justification, which leaves open the possibility of adding love and hope.

Of course, this just begs the question, for now we must discover what St. Paul means by “works of law.” That answer is revealed just a few verses later in Romans 4:4: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as a debt.” In other words, the works St. Paul intends not to be coupled with faith for justification are “works of debt,” that is, works whereby we try to earn, by legal right, our justification from God, as when an employee does work and then demands payment from his employer. St. Paul says “no, no!” You can’t come to God by putting him in debt to you, because God owes no man anything (Romans 11:35). You must come seeking what cannot be earned, that is, God’s grace. God wants you to believe in Him for who He is, not for what you can get out of Him. Thus, St. Paul is excluding only one kind of works — works of debt, wherein one tries to obligate God to pay him salvation. Why did Luther, then, exclude love and hope? Because, he said, St. Paul considered them as “works of law,” which has certainly never been a Catholic belief.

The other kind of work that St. Paul accepts and also commands us to perform to attain our justification is work performed under God’s grace. For example, in Romans 2:7 he says: “To those who persist in doing good...He will give eternal life.” There’s nothing here about “earning” eternal life, but plenty concerning God “giving,” especially since Romans 2:4 refers to God’s “kindness, tolerance and patience,” which are God’s virtues we receive by grace. In Romans 2:13 St. Paul says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are just with God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” It is the grace-oriented and grace-blessed works that can be added to faith for justification because these works don’t put God in debt to us. God rewards us with eternal life for our good works not because He owes us anything, but because He enjoys giving freely to those who please Him out of a sincere heart. That is what salvation is all about.

The works of the law as used by the apostle Paul refers to the moral law. Romans 7 makes this clear where Paul says that there was a time when he was alive apart from the law but when the commandment came, which said, Thou shalt not covet, sin became alive in him and he died. Sungenis would have us believe that what Paul has in mind is a repudiation of doing the works of the law apart from grace to obligate God to save us. He says we must come seeking what cannot be earned, God’s grace. But then by God’s grace we are to work in order to earn salvation. But Paul says no. To experience the grace of God is to be set free from all necessity to earn or merit anything related to salvation by our works. Paul says this repeatedly:

Eph. 2:8-9: By grace you have been save through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no man should boast.

Titus 3:5: He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

A work done in righteousness is done by grace. There is no other way the work can truly be righteous. And Paul says that salvation is not based on grace empowered works. The righteousness of God that is bestowed in justification is the righteousness of Christ himself, given as a gift by imputation and received by faith alone. There are no works involved in justification because God demands a perfect fulfilment of the law—a perfect righteousness—to be justified. Only Christ has done this. He has perfectly fulfilled the law of God in active sense in that he never sinned and he perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law for transgression in that he bore its full penalty on our behalf as our substitute at the cross. He laid down his life in death as a full payment for our sin. Christ has merited justification for us by fulfilling the law in every detail. When an individual is united to him by repentance and faith, that person receives by imputation, as a gift, the righteousness of Christ which eternally justifies him. There are no works involved in justification because Christ has done all the work necessary. It is by his obedience and righteousness. It is based on and accomplished by his merits and not man’s. Justification is by faith alone because it is by Christ alone and this is what is meant by grace alone. Sungenis continues:

Now here is where we need to make a grand distinction — a distinction the Joint Declaration deliberately avoids but the one that is probably the most important in the whole discussion. Again, the 15th paragraph of the Annex to the Declaration states: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and...not because of any merit on our part...” Following Luther, most Lutherans think of “merit” in one dimension, that is, as something that is earned by legal right without grace. This explains their opposition to that kind of “merit,” and rightly so. The Catholic Church, however, thinks of merit in two dimensions: (a) that which is earned by legal right, and (b) that which is merited by grace (or what St. Thomas Aquinas distinguished as (a) “strict merit” and (b) “condign merit,” the latter being the merit we receive by grace. See Summa Theologica I-II, Q. 114, a. 1, ad 3). It is the strict, legal merit that the Catholic Church maintains cannot justify a man, which is how she interprets the word “merit” in paragraph 15 of the Annex, and which is the same merit to which the Lutherans are opposed. But the Catholic Church has always believed, and still does believe, that a man attains justification through the merit God gives from His grace, not because we have legally “earned” justification. It was this very concept of “gracious merit” (or what Thomas Aquinas called “condign merit”) that Luther utterly rejected. Here is what the Council of Trent said about such grace-oriented works in Canon 24:

If anyone shall say that justice received is not preserved and also not increase in the sight of God through good works but that those same works are only the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of its increase: let him be anathema.

Notice that, in opposition to Luther, the Catholic dogma assumes that justification “increases” and is not a one-time, static event. It also says that good works are not merely the fruits of justification (as Luther believed) but are “a cause” of justification’s increase. Whether today’s Lutherans accept or deny condign merit is not stated in the Joint Declaration, and thus the matter remains intentionally ambiguous. Canon 32 is even clearer regarding the merits of good works for justification:

If anyone shall say that the good works of the man justified are in such a way the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him who is justified, or that the one justified by the good works, which are done by him through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ (whose living member he is), does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life (if he should die in grace), and also increase of glory: let him be anathema.

Sungenis states that the Joint Declaration deliberately avoided clarifying the meaning of merit. He says there is ambiguity about whether or not the Lutherans accept or deny condign merit. But there is no ambiguity in the document at all. The Joint Declaration did not deliberately avoid addressing the issue. In fact, it did just the opposite. In paragraph 25 it is made clear that both strict merit and condign merit, to use Aquinas’ terms, are unacceptable:

25. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

This is further reiterated in paragraph 39:

39. When they (Lutherans) view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one’s own “merits,” they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited “reward” in the sense of the fulfillment of God’s promise to the believer. [See Sources, section 4.7.]

Paragraph 25 is a denial of the legitimacy of condign merit and it is part of the Joint Declaration, as opposed to a qualifying statement related only to the Lutherans. It is saying that nothing that follows the recption of the free gift of faith in terms of works, that is, grace oriented works, merits justification. The Council of Trent was certainly clear in its teaching on merit, as Sungenis has indicated, but the language of the Joint Declaration is an explicit repudiation of Trent. Contrary to Sungenis’ statement, the matter of condign merit in the Joint Declaration is not intentionally ambiguous. But nonetheless, Sungenis has clearly explained the true position of the Roman Catholic Church in language that leaves us in no doubt as to what the Church’s historic position has been. It is apparent from the wording of the Declaration that Lutherans believe that the Roman Catholic position is now that of sola fide as understood from the Reformation perspective, while the clarification issued by the Roman Church seeks to counter what it considers to be a misconception. Clearly, there is no consensus on this issue either.

9) Justification

The doctrine of justification itself is summed up in the following propositions:

1) It is Forensic in Nature and is not a Legal Fiction

A faith centered and forensically conceived picture of justification is of major importance for Paul and, in a sense, for the Bible as a whole, although it is by no means the only biblical or Pauline way of representing God’s saving work [USA, no. 146] (Appendix, Part 3).

Sungenis posed a question at the end of his article related to the issue of imputational or transformational justification. He says it is not clear what positon the Lutherans take. Actually they believe in both. It is not an either/or scenario. According to the Joint Declaration, they believe in a salvation that is both forensic and transformational. The Declaration explicitly states that justification is forensic in nature and, as we have seen, it reiterates over and over again that God never justifies a person whom he does not at the same time transform. This is seen in the following statement:

By justification we are both declared and made righteous. Justification, therefore, is not a legal fiction. God, in justifying, effects what he promises; he forgives sin and makes us truly righteous (Appendix, Part 4.1).

The declarative aspect of justification—its forensic nature—is clearly set forth here as well as the transformational aspect of salvation in which God makes us righteous through regeneration and sanctification. The Declaration has repeatedly set forth the distinction between justification and the work of sanctification in which the necessity for both truths is clearly affirmed. To be made righteous in the words of the Declaration has to do with regeneration and sanctification. In addition, when God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer, it is a real righteousness and is therefore not a legal fiction. The righteousness imputed is just as real as the imputation of our sin to Christ.

2) Christ Himself is Our Righteousness

The Joint Declaration states that Christ himself is our righteousness. This means that justification is based upon Christ’s righteousness imputed or credited to the believer. This righteousness is perfect and complete, is granted as a gift which is received by faith, and is independent of human works:

10. All human beings are in need of God’s righteousness, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 2:23; cf. Romans 1:18-3:22; 11:32; Galatians 3:22). In Galatians (3:6) and Romans (4:3-9), Paul understands Abraham’s faith (Genesis 15:6) as faith in the God who justifies the sinner and calls upon the testimony of the Old Testament to undergird his gospel that this righteousness will be reckoned to all who, like Abraham, trust in God’s promise. “For the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; cf. Galatians 3:11; Romans 1:17).

15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: 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 and calling us to good works.(11)

22. We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ. When persons come by faith to share in Christ, God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love. These two aspects of God’s gracious action are not to be separated, for persons are by faith united with Christ, who in his person is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30): both the forgiveness of sin and the saving presence of God himself.

23. When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one’s life renewed. When they stress that God’s grace is forgiving love (“the favor of God”(12)), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian’s life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.

29. Lutherans understand this condition of the Christian as a being “at the same time righteous and sinner.” Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament and grants the righteousness of Christ which they appropriate in faith. In Christ, they are made just before God.

39. The concept of a preservation of grace and a growth in grace and faith is also held by Lutherans. They do emphasize that righteousness as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is always complete. At the same time, they state that there can be growth in its effects in Christian living. When they view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one’s own “merits,” they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited “reward” in the sense of the fulfillment of God’s promise to the believer. [See Sources, section 4.7.]

Appendix, Part 4.2. “The Lutheran doctrine has never understood the ‘crediting of Christ’s justification’ as without effect on the life of the faithful, because Christ’s Word achieves what it promises. Accordingly the Lutheran doctrine understands grace as God’s favor, but nevertheless as effective power . . . ‘for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation’” [VELKD 86, 15-23]

Appendix, Part 4.7. “The Lutheran confessions stress that the justified person is responsible not to lose the grace received but to live in it . . . Thus, the confessions can speak of a preservation of grace and a growth in it. If ‘righteousness’ in Canon 24 is understood in the sense that it effects human beings, then it does not apply to us. But, if ‘righteousness’ in Canon 24 refers to the Christian’s acceptance by God, it applies to us; because this righteousness is always perfect; compared with it the works of Christians are only ‘fruits’ and ‘signs’” [VELKD 94, 2-14].

These statements make it clear that justification is a finished and completed work and not a process because it is based exclusively on the imputation of the righteousness of Christ himself. Notice the language of the Joint Declaration:

10. All human beings are in need of God’s righteousness...this righteousness will be reckoned to all who, like Abraham, trust in God’s promise.
15. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness.
22. Persons are by faith united with Christ, who in his person is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30).
23. The righteousness of Christ is our righteousness.
29. Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament and grants the righteousness of Christ which they appropriate in faith.
Appendix, Part 4.2. The Lutheran doctrine has never understood the ‘crediting of Christ’s justification’ as without effect on the life of the faithful.
Appendix, Part 4.7. This righteousness is always perfect; compared with it the works of Christians are only ‘fruits’ and ‘signs’”

This is the language of imputation and it focuses the truth of justification on the person of Christ and his righteousness. This righteousness, which is perfect, is contrasted with the righteousness of Christians in the works of sanctification which it says are only fruits. Thus, justification is not based on human works in any way. But this teaching as articulated by the Joint Declaration was condemned by the Council of Trent. In Canon X on Justification Trent stated:

If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby he merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just: let him be anathema.

On the one hand Trent affirms the fact that the grace for justification is solely dependent on the merits of Christ. But it condemns the teaching that justification is accomplished through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ himself to the believer. According to Rome, Christ merited the grace necessary for justification, but not the achievement of justification itself. A person must cooperate with that grace to achieve actual justification through good works. But the teaching that justification is achieved through the righteousness of Christ alone imputed apart from works is anathematized. And yet it is precisely this teaching which is affirmed in this Joint Declaration. The Lutherans are consistent in their statements throughout the Declaration. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, equivocate and make contradictary statements. Note, for example, the differences between the Lutheran statement in paragraph 26 and the Roman Catholic statement in paragraph 27:

26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative Word. Because God’s act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one’s way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.

27. The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through Baptism as hearers of the Word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him.(14) This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God’s graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Romans 3:27). [See Sources, section 4.3.]

The Lutherans confirm the fact that justification is by faith alone because it is achieved by Christ alone. This means that it is not dependent on human works. It does not mean to be made righteous but to be declared righteous by God because it is a forensic work. But they go on to explain that justification cannot be separated from regeneration or sanctification. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, define justification to mean to be made righteous in the sense of regeneration and sanctification. These are contradictory positions. It is important to note that this definition of justification as being made righteous was given by the Roman Catholics and not the Lutherans. The Lutherans are not acceding to this definition of justification. That is clear from the numerous statements which they have made on the subject, including the one immediately following this section.

3) Justification is the Work of Christ Alone and of Grace Alone

Appendix, Part 4.1 The strict emphasis on the passivity of human beings concerning their justification never meant, on the Lutheran side, to contest the full personal participation in believing; rather it meant to exclude any cooperation in the event of justification itself. Justification is the work of Christ alone, the work of grace alone [VELKD 84, 3-8].

This statement is a very strong affirmation of the Protestant teaching of justification. It makes the point that justification is the work of Christ alone, which is how the term grace alone is to be defined which excludes, therefore, any human cooperation with respect to works in justification itself. All human cooperation in achieving justification is repudiated in this statement.

The Lutherans teach that justification is a work of Christ alone because the Scriptures teach that Christ's work of atonement is sufficient as a payment for sin. As they state in paragraph 31, Christ has fulfilled the law.

31. We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the Gospel “apart from works prescribed by the Law” (Romans 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the Law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation.

Scripture teaches that all of our sin was imputed to Christ and in his work of atonement he has paid the full penalty for sin. He has fully satisfied the justice of God against our sin by bearing our sin and then laying his life down in death which is the penalty of sin. Because Christ has fully fulfilled the demands of the law of God in our place, we are set free from its condemnation as we are made one with him by faith. In other words, the atonement of Christ is completely sufficient for the achieving of forgiveness before God. It eliminates the necessity for works. Romans 5:9 states that believers are justified by the blood of Christ, 'Much more then having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.' The reference to blood in this verse has to do with the atonement, the laying down of Christ's life as a payment for sin. It says that his death actually justifies us. It is not just that the atonement is the basis for justification, but that it is that by which we are justified. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, does not view the atonement as being sufficient to deal with the full penalty and punishment for sin. This is why works are necessary as a means of adding to the work of Christ to achieve salvation. In his analysis of the Joint Declaration, Robert Sungenis states the following regarding faith and the atonement:

The Catholic Church believes that through faith, which is prompted by God's grace, we accept the atoning work that Christ underwent for us.

But what does Sungenis mean when he says we are to accept by faith the atoning work of Christ? Most Protestants reading this would simply assume that he means precisely what they believe, that Christ's atonement is a completed and finished work that has dealt with the full penalty of our sin and which is sufficient for our justification, full forgiveness and deliverance from all condemnation. But that is not the case. In his book, Not By Faith Alone, Sungenis makes the following remarks about the atonement of Christ:

What did Christ's suffering and death actually accomplish that allowed the Father to provide the human race with salvation? Did Christ take within himself the sin and guilt of mankind and suffer the specific punishment for that sin and guilt, as Protestants contend? The answer is no...Christ did not take upon himself the entire punishment required of man for sin. Rather, Scripture teaches only that Christ became a 'propitiation,' a 'sin offering,' or a 'sacrifice' for sins...Essentially, this means that Christ, because he was guiltless, sin-free and in favor with God, could offer himself up as a means of persuading God to relent of his angry wrath against the sins of mankind. Sin destroys God's creation. God, who is a passionate and sensitive being, is angry against man for harming the creation. Anger against sin shows the personal side of God, for sin is a personal offense against him. We must not picture God as an unemotional courtroom judge who is personally unharmed by the sin of the offender brought before him. God is personally offended by sin and thus he needs to be personally appeased in order to offer a personal forgiveness. In keeping with his divine principles, his personal nature, and the magnitude of the sins of man, the only thing that God would allow to appease him was the suffering and death of the sinless representative of mankind, namely, Christ (Robert Sungenis, Not By Faith Alone (Santa Barbara: Queenship, 1997), pp. 107-108).

Because Christ's work is not a sufficient payment for sin, according to Rome, it is necessary that men cooperate with the grace of God to make expiation for their own sins as well as to achieve a righteousness that will finally merit justification and eternal life. In Sungenis' opinion, Christ's death merited did not merit a full salvation, only the opportunity for salvation. To say that God is angry primarily because man has harmed the creation is ridiculous. There is not one word in the above statements about the law of God. God is angry because man has rebelled against himself and his law. While sin certainly has negative ramifications as far as the creation is concerned, that is not the major focus of scripture with respect to sin. Christ's work was undertaken in the context of the demands of the law of God and as a full satisfaction for those demands. This is the meaning of Christ's becoming a curse and a propitiation. Why did he become a curse? Because the law says: 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them' (Gal. 3:10).The above teaching of Sungenis is completely antithetical to the teaching of scripture on the nature of the atonement and justification.

The Joint Declaration, and the Lutherans in particular, understand the biblical teaching of the sufficiency of the work of Christ and therefore they speak of justification as a work of Christ alone:

15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: 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 and calling us to good works.

This paragraph declares justification to be the excluisve work of God and the sufficiency of Christ's work which eliminates all need for persoanl meit and therefore is received by faith alone.

4) Justification is Not by Works

This point has been made repeatedly in this analysis but it is helpful to look at the combined statements from the Joint Declaration itself once again:

19. We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace.

23. When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one’s life renewed. When they stress that God’s grace is forgiving love (“the favor of God”(12)), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian’s life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.

25. We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative Word. Because God’s act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one’s way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.

27. The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through Baptism as hearers of the Word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him.(14) This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God’s graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Romans 3:27). [See Sources, section 4.3.]

31. We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the Gospel “apart from works prescribed by the Law” (Romans 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the Law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

Appendix, Part 4.1“The strict emphasis on the passivity of human beings concerning their justification never meant, on the Lutheran side, to contest the full personal participation in believing; rather it meant to exclude any cooperation in the event of justification itself. Justification is the work of Christ alone, the work of grace alone” [VELKD 84, 3-8].

Appendix, Part 4.3. “The Reformers . . . understood faith as the forgiveness and fellowship with Christ effected by the Word of promise itself. This is the ground for the new being, through which the flesh is dead to sin and the new man or woman in Christ has life (sola fide per Christum). But even if this faith necessarily makes the human being new, the Christian builds his confidence, not on his own new life, but solely on God’s gracious promise. Acceptance in Christ is sufficient, if ‘faith’ is understood as ‘trust in the promise’ (fides promissionis)” [LV:E 50].

Appendix, Part 4.3.“According to Protestant interpretation, the faith that clings unconditionally to God’s promise in Word and Sacrament is sufficient for righteousness before God, so that the renewal of the human being, without which there can be no faith, does not in itself make any contribution to justification” [LV:E 52].
“As Lutherans, we maintain the distinction between justification and sanctification, of faith and works, which, however, implies no separation” [VELKD 89, 6-8].

There is no ambiguity in these statements. The Joint Declaration completely repudiates the whole notion of works and merit as a basis for justification.

Conclusion

There are some positive things to be said for this Joint Declaration as well as some negative. There are many statements here that are affirmations of the teaching of the Reformers on justification and salvation. But at the same time there is an ambiguity of language from the Roman Catholic side that leaves one confused as to what the Roman Catholic Church really stands for. While the Joint Declaration emphasizes faith, there is a glaring lack of teaching on repentance. On the other hand there is a positive declaration that justification is by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone apart from merit of any kind. It affirms that justification is forensic in nature, and is based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Works are presented as the fruit of saving faith and union with Christ but do not contribute to justification itself because justification is presented as an exclusive work of Christ.

Robert Sungenis wraps up his analysis of the Joint Declaration with these observations:

As for the Catholic Church, well, they have had their tussles about the Joint Declaration. The fact that they were forced to issue the “Clarification on the Doctrine of Justification” shortly after the Annex to the Joint Declaration was released (the Annex which contained both “justified by faith alone” and “justified by faith”), shows that they recognize the volatility in the agreement. Why, in the first place, they would agree to the equivocal and ambiguous language of the Joint Declaration is a question that present and future generations of Catholics will be interested to probe and access. We can say this, however: The Joint Declaration is not an infallible dogma of the Catholic Church. Only the Pope can make something binding and infallible, which in this case he has not done. All he did was give his approval to the effort of the Joint Declaration to form “basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” Although the Joint Declaration removes the respective condemnations of the Lutheran and Catholic churches, they are only removed insofar as the condemnable doctrines are addressed specifically in the Joint Declaration, which as we have seen in its inordinate amount of ambiguity, has about as good a chance of bringing a conviction of heresy against a Lutheran or a Catholic as I have of ending this article in twenty-five words or less.

Moreover, there are many things about the doctrine of justification that the Joint Declaration does not cover, as it itself admits. This is not only true of the intrinsic elements of justification proper, but also of the peripheral issues related to justification like the Mass, Confession, Indulgences, Purgatory, Mortal and Venial Sin, etc. On such issues the Joint Declaration says that for now there can only be “unity in diversity.” Yet as we have noted earlier, even the issues the Joint Declaration covers are very vague and ambiguous, such as whether justification comes “by faith alone” or “by faith.” Just the fact that the Joint Declaration included both phrases shows that it has not resolved the issue but has merely restated both sides of the question. An individual who reads the Joint Declaration and its Annex will certainly be confused as to what the Declaration is really saying, or, as is often the case, he will escape the confusion by putting his own spin on what he thinks the document is saying. But then, of course, we’re back to square one...

As we have noted throughout this article, one of the reasons two differing sides can come to some kind of agreement without denying their core beliefs is due to the ambiguity of language. Documents can be crafted in such a way where both sides can agree to general concepts, whereas if more specific stipulations were added the two sides would remain at odds... My previous analysis of the double-meaning of “merit” is a case in point. The Protestant conception of “faith alone” as being a faith which is “not alone” is another case in point. Indeed, many times in the course of the dialogue it was stated that Catholics and Lutherans could agree on the “general” concepts of salvation, not on its specifics. A general consensus could be reached on the more salient points, i.e., that man is justified by grace alone. But this is not a breakthrough of doctrine as much as it is a breakthrough of men’s minds and hearts, for now each side can see that the other is not denying the basic tenet of salvation — grace.

These statements are misleading. There is not nearly as much ambiguity of language as Sungenis would lead us to believe. His examples of merit and faith alone are cases in point. The Joint Declaration from the Lutheran standpoint is not ambigous on the meaning of the terms. The ambiguity is on the Roman Catholic side. As we have seen it is clear what the Lutherans mean by merit and faith alone. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, are purposefully vague. If the Roman Catholic statements were presented with the clarity of Sungenis’ statements there would be no doubt as to what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches. I disagree with this statement by Sungenis:

Why, in the first place, they would agree to the equivocal and ambiguous language of the Joint Declaration is a question that present and future generations of Catholics will be interested to probe and access. We can say this, however: The Joint Declaration is not an infallible dogma of the Catholic Church.’

The issue is not why the Roman Catholics would agree to equivocal and ambiguous language but why in the light of the teaching of Trent they would agree to language that is contradictory to Trent and which is a clear affirmation of the teaching of the Reformers. The one salvation of this document from a conservative Roman Catholic perspective is that it is not infallible and therefore it can be rejected as not being truly representative of the Roman Catholic position.

And, furthermore, just because both sides are in agreement that grace is the basic tenet of salvation means nothing because both sides agreed on that issue at the time of the Reformation. The issue is not on agreement of the use of the word grace but on its actual meaning. It is clear from Robert Sungenis’ affirmation of the Council of Trent that Rome’s concept of grace and that of historic Protestantism are greatly at odds with one another. Sungenis concludes his analysis with these remarks:

My only warning to all involved in this ecumenical effort is: don’t ever, ever, compromise the truth. If we can only have unity in diversity, then so be it. Perhaps that is the best we can do for now in this battered and bruised humanity in which we find ourselves living in this soon to be 21st century. May God’s grace be with us all, and may no one ever think that he “earns” his salvation from God, be it Catholic, Lutheran or any other religion.

I agree with Sungenis’ remarks about truth. We live in a day when truth is minimized for the sake of peace. The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16). We must never compromise the truth. However, for the sake of ecumenical dialogue, Rome seems willing to speak in ambiguous terms about what it stands for and to sign statements which are blatantly opposed to its historic position. This is a subtle way of drawing the opponent into one’s own camp. Rome will make statements that appear to be evangelical and then turns around and puts a ‘Roman’ spin on them in order to try and have the best of both worlds. As for example when it states that man is justified by faith alone when it is referring to initial justification only, but does not inform the reader that that is what it means. Or when it states that the Church believes in merit in the sense that a reward is promised to the believer in heaven without stating that the reward is justification and eternal life.

Robert Sungenis’ comments and documentation from the Council of Trent leave no room for doubt as to the official position of the Church of Rome on the issue of works and merit. Man’s works are necessary as an addendum to the work of Christ for maintaining a state of justification before God and for meriting eternal life. Such teaching is clearly antithetical to the biblical meaning of grace and justification and is a distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the Roman Catholic Church teaches that in the initial experience of justification at baptism there are no works of the individual involved (what is termed initial justification), this is not true in the ongoing experience of the person in his Christian life. This is because justification is not a finished work in Roman Catholic theology but an ongoing process equated with the works of sanctification. Therefore Rome teaches that works are necessary for salvation and are meritorius for the attaining of eternal life. But the wording of the Joint Declaration could easily lead one to the opposite conclusion. This is similar to what occurred in the formulation of the ECT Accords. In the ECT documents the Roman Catholic teaching is purposefully worded in such a way as to make the Church of Rome appear virtually evangelical in its teaching. There is a purposeful avoidance of a clear presentation of historic Roman Catholic teaching. For example, in the ECT 2 document, the signers make the following statements regarding justification:

Justification is central to the scriptural account of salvation, and its meaning has been much debated between Protestants and Catholics. We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God’s gift, conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness, out of love that He bears us in His Son, who suffered on our behalf and rose from the dead for our justification. Jesus was ‘put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Rom 4:25). In justification, God, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends, and by virtue of his declaration it is so.

Such a statement is a complete contradiction to the official teaching of Rome on justification. Rome would agree with this statement with respect to initial justification but certainly not for an understanding of its overall concept. At Trent, Rome officially condemned the statement as it stands in the ECT 2 document. But the signers of the document would lead us to believe that Roman Catholicism agrees with this statement. It does not. Its position has been clearly defined in its councils and catechisms. To state that justification is based solely on the righteousness of Christ is a misrepresentation of the teaching of Rome. The Evangelical Church affirms this statement in the sense that it is Christ’s righteousness alone imputed to the individual which justifies him eternally before God and which eliminates the necessity for any works whatsoever for the attaining of justification. The Church of Rome has officially condemned this teaching. While it teaches that Christ’s righteousness alone merited the grace which is imparted to a believing sinner, it is not the righteousness of Christ himself alone, imputed to the believer, that justifies but the works of the individual in cooperation with that grace. The signers of the ECT Documents are misleading people by carefully avoiding a full disclosure of what the Roman Catholic Church actaully means by the terms it uses. The same has taken place with the Joint Declaration.

Robert Sungenis’ presentation of the Roman Catholic position is refreshingly straightforward. There is absolutely no ambiguity in his statements. We are not left wondering what he really means or what Rome has historically taught about justification. If we take his statements at face value it is obvious that there is no consensus possible between Protestants and Roman Catholics if the Protestants are to remain true to the teaching of scripture and the Reformers and if Roman Catholics are to remain true to the teachings of the Council of Trent. We cannot have unity in diversity because we do not agree on the meaning of even the basic terms of the gospel. Sungenis says: ‘May no one ever think that he “earns” his salvation from God, be it Catholic, Lutheran or any other religion.’ Yes, and I would add, ‘May no one ever think that he “merits” his salvation from God, be it Catholic, Lutheran or any other religion.’ Or to put it in the words of the Joint Declaration: ‘whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it’ (Paragraph 25).