NEW ORLEANS, La. — The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted overwhelmingly last week to approve a declaration of unity with the Roman Catholic Church in an endeavor to “enumerate the many points of agreement between Lutherans and Catholics”—a move that some state is contrary to biblical Christianity.
The “Declaration on the Way” was approved 931-9 during the denominational assembly at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. According to an official press release by the ELCA, members stood and applauded following the vote.
The declaration “seeks to make more visible the unity we share by gathering together agreements reached on issues of church, Eucharist and ministry,” the document outlines. However, it is called “on the way” because “dialogue has not yet resolved all the church-dividing differences on these topics.”
The publication outlines 32 “Statements of Agreement” between the ELCA and Roman Catholics, such as “esteeming highly the spiritual benefits of union with the risen Christ given to them as they receive his body and blood in Holy Communion” and believing that “that all the baptized who believe in Christ share in the priesthood of Christ.”
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton noted to the assembly following the vote that the declaration comes 500 years after Protestants separated from Roman Catholicism.
“Dear sisters and brothers, let us pause to honor this historic moment,” Eaton said. “Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity. After 500 years of division and 50 years of dialogue, this action must be understood in the context of other significant agreements we have reached, most notably the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ in 1999.”
As previously reported, the Protestant Reformation, which resulted in the counter-Reformation by the Jesuits, was sparked by a monk and scholar named Martin Luther, who served the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
As Luther began studying the Scriptures after he was appointed to a Chair of Biblical Theology, he became consumed with a passion to discover what it meant to be a Christian. In the Catholic Church, he had seen men trying to earn their way to Heaven, but as he read the Bible, he realized that salvation was through faith in Christ alone.
“I think I’ve found the truth at last,” the classic film “Martin Luther” depicts Luther as stating to a Church official. “By faith man lives and is righteous, not by what he does for himself, be it adoration of relics, singing of masses, pilgrimages to Rome, purchase of pardon for his sins, but by faith in what God has done for him already through His Son.”
Following the revelation, Luther began to challenge the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, compiling a list of 95 thesis where he asserted that Catholic doctrine contradicted the Scriptures. He was later summoned to appear before a meeting of the Church, and was declared a heretic and excommunicated.
While this month’s ELCA declaration notes points of agreement between evangelical Lutherans and Roman Catholics, it also outlines several areas where differences remain between the two entities. The document explains that Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation, while Lutherans do not believe that communion is transformed “into the [actual] substance of the body and blood of Christ.”
It also notes that Lutherans question the global papacy, which Roman Catholics assert is of the succession of Peter.
“Issues of papal ministry, especially in regard to authority and jurisdiction, raise questions that have no promise of imminent resolution,” the document outlines.
Mike Gendron, a former Roman Catholic who now leads Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries, a organization dedicated to evangelizing Catholics, said that the ECLA is in error in seeking to find common ground with Roman Catholicism despite these doctrinal disparities.
“By seeking unity with the Catholic religion they are departing from the biblical faith of the Reformers,” he told Christian News Network. “They need to know that there can never be biblical unity between Roman Catholics and denominations which uphold the gospel of God.”
He noted several other integral and fundamental differences between evangelicals and Roman Catholics.
“The Bible teaches justification by faith; Catholicism condemns with anathema those who believe justification is by faith alone (Romans 4),” Gendron explained. “The Bible teaches we are born again by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit; Catholicism teaches regeneration is by water baptism (John 3).”
“The Bible teaches we are purified of sin by the blood of Jesus; Catholicism teaches purification is by the fires of purgatory (1 John 1:7),” he continued. “The Bible teaches that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man; Catholicism offers many mediators including Mary and its priests (1 Tim. 2:5).”
Gendron said that unity simply for the sake of unity is contrary to the Scriptures.
“Biblical unity is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, not man, that demonstrates a common faith in the Gospel (1 Cor. 12:13). Religious unity is a work of Satan who uses man’s prideful ambitions and biblical ignorance and to unite the world,” he stated. “Those who engage in spiritual enterprises with apostate Roman Catholicism, without confronting their error, give credibility to their heresies.”
“In doing so,” Gendron said, “they leave their own convictions and beliefs open to question.”