"When the enemy shall come in like a flood, …"
The uncompromising stand that Luther took at Worms has been abandoned by the so-called 'Lutheran' World Federation. The LWF is no longer entitled to call itself 'Lutheran'; it cannot claim to be a 'world' organisation since it does not speak for the majority of Lutherans worldwide; and the only 'federation' of which it is now part is its new worldly federation with the Church of Rome.
The defiant and world-transforming words of Luther at the Diet of Worms – "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me." – no longer represent the stance of the LWF. Its spirit of accommodation and compromise has ended in capitulation to Rome.
The Joint Declaration signed by the leaders of the LWF with the Vatican pretends to have achieved a resolution of the differing beliefs of Lutheranism and Romanism on the doctrine of justification. Luther taught that God justifies us by declaring us righteous for Christ’s sake; but Rome taught, and still teaches, that we become righteous with the help of grace, and that only when we receive the sacraments of baptism and penance are we finally acceptable to God.
The Joint Declaration curiously twists Biblical teaching by saying that both of these views are correct: first, it says, we are declared righteous (justification), and then we become righteous (sanctification). This, however, is not the Lutheran teaching derived from the Bible: it is exactly what the Church of Rome taught in Luther’s day, and what she still uncompromisingly teaches. Indeed, Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, the President of the so-called Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, continues to insist that "eternal life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merits".
How, then, can these ecumenists claim that Roman Catholics and Lutherans now "share a basic understanding of how human beings receive God’s forgiveness and salvation"? The answer is: only by not standing where Luther stood; and only by carefully fudging the issue.
"… the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." (Is. 59:19)
When the principles of this shameful and treacherous document were published for discussion, a total of 148 German Protestant academics signed a public statement demanding that Lutheran bishops, church leaders and synods reject the Joint Declaration. The Romanist-saturated UK media, of course, conveniently failed to mention this revolt. (Rome always hates the truth.)
In early February, 1998, the German press nevertheless reported that church historians in Germany considered it 'unique in the history of Protestantism' that such a large number of academics had approached church leaders by signing a public protest of this nature. Some newspapers even rated the protest as 'a landmark in ecclesiastical history', because, of course, it was this very question of justification that historically led to Luther's break with Rome.
Amongst the signatories of the protest were some of the most eminent Professors of Theology at German, Swiss and Austrian universities. They included Gerhard Ebeling (Zurich), Martin Honecker (Bonn), Carl Heinz Ratschow (Marburg), Karin Bornkamm (Bielefeld), Wilfried Härle (Heidelberg), Reinhard Slenczka (Erlangen), and Martin Hengel, Jürgen Moltmann and Peter Stuhlmacher (all from Tübingen). Idea Deutschland described this contingent of illustrious academics as representing "the whole range of opinion in Protestant theology".
Their objections to the Joint Declaration were:
(1) It contains no proven consensus between the two churches regarding the basic truths of the doctrine of justification ("Konsens in Grundwahrheiten der Rechtfertigungslehre"). On the contrary, the differing doctrines are mutually exclusive ("schließen einander aus").
(2) It has no practical consequences for ecumenism ("keinerlei praktische Konsequenzen für die Ökumene"), especially in that the Roman Catholic Church will neither recognise the Lutheran Church as "a church of Jesus Christ", nor agree to joint communion.
(3) Most seriously, the Declaration conceals a programme the ultimate aim of which is to integrate Protestant church office-bearers into the structure of the Roman Catholic hierarchy ("die Integration auch der evangelischen Amtsträger in das Gefüge der römisch-katholischen Hierarchie").
These facts caused a theological quarrel of immense proportions in Germany between these theology professors and a very large section of the Lutheran churches. 122 member churches of the LWF were asked to decide by May 1 whether to accept the Declaration. The result was by no means unanimous. The only significant response in favour of the Joint Declaration came from the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD), led by Bishop Hirschler, who called the protest "grotesque" – a description surely more appropriate to the doctrinal whitewashing, verbal ambiguity and carefully concealed intent of the Declaration itself.
We have another historical example, in this Joint Declaration, of Rome's unchanging neutralisation of Biblical truth. Most important and precious doctrines are mentioned in order to lure her 'separated brethren' into communion with her, but immediately they are so modified or perverted as utterly to destroy their value. In this declaration on justification the merit of Christ is conceded, but quickly that of man is also asserted, so that the real scriptural doctrine of a sinner's justification by faith alone to the exclusion of works is overthrown. What remains unaltered here is the counterfeit principle of the Council of Trent, well described by James Morgan in his book Rome and the Gospel [Edinburgh, 1854, p. 40]: "One great source of the power and delusion of Rome, from the first, has been to admit in so many words the importance of the doctrines of Christianity, and then to pervert them."