SEOUL, South Korea Three world church bodies made an unprecedented move in ecumenical history on Sunday when Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Methodists signed a joint agreement on justification.
We plowed new ground today, commented Dr. George H. Freeman, general secretary of the World Methodist Council. This opens the door for future ecumenical relationships.
Following years and even decades of dialogue with one another, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Roman Catholic Church, and the World Methodist Council took part in what Dr. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, identified as a new ecumenical landmark and what will go down in history.
Youre at a historic and significant moment here this Sunday, Geoffrey Wainwright, a professor at Duke University Divinity School, told the thousands of Methodists who witnessed the historic event. When they put pen to text, something will have changed.
Two representatives from each of the three church bodies inked the agreement with their signatures, enlarging ecumenical dialogue and relationships and achieving a significant new step in reconciliation.
Wesleyan followers at the 19th World Methodist Conference stood up out of their seats to witness Lutheran representatives Noko and Sven Oppegaard, Methodist representatives Freeman and Sunday Mbang, and Roman Catholic representatives Cardinal Walter Kasper and Soo-Hwan Kim make history.
Kasper called it one of the major achievements of ecumenical dialogue and quoted Pope Benedict XVI who had noted the triparted agreement as a full visible unity in faith.
Dialogues between Methodists and the Roman Catholic Church have been long-running for over four decades. After the Roman Catholics shook hands on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with Lutherans in 1999, Methodists, who had also been in dialogue with Lutherans for some two decades, came in as a third party to endorse the agreement and at the same time be included in it.
A Methodist statement was drafted and circulated among all member churches of the World Methodist Council and according to Wainwright, every response was positive and some even enthusiastic. With strict unanimity, the Methodist Council approved the statement last week and officially signed it Sunday.
This is a gift of God, commented Kasper, [and] a joint living out of the gospel message.
Noko expressed his hope that other international and national bodies will pay attention to the joint ecumenical move.
According to Gillian M. Kingston, chairperson of the Program Committee of the World Methodist Conference, the Methodists are also in dialogue with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Anglican Church, as well as The Salvation Army. While dialogue began with the Orthodox Church, talks are currently on hold.
As a guest speaker, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches and a Methodist, highlighted Sundays event as a giant step to overcoming Christian divisions.
Our world needs a church that bears witness to the gospel in word and deed, he added.