From July 30 to August 2, 1979, a group of about fifty Lutheran theologians and pastors attended the Seventh Concordia Academy at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. At this meeting they were deeply conscious of significant events anticipated in 1980. Lutherans will then celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession—the first great Protestant confession of faith. Roman Catholics and Lutherans are planning a joint celebration in the United States. Reformation Sunday is already being called Reconciliation Sunday. As the central result of a fifteen-year dialogue between Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians in the United States, substantial agreement has reportedly been reached on the vital issue of justification by faith. A similar consensus has also been reached between Roman Catholics and Lutherans in Europe.
The doctrine of justification by faith and the prospect of reconciliation with Rome were the main themes considered at the Seventh Concordia Academy. A Roman Catholic scholar and this editor were invited to present papers at the conference.
The worldwide Lutheran movement is in crisis over its relationship to the doctrine of justification by faith. This is no small issue, because the article of justification is the raison d'etre of the Lutheran movement. But Lutherans today appear to be divided on the issue of Reformation theology. On both sides of the Atlantic, for instance, some Lutherans are saying that Rome and the Lutherans now agree on justification by faith. This editor heard a prominent Lutheran theologian say this at the recent Seventh Concordia Academy. Other Lutheran scholars—represented by a number attending the Wartburg Seminary meeting—are reluctant to admit that substantial agreement has been reached on justification by faith. In fact, they think there is reason to fear that systematic efforts are being made to compromise the central teaching of the Lutheran Confessions.
This editor came from the Lutheran conference convinced that the crisis among Lutherans is an issue of vital importance to all Christians. This is not just because millions outside the Lutheran community claim Luther as their spiritual father, but because the same arguments over justification by faith within the Lutheran community are being repeated in other Christian bodies. Not only are they using identical arguments; they are even quoting the same sources!
The following presentation is an expanded version of the paper this editor presented at the Seventh Concordia Academy. Although it addresses the current Lutheran debate, it touches on those issues which determine whether any religious body stands or falls.
Come, let us reason together.