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Co-operation not optional, says Lutheran ecumenist

05 November 2021


Dr Noko in Lund Cathedral in 2016, before a joint Lutheran-Catholic service with Pope Francis

Dr Noko in Lund Cathedral in 2016, before a joint Lutheran-Catholic service with Pope Francis

ECUMENICAL work is no longer optional: the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which is now multilateral, has seen to that, says the Lutheran World Federation’s former general secretary the Revd Dr Ishmael Noko.

He was speaking in St George’s Anglican Cathedral, Cape Town, last Sunday to mark Reformation Day and celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the joint declaration by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutherans (News, 3 November 2017). In the congregation was the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba.

Dr Noko recalled how the declaration was “a fruit of 35 years of ecumenical conversations” after Vatican II.

The Zimbabwean-born Dr Noko is one of the Lutheran architects of the original declaration, which he negotiated with Cardinals Edward Cassidy and Walter Kasper.

On 31 October 1999, Dr Noko signed the declaration on behalf of the LWF in Augsburg Cathedral. After signing, he and Cardinal Kasper spontaneously embraced, to applause from those gathered.

“I call it the holy moments,” Dr Noko said on Sunday. He called to mind how, that same afternoon, the Methodist general secretary, the Revd Dr Joe Hale, spoke to the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans, saying: “The matter of justification isn’t a matter of the Church, it’s an ecumenical question. And [the Revd Dr] John Peterson, Anglican general secretary, my counterpart at that time of the Anglican Communion, wrote me a letter similarly saying, ‘We are part of it.’”

He also recalled how, six years later, the Methodists had signed the declaration, followed by the Anglican Communion in 2016, and, a year later, the Reformed Churches.

“The Joint Declaration as it stands today is not a bilateral agreement. It is a multilateral agreement. It belongs to us — to all of us. The commitments that are in the Joint Declaration are our commitments before God, and they have to be carried out ecumenically.

“We have to move forward. We can’t go back. We’ve demobilised our ecclesiastical anathemas, we can no longer resuscitate them. There’s no way back. So ecumenical work together is not an option, it is an obligation,” he told the congregation, many of whom had joined via video link.

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