What is the Declaration on the Way?

The Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist (DW), is a document of the US Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue. It is an attempt to review the last 50 years of dialogue and to see where we are in our ongoing conversations about some major topics. The idea for the document was originally floated by Kurt Cardinal Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the American ELCA reached out to the US Bishops in order to take up this work.

DW was written by a task force co-chaired by a Catholic bishop (Denis J. Madden, Auxiliary of Baltimore) and a Lutheran bishop (Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop Emeritus, ELCA). The task force included three Catholic and three Lutheran theologians, and was staffed by individuals from the USCCB and the ELCA’s Churchwide Office in Chicago.

These participants were not tasked with writing a new dialogue document, but to assess the history of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue and summarize where the churches are “on the way” (in via) towards reconciliation. The document presumes the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church in 1999, and which has since been accepted by the World Methodist Council (2006) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (2017). Because of this it does not consider justification directly, although it cites it as it affects the issues that DW considers.

As one of the Catholic members of the commission, Susan K. Wood, SCL,  describes it, DW is

neither a consensus document like the declaration on justification, nor simply another dialogue statement from the national bilateral dialogue, the “Declaration on the Way” represents a new genre of ecumenical statements as a sort of interim document. It is “on the way” because it marks the progress achieved in 50 years of dialogue by identifying statements of consensus at the same time it acknowledges that full agreement has not yet been reached on all aspects pertaining to these topics. The document is “on the way” because the final destination of full agreement and full, visible communion still lies ahead.

DW was completed in 2015, and was approved by both ecclesial bodies. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) received and unanimously affirmed the 32 agreements that it contains. The ELCA received and approved the document at their Churchwide Assembly in 2016, with a nearly unanimous vote.

DW is divided into five sections. The first introduces the project and summarizes the history of the Lutheran-Catholic engagement on these questions. The second section is the most important.  Here, thirty-two statements of agreement on three topics are gathered: on the Church, on the Ministry, and on the Eucharist. The third section elaborates on these agreements and documents where the commission finds them, and the forth describes what remaining differences exist between the churches relating to these areas of agreement.  The fifth section is quite brief, but lays out some next steps for dialogue and cooperation to continue along the way.

In the next three posts, rather than going through the document section by section, I will instead look at one topic at a time. So, first, we’ll consider DW’s agreements on Church, along with the remaining differences it sees, then do the same with Ministry, and finally with Eucharist.

Of course, all of these areas are deeply connected theologically, for the Eucharist both happens within the church and itself “makes the church,” as Henri de Lubac famously wrote. The ministry is, of course, deeply involved into both our understanding of the church and of the sacraments, so finally we cannot talk about any of these three without engaging the others. It seems appropriate that as Lutherans and Catholics continue in via towards a shared eucharist, that these are the major areas in which we describe the things on which we agree already, and note the areas where these agreements must be strengthened if we are to reach the final goal.

I look forward to delving into these central topics and their implications for the liturgy with you all.



  1. Even though my tribe of Lutherans, the LC-Missouri Synod, was either not invited or did not participate for whatever reason, I find the DW to be a hopeful document. As noted here it is not written in “tight” theological language, nor does it state agreement in all points of doctrine and practice. My tribe has a totally unrealistic standard for fellowship, which is complete agreement in doctrine and practice, a standard we cannot meet even between congregations of our little Synod. As a cradle Roman Catholic turned Lutheran pastor, I long for the day when we can be one and appreciate the respect shown to these documents on this blog. Thanks for letting me hang out here, as well.

  2. Hey Padre Dave – I am always grateful for your comments and am glad you hang out here. I wish I could think of good comments to make in response to yours on a more frequent basis.

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