The Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on Ecumenism” had readjusted the ecumenical landscape, and the Catholic Church was thrust headlong into an ecumenical movement that had been a largely Protestant and Orthodox enterprise. This is not to say there was no Catholic involvement in ecumenism until after Vatican II, however. Yves Conger, John Sheerin, Gustav Weigel, and many others, with some support from church leadership, had blazed the trail, but without the full endorsement that came from the Council on November 21, 1964.
It was in that context that in 1965 four denominations of the Reformed family of churches and representatives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops launched an official conversation in the United States. The United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),the Presbyterian Church (U.S.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ appointed a team of pastors, theologians and lay members to initiate an ongoing consultation that is now engaged in its seventh round of such dialogues. At several points, including the present, other members of the Reformed family, such as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church and the Hungarian Reformed Church, have also participated in the process. Happily, the Christian Reformed Church is an active partner in the current seventh round of the consultation.
The fortieth anniversary, of the consultation provides an appropriate moment to review what has been done and where we have come. The conversation has ranged from the heady days of an optimistic ecumenical movement, through what some considered a near-death experience at the end of the twentieth century and into what now seems to be an era of maturing accomplishment. The emerging importance of bilateral and multilateral dialogues, such as the series we are discussing, is a significant sign of this maturity.
The first round in the series met to discuss and share their insights on the topics of revelation, the scriptures, and tradition. This work was foundational to the collaboration on various topics that has occurred since. Over its lifetime this consultation has produced eight important publications, some of which continue to inform both Reformed and Catholic traditions, as well as others, in their ecumenical relationships and work. The titles of these publications relay some sense of the scope and variety of their work and accomplishments:
It is becoming increasingly clear that the ecumenical progress of the past four decades is real. Ample testimony to that progress is bourn out in the growing body of ecumenical documents and agreements gathered in two books by Joseph A. Burgess and Jeffrey Gros: Building Unity and Growing Consensus, published by Paulist Press, with a third now in process.
The fruits of that labor must not be lost. Institutions, especially those in transition, can have shortened memories. This is especially true of those ecclesial bodies whose membership and organization have evolved and changed as dramatically as have the Reformed churches involved in this dialogue. The United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) have reunited after more than a hundred years of separation, forming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church in America, have undergone significant structural reorganizations, staff changes, relocations and transitions of various kinds. The Christian Reformed Church recently joined the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and has engaged in a significant reassessment of its confessional tradition and its effect on its ecumenical relationship with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, likewise, continues to develop in its implementation and interpretation of the second Vatican Council. Some of these circumstances place institutional memory in jeopardy, open up new possibilities, and call for an appraisal, assessment and consolidation of the current state of the dialogue.
Our fortieth anniversary provides an occasion to take inventory of this important ecumenical enterprise as we seek to understand the nature of the unity given us in Christ and to express that unity in community. This appraisal takes place, of course, within the context of global ecumenical relationships, since all of our churches have been influenced by such developments as the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry project of the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order, the continuing influence of the Second Vatican Council, the ecumenical influence of Pope John Paul II, the historic Lutheran Catholic agreement on justification, and conversations taking place under the auspices of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Holy See.
Rev. John Bush and Bishop Patrick Cooney
- Introduction: Our Calling to Unity in Christ
- Summary of the Dialogues
- Full Communion
- The Reformed Churches
- The Catholic Church
- Common Vision
- The Journey toward Unity
- Worldwide Dialogues
- United States Dialogues
- Common Basis in Faith
- What we believe together
- Scripture and Tradition
- Common approach to our divisive history
- The creed we share
- Justification and Sanctification
- Convergences in Worship
- Common baptism
- Toward convergence on the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper
- Healing the wounds of the past
- Challenges on the road to a common ministry
- The priesthood of the baptized
- Differences and convergences on ordained ministries
- What we believe together
- Common Pastoral Challenges
- Our ethical common calling
- Human Rights
- Sanctity of Life
- Our concern for interchurch families
- Our ethical common calling
- The Nature of the Unity We Seek
- Teaching Authority
- United States
Texts with background essays
- United States
I Introduction: Our Calling to Unity in Christ
Christian churches are called by Christ to stand together in mission to the world and to join with Christ in the prayer “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21) Since 1965 Reformed churches in the US, (The United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Reformed Church in America) and Catholics have taken up this mandate in a variety of contexts. Similar developments have occurred regularly around the globe. The initial “history” of the American consultation was recounted in 1977 in the Introduction, written by Eugene M. Burke C.S.P, as part of the report The Unity We Seek. An exploratory meeting had been held in Washington, DC on July 27, 1965, just eight months after the promulgation of the Decree on Ecumenism and five months before the Second Vatican Council concluded. That exploratory meeting set in place the continuous series of conversations celebrated and explored in this volume.
In almost any ecumenical structure in which Catholics and Reformed churches participate, they provide unique leadership because of their numbers, their ability to exercise leadership in all of their congregations, their theological and ethical seriousness, and the mutual accountability of their ministers. This does not mean that Reformed or Catholic churches are without their own internal tensions which intrude into the ecumenical setting. However, Reformed and Catholic Christians recognize that by their baptism, their confession of the Christian faith as attested in the Scriptures and the ancient ecumenical creeds, and their common calling to mission, what binds them together is far greater than what divides them.
To further the gospel call toward greater visible unity, there have been official dialogues commissioned for over forty years: in the United States between the Presbyterian, Reformed and United Churches and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and, on a global level, through the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for the Catholic Church. Both traditions have also participated in numerous faith and order commissions across the world. From time to time, other US Reformed churches have been included in the dialogue, i.e., Cumberland Presbyterian, Hungarian Reformed and Christian Reformed churches.
A. Summary of the Dialogues
We begin with a brief overview of the various dialogues as a contribution to the other dimensions of ecumenical life, in social witness, common evangelism, spiritual renewal, theological research and collaborative efforts in the local community. The overview outlines theological discussion creating the bases for visible unity, full communion among these churches. After this introduction, we will survey the history of the dialogues on the global and United States’ levels, and provide a summary of the issues of faith discussed.
Central to our ecumenical quest is a conversion of spirit to Christ, to Christ’s call to be a member of the Church, and to Christ’s prayer for the unity of the Church. This entails getting to know and appreciate one another and one another’s churches, recognizing the challenges to unity and attempting to resolve them. The dialogues are an occasion to appreciate the gifts of our traditions. We also seek to identify differences of conviction and to resolve them in truth.
In the remainder of this Introduction, we will note the elements of full communion as they have been articulated in our World Council of Churches discussion. We will also note a specific framework for moving toward full communion as articulated by the Reformed churches and the Catholic Church, and our hopes for the use of this overview. To simplify this summary, we have noted the documents keyed to the lists at the end of the introduction and of the whole booklet, and – where possible – left in paragraph numbering, so that references can be followed in whatever version of the document is used. Also, where possible, web addresses as well as hard copy are noted.
The next section, The Journey Toward Unity, will survey the two rounds of world level dialogues and the eight rounds of US dialogues and their results. The third section, Common Basis in Faith, will briefly focus the contents of these dialogues, by themes, to show how they interrelate in one unified process contributing to our pilgrimage toward full communion in the Church Christ wills for us. The fourth section, Common Pastoral Challenges, will deal with the day to day living of Reformed and Catholic Christians, and how we can promote the Gospel in the lives of all Christians.
B. Full Communion
Reformed and Catholic churches have worked together for forty years (and Reformed churches for nearly a century with the full array of Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican churches) to articulate a basis for Christian unity in the context of a movement of theological dialogue called Faith and Order. Among the results of these dialogues is a vision of what is necessary for a united Church.
Within the World Council of Churches, that same vision was articulated in 1991 in a document called The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling. This vision can link the bilateral work of Reformed and Catholic churches to the wider work for the unity of the Church.
Among other things, this WCC statement enumerates the specific elements needing resolution if full communion is to be achieved:
The unity of the church to which we are called is a koinonia given and expressed in 1) the common confession of the apostolic faith; 2) a common sacramental life entered by the one baptism and celebrated together in one eucharistic fellowship; 3) a common life in which members and ministries are mutually recognized and reconciled; and 4) a common mission witnessing to the gospel of God’s grace to all people and serving the whole of creation. The goal of the search for full communion is realized when all the churches are able to recognize in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness. This full communion will be 5) expressed on the local level and the universal levels through conciliar forms of life and action. In such communion churches are bound in all aspects of life together at all levels in confessing the one faith and engaging in worship and witness, deliberation and action. (WCC, Canberra, 1991 in doc 14)This paragraph joins together elements our churches see as essential for “full communion.” These are the elements we shall see developed in the dialogues between Reformed and Catholic leaders.
Of course, these elements are also the subject of other ecumenical discussions, both in the World Council of Churches and in other church union conversations. The Unity of the Church as Koinonia articulates what Christians agree must be part of the Church, on the one hand, and where agreement must be reached if Christians are to be united. That text also outlines the diversities that characterize churches in full communion, many of the achievements of the ecumenical movement, imperatives before the churches today in contributing to unity, and the spiritual dynamic at the center of God’s reconciling purpose among us. (doc 14)
1) The Reformed Churches
Reformed churches today do not define themselves over against other Christians. They affirm that the essential unity of the people of God is grounded in our baptism. The Reformed believe that Eucharistic unity is a given in our one baptism, and in the Eucharist the baptized may experience their unity in Christ even if certain manifestations of that unity are incomplete. The visible unity of the Church is a goal shared with other churches, more out of a sense of mission and fidelity to Christ’s mandate, than out of an urgency to resolve historical differences.
In 1988 a consultation dealing with Mission and Unity was sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, to which the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church and the United Church of Christ belong. It expressed the matter this way:
When Christians gather at the Lord’s Table, they experience unity – a new depth of fellowship with the Lord and with one another – as a gift. They find assurance of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. They also receive anew the mandate to be part of God’s mission, to share the Good News, and to invite all, not least the poor, the weak , the hungry and the oppressed, to join in the banquet.This World Alliance of Reformed Churches document resonates with the vision set forth in the WCC statement quoted above.
At the Lord’s Table, the church knows itself to be Christ’s body, called to present Christ to the world and to do the works of God. In the body of Christ, there is diversity in unity, variety which enriches fellowship, many gifts of the one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11.) Within the body of Christ, love becomes enfleshed in justice and sharing…
We do not know the precise form of the unity we seek but we believe that it must be such that all in each place must be seen as belonging to one fellowship and that these local, regional or national churches must be in conciliar communion with one another. (doc 4)
The second Reformed-Catholic consultation in the United States summarized what Christians have come to identify as the essential elements needed for full communion: (1) common confession of the Apostolic Faith; (2) mutual recognition of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the ordained ministry; (3) common bonds of accountability and decision making; and (4) common mission in the world. (see doc 9)
2) The Catholic Church
In 1993 the Roman Catholic Church enunciated a vision of full communion in the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, that also resonates with our common WCC vision:
The communion in which Christians believe and for which they hope is, in its deepest reality, their unity with the Father through Christ in the Spirit. Since Pentecost, it has been given and received in the Church, the communion of saints. It is accomplished fully in the glory of heaven, but is already realized in the Church on earth as she journeys toward that fullness. Those who live united 1) in faith, hope and love, 2) in mutual service, 3) in common teaching and sacraments, 4) under the guidance of the pastors are part of that communion which constitutes the Church of God. This communion is realized concretely 5) in the particular churches, each of which is gathered together around its bishop. In each of these "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and alive." This communion is, by its very nature, universal. (#13 in doc 2)3) Common Vision
The language may differ in the WCC, the Reformed and the Catholic expressions of the vision. However, the substance is the same. For example, the World Council speaks of “conciliar forms of life and action” and “bound in all aspects of life together.” Reformed churches say “unity… must be such that all in each place must be seen as belonging to one fellowship and that these local, regional or national churches must be in conciliar communion.” The Catholic Church speaks of “the magisterium of the Church.” However, in all three formulations the churches are seeking, together, to find the biblically warranted means of authority by which to proclaim the Gospel together and to hold one another accountable to the faith and mission of the Church to which we are called by the Holy Spirit.
In a survey of these dialogues, the elements identified by the Reformed and Catholic churches have been touched upon, either in the US or the global dialogues. In the context of the World Council of Churches and World Alliance of Reformed Churches’ dialogues, other Reformed churches have participated. The resources of these dialogues are a gift to all Christians seeking Christ’s will for the Church and its unity. In local discussions Reformed and Catholic Christians from all points of view and traditions, along with other Christian traditions, are invited to participate.
Both of our traditions are unalterably committed to the ecumenical movement; its penultimate goal of common witness, service, prayer and action; and its ultimate goal of full communion. Thus, the dialogue has as its clear goal: a vision that includes eventual full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life
As Pope John Paul II has noted “... a new task lies before us: that of receiving the results already achieved” which “must involve the whole people of God.” Results are not to remain “statements of bilateral commissions but must become a common heritage.”(doc 3) This brief survey is intended to provide an introduction for those wishing to study the texts in more detail themselves and derive resources for preaching, education and prayer from their results.
The journey toward the unity of the churches must be founded on love and trust. However, as we build up our trust and love in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we also move into the more challenging issues that continue to keep us divided. Remarkable progress has been made toward resolving many of the issues that once divided us. Our dialogues deal with the careful, and often technical, discussions that are necessary if our churches are to achieve the full communion in faith, sacramental life and witness for which we pray.
As the international bilateral formulates our common understanding of church:
15. Norms for the belief and practice of the Church are not simply to be found in isolated proof-texts or in clearly discernible primitive patterns, but in the New Testament considered as a whole and as testimony to the divine purpose and mission for Israel, for the Church and for all humanity. In this respect, New Testament theology reckons with the content of the promise contained in the history of God's covenantal dealings with his people in the Old Testament.Suggested Reading
16. There was complete agreement in presenting ecclesiology from a clear christological and pneumatological perspective in which the Church is the object of declared faith and cannot be completely embraced by a historical and sociological description.
There was also agreement in presenting the Church as the "body of Christ" (cf. 1 Cor 12:12 f. 27; Eph 5:30). The Apostle Paul's description of the Church as the body of Christ presupposes knowledge of the death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord. The Church exists therefore as the body of Christ essentially by the Holy Spirit, just as does the exalted Lord. Stress was laid, however, on the complementary character of other images, particularly that of the bride (cf. Eph 5:15-32), which warn us against any absolute identification. (doc 5)
- Thomas Best, Gunther Gassmann, eds. On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1993.
- Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, Origins, 23:9; Vatican Polyglot Press, 1993.
- John Paul, Ut Unum Sint: On Commitment to Ecumenism, Origins, 25:4, June 8, 1995; Vatican Polyglot Press, 1995.
- Mission and Unity, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Report of the consultation, Geneva, Switzerland, August 21-27 1988. http://www.warc.ch/dt/erl2/05.html#txt5
II The Journey toward Unity
A. Worldwide Dialogues
Robert McAfee Brown and other Reformed leaders initiated conversations with the leadership of the Catholic Church during the course of the second Vatican Council (1962-1965) where they were observers representing the Reformed churches. Reading Brown’s account of those conversations, published in 1969 under the title The Ecumenical Revolution: An Interpretation of the Catholic-Protestant Dialogue, one is impressed with the candor of the exchange, on the one hand, and on the other hand with the significant progress that has been made in these ecumenical relationships. In celebrating the recovery of the word ecumenism he identifies its three interlocking meanings: (1) a concern for unity, (2) a dedication to mission; and (3) fraternal (sic) good will. “As we have begun to rediscover one another, we have likewise rediscovered how much we share and how much, therefore, we have to give and to receive from each other. The appropriate means of communication in this new situation is dialogue.”
The World Alliance and the Pontifical Council have completed two rounds of dialogue and are now in the midst of a third. The first round, (1970-1977) pursued the theme “The Presence of Christ in Church and World,” producing a report after carefully studying a variety of papers during the course of seven meetings. The papers covered such themes as mission, the world, authority, ministry and the Eucharist. The results were published under the title The Presence of Christ in the Church and World.
The second round took up the theme "Towards a Common Understanding of the Church" (1984-1989). It focused on five themes in its meetings: the goal of the dialogue; the actual situation of Reformed and Catholic relations around the world; the nature of the Church as the people of God, body of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit; and ecclesiological self-understanding; developments in ecclesiology; and a Reformed view of the papacy. Concurrently, the Reformation-Catholic Dialogue Commission in the Netherlands took up the same theme and published their results under the title From Roots to Fruits.
After providing these two published reports, the WARC dialogue took up the theme: "Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God" (1998 – present). As of 2004, six meetings have taken place touching on a variety of topics related to kingdom, church, communion and common witness.
In addition to these bilateral dialogues, the World Council Faith and Order discussions, and a host of national and regional dialogues have contributed to Reformed Catholic reconciliation. Key among these are the dialogues of the German churches studying the condemnations of the sixteenth century, and the French Groupe des Dombes, an informal group of scholars whose central leaders have been Reformed and Catholic.
B. United States Dialogues
The American dialogue between our two traditions, which has been going on since 1965, has brought to the table both theoretical and practical expertise in ecumenism, and have innovated several areas of ecumenical reflection.
The first Round took up topics still of central interest for the ecumenical endeavor. It discussed "the Holy Spirit in the Reform and Renewal of the Church," "Revelation, Scripture and Tradition," "The Development of Doctrine," and "Ministry and Order of the Church." While there was no joint statement from this first Round, the papers and summary of discussion were published in a volume entitled Reconsiderations. Commenting jointly at the end of the volume on the discussions, Daniel J. O'Hanlon, SJ, and Robert McAfee Brown noted that the "flexibility of the first two centuries" in the "forms of ministry of the Church," while "providing no warrant for naively turning back the clock seventeen centuries, did at least suggest that the present pattern was not an absolute." Without taking away from subsequent consultations, it may be said that Round Five on The Laity in the Church and in the World takes up a quarter of a century later the challenge of the first Round from a different yet compatible vantage point. Thus does the search for Christian unity cycle back time and again to its core themes and the urging of the Spirit.
The first joint statement of the consultation was devoted to the topic, "The Ministry of the Church." The parallel statement of the consultation's other section, on Worship and Mission, was entitled "Women in the Church." The second Round of the consultation produced a substantive statement which sought to project the nature of The Unity We Seek in belief, structure and worship. The action recommendations at the end of each reflection on "what is essential" remain challenging both nationally and in local congregations.
The next rounds discussed the relationship between ethical issues and ecumenism. To what extent, it was asked, are differing stances on personal and social ethical questions church-dividing? Round three (1976-79) took up that challenge. In Ethics and the Search for Christian Unity, the consultation reported on two topics of great sensitivity and difficulty for our religious communities. The joint "Statement on Abortion" from Ethics and the Search for Christian Unity still serves as a model for what can be said together by two believing communities despite real differences in theory and practice. Likewise, the "Statement on Human Rights," which focused especially on the case of South Africa, while illustrating a closer common moral vision on one level also surfaced some real differences.
The principle of approach to these themes was set at the outset and successfully adhered to all the way through: to treat both problems for the viewpoint of the Christian ecumenist, showing with clarity when there is agreement between the two traditions and with charity where there is disagreement; also, in the sincere conviction that diversity and unity are not mutually exclusive. (doc 10)The statement of the Fourth Round in 1988, Partners in Peace and Education, centered on two topics, "Church and Nuclear Warfare," and "Church and Education." The consultation first discussed together the 1983 Roman Catholic Bishops' Peace Pastoral and several Presbyterian-Reformed statements dealing with the same issue. The consultation then grappled with different stances on aid to private education. This section of the statement reflected on compatibilities of understanding of the nature and function of the educational process in society and in Church.
The studies on the laity and on families in the fifth and sixth rounds are designed to serve direct congregational engagement. At present the dialogue has returned to theological issues, discussing the Eucharist and baptism.
III Common Basis in Faith
A What we believe together
1) Scripture and Tradition
The international dialogue undertaken between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in 1977 made a significant contribution to the relationship between scripture and tradition:
25. Both on the Catholic and on the Reformed side today, the problem is no longer presented in terms of the battle lines of post-Tridentine polemic.And in approaching our differences on the Church’s role in interpreting the Scriptures we are able to say:
Historical researches have shown not only how the New Testament writings are themselves already the outcome of and witness to traditions, but also how the canonization of the New Testament was part of the development of tradition.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic teaching has stressed the very close connection between Scripture and Tradition: "springing from the same divine source, both so to speak coalesce and press towards the same goal" (Dei Verbum, 9). Scripture and Tradition thus constitute "the one holy treasure of the Word of God bequeathed to the Church" (Dei Verbum, 10) with a special dignity attaching to the Scriptures because in them apostolic preaching has been given especially clear expression (cf. Dei Verbum, 8).
26. In the light of these facts, the customary distinction between Scripture and Tradition as two different sources which operate as norms either alternatively or in parallel has become impossible…
We are agreed that the development of doctrine and the production of confessions of faith is a dynamic process. In this process the Word of God proves its own creative, critical and judging power. Through the Word, therefore, the Holy Spirit guides the Church to reflection, conversion and reform. (doc 5)
14. Historical scholarship today has not only produced fresh evidence concerning our respective roles in the Reformation and its aftermath. It also brings us together in broad agreement about sources, methods of inquiry and warrants for drawing conclusions…If we still inevitably interpret and select, at least we are aware that we do, and what that fact means as we strive for greater objectivity and more balanced judgment. (doc 7)This agreement corresponds with the faith of Catholic and Reformed churches as articulated in the Catholic councils and in Reformed confessional writings.
This convergence and difference was addressed by the third round preliminary to their work on abortion and human rights. Max L. Stackhouse summarized the matter in the group’s published report, Ethics and the Search for Christian Unity:
While both the Catholic and Reformed traditions accept Scripture, tradition, reason and experience as decisive touchstones of authority in matter of faith and morals, diverse ways these are understood in view of our theological training led to somewhat divergent ways of defining the key issues. In spite of the diversity within the two communions and the overlap at many points between them, these deep separations of training signaled how ethics tend to be viewed by the two traditions: Catholics tended to move from philosophical and ecclesiologcally established principles to the pastoral guidance of conscience with Christian love and discernment. Reformed participants tended to rely more heavily on biblical and theological themes to interpret the forces, structures and processes of social history, and therefore to define the normative possibilities which could guide the people of God in the context of community. In view of the fact that Catholicism is often viewed as more “corporative” in its faith and morals, and the Reformed traditions are more “individualistic,” these tendencies seemed almost ironic. Our stereotypes did not seem to fit. (doc 10)2) Common approach to our divisive history
Both of our communities have a dynamic approach to formulations of faith. The Reformed churches continue to write new confessions periodically. The Catholic Church recognizes the role of councils and the teaching office. While not all issues of the role of the Church in teaching have been resolved, two important contributions have been made by these dialogues: 1) the recognition of our common affirmation of the development of doctrine and 2) the importance of reconciling memories.
The alienation of Reformed and Catholic Christians, especially in Europe, is deeply rooted in painful memories. The international dialogue has attempted to contribute to the reconciliation of memories by a process of joint writing of history. The dialogue is too rich in detail to be reproduced here, but some of the principles may be useful to note:
30. In general it can be said today that a process of reassessment and re-evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church has been taking place among the Reformed Churches in the last decades, though not proceeding at the same pace everywhere. There are within the Reformed family those whose attitude to the Roman Catholic Church remains essentially negative: some because they remain to be convinced that the modern development of the Roman Catholic Church has really addressed the issues of the Reformation, and others because they have been largely untouched by the ecumenical exchanges of recent times and have therefore not been challenged or encouraged to reconsider their traditional stance. But this is only one part of the picture. Others in the Reformed tradition have sought to engage in a fresh constructive and critical evaluation both of the contemporary teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church and of the classical controverted issues.3) The creed we share
31. There is on the Reformed side an increasing sense that while the Reformation was at the time theologically and historically necessary, the division of the Western Church should not be accepted as the last word; that it is at best one-sided to read that history as if all the truth lay on the side of the Reformers and none at all on the side of their opponents and critics within the Roman Catholic camp; that there have been both in the more remote and more recent past many positive developments in the Roman Catholic Church itself; that the situation today presents new challenges for Christian witness and service which ought so far as possible to be answered together rather than in separation; and - perhaps most important of all - that Reformed Christians are called to search together with their Roman Catholic separated brothers and sisters for the unity which Christ wills for his Church, both in terms of contemporary witness and in terms of reconsidering traditional disagreements…
56. Roman Catholic negativity towards the Reformed churches had a number of intertwined bases. On the ecclesiastical level, the most obvious focus of contention was the Reformed rejection of the episcopacy and the papacy that was also sometimes expressed in terms that Roman Catholics found extremely offensive. Another cause of opposition was the fact that the Reformed principle of sola scriptura resulted in a repudiation of many Roman Catholic teachings and practices, such as the sacrifice of the Mass, Marian devotions, and the earning of indulgences.
59. In particular, Unitatis Redintegratio [the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism] noted that the churches and communities coming from the Reformation "are bound to the Catholic Church by an especially close relationship as a result of the long span of earlier centuries when Christian people lived together in ecclesiastical communion" (19). It recognized that the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as a means of salvation (3)…
63. The very recognition that this is the case marks important progress in our attempt to rid our memories of significant resentments and misconceptions. We need to set ourselves more diligently, however, to the task of reconciling these memories, by writing together the story of what happened in the sixteenth century, with attention not only to the clash of convictions over doctrine and church order, but with attention also as to how in the aftermath our two churches articulated their respective understandings into institutions, culture and the daily lives of believers. But, above all, for the ways in which our divisions have caused a scandal, and been an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel, we need to ask forgiveness of Christ and of each other. (doc 7)
The international dialogue traces out in some detail the faith we share, though not as a confession “in the ecclesial sense nor a complete statement of faith” (# 64 doc 7), to demonstrate that “what unites us as Christians is more important, more essential, that what separates us…” (#65) This faith is laid out in order to strengthen the possibility of common witness. The statement emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and human kind, and it goes on to articulate the saving role of Christ in our justification, as noted below.(A. 4, also doc 9)
The sixth round of dialogue in the United States affirmed that:b) Authority
Churches of the Reformed tradition and the Catholic Church share the confession that the Church is rooted in God’s election of Israel as well as founded in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel. In this, all our churches profess that the existence of the Church on earth comes forth from within the Trinity. The Father has sent his Son and his Spirit into the world to save humankind from sin, to make us a new creation, and to call us to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel.
The professions of faith that we have in common express a shared belief that the Church is the Body of Christ and the dwelling place of the Spirit. In its visibility reality, the Church of today is one with the apostolic church. It seeks to maintain the faith taught by the apostles who were the eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and who first proclaimed the forgiveness of sins through his saving power.
Our churches also share the confession that believers and disciples are united together in to one communion through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. In recent ecumenical literature, the word koinonia (or communion) is often used to designate this oneness. It reflects our communion in the life of the Trinity, our communion in the one faith and in charity, as well as the need for the visible elements of community that hold a body together and make it a witness to Christ in the world. (doc 18, pp. 35-36.)
Both Reformed and Catholic churches affirm the role of the Church in witness to the Gospel and providing authoritative interpretation of Gods revelation, but differ on infallibility of the Church:
40. The promise made by God to the Church is this: God remains faithful to his covenant and, despite the weaknesses and errors of Christians, he makes his Word heard in the Church. (doc 5)c) Church
The sixth round faced these differences quite directly.
[T]he Churches of the Reformed tradition and the Catholic Church struggle with the form and history of each other’s ministries. For the Reformed Churches it may seem that the Catholic Church allows its understanding of Episcopal order to prevail over the right teaching of the Word of God and the right administration of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. While accepting that the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism are celebrated in the Catholic Church, Reformed Christians are concerned that both these and preaching can be overpowered by Catholic positions on ministry and on the teaching authority of the magisterium in interpreting the Word…
The Catholic Church for its part finds deficiencies in the ministry of the Reformed Churches for two reasons. First, it views the ministry of Reformed Churches as being outside the line of ritual apostolic succession. Second, it views them as lacking the full communion with the Bishop of Rome. The Reformed Churches concur on these two points but, of course, do not identify them as deficiencies. (doc 18, p. 43)
Historically Reformed and Catholics have been perceived to differ most dramatically in their understandings of the Church. Catholics emphasize the visible understanding of the Church as a concrete, perfect society. The Reformed emphasize the universality of the Church as a communion of the elect which human beings may actually experience directly only “in the worship life and ministry of the local congregation. This is where Reformed Christians believe human beings experience the reality of the mystical Body of Christ most directly. They affirm that the Church is present wherever the Word of God is faithfully preached and the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist faithfully celebrated within a congregation that is mutually caring and accountable. The gathering of a particular community of faith around Word and Sacrament is at the very heart of a Reformed understanding of the nature of the Church.” (doc 18, pp. 36-37.)
With regard to Catholic teaching, round six observed: “Within the horizon of common belief and profession given above, the Catholic Church offers specific teaching as to how the Church is constituted as God’s people and the Body of Christ. … While the Catholic Church now accepts [Reformed ministries] as true ministries of Word and worship, it believes that unless reconciled with the Catholic communion through acknowledgement of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and a laying-on of hands, there is something lacking in them. This is because, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, they have not kept a constitutional element of the Church as a body that dates back to the apostles.” (doc 18, p. 40.)
There have also been differences over the emphasis of Catholics on the sacramental nature of the Church, without ever denying its role in the preaching of the Word. Reformed have emphasized the Church as creature of the Word, though never denying the core sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as central elements in the Church’s identity:
113. The two conceptions, "the creation of the Word" and "sacrament of grace," can in fact be seen as expressing the same instrumental reality under different aspects, as complementary to each other or as two sides of the same coin… A particular point at which this tension becomes apparent is reached when it is asked how the questions of the continuity and order of the Church through the ages appear in the light of these two concepts…This difference also extends to the question of the extent to which we can speak of the Church as a mediator of God’s grace. Reformed and Catholics are agreed that this meditation can not be seen as parallel to or taking away from the unique mediation of Christ, but “The Church is at once the place, the instrument, and the minister chosen by God to make heard Christ’s word and celebrate the sacraments in God’s name throughout the centuries. (#86 doc 7, cf. also doc 9)
117. God's fidelity is given to men and women who are part of a long history and who, moreover, are sinners… This is also why the Church's continuity demands that it recognizes itself as semper reformanda. The sinfulness of humanity which affects not only members of the Church but also its institutions is opposed to fidelity to God. …
120. Nonetheless, as things are at present, divergences persist between us in our understanding of the continuity of the Church and its visibility. The Reformed churches give first consideration to continuity in the confession of faith and in the teaching of Gospel doctrine…
123…For Catholics, however, this break [in the 16th century] struck at the continuity of the tradition derived from the apostles and lived through many centuries. Insofar as the Reformed had broken with the ministerial structure handed down by tradition, they had deeply wounded the apostolicity of their churches. The severity of this judgment is moderated today because ecumenical contacts have made Catholics more aware of the features of authentic Christian identity preserved in those churches.
Visible/invisible church question
129. We diverge, however, on the matter of the closer identification of the Church with its visible aspects and structure. Roman Catholics maintain that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Roman Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium 8), a formulation adopted at the Second Vatican Council to avoid the exclusive identification of Christ's Church with it. They admit likewise that many "elements" or "attributes" of great value by which the Church is constituted, are present in the "separated churches and communities" and that these last are "in no way devoid of significance and value in the mystery of salvation" (Unitatis Redintegratio 3). The question is, therefore, to what degree they can recognize that the Church of Christ also exists in the Reformed churches. The Reformed for their part do not understand the Church as reducible to this or that community, hierarchy or institution. They claim to belong to the Church and recognize that others also do... (doc 7)
In the words of round six: “The communion of Christ and the Spirit celebrated in Baptism runs deeper than the problems aroused by teaching on the Church and the practice of ministry. Nevertheless, considerable theological and structural convergence will be required before we can give full recognition to one another. In the meantime, much interchange and sharing is possible on the basis of the recognition already achieved and in the hope of further progress.” (doc18, p. 44.)
4) Justification and Sanctification
The major question that gave rise to the whole Reformation, and not just those churches that followed Calvin’s reforms, was the relationship of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, made available to Christians through the grace of the cross, based on no merit or good works of the human person. In 1999 the churches of the Lutheran World Federation concluded an agreement on this issue in a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Catholic Church.
The international dialogue shows that there is also a major consensus with Reformed and Catholic churches on this issue:
69. b)... We recognize that there is a betrayal of God's trust in us and that God's heart is saddened by our separation. From this condition we cannot free ourselves by our own strength... Because of sin, the law intended for life judges, condemns and leads to death... In Jesus, the unique mediator, in his death and resurrection, we are radically freed from this situation: the way of true life is opened to us anew.B Convergences in Worship
78. To speak in this way of our justification and reconciliation with God is to say that faith is above all a reception (Rom 5:1-2): it is received and in turn it gives thanks for grace… We receive from Christ our justification, that is our pardon, our liberation, our life with God. By faith, we are liberated from our presumption that we can somehow save ourselves; by faith, we are comforted in spite of our terror of losing ourselves…
79. The person justified by the free gift of faith, i.e. by a faith embraced with a freedom restored to its fullness, can henceforth live according to righteousness… And so, justification by faith brings with it the gift of sanctification, which can grow continuously as it creates life, justice and liberty…
80. Together we confess the church, for there is no justification in isolation. All justification takes place in the community of believers or is ordered toward the gathering of such a community… This presence and this action are enabled and empowered by the Spirit, by whom Christ calls to unite human beings to himself, to express his reality through them, to associate them in the mystery of his self-offering for them. (doc 7)
Reformed and Catholic churches have defined the sacraments differently and therefore counted them differently. Reformed restrict the proper designation of sacraments to the two clearly attested in Scripture, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist, though Calvin also spoke of ordination as "an efficacious sign which initiates and confirms the believer in the ministry conferred" (doc 5 #98). Catholics, while recognizing the centrality of baptism and the Eucharist, affirm seven sacraments. (cf. doc 9)
1) Common baptism
From the very beginning of the dialogues Reformed and Catholics have recognized a common baptism, its sacramental character and its centrality as a foundation of our unity in Christ. While there are theological emphases that differ they have never been considered church dividing. For example, the Catholic baptismal rite clearly implies that the sacrament extends well beyond the boundaries of any particular community. Addressing the baptized, the priest says “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name, I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of the cross.”
The Directory for Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is explicit: “As there is one body, there is one Baptism (Eph. 4: 4-6). The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes all Baptisms with water in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit administered by other Christian churches.” The baptismal liturgies of other Reformed Churches affirm this unity. The United Church of Christ Book of Worship says that “a person is incorporated in the universal church, the body of Christ, through baptism.” This idea is implicit in the prayer following the Baptism: “The Holy Spirit be upon you, child of God, disciple of Christ, member of the church.” In the liturgy of the Reformed Church in America the declaration following baptism says that the baptized is “received into the visible membership of the holy catholic church.”
Round six advised that in our culture “Baptism could be ‘countercultural’ in North America, challenging notions of membership and belonging that rely on market models and that reduce the understanding of ‘Church’ to narrow local expression.” It cites the declaration from Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry as a fundamental starting point:
Administered in obedience to our Lord, baptism is a sign and seal of our common discipleship. Through baptism, Christians are brought into union with Christ, with each other and with the Church of every time and place. Our common baptism, which unites us to Christ in faith, is thus a basic bond of unity. (BEM as quoted in doc 18)In many parts of the world there have been formal agreements for the mutual recognition of baptism. In many parts of the United States there are joint baptismal agreements in which Catholic and Reformed churches participate. The present seventh round of the dialogue is expected to provide a formal articulation of common Reformed and Catholic faith in the sacrament and what gifts we receive from our different understandings. In 1990, the second round of the Reformed-Catholic International Dialogue recommended that “our churches should give expression to mutual recognition of Baptism. [This recognition] is to be understood as an expression of the profound communion that Jesus Christ himself establishes among his disciples and which no human failure can destroy.” (As quoted in doc 18, p. 21.)
Recent Catholic teaching on Baptism uses similar language. The Directory for the Application and Norms on Ecumenism says that the koinonia established in Baptism is intimately related to the Eucharistic communion that is its goal. The Church becomes not merely a community of those who have chosen to join it through the ritual of Baptism but the communion of those incorporated by the Holy Spirit through Baptism into the Paschal Mystery: the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Baptism … constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn. Baptism, of itself, is the beginning, for it is directed towards the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ. It is thus ordered to the profession of faith, to the full integration into the economy of salvation, and to Eucharistic communion. (doc 18)A full chapter in the report of round six, Interchurch Families, is devoted to “Our Common Baptism,” and deals in some detail with Reformed and Catholic convergence and divergence. The specific focus of the report is on how this matter affects interchurch families but much of its background is of a far more general nature. It concludes with the observation that “a recognition of our unity in baptism should be a spur that reminds us of the inherent anomaly of divided churches. As call, our baptismal unity should move us to ecumenical engagement. As gift, however, our baptismal unity should give our ecumenical engagement confidence.”
(doc 18, Michael Root and Risto Saarinen, eds. Baptism and the Unity of the Church Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998] pp. 17-18, as quoted in doc 18, p. 32.)
2) Toward convergence on the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper
At the Reformation, the Reformed churches differed from both Lutheran and Catholic teaching on the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist, while affirming the real presence of Christ in the Supper by the power of the Holy Spirit. Three of the Reformed churches in this dialogue and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have resolved their differences on this issue. Contemporary liturgical reform and theological research have enabled Catholic and Reformed scholars to come much closer. It is hoped that the current seventh round of dialogue will make substantive contributions to resolving this issue central to our worship life.
The very first round in this series of consultations expressed identified this as a priority concern. In The Unity We Seek that priority is expressed in urgent terms:
Clearly, steps must be taken to clarify misunderstandings, resolve genuine disagreements, and move toward shared Eucharists. Toward this end, we wish to indicate first our agreement in regard to the Lord’s Supper, then note differences, and finally make some recommendations in regard to both Holy Communion and other forms of worship.The international dialogue also suggests developments that mitigate the historical alienation:
We Roman Catholic and Presbyterian-Reformed Christians profess in faith that the Eucharist is the sacramental meal which Christ has given to his disciples. It is the effective sign of Christ’s gift of himself as the Bread of Life through the offering of his life and death and through his resurrection. It is the great thanksgiving to the Father for all that he has done in creation and redemption, for all that he does today in the Church and the world, and for all that he will accomplish in the consummation of his reign. In the Eucharist the Church celebrates the unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ and shares in its saving power.
Christ himself, with all he accomplished for us and all creation, is present in this memorial, which is also a foretaste of his coming reign. This memorial, in which Christ acts upon his Church through its joyful celebration, implies this presence and anticipation. It is not merely a mental or spiritual recollection of a past event or its significance, but the proclamation-making-present the whole of God’s great work in Christ Jesus, enabling the Church through its fellowship with Christ to share in that reality.
As the Church carries out this memorial of the suffering, death and exaltation of Christ, our high priest and intercessor, we receive from the Father the fruits of the unique and perfect sacrifice of his Son and beg the Father to apply its saving power to every human being. Thus, united with our Lord who offers himself to the Father, and in union with the universal Church in heaven and on earth, we renew and offer ourselves in a living and holy sacrifice, which we must express also in our daily lives. (doc 9)
70… In the words of institution the emphasis is on the fact of the personal presence of the living Lord in the event of the memorial and fellowship meal, not on the question as to how this real presence (the word "is") comes about and is to be explained…The Protestants (Reformed) and Catholics in the Netherlands have discussed these same issues. As early as 1975 they had agreed, regarding Christ’s presence in the Sacrament: “Through the Holy Spirit and his work the past becomes present reality, bread and wine are fulfilled as signs of the presence of Jesus, who is the Lamb, slain for our sins, who has died for us, who has taken the place of the animal sacrifice through the giving of his own blood for the new covenant. By the taking of the bread and the cup the Church celebrates this life offering of the Lord and participates therein.” (As quoted in Lienemann-Perrin, Vroom and Weinrich, eds. INTERCOMMUNION: The Asymmetrical Discussion Between Protestants and Catholics, p. 55. The Council of Churches of the Netherlands, Boekencentrum, Zoertermeer, 1999.)
84. The Reformed and Roman Catholics are convinced of the centrality of this common christological confession. The specific mode of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist is thus to be interpreted as the presence of the Son who is both consubstantial with us in our human and bodily existence while being eternally consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead (Jn 17:21-23). (doc 5)
- When Christ gives the apostles the commission ‘Do this in remembrance of me!' the word "remembrance" means more than merely a mental act of "recalling."
- The term "body" means the whole person of Jesus, the saving presence of which is experienced in the meal…
The international text explores our common faith in the mission dimension of the Eucharist, and urges theological work to resolve differences, so better to serve this evangelical imperative:
91. We also believe that the way is clearly opening out before us on which remaining misunderstandings and disagreements about the Lord's Supper can be cleared up. The terminology which arose in an earlier polemical context is not adequate for taking account of the extent of common theological understanding which exists in our respective churches. Thus we gratefully acknowledge that both traditions, Reformed and Roman Catholic, hold to the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and both hold at least that the Eucharist is, among other things:It is clear that this international dialogue outlines the imperative for Eucharistic agreement, in service to the mission of the church, but does not itself provide more than a biblical groundwork and some suggested lines of inquiry. The sixth round of the US dialogue has expanded on the pastoral issues that are raised in interchurch families. In that context, joyful notice was taken of particular special circumstances in which Eucharistic sharing is possible:
Lines of Investigation
- a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord;
- a source of loving communion with him in the power of the Spirit (hence the epiclesis in the Liturgy), and
- a source of the eschatological hope for his coming again.
92. Our dialogue has convinced us of the urgent need to pursue the following questions:
Study of these questions should take into account:
- the constitutive elements of a eucharistic service, especially in view of its relation to certain forms of Christian fellowship, called in some countries "agape-celebrations";
- the use of the Eucharist today which grows out of a faithful reflection on the tradition and on the vast changes which typify life today;
- the urgent contemporary pastoral questions of mutual eucharistic hospitality.
- the rich connotations of memorial (anamnesis);
- the biblical and patristic "non-dualist" categories;
- the false antinomies which can be corrected by a study of such themes as "body, person, presence, spiritual";
- the question of the proper role of the ordained ministry in the celebration of the Eucharist. (doc 5)
The Catholic Church allows its ministers to occasionally give Communion to members of other churches who hold a Eucharistic doctrine that is consonant with Catholic teaching. This is done on special occasions, such as the marriage of two persons of different Churches and funerals when spiritual need can be most profound. It can also be done in unusual situations when, for a period of time, Christians of other churches have no ready access to Eucharistic services in their own congregations and their desire for the Eucharist cannot be satisfied. Catholics, however, may not receive Communion in Reformed Churches for any of these reasons. (doc 18, p. 65)Their report made some pastoral recommendations, including this encouragement for:
…interchurch families to join together in Eucharistic worship to whatever extent is possible. In this way we hope to offer some help, guidance, and encouragement to those in this situation. (doc 18 pp. 68-69)It is hoped that the current seventh round of the US dialogue may provide a more profound agreement, building upon the optimistic recommendations of the fourth round as set out in The Unity We Seek (doc 9).
3) Healing the wounds of the past
Among Reformed creeds from the Reformation period, one is the Heidelberg Catechism. It is one of the confessional documents held in common by all of the Reformed Churches that are part of the US consultation, though in some instances the accepted text varies slightly. After the Council of Trent, A question was added to this catechism, making a negative judgment on the Catholic Mass: “Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry.” (HC # 80) The Christian Reformed Church in North America approached the US and Canadian Catholic bishops as to whether HC # 80 accurately reflected Catholic Doctrine. After two intense and yet productive dialogues between the theologians of the two churches, the Christian Reformed Church team has reported that a change in HC # 80 description is necessary. The study has been recognized by the Catholic bishops as an accurate understanding of Catholic faith and practice.
If the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and Canada endorse the above report as an accurate presentation of official Roman Catholic teaching regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist, that will have significant implications on whether, and how, the Heidelberg Catechism ought to be modified. If Roman Catholic teaching is as it is presented in this report, the committee has serious concerns about the Heidelberg Catechism’s conclusion that “the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry” (Q. and A. 80). If this report accurately presents Roman Catholic teaching, there are also serious questions about the Heidelberg Catechism’s representation, in Q. and A. 80, of what “the Mass teaches.” Thus, if this report accurately presents Roman Catholic teaching, significant changes in the Heidelberg Catechism may be warranted. (doc 12)The bishops of both conferences have answered the report in the affirmative. The Pontifical council for Christian Unity has also welcomed the Christian Reformed Report.
At the time of the Second Vatican Council a footnote was added to the version of the Heidelberg Catechism used by the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ: “Question 80 is omitted in the first edition. The sections in parentheses were added for the first time in the third edition.”
These matters also are under discussion within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) A report entitled Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Understanding of 16th and 17th Century Condemnations of Other Churches has been prepared for the 216th General Assembly (2004) by the Office of Theology and Worship. It says, in part:
Condemnations and derogatory characterizations of the Catholic Church grew from momentous doctrinal disputes, especially in the areas of ecclesiology and the sacraments. Real differences in doctrine remain. ... These differences are being explored, and agreement sought, in the ongoing series of national and international Reformed-Catholic dialogues. The issue before the church now is far narrower in scope, dealing only with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),s current understanding of 16th and 17th century condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church and their applicability to the contemporary Catholic Church.4) Challenges on the road to a common ministry
Specific statements in 16th and 17th century confessions and catechisms in The Book of Confessions contain condemnations or derogatory characterizations of the Catholic Church: Chapters XVIII and XXII of the Scots Confession; Question and Answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism; and Chapters II, III, XVII, and XX, of the Second Helvetic Confession. (Chapters XXII, XXV, and XXIX of the Westminster Confession of Faith have been amended to remove anachronous and offensive language. Chapter XXVIII of the French Confession does not have constitutional standing.) While these statements emerged from substantial doctrinal disputes, they reflect 16th and 17th century polemics. Their condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Catholic Church. (DOC 19.)
a) The priesthood of the baptized
Reformed and Catholic churches do not disagree on the ministry of all the Christian faithful, the priesthood of the baptized. However, they do differ in regard to the role of the lay faithful in the governance of the Church. At every level of Reformed church life there are collegial bodies that incorporate both the lay and ordained in the oversight of the church. Catholics do not incorporate the lay faithful in the canonical governance structures of the church, though there are a wide variety of consultative bodies and ministries open to all the baptized. The agreement is most clearly attested in the international dialogue:
96. The extension of Christ's ministry, including his priestly office, belongs to all members of his body (cf. 1 Petr 2:5-9). Each member contributes to that total ministry in a different fashion; there is a distribution of diverse gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11), and every baptized believer exercises his or her share in the total priesthood differently. This calling to the priesthood of all those who share in the body of Christ by baptism does not mean that there are no particular functions which are proper to the special ministry within the body of Christ. (doc 5)The US dialogue devoted a whole round (doc 17) to the ministry of the lay faithful in church and world. This text, Laity in the Church and in the World, is designed for congregational study and is oriented for empowering the laity for ecumenical ministry together. It sets out the common theology, articulates the differences of perspective on the authority of the laity in the Church and talks about the unique and essential role of the laity in building bridges both between the divided churches and between the Church and the world. It provides resources for enabling local dialogues to use the material and background references for further study, concluding with “a call for the realization that the ministry of reconciliation among the whole People of God is central. It is as important as the technical theological task of clearing away the divisions of centuries, or the serious institutional task of reforming church structure and practice.” (doc 17, p. 58.)
b) Differences and convergences on ordained ministries
While there is essential agreement on the role of the laity in baptismal ministry, ordained ministry has provided a more challenging topic. The central issue is the understanding of apostolic succession in ordained ministry, which for Catholics entails ordination by bishops who themselves have been ordained in the succession of bishops.
These differences and convergences were explored by US rounds one, two, and six. Both traditions confess that the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” They differ in understanding where the sign of apostolicity is to be found. Catholics affirm, and Reformed reject, that it is found “in an unbroken lineage of bishops tracing their ordination back to the apostles and to Jesus Christ himself. The term ‘apostolic succession’ is known in Reformed circles only through ecumenical dialogue with those Christians” holding such a view. (Doc 18.)
For Reformed, “The mark of apostolicity is manifested in faithfulness to the apostolic witness to ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’ Reformed Churches stand, along with other Christian churches including Catholic ones, in the succession of those who have professed their faith in Jesus Christ as Divine Savior and Lord and have sought to follow him in repentance and Baptism and serve him in the world. It is the faith of Peter when he confessed, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Matt. 16:16), to which Reformed Christians are committed, rather than to Peter himself or his successors.” (Doc 18)
That round also observed thatEarly in the dialogue, the US made important contributions to the discussion of these most significant matters (doc 8, The Journal of Ecumenical Studies 5 (1968) 462-465; 7 (1970) 686-90; and 7 (1972) 589-612.) The international dialogue has enabled a helpful clarification of some of the issues to be resolved:
The Catholic Church also believes that ordained ministry is a sacrament and that it is made up of three offices: the episcopacy, the presbyterate (often called the priesthood), and the deaconate. Churches that have not kept the Episcopal order are not seen as in full conformity with apostolic tradition. … While the whole Church is embodied in every local church (that is, diocese) each of these local churches (dioceses) needs to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome in order to be fully a part of the universal Church.” (doc 18, p. 40)
94.The whole Church is apostolic. To be an apostle means to be sent, to have a particular mission… The mission of the Holy Spirit belongs to the constitution of the Church and her ministry, not merely to their effective functioning… This power manifests itself in a variety of ways which are charismata - gracious gifts of the one Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff). Guided by and instrumental to the work of God in this world, the Church has a charismatic character…Most Reformed churches do not have bishops though a few do, such as the Hungarian Reformed and the Reformed Church of Sweden. Reformed and Catholics affirm, however, the unique role of the minister of Word and Sacrament, the transmission of orders by the Church through the laying on of hands and prayer to the Holy Spirit. These ministers have a teaching office.
97. Within apostolicity in general there is a special ministry to which the administration of Word and Sacrament is entrusted… Ordination, or setting apart for the exercise of these special services, takes place within the context of the believing community… This is important to underline because we need to go beyond an understanding of ordination which suggests that those consecrated to the special ministry are given a potestas and derive a dignity from Christ without reference to the believing community.
107. There is a difference in the way each tradition approaches the question of how far and in what way the existence of the community of believers and its union with Christ and especially the celebration of the Eucharist necessitates an ordained office bearer in the Church… When it comes to the relations between ministry and sacrament, the Roman Catholics find that the Reformed minimize the extent to which God, in his plan for salvation, has bound himself to the Church, the ministry and the sacraments. The Reformed find that too often Roman Catholic theology minimizes the way the Church, the ministry and the sacraments remain bound to the freedom and the grace of the Holy Spirit. (doc 5)
135. This order [of ministry] is further manifest in the ministry of oversight (episkopé), exercised by Church members for the fidelity, unity, harmony, growth and discipline of the wayfaring people of God under Christ, who is "the Shepherd and Guardian (episkopos)" of all souls (I Pet 2:25). Various "gifts," "services," and "activities," are inspired by God's Spirit in the Church (I Cor 12:4-6), but all members are called upon to be concerned for that same unity, harmony, and unbuilding of the Church…
137. This [episcopal] pattern of leadership developed from some New Testament forms, while other (even earlier) New Testament forms did not develop. The spread and theological interpretation of ecclesial leadership in the immediate post New Testament period must be seen against the background of the wider development of the early Church and its articulation of the faith (see I Clem 40-44, especially 42, 1-2, 4; 44, 1-2; Ignatius of Antioch, Eph 2, 1-5; Magn 2; Hippolytus, Apost. Trad.). In the course of history some of the functions of such leaders underwent change; even so the ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons became in the ancient Church the universal pattern of church leadership. presbyters and deacons became in the ancient Church the universal pattern of church leadership. (doc 7)
102. We agree that the basic structure of the Church and its ministry is collegial. When one is consecrated to the special ministry, one accepts the discipline of being introduced into a collegial function which includes being subject to others in the Lord and drawing on the comfort and admonition of fellow ministers. This "collegiality" is expressed on the Reformed side by the synodical polity, and, on the Roman Catholic side, by the episcopal college, the understanding of which is in process of further development. In the Reformed polity, the synod functions as a corporate episcopacy, exercising oversight of pastors and congregations. (doc 5)IV Common Pastoral Challenges
Round six concluded its treatment of these issues:
We all affirm and believe that God’s Word is passed on and that Christ and his Spirit are actively present in other communities as well as in our own. The communion in Christ and the Spirit celebrated in Baptism runs deeper than the problems aroused by teaching on the Church and the practice of ministry. Nevertheless, considerable theological and structural convergence will be required before we can give full recognition to one another. In the meantime, much interchange and sharing is possible on the basis of the recognition already achieved and in the hope of further progress. (doc 18, p. 44.)
A Our ethical common calling
1) Human Rights
The US dialogue has done pioneering work by taking up some of the most divisive ethical issues. The Reformed and Catholic traditions both have very well developed theological approaches to the teaching of ethics and to the formation of conscience in congregations.
Likewise, both traditions treat not only of personal morality, but also of public morality and social justice: “We were all agreed that the ethical decisions which necessarily follow from the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the believing acceptance of this Gospel extend also to the realm of politics.” (doc 5)
The agreement begins by laying out the common principles, “At their deepest point, all human rights are grounded in nothing else then God's righteousness, which we know through Jesus Christ.” (doc 10) It then goes on to apply those principles to the injustices associated with the racist apartheid regime which then ruled South Africa. The agreement states that there is both a personal and social dimension to human rights, and therefore a responsibility of Christians to be active in societal change. The dialogue faces the difficult question of moral resistance without offering a simple solution: “As Christians we know that a heavy moral burden rests on those who advocate and implement change by violent means.”
2) Sanctity of Life
Possibly the most ground breaking contribution of the US dialogue was produced, in the 1970s, to provide a base for civil conversation and ecclesial convergence on the deeply painful, polarizing and politized different approaches Christians take on the range of life issues: capital punishment, euthanasia and abortion. The abortion question was addressed head on within the communion of faith and ethical conviction that characterizes both churches.
This text is still a major resource available to local communities as they confront this difficult issue in charity and truth.
Touched by the tragic personal and social dimensions of decisions regarding abortion, the members of the Roman Catholic/Presbyterian Reformed Consultation wish to express our common concerns... We believe that our defining traditions have much to contribute through dialogue towards the clarification of principles and the exercise of charity in this matter…3) Education
Abortion decisions exist in a milieu of closely related social evils which 'limit peoples' choices. Social, educational, and economical inequities suffered by women are part of the problem. Any discussion of abortion in our times should proceed with a recognition of the pervasive bias of cultural and ecclesial traditions which devalue women…
If our churches are to be credible in addressing abortion, they must take the lead in accepting women as full and contributing members of the human and ecclesial communities…
Some of the basic principles on which the Consultation was able to reach agreement include the following:
Some of the areas in which substantial differences were discovered and which call for further dialogue between our two traditions including the following
- the transcendent basis for respect for human life is the image and likeness of God in which human beings are created;
- the ultimate responsibility for moral decision making rests with the individual conscience guided by reason and grace;
- authentic moral decisions can never be exclusively subjective or individualistic but must take account of the insights and concerns of the broader religious, social, and familial community;
- judicial and legislative standards are not always coterminous with moral demands, and therefore the legalization of abortion does not of itself absolve the Christian conscience from moral responsibility; and
- religious groups have the right to use licit means to influence civil policy regarding abortion.
In the light of our common Christian heritage… We will always respect the personal dignity of those involved in making decisions about abortion. Regardless of the ultimate decision reached, we will offer pastoral support insofar as our personal conscience and moral convictions allow. We will not resort to stereotypes and abusive language. We will work to transform societal arrangements which press people into untenable moral dilemmas. We will attempt to create compassionate community which overcomes alienation, loneliness, and rejection and which makes real a genuine community of moral discourse and decision. We will take responsibility as part of the mission of the church to create an ethos which values all life and which works toward a society where abortion need not occur. (doc 10)
- the moment and meaning of personhood;
- the rights of the unborn in situations where rights are in conflict;
- the role of civil law in matters pertaining to abortion; and
- the interrelation of individual versus communal factors in decision making.
In the United States the Reformed churches have traditionally been strong supporters of public education, and many of the public institutions of education are rooted in the initiatives of the Reformed faithful. Catholics on the other hand, while being supportive of the public schools, most Catholics sending their own children to them, have also advocated for the freedom of parents to chose the educational environment for their children with whatever support from society that is provided for other parents. The dialogue, set in the context of discussions of Church and State, testifies to “our common enthusiasm for and commitment to education.” (doc 11)
While both traditions affirm the rights of parents to educate their children in the schools of their choice, the dialogue enumerates the differences that Catholics and some Reformed have on the role the state should play in tax relief for these parents or support of alternate school systems. The dialogue develops the history of education in the United States and different Catholic and Reformed approaches to and participation in that history.
The dialogue outlines many areas of common concern in public education – values education, approaches to sex education, concern for the poor and the objective teaching of religion as an academic subject in the public schools. Both traditions share the common concern about the “challenges we share in transmitting religious values to the next generation.”
The second issue taken up in the dialogue on ethics as related to Church and State was that of peacemaking. The dialogue coming as it did toward the end of the Cold War (1985), concentrated on the pastoral teaching, during that period, on nuclear war, the criteria for just war in the modern context, and the role of the Church in witness to the state. In that period as in subsequent generations, it seems that Catholic and Reformed church leaders shared more in common in the witness of the Gospel toward peace in society than they may have with the voting faithful of their churches in the United States.
Both traditions are convinced that “The churches have a vocation to preach, teach and exemplify by word, sacrament and deed the promises and the present power of divine life in the world.” (doc 11) For these churches “Peace is not simply the absence of violent conflicts, but involves both structures of justice and the realizing of spiritual wholeness.” The text provides four very concrete recommendations to the churches as a result of the dialogue: 1) share and read each other’s peace statements; 2) approach peace from a wholistic point of view; 3) influence fellow citizens and political authorities about the urgency of a just peace; and 4) continue to consult one another and speak together to the society. The dialogue ends by outlining some of the stress that burdens the churches in their common witness to the society relative to peace and to education.
B Our concern for interchurch families
Round six of the U. S. consultation focused on Reformed/Catholic families; that is, families in which a member of one of the Reformed Churches enters marital union with a Roman Catholic partner. Because the purpose was to assist these families, their pastors and congregations, the dialogue was quite comprehensive in touching on many aspects of the relationships between Catholic and Reformed Churches. The results of their discussion are published under the title Interchurch Families: Resources for Ecumenical Hope. Some of the matters covered there have been dealt with in the sections above on the Eucharist and Baptism.
As with several recent topics in this series of Reformed-Catholic dialogues, round seven focused as much on pastoral as on our theological and disciplinary convergences and differences. Early on, participants in round six determined to produce a report in the form of a handbook for interchurch families and their congregations/parishes.
In discussing Baptism, Eucharist, marriage and church affiliation, case studies are used in conjunction with doctrinal and disciplinary presentations. They are intended to make the treatment more concrete and to allow readers to see the issues at stake by having them reflect on specific experiences. (doc 18)As in few other relationships, interchurch families are called to live “in the breech” between our confessional traditions. Whatever differences there are between us are magnified in the experiences of these families; our agreements and similarities are joyfully embraced as gifts of the Holy Spirit upon their spiritual journey.
Such a union obliges the partners, their families, and their communities to consider together what is held in common regarding marriage, family life, and church practice, as well as points of difference. Without such insight and understanding, it is difficult for the partners to live their union in a shared Christian faith and to nurture a Christian family life. Those taking part in the dialogue saw such unions as an opportunity to promote mutual understanding and positive interaction between our Churches on issues of marriage, family life, and shared worship. (doc 18)The first chapter in this handbook summarizes some of the issues and concerns faced by interchurch families. In succeeding chapters, the report deals with the matters couples, pastors and congregations need to understand in order to support such unions and to integrate them into the life of our churches.
Subsequent topics include what Reformed and Catholic Churches teach about marriage as a union and covenant in Christ. This is followed by an explication of our churches’ understanding of Baptism, both in terms of our theology and the practical outworking of it in the experience of interchurch families. There follows an explicit presentation of Catholic and Reformed views of the nature of the Church – areas where our divergences have serious implications for these families and where our convergences are particularly significant. The final and most difficult chapter deals with Reformed and Catholic positions on the Eucharist. There are two appendices. One deals with five specific practical issues: resources for the counseling of couples and marriage preparation; family planning; promises of the Catholic partner; canon law of the Catholic Church; and marriage annulment. The second appendix is a glossary.
As we struggled with the intricacies of our Churches’ understandings of the matters before us, we recognized that some of the terms we used represented language we hold in common. At times, however, each tradition uses terms distinctive to our understandings and practices. And we discovered that in some confusing circumstances, we use the same words but mean something quite different by them. (doc 18)Early in Catholic participation in the ecumenical movement, Catholic practice relative to interchurch marriages evolved quickly as did the pastoral need for direction and mutual understanding on local levels. Many aspects of that evolution are reflected in a comparison between the results of round six in the United States and what follows. A European dialogue involving the Lutheran and Reformed bodies and the Holy See sought to clarify differences and serve pastoral concerns on local levels. This dialogue’s text begins with the context in which marriage is lived, before moving on to the theological content of Christian teaching. Similarities with the more recent dialogue in the United States are clearly set forth in this earlier document, illustrating again how continuing conversation leads us to build on the understandings achieved.
18. This relationship of grace between the mystery of Christ and the conjugal state requires a name. We all of us believe that the biblical term "Covenant" truly characterizes the mystery of marriage. It is this Covenant that the Catholic Church calls a sacrament. The Reformation Churches prefer not to employ this term chiefly because of their definition of what a sacrament is, because of the special character of marriage in relation to the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and finally because of the controversies and misunderstandings of the past. We believe, however, that in the light of our different mentalities and historical situations, we can have a view of marriage which is in a profound sense a common one.Even so, some acknowledged differences persist,
particularly in regard to divorce and remarriage.
31. The difference between [a Protestant position on divorce] and the Catholic position is clear. In the Catholic Church marriage exists as a Christian marriage only in so far as it represents-must and can represent-in its fidelity the love of Christ for the Church. The Reformation Churches, on the other hand, consider that, since marriage needs to conform to the unity of Christ with the Church, the unity that the first marriage has not been able to realize, may possibly be realized in a second marriage after a divorce. They do not therefore view divorce as a radical obstacle to a second marriage…The text goes on to outline a detailed set of suggestions for the pastoral approach of the churches to interchurch couples and families that recur several years later in Interchurch Families.
45. And so we are led to Him whom we have never ceased to discover at the heart and source of Christian marriage: the Christ whose mystery of life and salvation we want to make shine out among us: something we are never completely certain that we are doing, but also never give up hope of doing. It is in any case this desire which should inspire the attitude we have to adopt toward mixed marriage, without minimizing or over-stating either our points of agreement or our points of dissent…
The dialogue also encourages common affirmation and pastoral action.
104. Given the prospect of a theological rapprochement, our Churches should endeavor, especially in the field of the problems of mixed marriages, to abandon the mutual mistrust which still often prevails… 106…But both sides were convinced that the theological agreements attained in the course of the dialogue were of decisive importance for the treatment of these questions, and, indeed, formed a fundamental condition for tackling them…(doc 6)V The Nature of the Unity We Seek
The shape of the visible unity of the Church is a challenge. The understanding of history is seen quite differently by the two traditions and reconciliation of memories must be taken into account:
102. Accordingly, our respective interpretations of the division in the sixteenth century are not the same. The Reformed consider that the Reformation was a rupture with the Catholic "establishment" of the period. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the resulting division was a substantial rupture in the continuity of the Church. For Catholics, however, this break struck at the continuity of the tradition derived from the apostles and lived through many centuries. Insofar as the Reformed had broken with the ministerial structure handed down by tradition, they had deeply wounded the apostolicity of their churches. (doc 7)In order to deal with this rupture, however grave, the US dialogue made a proposal in 1975, already suggesting concrete steps toward full communion in belief, structure and worship, based in a common understanding of the Church, its unity and mission. This study foreshadowed other proposals for staged unity put forward in other bilateral dialogues and in World Council Faith and Order discussions.
The problem before our two traditions was formulated thus:
If we maintain – we believe we must – that ecclesial unity is possible, then can we describe this possibility realistically? Can we so give shape to this possibility of Christian unity that we will be able to state future goals with Christian realism?...What do we mean when we say “one Church”? (doc 9)The theological basis is the understanding of the Church as communion (Koinonia), which was articulated already in the introduction. The recommendations are premised on the eschatological, pilgrim character of the Church. God is calling us to a form of unity we do not already experience, as we move forward in faithfulness to his calling. Based on this common understanding of the nature of the Church and of the elements of agreement in faith, in structure of the Church, and in worship, concrete recommendations are proposed in all three areas:
Unity in belief: A special commission of Reformed, Catholic and other scholars should analyze all of the authoritative statements of faith of the two traditions, clarifying agreement, differences that are not church dividing, and identifying “those which appear mutually exclusive.” The results should be circulated widely to leadership, educational institutions, and parishes. There should be careful studies of each others formulations of the faith in all educational institutions of the two traditions.
Unity in structure: Principles were articulated for a period of transition toward full communion: 1) prepare a gradual period of joint reflection, and shared experience; 2) present structures would be subordinated to the mission of the Son and Holy Spirit; 3) begin to understand the Church as a communion of communions; and 4) develop structures of communion in both freedom and order. These stages were proposed: 1) general and comprehensive ecumenical consultation; and 2) coalescence of ecclesial and organizational styles.
Finally, recommendations were proposed: 1) a statement for action on the Ministry in the Church; 2) mutual authoritative affirmation of ministers of the Eucharist; 3) occasional Eucharistic sharing authorized; 4) develop the roles of women in ministry; 5) begin practical fusing of leadership, both personal and collegial, at every level: congregational, regional, national and universal; 6) develop grassroots ecumenical learning for all Reformed and Catholic people; 7) investigate moral issues and our common response; and 8) explore celibate and married clergy in the two traditions. This section goes on further to outline how to deal with issues of responsibility within the Church, ordained ministry, and apostolic succession and primacy.
Unity in worship: The shape of unity in worship contains the following features: 1) recognition of plurality of forms; 2) new communities of worship; 3) active participation of all; and 4) the integrity of Christian worship, all discussed in some detail. On the basis of these features, recommendations are made: 1) dialogue on the Eucharist; 2) reeducation on the Eucharist; 3) occasional shared Eucharist; 4) congregations covenanting to worship together; 5) education in one another’s worship; and 6) an ecumenical year of worship.
This ambitious program continues to feed the dialogue with challenges and ideas, and provides an excellent study text for those exploring how we might move from our present state of alienation toward full communion. It is not surprising that not all of the recommendations have been enthusiastically embraced by either Reformed or Catholic churches, but what remains disappointing is that they haven’t been widely studied and the recommendations improved upon.
The Church’s mission is an area where the dialogues, both US and international have found a wide level of agreement among Catholic and Reformed:
54. The Church was founded by Christ to share in the life which comes from the Father and it is sent to lead the world to Jesus Christ, to its full maturity for the glory and praise of the Father. It is therefore called to be the visible witness and sign of the liberating will of God, of the redemption granted in Jesus Christ, and of the kingdom of peace that is to come. The Church carries out this task by what it does and what it says, but also simply by being what it is, since it belongs to the nature of the Church to proclaim the word of judgment and grace, and to serve Christ in the poor, the oppressed and the desperate (Mt 25:31-40). More particularly, however, it comes together for the purpose of adoration and prayer, to receive ever new instruction and consolation and to celebrate the presence of Christ in the sacrament; around this center, and with the multiplicity of the gifts granted by the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4: 11) it lives as a koinonia of those who need and help each other. We consequently believe in a special presence of Christ in the Church by which it is placed in a quite special position in relation to the world and we believe that the Church stands under the special aid of the Holy Spirit, above all in its ministry of preaching and sacraments (cf. Jn 14:16, 25f, 15:26, 16:7-14)…B Teaching Authority
60. …The Church is a worshiping community whose prayers are inseparable from its prophetic and diaconal service. In worship and witness the Church celebrates the central fact of Christ's unity with his people. Being united to Christ in his death and resurrection, the Church is empowered with the Spirit to walk in newness of life and so to be a converted and converting presence in Christ's world. By living as a new people persuaded of God's acceptance in Christ, the Church is a persuasive sign of God's love for all his creation and of his liberating purpose for all men. (doc 5)
As noted in the dialogue on the structures of unity, the Reformed and Catholic churches have a willingness to talk about the sacred order (hierarchy) of the Church, even when they differ as to how it should be ordered and how much flexibility is warranted in the Gospel. These dialogues, especially in the United States, have been willing to talk about the hard issues of episcopacy, primacy, lay involvement, collegiality, even the papacy. In some parts of the world, and in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches some of these issues have been avoided. However, the quality of the relationships and the mutual trust built up in the US context may have enabled some agreements which may not be possible on the global level, or in some other parts of the Reformed and Catholic worlds. For example:
106. Both Roman Catholic and Reformed theology are particularly aware of the importance of the structure of the Church for the fulfillment of its commission. The Roman Catholic Church, in this regard, has derived a predominantly hierarchical ordering from the Lordship of Christ, whereas, from the same Lordship of Christ, the Reformed Church has decided for a predominantly presbyteral-synodal organization. Today both sides are taking a fresh look at the sense of the Church as it appears in images of the early Church. (doc 5, cf. also doc 9)VI Conclusion
In the reconciling ministry of ecumenism the Christian community recognizes a variety of dynamic and complementary tasks on the pilgrimage toward full communion Some of these are: 1) the dialogue of life, in which the whole people of God interact in faith, witness in the social order, and deepen their spiritual hunger for the full communion to which Christians are called; 2) the technical theological task of reconciling historical differences in the faith of the church and its ordering, considering the ethical and religious issues that have emerged since the sixteenth century, and applying the best of modern biblical, historical and contextual scholarship to healing the wounds in the Church's communion; and 3) the ecclesiastical task of bringing these spiritual and theological contributions to reconciliation to bear on the institutional, constitutional and canonical realities of divided churches that they may come closer to one another in Christ.
The dialogical task undertaken by our two traditions over the past forty years in the United States, and in a variety of contexts around the world, is a continuing spiritual journey in faith. The parent bodies of this series of dialogues have already approved the seventh round of the U.S. consultation, which now is underway.
The topic for the seventh round was proposed by the ecumenical staff of the sponsoring Catholic and Reformed bodies, including the Christian Reformed Church in America for the first time in several years. Members of the delegation have agreed upon the following prospectus for the round. The Catholic staff noted that the topic for the consultation is particularly apt given the questionnaire on recognition of baptism sent to the USCCB by the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity.
In light of the value that past Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogues have brought to our churches, acknowledging common ecumenical issues of the present time, and pursuing questions raised during round six in Interchurch Families, as well as in the action of the Christian Reformed Church regarding the Heidelberg Catechism no. 80, a new round of dialogue seems proper for our churches.Among the questions that the dialogue will address include the following:
This seventh round of these historic dialogues will focus on the meaning and practice of Baptism, the relationship of Baptism to Eucharist, and the role of both sacraments in shaping our churches and drawing them toward fuller communion. The dialogue will be methodologically designed to address issues that are theological, ecclesiastical and pastoral.
- On the Theology of Baptism
- What is our common theology of baptism as sacrament?
- How does our theology of baptism shape our ecclesiology?
- What is the precise manner by which we recognize each other’s baptism
- What tangible expression can we give to this recognition?
- What is the relationship of Christian initiation to Eucharist?
- What is our common theology of baptism as sacrament?
- On the Theology of Eucharist
- What is our theology of Eucharist as sacrament?
- How is Eucharist understood in our traditions as a sacrifice we offer and a gift we receive?
- What does the “sacrifice of the cross” mean?
- How do we understand the “real presence” How is it understood in the Lord’s Supper?
- How are we to understand the significance of Roman Catholic Eucharistic veneration?
- How do these theologies both shape and reflect our churches* worship?
- How do our theologies of Eucharist influence our ecclesial structures and their commitments?
- What implications do the differences and agreements regarding the Lord’s Supper have for the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Reformed Churches?
- What is our theology of Eucharist as sacrament?
Thus, the gradual process of reconciliation continues as a journey of faith. Together we move in such a way that none of the gifts of the Spirit with which our diverse Church traditions have been endowed is lost despite our separation. By that same Spirit the Churches move toward reclaiming their unity in diversity that is the will of Christ. Our churches have been blessed with the levels of agreements that have been reached thus far. It is important to us all that these gains be understood and remembered, and that we continue to build together on the foundation that has been laid for us.
Underscoring the continuity of the process, some questions from the fourth round continue to challenge us as we face together the future God is giving us:
If we maintain – we believe we must – that ecclesial unity is possible, then can we describe this possibility realistically? Can we so give shape to this possibility of Christian unity that we will be able to state future goals with Christian realism? (doc 10)Appendix
4.1 The Holy Spirit as promoter of koinonia (2 Cor. 13:13) gives to those who are still divided the thirst and hunger for full communion. We remain restless until we grow together according to the wish and prayer of Christ that those who believe in him may be one (John 17:21). In the process of praying, working and struggling for unity, the Holy Spirit comforts us in pain, disturbs us when are satisfied to remain in our division, leads us to repentance, and grants us joy when our communion flourishes. (doc 1)
In grateful appreciation, and in acknowledgement of their considerable contribution to the growing realization of our unity in Christ, this record of participants in the six rounds of the Reformed-Catholic Consultation in the United States is included in this anniversary document.
Ernest L. Unterkoefler, Catholic Co-chair
Richard L. Davies, Reformed (UPCUSA) Co-chair
The Ministry of the Church (1968-70)
Women in the Church (1971-72)
The Unity We Seek (1973-77)
Ethics and the Search for Christian Unity (1978-80)
Partners in Peace and Education (1981-88)
Ernest L. Unterkoefler, Catholic co-chair
Andrew Harsanyi (Hungarian Reformed), Reformed co-chair
Laity in the Church and in the World (1989-98)
John S. Cummins, Catholic Co-chair
Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez, Reformed Co-chair (PCUSA)
Interchurch Families (1999-2001)
Patrick R. Cooney, Catholic co-chair
John C. Bush, Reformed (PCUSA) co-chair
Staff: Eugene Fisher (BCEIA)
- “The Presence of Christ in Church and World,”
- “The Theology of Marriage and the Problems of Mixed Marriages” both in Lukas Vischer and Harding Meyer eds., Growth in Agreement Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level (New York: Paulist Press, 1984).433-464. http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/r-rc/doc
- “Toward a Common Understanding of the Church,” in William Rusch, Harding Meyer, Jeffrey Gros, eds., Growth in Agreement II, Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2000, 780-819. http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/r-rc/doc/e_r-rc_2-menu.html
- “Women in the Church,”
- “The Unity We Seek,”
- “Ethics and the Search for Unity,”
- “Partners in Peace and Education,” 8 - 11 in Jeffrey Gros and Joseph Burgess, ed., Building Unity (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 371-448.
- Christian Reformed Church, Report of the Interchurch Relations Committee Clarifying the Official Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church Concerning the Mass, 2002.
http://www.crcna.net/cr/crrs/crrs_art/crrs_synod_agenda02.pdf (Interchurch Relations Committee Appendix D) in Jeffrey Gros, Lydia Veliko, eds., Growing Consensus II, Washington: US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004.
- “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Understanding of 16th and17th Century Condemnations of other Churches in The Book of Confession. Prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, 2004.
- Reconsiderations: Roman Catholic/Presbyterain and Reformed Theological Conversations 1966-67, New York: World Horizons, Inc., 1967.
- Ernest Unterkoefler and Andrew Harsanyi, eds., The Unity We Seek New York: Paulist Press, 1977.
- The Roman Catholic - Presbyterian/Reformed Consultation, Ethics and the Search for Christian Unity, Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1981.
- Ronald White, Eugene Fisher, Partners in Peace and Education, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988.
- The Roman Catholic - Presbyterian/Reformed Consultation, Laity in the Church and the World: Resources for Ecumenical Dialogue, Washington: US Catholic Conference, 1998.
- John C. Bush & Patrick R. Coony, eds., Interchurch Families: Resources for Ecumenical Hope, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press and Washington: US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002.
“Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Dialogue,” Journal of Presbyterian History, 80:2, Summer, 2002. (various essays on the successor of Peter)
John Radano, Catholic and Reformed, Louisville: Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church, 1996, Occasional Paper # 8.
Lukas Visher, Andreas Karrer, ed., Reformed and Roman Catholic in Dialogue, Geneva: World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 1988.
Karl Lehmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, eds., The Condemnations of the Reformation Era, Do they Still Divide?, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.