Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > B-RC > CONTENTS > Summons to Witness to Christ ... (Part III)

documento completo
per stampare


  PREFACE - selezionare
      A) OUR WITNESS TO CHRIST - selez.
      B) THE CALL TO CONVERSION - selez.
      D) OUR WITNESS IN THE WORLD - selez.
Part III - Areas Needing Continued Exploration
      B) THE SHAPE OF KOINONIA - selez.


A) Theological Authority and Method

    45. These conversations between Baptists and Roman Catholics have frequently surfaced different views and uses of theological authority and method. The theoretical reason for that is clear: Baptists rely on Scriptures alone, as interpreted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Reformation principle. Roman Catholics receive God's revelation from the Scriptures interpreted in the light of the tradition under the leadership of the magisterium, in a communal process guided by the Holy Spirit.

    46. In fact, however, the differences are not as sharp as this formulation would suggest. At the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church dealt carefully and in detail with the relationship between scripture and tradition ("Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," 2). It endeavored to reach and express an understanding of the relationship between Scripture, tradition and the teaching office of the church (magisterium). Each of these has its own place in the presentation of the truth of Jesus Christ. The place of one is not identical with that of the other, yet in the Roman Catholic view these three combine together to present divine revelation. On the other hand, Baptists invoke the Baptist heritage as decisively as Roman Catholics cite tradition, usually disclaiming that it bears the same authority as scripture but holding on to it vigorously nonetheless.

    47. Theory and fact need to be brought together in such a way as to alleviate some anxiety on both sides. Roman Catholics often ask how Baptists regard crucial theological statements which the church has issued in its walk through history, e.g., the great christological statements of Nicea and Constantinople. In brief, do they subscribe to orthodoxy of any kind? Baptists, looking at certain dogmas which they regard as grounded in tradition rather than in scripture, e.g., the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, ask whether Roman Catholics set any limits to what can be defined. Can the church simply approve anything it wants as official doctrine? The key issue needing discussion here is that of development of doctrine.

B) The shape of Koinonia

    48. Another issue which distinguishes our communions is the different ways in which the koinonia of the Spirit is made concrete. Baptists and Catholics obviously conceive of the Spirit working through different structures. For Baptists, koinonia is expressed principally in local congregations gathered voluntarily under the lordship of Jesus Christ for worship, fellowship, instruction, evangelism and mission. In accordance with their heritage they recognize the Spirit's direction through the interdependency of associations, conventions, alliances and other bodies designed to proclaim the good news and to carry out the world mission of Christ. However, they have sought to avoid development of structures which would threaten the freedom of individuals and the autonomy of local congregations. For Roman Catholics, the koinonia which the Spirit effects in the local congregation is simultaneously a koinonia with the other local congregations in the one universal church. Correspondingly, they recognize the Spirit's activity in the spiritual and institutional bonds which unite congregations into dioceses presided over by bishops and which unite dioceses into the whole church, presided over by the Bishop of Rome. Vital to future ecumenical progress would be further discussion of the relationship between the Spirit and structures.

C) Relationship between Faith, Baptism, and Christian witness

    49. The conversations revealed growing common concern among Baptists and Roman Catholics about authenticity of faith, baptism, and Christian witness. There are, however, obvious divergences. Baptists, viewing faith primarily as the response of the individual to God's free gift of grace, insist that the faith response precede baptism. Baptist congregations, however, vary in the way they receive persons baptized as infants in other congregations. Practices range from rebaptism of all persons who have not received baptism at the hands of a Baptist minister to acceptance of all persons baptized by any mode, whether as infants or as adults. Roman Catholics regard the sacraments, such as baptism, in a context of faith, as an exercise of the power of the risen Christ, comparable to that exercised by Jesus when he cured the sick and freed the possessed. Emphasizing the corporate as well as the individual nature of faith, they baptize infants and catechize them through a process culminating in full participation in the church.

    50. Both approaches present some difficulties. Baptists are not at one on how children relate to the church prior to baptism. Some churches now have "child dedication" rites, but most have not dealt with the issue at all. Baptist "rebaptisms" (viewed by them as a first baptism) can offend Christians of other communions because they suggest the others are not really Christian and because they seem to violate the scriptural call for "one baptism." Roman Catholics and others who practice infant baptism, on the other hand, confront the problem that there is little clear evidence in the Scriptures for this practice. The baptizing of infants thus seems to be sustained principally by tradition and a more corporate understanding of faith.

    51. The heart of the problem to be addressed here seems to be the nature of faith and the nature of the sacraments (called "ordinances" by most Baptists) which raise a number of questions Baptists and Catholics must deal with together. Is faith solely an individual's response to God's gift? Can the faith of the community supply for the personal faith of an infant? May one speak of a "community of faith," that is, of the body of Christ as itself a subject of a common faith in which individual believers participate? Are the sacraments outward signs of a preceding inner commitment? Are they the means through which Christ himself effects his healing and saving work? What does it mean to say that baptism is "the sacrament of faith"? The issues between us are unlikely to be resolved without addressing these questions.

D) Clarification of key terms

    52. We are aware that religious tension between communities can arise from different understanding and use of similar terms. A fundamental concept in both our communions is that of "mission." In its most extensive sense Baptists speak of the mission of the church to glorify God by making him known through faith in Jesus Christ. Roman Catholics also speak of "mission" in its broadest sense as everything that the church does in service of the kingdom of God. Baptists understand missions (plural, in the sense of the outward movement of the church) as one of the means by which the church accomplishes its mission in the world.

    53. Baptists almost never use the term "evangelization" but prefer the term "evangelism" to describe how believers, individually or collectively, take the gospel of Christ to the world, "going everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). "Evangelization" until recent years was not frequently used within Roman Catholicism. The best working definition can be found in the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI, "On Evangelization in the Modern World" (1975): "... if it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the Divine Power of the Message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs" (18). Evangelization is, therefore, a broad concept comprising three major activities: (a) evangelism, understood as the proclamation of the gospel to the unchurched within one's own society or culture; (b) missionary activity, which involves cross-cultural proclamation of the Gospel; and (c) pastoral activity— nourishing and deepening the Gospel among those already committed to it.

    54. Even with a growing convergence in terminology, evangelism/evangelization assumes different forms within our two communions. The Baptist stress on conversion as an act of personal faith and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior gives precedence to leading people to an explicit confession of faith through proclamation of the Gospel. Roman Catholics stress that by baptism a person is made new in Christ in the church and stress the establishment of a Christian community through proclamation of the word and through a ministry of presence and service.

    55. Within these different emphases, however, there are strong similarities. Both communions stress the need for unbelievers and the unchurched to hear and live the message of salvation expressed in the Scriptures, and both strive to fulfil Jesus' command to love the neighbor by engaging in works of mercy and charity both at home and in "mission" countries.

E) The place of Mary in faith and practice

    56. Devotion to Mary has traditionally been an area of great difference between Roman Catholics and Baptists. It also emerged in our discussions as a challenge to common witness. Baptists in general have two major problems with Marian devotion: (1) It seems to compromise the sole mediatorship of Jesus as Lord and Savior, and (2) Marian doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption which are proclaimed by Catholics as infallible and hence to be believed in faith seem to have little explicit grounding in the Bible. According to Roman Catholics, devotion to Mary does not compromise the unique role of Christ, is rooted in her intimate relationship to Jesus, reflects her continuing role in salvation history and has a solid basis in the New Testament.

    57. Because of the long history of misunderstanding and the theological difficulties and subtleties inherent in Marian doctrines, we do not expect consensus in the foreseeable future. In an area such as devotion to Mary, which evokes both strong emotions and strong convictions from both communions, the quest for mutual understanding and respect is put to the test. Roman Catholics must attempt to understand and sympathize with the serious problems Baptists have with Marian devotion and doctrine. Baptists must try to understand not only the biblical and the theological grounds of Marian doctrine and devotion, but its significance in popular piety and religious practice.

F) Concrete ways to offer a common witness to the Gospel

    58. Conversations between Baptists and Roman Catholics will not lead in the near future to full communion between our two bodies. This fact, however, should not prevent the framing of concrete ways to witness together at the present time. It will be helpful to think of several different levels — international, national, regional, and local — in which Catholics and Baptists could speak or act in concert. Such cooperation is already taking place in a variety of ways: translation of the Scriptures into indigenous languages, theological education, common concern and shared help in confronting famine and other natural disasters, health care for the underprivileged, advocacy of human rights and religious liberty, working for peace and justice, and strengthening of the family. Baptists and Catholics could enhance their common witness by speaking and acting together more in these and other areas. A whole row of issues vital to the survival of humankind lies before us.

    The prayer of Jesus, "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, are in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn 17:21), has given a sense of urgency to our conversations. We testify that in all sessions during the past five years there has been a spirit of mutual respect and growing understanding. We have sought the guidance of the Lord of the church and give honor and glory to him for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We pray that God, who has begun this good work in us, may bring it to completion (cf. Phil 1:6).

[Information Service 72 (1990/I) 5-14]

Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversations 1984-1988



David T. Shannon
Vice-Pres. for Academic Affairs
Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC)
Atlanta, GA 30314 (USA)

Pablo Deiros
Professor of Church History
Seminario Internacional Teologico Bautista
1407 Buenos Aires, Argentina

Richard W. Harmon
Assistant Director for American Christianity
Interfaith Witness Dept.
Home Mission Board, SBC
Atlanta, GA 30367, USA

E. Glenn Hinson
David T. Porter Professor of Church History
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, KY 40280, USA

Paolo Spanu
President, Italian Baptist Union
I- 00186 Roma, Italy

G. Noël Vose
President, Baptist World Alliance
Baptist Theological College of Western Australia
Henley, W.A. 6102, Australia

Michael Zidkov
Baptist Union of the U.S.S.R.
Moscow, USSR

Glenn A. Igleheart
Baptist Convention of New York
Syracuse, NY 13202, USA


Most Rev. Bede Vincent Heather
Bishop of Parramatta,
Parramatta, N.S.W. 2150 Australia

Rev. Jerome Dollard, OSB
Hazelden Renewal Center
Center City, Minnesota
1984, 1985 (deceased 1985)

Rev. John R. Donahue, SJ
Professor of New Testament
Jesuit School of Theology
Berkeley, California

Rev. Msgr Carlo Ghidelli
General Chaplain
Sacred Heart University

Rev. Karl Müller, SVD
Professor of Mission Theology
and Director of the Missiological Institute
St. Augustine, FRG

Rev. Joseph Komonchak
(Consultant 1987, 1988)
Associate Professor of Theology
Dept. Religion/Religious Education
Catholic University of America
Washington, DC

Rev. Kilian McDonnell, OSB
(Consultant, 1986)
Professor of Theology
St. John's University
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321, USA

Msgr. Basil Meeking
Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
Vatican City - (co-secretary 1984)

Msgr. John A. Radano
Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
Vatican City (co-secretary 1985-1988)

Indice | Attivitą del Centro | Corsi | Pubblicazioni | Conferenze
Settimana di Preghiera | Biblioteca | Dialoghi Interconfessionali
Direttorio dei Centri di Studi Ecumenici | Society of the Atonement
Guest Book | Credits | Site Map

1999-2004 © - Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, Inc.
Remarks to Webmaster at webmaster@pro.urbe.it