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
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).
Service 72 (1990/I) 5-14]