After the completion of the first stage of the dialogue between
the Disciples of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church (1977-81)
and its agreed account, Apostolicity and Catholicity (1982), it
was understood that the current state of ecumenism required serious
study of the nature of the Church. This came from our conviction
that the Christian identity in itself and Christian mission in the
world are inseparable from a clear and deep understanding of the
The choice we made to focus on the Church coincides with the choice
made by many ecumenical dialogues today: the Anglican-Roman Catholic,
Orthodox-Roman Catholic, Anglican-Reformed, and Disciples-Reformed
International Commissions, and the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission
in the U.S.A. The same focus is found in the Faith and Order Commission
of the World Council of Churches and the Joint Working Group of
the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. This
is a sign of our day that reveals the ecumenical movement to be
in the midst of a deep probing of the link between ecumenism and
the nature of the Church.
For this second stage of discussions, our dialogue met ten times:
in Venice, Italy (1983), Nashville, Tennessee (1984), Mandeville,
Jamaica (1985), Cambridge, England (1986), Duxbury, Massachusetts
(1987), Gethsemani, Kentucky, (1988), Venice, Italy (1989), Toronto,
Canada (1990), Rome, Italy (1991) and St Louis, Missouri (1992).
In every meeting we prayed together, we met with members of local
congregations, and we studied and discussed together the similarities
and differences that characterize our two communities. In our meetings
we focused on how the Church as communion is linked to the new creation
that God wills. We studied the visibility of the Church's communion
(koinonia) as revealed in the celebration of the Eucharist and maintained
through continuity with the Apostolic Tradition. And we focused
on the role of the ministry and the involvement of the whole Church
in maintaining the faith of the apostles.
THE SPECIFIC NATURE OF THIS DIALOGUE WITHING THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
The dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Roman Catholic
Church has a specific character. This character may be described
in sociological categories by saying that it comes not only from
an encounter between a catholic and a protestant ethos1, but more
particularly from the ways in which Disciples understand themselves
to express a protestant ethos and Roman Catholics understand themselves
to express a catholic ethos.
Generally in a catholic ethos great emphasis is placed on sacraments
and liturgy. The corporate character of the faith in both the definition
of doctrine and its continuing affirmation in the life of the Church
is stressed. Episcopal oversight, rooted in apostolic continuity
and succession, is regarded as necessary for the preservation of
the Gospel and the life of the Church.
Generally in a protestant ethos great emphasis is placed on the
proclamation of the Word, the necessity of the judgment of each
individual's conscience as it is bound by the gospel, and the individual's
responsibility for the appropriation of the Word of God. Episcopal
oversight may be considered desirable for the well-being of the
Church but not essential. Sometimes it has been denied that a specific
form of oversight originates in the will of Christ for the Church.
The test of church structures is the extent to which they are faithful
to the gospel and facilitate authentic proclamation and Christian
These general differences between a catholic and a protestant ethos
explain important differences between Disciples and Roman Catholics.
Not only are their theological traditions and ecclesial structures
different but they have ways of appropriating the Christian mystery
in daily life that are not the same. Nevertheless on some vital
issues what they share in common is more determinative for them
than their belonging to a protestant or a catholic ethos. The customary
vocabulary of division between protestant and catholic does not
apply exactly to the specific priorities of Disciples and Roman
The Disciples movement emerged out of nineteenth-century Protestantism
but it had nothing to do with a deliberate break from the Roman
Catholic Church and lacked the memories of sixteenth and seventeenth-century
controversies. Moreover some of its most specific concerns were
criticisms of the way in which contemporary Protestantism understood
and lived out fidelity to the apostolic witness. It came from the
desire to lead the Church towards a unity rooted in the weekly celebration
of the Lords Supper. Alexander Campbell was convinced that ‘the
union of Christians is essential to the conversion of the world',
an insight which has lost none of its force in the twentieth century2.
The Roman Catholic Church too proclaims that it has a specific mission
for the unity of the world, and affirms that this unity is signified
and given by the eucharistic communion. It too teaches that the
restoration of unity among all Christians is linked with the salvation
of the world. Indeed Disciples and Roman Catholics pursue these
goals in ways deeply marked by their different histories. But they
have to discern whether all these affirmations and convictions are
not in fact the expression of a very profound communion in some
of the most fundamental gifts of the grace of God.
This is why, after a certain agreement had been expressed in Apostolicity
and Catholicity, Disciples and Roman Catholics continued their dialogue
in order to discover the degree of communion they already share.
Their goal is to be together, growing in this communion and fostering
it, and to be with all Christians (as the First Letter of Peter
puts it) ‘Gods own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty
acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light'
(1 Pt. 2:9 NRSV).
To be honest and not lead to a ‘cheap ecumenism' this dialogue required
two important and complementary investigations. It was necessary
first to discuss clearly the issues on which, because of their history
and ethos, Disciples and Roman Catholics are different. But then
it was necessary to discern in what measure these differences are
really divisive. Are they only two diverse ways of manifesting or
living out the same basic conviction? If that should be the case,
another question has to be asked: how would it be possible to express
visibly this existing communion? More precisely: what kind of changes
would be required to enable this existing communion to contribute
to the full restoration of Christian unity?
DIFFERENCES IN CHRISTIAN FAITH AND LIFE
At first glance the historic differences between the Roman Catholic
Church and Disciples of Christ seem to make the division between
them irreconcilable. Roman Catholics have understood themselves
in the context of the continuous history of the Church: Disciples
have understood themselves in the context of their origin as a reform
movement (developing out of the Presbyterian Church) committed to
find a way to overcome denominationalism. Hence where Roman Catholics
have seen the Church throughout its history as continuous with the
teaching of the apostles, Disciples have considered that some discontinuities
in the life of the Church have been necessary for the sake of the
Gospel. Roman Catholics have found in creeds and doctrinal definitions
a sign of the assistance of the Holy Spirit to bind the Church into
one and to lead it into all truth. Disciples have wanted to remain
faithful to the apostolic Church of the New Testament with its vision
of unity in Christ, but have been distrustful of many of the creeds,
confessions and doctrinal teachings within Christian tradition,
finding in the way they have been used a threat to unity. This has
led them to be suspicious as well of the structure of episcopal
authority which Roman Catholics believe is a necessary means for
maintaining continuity with the apostles and with their teaching.
Roman Catholics have been convinced that the college of bishops
in communion with the See of Rome, teaching in conjunction with
other ordained ministers and with the whole Church, is a necessary
means of preserving the Church in continuity with the apostles.
The celebration of the Eucharist (also called the Lords Supper or
Mass) has been central to both Roman Catholics and Disciples, but
the Eucharist has been understood in different ways.
For Disciples the centrality of the Lords Supper has been highlighted
by its celebration every Lord's Day. In obeying the Lords commandment,
‘Do this in memory of me', Disciples have understood themselves
to be in communion with the faithful in all places and all ages.
Hence they have called all the baptized to the communion table and
in particular have eschewed any formal creeds that kept Christians
from taking communion together. However, they generally did not
recognize the validity of infant baptism until the present century.
Understanding themselves as a believers' church after the pattern
of the New Testament church, the Disciples have practiced baptism
upon confession of faith in Christ and have looked upon faith more
as a trusting attitude and a life of witness than as assent to doctrinal
formulations. They have emphasized the role of the whole eucharistic
congregation in witnessing to the apostolic faith, and they have
felt free to designate, as part of their church order, members of
the community other than ordained ministers and ordained elders
to preside at the eucharist, especially if no regular minister or
elder should be present. In the practice of believers' baptism and
in the recovery of the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, Disciples
have claimed to be in continuity with the faith of the apostles.
In celebrating the Eucharist, Roman Catholics also have claimed
to be in continuity with the faith of the apostles. Indeed, they
have seen the celebration of the Eucharist as a way to enter into
communion with the whole Body of Christ. They have emphasized that
the Eucharist signifies the unity of the Church and so they have
invited to the eucharistic celebration only those in communion with
the bishop and through him in communion with all the local churches
in communion with the Bishop of Rome throughout the world. They
have practiced infant baptism and have emphasized the role of the
whole community in supporting and nurturing the faith. In using
ancient creeds and traditional liturgies, Roman Catholics have understood
themselves to be in continuity with the generations of Christians
who have gone before them since the apostles. Faith for Roman Catholics
is not limited to the assent to such formulations, but it cannot
be recognized without such assent. While different members have
different gifts in the life of the Church, only the bishop or an
ordained minister in communion with him is empowered to preside
over the celebration of the Eucharist.
Disciples have been readily critical of some developments in the
history of the Church, even seeing in these developments errors
needing correction, because of their awareness of human finitude.
They have been inclined to recognize sin in many aspects of the
institutional Church. Roman Catholics have recognized sin within
individual members of the Church but because they believe the Church
belongs to Christ and has received the gifts of the Spirit that
maintain it in holiness and truth, they are slow to find sin and
error in the Church's actions and teachings, and quick to see continuity
with the apostolic teaching.
Both Disciples and Roman Catholics approach Church teachings with
appreciative yet critical eyes. Their two different general attitudes
about the Church as an institution lead Roman Catholics to be more
appreciative and Disciples to be more critical. For this reason
they differ on the relative weight given, on the one hand, to individual
discernment and conscience and, on the other hand, to the communal
mind. It can be said that Roman Catholics are convinced that; although
they must decide for themselves, they cannot decide by themselves.
Disciples, on the other hand, are convinced that, although they
cannot decide by themselves, they must decide for themselves.
Indeed Roman Catholics and Disciples appear so different and live
in such different ways that for many of their members the proposal
that their differences could be overcome is nearly incredible.
CONVERSION OF VISION?
Through our dialogue we nevertheless discovered that, despite these
real and continuing differences, our understanding of the Church
converges on some notable points which both Disciples and Roman
Catholics believe necessary for the visible unity of the Church.
We are convinced that these convergences are important net only
for our two traditions but also for all the communities in dialogue
to achieve this goal.
We had already begun to discover this convergence in the first stage
of our dialogue. In Apostolicity and Catholicity, we saw that our
two traditions had sometimes pursued the same goal using different
means. We became convinced that ‘ the Spirit of God has already
brought us into Christ and continues to move us toward full visible
unity' (p. 4). We recognized that ‘each Christian's faith is inseparable
from the faith of the community' (p. 9), and agreed that ‘every
generation must come to faith anew through the power of the Holy
Spirit and hand on this faith to succeeding generations' (p.10).
We were convinced that ‘there can be only one Church of God' (p.
11) which cannot be destroyed by divisions among Christians. We
were able ‘to affirm the mutual recognition of baptism administered
by Roman Catholics and Disciples, convinced that the oneness we
received by the grace of God in baptism must find its completion
in visible ecclesial unity' (p. 8). We affirmed a common belief
‘that the Church takes visible shape in history and that one sign
of this visibility is the common profession of the Gospel with reception
of baptism' (p. 11). The restoration of ‘the unique unity of the
one Church of God is the goal,' we agreed, and ‘we are already on
the way' (p. 11); we sought a renewed fidelity to actions that would
intensify and deepen our relationship.
20. In the second stage of our dialogue together we deepened our
conviction that we are one on some crucial issues, and the goal
of this statement of convergence is to elucidate a shared vision
of the Church. We do net intend to discuss the extent of communion
between Disciples and Roman Catholics. Nor will we focus, one by
one, on a number of separate issues that have divided us. Instead
we want to present our shared understanding of the whole plan of
God to draw together and redeem the human family, and the essential
role of the Church in manifesting and bringing about this plan.
By beginning with God's offer of salvation to the whole of humanity
and the means God gives to remember and announce this offer, we
have been able to discover that we share the same understanding
of the basic nature of the Church.
NEW CREATION AND COMMUNION
Christians confess that the same God who created human beings has
also redeemed them. God has not abandoned humanity to its sinfulness
but, through the plan of salvation, has given the possibility of
forgiveness of sin and new life. This plan of salvation culminates
in Christ Jesus. In the Spirit through the Son the Father gathers
into fellowship all those who had been alienated. By drawing people
out of isolation and into communion (koinonia) God makes a new creation
— a humanity now established as children of God, a people who know
themselves to have received forgiveness of sin and to have put away
the old and put on the new, even as they await the consummation
still to come (Rom 8:18-25).
This activity of God — the forgiveness of sins and making a new
creation and the response to it in thanks and praise — is fundamental
to the experience and understanding of koinonia. Various meanings
of koinonia are found in the New Testament. Paul uses koinonia to
describe sharing in the Eucharist (1 Cor 10:14-20). In breaking
the bread and blessing the cup, Christians have koinonia with the
body and blood of Christ. The communities which contributed to the
collection for the saints in Jerusalem were bound in koinonia (or
partnership) with them through the sharing of material goods (2
Cor 8:3-4; Rom 15:26-27; Phil 1:5). Yet another use of koinonia
stresses the fellowship of those who walk in the light because they
are in communion with the Father and the Son, and consequently with
one another (1 Jn 1:3, 7).
To speak of communion (koinonia) is to speak of the way human beings
come to know God as God's purpose for humanity is revealed. God
in Christ through the Holy Spirit calls human beings to share in
the fellowship within the divine life, a call to which they respond
in faith. Thus, communion refers first to the fellowship with God
and subsequently to sharing with one another. Indeed it is only
by virtue of God's gift of grace through Jesus Christ that deep,
lasting communion is made possible: by baptism, persons participate
in the mystery of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and
are incorporated into the one Body of Christ, the Church.
The new creation is a foretaste of what will come in fullness through
the Spirit at the end of time. The Spirit of God, acting in history,
is the main agent of that communion which is the Church. Persons
are brought into living relationship with the Father through the
Son by the power of the Spirit. Human relationships are thus set
in a new context so that people may recognize one another as equally
God's children and come to acknowledge the bonds that link them
as a gift from God. People who have come to this new self-understanding
see all other human beings as men and women whom God wills also
to save. God's redeeming act in Christ demands that all humanity
AND CONTINUITY WITH THE APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY
To be the communion God wills, the Church has to live in the memory
of its origin, remembering with thanksgiving what God has done in
Christ Jesus. That memory sustains and nourishes its life. The Church
in fulfilment of its mission proclaims the good news of the gracious,
saving acts of God as the Word of God is preached, the sacraments
are celebrated, and the new life shared with God is given.
To live in this memory means for Disciples and Roman Catholics to
be in continuity with the witness of the apostolic generation. The
New Testament speaks of those called apostles in the earliest period
in a variety of ways; and they played a unique and essential role
in formulating and communicating the Gospel. The Church is founded
on their proclamation. They began or nurtured the early communities,
and they soon chose collaborators in the first generation of Christians
to share the apostolic work of preaching, teaching, and pastoral
Both Disciples and Roman Catholics share an intention to live and
teach in such a way that, when the Lord comes again, the Church
may be found witnessing to the faith of the apostles. By preserving
the memory of what the apostles taught, and by proclaiming and living
it anew for the present day, both Disciples and Roman Catholics
believe that they maintain continuity with the apostolic witness,
forming a living tradition that is ‘built upon the foundation of
the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone'
Memory, as in biblical usage, is more than a recalling to mind of
the past. It is the work of the Holy Spirit linking the past with
the present and maintaining the memory of that on which everything
depends — the faith itself and the Church which embodies that faith.
Through the Spirit therefore the power of what is remembered is
made present afresh, and succeeding generations appropriate the
event commemorated. The Spirit keeps alive the sense of the faith
in the whole community, and lavishes a variety of charisms that
enable it to live in the memory of Jesus Christ. In the Eucharist
especially, the Spirit makes Christ present to the members of the
Both Disciples of Christ and Roman Catholics celebrate the Eucharist
regularly and frequently — at least every Sunday. Although they
have differences in the understanding of the Eucharist, they are
one in the conviction that the communion willed by God takes on
a specific reality at the Lords Supper. In fact, the celebration
of the Eucharist renews, makes real and deepens visible fellowship
with God. In the eucharistic gathering, they celebrate God's salvation
given through Christ as a gift, a gift which empowers for service.
To participate in the eucharistic celebration is to be reaffirmed
in membership of the people of God, to be empowered by Christ through
the Holy Spirit and so to be made a part of the work of reconciliation
in the world.
The Eucharist is an act through which a divine reality otherwise
more or less hidden emerges and is made present. What is revealed
is the plan of salvation, the good news that Jesus Christ reconciles
humanity to the Father. The Eucharist both symbolizes and makes
present, together with the gift of Christ himself, the salvation
offered through him. In it faith is freshly evoked and is further
nourished in the participant; for the community the essential elements
of Christian faith and life are expressed. 31. The Eucharist is
a communal event. In it Christians are bound with Christ and with
one another. It is the action that most fully expresses the fellowship
that is the Church. Here also Christians know more deeply and strengthen
the hands that unite their local community with other local Christian
communities. Furthermore, they find themselves impelled by eucharistic
communion to extend themselves in care for all those in God's creation,
especially those who suffer. Indeed, the Eucharist is essential
to the being and mission of the Church of God in the world. Christians
acknowledge that a test of their credibility to the world as a symbol
of God's presence can be found in the quality of the communion among
themselves and with others.
God in Christ invites to the Eucharist, and through the Holy Spirit
binds together into one body, all who break the one loaf and share
the one cup. At the Lords table the unity of the Church is accomplished,
for believers are joined to Christ and to one another. Thus, precisely
because the celebration of the Eucharist is the climax of the Church's
life, disunity among Christians is felt most keenly at the Eucharist;
and their inability to celebrate the Lords Supper together makes
them less able to manifest the full catholicity of the Church.
AND CONTINUITY WITH THE APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY
Disciples and Roman Catholics are convinced that in their faith
they must remain in continuity with the apostles, even if they understand
what this demands in different wars. This common conviction challenges
them to explore the ways in which each has remained in continuity
with the apostolic community, and to explore as well the possibility
that each might be enriched by gifts remembered and exercised more
fully by the other. As they have come to understand each other better,
they have realized that each continues to retain many of the ways
in which Apostolic Tradition is maintained.
Both receive the Scriptures as a normative witness to the apostolic
faith. Both agree as well that the history of the Church after the
writing and formation of the New Testament canon belongs to the
Church's continuity in Apostolic Tradition, even though they have
different emphases in understanding the significance of that history.
Both find within this history many developments which, because they
are the work of the Holy Spirit, are normative for the Church. Both
affirm that the Gospel is embodied in the Tradition3 of the Church.
When Roman Catholics and Disciples evaluate earlier formulations
of doctrine, both are committed to continuity with the Church's
history, though in different ways — a significant difference which
requires further investigation. Both agree that doctrinal statements
never exhaust the meaning of the Word of God and that they may need
interpretation or completion by further formulations to be clear.
Both also agree that fresh doctrinal statements may be needed to
preserve the Gospel when it is endangered or to preach it in a new
Human memory can be deficient and selective because of finitude
and sin, and the pilgrim Church is affected by these limitations.
But both Roman Catholics and Disciples are agreed that the Holy
Spirit sustains the Church in communion with the apostolic community
because Christ promised that the Spirit ‘will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I have said to you' (Jn 14:26 NRSV).
The Spirit guides the Church to understand its past, to recall what
may have been forgotten, and to discern what renewal is needed for
the Gospel to be proclaimed effectively in every age and culture.
This underlines the, importance of reflection and study in the life
of the Church to keep alive the memory.
Continuity with the Apostolic Tradition calls for fresh understandings
or practices of discipleship, which the Church adopts in order to
transmit the same apostolic faith effectively in new times and places.
As the Church receives the Apostolic Tradition in different contexts
and circumstances, the Spirit enables it to hold fast to the apostolic
faith, and to discern authentic developments in its thought and
practice. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the Church shall not in
the end fail to witness faithfully to the divine plan.
Thus the Church not only remembers (in the biblical sense) what
was done in the past, the saving act in Jesus Christ. Neither does
it only remember what is promised in the age to come (cf. § 28).
At the very heart of the Church's memory, God's saving acts in the
past provide a foretaste of transformation so that the future breaks
in already to the present. Salvation seen from the perspective of
the Scriptures reaches out from the past into the future.
GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT FOR THE CHURCH
The Holy Spirit not only gives the Church that memory which enables
it to remain in the Apostolic Tradition, but is also present in
the Church leading Christians and the whole community of the baptized
deeper into the mystery of Christ. Both Disciples and Roman Catholics
recognize this as a constitutive gift of God to the Church. Through
the Holy Spirit the believer is drawn into union with the love of
Christ for his Father, for humanity and for the whole of creation.
The will of the believer is also led to unite itself with the will
of Christ in obedience to the Father. Thus the individual believer
is drawn into deeper communion with the movement of Christ's self-offering,
embodied in the Eucharist. This in turn becomes the center of a
life of witness to Christ.
A Christian receives the gift of faith within and for the communion
(koinonia) which is the Church. Hence, the sense of faith (sensus
Fidei) in the life of an individual Christian is a reflection of
the extent to which, by the same Spirit, each one shares in the
life of the ecclesial body as such; it becomes an expression of
the instinct for faith of the whole body. The inner dynamism of
the gift of faith — the power of the Holy Spirit which draws believers
into spiritual unity — sustains the interaction of the faith of
the individual and the faith of the community.
The Spirit gives a variety of gifts or charisms which enable the
Church as a whole to receive and hand on the Apostolic Tradition.
At the heart of these are the gifts appropriate to worship, particularly
in the celebration of the Lords Supper. In the act of celebrating
the Eucharist the whole community of the baptized is drawn together
by the Holy Spirit in a visible unity of faith, hope and love. Together
with the charism of the one who presides at the celebration, many
other charisms can be exercised in service of the Church in the
central action of its life. Then there are charisms of Christian
formation, such as the witness to the faith given by parents to
their children, and by those who teach in schools and congregations.
Moreover the memory of the apostolic faith is maintained in lives
lived according to the Gospel. The faithful have a sense of care
for all humankind, responsibility for their well-being, and sharing
in their suffering, sorrow and oppression as well as in their joy,
good fortune and liberation. The charisms which enable the work
of mercy — with the poor, the needy, the homeless, the sick and
the aged — recall the whole community to the Gospel imperative of
In addition there are extraordinary gifts, which are found in the
lives of people who give vivid witness to the Gospel and capture
the imagination of the community of the baptized in such a way that
it is recalled to the Gospel and the Apostolic Tradition. These
gifts, like all gifts, must be tested in the Church for authenticity.
Within the mutuality and complementarity of the different charisms
which are given to and for the Church, there is a particular charism
given to the ordained ministry to maintain the community in the
memory of the Apostolic Tradition. Both Disciples and Roman Catholics
affirm that the Christian ministry exists to actualize, transmit,
and interpret with fidelity the Apostolic Tradition which has its
origin in the first generation. It also has a special responsibility
in serving and showing forth the unity of the Church. The intention
of the apostolic community in establishing ministries in other places
was initially to establish collaborators rather than to choose successors:
what began as an expansion of communion over distance became later
on an expansion over time. We have found this a helpful insight
in enabling us to affirm a common understanding of the importance
Although historically Disciples came from those traditions which
at the Reformation rejected episcopacy as the Reformers knew it
in the Roman Catholic Church, Disciples have always recognized that
the work of the ministry, shared in the local congregation by ordained
ministers and ordained elders, is essential to the being of the
Church and is a sign of continuity with the Apostolic Tradition.
Roman Catholics believe that the bishop, acting in collaboration
with presbyters, deacons and the whole community in the local church,
and in communion with the whole college of bishops throughout the
world united with the Bishop of Rome as its head, keeps alive the
apostolic faith in the local church so that it may remain faithful
to the Gospel4. Both Disciples and Roman Catholics affirm that the
whole Church shares in the priesthood and ministry of Christ. They
also affirm that ordained ministers have the specific charism of
re-presenting Christ to the Church and that their ministries are
expressions of the ministry of Christ to the whole Church. They
believe that God has given to the Church all the gifts needed for
the proclamation of the Gospel; but this does not mean that every
member has received every charism or authority for doing so. Rather
it is the corporate shaping of the whole people of God by the Gospel
which enables them to hold fast to ‘the faith which was once for
all delivered to the saints' (Jude 3, NRSV). The ordained ministry
is specifically given the charism for discerning, declaring and
fostering what lies in the authentic memory of the Church. In this
process this charism of the service of memory is in communion with
the instinct for faith of the whole body. Through this communion
the Spirit guides the Church.
We thus discover that our diversities are real but not all of them
are necessarily signs of division. Roman Catholics and Disciples
have more in common than might be expected after the exposition
of their differences. We are now sure that in confessing together
that the Church is communion, we are in agreement on a very crucial
issue, which is not isolated from many central issues of the faith.
We agree -- together with many other Christians — on important truths:
— a person is saved by being introduced into this communion of believers,
described in the New Testament by images of the body of Christ,
the temple of God, the vine, the household of God; — this communion
is never given to the believer without the involvement of other
believers, some of them being the ministers of the Church, having
a specific responsibility for preaching the Word of God and presiding
at the celebration of the sacraments. Through the Word and the sacraments
the Church is the servant or instrument of God's plan of salvation;
— this communion is ultimately with the apostolic community, whose
memory is constantly kept alive and made present, especially thanks
to the work of the ordained ministry, the witness of the holy and
committed members of the community and the expression of the mind
of the Church by all the members trying to be faithful to their
We therefore come to a very important agreement concerning the nature
and mission of the Church. The Church of God is that part of humanity
which through faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit responds
to God's plan of salvation revealed and actualized in Jesus Christ.
Consequently it becomes the community of all those who in Christ,
by the gift of God, are bound into a communion with the Father and
with one another. Its members are called to live in such a way that,
in spite of their failures and their weakness, this communion becomes
visible and is constantly in search of a more perfect realization.
This visibility is realized especially in the celebration of the
Eucharist. There, gathered together and after having confessed their
faith, the baptized people receive the body and blood of Christ,
the Son of God who reconciled humanity to God in one body through
the cross. There they enter into communion with the saints and members
of the whole household of God. Moreover, what is celebrated at the
Eucharist has to be actualized in a life of common prayer and faith,
of faithfulness to the Gospel, of sharing the spiritual and even
material goods of the community, and of commitment to the will of
God that the saving work of Christ be extended as offer to all.
Participation in this communion begins through baptism and is sustained
in continuing eucharistic fellowship. The Holy Spirit uses the Church
as the servant by which the Word of God is kept alive and constantly
preached, the sacraments are celebrated, the people of God are served
by the ministers with responsibility for oversight, and the authentic
evangelical life is manifested through the life of holy and committed
members of Christ. This is why Disciples and Roman Catholics agree
that the Church is the company of all the baptized, the community
through which they are constantly kept in the memory of the apostolic
witness and nourished by the Eucharist. The Eucharist is never celebrated
and received by a member isolated from an ecclesial community gathered
around its ministers. The Church is therefore at the same time the
sign of salvation (to be saved is to be in communion) and the community
through which this salvation is offered.
By this communion — which is the Church — an effective sign is given
by God also to the world. This sign stands in contrast to the divisions
and hatred within humanity. Even if it is always stamped by the
deficiencies of its members, the Church of God demonstrates that
the division of humanity created by the corruption of the human
heart with its egoism and desire for possessions or power, has been
overcome through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. A
new life is made possible, the life of the children of God whose
bonds of relationship are a gift coming from the Father.
Moreover, because Christians come to know that God wants all other
human beings also to become members of Christ, they are drawn to
give themselves in living witness and service to humanity. This
service culminates when they commit themselves to the preaching
of the Gospel, being obedient to the command of Christ, their Lord.
The Church is in that way not only a sign of the new humanity God
wants but also an instrument the Holy Spirit uses in order to extend
salvation to all human situations and needs, in all places until
the end of history.
Hence, we are able to affirm gladly the traditional conviction that
the Church is at one and the same time an epiphany of the destiny
which God wills for all humanity and a means to achieve that destiny.
These inseparable functions of sign and instrument, epiphany and
means, are contained in the expression ‘the Church is the sacrament
of God's design,' as used in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
This phrase signifies that God realizes the plan of salvation in
and through the communion of all those who confess Jesus Christ
and live according to this confession. We know, indeed, that this
saving work is not limited to those who confess Christ explicitly,
but that the benefits of Christ's work are offered to all human
beings. In hope we expect that these benefits may be accepted by
many who do not fully confess the giver of their gifts. Nevertheless,
we do believe that the Church, by making visible God's reconciling
work and being the servant of God in the accomplishment of this
work, stands as a light on the mountain top, awakening the world
to a recognition of its true destiny. The communion that is the
Church allows people to witness what Christian faith confesses:
there is salvation and it comes from God through Christ.
We have not yet, indeed, discussed some of the most important points
which continue to divide us. For we believe that these issues can
be fairly and deeply treated only on the basis of the kind of agreement
we have reached in the document we are now publishing. Moreover
we are convinced that they are to be treated in conjunction with
the work of other bilateral ecumenical dialogues, which are also
struggling with them. They wilt be proposed for the agenda of our
future discussions. Amongst them four have a very specific meaning
for the visible unity of the Church: a) First, our dialogue has
made us aware of a point we need to consider more deeply: even if
we agree on the signification and function of the Eucharist, we
feel that we still have to discuss our traditional teaching and
practice concerning the presence of the Lord in the celebration
of the Supper, its sacrificial nature, the role of the ordained
minister and the role of the community. This is important, given
the emphasis that both Disciples and Roman Catholics put on the
weekly celebration of the Lords Supper and its link with the visible
unity of Christians. b) A second issue is the way we understand
the fundamental structure of the Church gathered around the Eucharist
and the Catholic tradition's understanding of episcopacy — given
through a sacrament — as the institution necessary for an authentic
Eucharist to be celebrated. c) A third issue is the nature of the
rule of faith in a changing history. In what sense is ‘the faith
which was once for all delivered to the saints' expressed in the
teaching of the Church throughout the ages? d) Lastly, an issue
which requires to be explored by all the churches and communities
in dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church is the primacy of the
Bishop of Rome and the affirmation that it is founded in the will
of Christ for the Church.
These are difficult issues. Nevertheless we believe — after these
ten years of dialogue on the Church — that it will be possible to
clarify many misinterpretations (on both sides) and possibly to
discover ways of growing towards the kind of mutual metanoia (repentance)
and coming together which wilt allow very profound communion in
some of the most important gifts of the grace of God, and make possible
important and irreversible steps on our road towards the full unity
Dr Paul A. Crow. Jr Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A. (Co-chair)
Dr M. Eugene Boring, Forth Worth, Texas, U.S.A. (1988-92)
The Revd Dr Bevis Byfield, Kingston, Jamaica Dr Efefe Elondia Mbandaka,
Dr H. Jackson Forstman, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Dr Nadia Lahutsky, Forth Worth, Texas, U.S.A.
Dr Russel D. Legge, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (1983-90)
Dr W. Paulsell, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.A. (1986)
Dr C. Roy Stauffer, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A. (1987)
Dr Paul S. Stauffer, Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A. (1983-86)
Dr M. Jack Suggs, Forth Worth, Texas, U.S.A. (198387)
Dr William Tabbernee, Enid, Oklahoma, U.S.A. (1989-92)
Dr David M. Thompson, Cambridge, England, co-secretary
Dr Robert K. Welsh, Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A. (Staff 1983-87)
Most Revd Samuel E. Carter, SJ, Kingston, Jamaica (Co- chair)
The Most Revd Kevin Mc Namara , Dublin, Ireland (1983-87)
The Most Revd Basil Meeking, Christchurch, New Zealand
The Revd Michael Jackson, London, England (198892)
The Revd Dr Kilian McDonnell, OSB, Collegeville, Minnesota, U.S.A.
The Revd Dr John P. Meier, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
The Rt Revd Mgr John Mutiso-Mbinda, Vatican City (1986-92), co-secretary
Dr Margaret O'Gara, Toronto, Canada The Revd Dr J.M.R. Tillard,
OP, Ottawa, Canada
Service 84 (1993/III-IV) 162-169]
By ‘ethos' is meant the social, mental, religious and philosophical
atmosphere surrounding a group and influencing its way of life.
A. Campbell, ‘Foundation of Christian Union,' Christianity Restored,
Bethany, Va 1835, 103-4 (more commonly cited in the 2nd ed, The
Christian System, 1839, 115). Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), son
of the Revd Thomas Campbell, a Seceder Presbyterian minister from
Ahorey, Ireland who emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1807, was President
of Bethany College, West Virginia and one of the leading figures
in the emergence of Disciples of Christ as a distinctive religious
The use of a capital T follows the definition agreed at the Montreal
Faith and Order Conference in 1963: ‘By the Tradition is meant the
Gospel itself, transmitted from generation to generation in and
by the Church, Christ himself present in the life of the Church'
(Report of the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order, para
39, p. 50).
Cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, paragraph 22: Norman
P. Tanner (ed), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, (1990), ii,
address of the full-text: