Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > E-RC > Christology; Holy Spirit; Mission; (part 4)

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  INTRODUCTION - selezionare
4. Our Response In The Holy Spirit To The Gospel
  CONCLUSION - selez.

4. Our Response in the Holy Spirit to the Gospel

      We agree that evangelism is not just a proclamation of Christ's historic work and saving offer. Evangelism also includes a call for response which is often called "conversion."

1) The Work of the Holy Spirit

      This response, however, does not depend on the efforts of the human person, but on the initiative of the Holy Spirit. As is stated in the Scripture, "for by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, Test any man should boast" (Eph 2:8-9). There is therefore a trinitarian dimension to the human person's response: it is the Father who gives; his supreme gift is his Son, Jesus Christ for the life of the world (John 6:23); and it is the Holy Spirit who opens our minds and hearts so that we can accept and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor 12:3) and live as his disciples. This means that the Holy Spirit guarantees that the salvation which the Father began in Jesus Christ becomes effective in us in a personal way.
      When human persons experience conversion, the Holy Spirit illumines their understanding so that Jesus Christ can be confessed as the Truth itself revealed by the Father (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit also renders converted persons new creatures, who participate in the eternal life of the Father and the Son (John 11:25-26). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, through the gifts of faith, hope and love, already enables converted persons to have a foretaste of the Kingdom which will be totally realized when the Son hands over all things to the Father (1 Cor 15:28).
      Thus, the work of the Holy Spirit in Christian conversion has to be seen as the actual continuation of his previous creative and redemptive activity throughout history. Indeed, at the beginning the Holy Spirit was present at the act of creation (Gen 1:2), and he is continually sent forth as the divine breath by whom everything is created and by whom the face of the earth is renewed (Ps 104:29-30). Although all persons are influenced by the life-giving Spirit of God, it is particularly in the Old Testament, which he inspired, that the recreative work of the Holy Spirit, after the fall of humankind, is concretely manifested. In order to ground the divine plan to recreate humanity, the Holy Spirit first taught the patriarchs to fear God and to practice righteousness. And to assemble his people Israel and to bring it back to the observance of the Covenant, the Holy Spirit raised up judges, kings and wise men. Moreover, the prophets, under the guidance of the Spirit, announced that the Holy Spirit would create a new heart and bestow new life by being poured out in a unique way on Israel and, through it, on all humanity (Ezek 36:24-28; Joel 2:28-29).
      The recreative work of the Holy Spirit reached its culminating point in the incarnation of Jesus Christ who, as the New Adam, was filled with the Holy Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Because Jesus Christ was the privileged bearer of the Holy Spirit, he is the one who gives the Holy Spirit for the regeneration of human beings: "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33), Through his death on behalf of sinful humankind and his rising up to glory, Jesus Christ communicates the Holy Spirit to all who are converted to him, that is, receive him by faith as their personal Lord and Savior. This new life in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is signified by baptism and by membership in the Body of Christ, the Church. Furthermore, through his indwelling in converted persons, the Holy Spirit attests that they are coheirs with Christ of eternal glory.

2) Conversion and Baptism

      We have been agreeably surprised to discover a considerable consensus among us that repentance and faith, conversion and baptism, regeneration and incorporation into the Christian community all belong together, although we have needed to debate their relative positions in the scheme of salvation.
      "Conversion" signifies an initial turning to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, with a view to receiving the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, and to being incorporated into the Church, all signed to us in baptism (Acts 2:38-39). The expression "continuous conversion" (if used) must therefore be understood as referring to our daily repentance as Christians, our response to new divine challenges, and our gradual transformation into the image of Christ by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). Moreover, some who have grown up in a Christian home find themselves to be regenerate Christians without any memory of a conscious conversion.
      We agree that baptism must never be isolated, either in theology or in practice, from the context of conversion. It belongs essentially to the whole process of repentance, faith, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and membership of the covenant community, the Church. A large number of Evangelicals (perhaps the majority) practice only "believer's baptism." That is, they baptize only those who have personally accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, and they regard baptism both as the convert's public profession of faith and as the dramatization (by immersion in water) of his or her having died and risen with Christ. The practice of infant baptism (practiced by some Evangelicals, rejected by others) assumes both that the parents believe and will bring their children up in the Christian faith, and that the children will themselves later come to conscious repentance and faith.
      We rejoice together that the whole process of salvation is the work of God by the Holy Spirit. And it is in this connection that Roman Catholics understand the expression ex opere operato in relation to baptism. It does not mean that the sacraments have a mechanical or automatic efficacy. Its purpose rather is to emphasize that salvation is a sovereign work of Christ, in distinction to a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian confidence in human ability.
      There is a further dimension of the work of the Holy Spirit in our response to the gospel to which we have become increasingly sensitive, and which we believe belongs within our understanding of the work of the Spirit in mission.
      In the light of biblical teaching, particularly in the Epistle to the Ephesians,
24 and also in view of the insights gained through Christian missionary experience, we believe that, although the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Truth by the Holy Spirit is in itself complete in the Scriptures, nevertheless he is wanting to lead the Church into a yet fuller understanding of this revelation. Hence we rejoice that in the various cultural contexts in which men and women throughout nearly twenty centuries of Christian history have been enabled by the Holy Spirit to respond to the gospel, we can perceive the many-sidedness of the unique Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of all humankind.
      Accordingly, we hope that the Holy Spirit will make us open to such new and further insights into the meaning of Jesus Christ, as he may wish to communicate by means of various manifestations of Christian life in our Christian communities, as well as in human societies where we earnestly desire that he will create a response to the gospel in conversion, baptism and incorporation into Christ's body, the Church.

3) Church Membership

      Conversion and baptism are the gateway into the new community of God, although Evangelicals distinguish between the visible and invisible aspects of this community. They see conversion as the means of entry into the invisible church and baptism as the consequently appropriate means of entry into the visible church. Both sides agree that the church should be characterized by learning, worship, fellowship, holiness, service and evangelism (Acts 2:42-47). Furthermore, life in the Church is characterized by hope and love, as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). It is the Holy Spirit who arouses and sustains our response to the living Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the human family, which was disrupted by sin, is gradually being recreated as the new humanity emerges (Eph 2:15).
      The issue of church membership has raised in our dialogue the delicate and difficult question of the conversion of those already baptized. How are we to think of their baptism? And which church should they join? This practical question can cause grave problems in the relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. It is particularly acute in places like Latin America, where large numbers of baptized Roman Catholics have had a minimal relationship with the Roman Catholic Church since their baptism.
      When such Roman Catholics have a conversion experience, many Evangelical churches welcome them into membership without re-baptizing them. Some Baptist churches, however, and some others, would insist on baptizing such converts, as indeed they baptize Protestant converts who have been baptized in infancy.
      Then there is the opposite problem of Protestant Christians wishing to become members of the Roman Catholic Church. Since Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church has recognized other Christians as being in the first place "brethren," rather than subjects for conversion. Nevertheless, since the Roman Catholic Church believes that the one Church of Christ subsists within it in a unique way, it further believes it is legitimate to receive other Christians into its membership. Such membership is not seen as an initial step towards salvation, however, but as a further step towards Christian growth. Considerable care is taken nowadays to ensure that such a step is not taken under wrong pressure and for unworthy motives. In other words, there is an avoidance of "proselytism" in the wrong sense. Then, provided that there is some proof of valid baptism having taken place, there is no question of rebaptism.
      Church members need constantly to be strengthened by the grace of God. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals understand grace somewhat differently, however, Roman Catholics thinking of it more as divine life and Evangelicals as divine favor. Both sides agree that it is by a totally free gift of the Father that we become joined to Christ and enabled to live like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Both sides also understand the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper) as a sacrament (or ordinance) of grace. Roman Catholics affirm the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ and emphasize the mystery of Christ and his salvation becoming present and effective by the working of the Holy Spirit under the sacramental sign,
25 whereas Evangelicals (in different ways according to their different Church traditions) view the sacrament as the means by which Christ blesses us by drawing us into fellowship with himself, as we remember his death until he comes again (1 Cor 11:26).
      Despite the lack of full accord which we have just described; both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics agree that the Eucharist is spiritual food and spiritual drink (1 Cor 10:3-4, 16), because the unifying Spirit is at work in this sacrament. As a memorial of the New Covenant, the Eucharist is a privileged sign in which Christ's saving grace is especially signified and/or made available to Christians. In the Eucharist the Holy Spirit makes the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper effective in the Church and assures Christians that through their faith they are intimately united to Christ and to each other in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

4) Assurance of Salvation

      In has always been traditional among Evangelicals to stress not only salvation as a present gift, but also the assurance of salvation enjoyed by those who have received it. They like, for example, to quote 1 John 5:13: "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." Thus, eternal life begins in us now through the Spirit of the risen Christ, because we are "raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col 2:12). Yet in daily life we live in the tension between what is already given and what is still awaited as a promise, for "your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory" (Col 3:3, 4).
      Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are agreed that the only ground for assurance is the objective work of Christ; this ground does not lie in any way in the believer. We speak somewhat differently about the work of Christ, however, and relate it differently in terms of practical piety. Evangelicals refer to the "finished" work of Christ on the cross and rest their confidence wholly upon it. Roman Catholics also speak of Christ's work as having been done "once for all"; they therefore see it as beyond repetition. Never less, they understand that through the Eucharist Christ's unique, once-for-all work is made present, and that by this means they maintain a present relationship to it. The relationship to Christ's finished work which Evangelicals enjoy is maintained by faith, but it is faith in what was done, and what was done is never re-presented.
      Roman Catholics and Evangelicals both claim an authentic religious experience, which includes an awareness of the presence of God and a taste for spiritual realities. Yet Evangelicals think Roman Catholics sometimes lack a visible joy in Christ, which their assurance has given them, whereas Roman Catholics think Evangelicals are sometimes insufficiently attentive to the New Testament warnings against presumption. Roman Catholics also claim to be more realistic than Evangelicals about the vagaries of religious experience. The actual experience of Evangelicals seldom leads then to doubt their salvation, but Roman Catholics know that the soul may have its dark nights. In summary Evangelicals appear to Roman Catholics more pessimistic about human nature before conversion, but more optimistic about it afterwards, while Evangelicals allege the opposite about Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals together agree that Christian assurance is more an assurance of faith (Heb 10:22) than of experience, and that perseverance to the end is a gratuitous gift of God.


  1. Cf. Eph 3:10; 3:18; 4:13.

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  2. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium), 7, 47.

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