The Evangelical- Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission
was a series of three meetings which took place over a period
of seven years. The first was held at Venice in 1977, the second
at Cambridge in 1982 and the third at Landévennec in France
Those who took part in the dialogue were
theologians and missiologists from many parts of the world. Their
names are given in the Appendix. Six of us (three from each side)
attended all three meetings; others were able to come to only
one or two of them.
The Evangelical participants were drawn from
a number of churches and Christian organizations. They were not
official representatives of any international body, however. For
the evangelical movement has a broad spectrum, which includes
evangelical denominations (both within and outside the World Council
of Churches), evangelical fellowships (within mainline, comprehensive
denominations), and evangelical parachurch agencies (specializing
in tasks like Bible translation, evangelism,1
cross-cultural mission, and Third World relief and development),
which accept different degrees of responsibility to the Church.2
It is not easy to give a brief account of
the distinctive beliefs of evangelical Christians, since different
churches and groups emphasize different doctrines. Yet all Evangelicals
share a cluster of theological convictions which were recovered
and reaffirmed by the 16th century Reformers. These include (in
addition to the great affirmations of the Nicene Creed) the inspiration
and authority of the Bible, the sufficiency of its teaching for
salvation, and its supremacy over the traditions of the Church;
the justification of sinners (i.e. their acceptance by God as
righteous in his sight) on the sole ground of the sinbearing often
called "substitutionary" death of Jesus Christ,
by God's free grace alone, apprehended by faith alone, without
the addition of any human works; the inward work of the Holy Spirit
to bring about the new birth and to transform the regenerate into
the likeness of Christ; the necessity of personal repentance and
faith in Christ ("conversion"); the Church as the Body
of Christ, which incorporates all true believers, and all of whose
members are called to ministry, some being "evangelists,
pastors and teachers"; the "priesthood of all believers,"
who (without any priestly mediation except Christ's) all enjoy
equal access to God and all offer him their sacrifice of praise
and worship; the urgency of the great commission to spread the
gospel throughout the world, both verbally in proclamation and
visually in good works of love; and the expectation of the personal,
visible and glorious return of Jesus Christ to save, to reign
and to judge.
The Roman Catholic participants, who spoke
from the point of view of the official teaching of their Church,
were named by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian
Unity. The existence of the Secretariat is evidence of the effective
renewal of attitude towards other Christians, which has taken
place among Roman Catholics as a result of the Second Vatican
Council twenty years ago, and which is still having its effects.
In that Council it was acknowledged that "Christ summons
the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation
of which she always has need, insofar as she is an institution
of men here on earth."3
As a result, Roman Catholics have been able to acknowledge joyfully
"the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of
others who are bearing witness to Christ."4
This same renewal turned the attention of Roman Catholics to the
Scriptures in a new way, exhorting the Church "to move ahead
daily towards a deeper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures"
which "contain the Word of God and, since they are inspired,
really are that word."5
And it led to a better expression of the relation between Scripture
and tradition in communicating God's Word in its full purity.
Here indeed are the elements which have enabled Roman Catholics
to acknowledge common ground with other Christians, and to assume
their own responsibility for overcoming divisions for the sake
of the mission of God and the fullness of his glory.
It is the will of God that "all men
be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is
one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man
Christ Jesus, who Have himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim
2:4-5) "there is salvation in no one else" (Acts 4:12).
Mission begins in the activity of God himself who sent his Son,
and whose Son sent his Spirit. All who belong to God in Jesus
Christ must share in this mission of God.
A dialogue on mission between Evangelicals
and Roman Catholics has been possible for two reasons. First,
both constituencies have recently been concentrating their attention
on evangelism. In July 1974 the evangelical International Congress
on World Evangelization took place in Switzerland and issued the
A few months later the Third General Assemble of the Roman Catholic
Synod of Bishops studied the same topic, and at their request
Pope Paul VI issued in December 1975 his apostolic exhortation
entitled Evangelii nuntiandi, or "Evangelization in the Modern
Secondly, a study of these two documents
reveals a measure of convergence in our understanding of the nature
of evangelism, as the following quotations show: "To evangelize
is to spread the food news that Jesus Christ died for our sins
and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures... Evangelism
itself is the proclamation of the historical biblical Christ as
Savior and Lord...."8
Again, witness must be "made explicit by a clear and unequivocal
proclamation of the lord Jesus... There is no true evangelization
if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom
and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not
In our time there are many possible forms
of dialogue. Some are undertaken with an immediate view to working
for organic unity between the bodies which the participants represent.
Others do not exclude this purpose, but begin from where they
are with a more general purpose. Still others begin by stating
that they do not envisage organic or structural unity but aim
rather at an exchange of theological views in order to increase
mutual understanding and to discover what theological ground they
hold in common. ERCDOM has been a dialogue of the latter kind.
It was not conceived as a step towards Church unity negotiations.
Rather it has been a search for such common ground as might be
discovered between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics as they each
try to be more faithful in their obedience to mission. It was
also undertaken quite consciously in the knowledge that there
are still both disagreements and misrepresentations between Evangelicals
ad Roman Catholics which harm our witness to the gospel, contradict
our Lord's prayer for the unity of his followers, and need if
possible to be overcome.
During the three meetings friendships were
formed, and mutual respect and understanding grew, as the participants
learned to listen to one another and to grapple with difficult
and divisive questions, as well as rejoicing in the discovery
of some common understandings.
It was a demanding experience as well as a rewarding one. It was
marked by a will to speak the truth, plainly, without equivocation,
and in love. Neither compromise nor the quest for lowest common
denominators had a place; a patient search for truth and a respect
for each other's integrity did.
This Report is in no sense an "agreed
statement" but rather a faithful record of the ideas shared.
It is not exhaustive, for more questions were touched on than
could be described in this brief compass. Yet enough has been
included to give a substantial idea of how the dialogue developed
and to communicate something of it without creating misunderstandings
or false expectations.
An effort has been made to convey what went
on at all three meetings, bearing in mind that in none was a complete
expose given of most issues. ERCDOM was only a first step, even
if not a negligible one.
Our Report, as far as it goes, gives a description
of some areas in which Evangelicals and Roman Catholics hold similar
or common views, which we are able to perceive more clearly as
we overcome the stereotypes and prejudiced ideas which we have
of each other. In addition, it sets out some of the serious matters
on which Evangelicals and Roman Catholics differ, but about which
in the last seven years the participants in ERCDOM have begun
to learn to speak and listen to each other.
Although all those who participated in the
three meetings contributed richly, the responsibility for the
final form of the Report rests with those who were at Landévennec.
Publication is under taken on the general endorsement of the 1984
participants, although it is not the kind of document to which
each was asked to subscribe formally. Nevertheless it is their
express hope that it may be a means of stimulating local encounters
in dialogue between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Our Report
is far from being definitive; the dialogue needs to be continued
The participants in ERCDOM offer this Report
to other Evangelicals and Roman Catholics as a sign of their conviction
that fidelity to Jesus Christ today requires that we take his
will for his followers with a new seriousness. He prayed for the
truth, holiness, mission and unity of his people. We believe that
these dimensions of the Church's renewal belong together. It is
with this understanding that we echo his prayer for ourselves
and each other:
them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into
the world, so I have sent them into the world... I pray... that
they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in
thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe..."
and "evangelization" are used indiscriminately in
this Report. The former is commoner among Evangelicals, the
latter among Roman Catholics, but both words describe the
same activity of spreading the gospel.
Given the diversity
of the Evangelical constituency as well as the differences
of understanding between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics
the use of the word "Church" in this paper inevitably
carries some ambiguity. Further conversations would be required
before it would be possible to arrive at greater clarity and
common terms of ecclesiological discourse.
Decree on Ecumenism
(Unitatis redintegratio), 6 in The Documents of
Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott (London: Geoffrey Chapman,
on Divine Revelation (Dei verbum) 23, 24.
Covenant: An Exposition and Commentary by John Stott (World
Wide Publications, 1975), Lausanne Occasional Paper no. 3.
in the Modern World (Evangelii nuntiandi), Pope Paul
VI (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1975).
Covenant, par. 4.