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 in 1984.
1) The Participants
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.
2) The Background
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 "Lausanne Covenant."6
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
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 proclaimed."9
3) The Experience
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
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.
4) The Report
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
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 and developed.
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:
"Sanctify 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..." (John 17:17-21).
1. REVELATION AND AUTHORITY
It may well be asked why participants in a dialogue on mission
should spend time debating theological questions concerned with
divine revelation, the Scriptures, the formulation of truth, principles
of biblical interpretation, and the church's magisterium
or teaching authority. For these topics may not appear to be directly
related to our Christian mission in the world. Yet we judged a
discussion of them to be indispensable to our task, for two main
reasons. The first and historical reason is that the issue of
authority in general and of the relation between Scripture and
tradition in particular, was one of the really major points at
issue in the 16th century. Indeed, the evangelical
emphasis on sola Scriptura has always been known as the
"formal" principle of the Reformation. So Roman Catholics and
Evangelicals will not come to closer understanding or agreement
on any topic if they cannot do so on this tonic.
Indeed, in every branch of the Christian Church the old question
"by what authority?" (Mark 11:28) remains fundamental to ecumenical
discussion. Our second reason for including this subject on our
agenda was that it has a greater relevance to mission than may
at first appear. For there can be no mission without a message,
no message without a definition of it, and no definition without
agreement as to how, or on what basis, it shall be defined.
2) Revelation, the Bible and the Formulation of Truth
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are entirely agreed on the
necessity of revelation, if human beings are ever to know God.
For he is infinite in his perfections, while we are both finite
creatures and fallen sinners. His thoughts and ways are as much
higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth (Is
55:9). He is beyond us, utterly unknowable unless he should choose
to make himself known, and utterly unreachable unless he should
put himself within our reach. And this is what together we believe
he has done. He has revealed the glory of his power in the created
universe10 and the glory of his grace in his Son Jesus
Christ, and in the Scriptures which he said bear witness to him
(e.g. John 5:39).
This process of special revelation began in the Old Testament
era. "God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets" (Heb l:1).
He fashioned Israel to be his people and taught them by his law
and prophets. Old Testament Scripture records this history and
this teaching. Then the Father sent his Son, who claimed to be
the fulfilment of prophecy, himself proclaimed the good news of
salvation, chose the twelve apostles to be his special witnesses,
and promised them the inspiration of his Spirit. After Pentecost
they went everywhere preaching the gospel. Through their word
Christian communities came into being, nourished by the Old Testament
and the gospel. The apostles' teaching was embodied in hymns,
confessions of faith and particularly their letters. In due time
the Church came to recognize their writings as possessing unique
authority and as handing down the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ.
In this way the canon of the New Testament was constituted, which
with the Old Testament comprise the Christian Scriptures.
We all recognize that in the Scriptures God has used human words
as the vehicle of his communication. The Spirit's work of inspiration
is such, however, that what the human authors wrote is what God
intended should be revealed, and thus that Scripture is without
error. Because it is God's Word, its divine authority and unite
must be recognized, and because he spoke through human beings,
its original human context must also be taken into account in
the work of interpretation.
But are human words adequate to describe God fully, even if
they are inspired? No. The infinite reality of the living God
is a mystery which cannot be fully communicated in words or fully
comprehended by human minds. No verbal formulation can be co-extensive
with the truth as it is in him. Nevertheless, God has condescended
to use words as well as deeds as appropriate media of his self-disclosure,
and we must struggle to understand them. We do so in the confidence,
however, that though they do not reveal God fully, they do reveal
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals differ slightly, in their understandings
of the nature of Scripture, and even more on what the proper process
of interpreting this Word should be. Both groups recognize that
God spoke through the human authors, whose words belonged to particular
Roman Catholics speak of this relationship between the divine
and the human in Scripture as being analogous to the divine and
the human in Christ. As the Second Vatican Council put it, " indeed
the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every
way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father,
when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like
man11." Thus the written testimony of the biblical
authors is inscribed within the logic of the Incarnation.
Evangelicals also sometimes use this analogy, but they are not
altogether comfortable with it. Although it has some validity,
they do not believe it is exact, since there is no hypostatic
union between the human and the divine in Scripture. They usually
emphasize instead the model of God's providence, namely that he
is able even through fallen human beings to accomplish his perfect
will. So he has spoken through the human authors of the Bible
in such a way that neither did he suppress their personality nor
did they distort his revelation.
Thus together we affirm that the written Word of God is the
work of both God and human beings. The divine and the human elements
form a unity which cannot be torn asunder. It excludes all confusion
and all separation between them.
With respect to the process of interpretation, Roman Catholics
affirm that Scripture must be seen as having been produced by
and within the Church. It is mediated to us by the inspired witness
of the first Christians. The proper process of interpretation
is determined by the process of Scripture's creation. We cannot
understand it in its truth unless we receive it in the living
faith of the Church which, assisted by the Holy Spirit keeps us
in obedience to the Word of God.
Evangelicals acknowledge the wisdom of listening to the Church
and its teachers, past and present, as they seek to understand
God's Word, but they insist that each believer must be free to
exercise his or her personal responsibility before God, in hearing
and obeying his Word. While the Church's interpretations are often
helpful, they are not finally necessary because Scripture, under
the Spirit's illumination, is self-interpreting and perspicuous
Thus, contemporaneity has come to mean different things in our
two communities. Each recognizes that the Word of God must be
heard for and in our world today. For Roman Catholics God's Word
is contemporary in the sense that it is heard and interpreted
within the living Church. For Evangelicals it is contemporary
in the sense that its truth has to be applied, by the illumination
of the Holy Spirit, to the modern world.
Despite these differences we are agreed that since the biblical
texts have been inspired by God, they remain the ultimate, permanent
and normative reference of the revelation of God. To them the
Church must continually return, in order to discern more clearly
what they mean, and so receive fresh insight, challenge and reformation.
They themselves do not need to be reformed, although they do need
constantly to be interpreted, especially in circumstances in which
the Church encounters new problems or different cultures. Roman
Catholics hold that "the task of giving an authentic interpretation
of the Word of God whether in its written form or in the form
of Tradition has been entrusted to the living, teaching office
of the Church alone."12 This seems to Evangelicals
to derogate from Scripture as "the ultimate, permanent and normative
reference." Nevertheless, both sides strongly affirm the divine
inspiration of Scripture.
2) Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Our understanding of the nature of the Bible determines our
interpretation of it. Because it is the Word of God, we shall
approach it in one way; and because it is also the words of men,
a) Humble dependence on the Holy Spirit
Because the Bible is the Word of God, we must approach it with
reverence and humility. We cannot understand God's revelation
by ourselves, because it is "spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14).
Only he who spoke through the prophets and apostles can interpret
to us his own message. Only the Spirit of truth can open our hearts
to, understand, to believe and to obey. This is "wisdom," and
the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of wisdom and of revelation" in
our knowledge of God (Eph 1:17). Moreover, the Spirit operates
within the Body of Christ, as we shall elaborate later.
b) The unity of Scripture
Because the Bible is the Word of God, it has a fundamental unity.
This is a unity of origin, since he who has revealed himself does
not contradict himself. It is also a unite of message and aim.
For our Lord said the Scriptures "bear witness to me" (John 5:39;
cf. Luke 24:25-27). Similarly, we read that "the sacred
writings... are able to instruct you for salvation through faith
in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15). Thus God's purpose through Scripture
is to bear testimony to Christ as Savior, to persuade all men
and women to come to him for salvation, to lead them into maturity
in Christ, and to send them into the world with the same good
In the midst of great diversity of content, therefore, Scripture
has a single meaning, which permeates and illuminates all the
partial meanings. We renounce every attempt to impose on Scripture
an artificial unity, or even to insist on a single overarching
concept. Instead, we discover in Scripture a God-given unity,
which focuses on the Christ who died and rose again for us and
who offers to all his people his own new life, which is the same
in every age and culture. This centrality of Christ in the Scriptures
is a fundamental hermeneutical key.
c) Biblical criticism
Since the Bible is God's Word through human words, therefore
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is the only one who
leads us into the understanding of Scripture, we must use scientific
critical tools for its elucidation, and we appreciate the positive
gains of modern biblical scholarship. Human criticism and the
Spirit of God are not mutually exclusive. By "criticism" we do
not mean that we stand in judgment upon God's Word, but rather
that we must investigate the historical, cultural and literary
background of the biblical books.
We must also try to be aware of the presuppositions we bring
to our study of the text. For none of us lives in a religion--or
culture-free vacuum. What we must seek to ensure is that our presuppositions
are Christian rather than secular. Some of the presuppositions
of secular philosophy which have vitiated the critical study of
the Bible are (a) evolutionary (that religion developed
from below instead of being revealed from above), (b) anti-supernatural
(that miracles cannot happen and that therefore the biblical miracles
are legendary), and (c) demythologizing (that the thought
world in which the biblical message was given is entirely incompatible
with the modern age and must be discarded). Sociological presuppositions
are equally dangerous, as when we read into Scripture the particular
economic system we favor whether capitalist or communist, or any
One test by which our critical methodology may be assessed is
whether or not it enables people to hear the biblical message
as good news of God revealing and giving himself in the historic
death and resurrection of Christ.
d) The "literal" sense
The first task of all critical study is to help us discover
the original intention of the authors. What is the literary genre
in which they wrote? What did they intend to say? What did they
intend us to understand? For this is the "literal" sense of Scripture,
and the search for it is one of the most ancient principles which
the Church affirmed. We must never divorce a text from its biblical
or cultural context, but rather think ourselves back into the
situation in which the word was first spoken and heard.
e) A contemporary message
To concentrate entirely on the ancient text, however, would
lead us into an unpractical antiquarianism. We have to go beyond
the original meaning to the contemporary message. Indeed, there
is an urgent need for the Church to apply the teaching of Scripture
creatively to the complex questions of today. Yet in seeking for
relevance, we must not renounce faithfulness. The ancient and
the modern, the original and the contemporary, always belong together.
A text still means what its writer meant.
In this dialectic between the old and the new, we often become
conscious of a clash of cultures, which calls for great spiritual
sensitivity. On the one hand, we must be aware of the ancient
cultural terms in which God spoke his word, so that we may discern
between his eternal truth and its transient setting. On the other,
we must be aware of the modern cultures and world views which
condition us, some of whose values can make us blind and deaf
to what God wants to say to us.
3) The Church's Teaching Authority
It is one thing to have a set of principles for biblical interpretation;
it is another to know how to use them. How are these principles
to be applied, and who is responsible for applying them?
a) The individual and the community
Evangelicals, who since the Reformation have emphasized both
"the priesthood of all believers" and "the right of private judgment,"
insist on the duty and value of personal Bible study. The Second
Vatican Council also urged that "easy access to sacred Scripture
should be provided for all the Christian faithful."13
Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, however, recognize the
dangers which arise from making Scripture available to all Christian
people and from exhorting them to read it. How can they be protected
from false interpretations? What safeguards can be found? Whether
we are Evangelicals or Roman Catholics, our initial answer to
these questions is the same: the major check to individualistic
exegesis is the Holy Spirit who dwells and works in the Body of
Christ, which is the Church. The Scriptures must be interpreted
within the Christian community. It is only "with all the saints"
that we can comprehend the full dimensions of God's love (Eph
Roman Catholics also say that Scripture is interpreted by the
Church. Yet the Church's task, paradoxically speaking, is at one
and the same time to submit totally to the witness of Scripture
in order to listen to God's Word, and to interpret it with authority.
The act of authority in interpreting God's Word is an act of obedience
But how in practice does the Christian community help us towards
truth and restrain us from error? We are agreed that Christ has
always intended his Church to have gifted and authorized teachers,
both scholars and pastors. When Philip asked the Ethiopian whether
he understood the Old Testament passage he was reading, he replied,
"how-can I, unless some one guides me?" (Acts 8:31).
Many of our teachers belong to the past. Both Evangelicals and
Roman Catholics have inherited a rich legacy of tradition. We
cherish creeds, confessions and conciliar statements. We peruse
the writings of the Fathers of the Church. We read books and commentaries.
Christ also gives his Church teachers in the present (Eph 4:11),
and it is the duty of Christian people to listen to them respectfully.
The regular context for this is public worship in which the Word
of God is read and expounded. In addition, we attend Church Synods
and Councils, and national, regional and international conferences
at which, after prayer and debate, our Christian understanding
Respectful listening and mutual discussion are healthy; they
are quite different from uncritical acquiescence. Both Evangelicals
and Roman Catholics are troubled by the authoritarian influence
which is being exerted by some strong, charismatic leaders and
teachers of different backgrounds. The kind of thoughtless submission
which is sometimes given to such was firmly discouraged by the
apostles. The people of Beroea were commended because they examined
the Scriptures to see whether Paul's preaching was true (Acts
17:11). Paul urged the Thessalonians to "test everything," and
John to "test the spirits," i.e. teachers claiming inspiration
(1 Thess 5:21; 1 John 4:1). Moreover, the criterion by which the
apostles exhorted the people to evaluate all teachers was the
deposit of faith, the truths which they had heard "from the beginning"
(1 John 2:24; 2 John 9).
b) The regulation of Christian belief
We all agree that the fact of revelation brings with it the
need for interpretation. We also agree that in the interpretative
task both the believing community and the individual believer
must have a share. Our emphasis on these varies, however, for
the Evangelical fears lest God's Word be lost in church traditions,
while the Roman Catholic fears it will be lost in a multiplicity
of idiosyncratic interpretations.
This is why Roman Catholics emphasize the necessary role of
the magisterium, although Evangelicals believe that in
fact it has not delivered the Roman Catholic Church from a diversity
of viewpoints, while admittedly helping to discern between them.
Evangelicals admit that in their case too some congregations,
denominations and institutions have a kind of magisterium.
For they elevate their particular creed or confession to this
level, since they use it as their official interpretation of Scripture
and for the exercise of discipline.
Both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals cherish certain creeds
and confessions which summarize their beliefs. They also agree
that new formulations of faith may be written and affirmed for
our times. Other doctrinal statements may be either revised, or
replaced by better statements, if this seems to be required by
a clearer proclamation of the good news. All of us accept our
responsibility to listen ever more attentively to what the Spirit
through the Word is saying to the churches, so that we may grow
in the knowledge of God, in the obedience of faith and in a more
faithful and relevant witness.
What, then, Evangelicals have asked, is the status (and the
authority for Roman Catholics) of the various kinds of statement
made by those in a ministry of official teaching? In reply, Roman
Catholics say that the function of the magisterium is to
regulate the formulations of the faith, so that they remain true
to the teaching of Scripture. They also draw a distinction. On
the one hand, there are certain privileged formulations
-- e.g. a formal definition in council by the College of Bishops,
of which the Pope is the presiding member, or a similar definition
by the Pope himself, in special circumstances and subject to particular
conditions, to express the faith of the Church. It is conceded
that such definitions do not necessarily succeed in conveying
all aspects of the truth they seek to express, and while what
they express remains valid the way it is expressed may not have
the same relevance for all times and situations." Nevertheless,
for Roman Catholics they do give a certainty to faith. Such formulations
are very few, but very important. On the other hand, statements
made by those who have a special teaching role in the Roman Catholic
Church have different levels of authority (e.g. papal encyclicals
and other pronouncements, decisions of provincial synods or councils,
etc.). These require to be treated with respect, but do not call
for assent in the same way as the first category.
We all believe that God will protect his Church, for he has
promised to do so and has given us both his Scriptures and his
Spirit; our disagreement is on the means and the degree of his
Roman Catholics believe that it is the authoritative teaching
of the Church which has the responsibility for oversight in the
interpretation of Scripture, allowing a wide freedom of understanding,
but excluding some interpretations as inadmissible because erroneous.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, believe that God uses the Christian
community as a whole to guard its members from error and evil.
Roman Catholics also believe in this sensus fidelium. For
in the New Testament Church members are urged: "let the word of
Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another" (Col
3:16). They are also exhorted to "see to it" that their brothers
and sisters stand firm in truth and righteousness.14
4) Can the Church be Reformed?
a) The need f or reform
So far in this first section of our Report we have concentrated
on the Church's responsibility to teach. Can it also learn? Can
the Church which gives instruction receive it? More particularly,
can Scripture exercise a reforming role in the Church? Is the
Church itself under the Scripture it expounds?
These are questions which the Roman Catholic Church put to itself
anew during the Second Vatican Council, and has continued to ask
itself since (see the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism, 6).
Evangelicals, however, to whom continuous reformation by the
Word of God has always been a fundamental concern, wonder whether
the reform to which the Roman Catholic Church consented at Vatican
II was radical enough. Has it been more than an aggiornamento
of ecclesiastical institutions and liturgical forms? Has it touched
the Church's theological life or central structures? Has there
been an inner repentance?
At the same time, Roman Catholic have always asked whether Evangelicals,
in the discontinuity of the 16th century Reformation,
have not lost something essential to the gospel and the Church.
Yet we all agree that the Church needs to be reformed, and that
its reformation comes from God. The one truth is in God himself.
He is the reformer by the power of his Spirit according to the
Scriptures. In order to discern what he may be saying, Christian
individuals and communities need each other. Individual believers
must keep their eyes on the wider community of faith, and churches
must be listening to the Spirit, who may bring them correction
or insight through an individual believer.
b) Our response to God's Word
We agree on the objectivity of the truth which God has revealed.
Yet it has to be subjectively received, indeed "apprehended,"
if through it God is to do his reforming work. How then should
our response to revelation be described?
We all acknowledge the difficulties we experience in receiving
God's Word. For as it comes to us, it finds each of us in our
own social context and culture. True, it creates a new community,
but this community also has its cultural characteristics derived
both from the wider society in which it lives and from its own
history which has shaped its understanding of God's revelation.
So we have to be on the alert, lest our response to the Word of
God is distorted by our cultural conditioning.
One response will be intellectual. For God's revelation is a
rational revelation, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.
So the Christian community is always concerned to understand and
to formulate the faith, so that it may preserve truth and rebut
Response to God's truth can never be purely cognitive, however.
Truth in the New Testament is to be "done" as well as "known,"
and so to find its place in the life and experience of individuals
and churches. Paul called this full response "the obedience of
faith" (Rom 1:5; 16:26). It is a commitment of the whole person.
Understanding, faith and obedience will in their turn lead to
proclamation. For revelation by its very nature demands communication.
The believing and obeying community must be a witnessing community.
And as it faithfully proclaims what it understands, it will increasingly
understand what it proclaims.
Thus reform is a continuous process, a work of the Spirit of
God through the agency of the Word of God.
2. THE NATURE OF MISSION
The very existence of the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue
on Mission testifies to our common commitment to mission. One
of the factors which led to its inauguration was the publication
of the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and of Evangelii nuntiandi,
Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelization in the Modern
World" (1975). These two documents supplied some evidence of a
growing convergence in our understanding of mission. Not that
Evangelicals or Roman Catholics regard either of these statements
as exhaustive, but they consider them valuable summaries and teaching
1) The Basis of Mission
In response to the common criticism that we have no right to
evangelize among all peoples, we together affirm the universality
of God's purposes. God's creation of the world and of all humankind
means that all should be subject to his lordship (Ps 24:1-2; Eph
3:8-11). The call of Abraham and of Israel had the wider purpose
that all nations might see God's glory in his people and come
to worship him. In the New Testament Jesus sends his disciples
out in proclamatory witness, leading to the apostolic mission
to all nations. In his Epistle to the Romans Paul teaches that,
since all without distinction have sinned, so all without distinction
are offered salvation, Gentiles as well as Jews (3:22f; 10:12).
We are agreed that mission arises from the self-giving life
and love of the triune God himself and from his eternal purpose
for the whole creation. Its goal is the God-centered Kingdom of
the Father, exhibited through the building of the body of Christ,
and cultivated in the fellowship of the Spirit. Because of Christ's
first coming and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Christian
mission has an eschatological dimension: it invites men and women
to enter the Kingdom of God through Christ the Son by the Work
and regeneration of the Spirit.
We all agree that the arrival of the messianic Kingdom through
Jesus Christ necessitates the announcement of the good news, the
summons to repentance and faith, and the gathering together of
the people of God. Sometimes Jesus clearly used "the Kingdom of
God" and "salvation" as synonyms.15 For to announce
the arrival of the Kingdom of God is to proclaim its realization
in the coming of Jesus Christ. And the Church witnesses to the
Kingdom when it manifests the salvation it has received.
At the same time, long-standing tensions exist between Roman
Catholics and Evangelicals. While both sides affirm that the pilgrim
Church is missionary by its very nature, its missionary activity
is differently understood.
Vatican II defines the Church for Roman Catholics as "the sacrament
of salvation," the sign and promise of redemption to each and
every person without exception. For them, therefore, "mission"
includes not only evangelization but also the service of human
need, and the building up and expression of fellowship in the
Church. It is the mission of the Church to anticipate the Kingdom
of God as liberation from the slavery of sin, from slavery to
the Law and from death; by the preaching of the gospel, by the
forgiveness of sins and by sharing in the Lord's Supper.16
But the Spirit of God is always at work throughout human history
to bring about the liberating reign of God.
Evangelization is the proclamation (by word and example) of
the good news to the nations. The good news is that God's actions
in Jesus Christ are the climax of a divine revelation and relationship
that has been available to everyone from the beginning. Roman
Catholics assert that the whole of humanity is in a collective
history which God makes to be a history of salvation. The mysterion
of the gospel is the announcement by the Church to the world of
this merging of the history of salvation with the history of the
Evangelicals generally, on the other hand, do not regard the
history of salvation as coterminous with the history of the world,
although some are struggling with this question. The Church is
the beginning and anticipation of the new creation, the firstborn
among his creatures. Though all in Adam die, not all are automatically
in Christ. So life in Christ has to be received by grace with
repentance though faith. With yearning Evangelicals plead for
a response to the atoning work of Christ in his death and resurrection.
But with sorrow they know that not all who are called are chosen.
Judgment (both here and hereafter) is the divine reaction of God
to sin and to the rejection of the good news. "Rich young rulers"
still walk away from the kingdom of grace. Evangelization is therefore
the call to those outside to come as children of the Father into
the fulness of eternal life in Christ by the Spirit, and into
the joy of a loving community in the fellowship of the Church.
2) Authority and Initiative in Mission
Primary Christian obedience, we agree, is due to the Lord Jesus
Christ and is expressed in both our individual and our common
life under his authority. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals recognize
that the tension between ecclesiastical authority and personal
initiative, as also between the institutional and the charismatic,
has appeared throughout biblical and Church history.
While for Roman Catholics hierarchical structures of teaching
and pastoral authority are essential, the Servant Church, as described
by the Second Vatican Council is called to express herself more
fully in the exercise of apostolic collegiality and subsidiarity
(the principle that ecclesial decisions are made at the lowest
level of responsibility).
Evangelicals have traditionally emphasized the personal right
of every believer to enjoy direct access to God and the Scriptures.
There is also among them a growing realization of the importance
of the Church as the Body of Christ, which tempers personal initiative
through the restraint and direction of the fellowship.
This issue of authority has a bearing on mission. Are missionaries
sent, or do they volunteer, or is it a case of both? What is the
status of religious orders, mission boards or missionary societies,
and para-church organizations? How do they relate to the churches
or other ecclesial bodies? How can a preoccupation with jurisdiction
(especially geographical) be reconciled with the needs of subcultures,
especially in urban areas, which are often overlooked?
Although our traditions differ in the way we respond to these
questions, we all wish to find answers which take account both
of Church structures and of the liberty of the Spirit outside
3) Evangelization and Socio-political Responsibility
The controversy over the relationship between evangelization
and socio-political responsibility is not confined to Roman Catholics
and Evangelicals; it causes debate between and among all Christians.
We are agreed that "mission" relates to every area of human
need, both spiritual and social. Social responsibility is an integral
part of evangelization; and the struggle for justice can be a
manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus both preached and healed,
and sent his disciples out to do likewise. His predilection for
those without power and without voice continues God's concern
in the Old Testament for the widow, the orphan, the poor and the
In particular we agree:
a) that serving the spiritual, social and material needs of our
fellow human beings together constitutes love of neighbor and
b) that an authentic proclamation of the good news must lead
to a call for repentance, and that authentic repentance is a turning
away from social as well as individual sins;
c) that since each Christian community is involved in the reality
of the world, it should lovingly identify with the struggle for
justice as a suffering community;
d) that in this struggle against evil in society, the Christian
must be careful to use means which reflect the spirit of the gospel.
The Church's responsibility in a situation of injustice will include
repentance for any complicity in it, as well as intercessory prayer,
practical service, and prophetic teaching which sets forth the
standards of God and his Kingdom.
We recognize that some Roman Catholics and some Evangelicals
find it difficult to subscribe to any inseparable unity between
evangelization and the kind of socio-political involvement which
is described above. There is also some tension concerning the
allocation of responsibility for social service and action. Roman
Catholics accept the legitimacy of involvement by the Church as
a whole, as well as by groups and individuals. Among Evangelicals,
however, there are differences between the Lutheran, Reformed
and Anabaptist traditional understandings of Church and society.
All would agree that Christian individuals and groups have social
responsibilities; the division concerns what responsibility is
assigned to the Church as a whole.
4) God's Work Outside the Christian Community
We have written about the Church and the Kingdom. We are agreed
that the concept of the Church implies a limitation, for we talk
about "church members" which infers that there are "non-members."
But how widely should we understand the Kingdom of God? We all
agree that God works within the Christian community, for there
he rules and dwells. But does he also work outside, and if so
This is a question of major missiological importance. All of
us are concerned to avoid an interpretation of the universal saving
will of God, which makes salvation automatic without the free
response of the person.
At least four common convictions have emerged from our discussions.
They concern the great doctrines of creation, revelation, salvation
1. Creation. God has created all humankind, and by right
of creation all humankind belongs to God. God also loves the whole
human family and gives to them all "life and breath and everything"
2. Revelation. There are elements of truth in all religions.
These truths are the fruit of a revelatory gift of God. Evangelicals
often identify their source in terms of general revelation, common
grace or the remnant image of God in humankind. Roman Catholics
more frequently associate them with the work of the Logos, the
true light, coming into the world and giving light to every man
(John 1:9), and with the work of his Holy Spirit.
3. Salvation. There is only one Savior and only one gospel.
There is no other name but Christ's, through whom anyone may be
saved (Acts 4:12). So all who receive salvation are saved by the
free initiative of God through the grace of Christ.
4. Judgment. While the biblical concept of judgment refers
to both reward and punishment, it is clear that those who remain
in sin by resisting God's free grace (whether they are inside
or outside the visible boundaries of the Church) provoke his judgment,
which leads to eternal separation from him.
The Church itself also stands under the judgment of God whenever
it refuses or neglects to proclaim the gospel of salvation to
those who have not heard Christ's name.
The sphere for missionary activity is described differently
within each tradition. Roman Catholics would expect God's mercy
to be exercised effectively in benevolent action of his grace
for the majority of humankind, unless they specifically reject
his offer. Such a position gives them cause for confidence. Evangelicals
consider that this view has no explicit biblical justification,
and that it would tend to diminish the evangelistic zeal of the
Church. Evangelicals are therefore less optimistic about the salvation
of those who have no personal relationship to God through Jesus
We all affirm that the missionary enterprise is a participation
in the mission of Jesus and the mission of his Church. The urgency
to reach all those not yet claimed by his Lordship impels our
Whether or not salvation is possible outside the Christian community,
what is the motivation for mission work? We agree that the following
strong incentives urgently impel Christians to the task of mission:
a) to further the glory of God; the earth should be a mirror
to reflect his glory;
b) to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ; all men and women
are called to submit to his authority;
c) to proclaim that Christ has struggled with Satan and dethroned
him; in baptism and conversion we renounce Satan's rule and turn
to Christ and righteousness;
d) to proclaim that man does not live by bread alone; the gospel
of salvation is the perfect gift of God's loving grace;
e) to hasten the return of the Lord -- the eschatological dimension.
We look for the day of the Lord when the natural order will be
completely redeemed, the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge
of the Lord, and people front every nation, people, tribe and
tongue will praise the triune God in perfection.
3. THE GOSPEL OF SALVATION
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals share a deep concern for the
content of the good news we proclaim. We are anxious on the one
hand to be faithful to the living core of the Christian faith,
and on the other to communicate it in contemporary terms. How
then shall we define the gospel?
1) Human Need
Diagnosis must always precede prescription. So, although human
need is not strictly part of the good news, it is an essential
background to it. If the gospel is good news of salvation, this
is because human beings are sinners who need to be saved.
In our description of the human condition, however, we emphasize
the importance of beginning positively. We affirm that all men
and women are made by God, for God and in the image of God, and
that sin has defaced but not destroyed this purpose and this image
(Gen 9:6; Jas 3:9). Therefore, as the creation of God, human beings
have an intrinsic worth and dignity. Also, because of the light
which lightens everybody, we all have within us an innate desire
for God which nothing else can satisfy. As Christians, we must
respect every human being who is seeking God, even when the search
is expressed in ignorance (Acts 17:23).
Nevertheless original sin has intervened. We have noted Thomas
Aquinas' description of original sin, namely "the loss of original
justice" (i.e. a right relationship with God) and such "concupiscence"
as constitutes a fundamental disorder in human nature and relationships;
so that all our desires are inclined towards the making of decisions
displeasing to God.
Evangelicals insist that original sin has distorted every part
of human nature, so that it is permeated by self-centeredness.
Consequently, the Apostle Paul describes all people as "enslaved,"
"blind," "dead" and "under God's wrath," and therefore totally
unable to save themselves.17
Roman Catholics also speak of original sin as an injury and
disorder which has weakened though not destroyed-human free will.
Human beings have "lifted themselves up against God and sought
to attain their goal apart from him."18 As a result
this has upset the relationship linking man to God and "has broken
the right order that should reign within himself as well as between
himself and other men and all creatures."19 Hence human
beings find themselves drawn to what is wrong and o f themselves
unable to overcome the assaults of evil successfully, "so that
everyone feels as though bound by chains."20
Clearly there is some divergence between Roman Catholics and
Evangelicals in the way ave understand human sin and need, as
well as in the language ave use to express them. Roman Catholics
think Evangelicals overstress the corruption of human beings by
affirming their "total depravity" (i.e. that every part of our
humanness has been perverted by the Fall), while Evangelicals
think Roman Catholics underestimate it and are therefore unwisely
optimistic about the capacity, ability and desire of human beings
to respond to the grace of God. Yet we agree that all are sinners,
and that all stand in need of a radical salvation which includes
deliverance from the power of evil, together with reconciliation
to God and adoption into his family.
2) The Person of Jesus Christ
The radical salvation which human beings need has been achieved
by Jesus Christ. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are agreed about
the centrality of Christ and of what God has done through him
for salvation. "The Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the
world" (1 John 4:14). But who was this Savior Jesus?
Jesus of Nazareth was a man, who went about doing good, teaching
with authority, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and making friends
with sinners to whom he offered pardon. He made himself known
to his apostles, whom he had chosen and with whom he lived, as
the Messiah (Christ) promised by the Scriptures. He claimed a
unique filial relation to God whom in prayer he called his Father
("Abba"). He thus knew himself to be the Son of God, and exhibited
the power and authority of God over nature, human beings and demonic
powers. He also spoke of himself as the Son of man. He fulfilled
the perfect obedience of the Servant in going even to death on
the cross. Then God raised him from the dead, confirming that
he was from the beginning the Son he claimed to be (Ps 2:7). Thus
he was both "descended from David according to the flesh" and
"designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness
by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:3-4). This is why his
apostles confessed him as Lord and Christ, Son of God, Savior
of humankind, sent by the Father, agent through whom God created
all things, in whom ave have been chosen from before the foundation
of the world (Eph 1:4), the Word made flesh.
The Incarnation of the Son was an objective event in history,
in which the divine Word took upon himself our human nature. Within
a single person were joined full divinity and full humanity. Although
this understanding of him was not precisely formulated until the
theological debates of the early centuries, ave all agree that
the Chalcedonian Definition faithfully expresses the truths to
which the New Testament bears witness.
The purposes of the Incarnation were to reveal the Father to
us, since otherwise our knowledge of God would have been deficient;
to assume our nature in order to die for our sins and so accomplish
our salvation, since he could redeem only what he had assumed;
to establish a living communion between God and human beings,
since only the Son of God made human could communicate to human
beings the life of God; to apply the basis of the imitatio,
since it is the incarnate Jesus ave are to follow; to reaffirm
the value and dignity of humanness, since God was not ashamed
to take on himself our humanity; to provide in Jesus the first
fruits of the new humanity, since he is the "firstborn among many
brethren" (Rom 8:29), and to effect the redemption of the cosmos
in the end.
So then, in fidelity to the gospel and in accordance with the
Scriptures, ave together confess the person of Jesus Christ as
the eternal Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary and became
truly man, in order to be the Savior of the world.
In our missionary task ave have not only to confess Christ ourselves,
but also to interpret him to others. As ave do so, ave have to
consider, for example, how to reconcile for Jews and Moslems the
monotheism of the Bible with the divine sonship of Jesus, how
to present to Hindus and Buddhist the transcendent personalty
of God, and how to proclaim to adherents of traditional religion
and of the new religious consciousness the supreme Lordship of
Christ. Our Christology must always be both faithful to Scripture
and sensitive to each particular context of evangelization.
3) The Work of Jesus Christ
It was this historic person, Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and
fully human, through whom the Father acted for the redemption
and reconciliation of the world. Indeed, only a person who was
both God and man could have been the mediator between God and
human beings. Because he was human he could represent us and identify
with us in our weakness. Because he was God he could bear our
sin and destroy the power of evil.
This work of redemption was accomplished supremely through the
death of Jesus Christ although ave acknowledge the unity of his
incarnate life, atoning death and bodily resurrection. For his
death completed the service of his life (Mark 10:45) and his resurrection
confirmed the achievement of his death (Rom 4:25).
Christ was without sin, and therefore had no need to die. He
died for our sins, and in this sense "in our place." We are agreed
about this basic truth and about other aspects of the Atonement.
But in our discussion two different emphases have emerged, which
we have summarized by the words "substitution" and "solidarity,"
although these concepts are not altogether exclusive.
Evangelicals lay much stress on the truth that Christ's death
was "substitutionary." In his death he did something which he
did not do during his life. He actually "became sin" for us (2
Cor 5:21) and "became a curse" for us (Gal 3-13). Thus God himself
in Christ propitiated his own wrath, in order to avert it from
us. In consequence, having taken our sin, he gives us his righteousness.
We stand accepted by God in Christ, not because Christ offered
the Father our obedience, but because he bore our sin and replaced
it with his righteousness.
Roman Catholics express Christ's death more in terms of "solidarity."
In their understanding Jesus Christ in his death made a perfect
offering of love and obedience to his Father, which recapitulated
his whole life. In consequence, we can enter into the sacrifice
of Christ and offer ourselves to the Father in and with him. For
he became one with us in order that we might become one with him.
Thus the word "gospel" has come to have different meanings in
our two communities. For Evangelicals, it is the message of deliverance
from sin, death and condemnation, and the promise of pardon, renewal
and indwelling by Christ's Spirit. These blessings flow from Christ's
substitutionary death. They are given by God solely through his
grace, without respect to our merit, and are received solely through
faith. When we are accepted by Christ, we are part of his people,
since all his people are "in" him.
For Roman Catholics the gospel centers in the person, message
and gracious activity of Christ. His life, death and resurrection
are the foundation of the Church, and the Church carries the living
gospel to the world. The Church is a real sacrament of the gospel.
So the difference between us concerns the relationship between
the gospel and the Church. In the one case, the gospel reconciles
us to God through Christ and thus makes us a part of his people;
in the other, the gospel is found within the life of his people,
and thus we find reconciliation with God.
Although pastoral, missionary and cultural factors may lead
us to stress one or other model of Christ's saving work, the full
biblical range of words (e.g. victory, redemption, propitiation,
justification, reconciliation) must be preserved, and none may
The Resurrection, we agree, lies at the heart of the gospel
and has many meanings. It takes the Incarnation to its glorious
consummation, for it is the human Christ Jesus who reigns glorified
at the Father's right hand, where he represents us and prays for
us. The Resurrection was also the Father's vindication of Jesus,
reversing the verdict of those who condemned and crucified him,
visibly demonstrating his sonship, and giving us the assurance
that his atoning sacrifice had been accepted. It is the resurrected
and exalted Lord who sent his Spirit to his Church and who, claiming
universal authority, now sends us into the world as his witnesses.
The Resurrection was also the beginning of God's new creation,
and is his pledge both of our resurrection and of the final regeneration
of the universe.
4) The Uniqueness and Universality o f Jesus Christ
In a world of increasing religious pluralism we affirm together
the absolute uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He was unique in his
person, in his death and in his resurrection. Since in no other
person has God become human, died for the sins of the world and
risen from death, we declare that he is the only way to God (John
14:6), the only Savior (Acts 4-12) and the only Mediator (1 Tim
2:5). None else has his qualifications.
The uniqueness of Jesus Christ implies his universality. The
one and only is meant for all. We therefore proclaim him both
"the Savior of the world" (John 4:12) and "Lord of all" (Acts
We have not been able to agree, however, about the implications
of his universal salvation and lordship. Together we believe that
"God... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge
of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4), that the offer of salvation in Christ
is extended to everybody, that the Church has an irreplaceable
responsibility to announce the good news of salvation to all peoples,
that all who hear the gospel have an obligation to respond to
it, and that those who respond to it are incorporated into God's
new, worldwide, multiracial, multicultural community, which is
the Father's family, the Body of Christ and the temple of the
Holy Spirit. These aspects of the universality of Christ we gladly
Roman Catholics go further, however, and consider that, if human
sin is universal, all the more is Christ's salvation universal.
If everyone born into the world stands in solidarity with the
disobedience of the first Adam, still the human situation as such
has been changed by the definitive event of salvation, that is,
the Incarnation of the Word, his death, his resurrection and his
gift of the Spirit. All are now part of the humanity whose new
head has overcome sin and death. For all there is a new possibility
of salvation which colors their entire situation, so that it is
possible to say "Every person, without exception, has been redeemed
by Christ, and with each person, without any exception, Christ
is in some way united, even when that person is not aware of that."21
To become beneficiaries of the obedience of the Second Adam, men
and women must turn to God and be born anew with Christ into the
fulness of his life. The mission of the Church is to be the instrument
to awaken this response by proclaiming the gospel, itself the
gift of salvation for everyone who receives it, and to communicate
the truth and grace of Christ to all.22
Evangelicals, on the other hand, understand the universality
of Christ differently. He is universally present as God (since
God is omnipresent) and as potential Savior (since he offers salvation
to all), but not as actual Savior (since not all accept his offer).
Evangelicals wish to preserve the distinction, which they believe
to be apostolic, between those who are in Christ and those who
are not (who consequently are in sin and under judgment), and
so between the old and new communities. They insist on the reality
of the transfer from one community to the other, which can be
realized only through the new birth: "if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).
The relationship between the life, death and resurrection of
Jesus and the whole human race naturally leads Roman Catholics
to ask whether there exists a possibility of salvation for those
who belong to non-Christian religions and even for atheists. Vatican
II was clear on this point: "Those also can attain to everlasting
salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel
of Christ or his Church." On the one hand, there are those who
"sincerely seek God and, moved by his grace, strive by their deeds
to do his will." On the other, there are those who "have not yet
arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live
a good life, thanks to his grace."23 Both groups are
prepared by God's grace to receive his salvation either when they
hear the gospel or even if they do not. They can be saved by Christ,
in a mysterious relation to his Church.
Evangelicals insist, however, that according to the New Testament
those outside Christ are "perishing," and that they can receive
salvation only in and through Christ. They are therefore deeply
exercised about the eternal destiny of those who have never heard
of Christ. Most Evangelicals believe that, because they reject
the light they have received, they condemn themselves to hell.
Many are more reluctant to pronounce on their destiny, have no
wish to limit the sovereignty of God, and prefer to leave this
issue to him. Others 90 further in expressing their openness to
the possibility that God may save some who have not heard of Christ,
but immediately add that, if he does so, it will not be because
of their religion, sincerity or actions (there is no possibility
of salvation by good works), but only because of his own grace
freely given on the ground of the atoning death of Christ. All
Evangelicals recognize the urgent need to proclaim the gospel
of salvation to all humankind. Like Paul in his message to the
Gentile audience at Athens, they declare that God "commands all
men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which
he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has
appointed" (Acts 17:30-31).
5) The Meaning of Salvation
In the Old Testament salvation meant rescue, healing and restoration
for those already related to God within the covenant. In the New
Testament it is directed to those who have not yet entered into
the new covenant in Jesus Christ.
Salvation has to be understood in terms of both salvation history
(the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ) and salvation experience
(a personal appropriation of what God has done through Christ).
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals together strongly emphasize the
objectivity of God's work through Christ, but Evangelicals tend
to lay more emphasis than Roman Catholics on the necessity of
a personal response to, and experience of, God's saving grace.
To describe this, again the full New Testament vocabulary is needed
(for example, the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God,
adoption into his family, redemption, the new birth -- all of
which are gifts brought to us by the Holy Spirit), although Evangelicals
still give paramount importance to justification by grace through
We agree that what is offered us through the death and resurrection
of Christ is essentially "deliverance," viewed both negatively
and positively Negatively, it is a rescue from the power of Satan,
sin and death, from guilt, alienation (estrangement from God),
moral corruption, self-centeredness, existential despair and fear
of the future, including death. Positively, it is a deliverance
into the freedom of Christ. This freedom brings human fulfilment.
It is essentially becoming "sons in the Son" and therefore brothers
to each other. The unity of the disciples of Jesus is a sign both
that the Father sent the Son and that the Kingdom has arrived.
Further, the new community expresses itself in eucharistic worship,
in serving the needy (especially the poor and disenfranchised),
in open fellowship with people of every age, race and culture,
and in conscious continuity with the historic Christ through fidelity
to the teaching of his apostles. Is salvation broader than this?
Does it include socio-political liberation?
Roman Catholics draw attention to the three dimensions of evangelization
which Evangelii nuntiandi links. They are the anthropological,
in which humanity is seen always within a concrete situation;
the theological, in which the unified plan of God is seen
within both creation and redemption; and the evangelical,
in which the exercise of charity (refusing to ignore human misery)
is seen in the light of the story of the Good Samaritan.
We all agree that the essential meaning of Christ's salvation
is the restoration of the broken relationship between sinful humanity
and a saving God; it cannot therefore be seen as a temporal or
material project, making evangelism unnecessary.
This restoration of humanity is a true "liberation" from enslaving
forces; yet this work has taken on an expanded and particular
meaning in Latin America. Certainly God's plan of which Scripture
speaks includes his reconciliation of human beings to himself
and to one another.
The socio-political consequences of God's saving action through
Christ have been manifest throughout history. They still are.
Specific problems (e.g. slavery, urbanization, church-state relations,
and popular religiosity have to be seen both in their particular
context and in relation to God's overall plan as revealed in Scripture
and experienced in the believing community through the action
of the Spirit.
Appendix: The Role of Mary in Salvation
Roman Catholics would rather consider the question of Mary in
the context of the Church than of salvation. They think of her
as a sinless woman, since she was both overshadowed by the Spirit
at the Incarnation (Luke 1:35) and baptized with the Spirit on
the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14 f. and 2:1-4). She thus represents
all Christians who have been made alive by the Spirit, and Roman
Catholics speak of her as the "figure" or "model" of the Church.
The reason why we have retained this section on Mary within
the chapter on "The Gospel of Salvation" (albeit as an Appendix)
is that it is in the context of salvation that Evangelicals have
the greatest difficulty with Marian teaching and that we discussed
her role at ERCDOM II.
The place of Mary in the scheme of salvation has always been
a sensitive issue between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. We
have tried to face it with integrity.
a) The interpretation of Scripture
It raises in an acute form the prior question how we use and
interpret the Bible. We are agreed that biblical exegesis begins
with a search for the "literal" sense of a text, which is what
its author meant. We further agree that some texts also have a
"spiritual" meaning, which is founded on the literal but goes
beyond it because it was intended by the Divine-though not necessarily
the human-author (e.g. Is 7:14). This is often called the sensus
plenior. The difference between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals
lies in the degree to which the spiritual sense may be separated
from the literal. Both sides agree that, whenever Scripture is
not explicit, there is need for some check on the extravagances
of interpreters. We are also agreed that this check is supplied
by the context, both the immediate context and the whole of Scripture,
which is a unity. Roman Catholics, however, say that Scripture
must be read in the light of the living, developing tradition
of the church, and that the Church has authority to indicate what
the true meaning of Scripture is. Thus, in relation to Mary, Roman
Catholics concede that devotion to Mary was a post-apostolic practice,
but add that it was a legitimate development, whereas Evangelicals
believe it has been unwarrantably imported into the Roman Catholic
interpretation of Scripture.
b) Mary and Salvation
In one of our ERCDOM II sessions, entitled "The Place of the
Virgin Mary in Salvation and Mission," an Evangelical response
was made to Pope Paul VI's 1974 Apostolic Exhortation Marialis
cultus ("To Honor Mary"). Evangelical members of the dialogue
asked for an explanation of two expressions in it which, at least
on the surface, appeared to them to ascribe to Mary an active
and participatory role in the work of salvation.
The first (1.5) describes the Christmas season as a prolonged
commemoration of Mary's "divine, virginal and salvific Motherhood."
In what sense, Evangelicals asked, could Mary's motherhood be
called "salvific"? The Roman Catholics replied that the explanation
of the term was to be found in the text itself, namely that she
"brought the Savior into the world" by her obedient response to
The second passage (1.15) refers to "the singular place" that
belongs to Mary in Christian worship, not only as "the holy Mother
of God" but as "the worthy Associate of the Redeemer." In what
sense, Evangelicals asked, could Mary properly be described as
the Redeemer's "worthy Associate"? It did not mean, the Roman
Catholics responded, that she was personally without need of redemption,
for on the contrary she was herself saved through her Son's death.
In her case, however, "salvation" did not signify the forgiveness
of sins, but that, because of her predestination to be the "Mother
of God," she was preserved from original sin ("immaculate conception")
and so from sinning. Positively, she could be described as the
Redeemer's "associate" because of her unique link with him as
his mother. The word should not give offence, for we too are "associates
of the Redeemer" both as recipients of his redemption and as agents
through whose prayers, example, sacrifice, service, witness and
suffering his redemption is proclaimed to others.
The Evangelicals made a double response to these explanations.
First, they still found the language ambiguous, and considered
this ambiguity particularly unfortunate in the central area of
salvation. Secondly, they felt the whole Roman Catholic emphasis
on Mary's role in salvation exaggerated, for when the apostles
John and Paul unfold the mystery of the Incarnation, it is to
honor Christ the Son not Mary the mother. At the same time, they
readily agreed that in Luke's infancy narrative Mary is given
the unique privilege of being the Savior's mother, and on that
account is addressed as both "highly favored" and "blessed among
women" (1:28-42). If Evangelicals are to be true to their stance
on sola Scriptura, they must therefore overcome any inhibitions
they may have and faithfully expound such texts.
Our discussion also focused on the use of the term "co-operation."
For example, it is stated in Lumen Gentium chapter VIII
that Mary is rightly seen as "co-operating in the work of human
salvation through free faith and obedience" (II, 56), and again
that "the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but
rather gives rise... to a manifold co-operation which is but a
sharing in this unique source" (III, 62). The Evangelicals agreed
that the notion of co-operation with God is biblical (e.g. "workers
together with him" (2 Cor 6:1), but pointed out that this
refers to a divine-human partnership in which our share lies in
the proclaiming, and not in any sense in the procuring,
of salvation. The Roman Catholics agreed. The "co-operation" between
Christ and us, they said, does not mean that we can add anything
to Christ or his work, since he is complete in himself, and his
work has been achieved. It means rather that we share in the benefits
of what he has done (not in the doing of it) and that (by his
gift alone, as in the case of Mary) we offer ourselves to him
in gratitude, to spend our lives in his service, and to be used
by him as instruments of his grace (cf. Gal 1). The Evangelicals
were relieved, but still felt that the use of the word "co-operation"
in this sense was inappropriate.
Another word we considered was "mediatrix," the feminine form
of "mediator." The Evangelicals reacted with understandable vehemence
against its application to Mary, as did also some Roman Catholics.
She must not be designated thus, they insisted, since the work
of mediation belongs to Christ alone. In reply, the Roman Catholics
were reassuring. Although the word (or rather its Greek equivalent)
was used of Mary from the 5th century onwards, and although some
bishops were pressing at Vatican II for its inclusion in the text,
the Council deliberately avoided it. It occurs only once, and
then only in a list of Mary's traditional titles. Moreover, in
the same section of Lumen gentium (III, 60-62) Christ is
twice called "the one Mediator" in accordance with 1 Tim 2:5-6,
and his "unique mediation" is also referred to twice, which (it
is added) Mary's maternal ministry . "in no way obscures or diminishes."
The Final Document of the Puebla Conference of the Evangelization
of Latin America (1979), which contains a long section entitled
"Mary, Mother and Model of the Church" (paras. 282-303), was cited
by Evangelical participants. Paragraph 293 declares that Mary
"now lives immersed in the mystery of the Trinity, praising the
glory of God and interceding for human beings." Evangelicals find
this a disturbing expression, and not all Roman Catholics are
happy with it, finding it too ambiguous (if indeed "immersed"
is an accurate translation of the Spanish original immersa:
there has been some controversy about this). Roman Catholics explain
that the notion of Mary's "immersion" in the Trinity means that
she is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son, and
the temple of the Holy Spirit (all three expressions being used
in paragraph 53 of Lumen gentium). But they strongly insist
that, of course, she cannot be on a level with the three Persons
of the Trinity, let alone a fourth Person. In addition, they point
out that Roman Catholics' understanding of the role of Mary should
be determined by the whole of chapter VIII of Lumen gentium,
and other official statements of Roman Catholic belief, rather
than by popular expressions of Marian piety.
The fears of Evangelicals were to some extent allayed by these
Roman Catholic explanations and assurances. Yet a certain Evangelical
uneasiness remained. First, the traditional Catholic emphasis
on Mary's role in salvation (e.g. as the "New Eve," the life-giving
mother) still seemed to them incompatible with the much more modest
place accorded to her in the New Testament. Secondly, the vocabulary
used in relation to Mary seemed to them certainly ambiguous and
probably misleading. Is it not vitally important, they asked,
especially in the central doctrine of salvation through Christ
alone, to avoid expressions which require elaborate explanation
(however much hallowed by long tradition) and to confine ourselves
to language which in plainly and unequivocally Christ-centered?
At the same time Roman Catholics are troubled by what seems
to them a notable neglect by Evangelicals of the place given by
God to Mary in salvation history and in the life of the Church.
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
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.
5. THE CHURCH AND THE GOSPEL
Evangelicals, because of their emphasis on the value of the
individual, have traditionally neglect. ed the doctrine of the
Church. The topic was not neglected in our dialogue, however.
We found ourselves united in certain convictions about the Church,
and in our commitment to it. We were able to agree on a four-fold
relationship between the Church and the gospel.
1) The Church is a Part of the Gospel
The redemptive purpose of God has been from the beginning to
call out a people for himself. When he called Abraham, he promised
to bless all nations through his posterity, and has kept his promise.
For all those who are united to Christ, Gentiles as well as Jews,
are Abraham's spiritual children and share in the promised blessing.26
This wonderful new thing, namely the abolition of the dividing
wall between Jews and Gentiles and the creation of a single new
humanity, was at the heart of Paul's gospel (Eph 2:14, 15). He
called it "the mystery of Christ" which, having been made known
to him, he must make known to others (Eph 3:3-9).
Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are conscious of past
failure in their understanding of the Church. Roman Catholics
used to concentrate on the Church as a hierarchical institution,
but now (since Vatican II) see it in new perspective by stressing
the important biblical images such as that of the People of God.
Evangelicals have sometimes preached an excessively individualistic
gospel, "Christ died for me." This is true (Gal 2:20), but it
is far from the whole truth, which is that Christ gave himself
for us "to purify for himself a people..." (Tit 2:14).
Thus both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals agree that the Church
as the Body of Christ is part of the gospel. That is to say, the
good news includes God's purpose to create for himself through
Christ a new, redeemed, united and international people of his
2) The Church is a Fruit of the Gospel
The first clear proclamation of the good news in the power of
the Holy Spirit resulted in the gathered community of God's people
-- the Church (Acts 2:39-42). This was to become the pattern for
subsequent apostolic and missionary endeavors with the gospel.
The condition for membership of the community is repentance (chiefly
from the sin of unbelief and rejection of Christ), and faith in
the Lord Jesus Christ, witnessed to in submission to baptism in
his name (Acts 2:38). The benefits of membership include the personal
enjoyment of the forgiveness of sins, and participation in the
new life of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor 12:13).
From the beginning, the community of God's people was marked
by a devotion to the apostolic teaching, to fellowship (a sharing
which extended to practical loving care), to the breaking of bread
(the Lord's Supper), and to the prayers or public worship (Acts
2:42). To this believing, worshiping, caring and witnessing
community, "the Lord added to their number day by day those
who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).
Evangelicals on the whole have tended to emphasize personal
salvation almost to the point of losing sight of the central place
of the Church. The multiplication of evangelistic organizations
and agencies which are not church based has contributed to this
distortion. There is however a growing desire to correct it. For
wherever the gospel goes, it bears fruit in the spread and growth
of the Church.
3) The Church is an Embodiment of the Gospel
The very life of the Church as God's new community becomes itself
a witness to the Gospel. "The life of the community only acquires
its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration
and conversion and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation
of the Good News."27 Thus the Church is the sign of
the power and the presence of Jesus, the light of Christ shining
out visibly to bring all men to that light.28
As a fellowship of communities throughout the world the Church
is to be "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit" (Cyprian). This was why Jesus had come into
the world and why the living communion of believers between themselves
and the Lord of life, and between each other, is to be the proclamation
that will move people's hearts to belief (John 13:34-35; 17:23).
In every place the believing community speaks to the world by
an authentically Christian life given over to God in a communion
that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's
neighbor with limitless zeal (cf. 1 Pet 2:12).
It is also the community of peace which makes Jew and Gentile
one, in which by the power of the broken body of Christ the enmity
which stood like a dividing wall between them has been broken
down and a single new humanity brought into being (Eph 2:15-16).
The Church cannot with integrity preach the gospel of reconciliation
unless it is evidently a reconciled community itself.
It is a community that makes present the obedient Lord who underwent
death for us. It is founded upon him (Eph 2:20), he is its Lord
(Eph 1:22), and its power to speak of him comes from the manner
in which it reproduces in all its members and in its common life
his obedience to the saving plan of God.
This unity, holiness, love and obedience are the alternative
sign that Christ is not an anonymous or remote Lord. They are
the mark of the community given over to God, and they speak about
the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
4) The Church is an Agent of the Gospel
That the Church must be an agent of the gospel overflows from
its infernal life. The Church which receives the Word must also
sound it forth (1 Thes 1:5-8). The Church which embodies its message
visually must also declare it verbally.
First, the Church continues and prolongs the very same mission
Secondly, the Church received Christ's command to be his witnesses
in the power of the Spirit to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Thirdly, the Church proclaims the message with the authority
of the Lord himself, who gave her the power of the Spirit. As
to the qualified subjects of this authority, there are divergences
between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. For Evangelicals the
agent of the proclamation is the whole community of believers,
who are equipped for this task by those appointed to the pastoral
ministry (Eph 4:11-12). For Roman Catholics also the evangelistic
task belongs to the whole people of God, but they believe bishops
have a special role and responsibility both to order the life
of the community for this task and, as successors to the ministry
of apostolic times, to preach the good news of the Kingdom.
To sum up, the Church and the gospel belong indissolubly together.
We cannot think of either apart from the other. For God's purpose
to create a new community through Christ is itself an important
element in the good news. The Church is also both the fruit and
the agent of the gospel, since it is through the gospel that the
Church spreads and through the Church that the gospel spreads.
Above all, unless the Church embodies the gospel, giving it visible
flesh and blood, the gospel lacks credibility and the Church lacks
effectiveness in witness.
More and more Christians are recognizing this Jack of a fully
credible, effective witness because of divisions among themselves.
They believe that Christ has called all his disciples in every
age to be witnesses to him and his gospel to the ends of the earth
(cf. Acts 1:8). Yet those who profess such discipleship
differ about the meaning of the one gospel and go their different
ways as if Christ himself were divided (cf. 1 Cor 1:13).
To be sure, Christian separations and divisions have often been
due to conscientiously held convictions, and Christian unity must
not be sought at the expense of Christian truth. Nevertheless,
the divisions and their causes contradict the will of Jesus Christ,
who desires his people to be united in truth and love. They also
hinder the proclamation of his good news of reconciliation. Therefore
the gospel calls the Church to be renewed in truth, holiness and
unity, in order that it may be effectively renewed for mission
6. THE GOSPEL AND CULTURE
The influence of culture on evangelism, conversion and church
formation is increasingly recognized as a topic of major missiological
importance. The Willowbank Report Gospel and Culture (1978)
defines culture as "an integrated system of beliefs (about God
or reality or ultimate meaning), of values (about what is true,
good, beautiful and normative), of customs (how to behave, relate
to others, talk, pray, dress, work, play, trade, farm, eat, etc.),
and of institutions which express these beliefs, values and customs
(government, law courts, temples or churches, family, schools,
hospitals, factories, shops, unions, clubs, etc.), which binds
a society together and gives it a sense of identity, dignity,
security and continuity."30 Viewed thus, culture pervades
the whole of human life, and it is essential for Christians to
know how to evaluate it.
It is acknowledged that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics start
from a different background. Evangelicals tend to stress the discontinuity,
and Roman Catholics the continuity, between man unredeemed and
man redeemed. At the same time, both emphases are qualified. Discontinuity
is qualified by the Evangelical recognition of the image of God
in humankind and continuity by the Roman Catholic recognition
that human beings and societies are contaminated by sin. The Lausanne
Covenant summarized this tension as follows: "Because man is God's
creature, some of his culture is rich in beauty and goodness.
Because he is fallen, all of it is tainted with sin and some of
it is demonic."31
We have particularly concentrated on the place of culture in
four areas, -- in the Bible, in cross-cultural evangelism, in
conversion and in church formation.
1) Culture and the Bible
We have already affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God through
the words of human beings. Realizing that human language and human
thought forms reflect human cultures, we saw the need to explore
two major questions: a) what was the attitude of the biblical
authors to their cultures? b) how should we ourselves react
to the cultural conditioning of Scripture?
In answer to the first question, we considered the New Testament.
Its message comes to us from the context of the first century
world, with its own images and vocabulary, and is thus set in
the context of that world's culture. The culture has become the
vehicle of the message.
Yet within that first century culture there were elements which
the Christian and the Church were required to resist, out of loyalty
to the Lord Jesus. Distinctions between the new community and
the surrounding culture were clearly drawn. At the same time,
the Christian and the Church enjoyed a new freedom in Christ which
enabled them to discern those elements in the culture which must
be rejected as hostile to their faith and those which were compatible
with it and could on that account be affirmed. Blindness, which
leads Christians to tolerate the evil and/or overlook the good
in their culture, is a permanent temptation.
Our other question was concerned with how we ourselves should
react to the cultural conditioning of Scripture. It breaks down
into two subsidiary questions which express the options before
us. First, are the biblical formulations (which we have already
affirmed to be normative) so intrinsically conditioned by their
mode of specific cultural expression that they cannot be changed
to suit different cultural settings? Put another way, has biblical
inspiration (which Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. both acknowledge)
made the cultural forms themselves normative? The alternative
is to ask whether it is the revealed teaching which is normative,
so that this may be re-expressed in other cultural forms. We believe
the latter to be the case, and that such re-expression or translation
is a responsibility laid both on cross-cultural missionaries and
on local Christian leaders.32
2) Culture and Evangelism
Christian missionaries find themselves in a challenging cross-cultural
indeed tri-cultural, situation. They come from a particular culture
themselves, they travel to people nurtured in another, and they
take with them a biblical gospel which was originally formulated
in a third. How will this interplay of cultures affect their evangelism?
And how can they be simultaneously faithful to Scripture and relevant
to the local culture?
In the history of mission in this century a progress is discernible.
The successive approaches may be summarized as follows:
a) In the first period the missionary brought along with
the gospel message many of the cultural trappings of his or her
own situation. Then culture, instead of being (as in the New Testament)
a vehicle for the proclamation of the gospel, became a barrier
to it. Accidentals of teaching and practice were taught as if
they were essentials, and a culture-Christianity was preached,
as if it were the gospel.
b) In the second period the gospel message was translated
into terms (language and thought forms, artistic symbols and music)
appropriate to those to whom it was brought, and the cultural
trappings began to be left behind. Now local cultures, instead
of being neglected, were respected and where possible used for
the better communication of the gospel. In a word, the gospel
began to be "contextualized."
c) In the third period, in which we are living, missionaries
bring both the biblical gospel and an experience of life in Christ.
They also endeavor to take seriously the people to whom they have
come, with their world view and way of life, so that they may
find their own authentic way of experiencing and expressing the
salvation of Christ. This kind of evangelism tries to be both
faithful to the biblical revelation and relevant to the people's
culture. In fact it aims at bringing Scripture, context and experience
into a working relationship effective for presenting the Gospel.
3) Culture and Conversion
We are clear that conversion includes repentance, and that repentance
is a turning away from the old life. But what are the aspects
of the old life from which a convent must turn away? Conversion
cannot be just turning away from "sin" as this is viewed in any
one particular culture. For different cultures have different
understandings of sin, and we have to recognize this aspect of
pluralism. So missionaries and church leaders in each place need
great wisdom, both at the time of a person's conversion and during
his or her maturing as a Christian, to distinguish between the
moral and the cultural, between what is clearly approved or condemned
by the gospel on the one hand and by custom or convention on the
other. The repentance of conversion should be a turning away only
from what the gospel condemns.
4) Culture and Church Formation
In the development of the Christian community in each place,
as in the other areas we have mentioned, missionaries must avoid
all cultural imperialism; that is, the imposition on the Church
of alien cultural forms. Just as the gospel has to be inculturated,
so must the Church be inculturated also.
We all agree that the aim of "indigenization" or "inculturation"
is to make local Christians congenial members of the body of Christ.
They must not imagine that to become Christian is to become western
and so to repudiate their own cultural and national inheritance.
The same principle applies in the west, where too often to become
Christian has also meant to become middle class.
There are a number of spheres in which each Church should be
allowed to develop its own identity. The first is the question
of certain forms of organization, especially as they relate to
Church leadership. Although Roman Catholics and Evangelicals take
a different approach to authority and its exercise, we are agreed
that in every Christian community (especially a new one) authority
must be exercised in a spirit of service. "I am among you as one
who serves," Jesus said (Luke 22:27). Yet the expression given
to leadership can vary according to different cultures.
The second sphere is that of artistic creativity -- for example
church architecture, painting, symbols, music and drama. Local
churches will want to express their Christian identity in artistic
forms which reflect their local culture.
A third area is theology. Every church should encourage theological
reflection on the aspirations of its culture, and seek to develop
a theology which gives expression to these. Yet only in such a
way as to apply, not compromise, the biblical revelation.
Two problems confront a church which is seeking to "inculturate"
itself, namely provincialism and syncretism. "Provincialism" asserts
the local culture of a particular church to the extent that it
cuts itself adrift from, and even repudiates, other churches.
We are agreed that new expressions of local church life must in
no way break fellowship with the wider Christian community.
Syncretism is the attempt to fuse the biblical gospel with elements
of local culture which, being erroneous or evil, are incompatible
with it. But the gospel's true relation to culture is discriminating,
judging some elements and welcoming others. The criteria it applies
to different elements or forms include the questions whether they
are under the judgment of Christ's lordship, and whether they
manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
It has to be admitted that every expression of Christian truth
is inadequate and may be distorted. Hence the need for mutually
respectful dialogue about the relative merits of old and new forms,
in the light of both the biblical revelation and the experience
of the wider community of faith.
The Second Vatican Council addressed itself to these important
matters. It recognized that in every culture there are some elements
which may need to be "purged of evil association" and to be restored
"to Christ their source, who overthrows the ride of the devil
and limits the manifold malice of evil." In this way "the good
found in people's minds and hearts, or in particular customs and
cultures, in purified, raised to a higher level and reaches its
Hence it is not a question of adapting things which come from
the world usurped by Satan, but of re-possessing them for Christ.
To take them over as they are could be syncretism. "Repossession
," on the other hand, entails four steps: a) the selection
of certain elements from one's culture; b) the rejection
of other elements which are incompatible with the essence of the
biblical faith; c) the purification from the elements selected
and adopted of everything unworthy; d) the integration of these
into the faith and life of the Church.
The age to come has broken into this present age in such a way
as to touch our lives with both grace and judgment. It cuts through
every culture. Vatican II referred to this discontinuity, and
also emphasized the need for "the spiritual qualities and endowments
of every age and nation" to be fortified, completed and restored
For Jesus Christ is lord of all, and our supreme desire vis-à-vis
each culture is to "take every thought captive to obey Christ"
(2 Cor 10:5).
7. THE POSSIBILITIES OF COMMON WITNESS
We turn in our last chapter from theological exploration to
practical action. We have indicated where we agree and disagree.
We now consider what we can do and cannot do together. Since our
discussion on this topic was incomplete, what follows awaits further
1) Our Unity and Disunity
We have tried to face with honesty and candor the issues which
divide us as Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. We have neither
ignored, nor discounted, nor even minimized them. For they are
real, and in some cases serious.
At the same time, we know and have experienced that the walls
of our separation do not reach to heaven. There is much that unites
us, and much in each other's different manifestations of Christian
faith and life which we have come to appreciate. Our concern throughout
our dialogue has not been with the structural unity of churches,
but rather with the possibilities of common witness. So when we
write of "unity," it is this that we have in mind.
To begin with, we acknowledge in ourselves and in each other
a firm belief in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This faith
is for us more than a conviction; it is a commitment. We have
come to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:18).
We also recognize that the gospel is God's good news about his
Son Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1-3), about his godhead and manhood, his
life and teaching, his acts and promises, his death and resurrection,
and about the salvation he has once accomplished and now offers.
Moreover, Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Lord, for he is the
object of our personal trust, devotion and expectation. Indeed,
faith, hope and love are his gifts to us, bestowed on us freely
without any merit of our own.
In addition, God's Word and Spirit nourish this new life within
us. We see in one another "the fruit of the Spirit," which is
"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22, 23). No wonder Paul continues
in this text with an exhortation that there be among us "no self-conceit,
no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v. 26).
There is therefore between us an initial if incomplete unity.
Nevertheless, divisions continue, even in some doctrines of importance,
as we have made clear in earlier chapters of our report. Our faith
has developed in us strong convictions (as it should), some uniting
us, others dividing us. The very strength of our convictions has
not only drawn us together in mutual respect, but has also been
a source of painful tension. This has been the price of our encounter;
attempts to conceal or dilute our differences would not have been
authentic dialogue, but a travesty of it. So would have been any
attempt to magnify or distort our difference. We confess that
in the past members of both our constituencies have been guilty
of misrepresenting each other, on account of either laziness in
study, unwillingness to listen, superficial judgments or pure
prejudice. Whenever we have done this, we have borne false witness
against our neighbor.
This, then, is the situation. Deep truths already unite us in
Christ. Yet real and important convictions still divide us. In
the light of this, we ask: what can we do together?
2) Common Witness
"Witness" in the New Testament normally denotes the unique testimony
of the apostolic eyewitnesses who could speak of Jesus from what
they had seen and heard. It is also used more generally of all
Christians who commend Christ to others out of their personal
experience of him, and in response to his commission. We are using
the word here, however, in the even wider sense of any Christian
activity which points to Christ, a usage made familiar by the
two documents, jointly produced by the World Council of Churches
and the Roman Catholic Church, which are entitled Common Witness
and Proselytism (1970) and Common Witness (1980).
a) Common Witness in Bible Translation and Publishing
It is extremely important that Roman Catholics and Protestants
should have an agreed, common text in each vernacular. Divergent
texts breed mutual suspicion; a mutually acceptable text develops
confidence and facilitates joint Bible study. The United Bible
Societies have rendered valuable service in this area, and the
Common Bible (RSV) published in English in 1973, marked a step
forward in Roman Catholic-Protestant relationships.
The inclusion of the Old Testament Apocrypha (books written
in Greek during the last two centuries before Christ), which the
Roman Catholic Church includes as part of the Bible, has proved
a problem, and in some countries Evangelicals have for this reason
not felt free to use this version. The United Bible societies
and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity have published
some guidelines in this matter,35 which recommend that
the Apocrypha be printed "as a separate section before the New
Testament" and described as "deutero-canonical." Many Evangelicals
feel able to use a Common Bible in these circumstances, although
most would prefer the Apocrypha to be omitted altogether.
b) Common Witness in the Use of Media
Although we have put down the availability of a Common Bible
as a priority need, Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are united
in recognizing the importance of Christian literature in general,
and of Christian audiovisual aids. In particular, it is of great
value when the Common Bible is supplemented by Common Bible reading
aids. In some parts of the world Bible atlases and handbooks,
Bible dictionaries and commentaries, and explanatory notes for
daily Bible reading, are available in a form which betrays no
denominational or ecclesiastical bias. The same is true of some
Christian films and filmstrips. So Evangelicals and Roman Catholics
may profitably familiarize themselves with each other's materials,
with a view to using them whenever possible.
In addition, the opportunity is given to the churches in some
countries to use the national radio and television service for
Christian programs. We suggest, especially in countries where
Christians form a small minority of the total population, that
the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches and specialist
organizations cooperate rather than compete with one another in
the development of suitable programs.
c) Common Witness in Community Service
The availability of welfare varies greatly form country to country.
Some governments provide generous social services, although often
the spiritual dimension is missing, and then Christians can bring
faith, loving compassion and hope to an otherwise secular service.
In other countries the government's provision is inadequate or
unevenly distributed. In such a situation the churches have a
particular responsibility to discover' the biggest gaps and seek
to fill them. In many cases the government welcomes the Church's
In the name of Christ, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals can
serve human need together, providing emergency relief for the
victims of flood, famine and earthquake, and shelter for refugees;
promoting urban and rural development; feeding the hungry and
healing the sick; caring for the elderly and the dying; providing
a marriage guidance, enrichment and reconciliation service, a
pregnancy advisory service and support for single parent families;
arranging educational opportunities for the illiterate and job
creation schemes for the unemployed; and rescuing young people
from drug addiction and young women from prostitution. There seems
to be no justification for organizing separate Roman Catholic
and Evangelical projects of a purely humanitarian nature, and
every reason for undertaking them together. Although faith may
still in part divide us, love for neighbor should unite us.
d) Common Witness in Social Thought and Action.
There is a pressing need for fresh Christian thinking about
the urgent social issues which confront the contemporary world.
The Roman Catholic Church has done noteworthy work in this area,
not least through the social encyclicals of recent Popes. Evangelicals
are only now beginning to catch up after some decades of neglect.
It should be to our mutual advantage to engage in Christian social
debate together. A clear and united Christian witness is needed
in face of such challenges as the nuclear arms race, North-South
economic inequality, the environmental crisis, and the revolution
in sexual mores.
Whether a common mind will lead us to common action will depend
largely on how far the government of our countries is democratic
or autocratic, influenced by Christian values or imbued with an
ideology unfriendly to the gospel. Where a regime is oppressive,
and a Christian prophetic voice needs to be heard, it should be
a single voice which speaks for both Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Such a united witness could also provide some stimulus to the
quest for peace, justice and disarmament; testify to the sanctity
of sex, marriage and family life; agitate for the reform of permissive
abortion legislation; defend human rights and religious freedom,
denounce the use of torture, and campaign for prisoners of conscience;
promote Christian moral values in public life and in the education
of children; seek to eliminate racial and sexual discrimination;
contribute to the renewal of decayed inner cities; and oppose
dishonesty and corruption. There are many such areas in which
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals can both think together and take
action together. Our witness will be stronger if it is a common
e) Common Witness in Dialogue
The word "dialogue" means different things to different people.
Some Christians regard it as inherently compromising, since they
believe it expresses an unwillingness to affirm revealed truth,
let alone to proclaim it. But to us "dialogue" means a frank and
serious conversation between individuals or groups, in which each
is prepared to listen respectfully to the other, with a view to
increased understanding on the part of both. We see no element
of compromise in this. On the contrary, we believe it is essentially
Christian to meet one another face to face, rather than preserving
our isolation from one another and even indifference to one another,
and to listen to one another's own statements of position, rather
than relying on second-hand reports. In authentic dialogue we
struggle to listen carefully not only to what the other person
is saying, but to the strongly cherished concerns which lie behind
his or her words. In this process our caricatures of one another
We believe that the most fruitful kind of Evangelical-Roman
Catholic dialogue arises out of joint Bible Study. For, as this
report makes clear, both sides regard the Bible as God's Word,
and acknowledge the need to read, study, believe and obey it.
It is surely through the Word of God that, illumined by the Spirit
of God, we shall progress towards greater agreement.
We also think that there is need for Evangelical-Roman Catholic
dialogue on the great theological and ethical issues which are
being debated in all the churches, and that an exchange of visiting
scholars in seminaries could be particularly productive.
Honest and charitable dialogue is beneficial to those who take
part in it; it enriches our faith, deepens our understanding,
and fortifies and clarifies our convictions. It is also a witness
in itself, inasmuch as it testifies to the desire for reconciliation
and meanwhile expresses a love which encompasses even those who
Further, theological dialogue can sometimes lead to common affirmation,
especially in relation to the unbelieving world and to new theological
trends which owe more to contemporary culture than to revelation
or Christian tradition. Considered and united declarations by
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals could make a powerful contribution
to current theological discussion.
f) Common Witness in Worship
The word "worship" is used in a wide range of senses from the
spontaneous prayers of the "two or three" met in Christ's name
in a home to formal liturgical services in church.
We do not think that either Evangelicals or Roman Catholics
should hesitate to join in corn- mon prayer when they meet in
each other's homes. Indeed, if they have gathered for a Bible
study group, it would be most appropriate for them to pray together
for illumination before the study and after it for grace to obey.
Larger informal meetings should give no difficulty either. Indeed,
in many parts of the world Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are
already meeting for common praise and prayer, both in charismatic
celebrations and in gatherings which would not describe themselves
thus. Through such experiences they have been drawn into a deeper
experience of God and so into a closer fellowship with one another.
Occasional participation in each other's services in church is
also natural, especially for the sake of family solidarity and
It is when the possibility of common participation in the Holy
Communion or Eucharist is raised, that major problems of conscience
arise. Both sides of our dialogue would strongly discourage indiscriminate
approaches to common sacramental worship.
The Mass lies at the heart of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice,
and it has been emphasized even more in Catholic spirituality
since the Second Vatican Council. Anyone is free to attend Mass.
Other Christians may not receive Communion at it, however, except
when they request it in certain limited cases of "spiritual necessity"
specified by current Roman Catholic legislation. Roman Catholics
may on occasion attend a Protestant Communion Service as an act
of worship. But there is no ruling of the Roman Catholic Church
which would permit its members to receive Communion in a Protestant
Church service, even on ecumenical occasions. Nor would Roman
Catholics feel in conscience feel to do so.
Many Evangelical churches practice an "open" Communion policy,
in that they announce a welcome to everybody who "is trusting
in Jesus Christ for salvation and is in love and charity with
all people," whatever their church affiliation. They do not exclude
Roman Catholic believers. Most Evangelicals would feel conscientiously
unable to present themselves at a Roman Catholic Mass, however,
even assuming they were invited. This is because the doctrine
of the Mass was one of the chief points at issue during the 16th
century Reformation, and Evangelicals are not satisfied with the
Roman Catholic explanation of the relation between the sacrifice
of Christ on the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass. But this
question was not discussed at our meetings.
Since both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals believe that the
Lord's Supper was instituted by Jesus as a means of grace36
and agree that he commanded his disciples to "do this in remembrance"
of him, it is a grief to us that we are so deeply divided in an
area in which we should be united, and that we are therefore unable
to obey Christ's command together. Before this becomes possible,
some profound and sustained theological study of this topic will
be needed; we did not even begin it at ERCDOM.
g) Common Witness in Evangelism
Although there are some differences in our definitions of evangelism,
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are agreed that evangelism involves
proclaiming the gospel, and that therefore any common evangelism
necessarily presupposes a common commitment to the same gospel.
In earlier chapters of this report we have drawn attention to
certain doctrines in which our understanding is identical or very
similar. We desire to affirm these truths together. In other important
areas, however, substantial agreement continues to elude us, and
therefore common, witness in evangelism would seem to be premature,
although we are aware of situations in some parts of the world
in which Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have felt able to make
a common proclamation.
Evangelicals are particularly sensitive in this matter, which
is perhaps not surprising, since their very appellation "evangelical"
includes in itself the word "evangel" (gospel). Evangelicals claim
to be "gospel" people, and are usually ready, if asked, to give
a summary of their understanding of the gospel. This would have
at its heart what they often call "the finished work of Christ,"
namely that by bearing our sins on the cross Jesus Christ did
everything necessary for our salvation, and that we have only
to put our trust in him in order to be saved. Although many Evangelicals
will admit that their presentation of the gospel is often one-sided
or defective, yet they could not contemplate any evangelism in
which the good news of God's justification of sinners by his grace
in Christ through faith alone is not proclaimed.
Roman Catholics also have their problems of conscience. They
would not necessarily want to deny the validity of the message
which Evangelicals preach, but would say that important aspects
of the gospel are missing from it. In particular, they emphasize
the need both to live out the gospel in the sacramental life of
the church and to respect the teaching authority of the Church.
Indeed, they see evangelism as essentially a Church activity done
by the Church in relation to the Church.
So long as each side regards the other's view of the gospel
as defective, there exists a formidable obstacle to be overcome.
This causes us particular sorrow in our dialogue on mission, in
which we have come to appreciate one another and to discover unexpected
agreements. Yet we must respect one another's integrity. We commit
ourselves to further prayer, study and discussion in the hope
that a way forward may be found.
3) Unworthy Witness
We feel the need to allude to the practice of seeking to evangelize
people who are already church members, since this causes misunderstanding
and even resentment, especially when Evangelicals are seeking
to "convert" Roman Catholics. It arises from the phenomenon which
Evangelicals call "nominal Christianity," and which depends on
the rather sharp distinction they draw between the visible Church
(of professing or "nominal" Christians) and the invisible Church
(of committed or genuine Christians), that is, between those who
are Christian only in name and those who are Christian in reality.
Evangelicals see nominal Christians as needing to be won for Christ.
Roman Catholics also speak of "evangelizing" such people, although
they refer to them as "lapsed" or "inactive" rather than as "nominal,"
because they do not make a separation between the visible and
invisible Church. They are understandably offended whenever Evangelicals
appear to regard all Roman Catholics as ipso facto unbelievers,
and when they base their evangelism on a distorted view of Roman
Catholic teaching and practice. On the other hand, since Evangelicals
seek to evangelize the nominal members of their own churches,
as well as of others, they see this activity as an authentic concern
for the gospel, and not as a reprehensible kind of "sheep-stealing."
Roman Catholics do not accept this reasoning.
We recognize that conscientious conviction leads some people
to change from Catholic to Evangelical or Evangelical to Catholic
allegiance, and leads others to seek to persuade people to do
so. If this happens in conscience and without coercion, we would
not call it proselytism.
There are other forms of witness, however, which we would all
describe as "unworthy," and therefore as being "proselytism" rather
than "evangelism." We agree, in general, with the analysis of
this given in the study document entitled Common Witness and
Proselytism (1970), and in particular we emphasize three aspects
First, proselytism takes place when our motive is unworthy,
for example when our real concern in witness is not the glory
of God through the salvation of human beings but rather the prestige
of our own Christian community, or indeed our personal prestige.
Secondly, we are guilty of proselytism whenever our methods
are unworthy, especially when we resort to any kind of "physical
coercion, moral constraint or psychological pressure," when we
seek to induce conversion by the offer of material or political
benefits, or when we exploit other people's need, weakness or
lack of education. These practices are an affront both to the
freedom and dignity of human beings and to the Holy Spirit whose
witness is gentle and not coercive.
Thirdly, we are guilty of proselytism whenever our message
includes "unjust or uncharitable reference to the beliefs or practices
of other religious communities in the hope of winning adherents."
If we find it necessary to make comparisons, we should compare
the strengths and weaknesses of one church with those of the other,
and not set what is beat in the one against what is worst in the
other. To descend to deliberate is representation is incompatible
with truth and love.
We who have participated in ERCDOM III are agreed that every
possible opportunity for common witness should be taken, except
where conscience forbids. We cannot make decisions for one another,
however, because we recognize that the situation varies in different
groups and places. In any case, the sad fact of our divisions
on important questions of faith always puts a limit on the common
witness which is possible. At one end of the spectrum are those
who can contemplate no cooperation of any kind. At the other are
those who desire a very full cooperation. In between are many
who still find some forms of common witness conscientiously impossible,
while they find others to be the natural, positive expression
of common concern and conviction. In some Third World situations,
for example, the divisions which originated in Europe are felt
with less intensity, and mutual trust has grown through united
prayer and study of the Word of God. Although all Christians should
understand the historical origins and theological issues of the
Reformation, yet our continuing division is a stumbling block,
and the gospel calls us to repentance, renewal and reconciliation.
We believe that the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission
has now completed its task. At the same time we hope that dialogue
on mission between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals will continue,
preferably on a regional or local basis, in order that further
progress may be made towards a common understanding, sharing and
proclaiming of "the faith which was once for all delivered to
the saints" (Jude 3). We commit these past and future endeavors
to God, and pray that by "speaking the truth in love, we are to
grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph
(Venice) April 1977
Professor Peter Beyerhaus
Bishop Donald Cameron
Dr Orlando Costas
Mr Martin Goldsmith
Dr David Hubbard
Reverend Gottfried Osei-Mensah
Reverend Peter Savage
Reverend John Stott
Roman Catholic Participants
Sister Joan Chatfield
Father Pierre Duprey
Monsignor Basil Meeking
Father Dionisio Minguez Fernandez
Father John Paul Musinsky
Father Waly Neven
Father Robert Rweyemamu
Father Thomas Stransky
(Cambridge, England) March 1982
Dr Kwame Bediako
Professor Peter Beyerhaus
Bishop Donald Cameron
Mr Martin Goldsmith
Dr David Hubbard
Reverend Peter Savage
Reverend John Stott
Dr David Wells
Roman Catholic Participants
Sister Joan Chatfield
Father Parmananda Divarkar
Father Pierre Duprey
Father René Girault
Monsignor Basil Meeking
Monsignor Jorge Mejia
Father John Mutiso-Mbinda
Father John Redford
Monsignor Pietro Rossano
Father Thomas Stransky
(Landévennec, France) April 1984
Dr Kwame Bediako
Bishop Donald Cameron
Dr Harvie Conn
Mr Martin Goldsmith
Reverend John Stott
Dr David Wells
Roman Catholic Participants
Sister Joan Chatfield
Father Matthieu Collin
Sister Joan Delaney
Father Claude Geffré
Monsignor Basil Meeking
Father Philip Rosato
Bishop Anselme Sanon
Father Bernard Sesboué
Father Thomas Stransky
[Information Service 60 (1986/I-II) 71-102]
1 "Evangelism" 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.
2 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.
3 Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio), 6 in The
Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott (London: Geoffrey
4 Ibid., 4.
5 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei verbum)
6 The Lausanne Covenant: An Exposition and Commentary by John
Stott (World Wide Publications, 1975), Lausanne Occasional
Paper no. 3.
7 Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii nuntiandi),
Pope Paul VI (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1975).
8 Lausanne Covenant, par. 4.
9 Evangelii nuntiandi, 22.
10 E.g. Ps 19:1-6; Rom 1:19-20.
11 Dei verbum, 13.
12 Dei verbum, 10.
13 Dei verbum, 22.
14 E.g. 1 Thess 5:14-15; Heb 3:12-13; 12:15.
15 E.g. Mark 10:23-27; cf. Is 52:7.
16 In this Report we use "the Lord's Supper," "the Holy Communion"
and "the Eucharist" indiscriminately; no particular theology is
implied by these terms. "The Mass" is limited to Roman Catholic
contexts. Similarly, we use "sacrament" or "ordinance" in relation
to Baptism and Eucharist without doctrinal implications.
17 E.g. Eph 2:1-3; 4:17-19; 2 Cor 4:3-4.
18 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium
et spes) 13.
21 Encyclical: Redemptor hominis, Pope John Paul II (London:
Catholic Truth Society, 1979) 14.
22 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium),
23 Lumen gentium, 16.
24 Cf. Eph 3:10; 3:18; 4:13.
25 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium),
26 E.g. Rom 4; Gal 3.
27 Evangelii nuntiandi.
28 Lumen gentium, chap. I.
29 John 20:21-22; cf. Mt 28:16-20; Luke 24:46-49.
30 The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture
(Lausanne: Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1978),
Lausanne Occasional Paper no. 2, par. 2.
31 Lausanne Covenant par. 10.
32 Here Roman Catholics will want to make reference to the Encyclical
of Pope John Paul II, Slavorum apostoli, 2nd June 1985.
33 Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad gentes),
34 Gaudium et spes, 58.
35 Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in
Translating the Bible (1968).
36 See Chapter 4 (3).