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A Report of the International Consultation
between the Catholic Church and the World Evangelical Alliance*
(1993 - 2002)


    We, the representatives of two Christian traditions deeply divided from each other historically, have been involved in a substantive consultation that we hope will lead to improved relations in the future. This experience for us has been momentous. We come from strong and vital Christian communities. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian communion in the world, with now over one billion members. The Evangelical movement, with its roots in the Reformation, is one of the most dynamic expressions of Christianity today, showing rapid growth in many parts of the world. The World Evangelical Alliance represents some 150 million from among more than 200 million Evangelical Christians. Yet in spite of exceptions over the centuries, from Zinzendorf and Wesley to Schaff and Congar, both traditions have long lived in isolation from one another. Our communities have been separated by different histories and theologies as well as by unhelpful stereotypes and mutual misunderstandings. This estrangement and misapprehension has occasioned hostility and conflicts that continue to divide the Body of Christ in our own time.
    In recent decades, however, a considerable number of Catholics and Evangelicals have been getting to know each other, and have discovered in the process how much they have in common. This change is due in part to situational factors: cultural and political changes in the second half of the twentieth century, the growth of democracy in countries which formerly had repressive, authoritarian governments, the mixing of peoples and confessions in our increasingly diverse cultures, the discovery of common concerns in the area of ethics and in the struggle against secularism. In part, the changing relations between Evangelical and Catholic communities are due to internal developments, for example, in Catholicism, as a result of the Second Vatican Council and, among Evangelicals, the impact of the Lausanne Covenant. Finally, new attitudes were fostered by far-sighted individuals in both traditions, together with a significant number of initiatives designed to promote greater appreciation and understanding of each other. Billy Graham's ministry stands out here. Most importantly, there is a growing recognition in both our traditions that the spread of the Gospel is hindered by our continuing divisions.
    As a result of these changes in our world and in our churches, many Catholics and Evangelicals have begun talking to and co-operating with each other, including praying together. In the process, they have not only become friends; they have begun to discover each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. It might be helpful to note some of these formal initiatives, which are described extensively in the appendix.
    The first international dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals began with participants from both sides exploring the subject of mission from 1978 to 1984. This resulted in a 1985 report on their discussions. This international dialogue was sponsored, on the Catholic side, by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Evangelical participants, like John Stott, while drawn from a number of churches and Christian organizations, were not official representatives of any international body.
    The present consultations represent an important development in our relationship. For the first time these meetings were sponsored by international bodies on both sides: the World Evangelical Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This initiative eventually resulted in formal consultations beginning in Venice in 1993, and continuing at Tantur, Jerusalem in 1997, Williams Bay, Wisconsin in 1999, Mundelein, Illinois in 2001, and Swanwick, England in 2002.
Initial meetings led us eventually to focus on two general areas: the church and her mission. As the discussion continued, it became clear that a common reflection on the biblical notion of koinonia would help us to clarify some convergences and differences between us on the church (Part I). The focus on mission evolved into reflection on evangelization and the related issues of religious freedom, proselytism and common witness in light of koinonia (Part II).
    The purpose of these consultations has been to overcome misunderstandings, to seek better mutual understanding of each other's Christian life and heritage, and to promote better relations between Evangelicals and Catholics. This paper is a result of the first series of discussions and deals with a limited number of issues.
    In these conversations, which were conducted in a very cordial and open atmosphere, each side has expressed clearly and candidly its own theological convictions and tradition, and listened as the other side did the same. Together they sought to discern whether there were convergences or even some agreements on theological issues over which Evangelicals and Catholics have long been divided, and also on what issues divisions clearly persist.
    This consultation presents here the product of its work to the sponsoring bodies, with gratitude for the support they have given to this project.
    We hope this study will be fruitful and serve the cause of the Gospel and the glory of our Lord.

The Status of this Report
The Report published here is the work of an International Consultation between the Catholic Church and the World Evangelical Alliance. It is a study document produced by participants in this Consultation. The authorities who appointed the participants have allowed the Report to be published so that it may be widely discussed. It is not an authoritative declaration of either the Catholic Church or of the World Evangelical Alliance, who will both also evaluate the document.



A. The Church as koinonia (Fellowship, Communion)

    (1) The use of koinonia brings an important biblical term to bear on ecclesiology, as it suggests those things that bind Christians together. Koinonia is undoubtedly "an early and important aspect of the church and its unity."1 The biblical word koinonia can be translated in various ways: "fellowship," "belonging," "communion," "participation," "partnership," or "sharing in." Evangelicals often use the term "fellowship," while Catholics frequently use the term "communion."

1. New Testament "Fellowship"

    (2) In the Pauline writings, the term koinonia often refers to the relationship of Christians to one another, grounded in their relationship to the divine persons. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: "You were called into the fellowship of his [God's] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Co 1:9). He speaks of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Co 13:14). Elsewhere he tells his readers that he received "the right hand of fellowship" from James, Cephas, and John (Gal 2:9). On another occasion he warns the Corinthians against having fellowship with unbelievers, asking the rhetorical question: "What fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Co 6:14). Partnership appears to be the meaning in Phil 1: 5-7.

    (3) The term koinonia occurs also in Acts 2:42, where it again has the meaning of fellowship: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and the prayers." It is debatable exactly what type of fellowship Luke here has in mind, but it is evidently some kind of association among believers, received from Christ through solidarity with the apostles. It means the sharing of material goods in 2 Co 8:4, 9:13.

    (4) The Johannine writings reinforce this sense of koinonia as fellowship. The author of the first epistle speaks of proclaiming what he has seen "that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:3). Again in verses 7-8 he refers to fellowship with the Son and among Christians themselves. The fellowship with God in Christ is evidently the basis for the fellowship with other believers, all members in the Body of Christ. They are to be one as the Father and Son in the trinity are one (Jn 17:11,21).

2. Various Emphases in New Testament Interpretation

    (5) For both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics communion with Christ involves a transformative union whereby believers are "koinonoi of the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world by lust" (2 Pt 1:4). Catholics tend to interpret koinonia in this passage to mean a participation in the divine life and "nature," while Evangelicals tend to interpret koinonia as covenant companionship, as it entails escaping moral corruption and the way of the world. According to many eastern Fathers of the church, the believer's participation in the life of Christ and the church leads to the process of the believer's divinization (theosis, deificatio). Evangelicals have reservations about the notion of theosis: the word is not found in the Bible and it suffers, they feel, from too much ambiguity. It appears to suggest that believers shall possess the essence of deity --a meaning which Catholic doctrine too denies. Evangelicals agree that the redemptive grace on the one hand restores the original godlikeness that was marred and defaced by human sin (Col 3:10), and on the other hand that the Spirit transforms believers into the likeness of the Second Adam, "from glory to glory," (1 Co 15: 48, 49; 2 Co 3:18), a process that will reach completion only when Christ, the Lord and Saviour, comes from heaven (Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thes 5: 23-24).

    (6) Catholics believe that sacraments are Christ's instruments to effect the transformative union with the divine nature (1 Co 12:12-13, where they see water-baptism, and 10:16-17, Eucharist). In passages such as these they hear other (Catholics would say deeper), more sacramental and participatory connotations in the word "koinonoi" than are expressed by the word "fellowship." Many Evangelicals consider the sacraments to be dominical means of grace or "ordinances" which are "visible words" that proclaim (kataggellete, 1 Co 11:26) or are signs and seals of the grace of union with Christ--grace to be received and enjoyed on the sole condition of personal faith.

3. Perspectives on "communio sanctorum"

    (7) While the earliest rendering of the term communio sanctorum in the Apostles' Creed has been translated as "communion of holy persons" (saints), this language has been translated as a reference to "holy things" (sacraments).2 However, the doctrinal significance of communio sanctorum (koinonia ton hagion) was not relegated to one interpretation only. Later western appropriation of the concept of divinization emphasized it as a participation in the Eucharist. Evangelicals prefer to translate communio sanctorum as "the fellowship of holy persons" or "of saints," the "saints" being all those who truly belong to Jesus Christ by faith; they understand "communion" as the bond that binds all Christians in all generations.

    (8) Evangelicals, historically, have not given the same place to the sacraments nor connected sanctification so directly with them as Catholics have. They maintain the "forensic" (referring to the courts of law) meaning of justification, and tend to prefer the vocabulary of drama and law. The Bible, as they read it, is more favorable to categories such as covenant-breaking and covenant-renewal, condemnation and acquittal, enmity and reconciliation, than to the category of participation in being. But they do affirm with the apostle Paul that anyone who is in Christ is a "new creation" (2 Co 5:17; Gal 6:15). The Holy Spirit effects a radical change, a new birth from above.

    (9) Catholics and Evangelicals anticipate perfect communion in the Kingdom to be ushered in with the final coming of Jesus. In the light of this expectation, Catholics and Evangelicals should look to a deeper communion in this world, even if they disagree, between and among themselves, on the means by which this might be achieved, and on the extent to which it can be realized prior to the return of Christ. Since the biblical texts are authoritative for both Catholics and Evangelicals, they provide a solid foundation for our conversations. The growing familiarity with biblical categories on both sides, combined with recent reinterpretations of sacramental theology, suggests that koinonia continues to be a promising topic for further explorations in our conversations.

B. Our Respective Understandings of the Church and of Other Christians

1. Recent Developments

    (10) In the Second Vatican Council, Catholics elaborated their distinctive understanding of the nature of the Church and also their relationships to other Christians. Evangelicals also have explored this area in major conferences in recent decades on the topic of missions. It will be useful to describe the views in the two communities, before pointing out the implications for mutual understanding.

    (11) The Second Vatican Council marked a development in the ecclesiological self-understanding of the Catholic Church. Rather than positing a simple identity between the Church of Christ and itself, Lumen Gentium teaches that "the Church of Christ …subsists in the Catholic Church"(LG 8).3 The Evangelical movement on the other hand, received its characteristic modern shape from the influence of the eighteenth and nineteenth century revivals (preceded by pietism and Puritanism): these revivals crossed denominational boundaries and relativized their importance. From the Roman Catholic side the recognition of the "others" as belonging to Christ, takes the form of an emphasis on truly Christian elements and endowments in their communities; and from the Evangelical side, on the acknowledged presence of true believers indwelt by Christ's Spirit among Catholics.

2. Catholic Views

    (12) Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) speaks of the bonds between Catholics and other Christians in these terms:

The unique Church of Christ…constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in union with that successor, although many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure (LG 8).

The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not possess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and of action, and who show a true religious zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, Son of God and Savior…

    Likewise, we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them also He gives His gifts and graces, and is thereby operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood (LG 15).

    (13) In its Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), Vatican II brings the concept of ecclesial elements into correlation with that of koinonia. The decree illustrates the Catholic perspective on full communion. The Holy Spirit, it affirms, "brings about that marvelous communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity" (UR 2). The Decree goes on to say that the Spirit brings about and perfects this wonderful union by means of the faithful preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and the loving exercise of pastoral authority (cf. UR 2).

    (14) In the following paragraph the Decree on Ecumenism clarifies relationships with other communities and broaches the notion of "imperfect communion," which is so vital for contemporary interchurch relations. The Decree states that some Christians have become separated from full communion with the Catholic Church but remain in a real, though imperfect, communion with it because "some, even very many, of the most significant elements or endowments which together go to build up and give life to the church herself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace, faith, hope, and charity, along with other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements" (UR 3).

    (15) In a later section of the Decree on Ecumenism the same notion of imperfect communion is applied specifically to Protestant communities. The Council here speaks of belief in the Holy Trinity, and of confession of Jesus Christ as God and Lord, and as sole Mediator between God and man (cf. UR 20). It then goes on to mention love and veneration for Holy Scripture, affirming that "the sacred utterances are precious instruments in the mighty hand of God for attaining that unity which the Savior holds out to all men" (UR 21). Baptism properly conferred "constitutes a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it…But baptism, of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ" (UR 22). Pope John Paul II reaffirms the teaching of Vatican II on the "many elements of sanctification and truth" in other Christian communities and on "the communion, albeit imperfect, which exists between them and the Catholic Church" (UUS 11).

    (16) All of these factors give concreteness to the use of the concept of koinonia by Roman Catholics. They make it clear that the ecclesial elements in question find expression in acts of faith, hope, and charity. The degree of communion can not be measured by outward and visible means alone because communion depends on the reality of life in the Spirit.

3. Evangelical Views

    (17) Evangelicals similarly emphasize that the most important bond is the life of the Spirit which flows from union with Christ. This bond is created when the Gospel is received in faith and is foundational for the visible expression of the oneness or koinonia of all Christians. For Evangelicals the visibility of the church is subordinate to this primary truth. The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration confesses:

All Christians are called to unity in love and unity in truth. As Evangelicals who derive our very name from the Gospel, we celebrate this great good news of God's saving work in Jesus Christ as the true bond of Christian unity, whether among organized churches and denominations or in the many transdenominational cooperative enterprises of Christians together.

The Bible declares that all who truly trust in Christ and his Gospel are sons and daughters of God through grace, and hence are our brothers and sisters in Christ.4

As the Lausanne Covenant of 1974 notes:

World evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. The church is at the very center of God's cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the Gospel. But a church which preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross. It becomes a stumbling block to evangelism when it betrays the Gospel or lacks a living faith in God, a genuine love for people, or scrupulous honesty in all things including promotion and finance. The church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology (Jn 17:18; 20:21; Mt 28:19,20; Acts 1:8; 20:27; Eph 1:9, 10; 3:9-11; Gal. 6:14, 17; 2 Co 6:3,4; 2 Tim 2:19-21; Phil 1:27) (Lausanne 6).

Evangelicals adhere to the Reformation doctrine of the "invisible church" (though with varying degrees of emphasis), without diminishing the importance of the visible church, as it is implied in the Amsterdam Declaration:

The one, universal church is a transnational, transcultural, trans-denominational and multi-ethnic family of the household of faith. In the widest sense, the church includes all the redeemed of all the ages, being the one body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space. Here in the world, the church becomes visible in all local congregations that meet to do together the things that according to Scripture the church does (Amsterdam 9).

    (18) Evangelicals insist (as do Roman Catholics) that disciplinary and doctrinal criteria should be used for expressions in ecclesial life of the unity we have in Christ. "Church discipline, biblically based and under the direction of the Holy Spirit is essential to the well being and ministry of God's people."5 In a world and in churches marred by human failure, church discipline may demand the curtailing of concrete forms of fellowship even in cases where offenders against the apostolic teaching are acknowledged as brothers or sisters (cf. 2 Thes 3:14-15). This applies to deviations in all spheres of life, both in the confession of faith as well as in behavior, which cannot be ultimately separated. Some Evangelicals hold that the concrete possibilities of fellowship depend on the degrees of agreement on the apostolic testimony as handed down in the New Testament.

    (19) The Manila Affirmations depict the resulting attitudes among Evangelicals today:

Our reference to "the whole church" is not a presumptuous claim that the universal church and the evangelical community are synonymous. For we recognize that there are many churches which are not part of the evangelical movement. Evangelical attitudes to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches differ widely. Some Evangelicals are praying, talking, studying Scripture and working with these churches. Others are strongly opposed to any form of dialogue or cooperation with them. All are aware that serious theological differences between us remain. Where appropriate, and so long as biblical truth is not compromised, cooperation may be possible in such areas as Bible translation, the study of contemporary theological and ethical issues, social work and political action. We wish to make it clear, however, that common evangelism demands a common commitment to the biblical Gospel (Manila 9).

4. What of the Church Do We Recognize in One Another?

    (20) We as Catholics and Evangelicals share Sacred Scripture6 and belief in its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. We affirm the unique mediatorial role of Christ, his incarnation, his death and resurrection for our salvation. We affirm together our faith in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are both able to pray the Lord's Prayer and confess the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.7 We affirm the Gospel call to conversion, to a disciplined life in the grace of Jesus Christ, and the ultimate promise of eternal reward. We recognize a Christian responsibility for service and the promotion of justice in the world. We share a common hope of Christ's return, as judge and redeemer, to consummate our salvation. We can commemorate together those who have witnessed by their blood to this common faith and now celebrate full communion before the face of our divine Savior.

    (21) One of the results of interchurch cooperation and dialogue has been a greater appreciation by separated Christians of one another. (A gradual move towards a greater recognition of the ecclesial status of other Christian communities marks modern and contemporary developments). For centuries, in ways heavily influenced by polemics and religious wars, the identification of and the incorporation into the true church were simplistically considered to be an all-or-nothing affair. One was either in the true church or in a false institution or a sect. Either one was a member in the full sense of the word, or one was outside of the church and deprived of all hope of salvation. Yet the awareness of spiritual complexity was not entirely repressed. The Roman Catholic Church maintained the validity of the baptism performed by heretics and also acknowledged a "baptism of desire." The sixteenth century reformers did not deny the presence of elements of the true church in Roman Catholicism. Though at times Luther spoke of the pope as anti-Christ, he recognized remnants of the church in the Roman Communion. Calvin could write of his Roman Catholic opponents, "these muddlers will labor to no avail as they deck out their synagogue with the title church," yet he acknowledges traces (vestigia), remnants (reliquias), marks (symbola), and signs (signa) of the church under the papacy; churches in the Roman Communion may be called churches "to the extent that the Lord wonderfully preserves in them a remnant of his people however woefully dispersed and scattered." And early proponents of religious toleration were found among the extremely diverse groups often referred to as the "Radical Reformation." Though Anabaptists were painfully persecuted on all sides, Calvin exercised a nuanced judgment on their doctrine; later they benefited from the protection of such a prelate as the Prince-Bishop of Basel.

5. A Common Challenge

    (22) In this section, we have come to recognize, with the help of God's Spirit, the koinonia with the life of the Trinity that both of our communities enjoy. We see it, therefore, as incumbent upon both of us to move from this singular condition of unity with the life of the Trinity into an experienced unity with one another. To that end we need to take the actions which will move us from this rediscovery to forge the ecclesial bonds that will express this already bestowed unity. If God has not been dealing with us as if we were apart from Him, why should we continue to live as if we were apart from one another?

C. Some Dimensions of the Church

1. Origins of the Church

    (23) Evangelicals and Catholics both see in the Pentecost event the emergence of the church of the new covenant (Acts 2). The presence of persons from every nation at Pentecost represents the universal mission of the Church. They agree that this church is built on the foundation of the prophet and apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph 2:20). They recognize in the evangelizing mission of the apostles the founding of local churches. The communion of local churches in the New Testament was served by the ministry of the apostles and by the meeting of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Support of one another, letters of recommendation, the collections for other churches, and mutual hospitality characterize this communion among churches. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics recognize the importance of subsequent developments in the life of the church, but give different weight and appreciation to these developments.

2. The Church Local and Universal

a. Evangelical and Catholic Perspectives

    (24) For Evangelicals today the "local church" designates the congregation in a particular place. For Catholics a "local" or "particular" church refers to a diocese, composed of a number of parishes, with a bishop at the center, assisted by his presbyters and other ministers of pastoral service to the faithful for the sake of the Gospel.

    (25) Catholics see the work of the Holy Spirit in a number of significant developments in the early Church. These include the understanding of bishops as successors to the apostles; the emergence of the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon; the clarification of the apostolic faith especially by ecumenical councils and the universal creeds; and the gradual acknowledgement of the effective leadership of the bishop of Rome within the whole Church. Even from early times, the Bishop of Rome had a prominent role in fostering the communion of local churches over which bishops presided, the initial expressions of a primacy that developed over the centuries. Since Vatican II there has been greater stress on the mutual relationship between the local churches and the church of Rome.

    (26) For their part, Evangelicals are overwhelmingly found in Protestant and Pentecostal churches, which have generally placed primary emphasis on local congregations: the place in which the word of God is proclaimed, the sacraments are administered, and God's people are gathered. Evangelicals live in a variety of church structures. Churches whose origin lies in the "magisterial" Reformation (e.g., Lutheran, and Reformed) as well as Anglicans and Methodists, have a strong sense of the universality of the church in time and space, but the way they function stresses the regional or national body and, for example, gives significance to regional or national synods. Nearly all other churches have espoused congregationalism which concentrates responsibility in the local community. This community is the concrete embodiment of the koinonia of the Spirit. It is the locus of spiritual life, mutual upbuilding through the diversity of gifts, and training for service in the world. The free churches express solidarity through international agencies or alliances, denominational or interdenominational. Anabaptists in particular have had a strong tradition of community life; a vigilant discipline makes the assembly into a closely knit family of faith. Throughout history all these churches have had to fight divisive tendencies and, in the context of secularization, the destructive influences of individualism. The Lausanne Covenant candidly acknowledges: "We confess that our testimony has sometimes been marred by sinful individualism and needless duplication. We pledge ourselves to seek a deeper unity in truth, worship, holiness and mission" (Lausanne 7).

    (27) Whereas Catholic ecclesiology reserves certain sacramental functions to bishops who are understood to have received the fullness of the sacrament of orders, most Evangelical churches concentrate leadership more specifically in the ministry of the "pastor," whose role is considered to be that of the episkopos/presbyteros of New Testament times. (The pastor may be the "teaching elder" in association with the "ruling elders" of the church or parish, 1 Tim 5:17). Other Evangelicals, even among a few free churches, have distinct ministries of oversight, but the difference is slight: the bishop or superintendent is charged with administrative tasks, but is not considered to have particular sacramental roles, a concept foreign to the Evangelical interpretation of ministry.

    (28) Global fellowship among Evangelicals is typically expressed by means of loose networks of world-wide associations (among which the W.E.A. may lay claim to best-grounded representative legitimacy) and parachurch organizations (such as the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). These entities provide valuable channels of communication and tools for cooperation.

    (29) On the Catholic side, Vatican II reemphasizes the key importance of the local church (diocese) as the place where the word is preached and the sacraments are administered. The church reveals herself most clearly when the people are gathered about the altar under the presidency of the bishop, with the assistance of the other clergy (cf. SC 41; and also LG 26). At every Eucharist the unity of the whole church is indicated by the presider's expression of the union with the local bishop, other bishops, and especially the bishop of Rome as the center of the whole communion.8 The bishops in national and regional conferences are called upon to represent their particular churches. Catholics speak of the universal church, like the regional church, as a communion of particular churches under their respective bishops and in communion with the bishop of Rome. They recognize, however, that the Church of Christ is not exclusively identified with the Catholic Church (cf. LG 8).

b. Convergences and Differences Between Catholics and Evangelicals

    (30) While certainly not eliminating the differences with evangelical Protestantism, these recent developments in Catholic ecclesiology facilitate mutual understanding. On the national and regional levels, Catholic Episcopal Conferences and Synods of Oriental Catholic Churches are able to enter into conversations with national and regional Evangelical churches, alliances and organizations. Also, diocesan bishops are able to relate to the regional evangelical officials as their counterparts, even if they are not bishops. There is a certain convergence with the renewed emphasis of Catholics on local church and of Evangelicals on worldwide fellowship.

    (31) Catholics speak of a reciprocity between the universal and the particular church, but they do not view the universal church as a federation of local churches. There is a sense in which Catholics can admit the priority of the local church since, in the words of Vatican II: "In and from such individual churches there comes into being the one and only Catholic Church" (LG 23). But to avoid misunderstanding, the Council also affirms that each particular church is "fashioned after the model of the universal church" (ibid.). The biblical evidence, as interpreted in Catholic theology, indicates that the church originated as a single community, into which people are incorporated by faith and baptism.9

    (32) Evangelicals understand the church to be called into being by the Word (creatura verbi). The Word is revealed in Christ, written in Scripture, and received through hearing. The Word calls forth faith and a community of faith in time and space, a visible church. But final judgment belongs to God as to believers and unbelievers within the visible church. God knows his own. "Here in the world, the church becomes visible in all local congregations that meet to do together the things that according to Scripture the church does. Christ is the head of the church. Everyone who is personally united to Christ by faith belongs to his body and by the Spirit is united with every other true believer in Jesus" (Amsterdam 9).

    (33) Evangelicals, like Catholics, recognize the value of worldwide fellowship, but because of different theological presuppositions and different interpretations of certain biblical passages, they have a different view of the relationship between the universal church and local churches. Evangelicals understand by "universal church" all those everywhere and in all ages who believe and trust in Christ for salvation. "All" includes believing Roman Catholics. Evangelicals have made use of Luther's distinction between the church invisible and the church visible. They affirm the universal church whose bond of unity, the Spirit of Christ, is invisible (Eph 4:3-4); they stress incorporation by "faith alone," a faith by which all share in the gift of the Spirit (Gal 3:2). Christ, however, also willed the founding of visible churches into which people are incorporated by (water) baptism. While primarily local, these congregations may seek federations and alliances as means to express the universal character of the church's nature and mission.

    (34) The visible structural and organizational manifestations of the church are shaped by particular historical situations, and can change. In the eyes of most Evangelicals the Bible provides no rigid pattern for organizing the church in every time and place. They find in the New Testament a considerable degree of variety in models of ministry and church order. In distinction from Catholic ecclesiology, Evangelicals thus affirm a variety of forms of church order, but these differences do not impede fellowship or membership in the invisible church.

    (35) Most Evangelicals agree that the universal church, not being a visible institution, is concretely expressed in the visible churches in particular times and places, and the translocal bonds they cultivate. They acknowledge that the correspondence between visible and invisible is not perfect. For example, "false brethren" may be found (Gal 2:4) who do not really belong (1 Jn 2:19). While the relationship between membership in the visible and invisible church, and baptism varies among Evangelicals, these differences do not hamper fellowship and collaboration. Visible communities have been endowed by Christ with institutions so that they may build themselves up and fulfill their mission in the world.

3. The Combination of the Personal and Institutional in Koinonia

a. An Ordered Community of Persons

    (36) In the New Testament witness, Evangelicals and Catholics recognize an ordered community of persons, sharing a common faith and mission, given leadership, under Christ, by the apostles (1 Co 11-14; Rom 12; Eph 4). We recognize that there are differentiated ministries articulated in the epistles (1 Pt 5; 1 Tim 3; Titus), though we value them differently, and make different judgments as to their continuity in the contemporary church. However, we both affirm order and discipline as a framework of ecclesial communion (1 Co 14:33, 40).

    (37) The idea of the church as communion has emerged from a return to a rich vein of biblical and patristic material. It has also been influenced by more personalist approaches in the modern world, against exaggerated forms of institutionalism and individualism. Sociologists have long distinguished between society and community. In early twentieth-century ecclesiology this gave rise to a dualism between a church of law and a church of love. Pius XII, in his encyclical on the Mystical Body, taught that this opposition does not obtain in the church, which is both a mystical union and an organized society.10

b. Catholic Views

    (38) Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church, follows essentially the teaching of Pius XII on this matter. It describes the church as a single interlocking reality ("unam realitatem complexam" [LG 8]), that is both visible and invisible, mystical and hierarchical. But for the Council the visible dimension serves the invisible dimension of the Church. The church is divinely endowed with doctrines, sacraments, and ministries for the purpose of bringing about and signifying a supernatural communion of life, love, and truth among the members (cf. LG 14, 18, 20, 21). The Council presents the church itself as a sacrament (LG 1).

    (39) Vatican II's move toward a more collegial ecclesiology shows a greater emphasis on the personal. Whereas Vatican I spoke of the pope as exercising jurisdiction over the other bishops of the Catholic communion, Vatican II clarifies this earlier teaching by saying that bishops must be in "hierarchical communion" with the pope in order to exercise their powers of teaching and shepherding their flocks (cf. LG 22; CD 5). The concept of "hierarchical communion" does not eliminate the juridical aspect but requires government through dialogue and consensus rather than command.

c. Evangelical Views

    (40) In general, Evangelicals hold that the church is primarily a community of persons and only secondarily an institution. Abraham Kuyper, for instance, declares: The church "is not a salvific agency that would supply grace as medicine, not a mystical order that would magically act on lay people. She is nothing else than believing, confessing, persons."11 The Lausanne Covenant of 1974 asserts: "The church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system or human ideology" (Lausanne 6). However, most Evangelicals emphatically maintain the requirement of order and discipline and affirm the institutional dimension of church life.

d. Some Mutual Observations

    (41) Catholics and Evangelicals experience a convergence in the understanding of the way that order and discipline serve the koinonia of the church. Catholics have begun to reemphasize the importance of the personal in understanding the church. Evangelicals show an increasing appreciation of visible expressions of unity in the life of the church beyond the bounds of their own denomination. Such a convergence in our understanding of biblical koinonia offers promise for a continuation of the dialogue.

D. Preparing for a Different Future

    (42) There are, then, differences between the convictions of Catholics and Evangelicals. These differences, however, do not amount to simple opposition and have been fruitfully examined in our conversations. Our mutual understanding has opened avenues for further dialogue.

    (43) As we complete these reflections we realize again the impact that our divisions has made on people that we serve. It is not possible to reverse history, but it is possible to prepare for a different future.

    (44) We realize the need for a spirit of repentance before God because we have not made sufficient efforts to heal the divisions that are a scandal to the Gospel. We pray that God grant us a spirit of metanoia. We need to continue to study and face issues which have separated us. We need to examine also the practices that uncritically continue the biases of the past.

    (45) Could we not ask ourselves whether we sufficiently understand the levels of unity that we already share? For example, during the Mass, when Catholics hear the words of the canon: "to strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth, your servant Pope…, our bishop …, and all the bishops with the clergy and the entire people your Son has gained for you", do they understand that among those whom the "Son has gained" for the Father, are the Christians from whom they are separated and with whom, since Christ also redeemed them, they share deep bonds of Christian life? And when Evangelicals intercede for the life, mission, and unity of "the Church", do they genuinely understand this Church to include Catholics?

    (46) In a spirit of humility, we bring our concerns and our hopes to the Lord.


* Catholic Church and World Evangelical Alliance are the official names of the two co-sponsoring bodies. In using their official names, the co-sponsors of this Consultation are not, in any way, claiming these characteristics, respectively, of "Catholic" or "Evangelical" exclusively for themselves.

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  1. John Reumann, "Koinonia in Scripture: Survey of Biblical Texts", On The Way to Fuller Koinonia: Official Report of the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order, Faith and Order Paper no. 166 (Geneva, 1994) p. 62.

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  2. On the phrase "communio sanctorum" in the Apostles' Creed see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd ed. (New York, 1972) pp. 389-90. This sacramental interpretation is favored by Stephen Benko, The Meaning of Communion of Saints (Naperville, Ill, 1964) and Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (St. Louis, 1966), chapter 1 and excursuses 1, 2, and 3.

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  3. List of Abbreviations is found at the end of the Report.

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  4. "A Call to Evangelical Unity: 'The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration' ", Christianity Today 43:7 (June 14, 1999) pp. 49-56.

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  5. "The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals" (1977), Growing Consensus: Church Dialogues in the United States, 1962-1991, Joseph Burgess and Jeffrey Gros eds. (New York 1995), p. 579

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  6. We share the majority of biblical books, but the Catholic canon includes also the books Protestants call "The Apocrypha" and Catholics the "Deutero-canonical" books.

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  7. "Confessing the One Faith: An Evangelical Response by World Evangelical Fellowship Task Force on Ecumenical Issues", Evangelical Review of Theology 18 (1994) pp. 35-46.

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  8. This style of ecclesiology points to a vision of the universal church as a network of local churches in communion. According to the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 1985, "The ecclesiology of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the Council's documents. Koinonia/communio, founded on the Sacred Scripture, has been held in great honour in the early Church and in the Oriental Churches to this day. Thus, much was done by the Second Vatican Council so that the Church as communion might be more clearly understood and concretely incorporated into life." [Relatio Finalis, II, C), 1)].

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  9. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in its letter to bishops on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion emphasizes the priority of the universal over the particular church (Cf. Origins 22 [June 25, 1992] pp. 108-112). In his presentation on Lumen Gentium at the International Meeting on the reception of Vatican II, February 27, 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger explained that the community of the 120 on whom the Holy Spirit descended (Acts 2:1-4) was a renewal of the community of the Twelve, who had been commissioned to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This community was the New Israel. Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, "L'ecclesiologia della Costituzione Lumen Gentium", Il Concilio Vaticano II, Recezione e attualità alla luce del Giubileo, Rino Fisichella (ed.), (Milano, 2000) pp. 66-81.

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  10. Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici corporis Christi 79.

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  11. Abraham Kuyper, Het Calvinisme, (Kampen, Kok [1899]) pp. 53-54.

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