Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > JWG > Fourth Official Rep. | CONT. > Part I

     PREFACE - select
Part I
   PART II - select
   PART III - select
   PART IV - select
       (JOINT PROGRAMS) - select
       (CONCLUSION) - select


    Before turning to any specific considerations, it is essential to recall the common ground shared by the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. In the course of the last ten years, three perspectives have gained increasing importance. They should guide the planning for the future.

a) The Existing Communion

    Despite all divisions which have occurred in the course of the centuries, there is a real though imperfect communion which continues to exist between those who believe in Christ and are baptised in his name. They confess that Christ, true God and true Man, is Lord and that it is through him and in him alone that we are saved. Through the Spirit, they offer praise and thanksgiving to the Father who, in his Son, reconciles the world to himself. They proclaim the love of God, revealed by the Son who was sent by the Father bringing new life to the human race, and who through the promise and gift of the Holy Spirit gathers together the people of the New Covenant as a communion of unity in faith, hope and love.

    Through the development of the ecumenical movement that communion has been experienced anew. This is not to claim that it has been created anew. Since it is beyond human power and initiative, it precedes all ecumenical effort for the restoration of the unity of all Christians. The gift of communion God has bestowed in Jesus Christ remains a reality, even where Christians may obscure or damage it by their lack of understanding, their disobedience and mutual estrangement. The ecumenical movement is therefore the common re-discovery of that existing reality and equally the common effort to overcome the obstacles standing in the way to perfect ecclesial communion. It is at the same time a return and a new departure. It is a return to the original gift in many ways distorted by human failures in the course of history and an attempt to understand and accept the way in which God wants to lead us to His Kingdom. The ecumenical movement is a constant invocation of the Spirit; that he may lead us into new awareness of the original revelation, and guide us to the future God is preparing for us.

    The joy of the ecumenical movement lies in the fact that the power of this communion has become more evident among the churches. Christians have been gathered together. They have been enriched in their experience and have been given new strength. They have been seized by the vision of unity in Christ, a unity which is not necessarily free from tensions and conflicts, but a fellowship in which Christians are committed together to proclaim the Gospel, not in uniformity, but so rooted in Christ that they are able to bear the diversities which arise between them as they seek to fulfil the will of Christ for his Church. Though this vision of perfect unity is far from being fulfilled, and even its concrete shape cannot yet be fully described, it has already become part of the life of the churches. They can no longer move back from it nor hold to the former separation. Thus work for the unity of the Church is a vital and inescapable necessity. It is not a luxury which can be left aside, nor a task which can be handed to specialists but rather a constitutive dimension of the life of the Church at all levels and of the life of Christians themselves.

    The nature of the communion by which we are held together cannot yet be described together in precise terms. The language we use is marked by the divisions of history. Each church has its own approach and its own ecclesiological terminology. But since the churches meet in Christ's name and share in his gift, their fellowship must have ecclesial reality. As they move forward together, both the nature of the present communion they already have and the future unity they seek may become clearer and their divisions may be healed.

b) The Need for Common Witness

    The gift of communion calls for common witness in the world. The ecumenical movement does not only aim at healing the divisions among Christians. It seeks at the same time to enhance the credibility of the churches' witness in the world.

    Ecclesial unity is a sign destined for all people, a sign testifying that God has reconciled them in Jesus Christ, a living invitation to believe in him as their Savior. The churches' search for the restoration of unity among all those who are baptised and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior will be genuine only if they live in the constant expectation that this sign will become manifest through them to the world. They will, therefore, not only engage in dialogue about unity, but will bear witness to Christ wherever the partial communion in faith and life, as it exists among them, makes it possible (vid. Ad Gentes, 15; Common Witness and Proselytism, 9-13, 17, 19). As they seize these possibilities of common witness, their search for union will in turn advance. In the perspectives of common witness, their search for union will in turn advance. In the perspectives of witness many of the problems which divide them w ill appear in a new style.

    For some churches, the scandal of division came to be felt first as they faced the missionary task and they were led into the search for unity by this experience. It is significant that it was the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910) which gave the impulse for the movement on issues of Faith and Order! For other churches the starting point was the consideration of the essential oneness of the body of Christ. They asked how could the one Church founded by Jesus Christ in history ever be divided. Thus their first interest was in the restoration of unity between Christians, and common witness in the world was not their primary motive for ecumenical involvement. The two approaches had to learn that mission without unity lacks - the perspective of the body of Christ and that unity without mission is not a living reality. In recent years the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches have come to see more clearly the implications of the intimate relationship between unity and common witness.

c) The Call to Renewal

    Christians in their relation to Christ need to be constantly renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. So also do the churches. This is particularly true in today's world where change seems to have become a permanent factor. New problems and new tasks arise and if the churches are to respond to them in obedience they need to be prepared for renewal.

    There is a growing awareness that the churches need to engage themselves in the struggle for justice, freedom and community. Sin is manifesting itself not only in personal failure but in injustice, oppression and dehumanization. Salvation is spiritual liberation and new life for each individual person, enabling him to offer himself as a living sacrifice through prayer, praise and new obedience. But salvation is also a liberating force pointing to a more human society. Christian faith calls for the commitment to struggle for that society and by this very commitment to proclaim Christ and the good news of salvation.

    The Spirit speaks to the churches in the actual event of history, calling into question the outlook they have come to be accustomed to. In all churches, historical, political and cultural factors, sometimes of many centuries standing, obscure the true meaning of the Gospel. The Spirit urges Christians to discern and interpret together the signs of the times. He is the power of renewal.

    The changes in today's world are so great that they fill many Christians with a feeling of uncertainty. There is a wide-spread crisis of faith. Can the inherited faith be maintained in the transformations the present generation is experiencing? Many respond with timidity to this challenge; many regard the maintenance of the status quo as the only expression of tradition and identity. But should it not be seen as a challenge of the Holy Spirit to fresh obedience of mind and soul? Is it not our task to go forward together? Are Christians not called to interpret together the signs of the times and to discern the will of Christ for the present generation? Unity is required to face the challenge; and as the churches respond they will in turn be led into fuller unity.

    Already very similar concerns occupy the churches. To give only a few examples, the theme of the World Missionary Conference in Bangkok, "Salvation Today," is very close to that of the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops in 1974, "Evangelization in the Contemporary World." The biblical concepts and realities of "liberation" and "communion" which are at the heart of the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches with its theme, "Jesus Christ Frees and Unites," are analogous to the theme of "Renewal and Reconciliation" which is central for the Holy Year, 1975. Does this not indicate that the Churches are offered the "kairos," the propitious time, to commit themselves together to the task of renewal?


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