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Index > Interconfessional Dialogue > M-RC > Dever Rep. 1971 | CONT. > sec. 2
 
  section 1 (GENERAL RETROSPECT) - select
Christianity and the Contemporary World - sec. 2
  section 3 (SPIRITUALITY) - select
  section 4 (CHRISTIAN HOME AND FAMILY) - select
  section 5 (EUCHARIST) - select
  section 6 (MINISTRY) - select
  section 7 (AUTHORITY) - select
  section 8 (THE WAY AHEAD) - select
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2. CHRISTIANITY AND THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD


I. Summary of Commission's Work on this Theme

   26. The Joint Commission has reflected seriously on the problems and challenges which Catholics and Methodists alike confront in the world today. We have found unity in thought and feeling in understanding and interpreting the contemporary situation.

   27. The papers and discussions bearing on Christianity in the contemporary world primarily invited more or less intellectual reflection without making much effort to speak to the masses of Christians who are living and struggling in these times. The interests of these latter are of the first importance and communication with them needs to be a chief object of future discussion if we are to carry out our common mission in the world.

   28. One paper on secularization was presented and discussed at the sessions in Rabat, developing the idea that all of the humanitarian efforts of the secular world today actually express the spirit of Jesus. Consequently, those who act outside the Church toward this end may be called anonymous Christians. This paper was tempered by some warnings against facile tendencies to identify Christianity with the secular world. For, in addition to the humanitarian advances made possible by science and technology, we agreed that there are demonic factors which warn against any naive identification of Christianity with secularity. Some preliminary efforts were made to define "secularization", but no searching analysis was forthcoming. The members of the Commission were in agreement that the extensive processes of secularization need to be taken seriously even though they did not have time to develop their own reflections fully and clearly.

   29. An English group from both sides prepared a bookled entitled, Christian Belief: A Catholic-Methodist Statement, which was made available and discussed briefly at the Junaluska meeting. This addresses itself to the contemporary situation. Parts I and II identify, on the one hand, some of the major characteristics of the world in which Christians are called upon to live, and, on the other hand, the ways by which men may move towards a living faith in these times. This seems to us an excellent beginning of the kind of work we might be doing together (Cf. No. 125).

   30. A paper, entitled, "Trends in Spirituality: The Contemporary Situation", also reflected this desire to understand and assess what is going on in the modern world. Here a serious attempt was made to bring into full view some of the major factors which threaten and challenge Catholics and Methodists in their concern for spirituality. This paper suggested that Christians need to be aware of a new mentality which has been emerging over a long period. This mentality, which has been produced in large measure by the extensive and rapid developments in science and technology, goes deeper than and is the primary source of the phenomenon of secularism (the belief that if God is he does not matter). There seemed to be agreement that one of the obstacles to spirituality is an antimetaphysical spirit in the contemporary world though not all current tendencies here are discouraging. Along with this there is the loss of confidence in man's reason, a loss reflected in the various antirational moods and fads of this era. It was noted in discussion that one of the tragedies on the contemporary scene is the emergence of revolutionary idealism based on emotional and ideological rather than rational and moral foundations. We felt that joint efforts in the recovery and nurture of a basic theistic world-view are essential to spirituality. For when men doubt and deny God, it is obvious that they will doubt and deny the reality and relevance of revelation, the moral order, the redemptive process through Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in the community of faith, the life everlasting, etc. Modern doubt and denial is pervasive, and its influence, recognized or unconscious, is difficult to exaggerate.

   31. The Commission shared, however, in the conviction that the present situation is full of promise for spirituality. For in man's very experience of failure without God-that is, in his rootlessness, distraction, despair, disillusionment, frustration, loneliness, in obvious moral disasters on the national and international scenes - God is calling men to new and authentic life in the community of faith. On the positive side, the current desire for human dignity and compassion present a special opportunity for Catholics and Methodists to unite in giving new voice to the ancient verities of the faith. Men in danger of dehumanization need more urgently than ever the life of Christian truth.

   32. Again, on the positive side, it was observed that there is an emerging concern among men for community. There are signs of inferior expressions of community which require the corrective and elevating guidance of the historic community of faith. Besides this, the thought was registered that men today, amid all their distraction, pressures, hurry and bias towards mediocrity, require the kind of contemplation made possible through the higher expressions of the devotional life among Catholics and Methodists. In short, life today is complex, dynamic-life in which God calls us to acknowledge the real problems, but also to seize boldly the opportunity of renewing genuine spiritual life.

   33. A further concern of the Commission needs to be noted before considering those common resources which are available for appealing to men who are looking toward the twenty-first century. In the discussions there was the recurring sense of unity concerning the moral values with which Catholics and Methodists assess what is going on in the world today. Here it was observed that even among highly sophisticated people there are often subhuman standards of thought and life. Among the masses everywhere there are signs of moral deterioration which make new life in Christ a desperate need. This was noted particularly in some of the discussions on marriage and family life (See Section IV).


II. Areas of Agreement Which May Serve as Aids to Joint Efforts
to Encounter the Contemporary World

   34. As we look toward the future, we are immensely encouraged by the areas of profound agreement which, if properly explored and actively shared, can enable us both to strengthen ourselves and engage in effective dialogue with the nonbelieving world. In particular, seven such regions of substantial agreement in thought, feeling and concern have become increasingly visible.

   35. First, we agree that Jesus Christ alone is the supreme and final authority. It has been commonly supposed that our differences on authority are so deep-seated and conflicting that there is not likely to be any real consensus. We have discovered, however, that when we start with Jesus Christ as the supreme and final authority both Catholics and Methodists find themselves sharing in a common conviction, whatever other and secondary authorities may be officially recognized. Christ is the last word and the final authority in relation to whom everything else pertaining to salvation is to be understood, interpreted and judged. Both Catholics and Methodists can build unhesitatingly on this foundation, and can move into the world to carry out the mission which Christ commanded (Cf. Section VII).

   36. Second, closely related to this is our essential agreement on the Bible as God's living Word. Some of the statements of Vatican II on this subject open the way to important advances both for Catholics and Methodists, on the one hand, and for the contemporary secular world, on the other. One of the basic contributions of the Council is its interpretation of the Biblical vision as a massive sweep of God's revelation of his purpose for mankind. In an age which tends to deny the reality of ultimate purpose, the stress on the category of purpose becomes essential in understanding and using the Bible. (See for example Lumen Gentium, Pars 2-3; and see also "The Constitution on Revelation", Pars 2-6). There are points to be discussed here, but the vision of God's revealed purpose as set forth in bold outline would seem to be central for both Churches, something indispensable unless we are prepared to abandon the Christian religion itself. One of the tasks with which Catholics and Methodists are jointly charged is that of identifying certain basic principles for interpreting the Bible, which aim to recover the sense of the authority and finality of the Bible without lapsing into obscurantism. The essentials would appear to be precisely those stressed by Vatican II.

   37. Third, we share in affirming a total theistic world-view. This world-view, so gravely needed in our age, is not developed philosophically by the Biblical writers, but it is there in bold outline and can therefore be used as a basis for communicating with the modern mentality. In fact one of the beauties of the Bible at this point is that it presents a total vision concerning ultimate reality and the purpose of God which can be comprehended by the generality of mankind.

   38. There are philosophical systems that move in the right direction, but they cannot be made available to the general public. Very few men have either the interest or the ability to philosophize in any authentic way. Besides, even among philosophers only a limited number will be convinced by any particular system of thought. Again, philosophical systems, while serving their own important ends, appeal chiefly to the intellect. This restricts their usefulness still further. More important still, philosophy is one thing, religion is another. Men need both a responsible world-view and a vital faith. This combination alone furnishes an intellectual atmosphere in which the soul of a man can thrive. It alone opens the way to a living encounter with God that nurtures love and hope.

   39. The genius of the Biblical revelation, in part at least, is that it affirms a world-view that is both intellectually plausible and open to confirmation by experience. It appeals to the best thinking of men and at the same time calls them to commitment and faith. But unless this can be made credible to modern man, with his inevitable doubts, the message of the Bible cannot pierce through.

   40. Briefly stated, the range of theistic world view embraces the following convictions we share. God's creation has a purpose; He created man that man might perfect himself morally and spiritually in community under the lordship of Jesus Christ; there is a real moral order grounded in God; human dignity and freedom are real and crucial; men are called to responsible living in community as well as individually; there is a life after death wherein the pilgrimage begun on earth is consummated in God's eternal love.

   41. There are Catholic and Methodist theologians grappling with theoretical issues touching metaphysics and the nature of ultimate reality. We should promote collaboration here, for we have much to share and to offer each other in a field where guidance and leadership are wanted.

   42. Fourth, we are in essential agreement in seeking to diagnose the human situation in the world today. We need to work together in interpreting the theological and spiritual meaning of modem man's despair and disillusionment. We need to talk about his quest for identity and what that implies both negatively and positively. We have a common ground on which to move in interpreting modem man's quest for meaning in his secular experience. We have a wealth of ideas to share on modern man's quest for community, contemplation, compassion, and dignity (Cf. the important paper on this theme, referred to in 30).

   43. In "The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World", Methodists recognize very important statements on the situation which all Christians today face. Consider this: ... growing numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice. Unlike former days, the denial of God or of religion, or the abandonment of them, and no longer unusual and individual occurrences. For today it is not rare for such decisions to be presented as requirements of scientific progress or of a certain new humanism. In numerous places these views are voiced not only in the teachings of philosophers, but on every side they influence literature, the arts, the interpretation of the humanities and of history, and civil laws themselves. As a consequence, many people are shaken (Para. 7).

   44. There is also an excellent statement on "the forms and roots of atheism" which "must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination": Yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious belief, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular (Para. 19).

   45. We have now reached a point in history when the stark realities of doubt and massive abandonment of God and the things of God are a present reality. The end is not yet in sight. We believe that Catholics and Methodists, tackling this general theme together, can analyze and interpret the human situation so as to indicate how the Holy Spirit Himself is working on the contemporary scene for the purpose of drawing people into the orbit of God's Kingdom. We can confront the world with an alternative interpretation of the meaning of contemporary experience, including experience felt by many of the absence of God. We need to think more seriously on the ways in which the Holy Spirit functions in our negative as well as in our positive experiences: to identify more clearly how the Holy Spirit acts on the human spirit at each stage of man's earthly life.

   46. Fifth. Methodists find in the statements of Vatican II on human dignity and autonomy many echoes of their own tradition (Cf. Gaudium et Spes, Ch. 1). Combining objectivity with a steady relation of human activity to God, these statements offer opportunities for development and application which Catholics and Methodists should exploit together, recognizing that amid the threat of dehumanization here is an approach to man's secular achievements which promises better fruit. If the genuine autonomy of the secular is recognized the Christian will be more open and sympathetic towards the artist, the scientist and other creative workers; he will be more willing to learn from them and to hear the voice of God speaking through them, and they in their turn will feel less alienated, more encouraged and stimulated. There is no more eloquent witness the Church can give to the dignity of man than intelligent support of and scope to his highest activities, and she has a remarkable history in this.

   47. Sixth. Though we recognize in the Christian heritage a recurring tendency towards passivity and withdrawal, Catholic and Methodist thought and practice call for responsible living in community within the Church and alongside it. Joint efforts in thinking and practice are possible here, and call for careful study.

   48. Seventh. Perhaps the agreement we have most strongly felt has been in our sense of the importance of Christian spirituality, greater than ever in today's situation. This is treated fully in the next section of the report (See 57-61).

   49. By way of summary we may say that Catholics and Methodists can unite and share at many points in a vast program of interrelated activities in behalf of the conversion of the world and the elevation of mankind throughout the world. This includes an adventurous quest for peace, for justice, for ministry to the needs of men in ignorance and poverty and for the entire benefit of the human world both physical and spiritual. In and through all this there is the glorious shared vision of the life after death when Jesus Christ shall be all in all.

   50. We would recall here Chapter V of Lumen Gentium. This is entitled "The Call of the Whole Church to Holiness". There is no part of that document more congenial to the Methodist heritage, properly understood, than this. Here there is a universal call to holiness which erases the false distinction between higher and lower levels of Christian faithfulness. And we share in the concern that holiness be affirmed as both a possibility and an imperative for all Christians. Whatever definition we give to the term, the idea of sanctity - that is, the idea that God has called men to enter into new life dominated by the love of Christ and motivated by the example of Christ - this gives a vast area of agreement. And in the practical sphere it has the most far reaching possible promise. For on both sides we are eager to emphasize the mysterious dynamic interaction between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit. This divine-human interaction, rightly understood, seems to be God's chosen way for the recreation of men and the conversion of the world.



 
 
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