8. THE WAY AHEAD
Our instructions were to devote the last section of this report
to developing and setting out the commission's ideas on how Roman
Catholic-Methodist dialogue might profitably go forward following
the first phase of which the report marks the conclusion.
In the field of theological dialogue what has been said above in
sections II to VII will not suggest any lack of material for future
programs, whether they be programs of further thinking and acting
together in areas where we feel we have much to share and to offer
each other, or programs which boldly tackle the chief difficulties
which keep us apart. In none of the areas covered by this report
do we feel that the possibilities of dialogue have been exhausted.
In some of them it has hardly begun, and we are concerned chiefly
to suggest what we hope might be improvements in organization and
In working these out we have borne in mind one of two main considerations
already aired in the progress report drafted at Rabat, e. g. §§
22-5: "We would hope that those responsible for the deeper (theological)
inquiry... would bear continually in mind the responsibility we
feel for serious planning of the education of our Churches at lay,
ministerial and local levels, for the overcoming of prejudices and
misunderstandings and for offering guidance toward cooperation between
local Churches. If this responsibility should remain unfulfilled,
the work of our Joint Commission will be to that extent unfruitful.
This in turn raises the vital question of communication.
Given the nature and mandate of the Joint Commission, it cannot
be expected that the general public will share fully in all phases
of the consultation. On the other hand, it is not easy to see how
the serious planning of the education of our Churches at lay, ministerial
and local level is to begin, or how our Churches are to be convinced
that their spokesmen are doing anything, if there is no better communication
than in the conventional press release. It is therefore suggested
that provided the status of papers be clearly established (working
papers, e. g.) they might be circulated among responsible and qualified
people, and summaries of them might be incorporated in reports.
This last could be done even if the papers did not command general
acceptance, since dissent could be recorded as part of an account
of the substance of discussion. It might be that certain of the
papers prepared for these consultations would prove suitable for
publication in one form or another.
It is the judgment of the commission that the dialogue would be
most efficiently continued under a central committee with a maximum
of six members from each side, and with more precisely defined functions.
It should be responsible in general for relations between the World
Methodist Council and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity;
and an important part of this responsibility should be the stimulating
of good relations, of dialogue and cooperation at national and local
level. This should include collecting information about activity
and experiments wherever they are shared by Methodists and Roman
Catholics and in whatever context, and facilitating its circulation
and exchange. Thus useful comparative judgments can be made and
clearer ideas may emerge of how we can best achieve our shared purposes
in Christian life and witness and in the search for unity. The dialogue
in the fullest and liveliest sense can hardly be thought of as something
merely to be kept ticking from one annual central committee meeting
The task of the committee in regard to serious theological dialogue
should be mainly one of organization, coordination and review.
Organization should be as flexible as possible, regulated
only by the principle that the best work is done only by adequately
equipped people giving adequate time, energy and interest to it.
This entails regular cooperation, usually possible only to people
who have regular access to each other in the right kind of circumstances.
An example of such circumstances has been briefly considered above
(§ 16). Another joint work the commission might stimulate and to
some extent organize is written work for publishing, of various
scope, whether aimed at involving larger numbers from the learned
world in the dialogue and bringing it into useful relationship with
other dialogues, or whether aimed at making our people (and others)
at large aware that progress is being made and familiarizing them
with a situation of friendship and joint activity.
Favorable reference has already been made (§ 29) to the English
joint publication Christian Belief. As well as further examples
of this type, we think that other types, such as formal symposia
on given themes, books in the form of exchange of letters, sympathetic
commented editions of the works of one side by members of the other
- e. g. of C. Wesley's hymns from the Roman Catholic side or of
some Catholic classic from the other.
But in an age when less and less reading can be relied on to be
done this literary activity would need to be supplemented, especially
below the specialized level, by joint effort in the other communications
media, and by stimulating well-directed discussion among our people
in order to create constructive Christian criticism towards the
vast impact of the mass media in general.
The committee's coordinating and reviewing function would
include taking account of the total ecumenical picture, including
both other dialogue and such schemes as either Church might be involved
in - e. g. the Consultation on Church Union in U.S.A. The commission
should also feel the need to see the dialogue in the context of
human unity in general and of the many problems involving religion
and culture in the conditions of our age. This might sometimes involve
encouraging certain types of expert enterprise more than others.
Finally the committee should have the task of seeing that the authorities
in the two Churches are adequately aware of what is being done,
give it adequate attention and make adequate response.
We would have no illusions, however, about the fruitfulness of all
these activities if they were divorced from the spiritual renewal
and the spiritual sharing which are at the heart of ecumenical progress.
It is because (as this report has so insisted) we have become aware
of exceptional affinities between Roman Catholics and Methodists
in that religion of the heart which is the heart of religion, that
we believe in the future of Roman Catholic-Methodist relations.
Roman Catholics would not consider this complete without grateful
reference to the noble Resolution of Intent, unanimously adopted
by the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in U.S.A.
on April 23, 1970. Disavowing the traditional polemical understanding
of those among its "articles of religion" which were part of an
anti-Catholic inheritance from a less happy age, the resolution
gives courageous practical and public expression of that "change
of heart" which the Second Vatican Council saw as the soul of the
ecumenical movement, and a solemn responsibility of all in every
Church. It has been our privilege in the commission to be spurred
to such change of heart by the heart-warming experience of our work
together. We are profoundly thankful to God for the koinonia, the
shared spiritual experience of prayer and self-scrutiny together.
Measured against our age-old estrangements, our progress in ecumenical
experience in the past three years has been swift and surely led
by the Spirit. For this we give heartfelt thanks to God and from
it we take hope and courage. But measured against the exigencies
of our Churches and the challenge of our times, it leaves us aware
of the distance that still lies between us now and our professed
goals. We know too well that the latter stages of the ecumenical
dialogue are more formidable than the early ones, requiring of us
redoubled efforts and devotion, not merely to the work we have to
do together, the joint witness to great Christian values that we
must give and widely promote in our Churches, but to the tasks of
educating our people and communicating to them something of the
joys and inspiration that have been vouchsafed to us. As we look
to the future, therefore, we renew our commitments and reaffirm
our confidence in God's providential leading, in which we have already
been so richly blessed.
Service 21 (1973/III) 22-38]