2. COMMON WITNESS
AND SALVATION TODAY
One of the common concerns of Roman Catholics and Methodists, which
emerged in our first series of conversations and was registered
in the Denver Report, was for a just analysis of the contemporary
situation from the point of view of those who wish to live the gospel
of Jesus Christ and announce it to others. What obstacles and what
opportunities are offered them in today's world?
The second part of section II of the Report was able to set out
eight "Areas of Agreement Which May Serve as Aids to Joint Efforts
to Encounter the Contemporary World". These are well worth considering
The emphasis here, it will be noted, was on agreement not for its
own sake but looking toward joint action, and the second series
of talks was launched with a "Call to Joint Action" addressed to
our respective Churches.
Since the Denver Report was written, parallel concern has been manifested
widely over the religious field and several other important discussions
of it helped to induce us to give it the central place in our second
series of conversations. The Denver Conference itself, at which
our report was received, issued a call to Methodist churches to
join in intensified mission to the world, and passed appropriate
concrete resolutions, one of which was that "every effort shall
be made to work in concert and in cooperation with other communions
The renewed Roman Catholic/World Methodist Commission first met
(December 1972) a few weeks before the World Council of Churches'
Bangkok Conference on Salvation Today, and since some of its members
could look forward to being in Bangkok, the Commission decided to
appropriate to its own direct study the theme "Common Witness and
Salvation Today". Hence papers and reports were prepared for our
second meeting which were largely developed out of reflections on
Bangkok, and discussion of them represented the first stage of our
work on the theme4.
At this same time it was known that the Synod of Bishops of the
Catholic Church, meeting in Rome in October 1974, would be choosing
the theme of Evangelization. In fact, our Commission met for the
third time in Venice just after the Synod had begun its sessions.
Hence the position papers for the meeting, which had been commissioned
were supplemented by a critique of the Synod's program as get out
in its preliminary document. Therefore, in drawing up the present
joint statement we have been able to reflect not only on our own
papers and discussions but also on the proceedings of the Synod
as so far known, and on the work of the World Methodist Council
at its Mexico and Jerusalem consultations. These have been referred
to directly where it seemed appropriate.
We begin by stating briefly five general themes which appear to
run through the documents and reports we have examined and which
command our joint acceptance:
The Church's calling to witness in word and life to God's saving
work in Christ is fundamental to her being;
This witness can be fully effective only when the churches witness
together, not out of expediency or for practical convenience but
for the sake of the truth being proclaimed and lived;
Salvation has individual and social dimensions that must not be
separated, involving as it does relationship to God and to fellow-man,
and transformation in Christ of both the person and the society
which he helps to make up and which shapes him in turn;
God's saving work in Christ is not restricted to Christians but
extends also to non-Christian communities and the whole created
Witness today calls for a re-interpretation of salvation that goes
beyond translation into contemporary language and takes account
of the many ways In which people now hope and seek for salvation.
The church is still commissioned to preach the gospel to all men,
in the hope that all may come to know God revealed in Christ...
Common usage of the word "salvation" implies that the existence
of somebody or something is threatened, that there is a menace or
danger from which somebody or something is being saved. In theological
terms this menace was long summed up in the phrase "the wrath to
come", but in mature Christian thought this "negative" was inseparable
from a positive vision of what God's salvific will, manifest in
the reality of Christ's saving work, meant for man, namely a transformation
in the living Christ, begun already in baptism and kindling a hope6
of eternal transformation for those who held to Christ.
If "salvation from" in its more starkly eschatological form has
faded in contemporary consciousness, the conditions of contemporary
life in which every sort of insecurity looms have thrust it forward
again in other forms, just as acutely felt. Today we can distinguish
concern for salvation:
On the elemental level, where fully one-third of human beings live,
salvation means deliverance from the day-to-day threat of failure
of the means of survival;
On a higher level, salvation means deliverance from the wretchedness
of mere subsistence and entry into a fuller human life-work for
the unemployed, learning for the illiterate, dignity and power for
the despised and downtrodden.
On the highest level, salvation means deliverance from those anxieties,
that discontent and even despair to which material comfort offers
no answer. Indeed we should have to go further and say that man
seems so made that obsession with or complacency about the "primary"
forms of salvation is self-defeating and likely to threaten that
very social and political order in which primary needs are met.
Man's glory is a "divine discontent" which distances these needs
by a sense of the transcendent. The point was superbly expressed
by the Anglican poet George Herbert:
let him keep the rest
But keep them with repining restlessness
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May tosse him to My breast".
The Judeo-Christian message of salvation has never artificially
separated these three levels, although its ultimate concern is with
the last. The Old Testament shows God's salvation as concerned,
whether for the individual or the nation, with concrete experiences,
dangers, afflictions, deprivations, injustices, but culminating
with the prophetic emphasis on "salvation for" the kingdom, the
peace of God.
The Christian message of salvation has always been vulnerable to
an interpretation involving rejection of matter, escape from "the
world"; but in fact it embraces every human need while transcending
it. It affirms eternal life which encompasses yet goes beyond our
mortal condition. It finds its ground and hope in the life and death
and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Given a longing for salvation which is as wide as humanity, and
the concern of all churches to witness to its true meaning, what
in particular can Roman Catholics and Methodists say and do?
More than once since 1966, when these conversations began, we have
been called to recognize our shared heritage; not just to put an
ecumenical veneer on the otherwise unaltered furniture of our separation
but to discover the underlying realities on which our churches are
founded and to which the common features of our heritage point.
Now we must go further and see that, arising out of that shared
heritage, there are things that we are impelled to insist on and
to do that will contribute to the current debate on Common Witness
and Salvation, but more, that will involve us together in the common
(i) The affirmation of the reality of sin which Roman Catholics
and Methodists have traditionally made has never seemed more relevant
than today. The weight of sin needs to be seen in all its gravity,
against either naive Pelagianism or Promethean humanism, but also
without over stressing the trivial. The total picture of human injustice,
venality, selfishness, not least where the churches have seemed
to condone it, needs to be seen and denounced in the prophetic spirit
of the great preachers of history.
(ii) But in the same spirit of sober realism the reality and glory
of the grace of God, equally central in our traditions, needs to
be proclaimed, as answering in truth to all needs of man. There
will be liberation only as God's grace transforms the will of those
who exercise power. There will be love only as God's grace evokes
in us response to his initiative of love in Christ. With all our
technical resources there will be food enough for all only as God's
grace leads us to responsible parenthood and finally changes our
wills so that we are more ready to produce and to share. In the
words of the 1974 Synod of Catholic Bishops, union with Christ is
the only thing which raises the individual "lost in the ocean of
history and the incalculable multitude of humanity" to the challenge
(iii) Social concern has been characteristic of the Roman Catholic
and Methodist traditions. Today, when care for salvation often manifests
itself on only one of the levels mentioned earlier, we need to witness
that our social concern is a fruit of faith, and that we test whether
salvation at any level is the work of the Holy Spirit by relating
it to the teaching of Jesus Christ, God's saving work made manifest.
Such a test must be a moral test of the means employed to achieve
the desired end, e.g. in the search for liberation. When unjust
power is overwhelming and deaf to persuasion, force may not simply
be ruled out, but the spirit of faction and violence remains alien
to the Christian's concern for the poor and oppressed.
(iv) A strong missionary impulse is common to us, and recently our
churches have publicly recognized both that it must continue and
that it must develop new forms of expression. The gospel may well
by now have been preached to every corner of the earth, but there
have never been so many people living who have never heard of the
saving grace of God in Christ. All over the world people are growing
up in communities that have not heard, or who have heard and no
longer listen, or who follow other voices that speak of salvation.
(v) Our traditional shared concern for sanctification has been a
source of strength, but we have sometimes (especially where we have
been an extra establishment minority) shared also a tendency, contrary
to our true traditions, to understand regeneration largely as the
new birth of the individual 7.
Thus sanctification has been thought of as limited to the work of
the Holy Spirit in the individual life. While maintaining the fundamental
importance of personal spirituality, we need to explore the fullest
implications of the biblical view of salvation as new creation,
so that sanctification will be seen to include the fulfilment of
God's purpose for the whole created order and we shall hear the
call to witness together to the responsibility of mankind for the
earth which is God's good creation.
Looking outward in this way we must be sensitive to the riches in
other living faiths. Even unbelief challenges us to purify our faith.
Especially we must be sensitive to the possibilities of preparatio
evangelica in the searchings and aspirations of our contemporaries,
while recognizing the essential ambiguilty of many social, cultural)
and ideological movements. A real sensitivity to the gospel and
to the world will enable us to be true to our aim as Christians:
to help people towards a living faith in Christ within their own
society and culture, and not to offer a way of thinking and living
as Christians belonging only to our own society. It is essential
that above all, our own way of life must reflect faithfully the
gospel which we preach. Where it does not, our credibility as Christians
is seriously challenged.
(vi) If we are to be taken seriously, we must ourselves take seriously
the call to unity. Our present series of conversations began with
a Call to joint Action - "What can Roman Catholics and Methodists
do together?" The discernment of common traditions and concerns
by a few does not of itself produce joint action on any significant
scale. Our people must share the discernment as part of their own
Christian commitment which they must see as pointing to unity not
division. Catholics might well reflect that Methodism has had from
the beginning structural possibilities for healthy and expanding
lay participation in evangelism, and be prepared to learn much from
this tradition. Methodists, on the other hand, might well feel that
concern for lay involvement has most recently been more manifest
among Catholics, and this could well be a matter for consultation
and further cooperation between us.
The tests of the seriousness of our joint concern about salvation
and evangelization must be of the practical order pointed to in
section VIII of the Denver Report8
and in the Call to Action of December 1972. These pointed to the
need for "serious planning of the education of our churches" and
the connected "vital question of communication". Since the Denver
assembly we can point gratefully to growth in collaboration at national,
regional and local levels, some of which has produced valuable contributions
to the present report: there is room for wider and more generous
response. We cannot repeat too often the last words of the "Call
to Action" we made at our meeting in 1972: "We do not want merely
to accumulate paper for our files, but we want to stimulate one
another to common action, so that the world which is starving for
lack of good news may not through our unnecessary divisions be prevented
from receiving the food of the Gospel".
Lee F. Tuttle, ed.: Proceedings of the Twelfth
World Methodist Conference, Denver, Colorado, August 18-26,
1971 (Nashville & New York: Abingdon), pp. 46-49 (§
34-50). Hereafter cited as Proceedings.
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Proceedings, pp. 35-7.
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- Dr. Robert Nelson, "Salvation: Illusion Puzzle or Joy?";
Fr. T. Stransky, "A Report on the Bankok Conferente";
Mons. Charles Moeller, "Reflections on Bangkok" ; Bishop
F. W. Schäfer, "Possible Themes for Dialogue Emerging
from Bangkok and Mexico City".Back
Mons. C. Moeller, "Jesus Christ Frees
and Unites"; Fr. Michael Hurley, S.J., "Prevenient
Grace and Salvation Today: A Note on John Wesley"; Dr.
J. Miguez Bonino, "The Wesleyan Tradition of Conversion
in Relation to Salvation Today".
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Methodists have characteristically spoken of
assurance in this connection, but this should not be seen as
a form of certainty which removes the need for hope. Assurance,
itself a gift of the Holy Spirit, was no guarantee of perseverance,
nor even a necessary accompaniment of saving faith.
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Proceedings, p. 49 (§ 47).
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