Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > M-RC > Honolulu Rep. 1981 | CONT. > sec. 2
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The Holy Spirit, Christian Experience And Authority - sec. 2
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   23. Still bearing in mind the signs of the work of the Spirit which we believe to be discernible today (cf above para. 6) we pass from general agreements on the Holy Spirit to considering Christian experience (seeing it as the Spirit's guiding and ordering work in the Church).


   Christian experience is a rich field largely unexplored at least in ecumenical dialogue.
   We agree that "Life in the Spirit is human life lived out...to its utmost in consonance with God's gracious purpose" (cf above para. 13). It is faith's awareness of the Holy Spirit's initiative within the human heart, stimulating and guiding the believer to yet more faith and hope and love. Such awareness sees both the world and history as interpersonal, as lying within God's care and providence. This awareness is focused in God's self-disclosure in Jesus Christ and directed toward life together in the Church, in which the Holy Spirit presides, indwelling, inspiring and conforming Christians to the mind that was in Christ (Phil. 2,5).

   24. Christian religious experience includes the assurance of God's unmerited mercy in Christ, the inner witness of the Spirit that we are indeed children of God, pardoned and reconciled to the Father (Rom. 8,12-17). The same Spirit also guides the faith ful to a knowledge of all the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and to an ever more faithful obedience to God's righteous rule within the human community at large. Despite our inability to manifest it perfectly, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5, 22-23) is ever a potent factor in drawing others into Christian fellowship.

   25. Both Catholics and Methodists have found in John Wesley's Christian experience and his comments on "experimental religion" an edifying instance of that to which we are pointing. After a full dozen years of faithful ministry in Christ's name and to the needy (in Oxford, in Lincolnshire and Georgia) Wesley's heart was "strangely warmed" and he came into an "assurance" that God had taken away his sins and had saved him from the law of sin and death (cf. Journal, May 24, 1738).1 Significantly, it was this deeply personal experience that led Wesley into a yet more effective ministry, still more deeply grounded in his awareness that it was the Holy Spirit who enabled him to communicate to others the gospel of salvation by faith and holiness in heart and life. Thus, the doctrine of the "witness of the Spirit" (i.e. the hinge of any idea of Christian experience) looms large in Wesley's teaching, early and late (Discourse 1, 1748, and Discourse Il, 1764). It must be acknowledged that later Methodist theologians have tended to be more "rationalistic" or more "pragmatic". However we have found new meanings in the evident similarities between Wesley and the mainstream of Catholic spirituality. This convergence could have significant implications for our own growing spiritual awareness of "oneness in Christ" and for the future of the cause of Christian unity. Thus we have agreed that a reclamation of our complex heritage by both sides would benefit our respective communities and also enhance our present experience of unity in the Spirit.

   26. In the Post-Reformation Roman Catholic tradition generally, it has been the saints and spiritual masters, rather than the scholastic theologians, who have stressed the centrality of Christian experience. In this matter, however, Vatican II appears as a turning point. The Council documents speak frequently of the transforming activities of the Holy Spirit, in persons, in the Church, in the world. They stress the task of discerning "the signs of the times" and of the Spirit's leading in these shadowed, changing times. It is not an exaggeration to say that these post-conciliar years have witnessed a rediscovery within the Catholic fold of Christian faith as "experience", understood afresh as intimacy with Christ in prayer and as liberating presence in persons and communities. The most evident signs of this "new spirit" include the rise of various centers of spirituality, houses of prayer, the charismatic renewal, cursillos and marriage-encounter movements, Bible study groups, new ministries, more active roles for women in the church, new efforts in the promotion of justice, new missionary ventures. These "signs" might quite properly remind Methodists of how their early "class meetings" could look if they, too, were updated.

   27. We are able, therefore, to affirm together the crucial importance of "heart religion" since we agree that Christianity is a communion of believers, a "fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John I,1-3 ; for the Spirit's role in this, cf. III, 24, IV,13). We form a mystical body whose Head is Christ (Eph. IV). Our common aim is to live together, in the Spirit, that Christ may be formed in us, our hope of glory, to the end that the Father's righteous will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven. The Holy Spirit is the prime artisan of our Christian experience, since it is lie who "completes the work of Christ by placing himself as the innermost reality in each human being" (P. Evdokimov, in "Panagion et Panagia", BSFEM, 27, 1970, p. 61). It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to pray "Lord Jesus" and "Abba, Father"; it is he who fashions us in the image of Jesus; it is he who calls us into obedience to the Father's righteous rule on earth and beyond all this to our very first duty of glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

   28. Together, then, we affirm that the Christian experience toward which we aspire as one includes mystery and clarity, feeling and reason, individual conscience and acknowledged authority, charisms and sacraments, spiritual exercises and service, individual and communal "discernments of spirits", local community and worldwide mission, fidelity to the past and openness to the present and future. We are agreed that Christian experience requires for its development the disciplines of prayer and devotion, the truth accessible in Holy Scriptures, the nourishment of the sacraments, the encouragement that comes from God's abundant gifts of grace and wisdom, for witness and service in the world.

   29. Further, since it is in our totality as human persons that God joins us to himself, we are agreed that our affective states are also subject to the Spirit's absolute "prevenience". As we seek to be instructed by the Scriptures and by the spiritual treasures of the Christian tradition, our "spiritual senses" are developed to greater and greater keeness. In the Spirit, we see the Lord, hear his voice, taste his sweetness, breathe the fragrance of his presence, experience the healing power and the gift of new life of him who dwells in our hearts and speaks to us through the witness and need of others. At the same time, this experience is open to the rule of reason and to all responsible uses of practical knowledge. "Knowledge and vital piety" belong together, as correctives to imbalances from either side. By the same token, there must be careful balancing between the voice of individual conscience and the voice of legitimate external authority, in church or society — by the constant acknowledgment that both conscience and all external authorities are regulated by the Word of God, by the faith of the Church and by the shared experience of the Christian faithful.

   30. Catholics and Methodists agree that progress in purification from sin and its effects as well as growth in holiness, namely love of God and neighbor, requires the development of our God-given powers of spiritual discernment in individual and social experience. We rejoice in our mutual discoveries of significant resources in our respective traditions which aid such development, such as the Sermons and spiritual directives of John Wesley and, say, the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. We are convinced that as we recover and reclaim this rich mutual heritage for ourselves, we might grow closer to each other on a deeper level.

   31. We also rejoice to recognize the emergence of new communities of fellow Christians who are seeking to support each other in their Christian witness and service — as what St. Ignatius spoke of as "friends in the Lord". These experiences in community demand of all who share in them unfeigned fidelity in faith, voluntary moral discipline and sacrificial service. They call us all to a livelier concern for more apt understanding of Holy Scriptures as we are guided by the same Spirit who inspired them. Equally, we acknowledge ourselves as under the imperatives of love that follow from the summons to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, in our lives and in his world. The Holy Spirit is God's first gift to those who believe and to all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of the Father. Out of these shared convictions, we call upon all our sisters and brothers in Christ to join in more ardent pursuit of these higher levels of Christian experience and more effective ways of expressing our faith, hope and love in and to the world for which Christ died. In this way we shall be drawn into an actual communion in Christ and, as we may hope, more readily thereafter into communio in sacris, full sacramental fellowship.

   32. Our respective liturgical traditions give expression to this common faith:

"Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord"
    (Methodist Service of Holy Communion: and Roman Missal, Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit).

"Father all-powerful, and ever living God, we do well, always and everywhere, to give you thanks; in you we live and move and have our being. Each day you show us a Father's love; your Holy Spirit, within us, gives us on earth the hope of unending joy. Your gift of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the foretaste and promise of the Paschal Feast of heaven ..."
    (Roman Missal, Preface VI for Sundays in Ordinary Time).


   33. To men and women sealed by the Spirit in baptism, gathered in the Church, in the communion of Christ's gift of himself, Christ's authority is mediated through the Spirit, who is Love, and hence all authority that flows from this source is part of God's good gift. Whether it be the personal authority of holiness or the charisma of episcope conferred by the Spirit on the ordained ministry, whether it be teaching or disciplinary, authority implies that what is propounded, commanded or recommended ought to be accepted on the ground that it comes from this source.

   33. To men and women sealed by the Spirit in baptism, gathered in the Church, in the communion of Christ's gift of himself, Christ's authority is mediated through the Spirit, who is Love, and hence all authority that flows from this source is part of God's good gift. Whether it be the personal authority of holiness or the charisma of episcope conferred by the Spirit on the ordained ministry, whether it be teaching or disciplinary, authority implies that what is propounded, commanded or recommended ought to be accepted on the ground that it comes from this source.

   34. There is no disagreement that the Church has authority to teach. In the Church, the revelation of God in Christ comes to us through Scripture, and to maintain God's people in the truth is the loving work of the Spirit in the Church. But this maintenance is not a matter of mere repetition of formulae. The Spirit moves the Church to constant reflection on the Scriptures which he himself inspired and on their traditional interpretation, so that she may speak with undiminished authority to men in different times and places, in different social and cultural settings, facing new and difficult problems. This is not of course to question the abiding importance of credal statements and such Conciliar pronouncements as the Chalcedonian definition. The enduring validity of these does not restrict the power of the Spirit to speak in new ways to the Church, whose living voice never speaks in isolation from its living past. It stands under the living word of God. The old oppositions of Scripture and Tradition have given way to an understanding which we share, that Scripture in witness to the living tradition from which it arose has a normative role for the total tradition of the Church as it lives and is guided still by the Spirit of truth.

   35. Ours is not the only dialogue in which special difficulties have been voiced, and persist, in the matter of papal claims and the character of dogmatic definitions (Paul VI's address to S. P. C. U. plenary 1968). We should take notice of the progress of other dialogues, but we believe that emotions surrounding such relatively modern terms as infallibility and irreformability can be diminished if they are looked at in the light of our shared doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. The papal authority, no less than any other within the Church, is a manifestation of the continuing presence of the Spirit of Love in the Church or it is nothing. Indeed it should in its exercise be pre-eminently such a manifestation. It was declared at Vatican I to be "for the building up and not the casting down of the church" — whether of the local Church or the communion of local Churches.

   36. This primary aspect has been obscured by the emotions and polemics surrounding such terms as infallibility and universal and immediate jurisdiction. As with other dogmas, the terms which express the dogma of 1870 belong to their time, and must be understood in the context of that time and of the debates of that era. The truth behind them is capable of fuller understanding in new settings by all concerned. Already Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and other documents have done something to adjust an imbalance left by the unfinished business of Vatican I.
The terms referred to are not to be explained away: from different standpoints we are agreed that this would be neither useful nor honest. Yet they are not claims about human qualities or glorifications of an office. They are to be understood in the light of the total conception and the total responsibility of teaching and disciplinary office in the Church — a pastoral office mirroring the constant presence and solicitude of the Spirit within the Church, leading into truth and disciplining in love. Thus, and thus only, whatever its forms and nomenclature, can any authority be understood and legitimized.
However the claims implied in such terms are circumscribed and clarified, it is unlikely that Methodists in the foreseeable future will feel comfortable with them. But Methodist awareness of the papacy has enlarged and greatly altered in recent times, and the general idea of a universal service of unity within the Church, a primacy of charity mirroring the presence and work in the Church of the Spirit who is love, may well be a basis for increased understanding and convergence.

   37. We have said above that the personal authority of holiness (para. 33) also shows the Spirit present and at work. This points to the question of a relationship which we discussed as long ago as Denver (1971) — that of authority and conscience. This has often been seen less as a relationship than as a Protestant/Catholic antithesis. If what we have agreed so far is true, this view can only be a distortion. That authority is a service of the Gospel, that the assent of faith is free or nothing, that the one witnesses to the other, no Catholic will deny: that Christian conscience is formed within the life of the Church, which is life in the Spirit, no Methodist will dispute. More questions on this relationship must arise in our next phase of work, on practical, ethical and moral judgements, but these agreed principles will apply.

   38. We have agreed that:
"The coming of this Kingdom involves the transformation of the human community now marred by sin with its resultant oppression and poverty into a community of justice, love and peace" (n. 22 above).

We are not under the illusion that the signs of the activity of the Holy Spirit we started by pointing to are signs to be found everywhere. There is much cause for disquiet, in the impatience and contempt, not for tyrannical and arbitrary authority but for the fundamental authority which alone makes ordered life possible. The contempt for human life, for diplomatic immunity, for our natural inheritance, are saddening signs of the times. What we said above about the criteria by which alone authority can be understood or legitimized clearly applies, for Christians, to all authority ecclesiastical or secular. Hence, it is that we see concern for the poor and the oppressed and for the conservation of God's gifts as one test by which all authority is to be judged. All arbitrary and absolute authority, denying the respect due to human beings and to creation, is unchristian.



  1. "About a quarter before nine, while he (the reader of Luther's Preface to Romans) was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from sin and death" (cf Dublin report, note 6 to no. 12, which recalls that Methodists do not see "assurance" as "a form of certainty which removes the need for hope".

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