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I. Conversion And Christian Initiation

   Appendix 1: PARTICIPANTS
   Appendix 2: PAPERS

I. Conversion and Christian Initiation

A. Introduction

25. Catholics and Pentecostals both agree that conversion is essential to salvation in Christ, and that its ultimate purpose is a life of committed discipleship. At the same time, both within each tradition and between them there exists a diversity of understandings and approaches to conversion. Issues that illustrate this diversity include whether conversion is an event, a series of events or a process. The variety of experiences reflected in the biblical texts regarding conversion, and how we interpret these texts, underlie some of this diversity.

26. Catholics see conversion within the larger context of the process of Christian Initiation, which includes as essential elements “proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to eucharistic communion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church[CCC] 1229).4 Catholics link “the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit” with the sacrament of confirmation (CCC 1302). They affirm that such initiation is aimed at conversion, which is a profound existential change in life that naturally results in the urge to spread the Good News. Catholics see baptism as incorporation into Christ and into the church, while they also recognize the importance of the stages of the catechumenate.

27. Pentecostals understand conversion to include a reorientation of a person’s pattern of attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Pentecostals also link conversion to a process that includes proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel, profession of faith, repentance, a turning away from sin and turning to God, the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), as well as the incorporation of the individual into the Christian community. Since “Christian Initiation” is not a term commonly used by Pentecostals in discussing their understanding of conversion, Pentecostals do not generally express such concepts as conversion, its recognition by the church, sanctification, and Baptism in the Holy Spirit (see section V) together under the category of Christian Initiation. Most Pentecostals understand conversion to be distinct from Baptism in the Holy Spirit; also, for most Pentecostals a discussion of the beginning of the Christian life does not necessarily include water baptism as the primary basis for entry into the Christian life, although like Catholics, baptism is a rite that holds great importance for them.

B. Biblical Perspectives on Conversion

28. In a biblical sense, conversion embraces all human faculties: rational, volitional and affective—“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me….Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (Ps 51:10,12; cf. Jer 24:7, Ezek 18:30-31, Gal 2:20). It affects the whole person—“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor 5:17).

29. An aspect of conversion unique to the New Testament is that it is intimately tied to the person of Jesus Christ, in whom the kingdom is brought to fulfillment—“…everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Conversion is related to a variety of biblical themes (including sin, forgiveness, repentance, salvation, justification, baptism, faith). The root notion of conversion in the Bible is change, that is, turning from sin, death and darkness to grace, new life, and light.

30. Conversion is often associated with acts reflecting a purification of mind and heart —“return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (Joel 2:12; cf. Joel 1:13-14, Ps 51:4,9). The Bible generally shows conversion to be both event and process (Acts 9:1-19; see also Jer 3:22, 8:4-5). For example, in the account of Paul’s conversion, he first had an encounter with the risen Christ: “…suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice...” (Acts 9:3-4). This dramatic event was followed by a process of formation over a period of time during which he was prayed for by Ananias (v. 12), was filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 17), and was baptized (v. 18). Paul further described the process, mentioning his journey to Arabia, return to Damascus for three years, and his time spent in Jerusalem with Peter (Gal. 1:13-24).

31. One prominent effect of conversion is the urge to give testimony to others and consequently to evangelize, particularly in response to the Lord’s command in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). During the post-resurrection period, when Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, their declaration was, “…we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20; cf. Lk. 24:33-35).

32. In the New Testament, several perspectives on conversion can be found as one looks at the Synoptic Gospels and the Johannine and Pauline writings. This theme occurs in a variety of contexts and with different emphases. Nevertheless, there are elements that are common to all of them, though not always highlighted in each one. Generally, conversion entails being embraced by God’s goodness, turning away from sin, and turning towards God. In the stories narrated by the New Testament authors, conversion occurs instantaneously or as an ongoing process. It can be a very dramatic event obvious to all spectators or a process of inner development that is largely hidden from the view of other people. For instance, the exchange between Jesus and the teacher of the law was a seemingly quiet event, resulting in Jesus noting the change in the man and declaring, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12:34).

33. In the synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Mark, conversion is linked to repentance. The definition of conversion as turning away from sin is rooted in these passages—“John the baptizer appeared…proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4; see also Mt 3:2, 8, 11); and also, Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). Later in Matthew repentance is described as changing one’s mind towards obedience (Mt 21:29). There it may reflect the need of an ongoing repentance as turning towards obedience to God, and be associated more with the general idea of discipleship than with conversion/initiation.

34. The parables in Luke 15 (the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son) illustrate the notion of being embraced by God’s goodness. This is contained in two motifs also emphasized elsewhere by Luke: first being brought back by God—“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (v. 20); and second, repentance—“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7). The repentance described in the lost sheep and coin parables emphasizes God’s initiative, while the prodigal son’s repentance demonstrates a more active human response. In all three parables there is a sense of restoration to community: being found, being carried home, being restored to the rest of the flock, being reinstated into the family.

35. Other Lucan passages also reflect the drama between the divine initiative and the sinner’s response in regard to repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18, Luke 19:10). Luke 8:18 (“pay attention to how you listen”) implies an active listening, being actively involved in something that is happening within oneself, or to oneself. In Luke 19, Zaccheus experiences a conversion. He is restored to the fellowship of the community; the excluded one has been included by Jesus. This narrative is almost paradigmatic for many conversion stories in Luke-Acts: conversion is believing in the good news and allowing oneself to be embraced by God’s love and to be restored to the community of God’s people.

36. In a more active sense, Luke speaks of conversion as turning towards God . When John the Baptist and others preach repentance, the typical Lucan question is “What then should we do?” (Lk 3:10, 12, 14; Acts 2:37, 16:30, 22:10). John’s response to the question helps define what repentance means: share with those who do not have (Lk 3:11), do not defraud people in business (v. 14), do not accuse people falsely (v. 14), do not enrich yourself by use of power (v. 13). Thus conversion is not only a personal/spiritual experience, but it also affects all of life, including social, economic, political and cultural dimensions.

37. The Johannine perspective focuses more broadly on salvation, and not specifically on conversion. Two metaphors that John does emphasize are those of receiving life and receiving light. John 3:1-21 emphasizes the new birth as the work of God, although it does not take place apart from faith expressed by the person being born again. Here and elsewhere in John the emphasis is on Jesus coming so that this world and those who believe will have life—“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16; cf. 3:36, 5:24, 6:35-40). Having life reflects accepting what has been offered, as depicted in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (4:10-15). The variety of “life” metaphors (birth, living water, bread) point to John’s interest in Jesus giving or bringing life. The same emphasis applies when considering John’s use of the metaphor of light: Jesus comes into this world, gives light, and people are to receive it and live in it—“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12; cf. 3:19, 12:46, I Jn. 1:7, 2:9). However, John also reports Jesus’ invitation to the thirsty that they should take action: “come to me, and…drink” (John 7:37).

38. Paul offers us a unique insight into the theme of conversion, by giving us a profound theological interpretation of his own conversion experience. While Acts 9 describes the conversion of Paul, Paul provides us with his personal understanding of it which sheds some light upon the mysterious interplay between the human and the divine (Gal. 1:13-17; Phil. 3:4-11).

39. Pauline writings reflect conversion as a radical, decisive event, expressed by a variety of descriptions. These include hearing and responding to the call—“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Rom 10:12-13). Paul also expresses the beginning of the Christian life either as a cry for help (Rom 7:24), the experience of being called, or other depictions that illustrate the newness of the existence. Most of these emphasize God’s initiative, with the person entering into experiences such as repentance, death of the old nature, or becoming a new creation. The one passage referring to repentance (Rom 2:4) depicts it as an encounter with God’s love and mercy. Other terms in Pauline writings that relate to conversion are used similarly: being purchased (1 Cor 6:20); being liberated (Rom 6:17-18); having received grace (Rom 3:21-26); being justified (Rom 6:7). As in the Gospels, this newness of life, while personal, is not merely an individualistic experience but that of a believer being reconciled with God and restored to community. It comprises a restoration to fellowship—“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility….that he might…reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross” (Eph 2:14-16). This new community is as radically different from the one experienced before, as is the individual’s inner transformation—“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).

40. The Bible presents various perspectives on conversion, and not just one definition. Catholics and Pentecostals find that they can agree on many characteristics of conversion found in Scripture. First, conversion involves establishing or reestablishing a personal relationship with God so that the sinner can cry out with confidence, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Ps 51:1). It implies a mysterious interplay between the human and the divine, primarily the human response to divine initiative. Though conversion is a personal experience, the biblical understanding is that it is always relational (both vertical and horizontal). The biblical call to conversion is properly directed to whole communities as well as to individuals.

C. Patristic Perspectives on Conversion

41. Some of the patristic writings which can speak eloquently to both Pentecostals and Catholics today are the joyful accounts by individuals of their own conversions. In one such personal testimony, Justin Martyr (c.165) tells how the witness of a believer sparked a wonderful change in his own life: “When he had spoken these and many other things, which there is no time for mentioning at present, he went away, bidding me to attend to them; and I have not seen him since. But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me” (Dialogue with Trypho 8).5 Nearly a hundred years later, Cyprian (c.250), the bishop of Carthage in Northern Africa, shared the change which occurred in his own life with these words: “I used to indulge my sins as if they were actually parts of me and indigenous to me. But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart. Then, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man … I was enabled to acknowledge that what had been previously living in the practice of sin, being born of the flesh, was of the earth and was earthly. But now it had begun to be of God and was enlivened by the Spirit of holiness” (Letter I [To Donatus] 4). A contemporary of Cyprian, from the eastern part of the Mediterranean world, Gregory Thaumaturgus (c.255), described becoming a Christian this way: “Like some spark lighting upon our inmost soul, love was kindled and burst into flame with us – a love for the holy Word, the most lovely object of all, who attracts everyone irresistibly toward Himself” (The Oration and Panegyric to Origen VI).

42. One of the most memorable patristic accounts of conversion is found in St. Augustine’s autobiography, which he entitled The Confessions (397-400) in order to acknowledge not only his own sins but also the great mercy and love of God toward him. “Too late did I love You,” he wrote, “O Beauty, so ancient, and yet so new!” He admitted that he had sought happiness in the created things around him, forgetting that they would never have existed at all, if not for God who had made them. “You called, and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shined, and chased away my blindness. You breathed out upon me and I drew in my breath and do pant for You. I tasted, and do hunger and thirst. You touched me and I burned for Your peace” (Confessions X, 27). Such patristic witnesses have the power to inspire and encourage both Pentecostals and Catholics, since both of our communities treasure and retell the stories of marvelous conversion and transformation which God has worked in the lives of his saints.

43. Augustine’s story includes some of the characteristics that both Catholics and Pentecostals recognize as part of the complex phenomenon of conversion. At times of crisis, a potential convert may seek order, meaning and purpose in life, leading to the search to encounter God. Augustine had moments of such encounter which were so vivid that he felt like St. Paul, who wrote of being “lifted up to the third heaven” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2). But that this encounter should be more than simply a fleeting occurrence, Augustine chose to resume his participation in the catechumenate and to seek baptism (Confessions VII, 11.17; IX, 4-6). He believed that he could encounter Christ only as part of the community of believers Christ had founded. For Augustine, the way of entry into that community was through the rites of Christian Initiation, which provided access to a genuine encounter with God. The interaction of potential converts with the community and the development of their commitment formed a clear pattern in which instruction and ritual were woven closely together. Augustine was influenced by the preaching of Ambrose (Confessions V, 13.23), and the tears of his mother (Confessions VI, 2.1). Conversion was the result of ongoing interaction between those converts and those already initiated, who shared the new religious life they had found with these newcomers. The change at the root of conversion is nothing less than transformation of the person through the interaction of divine grace and human freedom. The patristic writers used a variety of images to describe this holistic change or transformation, such as sanctification, enlightenment, and even deification;6 but the dominant metaphor, as in Romans 6, was death and rebirth.

44. The Fathers described the change in behavior that results from conversion in various ways. Origen observed that the word of teaching and instruction “taking hold of those who are most intemperate and savage (if they follow her exhortation) effects a transformation, so that the alteration and change for the better is most extensive” (Origen, On First Principles III,1,5 [c.220-230]). He adds that “the name of Jesus … produces a marvelous meekness of spirit and a complete change of character” (Origen, Against Celsus I, 67 [c.248]). So dramatic was this change that it often surprised the non-Christian acquaintances of the newly converted: “Some persons wonder that those whom they had known to be unsteady, worthless, or wicked before they bore this name [of Christian] have suddenly been converted to virtuous courses” (Tertullian, To the Nations 4 [c.191]).

45. The Fathers generally spoke of conversion in the context of baptism as the beginning of the Christian life. They were attentive to the role of grace and to a person’s free will in making a decision toward conversion. Origen noted that “no improvement ever takes place among men without divine help” (Origen, Against Celsus I, 26 [c.248]). Later the Council of Orange (529) taught: “We must with God’s help preach and believe the following: free will has been so distorted and weakened by the sin of the first parent, that thereafter no one could love God as was required, or believe in God, or perform for the sake of God what is good, unless first reached by the grace of divine mercy.”7 At the same time, patristic writers also emphasized the responsibility of the person, as expressed, for example, by Augustine’s saying: “He who created you without you does not justify you without you” (Sermon 169, 11.13)8

46. Some of the Fathers associated conversion with new birth and interpreted the new birth about which Jesus speaks in John 3:1-8 as referring to baptism. This new birth was described by means of metaphors such as “seeing the light” and “marriage to the Holy Spirit”: “When the soul embraces the faith, being renewed in its second birth by water and the power from above, then the veil of its former corruption is taken away. And it sees the light in all its brightness. It is also taken up (in its second birth) by the Holy Spirit, just as in its first birth it is embraced by the unholy spirit. The flesh follows the soul now wedded to the Spirit, as a part of the bridal portion – no longer the servant of the soul, but of the Spirit” (Tertullian, On the Soul 41 [c.210]). The newness of life in Jesus was like becoming a child again so as to be made according to a new pattern: “Having renewed us by the remission of our sins, He has made us after another pattern, that we should possess the souls of children, inasmuch as He has created us anew by His Spirit” (Letter of Barnabas 6 [70-130]). Clement of Alexandria describes the transformation of the Christian in terms drawn from the creation of human beings at the dawn of time. “He himself formed man of the dust, regenerated him by water, made him grow by his Spirit, and trained him by His word to adoption and salvation, directing him by sacred precepts; in order that, transforming earth-born man into a holy and heavenly being by His advent, He might fulfill to the utmost that divine utterance, ‘Let Us make man in Our own image and likeness’” (The Instructor I, 12 [prior to 215]).

47. Pentecostals and Catholics sometimes differ in their interpretation of biblical texts upon which the Fathers expounded. For example, Pentecostals read John 3:1-8 as referring more generally to conversion, and not explicitly to baptism, as Catholics would tend to read it. Nevertheless, the way patristic authors associate new birth with conversion and baptism speaks to both our communities, recalling something of the perennial qualities of Christian conversion which we both recognize and rejoice in and illustrating the diverse ways in which early writers attempted to describe what is essential to it.

D. Contemporary Reflections on Conversion

48. How might the biblical and patristic material deepen agreement between the dialogue participants about conversion, and about becoming a Christian? Catholics and Pentecostals used their discussions concerning this material as a basis on which to consider current practices in both communities. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), retrieved from biblical and patristic sources and adapted for use by the Catholic Church in 1972, offers possibilities for an agreed expression of our theological understanding and practice. The RCIA was introduced into the Catholic Church as part of the liturgical renewal mandated by Vatican II. It resulted from a revision of the rite of baptism in light of studies of liturgical history drawn from scriptural and patristic texts, especially that of the early centuries. As its name implies, this rite is for the full initiation of a person into the church. The previously existing Rite of Baptism, that came into effect in 1614 as a rite of baptism only, was an abbreviated version of the ancient rite for the initiation of adults and had been used for the most part in the modified form suitable for the baptism of infants. The Rite of the Baptism of Infants, introduced in 1969 to answer the need of a rite suited to infants, follows the practice of the previous rite in being for baptism alone, rather than one of full initiation. The limited scope of this Rite brings into prominence, by way of contrast, the comprehensive nature of the RCIA

49. In the texts and rituals of the RCIA, the various elements of Christian conversion on which Pentecostals and Catholics are agreed can be readily discerned. It may be noted too that though it is based on practice developed in the patristic era, the rite shares the perspective already outlined in the survey of biblical texts earlier in this section. The text uses language of hearing, following and answering to express a conviction that conversion comes about in response to God’s initiative. This reflects the agreement between Pentecostals and Catholics that conversion is understood as entrance into a covenant involving a mysterious interplay between the divine and human. The baptismal event itself, the culmination of the catechumens’ journey, is presented in the rite as an immersion into and identification with the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising (cf. Rm. 6:3-4). The rite is therefore radically Christocentric. It situates the act of personal commitment to Christ in the context of the liturgical assembly and through the ministry of various members of the community. Seen from this latter perspective, the conversion celebrated by the rite entails also an enrichment of the ecclesial reality.

50. As a rite of initiation, RCIA consequently involves liturgical actions as well as spiritual event. While Pentecostals and Catholics both recognize that the Christian life in community is aptly expressed and enhanced in acts of worship, they differ on the relationship between the visible and invisible aspects of the rite of entry to the community. Catholics believe that the rite is a visible sign of invisible grace, a sacrament. Among Pentecostals, views on baptism vary between considering it a public affirmation of faith in Christ to speaking of it as having a substantial effect, a strengthening of faith. In the Catholic understanding, the effects of the RCIA have a wider scope, in that baptism, confirmation and eucharist are all contained within it to complete the act of initiation. The initiation can be regarded as beginning and fostering a process of conversion in which there is remission of sin, regeneration, reception of the Spirit, and incorporation into Christ and his church, culminating in union with the crucified and risen Christ through the reception of his Body and Blood. Catholic belief is that in the rite of initiation, the reality of being clothed with Christ is most profoundly effected and expressed.

51. The RCIA may be prolonged over a period of a year or more and it assumes that conversion may develop gradually. This is indicated in the distinct ritual steps prescribed, in recognition that there are certain moments in the process when the conversion experience is deepened and demands a corresponding ritual expression. This implies that the conversion process may be quite diversified experientially. These stages of growth have as their end a transformation of the whole person in the areas of cognitive development, affective growth and behavioral change. Pentecostals agree with Catholics on the necessity of this transformation but see it as an expression of discipleship following after conversion.

52. Pentecostals and Catholics agree on the necessity of conversion as a key component of Christian Initiation, but continue to discuss the significance and relative normativity of both sacramental and non-sacramental approaches to initiation, including conversion. The Pentecostal team resonates so well with the RCIA that they would encourage its adoption by Catholics on a much wider scale. Pentecostals identify more readily with such an approach, as opposed to one which begins with the baptism of infants and catechizing of children. Pentecostals perceive this latter approach to leave Catholic adults without the benefit of the strong teaching found in the RCIA, and think the RCIA could be an excellent resource for addressing pastoral problems related to the nominal practice of the faith and the ongoing need for evangelization.

53. The Catholic Church, however, proposes a model of initiation which recognizes a link between baptism, faith and conversion, but understands that link differently in relation to the baptism of adults or of infants. In both cases there must be growth in faith and conversion, but baptism itself creates an adoptive relationship as a child of God. Sacraments, including baptism, whether of an adult or of an infant, are not only subjective professions of faith but also objective realities, because they incorporate the recipient into Christ and into God’s people. At baptism a child begins to share divine life and becomes part of the communion of saints, and this has meaning for the child’s spiritual development. Thus Catholics would find it inconceivable to deny this grace to an infant, and through the priority of grace see a fundamental identity between infant and adult baptism. In both cases Christ is the door, even though the lives of individual Christians follow differing paths and are realized in diverse moments. The Rite of the Baptism of Infants also advises pastors to delay baptism in those cases where there is need for evangelization of the parents, and no reasonable expectation that an infant will be brought up in the practice of the faith without such evangelization. Thus, while Catholics view the RCIA as the fullest articulation of the process of initiation, they would not allow that affirmation to discount the importance of infant baptism.

54. For both Pentecostals and Catholics, baptism should be an ecclesial event, a faith experience for the worshipping community. In a mutually enriching exercise, teachers and catechists as well as parents must accept their mission to help children elicit acts of personal faith both in day-to-day living and at further stages of spiritual growth. For Catholics, these opportunities include confirmation, first penance and first eucharist. Pentecostals, whether they practice the dedication or the baptism of infants and young children, likewise involve children and families in growth experiences through graded Sunday School and catechism programs, and gradual integration of children into the worship life of the community.

55. Both Catholics and Pentecostals reject as inadequate a simply nominal adherence to the Christian life. Thus, the discussion surrounding the emergence of the RCIA included the question of whether the Rite offers a corrective to nominal practice of Christian life, or to a merely cultural Christianity. On the one hand, Catholics would affirm the positive influence which a Catholic culture that is clearly influenced by the gospel can have, in supporting the continuing practice by Catholics of an authentic Christian life. They distinguished that, on the other hand, from what might be described as a merely “cultural Catholicism”, on the part of those who might only superficially observe the Catholic faith. An example of the latter includes pastoral situations in which individuals with no discernible faith, virtually no connection to the church, and no commitment to active practice, approach the church requesting sacraments merely for extrinsic reasons. While Catholics acknowledge the existence of such nominal practice both in previous centuries and the present day, they also wish to emphasize the concurrent presence of ongoing genuine conversion and vital Catholic life. In current Christian Initiation praxis they seek to avoid any divorce between faith and sacrament, committed discipleship and Catholic identity. Likewise Pentecostals recognize the problems associated with a small but growing nominal or cultural Pentecostalism, and both sides see the need for evangelization, pastoral discernment and the call to committed discipleship in such contexts. With regard to Christian culture, Catholics and Pentecostals alike acknowledge the impact of a Gospel vision upon and transformation of pagan and secular society over the centuries, so that society itself has at times embodied a profoundly Christian worldview. In our current pluralistic society, both sides continue to strive to establish a Christian culture within the larger society and thus to be instruments in God’s hands for the kingdom.

56. Contemporary experiences of conversion often follow the New Testament emphasis on repentance, embracing the good news, and receiving the goodness of God experienced in healing, deliverance or other forms of help. Stories or testimonies about conversion to Christ frequently involve elements of restoration to active participation in the Christian community, to the deeper experience of family and a sense of belonging, regardless of social, gender or ethnic differences (cf. Gal. 3:28). Those who have been marginalized identify with the experience of being called and thus being known by God (cf. Eph. 1:3-14). This transition from alienation to belonging is associated with an awareness of the restoration of one’s dignity. Hence, Catholics and Pentecostals tend to understand conversion and initiation, first of all, in terms of the kinds of testimonies reflected in the New Testament rather than in abstract concepts. For both groups conversion experiences are diverse, and all these experiences are something to be narrated and celebrated.

57. Catholics and Pentecostals generally agree that conversion involves both event and process, and recognize the need for ongoing formation. Both hold to a diversity of ways in which one is converted. Conversions may express varying characteristics, some more affectively oriented than others, some more cognitive, dramatic or volitional. Both recognize different levels of conversion, and conversion in stages (i.e., second and third conversions in the spiritual life for Catholics, or personal re-dedications for Pentecostals), as examples of the ongoing process. Manifestations of conversions are also recognized in their diversity. One may give evidence of conversion through either word or service, depending upon gifts and calling. Catholics and Pentecostals also recognize diversity in the ways evangelization takes place.

58. Catholics are evangelized for life-changing conversions in parish missions, through spiritual retreats and exercises, and through liturgical rites such as renewal of baptismal vows. At the same time, Catholics see the retrieved RCIA as an example of the church’s growth in its understanding of initiation, evangelization and mission. They see this as reflecting the pattern of Acts 2:37-39 by including in one rite the process of conversion (the catechumenate), baptism (regeneration), confirmation (the gift of the Holy Spirit) and eucharistic communion (Acts 2:42). Pentecostals, likewise, take the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20) seriously by calling people to a personal response to the Gospel, and incorporating them into the life of the community through opportunities for ongoing growth and discipleship. Thus Pentecostals and Catholics share in common a strong commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel, through various forms of witnessing and evangelism, including both missions and personal relationships.

59. Both Pentecostals and Catholics recognize conversion as the gift of God, although they may not always agree about what constitutes a valid experience of conversion. They join together in calling for the genuine conversion of people to Jesus Christ.



  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] was published in 1992. All references are to its numbered paragraphs.

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  2. Because of their accessibility, the present report will make use of the English translations of patristic texts found in the following three collections: The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1977-1979, 10 Volumes; A Select Library of the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Philip Schaff, editor, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1978-1980, 14 Volumes; and A Select Library of Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, editors, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Company, reprinted 1975-1979, 14 Volumes. These collections are comprised of translations made by various scholars during the latter part of the 19th Century. As such, sometimes their language is archaic in comparison to contemporary usage and not entirely homogeneous (e.g. one translator may write “Holy Ghost” where another writes “Holy Spirit”). In the quotations appearing in the following report, we have taken the liberty to brush up the text slightly to render them more consistent and in line with contemporary English. Finally, not all the works cited in the following report are included in these three collections. For these other texts, we will provide a footnote indicating the translation used or the edition from which we are making our own translation.

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  3. Deification is a word used by Christians of the East to express what the Holy Spirit does in the lives of those who have been baptized. It refers to the transformation of the human person by divine grace.

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  4. English taken from The Christian Faith, Jacques Dupuis, editor, Seventh Revised and Enlarged Edition, Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2001, 803.

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  5. Translated from the Latin text found in Migne’s Patrologia Latina 38, 923.

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