1. “The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God” was the overarching theme
of international theological conversations sponsored by the Catholic Church and the World Alliance of
Reformed Churches between 1998 and 2005. This was the third phase of the Reformed-Catholic
international dialogue. Annual meetings were held in Venice, Italy (1998); Oegstgeest, the Netherlands
(1999); Castel Gandolfo, Italy (2000); Cape Town, South Africa (2001); Newry, Northern Ireland (2002);
Toronto, Canada (2003); and Venice, Italy (2004). A subcommittee appointed to finalize this report and
prepare it for publication met in Rome, Italy (2004, 2005) and in Geneva, Switzerland (2005), and
submitted the result of its work to the commission for comment and approval.
2. More than thirty-five years ago, when Catholic and Reformed representatives met to explore the
desirability and feasibility of official conversations through an international joint commission, a
convergence emerged around the importance of addressing three subjects: christology, ecclesiology, and
the attitude of the Christian in the world.1 These three topics are reflected in the themes of the three
rounds of theological conversations held since then.
3. The general theme of the first round (1970-1977) was “The Presence of Christ in Church and World”.
This theme was chosen because “it seemed to have a bearing not only on the ultimate salvation of man
but also on his life and happiness here and now”. It was also expected that it would “tend to bring to light
the differences between the two communions and that an honest appraisal of these differences could help
the two traditions to overcome them…”2 The final report, a revised version of the common statements
adopted at the end of each of the five sessions, addressed the following topics: Christ’s relationship to the
Church; the teaching authority of the Church; the presence of Christ in the world; the Eucharist; and
4. The second series of conversations (1984-1990) focused on the understanding of the Church. The
resulting report, Towards a Common Understanding of the Church,4 opens with a substantial effort at
reconciliation of memories in which the dialogue partners share with each other the ecclesiological and
reforming concerns of their sixteenth century predecessors as well as their own contemporary attitudes
towards one another. The report then moves to a common confession of faith that includes affirmations of
Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and humanity, on justification by grace through faith, and
on the role of the church in justification. It also identifies some distinct Reformed and Catholic
understandings of the Church, its continuity throughout the ages, and its ministerial order. In its final
chapter, entitled “The Way Forward”, the report notes that “‘living for each other’ as churches must also
mean ‘bearing common witness.’”5
5. In choosing the theme “The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God” for
the present series of conversations, the two communions wanted to shed new light on the two areas just
mentioned, ecclesiology and common witness. They intended to make clearer the complementarity
claimed by Towards a Common Understanding of the Church6 between the Reformed emphasis on the
church as creatura verbi and the Catholic emphasis on the church as sacramentum gratiae. They intended
also to reflect on the ecumenical significance of witnessing together to the kingdom of God.7
6. From its beginning, the Reformed-Catholic dialogue, with its aim of overcoming our historical
divisions, has been attentive to the issue of the method best suited to approaching the ecumenical
experiences, needs, and hopes of our communities living and witnessing in a great variety of situations
around the world. Those who prepared this dialogue in the late 1960s firmly believed that it must reflect
“not only the peculiar tensions between the two traditions”, but also “their common concern to make
manifest the relevance of Christ in the world today”.8 The ecumenical work accomplished in Towards a
Common Understanding of the Church was carried out in the framework of an effort of reconciliation of
memories that engaged Catholic and Reformed communities by drawing from local case studies to
illustrate the relationship between the two traditions throughout history.
7. The third phase of our dialogue was no exception to this concern about the most appropriate
methodology. In fact, the dialogue was marked by an intense discussion on ecumenical methodology,
discussion that sometimes cut across our respective confessional borders. At the heart of this discussion is
the desire to find the most appropriate way of articulating the struggle to overcome Christian divisions in
relation to the struggle to overcome what divides societies, nations, cultures and religions in today’s
world. Of course, this gave rise at times to that tension which results when believers give unequal
importance to one aspect of such correlative issues as practice and theory, contextual theology and
universal theology, Christian life and Christian doctrine, Christian unity in the struggle for justice and
Christian unity in matters of faith, sacraments and ministry.
8. The inner structure of the present report and the order in which its results are presented reflect both this
vigorous discussion and the methodological convergences to which it gave rise. Thus, the joint
commission decided to approach the theme of the kingdom of God first of all by a return to the sources of
Christian faith – and primarily to the Scriptures. The work on biblical exegesis as well as the daily
meditation on biblical texts in the context of morning and evening prayer helped us also to experience
growth in mutual respect and friendship and to see the discipline of spiritual ecumenism as a vital element
in the common search for that communion in faith and life that bears witness now to the future
recapitulation of all things in Christ. The return to the biblical sources was followed by explorations in
our common patristic heritage and of Reformed and Catholic theology after the sixteenth century. This is
the essential content of the first chapter of the present report.
9.The second chapter turns to the witness to the kingdom by Reformed and Catholic Christians living in
challenging situations today. To enable its reflection, the joint commission decided to hold its 2001
session in South Africa, its 2002 session in Northern Ireland, and its 2003 session in Canada.9 As a
result, the essential content of chapter II includes three witness narratives in which
Christian life is successively confronted with major challenges such as the apartheid
system in South Africa, the search for reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland, and
the struggle for justice of aboriginal peoples in Canada.
10. In the course of this reflection on witnessing to the kingdom in challenging situations, the joint
commission realized the importance of exploring ecumenically how Christian communities construe the
discernment of God’s will in their particular contexts. Thus the third chapter focuses upon our common
sources of discernment and upon how Catholics and Reformed make use of them in their distinctive
patterns of discernment. It concludes by commenting on the possibilities of common discernment and
11. The first three chapters of this report provide a promising context to investigate further some aspects
of the nature of the church (chapter IV). The common work in ecclesiology undertaken by the present
phase of our dialogue was marked by the hope that, by revisiting ongoing issues of ecclesiology in the
light of a fresh appreciation of the kingdom of God and the contemporary search for Christian obedience,
new ecumenical possibilities might be opened which could be the source of renewed perseverance and
commitment to the unity to which God calls us.
12. The last chapter of this report proposes, in more meditative language, a reflection on issues of
spiritual ecumenism which were central to our theme and to our common life. In a fundamental sense, our
dialogue itself is already an act of common witness, a reconciling experience that calls for further
reconciliation of memories as obedience leads us to unity in faith and action, to a common witness in
which the signs of the kingdom are shared with the poor.
13. We explored the theme of the kingdom of God in full awareness of the fact that it had already been
taken up by other bilateral dialogues. Their reports reveal a rich body of material. They treat themes such
as the relationships between kingdom and church, kingdom and world or creation, and the implications of
the kingdom of God for church-world relations. They also illustrate differing views among dialogue
partners in regard to aspects of the kingdom. In order not to duplicate work that has been already done,
this joint commission decided to review the way those bilateral dialogues dealt with the theme of the
kingdom. Although the results of this review do not comprise a chapter in this report, we did draw much
inspiration from them and they remain a valuable resource for further research. We therefore include our
summary of them as an appendix.
14. This joint commission commends “The Church as Common Witness to the Kingdom of God” to our
sponsors – the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian
Unity – for their consideration. It humbly asks that the sponsors will give the report wide circulation, and
foster reception of it in every way deemed appropriate. We also hope that this report will stimulate
theological exchange, contribute to ecumenical formation and foster and intensify mutual understanding
and recognition as well as common witness at all levels of our churches.
15. In the course of our meetings together we have been inspired anew by the many Christians, female
and male, young and old, whose discipleship to the kingdom (Matt 13:52) proclaimed in the gospels
prevents them from being conformed to a divided world and to separation among Christians. Instead, it
urges them to be willing to offer their own lives as a sacrifice (cf. Rom 12:1) in order that the wounds of
Christian division and human alienation may be healed. The opportunity to meet such sisters and brothers
in some truly challenging situations has been a major encouragement for the participants to complete this
series of theological conversations. We hope that, in due time, a fourth round of theological dialogue
might be taken up, benefiting from the results of a solid reception process of this report. “May God’s
- “Preparation for the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches”. Proceedings of the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational), Geneva, Offices of the Alliance, 1970, 204-210; The Presence of Christ in Church and World (cf. footnote 3), para. 6.
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- “Preparation for the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches”, op. cit., 206.
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- The Presence of Christ in Church and World – Dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity 1970-77. Geneva, 1977, 39 pp.; www.warc.ch/dt/; Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service 35 (1977/III-IV):18-34.
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- Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, Geneva, WARC, 1991, 61 pp; www.warc.ch/dt/; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service 74 (1990/III):91-118.
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- Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 157.
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- Ibid., para. 106-109.
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- Cf. Ibid., para. 152-154, 157.
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- “Preparation for the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches”. Proceedings of the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational), Geneva, Offices of the Alliance, 1970, 205.
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- On two of these occasions, a Reformed and a Catholic theologian were each commissioned to present a paper describing the way in which their churches sought to bear witness to God’s reign in their particular contexts.
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