PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN CHURCH AND WORLD
between Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat
for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church.
Presence of Christ in Church and World" is the topic treated in the series
of dialogues between representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church.
choice of that topic and the enabling process for such a series at the international
level go back to informal conversations among participants from both bodies who
were present at the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches. These proved
sufficiently promising for the Executive Committee of the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches to meet in June, 1968, to "explore elements in the new situation
that may make the initiation of Reformed/Roman Catholic dialogue wise at this
time". The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II made it clear that readiness
for such dialogue existed also on the Roman Catholic side. As a result, two preliminary
meetings between staff of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat
for Promoting Christian Unity were held, one in Geneva in November of 1968, and
one in Vogelenzang (Holland) in April of 1969. These two preliminary meetings
affirmed the desirability and feasibility of proceeding with official Reformed/Roman
Catholic conversations on a world level.
doing so, neither body wished to detract from the importance of similar, more-or-less
official conversations which had been going on for some time at the national level
in Holland, France, Switzerland, the United States and other countries. Such national
discussions have the advantage of being able to focus on problems common to the
Church in the local situation. Since they are undertaken with the aim of being
responsible to their respective official sponsors and of engaging them in the
issues, these national dialogues deal with matters of considerable consequence,
such as the significance of the mutual recognition of Baptism. Still, there are
limitations which restrict the full significance of national talks. In many countries
and areas dialogues are not occurring nor are likely to occur soon-areas, for
example, where Christians are persecuted or where either Reformed or Roman Catholics
are a restricted minority, or in areas where both find themselves in a society
which severely discourages reconciling conversations among Christian bodies. Even
where there are national dialogues, they often are conducted independently of
other conversations going on between the same bodies in other contexts, which
leads to much unnecessary duplication. Moreover, because of the worldwide implications
of some of the issues under discussion, and because of the need to influence the
centers of universal authority and coordination, it was felt that the international
dialogues were called for as ways of exploring new avenues in Reformed-Roman Catholic
relations and of making wider use of the results already being obtained at the
national level. It is therefore understood that the dialogues at various levels
deciding to proceed with these official conversations at the international level,
both Roman Catholic and Reformed officials were mindful of the utility of bilateral
consultations with other partners then underway. These would not be duplicated,
though, since there are tensions which are peculiar to the relations between these
two traditions. Both parties were convinced that by addressing the other in these
bi-lateral consultations they would be exercising a responsibility each feels
for the other and which both feel would be mutually enriching. Both parties were
strongly motivated by the need to keep the discussions in the broader perspective
of how these would advance their common concern to manifest the relevance of Christ
in the world today.
Geneva meeting in November of 1968 chose for the session in Vogelenzang the theme
"The Presence of Christ in Church and World" "...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 the discussion on the presence
of Christ in Church and World, especially the meaning of his saving humanity,
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 and discover together what they must do in order to become more credible
in the eyes of the world". (Joint Report, Vogelenzang, April 17-19, 1969).
expectations for this theme were borne out. Its discussions at Vogelenzang uncovered
a need to attend to three traditional problems related to the central one of understanding
the Lordship of Christ today: Christ ology, ecclesiology, and the attitude of
the Christian in the world. Though the problems are traditional ones, the Church
confronts them in a new form today: the historical conditions which shaped their
earlier formulations have radically changed, developments in the secular world
cry for urgent attention, and the findings of the historical sciences and biblical
exegesis demand new perspectives on inherited positions. So fruitful and demanding
were the results of the initial exploration of this theme that it was mandated
as the theme for the subsequent official conversations which began in Rome in
April of 1970. The sub-topics of the series were: "Christ's Relationship
to the Church" (Rome, Spring, 1970), "The Teaching Authority of the
Church" (Cartigny, Switzerland, Spring, 1971), "The Presence of Christ
in the World" (Bièvres, France, Winter, 1972), "The Eucharist"
(Woudschoten-Zeist, the Netherlands, Winter, 1974) and "The Ministry"
(Rome, March, 1975). (For details of themes, subthemes, authors and participants
delegation to these meetings was comprised of five permanent members, a staff
person from each sponsoring office, and one consultant from each communion, appointed
for his special expertise in the subject under consideration at a given session.
The names of the regular teams, the special consultants and the staff persons
involved are listed at the end of this report.
meeting lasted five days and followed a regular pattern. Four position papers,
two from each team, circulated in advance. Each of these papers was discussed
in plenary, and subcommittees were appointed to bring to the plenary a report
which summarized the initial discussion of these position papers. The whole consultation
then went through these reports, discussed again the issues which were raised
by them, and then came to a common statement which summarized the findings of
that particular session.
initial step in the conversations was a matter, on many issues, of listening carefully
to one another in order to discern what lies behind the different terminologies
to which we have grown accustomed. It was not the purpose of these sessions consciously
to work toward specific recommendations on the topics assigned them. Rather, the
task was to locate the present convergences, continuing tensions, and open questions
which emerged from the process just described. The several reports on each session
were therefore more descriptive than prescriptive. The discussions were based
on position papers which deliberately sought to break new ground on the topic
under consideration; while the discussions were notably marked by theological
perspectives which transcended predictable confessional alignments, it was understood
that whatever concrete recommendation might arise from the final report would
simply be the result of this process of critical inquiry and discussion.
each meeting a press release, the wording of which was agreed to by both delegations,
was issued, but it was decided that it was best to wait until the final report,
covering the whole series, was the several discussions. At the conclusion of the
draft of the final report which was referred again to the permanent members of
the conversations, who met in Rome, 21-26 March 1977, and agreed the final report,
which with recommendations went to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and
the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.
final report, presented here, deliberately refrained from any attempt at a synthesis
and offers instead the agreed revision of the five separate reports with which
each session was invariably concluded. The official report in its final form represents
the common mind of those engaged in the various steps of its formulation and acceptance.
It cannot, however, reproduce all the diversity of styles, plurality of theological
method, heat of conviction and novelty of insight which went into the position
papers and their discussion.
will be seen that during its working sessions the Commission's method was determined,
among other things, by the desire in the case of each separate theme to produce
a survey of the degree of agreement, the value of these discussions does not lie
only in their necessarily provisional results'. What the authors of the
report hope, rather, is that the readers may let movement which gripped us from
our very first meetings and never ceased to do so. The way was long and difficult
and sometimes it seemed to be leading nowhere. Even though the following pages
occasionally may still reveal certain inconsistencies, obstacles, reactions and
surprises, we felt it impossible to eliminate these realistic features completely.
But the name of Jesus, deepening trust, brotherly patience, scholarly seriousness,
will to persists, to continue to listen to each other, not infrequently also a
touch of hilarity these things were all part and parcel of the experience
which was given us with our discoveries and which can be only imperfectly reflected
in the record of our discussions.