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Consultations between Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church.
  1. "The 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.

  2. The 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.

  3. In 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 are complementary.

  4. In 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.

  5. The 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).

  6. The 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 see Appendix).

  7. Each 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.

  8. Each 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.

  9. The 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.

  10. After 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.

  11. The 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.

  12. It 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.

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