REFORMED/ROMAN CATHOLIC INTERNATIONAL DIALOGUE
TOWARDS A COMMON UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHURCH:
Reformed/Roman Catholic International dialogue:
Second Phase (1984-1990)
As representatives of the Reformed Churches and of the Roman Catholic
Church, we have carried on a dialogue whose purpose has been to
deepen mutual understanding and to foster the eventual reconciliation
of our two communities. Our conversations have been officially
sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity. We have met in Rome, Italy
(1984), Kappel-am-Albis, Switzerland (1985), Venice, Italy (1986),
Cartigny, Switzerland. (1987) and Ariccia, Italy (1988). This
report emerged out of these encounters. Joint sub-committees met
in Geneva (1989 and 1990) to take into account further suggestions
of the Commission for the report and to prepare it for publication.
earlier phase of this dialogue took place under the same sponsorship
between 1970 and 1977. That series of conversations produced
a report entitled The Presence of Christ in Church and World
(PCCW), which gave attention to issues such as: the relationship
of Christ to the Church, the Church as a teaching authority,
the Eucharist, and the ministry. These earlier conversation
discovered considerable common ground, but left open questions
pertaining to such matters as authority, order, and Church discipline.
During approximately these same years representatives of the
Lutheran World Federation joined Reformed and Roman Catholic
participants in a trilateral dialogue to produce a report titled
The Theology of Marriage and the Problem of Mixed Marriages.1
this second phase of dialogue just completed we have concentrated
more directly on the doctrine of the Church. Certain ecclesiological
issues touched upon in the earlier conversations are further treated.
Building on this previous work, we have now gone deeper into the
realm of ecclesiology, bringing important aspects of this subject
into bilateral conversations for the first time. In this way,
we have sought further to clarify the common ground between our
communions as well as to identify our remaining differences. We
hope these results will encourage further steps toward common
testimony and joint ecumenical action.
have discovered anew that the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed
Churches are bound by manifold ties. Both communions confess Jesus
Christ as Lord and Savior, affirm the Trinitarian faith of the
apostolic Church through the ages, and observe the one Baptism
into the threefold Name. In recent years Reformed and Roman Catholic
Christians have begun, in many places and at many different levels,
to share the experience of fellowship and to seek fuller communion
in truth and love for the sake of our common service of Jesus
Christ in the world. Our churches share more common ground than
previously we were able to see.
we have also realized anew that there remain disagreements and
divergences between us. Some of these have emerged in the course
of this dialogue and have been tackled head-on. Others have been
perceived, but left for substantive treatment in future dialogue.
communions are called to live and witness together to the fullest
extent possible now, and to work together toward future reconciliation.
The common ground we share compels us to be open toward one another,
and to aspire to that communion into which the Spirit seeks to
lead us. Each communion is bound in conscience to bear witness
to the way in which it understands the gospel, the Church, and
the relationship between them, but at the same time to bear this
witness in dialogue and mutual support. As we articulate our differing
positions in love, we are challenged to a deeper fidelity to Jesus
report presents the results of our dialogue in four chapters.
Chapter I recalls the sixteenth-century Reformation and recounts
the path taken by each communion since that time. The new openness
of ecumenical relationships has helped us to see our respective
histories in new perspectives, and to clarify our relationships
today. A new assessment of our common ground and of our disagreements
is now possible; we are moving closer to being able to write our
existence of this common ground gives us a context for discussing
what remains controversial. Thus its content needs careful consideration.
Chapter II seeks to accomplish this. This chapter focuses upon
two areas of fundamental agreement: that our Lord Jesus Christ
is the only mediator between God and humankind, and that we receive
justification by grace through faith. It follows that together
we also confess the Church as the community of all who are called,
redeemed and sanctified through the one mediator.
complete ecclesiology was beyond our scope in this phase of dialogue.
But it seemed especially important to reconsider the relation
between the Gospel and the Church in its ministerial and instrumental
roles. Chapter III takes up this question and carries it through
a series of topics: the Church as creatura verbi and the Church
as sacrament of grace; continuity and discontinuity in Church
history; the question of Church structure and the ordering of
ministry. Certain convergences are set forth, and the remaining
issues noted for future consideration.
Chapter IV sketches some ways forward. Our churches meet in many
settings. In ways appropriate to each situation we may (1) take
specific steps to deepen our existing fellowship; (2) address
issues in such a way as to come closer to a reconciliation of
memories; (3) find arenas for common witness, and (4) consider
the nature of the unity we seek.
Dialogue Commission offers this report to its sponsors in the
hope that it may encourage us all to work for the unity of Christians
which we believe is God's will.
Both reports can
be found in Harding Meyer and Lukas Vischer, Editors, Growth
in Agreement: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations
on a World Level, New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, and Geneva:
World Council of Churches, 1984, pp. 433-463 and 277-306 respectively.
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