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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY

COMMENTARY ON THE REPORT

ON BECOMING A CHRISTIAN:
INSIGHTS FROM SCRIPTURE AND THE PATRISTIC WRITINGS
With Some Contemporary Reflections

Report of the Fifth Phase of the International Dialogue Between Some Classical
Pentecostal Churches and Leaders and the Catholic Church (1998-2006)

 


A Comment and Reflections by
The Most Rev Michael E. Putney, Bishop of Townsville

The report of the fifth phase of the international dialogue between some Classical Pentecostal Churches and Leaders and the Catholic Church (1998-2006) is unique among even previous reports of this dialogue. Firstly the dialogue itself is different to all other dialogues organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It is not a dialogue with a World Communion, but as its title indicates, a more limited dialogue between the Catholic Church and some Classical Pentecostal Churches and some Pentecostal Leaders.

The Membership of the Dialogue

The first report of this dialogue in 1976 indicated that at that time the dialogue took place not just with leaders of some Pentecostal Churches but also with participants in the Charismatic Movement within Protestant and Anglican Churches. This made it even more exceptional than today, given that some of the participants belonged to Churches which were already engaged in official dialogue with the Catholic Church.

In this most recent phase the membership of the dialogue on the Pentecostal side has evolved to include some official representatives of a small number of Classical Pentecostal Churches along with other individual Pentecostal leaders. This membership means that the dialogue continues to be unique among the wide range of dialogues organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. There is no one body of Pentecostals with whom the Catholic Church could engage in dialogue.

Moreover, many Pentecostals would not be sympathetic or open to such a dialogue. That the dialogue takes place at all is a consequence of early friendships developed during the Second Vatican Council and afterwards, which led to conversations in 1969 and 1970 and enabled a dialogue to be established in 1972. The contribution of Fr Kilian McDonnell is acknowledged with gratitude in the introduction to the dialogue. It was he, who with David du Plessis, helped to initiate the dialogue in 1972.(24)

The dialogue has slowly gained acceptance from other Pentecostals, even from some Pentecostal Churches which have now formally sent participants to the dialogue. Churches which have sent official participants to the dialogue are the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, the Church of God of Prophecy, the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, the Verenigde Pinkster-En, Evangeliegemeenten of the Netherlands, and the Open Bible Churches. Significantly absent from the list are the Assemblies of God, though in fact, Rev. Cecil M. Robeck Jnr. of the Assemblies of God, served as Pentecostal co-Chair since 1998, and there are other members of the Assemblies of God participating in the dialogue.

A further distinguishing feature of this dialogue is that it engages with only one type of Pentecostal, what are normally called Classical Pentecostals. These are not representative of all Pentecostals. In his address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on November 14, 2006, Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke of three waves of Pentecostalism: " Classic Pentecostalism, within which good dialogue has been possible with some groups; the Charismatic Movements with the traditional Churches, including the Catholic Church; and neo-Pentecostalism which often turns into a religion of purely worldly promises of prosperity". [1]

Various figures are given for the total number of Pentecostals in the world, but most seem to believe that combining all three groups would bring the number to 600 million.

Cardinal Kasper went on to say about the third wave, "its relationship with the traditional Churches is mostly quite aggressive and proselytizing; a practical dialogue is of course possible, the dialogue in the real and accepted sense has until now scarcely been possible.[2]

In some Western countries it is this third group of Pentecostals which is now emerging as a major Pentecostal expression with which the Catholic Church has to deal.

The Goal of the Dialogue

Given this membership, the goal of the dialogue is similarly unique. It does share a general goal similar to all dialogues that Pentecostals and Catholics would come closer together in prayer and common witness, or that "prayer, spirituality and theological reflection be a shared concern".(4) But in the report of 1976, its goal was clearly distinguished from that of other dialogues which have organic unity, or at least some kind of " eventual structural unity" as their goal. Later it said more specifically that it sought " to explore the life and spiritual experience of Christians and Churches", attending to both "experiential and theological dimensions".(5) This emphasis upon experience as well as theology remains important.

In the most recent report, the goal is described as fostering respect and understanding between the Catholic Church and Classical Pentecostal Churches rather than seeking structural unity.(3) In a more amplified statement it says that the intention of this dialogue is "to continue the development of a climate of mutual respect and understanding in matters of faith and practice, to find points of genuine agreement, and to indicate areas in which we believe further dialogue is required".(2)

The Global Context

In order to assist bishops in dealing with the pastoral problems that arise because of the presence of so many Pentecostals in their dioceses and the loss of so many Catholics to these new Pentecostal groups, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has conducted a number of major seminars for bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the past few years.[3]

Obviously the Church has to protect its members and find pastoral solutions to the loss of members to these new Pentecostal movements.

In a very carefully worded but honest statement concerning Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Report offers an affirmation of its contribution to the life of the Catholic Church, but then adds: "In addition, many (though not all) Pentecostals will join Catholics in recognizing that grace in the commitment of Catholic Charismatics to remain loyal to their Catholic faith".(195) This significant qualification of Pentecostal recognition is an indication of one of those tensions that is very real for Catholics who discover that Pentecostals do not always believe they can continue to live the life of the Spirit within the Catholic Church. They often discover that Pentecostals do not believe that Catholics are Christians.

The Conclusion of the report challenges both Catholics and Pentecostals "to examine their conscience about the way they have sometimes described one another in the past, for example calling the other a "non-Christian" or a member of a "sect". It goes on to say " we have found much that we share together. Although we have significant differences still on some questions, we are able, because of our study in this dialogue, to call one another brothers and sisters in Christ".(284)

The dialogue models what is possible once there is openness to each other, dedicated prayer together and listening to the other's account of their faith and their own religious experience. Whether such a conclusion could be also reached by Catholics and Pentecostals around the world is a different question. Clearly it would only be possible if they also have a similar experience to the participants in this dialogue.

The Complex Relationship

In such a context, this dialogue takes on a special importance as a positive element in the complex relationship between the Catholic Church and Pentecostals. The Christian commitment of Pentecostals around the world and their adherence to the faith of the Scriptures and the Creeds means that they cannot be excluded as dialogue partners by the Catholic Church.

The Church has the delicate task of both engaging in dialogue with fellow Christians, but also dealing with them in pastoral situations in many dioceses sometimes as proselytizers, or at least as competitors for the allegiance of its own people. The dialogue attempted to address the issue of proselytism in its previous phase and produced a report entitled "Evangelisation, Proselytism and Common Witness" in 1997. That report contains guidelines on how pros-elytism ought be avoided in relationships between Christian Churches.[4]

Classical Pentecostals

Because this present dialogue is only with representatives of Classical Pentecostal Churches, it can and must focus on questions such as "baptism in the spirit", "speaking in tongues", and healing. These phenomena are not necessarily as widespread in the third wave of neo-Pentecostalism.

At the same time, the Report makes it clear that even Classical Pentecostalism is changing around the world and more and more diverse forms of religious life and prayer are being developed. The more dramatic expressions of Pentecostal worship are embraced by some and rejected by others. There is a diversity of opinion among Pentecostals about them. At the same time, while most Pentecostals accept such experiences, it is claimed in this Report that Pentecostals believe the life of faith must not beoverly dependent upon them, that there needs to be careful discernment so that what is exceptional does not become the rule, and that experiences not be sought after as if they are goals in themselves. They only serve to bring the believer closer to God. For Pentecostals: "The Christian life should thrive on faith, trust in God and in the salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ".(172)

Pentecostals and Ecumenism

Since the beginning of its dialogue with the Catholic Church in 1972, this dialogue remained the only one until the mid-90s, when Pentecostals began to be involved in dialogues with a whole range of other Christian Churches internationally. Pentecostals have also become more involved in ecumenical forums and gatherings in different countries and around the world, even becoming members of National Councils of Churches. The Report sees this as establishing a new context for this particular phase of the dialogue.

Nonetheless, in the Report the Pentecostals acknowledge: "Pentecostals are cautious in regard to ecumenism. Although they recognize the work of the Spirit in other Christian traditions, and enter into fellowship with them, they are hesitant to embrace these movements wholeheartedly for fear of losing their own ecclesial identity or compromising their traditional positions".(171)

One of the ways for carrying further the fruits of this unique dialogue is put forward in the Report itself: "We hope that this report will be studied and discussed widely by Catholics and Pentecostals within their communities, and especially together".(17) All five reports of the dialogue would serve well as a point for engagement between Catholics and Pentecostals at different levels around the world.

In the Conclusion to the Report, the years of dialogue are described as follows: "much of our theological engagement with one another focused on the implications of our respective use of faith, conversion and discipleship within the Christian life. This is as it should be and we believe that the recognition of this is vital for practical ecumenism at the local level between Catholic parishes and Pentecostal congregations".(274)

The Fathers of the Church

Not only is this dialogue unique for the above reasons, but this particular phase of the dialogue is unique among the five phases which have already taken place, and perhaps in all ecumenical dialogues undertaken by the Catholic Church. This is because the dialogue focused quite intentionally upon Patristic texts. As the title indicates, the topic under discussion was "becoming a Christian", which covers the whole process and experience of Christian Initiation. However, the material which it used to study this question included not just the Scriptures, but also the writings of the Fathers of the Church. The reason given for this detailed reference to the Fathers of the Church was the important role they play in the Catholic understanding of the Word of God. The Catholic side of the dialogue wanted to share with their Pentecostal partners something of the richness of the Patristic tradition.(9)

They recommended them to their Pentecostal partners because the writings of the Patristic period "bear witness to the faith and to the ways in which the Christian lives and ministries of these writers were strengthened through their faithfulness as well as their love and devotion to the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit".(9) In the first chapter the Report focuses on the actual description by the Fathers of the Church of their own experiences of conversion. It sees these Patristic witnesses as having "the power to inspire and to 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".(42)

It is not often that the lives of the Fathers as told by themselves become part of the matter of theological dialogue. Normally their theological argumentation provides the material for theological discussion. This particular focus is illustrative of the uniqueness of the relationship involved in this dialogue between Pentecostals and Catholics.

Again a unique feature of this dialogue is that the Catholic Co-Chair was Fr Kilian McDonnell, from the first meeting in 1972 right through to 2000 when he resigned. His place was taken by Msgr John A. Radano of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity who served as Chair from 2001 to 2006. The contribution of Fr McDonnell to this particular phase of the dialogue is still quite noticeable given that his own work on the Patristic texts concerning Christian Initiation[5] played a part in discussions during the dialogue. It had been inspired by his participation in earlier phases of the dialogue.(7)

Diverse Understandings

This dialogue is different as well because it is not dealing with a confessional family with a developed systematic theology and a long tradition of theological reflection and liturgical and pastoral practice, but rather a movement which began early last century in the United States and which started to find a home in mainstream Protestant and Anglican Churches, and in the Catholic Church itself, only in the 1960s. Right from the beginning there were different interpretations of this phenomenon among Pentecostals themselves, and Pentecostalism has diversified and divided into many different schools of thought over the decades.

Pentecostalism tends to be a religious movement that places great emphasis upon religious experience and the witness borne to that experience by leaders within the community. Great authority is attributed to personal experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals. There are very few written texts other than the Scriptures themselves upon which to base any assured account of Pentecostal theology.

Concerning the weight to be attributed to the account of Pentecostal views given by the participants in the dialogue, they described it as follows: "When the Pentecostal participants speak as a single voice, they do so by gathering together what they believe to be the common consensus held by the vast majority of Pentecostals worldwide.(16)

A further unique factor that surfaced in this dialogue is that the Catholic participants were likewise not agreed upon the Catholic understanding of one of the topics, "Baptism in the Holy Spirit". Because there has been no formal teaching of the Magis-terium on this phenomenon and there are at least two differing views of its spiritual, pastoral and theological significance, both views were put forward by Catholic participants.

The Value of the Dialogue

The participants in the dialogue ought to be congratulated for their serious efforts to overcome all these limitations and so often to reach a meeting of minds and hearts that can serve the larger relationship between Catholics and Pentecostals around the world. At the same time, all of the limitations of this dialogue need to be borne in mind, that it is not representative and cannot be, that it engages the participation only of some Classic Pentecostals and not even all of them, let alone those whom Cardinal Kasper described as neo-Pentecostal, and that it is dealing with accounts of religious experience as well as theology, and with diverse and even conflicting theologies on both sides.

The Report

The dialogue Report is quite long, with 285 paragraphs. After an Introduction, it has five major sections devoted to: Conversion and Christian Initiation, Faith and Christian Initiation, Christian Formation and Discipleship, Experience in Christian Life, Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation. These major sections are followed by a Conclusion. Each chapter has three sections after an introduction: Biblical Perspectives, Patristic Perspectives, and Contemporary Perspectives.

In the Introduction, the focus of this particular phase of the dialogue was described again in terms of an appeal to Patristic sources which it reported had been cited by both Pentecostals and Catholics in previous phases of the dialogue. The intention in this phase was to be more intentional about this appeal to Patristic sources. If that be an aspect of the methodology used, the issue being discussed was the whole process of a Christian Initiation, how an individual moves from their initial entry into the Christian life to becoming a full member of the Church.(5)

The reason they believed they needed to deal with this topic was that in the previous phase of the dialogue on Evangelisation, Proselytism and Common Witness they concluded that there were people in both churches who did not recognize one another as Christians and this obviously led to tensions. Already they indicated in their opening paragraphs that this would involve a review of "the importance of religious experience in one's life".(6) Clearly, such a focus would go right to the heart of the Pentecostal phenomenon and the questions it raises for the Catholic Church.

Scripture and Tradition

In the Introduction the question of "sources" is dealt with. While acknowledging that both Pentecostals and Catholics, along with other Christians, "acknowledge the uniqueness of the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, normative for the faith and life of the Church"(8), the Report includes a study of Patristic texts as well for the reasons already indicated. At the same time, it acknowledges that Catholics and Pentecostals view the authority of the Fathers of the Church differently.

Pentecostals recognize that the Fathers provide genuine and vital testimonies to God and to their own response to God. They also acknowledge that as Christian leaders, the Fathers were very close to the time of Jesus and his own disciples, and contributed to the process of discerning the Canon of Scriptures. The Fathers also helped the Church to translate biblical faith into their own cultural contexts. For these reasons Pentecostals recognize their importance though they would not share a Catholic view of their authority.(10-12)

Given this differing view of their authority, the Report concludes: "Thus, while the Bible is the highest authority (cf. John Paul II Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint 79) for knowing God's revelation in Jesus Christ, the Patristic writings may be seen as having a privileged place in the post-biblical church".(13) Clearly, while Catholic participants would have had no hesitation in making this claim concerning the Patristic writings, it could only be phrased very tentatively so as to include Pentecostal participants as well.

The differing understandings of the authority of the Fathers of the Church arises because of a differing understanding of Tradition. For Catholics, the Church Fathers occupy a privileged place within the Tradition which transmits the Word of God. The Word of God is interpreted by the Magisterium, as servant of the Word of God. Whereas, "Pentecostals do not hold this same view of Tradition, nor do they possess a teaching office although doctrinal standards are maintained. Different Pentecostal denominations developed various procedures to adjudicate doctrinal disputes. But they do not exclude the witness of the Church Fathers and to the extent that this witness is authentically governed by the biblical norm, it can serve as an example for Christian life today".(185)

In referring to the Scriptures during the dialogue, Pentecostals and Catholics were confronted by their diverse interpretations of various texts. The Report claims that this could reflect simply the diversity within the New Testament and hence "a healthy tension that ought not to be artificially or otherwise inappropriately resolved".(89) On the other hand, it could indicate that while both Catholics and Pentecostals read Scripture in the light of faith under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, they bring different presuppositions to their interpretation of passages. This raises the question of precisely what these presuppositions are. The Report acknowledges that a further topic for dialogue could be that of hermeneutics, precisely to deal with the way texts are interpreted by Catholics and Pentecostals. According to the Report, Pentecostal scholars are seeking to outline a distinctive Pentecostal biblical hermeneutic at present.

While clearly Catholics interpret texts within the Apostolic Tradition and with the Magisterium exercising a decisive role in discerning the legitimacy of interpretations, Pentecostals are not entirely devoid of similar authorities. They are prepared to say that they do have a kind of Pentecostal "tradition" and authorities for decision-making about differing interpretations of the Bible(90), though clearly these vary from group to group.

The findings of the dialogue summarized in the Conclusion are that the Scriptures are foundational for both communities and the Fathers of the Church are appreciated as "early witnesses and interpreters to faith in Jesus Christ, and to the dimensions of life in Christ", but they are appreciated "in different ways".(264)

Secondly, it adds that "in our reading of the Holy Scriptures, we both interpret the Bible within the horizon of our respective traditions. Both of us, even if in different ways, would acknowledge being governed by the Word of God".(265) The Report acknowledges that while Pentecostals tend to hold to the classical Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, along with Catholics they look for " ways in which Tradition carries biblical truth". It notes: "Further discussion should focus not only on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, but also on our respective understandings of the relationship of both Scripture and Tradition to the Word of God".(265)

In its discussion of religious experience, the dialogue opened up the whole question of authority in the Church in discerning religious experience and teaching. The Report describes the issue as: "how the Church is equipped to discern authentic graced experience and, by way of extension, also authentic Orthodox doctrine". It goes on to say: "The need for discernment concerning experience and doctrine naturally raises the question of the role of authority within the Church".(282)

The issues of Tradition, authority and hermeneu-tical presuppositions emerge in all dialogues involving the Catholic Church. They are more problematic in this dialogue because of the nature of the Pentecostal phenomenon as a movement bearing an "experience" to its adherents, but now becoming a diverse group of more structured ecclesial communities. Connected to these issues is the question of the relationship of this " experience " that has so fundamentally identified the movement since its emergence as a religious phenomenon last century, to the broader spiritual tradition of Christianity. The focus on the Fathers was an attempt to address this relationship in a small way, but the question remains.

Conversion

In the first chapter of the Report which is devoted to "Conversion and Christian Initiation", it is clear that Catholics and Pentecostals have different understandings of and approaches to conversion. The Report is able to affirm that Catholics and Pentecostals can agree that conversion involves "a mysterious interplay between the human and the divine, primarily the human response to divine initiative".(40) Agreement as to whether it is an event or a process is phrased rather cautiously: "Catholics and Pentecostals generally agree that conversion involves both event and process, and recognize the need for ongoing formation".(57) But while both recognize conversion as the gift of God, there is no agreement about "what constitutes a valid experience of conversion".(59)

Pentecostals "would normally regard repentance and conversion as having strong experiential dimensions".(154) Normally for them there is a "before" and "after" in the account they give of their conversion, and they would hope to pinpoint the exact moment when it occurs.(154) At the same time, the Report indicates that while Pentecostals value affective religious experiences, they do not believe that salvation is dependent upon what the person experiences, and converts are encouraged to "take it by faith" that they are saved even if there are no feelings or particular manifestations. "For Pentecostals, the experiential dimension of conversion is very important. However, it is more important that there be a profound change in the way the new believer lives his or her life".(155)

The Report also acknowledges that Pentecostals are becoming more accepting of the fact that people can come to faith in Christ through a gradual process, even though this would mean that the experiential dimension would be less dramatic. This is a change from the earlier Pentecostal understanding.(156) When there are group conversions they would be concerned that these include at some point a personal profession of faith.(157)

On the other hand, the Catholic participants are able to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church to situate conversion as an essential element within the whole process of Christian initiation which includes "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) (26) For Catholics, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults illustrates that the conversion process is a developing process which involves very diverse experiences, and its goal is the transformation of the whole person " in the areas of cognitive development, affective growth and behavioral change".(51)

The six paragraphs devoted to a Catholic perspective on the role of experience in becoming a Christian, provide by way of contrast with the more descriptive Pentecostal account, a theological account of the grace conveyed through infant baptism and confirmation and first holy communion, or through adult initiation in the Rite for the Christian

Initiation of Adults. For Catholics: "conversion to Christ and incorporation into his Church entail a rich variety of experiences manifested both by the inner workings of God's grace in a person and the ecclesial mediation of grace in the preparation for, and the administration and reception of the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and eucharist".(158)

While Catholics can speak of the effects of the sacraments, there is by no means the same expectation of experiencing in a more dramatic way the grace of God conveyed through the sacraments. This is a clear difference between Pentecostals and Catholics.

Pentecostals speak out of their actual lived experience of being converted, and describe what they experienced emotionally, intellectually and physically. Catholics on the other hand speak of God's grace being effective and of a profound relationship being established with God through the sacraments, but they do not demand the same obvious signs or the same account of religious experiences, though they obviously do not exclude them and can tell many stories of dramatic conversions.

Religious Experience

The Report argues that the differences concerning religious experience are only a matter of emphasis because Catholics and Pentecostals share many important aspects of "spiritual experience including the presence and power of the Spirit as well as contemplation, and mystical and active spiritualities". (138) The whole question of "religious experience" is a very difficult area for dialogue and a very difficult area for theological reflection generally. What the Report offers as an agreed account is: "when the grace of the Holy Spirit touches the heart and mind, feelings and will of the individual in such a way that a person consciously encounters the Lord, an authentic experience of God comes about".(140)

It refers back to the second phase of this dialogue which had concluded that: "experience is a process or event by which one comes to a personal awareness of God",(140) and is quick to point out that neither Catholics nor Pentecostals consider such an experience as an end in itself, but only a means through which God can be encountered. Again it explicitly affirms that: "both of our traditions acknowledge the experiential dimension to faith, although we affirm that faith is not limited to experience". (141)

In practice, Pentecostals are eager to offer a very clear account of the role of religious experience in their personal transformation: "They frequently speak of sensing the presence of the Lord, and of experiencing both personal and corporate encounters with God. They do not take these experiences lightly, but recognize the gracious character of all manifestations of the Divine-human encounter".(166)

These experiences may lead to a variety of responses from profound silence to dancing or speaking in tongues. " Always, however, they are mindful of the fact that their response depends first and foremost upon God's presence among them, a manifestation of his grace extended toward them unilaterally". (166) Most Pentecostals see the gifts which they believe they have been given to share with others as clear evidence that God is working in their lives, and even for some as an assurance of their salvation though they recognize that there is a limit to this line of argumentation.(167)

The Catholic perspective on religious experience outlined in the Report affirms quite simply: "Religious experience has been cherished in the Church throughout her history", (175) and speaks of the great traditions of worship, prayer and mysticism, and the charisms of the founders of religious orders, but also the prudence of the Church to "test everything" (cf 1 Thess 5:21) in order to discern the authenticity of new movements and popular devotions.

It also claims that in the past the Catholic Church has tended to be over-cautious with respect to the dangers of subjective experience often on the theological ground that grace is not a matter of psychological awareness, while at the same time, popular devotions have always continued to flourish;(175) and that in recent decades there has been a renewed appreciation of religious experience with new ecclesial movements and the charismatic renewal placing greater emphasis upon the role of experience in Christian life.(176) In the spiritual traditions of the Church, there has always been an experiential dimension to the understanding of the working of grace, while Catholics also always acknowledge that " grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith".(CCC 2005)(178)

The Report is able to offer the common affirmation that "the affective dimension of experience is intrinsic to both our traditions, even if the shape and manner of that affectivity may differ amid many common experiences as well".(186) It was agreed that affective experience is not an end in itself, but a means of encountering God. Both Pentecostals and Catholics are opposed to merely external formalism. Pentecostals distinguish between "going through the motions" and authentic faith, while Catholics place an emphasis upon the proper inner dispositions for reception of the sacraments.

Together they could say: "The main purpose of spiritual experience is transformative which means that feelings alone are not the measure of experience, but the faith that it engenders and the moral life it nourishes. In the absence of the felt presence of God, one needs to persevere in faith. God intends that the gift of experiencing his presence and power is to transform us into the image of Christ and enable us to carry out his mission".(186) Both acknowledge the need for discernment and at the same time, that religious experiences enhance the sense of God's presence in daily life, or what is described as "the religious dimension of all experience".(187)

The Report indicates that Pentecostals and Catholics had come to appreciate the respective charismatic, mystical and liturgical emphasis of both communities through their discussions. "We have also learned that one cannot simply oppose these two modalities of Christian experience. Each has some experience of what has traditionally been prized by the other".(278) It is quite clear that they had not arrived at a theological consensus concerning "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", but at the same time it recognizes "that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, including the charismata, was not unfamiliar to the ancient Church and is a source of renewal for the contemporary Church. We have learned that while theological evaluation and judgment is necessary, this can only be in service of the Spirit's work, never to quench or grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19).(279)

The Report acknowledges that there are stereotypes in each tradition which give too simplistic an account of the members of the other community. It argues that it is superficial to see Pentecostals largely living in their hearts and emotions, with Catholic life being determined solely by theological abstractions and outward rituals. Neither view does justice to "the profound way religious experience is important for us, both in regard to the common Christian faith that we share and the differences that do distinguish us".(184)

The interpretation of religious experience for Catholics and Pentecostals is dependent upon their distinctive doctrines and theologies of grace. They particularly differ on their understanding of the assurance of salvation and its relation to experience. "Pentecostals testified to the certainty of the salvation that God freely offers in Christ, and Catholics envisage that assurance as a matter of hope and prayer".(189)

Surprise is expressed in the Report that Catholics and Pentecostals have more in common in their experience of the spiritual life than they had expected. That the dialogue was able to reach a considerable degree of consensus is quite extraordinary given that it is a dialogue between a Christian movement and very diverse community which defines itself in terms of religious experience, and the Catholic Church which resists any definition of the working of grace which would require experiential validation. The Catholic theology of religious experience is found in its great spiritual and ascetical traditions rather than in the teaching of the Magisterium. It is not clear whether these were drawn upon in this dialogue or only the Patristic witness. If they were not, they would remain an appropriate resource for further dialogue, and would assist in exploring the relationship of the Pentecostal experience to the broader Christian spiritual tradition.

Sacraments or Ordinances

Among the topics recommended for further discussion in the Conclusion of the Report, is "the nature and role of water baptism and other rituals which Catholics call sacraments and Pentecostals call ordinances". While there is some convergence on this matter in the Report, the question still remains at the end as to " what is normative for becoming a Christian and/or for Christian Initiation".(281)

Given its topic, the Report focuses on the process of becoming a Christian and hence on the sacraments of Initiation, rather than the role of the sacraments and especially the eucharist in the continuing Christian life. At the same time, it is able to affirm corporate praise in Pentecostal Churches and sacramental and liturgical worship in Catholic Churches as the source and summit of spiritual lives.(136)

The difference between Catholics and Pentecostals that underpins much of the discussion is named as "the significance and relative normativity of both sacramental and non-sacramental approaches to initiation, including conversion".(52) One clear difference concerns the relationship between the visible and invisible aspects of the whole journey into the Christian community encapsulated in the Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Put quite simply, "Catholics believe that the rite is a visible sign of an 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 affect, a strengthening of faith".(50)

Despite key texts such as Acts 2:37-38 and others referring to baptism, there is no agreement between Pentecostals and Catholics about the effect of baptism. For example, Pentecostals acknowledge that they understand Gal 3:26-28 and 1 Cor 12:13 as referring to a "spiritual baptism into the body of Christ, to which public witness is given through baptism in water", which falls far short of the full sacramental understanding of baptism for Catholics. (76) Pentecostals see the passage Jn 3:1-8 which had been dealt with by various Fathers, as referring "more generally to conversion and not explicitly to baptism, as Catholics would tend to read it".(47)

Similarly, the Report acknowledges that Catholics understand texts such as Jn 3:3-6, Titus 3:5, Rom 6: 1-7, Col 2:11-12, and Jn 6 in a sacramental way. On the other hand Pentecostals "see in the New Testament a primary emphasis on faith and confession, which also includes baptism, engendered by the Word through the power of the Spirit. This public confession of faith and obedience is powerfully attended by God's Spirit, who also imparts the very realities signified by baptism".(77) Given this emphasis upon confession and faith, rather than upon sacramental initiation, Pentecostals do not accept infant baptism.(78)

For some Pentecostals, baptism is an outward but necessary sign carried out in obedience to Jesus, but in itself it is "a public testimony of a transformation that has already occurred by grace through faith".(88) Other Pentecostals would attribute more effectiveness to the baptism itself, seeing it not only as a sign or testimony, but also as an "ordained means for the communication for giving grace, delivering power and saving life, effected by the power of the Spirit".(88)

Overall though, most Pentecostals do not see baptism as a means of regeneration. Regeneration is effected "when through faith, the Word and the Spirit beget new life within a believer. Baptism apart from this dynamic cannot effect new birth".(88) For Pentecostals, the beginning of the Christian life does not necessarily include "water baptism" as the primary basis for entry into the Christian life, although it holds great importance for them.(27) So it is that some Pentecostals neglect baptism though this was not the position of the participants in the dialogue.

The Report raises the hopeful question whether the Patristic evidence concerning the role of the Holy Spirit in the efficacy of the sacraments of baptism and eucharist might not become "a common resource" between Pentecostals and Catholics for reflection upon the sacramental nature of baptism and eucharist. "In particular, the linkage between sacraments and the Spirit could allow both Pentecostals and Catholics to profess together that, through the reception of baptism, a significant action of God occurs in the life of the one who is baptized. Becoming a Christian required a transformation of life, which meant also a serious effort to cooperate with God's grace in such a way that one truly lived a good and holy life".(91)

In a summary of the Patristic evidence, the dialogue concludes: "Both the Bible and the Patristic literature affirm a deep relation between faith and the series of events by which one becomes a Christian".(86) The Report maintains that both Catholics and Pentecostals appreciate "the experiential dimension of faith found in the writings of the Church Fathers", but that the way they do so is affected by their theological perspective.(151) Again, these theological perspectives refer to a sacramental or non-sacramental understanding of initiation.

The almost complete difference in understanding of baptism and the sacraments in general is not unrelated to the more fundamental difference between the partners in this dialogue already noted. Pentecostal identity gravitates around an experience of conversion not a ritual, whereas Catholics, while not excluding religious experience, emphasise sacraments received in faith. If the dialogue is to progress on this matter, it may well be able to do so only by a more fundamental discussion of divine grace and the way it is communicated.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The Report not surprisingly devotes its most attention to the topic: "Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation", and reviews previous discussions of this topic by the dialogue. It begins with a presupposition: " We share the conviction that the Holy Spirit has always been present in the Church with grace, signs, and gifts. We affirm and embrace charisms as an important dimension in the life of the Church".(193) However, immediately it points to a major difference: "Both of our traditions identify two principle moments for the reception of the Spirit. For Pentecostals these moments come in conversion and Baptism in the Holy Spirit. For Catholics they come in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation".(194)

The Report nonetheless concludes that there had been a "most fundamental convergence" and that there is a "common conviction" that "Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a powerful action of grace bestowed by God upon believers in the Church".(260) Another conclusion which is called " striking" is that there is substantial diversity between and within both communities in interpreting " Baptism in the Holy Spirit". A consensus is not possible, even for Catholics. Whether this diversity is compatible with a fundamental unity in faith concerning Baptism in the Holy Spirit, both within or between the communities, is not clear. At the same time the experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit is observed to have "a certain similarity among recipients " despite there being a substantial difference in the understanding of it and its place within the series of events by which one becomes a Christian.(261)

In summarising previous reports on this topic, the Report makes available a description of "Baptism in the Spirit" by Pentecostals in the first phase of the dialogue (1972-1976): "In the Pentecostal movement 'being baptized in the Spirit', 'being filled with the Holy Spirit', and 'receiving the Holy Spirit' are understood as occurring in a decisive experience distinct from conversion, whereby the Holy Spirit manifests himself, empowers, and transforms one's life, and enlightens one as to the whole reality of the Christian mystery (Acts 2:4, 8:17, 10:44, 19:6)".

In that same report, it was made clear by all participants that Christians who had not had such an experience had nonetheless received the Holy Spirit. The difference between a committed Christian without such an experience and one who had received it was "generally not only a matter of theological focus, but also that of expanded openness and expectancy with regard to the Holy Spirit and his gifts".(198) It was also acknowledged that the phrase "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is not used in the New Testament, though the verbal form "to baptize in the Holy Spirit" (MA; 1:8) is used.(199)

This Report recognises that the first report did not resolve all ambiguities concerning "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" and cites one in particular: "whether there is a further imparting of the Spirit with a view to charismatic ministry, or whether Baptism in the Holy Spirit is, rather, a kind of release of a certain aspect of the Spirit already given".(200) In its own discussion of the biblical perspectives on " Baptism in the Holy Spirit", it recognises that there is a problem in interpreting biblical texts.(203) It offers a new summary of the " Baptism in the Holy Spirit" as follows: " To be baptized with the Holy Spirit (cf Acts 1:5), to be filled with the Holy Spirit (cf Acts 2:4) or to receive the Holy Spirit (cf Acts 2:38) is seen as a gift of God rooted in Jesus' own promise of Acts 1:8 and Peter's claim in Acts 2:38-39. It is through the reception of this gift or grace from God that God reveals himself in a personal and life-transforming way to the believer".(207)

The key question in the Patristic section on "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is whether the Patristic sources could be said to describe what today is known as " Baptism in the Holy Spirit". It is acknowledged that while some scholars do interpret them this way, others are convinced that they do not refer to what is presently called Baptism in the Holy Spirit. (208) It is here that the work of Kilian McDonnell played an important part in the discussions of the dialogue because he argued in favour of some Patristic texts being seen as reflecting what is today called "Baptism in the Holy Spirit".

It is made quite clear that there is no official Catholic doctrine on Baptism in the Holy Spirit,(218) and that for Catholics, "charismatic 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit' cannot be considered as an additional sacrament" and it cannot be said "to communicate sacramental grace that those who have not received it would not possess".(218) For Catholics it is through the two sacraments of baptism and confirmation that they receive new life and the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to grow in holiness and to engage in mission with all the gifts and charism that the Spirit imparts.(222)

When charismatic renewal began among Catholics, it did not simply take over the Pentecostal doctrine of the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit".(226) The Report indicates that there are two schools of theological interpretation current in Catholic reflection on "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" represented by the Malines Document (1974) and The Spirit Gives Life from the German Bishops' Conference (1987).

For the Malines Document, "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is integral to Christian Initiation. It is understood as "integral to the Christian life", as "part of the fullness of Christian Initiation". For the Malines Document it "belongs to the Church at a fundamental level". (230) For this document, "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is the emerging into consciousness of the Holy Spirit given in Christian Initiation, "frequently a perception of concrete presence".(228)

The German text on the other hand sees "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" as a new kind of experience of the Spirit, whom it sees as coming continually into the lives of Christians, while still continually in-dwelling within them through baptism and confirmation. " In this sense, experience of the Spirit can be explained as a new receiving of the Holy Spirit without denying reference to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and eucharist".(232) The bestowal of grace and charismatic gifts need not be restricted only to the sacraments, though the sacraments of Initiation remain of fundamental significance.(233)

While both schools of thought agreed on the importance of the charisms and of spiritual experience, and that "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is part of normal ecclesial life, they do differ quite clearly as to whether "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is a particular spiritual experience or is a normative part of the process of Christian Initiation.(234)

For Pentecostals, through "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", "the Christian encounters the Holy Spirit in such a way that one is empowered to become the compelling witness that Jesus proclaimed in Acts 1:8", and without it, "the life and witness of the Christian is greatly impoverished".(240) But there have been, and still are differing Pentecostal accounts of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", some able to be traced back to two original streams of Pentecostal life, the Wesleyan-Holiness Movement and the Keswick Movement from England which was non-Wesleyan.(241-242)

The earliest Pentecostals were not normally new converts to Christianity, but came to Pentecostalism from other Christian communities.(248) They all believed that they had received the Holy Spirit at conversion(249) but they differed, and still do, as to where the receiving of the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" occurred. However, most Pentecostals believe that "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" occurs subsequently to conversion, but they also accept that people are sometimes baptized in the Spirit at the time of their conversion if appropriate evidence is present. If it is not received at that time, "'Baptism in the Holy Spirit' is so crucial to the fullness of Christian life that it should be pursued immediately".(253)

It is acknowledged in the Report by the Pentecostal participants that they have a Restorationist view of history and believe that they are participating in the "latter reign" prophesied in Joel 2:23 and that they are living in "the last days" Acts 2:17.(169) Pentecostals believe that it is important for believers to seek the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. For some of them, "this is preceded by an experience of sanctification, a break-through, or definitive work of God into their lives enabling them to live a holy life and preparing them for Baptism in the Holy Spirit".(170) Most Pentecostal denominations do not teach that this is a separate experience, but all of them agree that growth in holiness is an important lifelong process, and most of them would testify to "a wonderful experience of speaking in tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit".(170) All are encouraged to give testimonies to bear witness to what God has done in their lives for the edification of the community.

Pentecostals have an expectation that there would be some evidence, and indeed some " bible evidence" that a person has received "Baptism in the Holy Spirit",(256) but today, fewer Pentecostals are receiving "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" with the evidence of speaking in tongues than in previous years, and this has raised profound pastoral and theological questions for Pentecostals.(258) There is also naturally a debate about speaking in tongues, whether this is a gift or a particular kind of prayer or a gift of tongues for public usage that requires interpretation.(259)

Despite all of this, the Report is able to make the following very significant affirmation: "It is the conviction of the members of this dialogue that the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit need not be a divisive issue among our communities".(195) It does so after affirming the presence of this grace in Catholic Charismatic Renewal and sees the warm reception given to Charismatic Renewal by the leaders of the Church as "a sign of official recognition of this grace" (195). Much is at issue here. The warm reception of Catholic Charismatic Renewal is obvious and pastorally important for dioceses wishing to offer a Catholic alternative to Pentecostalism. This welcome clearly involves an acceptance of what even Catholics in the Renewal sometimes call "Baptism in the Holy Spirit". However there is no agreed theological interpretation of the phenomenon and certainly none endorsed by the Magisterium at its highest levels. This leaves the dialogue participants in a rather difficult situation. They have done well under the circumstances, but only the further discussions previously recommended concerning religious experience and the communication of divine grace, will provide a larger framework for further study of this particular experience and this particular grace.

Restorationism

Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Restorationist trend within Protestant/Evangelical thought at that time in the United States, which believed that the Church had declined from as early as the post-Apostolic period, and could be restored only by a return to the vision of the simplicity and purity of the New Testament.(244)

Restorationism contained a strongly eschatological perspective for Pentecostals who believed that the Restoration would include the charisms of 1 Cor 12:8-10, which were believed by many Christians to be no longer necessary or available; and that the gift of tongues in particular would be restored to further the missionary enterprise, according to many Pentecostals.(246)

Given this Restorationist emphasis since the beginning of Pentecostalism, the Report acknowledges that Catholics and Pentecostals disagree in their assessment of history, and therefore recommends "further dialogue should take up this crucial question of how we read history in different ways and explore why we do so".(280)

In reflecting on the earlier use of the Patristic sources, the Report concludes: "This study of the early post-biblical Christian writings, many of which were written in those early centuries, which some call the Constantinian era, can be an initial step in dialogue between us on historical questions which are at the root of the Pentecostal views of Restorationism. This important issue awaits another phase of international dialogue".(270)

Perhaps at issue here is not only a particular view of history but also a view among Pentecostals in the beginning and still continuing among some, that other Christian communities, including and perhaps especially the Catholic Church, are not truly Christian because they do not manifest sufficient signs of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. A more direct focus on the Church today and the criteria used to decide whether it is truly Christian or not may put the study of restorationism and differing views of history into a new context.

Concluding Reflections

The Report summarizes the issues clearly needing to be addressed in future dialogues: "a restorationist view of Christian history, the nature of sacraments or ordinances, and the exercise of authority within the Church, in addition to our varying principles for interpreting Scripture".(282) These certainly deserve attention and, in addition, the interpretation of the Pentecostal experience within the broader Christian spiritual tradition and the whole question of the communication of divine grace.

In the seminar on "The Search for Christian Unity: Where We Stand Today" presented by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences in January 2007, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council, had this to say:

These observations tell us that the sociological aspects alone cannot explain the success of the enormous Pentecostal movement. There are also spiritual reasons behind the emergence of this phenomenon or, to say it clearly, there are also primary spiritual needs and spiritual desires. A theological element underlying Pentecostalism is the possibility of the immediate individual experience of the Holy Spirit. Such immediate experience of the Spirit is the characteristic mark of all Pentecostal groups and of all charismatic movements. Therefore, the fundamental theological and pastoral problem that the Pentecostal movement raises is the spiritual renewal of the historical mainstream Churches, so that they may be able to respond to modern spiritual needs, to fill the spiritual void. There is the need for a renewed but serious theology of the Holy Spirit, especially of the gifts (charismas) of the Spirit, of spiritual experience and of discernment of the spirits. But also the rules for the discernment of the Spirit, founded already in the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor 12:3.10.28; 1 Thess 5:21; 1 Jn 4:1-3) and further developed in the spiritual tradition (especially by St Ignatius of Loyola), become important and acute.

Cardinal Kasper's recommendation is consistent with the Report's recommendations. While he is concerned about theological reflection within the Catholic Church, what he says is very relevant to this dialogue. It is very difficult for the Catholic participants in the dialogue to represent the Church when the issues it is dealing with have not been adequately addressed on a theological level by the Catholic Church itself. They cannot point to doctrinal definitions or major statements of the Magisterium as can other dialogues with Catholic participation. Nonetheless, the task that confronts them is one that is important for Bishops' Conferences around the world as they face the phenomenon of a rising Pentecostal challenge to the grassroots membership of the Church. The Catholic participants in this dialogue may be carrying forward the kind of reflection that Cardinal Walter Kasper recommends for the Church, but they would be assisted by a wider reflection and could in turn contribute to it.

The use of the Fathers of the Church as material for discussion in the dialogue was a brave attempt to carry the dialogue into a more comprehensive reflection on the Pentecostal "experience" within the larger frameworks of history, the broader Christian spiritual tradition and the Apostolic Tradition itself. This may have led to more qualified statements at times and, it is hoped, to a new awareness for the continuing dialogue of the importance of history and the Apostolic Tradition. At the same time, the treatment of the Fathers is itself open to scholarly debate and particularly the treatment of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" given that there cannot be a definitive interpretation of historical texts. This is a particular difficulty confronting this dialogue which qualifies somewhat the authority to be attributed to the Catholic perspectives outlined in the Report. Despite this and other limitations already mentioned, the Report very obviously represents the fruit of intense, scholarly and dedicated dialogue. It is to be hoped that the dialogue will continue in this direction and so continue to bear rich fruit.



[1] "The Current Ecumenical Transition", Origins 36:26 (Dec. 7, 2006) 412.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cardinal Kasper, "The Current State of Ecumenical Dialogue", Origins 37:28 (Dec. 20, 2007) 453.

[4] "Evangelisation, Proselytism and Common Witness. The Report from the Fourth Phase of the International Dialogue 19901997 Between the Roman Catholic Church and some Classic Pentecostal Churches and Leaders", Information Service 97 (1998/1-2) 38-56.

[5] Kilian McDonnell and George T. Montague, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991, 2nd Revised Edition, 1994.

   

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