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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY

THE WORD OF LIFE:
A STATEMENT ON REVELATION AND FAITH

(Rio de Janeiro, 1996)

 

PREFACE

In every country of the world, men and women, old and young, are found worshiping in churches, cathedrals, chapels and house groups, confessing in a great variety of cultures and in many tongues “Jesus Christ is Lord”. They have discovered the Redeemer of the world to be their own Savior, and their commitment to Christ gives meaning and purpose to their lives.

In Asia and Africa, the number of Christians has doubled in recent years as seeds sown in earlier times come to fruition. Indigenous evangelizers have taken responsibility in the creation and animation of new church communities. New ecclesial communities are also being born in places thought by some to have moved into a ‘post-Christian’ era. In countries of Eastern Europe, believing people have lived their faith with tenacity in the face of atheism and oppression and now bear dynamic witness to the way faith continues to outlive all forces that would destroy it. New signs of life are appearing in Western countries where Christians are confessing their faith as a thoughtful alternative to prevailing materialistic values and the full flowering of secularism which had seemed an inevitable trend in the modern world.

Catholics and Methodists participate in this astonishing persistence and explosive growth of Christian presence and witness in the world. Whether in a Catholic parish in Zaire or in an urban Methodist congregation in Korea, whether at the preaching of the Word or in the celebration at the Table, the common acclamation rings out: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. Praise issues in evangelistic testimony and caring service as believing Methodists and Catholics disperse to bear witness to the Lord among their neighbors.

The heart of the faith is common to Catholics and Methodists; but while they sometimes share in prayer and witness together, often they proceed on their own more or less parallel lines. The current situation calls into question the separation that we have inherited and spurs us on to work for our eventual full communion in Christ. The work done by this Commission up to now has been directed towards this end. Our previous document, The Apostolic Tradition, studied the source of our faith and the means by which it has been communicated to us.

God’s Word, revealing God to us, and God’s Spirit, enabling us to know God, have led us now to study more closely the ways in which God gives himself to us and the response that we make. God’s revelation comes for our reception as the Word of Life, to be confessed, propagated and celebrated. The more we can do these things together, the more we shall be in harmony with the Gospel of reconciliation, and the more credible will be our witness, to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore we seek full communion in faith, mission, and sacramental life. This Report is offered as a contribution towards the achievement of the doctrinal agreement necessary to that end.

15 November 1995

Co-Chairmen:

Bishop JAMES W. MALONE
Dr. GEOFFREY WAINWRIGHT

Roman Catholic Church World Methodist Council

 

INTRODUCTION

1. In the continuing search for the doctrinal agreement necessary to full communion between Catholics and Methodists, the Joint Commission now treats what are usually called, in theological terms, ‘revelation’ and ‘faith’. We are looking for commonly acceptable ways of expounding the historical self-disclosure and indeed self-gift of the triune God, focused in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and brought home to successive generations of believers by the Holy Spirit, released in power at Pentecost. We are seeking a common account of how men, women and children, opened to the gracious presence of God, are enabled to commit themselves, body and soul, heart and mind and will, to their Maker and Redeemer and, in communion with him, become renewed in the divine image, in the holiness and happiness which is God’s intention for humankind. God’s revelation and the human response to it constitute the substance of the Church’s faith, mission and sacramental life; and the more common the account we can give of these things, the closer we may come to one another in our understanding and practice of them and so be readier for full communion between us.

2. Seeking to place its work under the Word of God, the Commission heard anew the opening words of the First Letter of St. John:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our own hands, concerning the word of life the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:1-3).

This sacred text starts from the particularity of the God of Israel’s self-revelation in Christ: the divine Word, who was in the beginning with God and has led the history of the chosen people, has been made flesh in Jesus. That sheer self-gift of God is a word of life to humankind: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. In Christ, in his words, his deeds, his entire existence, God has been revealed in audible, visible, palpable form; God has been received by human ears, eyes, and hands. What the first believers have taken in, they then bear witness to and transmit, for the message spreads the offer of a life shared with God. The modes of the announcement will appropriately reflect, echo and hand on what was seen, heard and touched in the embodied manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. Accepted in faith, the words, signs and actions of the Gospel will become the means of communion with the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The divine life into which the Spirit introduces believers will be a common life, as each transmits and receives what is always the gift of God.

3. In this passage from Scripture, we find already indicated all the main themes of the Commission’s deliberations and report: the gift of the revelation of the triune God; the human response of faith; the proclamation, as missionary message, of what has been received in faith; word and sacrament as the intelligible and tangible means of grace; communion with the triune God as the very life of the Church, the community of believers which in God’s name offers to the world the salvation that the Church already anticipates with joy

4. The revelation of the triune God is the source of the Church’s faith, the Church’s mission, and the Church’s sacramental life. These are three essential ingredients in the full communion our commission has declared is the final goal of our dialogue (cf. Towards a Statement on the Church, § 20; The Apostolic Tradition, § 94). Revelation, faith, mission and sacramental life are briefly described below. The main body of the Report will go on to look at each in more detail, to outline their connections, and then finally to offer a vision of our goal of full communion.

5. Revelation is God’s self-disclosure to human creatures. Having already left a divine mark in all that he has made, God initiated a more direct self-revelation by speaking to Abraham, who was called to the land where his descendants would dwell. The Creator became known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham and Sarah, who received the promise of God, have been seen as models for all believers. Giving the law through Moses and leading the chosen people through judges, kings and prophets, God was known to the people of Israel in a unique way among the nations. And this knowledge of God, and of our human condition before him, has been conveyed to later ages by the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

6. In the midst of this chosen people, at the appointed time, God sent the divine Word, who took flesh from the Virgin Mary as Jesus, the Christ, the Redeemer and Mediator, in whom the divine revelation was fully embodied. The first response to this revelation in Christ, is formulated in the Scriptures of the New Testament, which are thus normative for all later ages.

7. The Scriptures attest that it is by the Spirit of God that human beings see God manifest in history Thus their response to revelation is more than a mere reaction to extraordinary events; it is ‘faith’, that is a knowledge that involves complete personal commitment, body and soul, heart and mind, to the divine self-disclosure - of the One whom Jesus called “Abba, Father”, of the Word whose presence and action is perceived in the words and acts of Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit, the Enabler and Supporter of all who believe.

8. Revelation and faith are thus correlative events and moments. What God reveals through Jesus is apprehended in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. While this faith was, in the Old Testament, an inspired response to God made known as the Creator and the Law-giver who also spoke through the prophets, it is, in the New Testament, shaped by the fundamental awareness of the tri-unity of God that has been preserved and continues to be experienced in the Christian community. That witness to this Trinitarian faith has been handed on in the apostolic tradition. It has been preserved in successive ages by baptism in the threefold Name of God, “the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit”, formulated in the traditional creeds, and reflected in the decisions and exhortations of the great councils of the Church. Catholics and Methodists are in full agreement on this Christological and Trinitarian dimension of revelation and of faith.

9. God’s revelation aims to bring about communion between humankind and God. The faithful response to God’s gift of himself is fundamentally one of grateful acceptance and loving self-surrender. All who have welcomed the revelation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit feel bound to celebrate together the wonderful deeds of God and to declare them in mission to the world:

- Christians have always been ready to give an account of the hope they share (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and have professed their faith publicly United with Christ through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they are called to make their own the faith of the whole community of believers. Sunday after Sunday, Methodists and Catholics make the same fundamental affirmations of faith during worship, and this realization impels them to work towards unity of faith in every aspect of Christian life.

- From the day of Pentecost, believers have gone out in the power of the Spirit to share what they have seen and heard and handled. They have done so aware that the gift they have received is not for themselves only; that Christ through his Spirit has commissioned them to make disciples of all the nations. Faith flows out in mission. Catholics and Methodists recognize that they have to overcome everything that prevents them from bearing united witness to the one God revealed in Jesus Christ.

- The community that professes its faith and reaches out in mission to the world experiences the reality of Christ’s promise “I am with you always, yes to the end of time” (Mt 28:20). Its life together, above all its worship, manifests this grace of God. In its prayer, preaching and sacramental rites it is nourished in communion with God and offers an invitation to humankind to accept the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Here, too, Christ’s Spirit challenges us to be reconciled at one table in a unity of worship and praise so that the world may believe.

10. By baptism, and the faith in Christ which it signifies, Catholics and Methodists already enjoy a certain measure of ecclesial communion. The purpose of the dialogue between us is to increase and deepen our relationship until we reach sufficient agreement in the Christian truth that our common baptism can without equivocation be completed in our mutual participation in the Meal to which the one Lord invites us and all his followers. The unity we seek to promote is not solely for our own enjoyment but for the sake of a credible witness to the reconciliation that God in Christ has wrought for the world and therefore among humankind. Our unity is to allow us to “glorify with one mind and one voice the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6), in anticipation of the day when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that “Jesus is Lord”, to the glory of God the Father (cf. Phil 2:10). As Catholics and Methodists, we are inspired and sustained by a vision of the crowning moment when “there will be a deep, an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God; a constant communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all the creatures in him!” (John Wesley, Sermon 64, ‘The New Creation’, 1785)

 

SECTION ONE: REVELATION

I. God’s Self-Giving

11. “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7). The biblical answer is clear: God cannot be found by our efforts to seek him out. The mystery of his being cannot be penetrated by human endeavor alone. Indeed, although human beings have been made in God’s image they have been blind to the light of this mystery in the order of created things. Our knowledge of God is entirely dependent on the Creator’s free and gracious choice to make himself known, which he has continued to do in pursuit of his good purpose for us.

12. We call this self-communication of God ‘revelation’ because of the recurrent biblical pictures of One who is hidden taking action to disclose himself, at the same time pointing people in the right direction and opening their eyes so that they may truly see him. Yet in this self-communication not all was revealed. Even Jacob, who wrestled with God, saw him face to face and lived, gaining the new name ‘Israel’ (cf. Gen 32:30), still did not know God in his fulness; God’s name was withheld. “I appeared to [them] as God Almighty,” Moses is reminded, “but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them” (Ex 6:3).

13. Jacob’s change of name to Israel, and before him Abram’s to Abraham, reminds us that when God is known or seen through revelation, more is gained than information. In biblical thought a name is more than a label; it actually conveys the being and character of the one thus named. So, with knowledge of God in his revelation comes new relationship, new possibility, even in Paul’s words, “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). When Simon recognizes Jesus as the Son of the living God he becomes Peter on whom the Church is to be built. When the light of revelation breaks through to Saul on the Damascus road he becomes Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Those who take to themselves God’s revelation in Jesus Christ are conformed to his image and receive his name.

II. God’s Revelation In History

A. The History of Salvation

14. That God reveals himself in history is a central theme in the Church’s preaching and teaching, referring as it does to the events which made Israel a people through whom all the nations would be blessed. Some events in particular are emphasized, such as the call of Abraham, the Exodus and Sinai events, settling in the Promised Land, returning from captivity in Babylon. These are seen as paradigmatic manifestations of God as creator, redeemer, sustainer and liberator.

15. It is important to note, however, two things:

First, that these occurrences by themselves did not necessarily amount to revelation. It was not always clear at the time who this self-revealing God was, or what the events implied for the way the participants were to respond. Did the Egyptians acknowledge God’s hand in the Exodus? “Is the Lord among us or not?” the people demanded of Moses in the wilderness (Ex 17:7). How could they sing the Lord’s song in the alien Babylon? Thus along with occurrence there was needed the interpreting word - sometimes directly from God, more often through the prophets, and especially in the Torah with its commandments from God revealing his will.

Second, the history in which God is revealed is not limited to these special events. God is present in all history - to Israel as judge even when it seems he has deserted them; Lord over all the nations even if they do not acknowledge him; reflected in creation even if not clearly perceived; imaged in his human creatures even if they have distorted that image.

16. Revelation then has this comprehensive relation to history: for those who have eyes to see and hearts to know, the destiny of all individuals and nations is with the Creator-God, and will be fulfilled when his Day comes, unexpected though the terms of such a day may be, as Amos reminds us (cf. 5:18).

B. Jesus Christ, the Decisive Event of Revelation

17. The New Testament writers affirm, in their different ways, that God’s self-revelation in history reaches its climax in Jesus Christ. In his life, death and resurrection he reveals God in a unique way. Jesus does more than announce and point to the coming kingdom; in his powerful deeds and life of loving obedience to the Father, the kingdom is already present (Luke). As proclaimer of the word he is more than the last in a long line of prophets, more even than the prophet whose coming would herald the last days; he conveys the word of God by being its embodiment (John). He is greater than priests and angels - as well as prophets; he is the eternal Son through whom the world was founded and to whom all things are now in subjection (Hebrews).

18. In echoing the same theme Paul continues the image of ‘uncovering that which has been concealed’. In Jesus is unveiled the mystery previously hidden of God’s purpose that all nations might be brought to obedience (cf. Rom 16:25). And Jesus does more than simply announce this intention; he reveals God’s righteous purpose by fulfilling it, dying so that even the ungodly may be reconciled to God (cf. Rom 5:7-8) and that the reordering of the whole cosmos may begin (cf. Col 1:18-20).

C. Revelation as Word and Act

19. It is obvious enough that it is only because of these earliest witnesses to Jesus that we know him as the self-revelation of God. We are dependent upon those who came to faith in him at the time and spread the word about him, on those who later wrote their accounts not just of what happened but of its meaning and significance, and on those in the community of faith from then until now - lively and faithful interpreters of the tradition.

20. Significantly this link between event and interpreting word goes back to the actions and speech of Jesus. Reading the Gospels, we see that his words and mighty deeds became witnesses to Jesus himself, inviting people to recognize in him the power and authority of God.

21. So, for example, Jesus’ ethical teachings on murder and adultery call not just for renunciation of anger and lust but for decision about who it is that claims authority to go beyond earlier authorities, and hence decision about whether Jesus is to be accepted as authentic revealer of God. In the same way Jesus’ healing miracles come to bear witness to him as they call for faith, not just so that they will work but so that he will be recognized as exercising power and authority from none other than God. Along with the deed, therefore, goes the interpreting word. The casting out of the demon, for example, is linked with Jesus’s authority as teacher (cf. Mk 1:21-28); healing the paralytic goes along with his authoritative word of forgiveness (cf. Mk 2:1-12); the implication of his healing on the Sabbath is made clear by his word “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:28). John too makes it clear that the revelation occurs when deed and word are brought together: the feeding of the multitude with “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6); healing the blind man with “I am the light of the world” (Jn 9); the raising of Lazarus with “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11). Thus the words and the deeds of Jesus alike gain their full significance from their source and power in God.

22. God’s purpose was also made known through those who came to have faith in Jesus. As the believing community proclaimed the Gospel of God’s love revealed in Jesus the Christ, and manifested the gifts of the Spirit in their lives, other people came to believe in Jesus, to know his risen presence and to follow his way This revelation comes not simply through words but also by what believers have become through their calling by Jesus and empowering by the Holy Spirit. “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” that has come to Paul and the others now shines through them, earthen vessels though they are, so that the transcendent power may be known, so that “the life of Jesus may be manifested” (2 Cor 4:5-10; cf. 1 Thess 1:5).

23. So it is in the ongoing life of the Church. When there is faithful witness to Jesus Christ, people hear through the words of witness the Word of God and know through deeds of love the God of love. To such witness in word and deed all the faithful are called, but not in isolation from each other. To be ‘in Christ’ is already to belong not only to him but also to the whole company of believers that lives by his grace. From the beginning of his ministry Jesus called others to be with him in order to embody God’s loving purpose for the world. So Paul, after the resurrection, was able to call the Church both the body of Christ and the community of the Holy Spirit.

III. Revelation Of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

 24. From the beginning the disciples of Jesus recognized that his life and work could not be accounted for in merely human terms. So the questions arose: What was his relation to the Maker of heaven and earth? And to the Spirit who moved over the waters at creation and inspired the words and actions of the prophets? Integrally related to these questions about his person were others about his work: What has he done? How are his death and resurrection God’s work for our salvation?

25. The biblical witness has led the Church to the conviction that Father and Son and Spirit were giving themselves for the redemption of us all. On the cross Jesus suffered and died, evoking the Father’s compassion as his Son endured the full extent of human alienation in order to redeem it. Just as we see Jesus’s relation to the one he called Father in sharpest focus around his death, so his relation to the Spirit is clearly seen in the witness to his life. It was by the Spirit that he was conceived, anointed at baptism for his vocation as Son, and led into the wilderness to face the alternative ways, advocated by the Tempter, of being Son. In the Spirit he taught, by the Spirit he healed and so revealed the presence of the Kingdom; with the Spirit he endowed his followers for their ministry in his name.

26. This testimony to the life of Jesus, as part of the history of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is confirmed by the resurrection. For the resurrection testifies both to the victory of the Father, who raised Jesus from darkness and death, and to the power of the Spirit, who conforms believers to the image of Christ. Living in the presence of the risen Lord, we know by faith the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and are enabled to live as grateful children of the Father. Thus the Church gives glory to the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

SECTION TWO: FAITH

27. God’s revelation is received by the faith it prompts; and the act of faith is traditionally styled ‘the faith by which we believe’ (fides qua creditur). Correspondingly, believing faith is directed towards God, the story of his revelation, its results and its expected completion; and the content of faith is styled ‘the faith which is believed’ (fides quae creditur). As living response to the living God, faith grows and produces fruits, its authenticity being tested in a process of discernment. These three facets of faith are treated in what follows: the faith by which we believe, the faith which is believed, and the fruitfulness of faith.

I. The Faith By Which We Believe

28. The Gospel invites all human beings to join the first disciples in receiving God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. It is in a situation of sin that this revelation is received. All of humanity has been so infected by self-centeredness, self-reliance, and the search for false gods that, facing the total holiness of Jesus, humanity is seen as having sinned in Adam. This basic sinfulness is experienced in many ways, and especially in the insecurity and distress that follow a continual failure to do good and a recurrent choice of what is evil. In the midst of this sinfulness, Jesus comes as the only Savior, God’s revelation acquires the dimension of redemption, and faith is offered by the Spirit as saving faith, by which those who believe the Gospel receive forgiveness, justification, sanctification and all the graces that are needed to persevere in God’s ways.

29. Individual believers profess this saving faith as members of a community, the community of those who, like Mary at the Annunciation (cf. Lk 1:38), have consented to God’s design for their life and who, like Peter, have confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16). The Church, community of salvation, gathers in itself all those who have effectively been called “out of darkness into God’s own marvelous light” (l Pet 2:9). Through sharing the word and participating in the sacraments of faith, the Church’s members experience the healing hand of Christ when they struggle with the many obstacles that Scripture designates as the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. I Jn 2:13-16); and already they are given a taste of Christ’s victory over death (cf. Heb 6:4-5).

30. It is not by human power that the believers perceive the word addressed to them through Christ, believe it, and come to salvation (cf. Mt 16:17). Faith is God’s gift, which they accept. Finding in Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of their faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2), the faithful undergo conversion, team fidelity, and witness to the One they trust. They strive to practice a loving and willing obedience. Because they believe in Christ, they obey him. Because they hear and confess the truth of his revelation, they seek to live by it. Because they trust in his promises, they abandon themselves to God and they work towards the perfection to which they are called. In their life of fidelity and obedience they are led by the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

31. While it is entirely God’s gift, faith is inseparably a free act and an attitude of grateful reception of God’s grace and revelation and of self-commitment to the living Lord who from first to last is the guide of the faithful through the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. l Cor 12:3). Freely given, it is freely received. As faith transforms human life it enables the mind to discern God’s plan of salvation as this is described in the Scriptures and delineated in the creeds in which the Church has from time to time formulated its faith in unanimity of hearts and minds (cf. Acts 4:32). In this fidelity revelation feeds the intellect with heartfelt convictions.

II. The Faith Which is Believed

32. To speak in the same breath of faith “transforming human life” and “enabling the mind to discern God’s plan”: of “heartfelt conviction” and “feeding the intellect”, of “unanimity of heart and mind” confirms the inseparability of the life of faith and statements of faith. The faith that receives God’s revelation, the faith by which we believe, is more than a dimension of human feeling, accompanied though faith may be by experiences of gratitude, assurance and joy. It is a response that is shaped by the nature and being of God who gives himself in revelation. Thus what is believed is an integral part of faith, and it is this that gives content to that life of fidelity and obedience to which the faithful are led by the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

33. Already in the New Testament there is a clear link between the faith by which we believe, the faith which is believed, and the faithful action consistent with such belief. In the letter to the Philippians (2:68) Paul includes an early hymn about Jesus Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” This was used, not only to enable Paul and the community to give unified verbal expression to their faith, but also to provide the pattern for their ongoing life as the body of Christ, obedient to the way of their living Lord. Thus this affirmation of faith is prefaced with the words, “Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus.” The faith by which we believe and the faith which is believed come together in the life of faithful obedience.

34. Historically the Church has always expressed this faith in creedal form. As noted above, the affirmations in the Letter to the Philippians are made in the context of the giving of life to the believer. That the early Church understood its own more formally developed statements of the faith in the same way is shown by its universal use of the name ‘symbol’ for the creed. This reflected a common practice of the time when contracts were made. Each party took a piece of broken clay vessel, later to be fitted together to confirm the identity of the parties to the contract. These interlocked parts were called a symbol (from the Greek symbolon, a putting together). So, to call the creed ‘symbol’ was to emphasize the way it brings together God’s gift and the Church’s response, believers too being brought together by affirming this sign of saving faith. Therefore, during the rites of initiation, the bishop gave the creed to persons to be baptized as symbol of active participation in the believing community, to be re-appropriated as the creed was recited thereafter within the context of worship.

35. Thus the creeds are one component, along with sacraments and authority, of what St. Augustine considered the universally recognized ways (catholica) of taking to ourselves the self-giving of God in Christ. It is therefore a mistake to view the creeds simply as collections of propositional statements requiring no more than intellectual assent. They convey the Gospel message in a way that Catholics and Methodists accept as authoritative and life-giving, as is shown by their being regularly prayed in the liturgy. For both our churches, therefore, what is believed is a matter of glad assurance, leading on to a path of faith to be followed.

36. In his Letter to a Roman Catholic John Wesley affirms the faith to which true Protestants and true Catholics both subscribe, faith which believes and faith by which we believe, leading on to faithful action. He follows the outline of the Nicene Creed: God the Father of all, who “of his own goodness created heaven and earth, and all that is therein”; Jesus Christ, “conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost and born of the blessed Virgin Mary”, joining “the human nature with the divine in one person; dying on the cross, risen and ascended” as “Mediator till the end of the world”; “the infinite and eternal Spirit of God, equal with the Father and the Son, ... not only perfectly holy in himself but the immediate cause of holiness in us”; the Holy Catholic Church gathered by Christ through his apostles; the forgiveness, justification and resurrection of the faithful. Then Wesley goes on to insist on the practice of such faith by those who believe. Thus the appeal for unity, that Protestants and Catholics should “help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads to the Kingdom” is based on the conviction that what is believed and affirmed in common must be embodied in the life both of the believer and the community of faith. It is with this conviction that Methodists and Catholics continue in dialogue, “that we may not fall short of the religion of love, and thus be condemned in what we ourselves approve.” Faith is tested by the fruit it bears.

III. The Fruitfulness Of Faith

A. The Growth of Faith

37. The living response to the living God revealed in the Bible engages the whole person and so we may speak of a variety of ways in which the response is lived and expressed within the Church. We respond to God’s self-disclosure not only by simple assent to what he has done for us in Christ but by a return to our original calling through a life of faith lived in history. Revelation is transmitted by people of flesh and blood in a variety of situations. This brings forth a creative and dynamic fruitfulness so that the Church as a living body always develops new expressions of faith, hope and love.

1. History and Development

38. In the course of its development the Christian community has gained new insights into the revelation once given. The tradition shows its fruitfulness in the richly varied expression of these insights. Since this is a historical process, we are in a dialogue not only with our contemporaries but with our predecessors in the faith. We must hear what has already been said, and in doing so we recognize the dynamic character of revelation as the past enters the present and prepares for the future. Coherent development illustrates the fruitfulness of revelation.

39. The Church itself, as a seed which grows with the support of the Holy Spirit and in response to God, has an inherent dynamic. There is no way of understanding the fruitfulness of revelation save in the community of faith. Development is an ecclesial process based on the experience and holiness of the faithful. It is seen by both Methodists and Catholics as a more comprehensive phenomenon than the development of doctrine. St. John’s gospel, in speaking of fruitfulness, points to ecclesial perspectives: the Father is the husbandman, Christ is the vine and we are his branches; and it is the Holy Spirit who will guide the community into the fullness of truth. Since the Holy Spirit shows the way, no limits can be set to God’s assistance in this process. Development as the fresh interpretation of faith means allowing our minds in each generation to be formed according to the mind which was in Christ Jesus.

2. The Church and Its Environment

40. Since the Church is made up of human beings, its growth in understanding takes place through human interaction. Christians exercise their freedom in creative dialogue with the world. Fruitfulness occurs not only as the result of the Church’s own internal pondering on its origin and destiny but also in response to external stimuli. The perception of the truth grows and is tested by the challenges of successive ages.

41. To live the Gospel implies taking up those challenges, in the certainty that Jesus Christ is Lord of history and knowing that the Spirit of God is active in human life, inspiring and leading in the quest for justice, freedom, peace and human dignity. The Church, as it shares in this human endeavor, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and attentive to the Word of God manifested in the Scriptures and in its own historical experience, tries to identify what is good and should be defended and promoted, and to call attention to and resist ideas and courses of action opposed to the Gospel and detrimental to human life. This process, which has always been present in the life of the churches, has been sometimes called “discerning the signs of the times.”

42. The Church often enters into discussion with different schools of thought as it considers new theories, questions, and discoveries. It listens to friends, rivals and enemies. But there are times when it must also resist ideas that are opposed to the Gospel. Revelation itself provides the motivation and guidance for this ministry of the Word.

B. The Fruits of Faith

43. Fruitfulness assumes many forms. They certainly include the following:

1. Confession

People have witnessed to their faith in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, even to the point of martyrdom. In Baptism this same faith has been confessed in the midst of the believing community. When necessity arose, the Church formulated its belief through the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed. From time to time in subsequent centuries synods and councils have again confessed the faith in formulas adapted to new circumstances and in new languages.

44. The developing fruitfulness of the faith has at times led to a refocusing of the understanding of the Gospel. This was notably the case with Confessions produced at the time of the Reformation, which centered on the experience of being justified by grace through faith. In them and in the subsequent teaching of the Council of Trent, the Christian and Trinitarian heart of the faith was placed in the context of the sovereign action of God alone in bringing sinners to justification and salvation.

45. The very fruitfulness of faith means it is also exposed to the diverse influences of the cultures and philosophies it encounters. The desire to increase faith by understanding and to protect it from variations and deviations has led to the formulation of doctrines. Some of these have served in turn as standards of faith and orthodoxy (as in the traditional creeds), while others have been used to build up theological systems that would be intellectually satisfying and would provide apologetical arguments for the defence and further proclamation of the faith. Different doctrinal emphases and diverse theological syntheses, however, have counted among the many factors that have estranged churches from one another and eventually led to conflicting doctrines and confessions. The attempt to overcome such estrangement ecumenically is itself a fruit of the continuing development of faith.

2. Spiritual Life

46. The manifold fruitfulness of faith has been manifest at the level of thought, in the careful elaboration of doctrine, and also at the level of personal experience. The truths that are implied in the Gospel have been sensed to be living truths leading to newness of life and to deep experiences of God in Christ, present in the heart by the testimony of the Spirit. Ways of spiritual life have been explored and described. The writings of the Syriac, Greek and Latin fathers, the monastic rules and the theology of the early middle ages, the more scholastic descriptions of ways of ascent to God, the documents of the devotio moderna at the time of the Renaissance, are monuments and instruments of the fruitfulness of faith. As they discovered and followed the examples of great saints, the faithful have explored new paths to God and found new evidences of the divine presence in their lives, in the community, and in the world around them. For example, the Virgin Mary, theotokos, has come to be seen, especially by the Orthodox and Catholic tradition, as an icon of the Church and of the Christian soul, a model of holiness, and a companion in pilgrimage. Devotion to a disciplined life of prayer and commitment to the works of mercy stood at the origin of the Methodist movement. The untiring efforts of John Wesley to proclaim the Gospel to all, especially the neglected and the poor, and to call them to a life of holiness and a desire for perfection, were themselves a precious evidence of the fruitfulness of faith.

47. Devotion is the form that faith takes in prayer. It inspires new life and manifests the Spirit’s enablement of weak human wills to do good. It leads on to discipline, when the desire to follow the Lord organizes personal life, regulates the use of resources, and places personal enthusiasm and passion at the service of the Gospel.

48. In the search for perfection Christians have found help from outside the Christian tradition, formerly in neo-platonism and recently, for example, in various Asian schools of wisdom. This has not been without its dangers. Yet sources of spiritual life and devotion to counterbalance the danger of deviation have always been available in Scripture, especially in the New Testament and the Psalms. Personal life and devotion find their proper setting in the light of the Word faithfully preached and of the sacraments administered in accordance with the Gospel. Thus faith, devotion, and discipline are located within the worship and liturgy of the community

3. Worship

49. In the presence of the self-revealing God, people feel awe and joy and are moved to express this in praise, prayer, confession and commitment. They wish to recall the message of grace they have heard; to celebrate the acts of God with words, gestures and song; to express in prayer their fears, needs and hopes; and to re-enact the story of salvation in liturgy and drama

50. The Scriptures amply attest the centrality of private and public worship for God’s people. When God’s revelation of himself came to its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the people. of the New Covenant held on to their heritage of worship in a new way. The psalms became a hymnal for the Christian Church; the passover meal acquired fuller meaning as a sacrament of salvation in Jesus Christ. Moreover new hymns were formed (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20) , and baptism in the name of the triune God became the sign of new creation in Christ and incorporation into his body

51. As the Gospel spreads, entering new cultures, different languages and expressions are used and the Church’s worship is enriched and diversified. The Church welcomes both developments in liturgical traditions and new and spontaneous expressions of faith and worship as signs of the fruitfulness of God’s message and the ever-present action of the Holy Spirit. At the same time. the Church seeks to ensure that they are genuine manifestations of the Spirit, and faithfully reflect and proclaim the Gospel.

4. Service

52. The faithful community claims to follow the one who came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mk 10:45). The model for all ministry is found in the Lord himself. In his earthly ministry he proclaimed the coming kingdom and “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) - healing the sick, calling the dispossessed and marginalized, demanding justice and restoring life. In a variety of ways the Church not only proclaims the message with words but also ministers to the spiritual and material needs of all - in caring for the poor, the stranger, and the neglected. This service of charity has been an essential part of its mission. Having experienced the loving mercy of God, the Church also feels bound to denounce injustice and oppression, to work for peace and to articulate the ethical consequences of God’s love for humankind. To all cultures, the Church offers the ‘leaven’ of the Gospel.

C. The Discernment of Faith

53. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the revelation given in the very person of Jesus Christ fruitful for building up the Church as a whole and for the spiritual journey of each of its members. The Holy Spirit is the source of all authentic discernment. “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:19-22). There are several ways and means of ‘testing’ all things, a variety of principles of discernment provided by the Spirit.

1. Criteria for Discernment

i) Fidelity to Scripture

54. Because the Scriptures are the normative witness to the revelation in Christ, they are central

to Christian discernment. The Christian believer must become acquainted with their content, reflect on their meaning, and apply their teaching in daily life. “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15-17).

55. Fidelity to the scriptural word is also exercised by those who, in virtue of their ministry, assist the faithful in this scriptural discernment. Thus the Second Vatican Council stated that the: “Magisterium is not above God’s Word; it rather serves the Word, teaching only what has been transmitted, as by divine mandate and with the Holy Spirit’s assistance, it listens to God’s Word with piety, keeps it in awe and expounds it with fidelity” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, § 10). Wesley was able to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land because he made scriptural truth run with the oil, and burn with the fire, of the Holy Spirit.

ii) Sentire cum Ecclesia

56. This Latin phrase is often used in Roman Catholic theology to denote an inner harmony between personal conviction in faith and the teaching of the Church. The conviction is designated by a word for feeling (sentire) rather than for thinking, because it is a kind of spiritual instinct, antecedent to any discursive reflection on the truth to which it adheres, or on national proof of that truth. It derives not only from intellectual capacity, but also from moral uprightness and graced spiritual goodness.

57. Wesley was well aware of the paramount importance of such conviction for giving living witness to the basic Christian doctrines handed on from generation to generation by the Church. Contemporary divines frequently accused him of irresponsibility in authorizing for preaching men whom they regarded as theological ignoramuses. He retorted that a morally upright tradesman who prayerfully frequents the Scriptures can much more easily attain that level of conviction indispensable for effective witness and preaching than a dissolute clergyman who relies on a purely academic biblical and theological expertise. Wesley knew that, in the mind and the heart of the deeply convinced Christian believer, the Holy Spirit is ever at work, bonding the exercise of particular spiritual gifts into unity with the exercise of complementary gifts in all the other members of the body of Christ, the Church.

58. In the perspective of Vatican II, this action of the Spirit brings about an interdependence in communion between the spiritual instinct of the whole body of the faithful and those who are empowered to make normative acts of discernment of what is, or is not, faithful to Christian Tradition. “Thus the remarkable harmony of bishops and faithful comes into being in the preservation, the practice and the confession of the traditional faith.” (Dei Verbum, § 10). The Latin for ‘harmony’ is con-spiratio, that is a ‘convergence of inspiration’, brought about by the Holy Spirit between the sentire of the faithful and discernment by the Magisterium.

iii) Reception

59. One criterion by which new developments in Christian teaching or living may be judged consonant with the Gospel is their long-term reception by the wider Church. Such reception sometimes will take place in theological discussion and sometimes in the practical life of the local churches or of the individual believer. In every case reception of what is true is a spiritual process. The deep conviction of gaining the truth, however, can be an occasion for struggle and separation, when conflicting opinions claim to be true. The process of reception, therefore, calls also for a careful listening to the insights of others. Only the truth itself brings about conformity to Christ in the Spirit. To be anointed with scriptural truth by the Spirit of Jesus (cf. I Jn 2:20-21) is to let his truth seep into every area of Christian living. It is to assimilate it into the very being of the Church and its members, to receive it in the fullest sense of the word. Those who are rooted in the biblical truth by the work of the Spirit not only know the truth, but they know that they know it.

iv) By their fruits

60. Conformity, in deep conviction, to Christian doctrinal and moral truth bears fruit in holiness. It produces that spiritual holiness which in his successive descriptions of the character of a Methodist, Wesley so often described as “walking even as Christ walked.” This vital link between truth and holiness makes holiness a criterion of the existence of truth in the process of interpretation and development of doctrine. This process involves not just one individual but whole generations in succession to one another. Towards the end of his life, Wesley attempted several times a history of the Methodist movement. He considered that the truth of the most precious insights of Methodism was demonstrated by the flowering of scriptural holiness in every part of the land. The quality of Methodism’s fruits proved the health of the original tree.

61. The Second Vatican Council speaks of a growth in insight into what is passed on by Christian Tradition, coming about through a pondering which unites the heart and the head, in a way characteristic of the sentire cum ecclesia referred to earlier. Growth in insight “comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts (cf. Lk 2:19 and 51)” (Dei Verbum, § 8). There must be growth in love to achieve more insightful knowledge of the riches of faith. In other words, there must be growth in holiness. Holiness is, therefore, not only a criterion of the rightness of development in doctrine and ecclesial life; it is a source of such development in its forming of the convictions and insights of believers and their interaction on each other.

2. Agents of Discernment

62. The criteria by which the Church discerns the will of God have been applied in several ways and at several levels of the life of the people of God. One may list the following:

i) Discernment by the People of God

63. According to Scripture the discernment of God’s will is the task of the whole people of God. The admonition to prove and to approve (dokimazein) what is good in the eyes of God is a major theme within the letters of the Apostles (cf. Rom 12:2; Eph 5:10.17; Phil 1:9f; I Thess 5:21; 1 Jn 4:1 f). Paul prays for the Church in Philippi, “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9). The people of God in their daily life have “to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:10) and what will meet the needs of their neighbors. In this discernment God’s love is the leading power, and the needs of the community of the believers and the sufferings of the people around them are pointers to the right direction. Such active openness in love to the very truth which is Jesus, and to the disinherited people of their times, drove many of the saints in our two communions to new forms of piety and service in the world. By this kind of discernment Wesley taught that it was not enough that masters should treat their slaves justly and fairly, but that it was God’s will that slavery be abolished.

ii) Prophetic Discernment

64. At times in the history of the people of God shepherds and flock have gone astray. Through the prophets God called his people back to the way. This was not only true for Israel but also for the Church of the New Testament. The letters to the seven churches witness to the exalted Lord telling his Church what to do and what to abstain from (cf. Rev 1:4-3:22). In the history of the Church prophetic voices of warning and admonition have arisen, some of which were readily listened to and some not. The prophetic call is not based on approval by official authorities or on reception by the whole people of God. It claims to be directly authorized by God.

65. Because there have been cases of false prophecy, St. Paul refers to the necessity of discerning spirits’, distinguishing between spirits (cf. I Cor 12:10) and weighing what is said by prophets (cf. 1 Cor 14:29). The gift of prophecy should be exercised according to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6), in accordance with the basic truth of the apostolic message. Wesley saw such an ‘analogy of faith’ in the basic subjects of biblical preaching: original sin, justification by faith, and present inward salvation. This may be related to the Christological criterion: “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 Jn 4:2-3). God’s saving and redeeming act has in fact reached human nature and existence in their entirety This is what links faith in the incarnation of Christ with the message of the justification and sanctification of sinners by faith through God’s saving grace. This is the criterion, this is the ‘analogy of faith’, according to which prophecy should be exercised and tested.

66. The difficulty of ‘weighing’ or even ‘discerning’ the words of prophets has to be acknowledged but this should not diminish the challenge to listen to prophetic voices. This difficulty has sometimes occasioned divisions and it is only with hindsight that those who have been so divided have been able to begin to distinguish the true from the false in what was at issue.

iii) Pastoral Discernment

67. There are times when the Church needs a formal decision about whether some doctrines are right or wrong, or which actions are appropriate to the needs of the time as well as to the calling of the Church. Already the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the “apostles and the elders gathered together to consider this matter” (15:6). It is the common belief of our churches that there are those who are authorized to speak for the Church as a whole and who, after having carefully listened to Scripture and Tradition and the experience of believers trying to live out the Gospel, and after a reasonable and prayerful discussion, may say “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28a: cf. 1 Cor 7:40b).

68. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Churches hold that the first Ecumenical Councils defined a fundamental, genuine and valid formulation and interpretation of the Apostolic Faith.

69. Within the Roman Catholic Church the teaching office of the bishops in unity with the Bishop of Rome is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. While their teaching office “is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, § 10,), the bishops “have received the sure charism of truth”, which may authorize them to define the doctrines drawn from the divine revelation.

70. Within Methodism the teaching office is exercised by the Conferences. When Wesley in 1744 first met with some of his preachers for such a conference he asked them to decide on the following questions: (1) What to teach? (2) How to teach? (3) What to do? Basic for their decision was the testimony of Scripture, but they also looked into the treasures of Christian tradition, especially from the earliest times, and they listened to the experience of those engaged in the work of evangelism, and reflected rationally on the questions facing them. On this basis and with these guidelines in mind, Methodist Conferences discern what God wants to be preached and done in today’s world.

71. The differences between these approaches and their implications for the communion of faith will have to be dealt with at a later stage of the dialogue between Methodists and Catholics.

iv) Convergence in Discernment

72. St Paul himself writes to the Corinthian Church with which he is in controversy over the interpretation of the Gospel: “Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Cor 1:24). Every formal expression of pastoral authority, whether the teaching office of the bishops or the power of councils, synods and conferences, and every expression of prophetic challenge, is to serve the unbuilding of the whole people of God under the lordship of Christ himself. This should lead to a growing interdependence and mutual recognition of those who exercise pastoral authority within the Church, those who offer prophetic vision, and all those who, by their response to revelation and their inspiration through the creative love of God, participate in active tradition of the Gospel and compassionate discernment of the will of God for his Church and the world.

 

SECTION THREE: MISSION

I. The Mission Of The Church Comes From God

A. The Source of Mission

73. The Church’s missionary activity takes many forms but ultimately has only one source. Mission springs from the Triune God’s loving design for all humanity. God’s act of creating and his concern for his creatures are expressions of his outgoing love. When the Father chose to make himself known, and when he revealed and inaugurated his loving purpose for a world marked by sin, he did this through sending his Son and the Holy Spirit. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son” and “the Spirit of his Son” (Gal 4:4-6). In many places in St. John’s Gospel Jesus is designated as the one “the Father has sent” and he himself promises that the Father and he will send the Spirit. It is, therefore, a fundamental Christian conviction that the very nature of the Church is missionary, and that the Church’s mission is none other than a sharing in the continuing mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit expressing the Father’s love for all humankind.

B. Commissioned by Christ

74. The Risen Christ himself calls on those who follow him to share in his mission. Addressing his disciples, he says: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:21). They are to carry forward his once for - all redemptive mission in space and time, to all peoples and all ages. He prays also “on behalf of those who will believe in [him] through their word” (Jn 17:20-23). They must all be sanctified by his truth, holding fast to what the Word himself has given them (Jn 17:17; 17:14). As they proclaim Jesus Christ, whose person and mission were totally one, those who follow him spend themselves even to the point of laying down their lives for the Gospel.

C. Mission Empowered by the Holy Spirit

75. Such participation in the mission of Christ is possible only because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The infant Church, gathered behind closed doors, was empowered to go out and speak effectively of the mighty deeds God had done through Jesus Christ only after it had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2; cf. Lk 24:48-49; cf. also Jn 20:22). What happened in Jesus Christ, in a particular time and place, is henceforward communicated to people of every language and culture. In the Spirit, the proclaiming community itself becomes a living gospel for all to hear.

D. The Baptised and Mission

76. The great commissioning at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel is addressed to the apostles and to all who will share their faith (Mt 28:16-20). All nations are to come to the fullness of life in the triune God in whose name they will be baptised. Those who accept the Gospel will become members of the body of Christ, and a dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, knowing and loving God as their Father. As they are united with Christ they are also joined to his mission. All aspects of their common life serve to build up the body and its members in holiness. They are thereby enabled to reach out in word and witness to all who have not yet heard the Gospel.

II. Mission: Word And Act

77. Jesus’s mission was to proclaim God’s saving acts: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). Jesus was sent to announce that God was coming to release the people from captivity to the powers of evil, sin and death and to heal their suffering and wounds. What Jesus said, he did. He set those free who were possessed by evil spirits and released those who suffered from guilt and alienation. On the other hand his preaching reached beyond the present moment. In blessing the poor he gave them the assurance that God was with them and that his kingdom would belong to them.

78. Because the ministry of the Church derives from the mission of Jesus, his ministry must serve as the paradigm for the mission of the Church. The Church proclaims what God has done to save humankind through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of life which God has spoken; he is the witness to all human beings that God has come and, from within their limitations, shared the abundance of his love. Taking upon himself the burden and curse of the law, he reconciled us to God and took away our sins, making peace by the blood of his cross. To proclaim God’s love in Jesus Christ is more than to remember and tell the story of Jesus and what he has done for us: wherever this story is told those who hear are empowered by the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to the love of God so that they may live in a community of love, reconciliation and peace.

79. People who have experienced God’s faithfulness and righteousness will share what they have received by deeds of mercy and justice. Moreover, they will seek to shape society according to the pattern of the kingdom of God. Theirs is the fellowship of the new creation, of which they have received a foretaste by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Never claiming to build the kingdom by their own efforts, they will give all the glory to God.

80. Every facet of the Church’s mission - witness, service and worship - embraces both word and act:

- Witness requires the public proclamation of the Gospel, telling the story and inviting response and acceptance. It includes testimony from person to person and the silent and yet telling faithfulness of those who suffer and even die for their Lord and his love.

- Service is expressed in care for the sick and needy, and all who long for healing, in counseling the troubled, in advocacy for the poor and in work for peace, justice and the preservation of creation.

- In worship the manifold gifts of God’s grace are celebrated within the body of Christ. The community that gathers around word and sacrament draws into fellowship people from different backgrounds, with different abilities and gifts, all being made one in Jesus Christ.

All this has been recognized in both our traditions at their best. But we often fall short in practice of what we maintain in principle. This gives a reason for repentance and change of heart, for the integrity of the Gospel demands our full commitment to witness, service and worship.

III. Mission And Community

81. Since the Church is missionary by its very nature, mission is by its very nature ecclesial. Built by the Holy Spirit the community will be the instrument for the proclamation and acting out of the Gospel, the place where people will grow in faith and holiness, and a paradigm of the new life of joy peace, solidarity and service which Jesus Christ offers to all humankind.

82. The Church’s mission involves prophetic and priestly service. Its message relays God’s demand for mercy, justice and peace in human society, particularly in regard to the weakest and the least privileged. In a world of brokenness and estrangement, the Christian fellowship, as a community of acceptance, forgiveness, freedom and love, can function as a sacrament of Christ’s healing presence.

83. The existence of such a community is the fruit of the Spirit who gathers, sustains, nourishes and endows the faithful with the diverse gifts which enable them to witness to the Gospel. This requires that the community and its members make constant use of the means of grace God has provided, not least among which are ecumenical sharing, fellowship and cooperation. Through these means all are called to daily repentance, continual renewal, and the search for holiness. Being thus strengthened by the Spirit the faithful witness to Christ by word, example and action, even as they are scattered into the world for their daily life and duties. In turn, their witness, shared in fellowship, prayer and praise, builds, strengthens and deepens the community.

IV. The Apostolic Mission

84. The whole people of God has been sent by Christ into the world to witness to the love of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this sense it is apostolic. All its members are gifted by the Spirit, and there is no gift without its corresponding service. Within that service of the whole there has been, from the beginning, a ministry uniquely called and empowered to build up the body of Christ in love. This is ‘apostolic’ in the specific sense because it began with Christ’s choosing from among his disciples, the twelve “whom he named apostles” (Lk 6:13). It has continued through the ages in those who follow them in that ministry. After his death and resurrection Christ confirmed the commission of the apostles and sent them out as messengers by whom the Gospel, spoken and lived, would be preserved and proclaimed throughout the whole world (cf. Mt 28:19-20). Their consistent witness, in obedience to the Spirit, was to be a sign of the continuing presence of Christ (cf. Acts 1:8). In the mission of the Church, their special place has been remembered and acknowledged. The first history of the spread of Christ’s teaching is entitled the Acts of the Apostles; the baptismal confession is called the Apostles’ Creed; the handing-on of that faith from generation to generation is known as the Apostolic Tradition.

85. In their imperfections, their slowness of understanding and their wavering faith, as well as in their ultimate loyalty the apostles are representative of the humanity Christ came to save. Their life with him became a model for the life of the Church: they began to grasp the revelation; they were held together by a common hearing of the Word; they were sent out with a common purpose, to enable all nations to hear, believe and live the Word. In fidelity to the apostolic teaching, the recognizable pattern of their fellowship (Acts 2:41-47) has persisted in the life of the Church.

86. The Church is like a living cell with Christ as its center; the community, as it grows and multiplies, retains its original pattern. Apostolic communities need people to do for their own time what the apostles did in theirs: to pastor, teach and minister under the authority of the Good Shepherd and Teacher, the Servant Lord.

87. All those to whom the apostles transmit their faith have a share in their work. All are called to witness. All are called to glorify God and intercede for the world. All are called to serve their neighbor.

88. In the Methodist and Catholic churches some receive by ordination a special calling, and are consecrated and authorized to proclaim and teach the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ, to lead the worshiping community to the throne of grace and administer the sacramental gifts of God, and to guide the life of the Church, its care for the needy and its missionary outreach. In the Catholic tradition these tasks are entrusted to the bishops ordained in the apostolic succession, along with their presbyters and deacons. In the Methodist tradition, following Wesley, ordained ministry is held to be in succession to the apostles, although not dependent in the same way on the succession of bishops.

V. Mission And Ecumenism

89. The Gospel of reconciliation requires a reconciled and reconciling community. The Christian churches are not yet able to carry out God’s mission in unite and this is a serious obstacle to mission. We acknowledge gratefully the fruits that our ecumenical relationships have brought in building up our communities for mission and in the missionary activity of our churches. Our churches should take every opportunity for cooperation, and work and pray to overcome the difficulties which stand in the way. We should explore the possibilities for cooperation in service and, whenever possible, in proclamation. The more we overcome differences in doctrine and polity, the stronger will be our witness and the easier it will be to avoid even the suggestion of proselytism. Nearly thirty years of dialogue between Catholics and Methodists have revealed sufficient agreement in faith for our churches to recognize integrity and faithfulness in each other’s proclamation of the Gospel. While large areas of agreement between Roman Catholics and Methodists about our responsibilities in society make much common action possible, differences remain concerning some areas of personal and social ethics. A careful and responsible dialogue about those differences would be fruitful, not only for our churches but for our mission in society.

VI. Mission And Cultures

90. For both Methodists and Catholics . the message of the Gospel is for all times. It transcends all cultures. Yet the Gospel - which arose in a Palestinian matrix - has been announced in the languages of many cultures. Since salvation is for people where they are, it is relevant to all cultures, and it should be proclaimed in ways that are appropriate to each. Evangelization as proclamation of the Gospel is clearly distinct from interreligious dialogue, in which competent Christians meet with members of other religions in order to reach better mutual understanding. Yet interreligious dialogue itself pertains to the process of mission and the inculturation of the Gospel, since evangelization brings Christians into contact with cultures that have been largely shaped by other religions.

91. One may see a certain analogy between the mystery of the incarnation and the inculturation of the Gospel. The culture that the Gospel ought to enter and transform has, as it were, a body and a soul. The body of a culture includes the web of social, economic, and political structures that provide the stability without which the higher forms of creativity could not develop. These forms - intellectual, artistic, religious - are like the soul of a culture, a response to the attraction of truth, beauty, and goodness for the human spirit. They come from a thirst for a spiritual fullness which no merely human values can provide.

92. Both the Christian evangelist and the converts coming from non-Christian religions are challenged with an unavoidable process of discernment. What in the cultural values, rooted in religious aspirations, are authentic expressions of the movement of transcendence towards the absolute truth and goodness of God? What are deviations from it, imposing limitations on it, or even wounding some of the deepest aspirations of the human heart?

93. The evangelist must never seek to impose the answer to this question. He must have with his hearers the patience which God showed to his people in the Old Testament. Through the prophets, God gave a partial revelation of his saving purpose for the human race, before finally communicating the fullness of that purpose in the gift of his only Son (Heb 1:1-2; Jn 3:16). In any case the direct proclamation of the message should not be abandoned. Interreligious dialogue is not a substitute for evangelization, which remains an imperative of the Gospel.

 

SECTION FOUR: SACRAMENTAL LIFE

I. The Mystery of God in Christ and the Church

94. In its 1991 report on The Apostolic Tradition, the Commission sensed the need for deeper common reflection on the nature of sacrament, starting from the idea of Christ himself as “ the primary sacrament” (§ 89). Bearing in mind that one of the oldest names for sacrament is ‘mystery’ (mysterion), Christians find a direct scriptural basis for viewing Christ in this way in I Timothy 3:16, where Christ is referred to as “the mystery of our religion”:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the Spirit,

seen by angels,

preached among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

95. The ‘mystery’ of God is God’s eternal purpose which has now been revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a saving design which embraces Jew and Gentile alike in the goodness of God’s final kingdom (Mk 4:1 l; Rom 16:25-27; 1 Cor 2:7-10; Eph 3:120; Col 1:25-27; 2:2-3). Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), the Father’s Son upon whom the Holy Spirit always rests (Jn 1:33). Having taken our humanity into his own person, the Son is both the sign of our salvation and the instrument by which it is achieved.

96. As the company of those who have been incorporated into Christ and nourished by the life-giving Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), the Church may analogously be thought of in a sacramental way Precisely as the body of Christ and the community of the Holy Spirit, the Church may be spoken of “as a kind of sacrament, both as an outward manifestation of God’s grace among us and as signifying in some way the grace and call to salvation addressed by God to the whole human race”1 Constituted by God’s saving grace, the Church becomes an instrument for extending the divine offer as widely as the scope of God’s eternal purpose for humankind.

97. In such an approach, the sacraments of the Church may be considered as particular instances of the divine Mystery being revealed and made operative in the lives of the faithful. Instituted by Christ and made effective by the Spirit, sacraments bring the Mystery home Co those in whom God pleases to dwell.

98. The particular sacraments flow from the sacramental nature of God’s self-communication to us in Christ. They are specific ways, in which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Jesus makes his saving presence and action effective in our midst. Thus in his public ministry Jesus did not communicate the good news of our salvation in words alone; he addressed himself in signs and actions to those who came to him in faith. Moreover such signs and actions were addressed to both body and spirit. Thus he healed the paralytic and forgave him his sins. After Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the Savior continues his words and actions among us by means of sacramental signs.

99. There is a two-way connection between the Church and the sacraments. The sacraments build up the Church as the body of Christ until its members come to their full stature; the Church is at work through the sacraments by virtue of the mission received from the Holy Spirit.

II. The Sacraments and Other Means of Grace

100. By virtue of their ecclesial nature, the sacraments are organically related to each other. In the celebration of the eucharist, as both word and table, the Church is built up as the body of Christ. Into the eucharistic community one is admitted by baptism, which identifies the believer with the death and resurrection of Christ. Methodists and Catholics emphasize this vital connection between ecclesial communion and the sacraments of baptism and eucharist in different but analogous ways. Methodists affirm the full sacramental nature of the rites of baptism and eucharist, by attributing to Christ their direct institution. At the same time, they consider other Christian practices, listed by Wesley himself, to be specific means of grace. Catholics attribute primacy to baptism and eucharist among seven sacramental rites which sustain the life of faith.

101. It is our common belief that baptism is an action of God by which the baptized begin their life with Christ the Redeemer and participate in his death and resurrection. As Christ is received in faith, original sin is erased, sins are forgiven, the baptized are justified in the eyes of God and become a new creation; with all believers they share the communion of the Spirit; and they are called to seek perfection in hope and in love through faithful response to God’s continuing gifts of grace. Through the ministry of the Church baptism is given with water “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is irrevocable and is not repeated. While it is received in the context of a local church and in a specific Christian community, it introduces people into the universal Church of Christ and the gathering of the saints.

102. With the whole Christian tradition Methodists and Catholics find in the New Testament the evidence that baptism is the basic sacrament of the Gospel. They also agree that Jesus Christ instituted the eucharist as a holy meal, the memorial of his sacrifice. As the baptized partake of it they share the sacrament of his body given for them and his blood shed for them; they present and plead his sacrifice before God the Father; and they receive the fruits of it in faith. Proclaiming, in his risen presence, the death of the Lord until he comes, the eucharistic assembly anticipates the final advent of Christ and enjoys a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all peoples. In the words of the Wesleys’ Hymns on the Lord’s Supper:

He bids us eat and drink

Imperishable food,

He gives His flesh to be our meat,

And bids us drink His blood:

What’er the Almighty can

To pardoned sinners give,

The fulness of our God made man

We here with Christ receive2.

103. Meanwhile, as believers we seek to enact throughout our lives what we celebrate in the sacraments. Thus prayers of the Roman Missal ask that the sacraments received at Easter may “live for ever in our minds and hearts,” and that “we who have celebrated the Easter ceremonies may hold fast to them in life and conduct”3.

104. Baptism, received once, and holy communion, received regularly in the Church’s liturgical festivals, are at the heart of the life of holiness to which the faithful are called. While they are the two biblical sacraments recognized by the Methodist tradition, the Catholic tradition regards other holy actions of the Church as also sacraments of the Gospel instituted by the Savior: in them also God’s grace reaches the faithful in keeping with some of the acts and words of Jesus to which the New Testament bears witness.

105. Catholics believe that in confirmation the gift of the Spirit confirms what was done in baptism. The faithful who are aware of sinning and are contrite have access to Christ the healer and forgiver in the sacrament of reconciliation. When they are sick, they also receive in the anointing the touch of Christ the healer. When they marry, they marry in the Lord through a sacrament of mutual communion in which they are given an image of the communion of all the saints in Christ and a promise of the graces that are needed for the fidelity which they themselves promise. In the sacrament of orders, some of the believers are chosen and empowered to act for Christ in the spiritual guidance of the faithful through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. In all sacraments the power of the Spirit is at work, inviting the believers to closer union with their Redeemer, to the glory of God the Father.

106. Although Methodists do not recognize these rites as sacraments of the Gospel, they too affirm the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the faithful, the necessity of repentance for sins, the power of prayer for healing, the holiness of marriage, and the enablement by the Spirit of those who are called and ordained for the tasks of the ministry.

107. Catholics and Methodists both recognize other ‘means of grace’ than those they count as sacraments. These include public and private prayer, the reading of Scripture, the singing of hymns, fasting, and what Methodists refer to as “Christian conversation.” In the same category one may reckon the traditional works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and serving the poor. As the faithful meet the image of Christ in their neighbor, they acquire and develop a sense of the pervading sacramentality of the life of faith.

 

SECTION FIVE: KOINONIA—COMMUNION

I. Communion through The Apostolic Witness

108. The opening passage of St. John’s First Letter, already quoted to indicate what is meant by revelation (see Introduction n.2), constitutes also the most complete statement of what the New Testament writers understand by the Greek word koinonia (communion). The beginning of the passage describes, in poignant terms, the privilege enjoyed by the apostles of intimate contact with the incarnate Son of God. St. John wants us to grasp, albeit in our limited human perspective, something of the richness of the infinite and life-giving love which the Father has poured out on us in the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit for our redemption and sanctification. He then addresses directly those whose discipleship of Christ is to bring them, throughout the ages and in union with the apostles, into an intimate sharing in the communion in love of the three Persons of the Trinity: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship [koinonia] with us; and our fellowship [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3).

109. It is of the essence of the Church to be a sharing in this communion of love between the three Persons of the Trinity. The phrase .”communion with us” underlines that our own personal sharing in this love is inseparable from our communion with each other, because it is the nature of this love to bring about a mutual relationship between persons created in the image and likeness of the Triune God. The “us” here referred to are those who have the responsibility of bringing the visible Christian community into being through an apostolic preaching which includes Word and Sacrament. The very existence of the Church as a visible institution in this world becomes a manifestation of communion with the persons of the Trinity Koinonia is thus both invisible and visible communion in love.

110. Entering into this koinonia involves travelling the road of the one whom the apostles heard, saw, and touched. It means, to use other words of St. John’s Letter, which John Wesley never tired of repeating in his sermons, abiding in Christ and therefore in the Trinity, by walking even as Christ walked (cf. I Jn 2:6). It means entering into the glory of Trinitarian love by the way of suffering characteristic of the paschal mystery We can become, through the Holy Spirit, joint heirs of God with Christ says St. Paul, “if we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:17). In other words, the mystery of Trinitarian communion in love, when it touches our lives, changes our way of living into conformity with Christ. The change must penetrate every area of our lives and, in particular, the practicalities of the service of others, by which Christ is still visible to us: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40).

II. Basic Expressions Of Communion In Our Churches

111. Our life with the triune God and with one another is expressed in various embodiments of communion in our churches. To some extent our living of this communion is restricted to the still separate lives of our Catholic and Methodist communities. Our ultimate goal is that there should be full ecclesial communion between us. As a move in that direction, we should acknowledge some of the vital elements in the partial communion we already enjoy, while also delineating some of the problematic differences on which further work needs to be done.

A. Faith

112. As Roman Catholics and as Methodists we live from the same Gospel, the apostolic message of God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ, and we share the same faith. This faith is rooted in the Scriptures which are the common ground of our preaching and teaching as Christian churches. It is summarized by the creeds of the early Church, especially the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed which we confess regularly in our worship.

113. But we share not only a common root or source of our faith; we recognize in each other the same readiness to respond to the proclamation of the Gospel. In the past Methodists tended to see the faith of Roman Catholics merely as an assent to what the Church teaches, whereas Catholics sometimes thought Methodist belief to be a purely emotional personal conviction. These prejudices have been overcome. Faith is always personal but never private, for faith incorporates the believing individual into the community of faith. Therefore his or her faith is both a personal conviction and also a sharing of what is held by the ‘community of the believers’. At the same time, to believe in God and the salvation which he has wrought for us is the living response of the whole life of the believer and changes our lives in every respect; it is personal, living faith. Our traditions may stress the corporate and the individual aspects of faith differently but both are common to us.

114. While we are agreed on the existence of a common faith between us (cf. above, Section Two, II), problems arise when we seek to define the distinctive teachings which are necessary to constitute the full communion of faith which would unite our churches.

115. Methodists have learned from John Wesley to discern between, on the one hand, different “opinions" about manners of worship, about ecclesiastical polity or even about the exposition of certain scriptural truths and, on the other, the essential doctrines of the Gospel. “Opinions” are by no means unimportant and at least within the Methodist connection there should be as much agreement on them as possible. But for the communion of faith with other Christians the unity in regard to the “essentials” is decisive, and not the differences of “opinions”. Such essential doctrines are: the Three-One God; the divine creation of the world and the vocation of humankind to holiness and happiness; the incarnation and atoning work of God the Son; the work of the Spirit as source of all truth, renewal and communion; the need of fallen humankind to repent and to believe the gospel; the divine provision of grace through word and sacrament and the institution and gathering of the Church; the summons to love of God and neighbor; and the promise of a final judgment and victory where all the redeemed will share in glorifying and enjoying God for ever. The Methodist churches did not establish a fixed ‘canon’ of these essentials of Christian faith; but whenever the question of the communion of faith with other churches is put, these elements will be vital for the conversation.

116. The Roman Catholic Church is at one with the Methodists over these essential doctrines, but emphasizes that the whole teaching of the Church constitutes an organic unity Its members are therefore called upon to believe the full teaching of the Church. But within the ecumenical dialogue also the “‘hierarchy of truths’ of Catholic doctrine should always be respected; these truths all demand due assent of faith, yet are not all equally central to the mystery revealed in Jesus Christ, since they vary in their connection with the foundation of the Christian faith”4. This may be helpful when we discuss those doctrines which are important for the teaching and spirituality of the Catholic Church, but which will not be easily accepted by Methodists, e.g. the teaching about Mary in relation to Christ and the Church. We will be able to deal with controversial issues without concealing or diminishing what has been already achieved in a common understanding of the Gospel despite some differences which still remain. These should be the subject of further investigation.

B. Worship

117. Communion with God and with one another is lived and experienced by word and sacrament in the worship of the Christian community. In praise and prayer we share the wonderful deeds of God as well as all human joy and the needs which arise among us. Listening to the Word of God brings us together as a community of those who look to God’s creative and redemptive Word for all their needs.

118. The sacramental life of the Church expresses this communion with God and with one another in a profound way. The sacraments are at one and the same time effective signs of God’s fellowship with his people and of the fellowship of the people of God with one another. Baptism and eucharist, the sacraments which are common to almost all Christian churches, show this most clearly Those who are baptised receive a share in the death of the one Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of his resurrection; at the same time they are baptised into the one body, the body of Christ with its many members who suffer and rejoice together. At the table of the Lord’s Supper the “cup of blessing” is “a participation in the blood of Christ” and “the bread which we break” is “a participation in the body of Christ”, therefore “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Cor 10:16-17). “Discerning the body” (I Cor 11:29) means both to recognize the reality of our communion with Christ and to be responsible for the fellowship with brothers and sisters in the Lord.

119. We encourage ongoing discussion at the appointed levels wherever formal mutual recognition of baptism between our churches is still lacking. We are happy that this recognition has already taken place in many regions. Methodists welcome Roman Catholics to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but they have to respect the fact that participation in communion is still not permissible for Roman Catholics. In some pastoral circumstances Catholics are able to invite Methodists to take part in their Eucharist5. The very desire of many people to take part at the Lord’s table with Christians of other Churches is a sign of a fellowship which looks forward with longing to a full communion not yet attained.

120. Roman Catholics and Methodists are agreed on the provision of an ordained ministry within the communion of the Church to safeguard and foster its common life. Together we recognize that Christ the Good Shepherd shares his pastoral care with others. Those who are called to exercise this care in the ordained ministry receive their particular responsibility from him. They are appointed as witnesses to the living truth of the message entrusted to them, guides of the community that responds to the Gospel they proclaim, and providers of the life of worship that should be offered in communion by the whole Church. Yet the communion that we seek to establish between Roman Catholics and Methodists finds at this point its most visible obstacle: we cannot share in Eucharistic communion because we identify differently the ministers who bear this corporate responsibility in space and time, and the kind of teaching authority committed to them. Progress towards full communion depends on the results that can be obtained from the study of this issue.

121. Behind our differences we thankfully confess that we are able to see common ground: all our sacramental life is rooted in Jesus Christ the “primary sacrament”, whose incarnation and death is the deepest sign of God’s communion with all the anxieties and needs of humankind and whose life and resurrection is the model and the source of power for our living together in love and mutual compassion.

122. Christian worship is not only constituted by word and sacrament but also by the mutual care of brothers and sisters for one another and for all who are in need. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5) and this love binds us together and enables us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This aspect of Christian communion has been especially important for the Methodist movement since the days of John Wesley. Methodists have tried to fulfill this task in small groups gathering regularly for mutual confession, exhortation, encouragement and prayer. The forms have changed over the years; but the challenge to live this dimension of Christian fellowship is as urgent as ever. We are happy to see that in both our churches this task has been recognized and efforts have been made, sometimes jointly, to meet the need for such a worship in the midst of our daily life.

C. Mission

123. Christian communion as koinonia necessarily includes communion in mission. It is communion with God, who sent his Son to reconcile the world and sent his Spirit to restore in human beings the image of God. Communion in mission is at the same time the fellowship of those who are sent by their risen Lord and who are empowered by his Spirit to be witnesses of God’s love and peace throughout the world. Our proclaiming of God’s love includes witness of word and deed, by preaching and serving, by struggling for justice and suffering with the oppressed. We draw attention to what we have already said above in Section Three.

124. We readily admit that in the past we have so often worked without one another or even against one another. This has weakened our witness and has hindered the mission of God. We seek God’s forgiveness for our faults and our shortcomings.

125. We have found considerable convergence in our understanding of the Church’s mission in the world, such that increasingly Methodists and Catholics are able to work together for those they are called to serve. And we hope that communion in mission will also further our communion in worship and in faith. We work and pray for a growing communion between our churches, not because such unity is an end in itself, making life more comfortable and easy for us. Its goals are “that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21) and “that, together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6).

III. The Church Universal

126. Christian communion is more than the fellowship of the members of the same congregation or the same local community. The Church of God has universal dimensions in regard to both time and space. Our Lord’s prayer for his disciples, “that they may be one” (Jn 17:1 1) was not only meant to bring unite to those Christian disciples who lived together at the same time. When Jesus prayed “for those who believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20) he spoke about the unity and continuity of the Church throughout the generations. Communion means therefore also communion with the Church of those who preceded us in the faith throughout the ages.

127. Although we may differ in our evaluations about what have been signs of faithfulness and perseverance in the Church’s history we certainly agree that God’s faithfulness has preserved his Church despite the faults, errors and shortcomings evident in its history.

128. In the same way we acknowledge the importance of a structure which binds together local churches to testify to the global nature of the Gospel and of the Church universal. But we have different perceptions about the nature and the theological weight of those structures.

129. The Roman Catholic Church relies on the promise which it believes to have been given to St. Peter and the Apostles (see eg. Mt 16:18) and to have been fulfilled throughout history in the apostolic succession and the episcopal college together with its head, the Bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter. The hierarchical structure of the Church is an important means and guarantee given by God’s grace to preserve the continuity and universality of the Catholic Church.

130. Methodist churches see the continuity of the apostolic tradition preserved by the faithfulness to the apostolic teaching. The teaching office which decides what is faithful and what is not lies in the hands of conciliar bodies, the Conferences. All Methodist churches recognize the necessity of a ministry of episcopè, ‘oversight’, and in many Methodist churches this is expressed in the office of bishop (cf. Towards a Statement on the Church, §§ 31-34). Local churches are bound together by connectional structures which have to mediate the needs of local churches and of the Church as a whole. Methodists anticipate that more unity and a growing communion between churches of different traditions may be achieved by new conciliar structures. Obviously Roman Catholics and Methodists share a common concern regarding the Church universal as an expression of communion in Christ. But they differ widely in their beliefs about the means which God has given to attain or preserve this goal. These differences may be the greatest hindrances on the way to full communion.

 

CONCLUSION

131. The Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council has existed for thirty years. Its work has passed through at least two generations. The first need was for mutual acquaintance; and for a decade and more, the Commission engaged in this by way of self-introduction and the preliminary tackling together of doctrinal, ethical and pastoral issues that were being faced on the wider ecumenical scene. A second stage developed as the attempt was made to sketch broad theological perspectives, acceptable to both Roman Catholics and Methodists, in which it would eventually become possible to treat the matters which divide us. The Commission believes that a considerable commonality of outlook has been established in the areas of Pneumatology (1981 Report), Ecclesiology (1986 Report), the Apostolic Tradition (1991 Report), and now Revelation and Faith (1996 Report).

132. The time may have come for concentration, in the directions thus shown, on some of those more detailed questions that have recurrently caused difficulty among us. In particular, future study could address the related topics of pastoral and doctrinal authority, the offices of oversight in the Church and succession in them, and the offer made by Rome of a Petrine ministry in the service of unity and communion. We should thus be encouraged to pursue, more immediately and at a deeper level, the understanding that we both have of ourselves and of our partners in respect to the one Church of Jesus Christ and the communion which belongs to the body of Christ.

[Information Service 92 (1996/III) 108-125]

Endnotes

1. Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, Towards a Statement on the Church, 1986, § 9, referring to Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, § 1.

2. John and Charles Wesley, Hymns on the Lord’s Supper (1745), n. 81.

3. See the Prayer after Communion for the Second Sunday of Easter (“ut paschalis perceptio sacramenti continua in nostris mentibus perseveret”), and the Opening Prayer for Saturday in the Seventh Week of Easter (“ut qui paschalia festa peregimus haec moribus et vita teneamus”).

4. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993) § 75, cf. Annotates Reintegration § 11.

5. See the principles and norms which Catholic bishops apply in this matter, in: Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993), §§ 104-107; 129-131.

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