Guidelines for Fruitful Dialogue Which Builds upon Ecumenical Milestones the Holy Spirit Has Already Accomplished Towards Uniting us
This Book Is a Catholic Contribution to the Ongoing Ecumenical Dialogue between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical Christians, Presented with the Sincere “Respect and Affection” for Non-Catholic Christians Which Since Vatican II is the Official Attitude of the Catholic Church Towards its “Separated Brothers” in Christ
This book is intended as part of the sincere and loving ecumenical dialogue between the divided Christian churches which is necessary if Jesus’ prayer for our unity “so that the world may believe” is ever to be granted. Though writing from the Catholic perspective in my contribution to this dialogue, I have the utmost respect and affection for my Conservative or Evangelical Protestant and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ with whom Catholics share a true and extremely profound Christian communion on the basis of vast common faith even though we are currently separated from full Christian communion with them. My personal connection with these “separated brothers” (as Vatican Council II described non-Catholic Christians) is even more intimate. As a former Evangelical Protestant, I still maintain my Evangelical zeal for God’s truth and my Evangelical heart for spreading the Gospel to a needy world as a Catholic. As an Eastern Rite Catholic, I even celebrate the same liturgy and rituals as my Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. But my ecumenical openness to and love for other Christians is in no way simply personal but Catholic, part of what is now the official position of the Catholic Church with respect to Christians who do not belong to the Catholic Church’s huge Christian Communion. The Catholic Church has officially declared at its highest level of authority in its 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) that:
“The [Catholic] Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but who do not however profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter [the pope] … these [non-Catholic] Christians are indeed in some real way joined to us [Catholic Christians] in the Holy Spirit … and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers … [because] it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in baptism [see Mark 16:16] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church … The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council … [The Catholic Church is] moved by a desire for the restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ, [and so] it wishes to set before all Catholics guidelines, helps and methods, by which they too can respond to the grace of this divine call … The sacred Council exhorts, therefore, all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism … The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the talent of each, whether it be exercised in daily Christian living or in theological and historical studies.” (Vatican Council II: LG 15, UR 3, UR 1, UR 4, UR 5, emphases added)
Though not all individual Catholic Christians have yet followed their own Church’s lead here, the huge Catholic Church now officially models the loving ecumenical attitude all churches need in order for Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity to ever be granted, that even though “our” Church denomination believes that “other” churches which do not agree with some of our secondary doctrines and practices are missing something, still those “other churches”
“have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation … [other Christian churches than “ours” indeed have] access to the communion of salvation … Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments for our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in his works and worthy of all praise. Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification … [and] can always bring a more perfect realization of the very mystery of Christ and the Church.” (Vatican Council II, UR 3, UR 4, emphases added)
It is therefore as a Catholic Christian representing the official position of the Catholic Church towards non-Catholic Christians that I write this book for both my fellow Catholics and for non-Catholic Christians “with respect and affection as brothers.”
As indicated above, it is my hope that for non-Catholic readers this book’s Volume II and III will explain the distinctively Catholic beliefs which are most problematic for non-Catholic Christians, not only Protestant but also Eastern Orthodox, concerning Mary and the papacy, in ways which highlight how Catholics see these beliefs as rooted in, consistent with, and even supportive of the common Christian essentials on which we are already agreed. It is my hope that in reading this book the misconceptions non-Catholic Christians typically have about these Catholic beliefs will disappear and, even if non-Catholics remain unconvinced that the distinctly Catholic doctrines are correct, they will no longer misperceive them as somehow compromising Christian fundamentals or otherwise see them as blockages to the Christian communion in love all of us Christians need to be showing to the world in order for Christ’s Body the Church to most effectively reach the world for Jesus the Head.
It is my hope that for Catholic readers this book models the most appropriate and most officially Catholic approach for Catholic Christians to take when interacting with Protestant/Evangelical or Eastern Orthodox Christians – an approach of loving affection in Christ for them as true Christian brothers who we have sadly been separated from, an approach that displays genuine desire to heal the past divisions within the one Body of Christ, and to this end an approach which shares the distinctively Catholic secondary beliefs with non-Catholic Christians as this book does, with personal conviction about them yet with sensitivity to the concerns of non-Catholics about them and with no hint of accusation for their not holding them (accusation, as I have said, is quite literally satanic, of Satan whose name means accuser).
It is only through loving mutual dialogue which genuinely seeks to understand each other’s positions with all their subtleties, which genuinely seeks ultimately to heal our divisions, that we will, with the Holy Spirit’s aid, eventually come to mutually agreed on solutions to our current disputes over secondary doctrines. In the meantime we are all obliged by Christ’s prayer for our unity to cultivate a unity of love on the basis of our vast common faith while we patiently work on coming to common understandings about our differences.
This book starts with what I think is the best beginning point in mutual Christian dialogue: “I will take seriously and will address (in detail) your concerns about my secondary beliefs before I share (in detail) my concerns about your secondary beliefs.” As a Catholic writer contributing to the Christian dialogue towards the Christian unity Jesus prayed for, I take seriously the concerns and objections Protestant Christians typically have about the distinctly Catholic (and Orthodox) Marian beliefs interfering with a Christian’s relationship with Jesus, and so, after introducing Early Christian Unity in Diversity in Volume I, most of Volume II explains the Catholic (and Orthodox) beliefs about Mary in ways which address and, I believe, ease those concerns. Volume III explains in detail the Catholic beliefs about the papacy in ways which address, and, I believe ease the many concerns Protestant/Evangelical Christians have about the office of the pope. However, Catholic Christians (and Orthodox Christians) also have concerns and objections to distinctly Protestant beliefs, which, in the spirit of mutual dialogue, are also important for me to share. Thus, later in this book (in Volume II’s Chapter 6 and 7 and Appendix II, and in Volume III), I also share in depth some of the Catholic concerns about the distinctly Protestant belief that “the Bible Alone is authoritative in determining a Christian’s faith,” and I explain the Catholic perspective on Church authority (including the papacy) and why Catholic Christians believe that Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine is the very source of the doctrinal liberalism (an uncertainty about if not actual denial of the traditional essential fundamental Christian interpretations of the Bible) which has ravaged the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations (including the formerly orthodox one I was raised in), leading them gradually over centuries to interpret “the Bible Alone” differently than Christ’s Body the Church traditionally has (the Church having permanently established the above traditional fundamental Bible interpretations against early heretical Bible interpretations under the guidance of Jesus’ Holy Spirit through the First Millennium popes who pastorally guided the Undivided Early Church and its Councils – see Volume III).
In Brotherly Dialogue We Really Can Learn from Each Other So That All Sides Can Become Better at Being Orthodox Christians Reaching out Effectively in Love to the World
Though there are individual professed Catholics who are more or less “nominal” (in-name-only) and do not fully hold the traditional essential Christian faith their Catholic Church officially proclaims, as there are individual professed Protestants who are likewise “nominal” and do not hold the official Christian faith of their Protestant denomination, Catholicism does not have the problem of whole organized branches of its adherents doubting or denying Christian fundamentals the way Protestantism has. Whole Protestant denominations, and the largest streams of the oldest and largest Protestant denominations (including the one I was raised in), and whole congregations of Protestants have lost or are losing their grip on elements of essential Christian faith and morality. Protestant Christians can learn from Catholic Christians just what they have preserved from the Undivided Early Church which protects Catholicism from the “doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy” problem Protestantism has, just as Catholics can and have learned from Protestants and borrow good things from them (especially hymns and worship songs). Through taking seriously the complaints of the Protestant Reformation and the ongoing complaints of Protestant Christians, Catholics have gradually learned how to clarify their distinctive doctrines and practices to better ensure they are not misinterpreted in ways that might compromise the Christian fundamentals they are based on. Catholic Christians could also benefit from communicating with Evangelical Protestants about just what, other than having overall so many less members, allows Evangelicals to have a less pronounced problem of “nominal” or “in-name-only” members. Dialogue is important because we really can learn from each other, so that both sides can become better at being orthodox Christians reaching out effectively in love to the world.
This Book Builds on Important Joint Ecumenical Work of Protestant/Evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians Which the Holy Spirit of Unity Has Already Accomplished Towards Unifying Us
It is my hope that, in the spirit of mutual dialogue towards the goal of eventually coming to common agreements regarding our current disputes, that Protestant readers will afterwards take seriously my Catholic concerns about distinctly Protestant beliefs and attempt to engage them the way that I have in this book taken seriously the Protestant concerns about distinctly Catholic beliefs – without taking offense at these concerns and maintaining a unity in love on the basis of our vast common faith despite our lesser order disagreements. I am encouraged that this can happen because of the similar movements the Holy Spirit of Unity has already worked with respect to other matters of current disagreement between Catholic and Protestant Christians. In the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church both sides actually listened to each other trying to understand each other instead of accusing each other as they did in the 16th Century, and they found their different understandings on Justification, which they divided over centuries ago, were different approaches to and different emphases on understanding the same Divine Revelation which are not contradictory but which are open to each other’s insights, meaning a future resolution is certainly possible and current disagreements should not be uncharitable. The World Methodist Council in 2006 also adopted this document. Paragraph 40 of the Joint Declaration states that
“The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics. In light of this consensus the remaining differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification described in paragraphs 18 to 39 are acceptable. Therefore the Lutheran and the Catholic explications of justification are in their difference open to one another and do not destroy the consensus regarding the basic truths.” (emphases added)
This Joint Protestant and Catholic Declaration concludes with “thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.”
In a similar vein, many American Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders produced or signed the joint document Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (more on this below). The Common Declarations of the Catholic Pope and the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch stated in 1965 that they desired for their churches “the full communion of faith … which existed between them throughout the first millennium of the life of the Church,” and in 2006 that “The Holy Spirit will help us to prepare the great day of the re-establishment of full unity.” The leaders of the divided Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christian Churches quoted above find their commonly held Divine Revelation gives them no excuse for any attitude which solidifies Christian divisions or which allows the divisions to continue without seeking to heal these wounds in the Body of Christ. Thus they all agree that visible Christian unity in one Christian Church is what our Beloved Lord Jesus wants for His one Body the Church (not a uniformity but a unity in diversity as in the Undivided First Millennium Church). So they have thankfully been motivated to keep slowly leading the Christian flocks under their care to occasionally engage each other in loving ecumenical encounters in which we start to act like one Body until such time as we are finally ready to formally and visibly become one Body for the world to see – cured of the great wound Satan has inflicted on our unity which discredits the Church’s claims in the eyes of the world which needs to enter Jesus Christ’s Body the Church (embracing its above saving faith) in order to be saved, the world of people who need to be saved from being outside of God’s Family the Church, who need to be adopted by God the Father through the work of God the Son which gives us the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption which enables mere creatures to call their Creator their “Abba” (Aramaic for “Daddy”), their “Father” (Galatians 4:6).
For the World’s Sake Ecumenical Activity Should Become a Routine Part of the Christian Life of All the Currently Separated Churches, If We Are to Be True to Our Calling as the Body of Christ, since Christ Is Not Divided
For the world’s sake ecumenical activity should become a routine part of the Christian life of all the currently separated churches, if we are to be true to our calling as the Body of Christ, since Christ is not divided. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 shows us Satan has been attacking the Church’s unity from the beginning, and our current divided reality shows us how much victory he has had. We cannot allow it to continue. We must continue to pray for our unity and continue to meet together in love to work towards it, however long this takes.
Learning from Each Other: We All Need to Be Both “People of the Table” and “People of the Book” Exercising Our Gifts from the Holy Spirit If We Are to Recapture the Success of the Undivided Early Church
We need to learn from each other to be all we are meant to be as Christians. Catholic Christians are sometimes called “the People of the Table” while Protestant Christians are called “the People of the Book.” But the Undivided Early Church had BOTH passion for Holy Communion with Jesus in the Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) bread and wine of the Lord’s Table AND it had a passionate love for the Holy Scriptures. The “People of the Book” need to get much more into the Table and the “People of the Table” need to get much more into the Book, if we are to recapture the success of the Early Church and become all we are meant to be as Christians. And we cannot ignore the “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal” gifts of the Holy Spirit to every Christian if we are to be enlivened and empowered by the same Spirit which characterized the Undivided Early Church and supernaturally empowered its phenomenal success at spreading the message and family and Kingdom of Jesus throughout the ancient pagan world. Fortunately, our currently divided churches have already been slowly learning from each other and, especially where the Holy Spirit is emphasized, many Protestant Christians have come to new understanding of the Real (though mysterious) Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) bread and wine (that Real Presence which is why the bread and wine have always been called Holy Communion with Jesus), and many Catholic Christians have come to new understanding of the primacy of the Bible to Christian faith. These new understandings of course mean such Protestants are taking Holy Communion with Jesus at the Lord’s Table much more seriously (and frequently), and such Catholics are reading the Holy Bible much more frequently and going to more Bible studies and courses.
Especially where there is emphasis on the Holy Spirit who makes all of us adopted children of God, we have been learning from each other’s strengths and thus being greatly enriched by each other (in some cases the Holy Spirit has been teaching us things directly which we did not get directly from looking at each other but which in fact reduce or remove the differences between us). Thus many (Western) Protestant Christians are coming to see that the (Eastern and Western) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox focus on the Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) bread and wine at the Lord’s Table reflect the Early Church’s passion for such Holy Communion with Jesus through what was always understood as “not common bread” but mysteriously the Real Presence of Jesus by which the Church was nourished and by which the Church became truly the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) . Thus many Catholic Christians are coming to see that the Protestant focus on the Bible reflects the Early Church’s passion for Bible reading, and the Catholic Church hierarchy itself has officially recognized the primacy of the Bible (which is only served by the Sacred Tradition and Magisterium which guarantee the Bible’s proper fundamental interpretation throughout all ages of history with their ever-new challenges to traditional Christian faith) and the Catholic Magisterium has strongly encouraged Catholic Christians to read the Bible more and more and to participate in Bible studies . Top-level Catholic theologians, cardinals, and popes (including Pope Benedict XVI) now (because of learning from the Early Church passion for the Bible which Protestants have best preserved) readily acknowledge Prima Scriptura, the Bible “first” or “primarily.” Several important Catholic theologians – including the late Cardinal Congar – have even proposed a theory of the “material sufficiency” of Scripture alone (as opposed to the “formal sufficiency” taught by the Protestant Reformation), a kind of Catholic version of Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”) doctrine which says the entirety of the Christian faith is in the Bible whether explicitly or implicitly – in the Catholic understanding still requiring the Church, as the living Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ with her Living Tradition and Living Magisterium to make explicit what is implicit in the Bible and to make certain the fundamental Christian doctrines (Trinity, Incarnation, etc) which are otherwise only possible interpretations of the Scripture alone (which early Christian heretics and modern liberal Protestant Christians reject, preferring different possible interpretations of the Scripture Alone to the (Sacred) traditional fundamental Bible interpretations clearly articulated and declared to be the only proper Bible interpretation by the Early Catholic Church Magisterium speaking as the mouthpiece of the Living Body of Christ the Church).
Naturally, all Christians should look at our common Divine Revelation in the Bible for clues about just what the Christian unity we know Jesus wants for us should look like, to help us to figure out just how we can reestablish that loving Christian Family unity, and this is the subject of the next chapter.
© 2005,2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO