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Evangelical-Catholic relations Common witness and friendship

Evangelical-Catholic relations Common witness and friendship

The consultation between the World Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic
Church, which began in 2009, hopes to finalize an agreed statement when they
meet later this year.

The current round of consultation was planned by Cardinal Walter Kasper,
then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (pcpcu), Msgr Juan Usma, pcpcu staff member for relations with
Evangelicals, and Dr Rolf Hille, Director for Ecumenical Affairs of the World
Evangelical Alliance (wea). The wea draws together families of
Evangelical Churches and Christians, and estimates that it has connections to
approximately 600 million Christians.

Given the number of Catholics and Evangelicals in the world today, this
consultation is both urgently important and full of potential. It is the
principal way in which Evangelicals and Catholics are in conversation on a
global level. National and local dialogues or working relationships also exist
in some parts of the world, while relations remain very poor in other places.

At the international level, there have been two earlier phases of dialogue
between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. The first phase resulted in the 1984
report Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission. The broad focus of the
report was on the Christian mission, but it included initial treatment of a
variety of theological points of tension, including the Scriptures, salvation,
the Church, Mary and the saints, and the sacraments. A second phase of dialogue
(1993- 2002) produced a report entitled Church, Evangelization and the Bonds of
Koinonia. This document outlined an understanding of the church as communion or
fellowship using the ecumenically rich theme of ‘koinonia’. On the basis of the
degree of communion recognized, the dialogue moved to a consideration of the
prospects for cooperation in witness and evangelization.

The goal of the current round of consultation was to come to better
understanding of each other, and to foster more efficient cooperation between
Catholics and Evangelicals especially at the grassroots level. The 13 members
of the consultation come from 10 different countries — Brazil, Canada,
Columbia, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Kenya, the Philippines, Spain, and usa. Canadian Catholic Bishop Donald
Bolen, on the consultation, noted that “the dialogue has built on the
experience of common witness and friendship which characterizes
Evangelical-Catholic dialogue relations in some places, and has attended to
places where those relations continue to be marked by tension and distrust.
Many different voices have been given expression in our discussions”.

Three principal themes have been taken up in the consultation: a mapping out
of convergences on doctrinal foundations and moral questions which open the
door to closer relations; the relationship between Scripture and Tradition and
the authoritative roles of each in our respective communities; and the role of
the Church in salvation. The consultation members noted that they were not in
the business of compromise and negotiation; the way forward was to patiently
map out convergences, and to engage in a respectful and frank conversation
about remaining differences. Along the way, they developed a methodology which
has proven helpful. Bolen noted, “our meetings involved presentations and
discussions which we have tried to summarize by first articulating common
ground; secondly, by naming aspects of the other tradition which give us
encouragement, where we rejoice in seeing God at work, and where we may learn
from the other; thirdly, we have asked each other questions, questions which
linger at this point in our conversations. It is to be hoped that these
questions will be our contribution to further rounds of consultation”.

Rev. Dr Joel Elowsky, an Evangelical participant who is professor of
historical theology in St Louis, usa,
affirms that this process “has contributed to a level of trust and camaraderie
that has allowed both sides to be frank and honest with one another. We
continue to learn from each other and also gain further insight about each
other that moves beyond stereotypes. Previous caricatures of the other dialogue
partner have been shown to be too simplistic and often unfair. These
discussions have enabled us to hear one another and to challenge some of our
preconceived notions regarding issues that continue to divide us while seeking
to chart a course forward”.

It has been helpful for the consultation to meet in different places and to
experience Evangelical-Catholic relations, which differ greatly from place to
place, in various parts of the world. This round of consultations took place at
São Paulo, Brazil (2009), Rome, Italy (2011), Wheaton/Chicago, usa (2012), Guatemala City, Guatemala
(2013), Bad Blankenburg, Germany (2014), and the final meeting will take place
at Saskatoon, Canada from 30 August to 4 September, 2015. The consultation also
commissioned a survey to assess Evangelical-Catholic relations and attitudes
towards each other in different parts of the world.

Bolen summarized the situation of relations and the Evangelical-Catholic
consultation as follows: “real differences remain between us. Yet the Lord
prayed that his disciples would be one. It is in his name that we have been
called into conversation, and called to live out the implications of that
conversation. The unity that Jesus desires for his disciples is not a
theoretical unity but a lived one. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we
hope our consultation will help our communities to take some steps in that

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