The Call to Holiness: From Glory to Glory The Report of the Joint International Commission for Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church (Houston, TX, August 2016)
Since January 1967 Methodists and Catholics have been engaged in an international dialogue on various questions which are shared and divide the two Christian communions. After the breakthrough on the question of justification by faith between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church on October 31, 1999, the Methodists joined the other two communions in affirming their consensus with the JDDJ in 2006 with appropriate indications of points of divergence. The present convergence document is one that is at the heart of the Christian faith, namely the universal call to holiness. This doctrine was particularly underscored by the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic affirmation on the nature and mission of the Church, Lumen Gentium. It is a doctrine very dear to Methodists and the spirituality which they professed even as members of the Anglican Communion.
The document is the tenth such report which appears periodically after a few years of dialogue on a specific topic considered to be crucial on the road to full communion between Methodists and Catholics. The status of the document is that it is the work of the international commission on behalf of the parent churches and is a convergence rather than a consensus between the two participants. Convergence designates a core of consensus, with some divergence which is considered not to be church dividing but obstacles needing further study leading to consensus.
The Tenth Report begins with a preface by the co-chairs of the international commission which describes the studies that have preceded it and the gist of the topic treated by each of the documents over the years which are named and dated by the place and year that the document was officially released for study and evaluation by the participant churches and their theologians. When the documents have been officially agreed upon, they become part of the official teaching of the churches.
The Tenth Report has five chapters and an introduction describing the titles and content of each of these chapters. Chapter one is entitled The Mystery of Being Human: Created by God and Recreated in Christ for being in Communion; with God. Chapter Two is God’s Work of Recreating Human Kind. Chapter Three is God’s Holy People: the Saints Below. Chapter Four is God’s Holy People: The Saints Above (in #160 Mary: Life and Sign of Grace and Holiness is discussed.) Chapter Five is Growing in Holiness Together: Openings for Common Witness, Devotion and Service. An Appendix indicated as Resources for Prayer and Meditation is added to assist joint efforts to pray and reflect on the prayers and lives of Christians who have lived holy lives as Methodists and Catholics.
The document indicates that several key issues underlie the question of holiness and grace in the Christian life. Christian anthropology is the focus of the first and second chapters. What does it mean to be a human being, and what does the Christian faith contribute to human and spiritual maturity in Christ? The whole question of grace and sin is raised, freedom of conscience and faith are also discussed. Chapter two focuses on salvation (soteriology). Both Methodists and Catholics believe that we are not saved only as individual persons. We are, by our baptism, members of the body of Christ which is the Church. Hence ecclesiology, described in chapter three discusses how the Christian becomes a disciple of Jesus and lives in communion with other Christians. As the document states early on, holiness and unity are cognate realities and two sides of the same coin. Eschatology, treated in chapter four, is given an extended discussion. While admitting that we do not know a great deal about the afterlife, it is the goal of Christian living and of our human maturation. In chapter five, the “connectedness” of Christians in witness, devotion and service are emphasized as nurturing and of great importance to the expression of the Christian life and its reality.
This document contributes a great deal toward eventual full communion between Methodists and Catholics. While some obstacles remain, the clarification of a core of faith and teaching is embraced on the question of the universal call to holiness. Remaining difficulties are seen as needing further study, dialogue and prayer. The relationship of Methodists and Catholics continues to deepen and a sense of sharing a common mission in Christ of God’s saving mission to the world gives great hope for the future.