The Grace Given to You in Christ: Catholics and Methodists in Dialogue

John Wesley

John Wesley (1702-1791)

John Wesley and his brother Charles are the founders of Methodism which began as a movement and eventually became a Protestant denomination after their death. The brothers are well known for their very inspiring hymns which, since Vatican II, have found their way into Catholic hymnals after years of use in many Christian denominations.

 

John Wesley attributes his inspiration for Methodist spirituality to a “warming of his heart” at a meeting in Aldersgate   Street, London for prayer. The meeting was led by members of the MoravianChurch.  Wesley was deeply interested in their spirituality and he was very committed to the Church of England and to the Arminian theology which characterized it in the eighteenth century. This theology he preferred to the Calvinist theology which prevailed in the Protestant churches.

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

 

Over the years, fifty or more, of my acquaintance with Methodists, I have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing some, especially the Rev. Rodney Roberts and his wife of Albuquerque, NM and the Rev. Phil Hardt, united Methodist minister of New York. Rodney was dedicated to ecumenism and to the Asbury United Methodist Parish in Albuquerque. We shared conferences together across the country and served as ecumenical officers of the Archdiocese and the Methodist judicatory.

 

Each year Phil Hardt, Methodist minister, joins members of the staff of St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in New York, NY presenting reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus on Good Friday. His wife Veneeta is Roman Catholic, and was a member of St. Jean Baptiste while Phil taught at FordhamUniversity before becoming pastor of the UnitedMethodistChurch in Glendale, New York. We continue to enjoy their company many times during the year as we celebrate holidays at dinner with friends.

 

The Latest Agreed Statement

 

            As I indicated in my last article, it is very helpful to “get a handle” on the ecumenical movement and progress being made in bi-lateral dialogues to examine the agreed statements that dialogue commissions have sent to their churches for study and reception. The last agreed statement of the joint commission appointed by the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the World Methodist Council (WMC) is entitled: The Grace Given You in Christ: Catholics and Methodists Reflect Further on the Church (Seoul Report, 2006). It is the second report centered on the Church. The first was Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi Report, 1986). Twenty years after the first report and thirty years after the close of Vatican II, “a new context” has developed for a better appreciation of the real but imperfect communion which exists between the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Communion. The full text of the document can easily be found on the internet vatican/va/pontifical councils/pcpcu/English.

 

The Church, its nature and mission is a central issue in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Christian churches and ecclesial communions. It is one of the major hurdles that need to be overcome on the journey to full communion among all Christians. This issue is one that has gained more and more attention in recent years. The Catholic/World Methodist Council agreed statement reviews the history of their relationship. Although Methodism began a hundred years after the Reformation, there is   a strategical difference for the reconciliation of our churches.

 

Highlights of the Agreed Statement

 

The agreed statement is a long document and covers many issues. There is an acknowledgement of the rhetoric and the history of antagonism between Catholics and Methodists even from the beginning. The modern ecumenical movement since the twentieth century, in particular since Vatican II with the participation of Methodists and other ChristianChurches as observers, has had a lasting impact on Catholic/Methodist relations.

 

There are far more essentials which unite the churches than non-essentials that divide them.  These differences are discussed by the dialogue and clarified. They are reconciled in the context of a shared communion. Recognition of a common baptism joining all Christians in the body of Christ which is the Church exists among many Christian churches. The people of God already share in the kingdom of God which will reach its completion in the glorious return of the Risen Lord and the final resurrection of those who share God’s holiness and grace in Christ.

 

A long narrative covering the exchange of gifts, especially those developed by each of the dialogue partners during the years and centuries of separation is found in chapter 3 (#107 ff). Differences are understood as complementary rather than church dividing. The journey toward full communion is seen as guided by the light of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

A new context exists as a result of the Second Vatican Council and the fifty years of dialogue. Many obstacles to full communion have been eliminated. Many of those that remain are seen as matters for further study, dialogue and reconciliation, not as insurmountable. The dialogue partners agree that full communion will come by God’s grace, in God’s time and according to his will. The churches are encouraged to continue in prayer for the healing of memories and the reconciliation that Jesus prayed for and is clearly God’s will for the Church.

 

The church is an invisible grace, sacrament and communion. But it is also a visible reality. It must reflect the kingdom of God already present in time and history. Signs of that reality need to be seen and appreciated. In a final section of the document a series of principles and proposals are set forth for developing the relationship between Catholics and Methodists. The practical proposals suggested stem from the degree of shared belief already existing between Catholics and Methodists, and from the degree of existing mutual recognition and from a desire for a mutual sharing of gifts leading toward a full communion in faith, sacramental life and towards full communion in mission.

 

Under these headings, there are many particular suggestions that can already be implemented with due regard to the norms and principles established in the Directory of Norms and Principles (1993) published by the PCPCU at the Vatican. It is understood that the directives of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and World Methodist Council determine what is appropriate for geographic regions.

 

Conclusion

 

Reading through The Grace Given You in Christ was a great pleasure for me. It reminded me of my experience of United Methodist pastors and lay persons that I have known and whom I consider close friends. We share a great desire to see the unity of the Church made visible where it is possible and for progress for an ever deeper communion in Christ and with each other. As friends we share our gifts, our faith and our fellowship.

I have come to appreciate Methodist emphasis on sanctification, spirituality and relationships (Connectedness). The Catholic emphasis on the tradition of the East and the West, on apostolic teaching and succession and sacraments are something I try to share with my Methodist friends.

 

This document emphasizes that there already exists a wealth of areas with a substantial degree of agreement in faith, sacraments and mission which can be given visible application and approval at the local level. The implementation of these suggestions and recommendations will make visible more clearly that the movement towards full communion is happening. This progress is both encouraging and challenging for all of us.