On Becoming a Christian, Catholic and Some Pentecostal Churches in Dialogue

Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB

Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB

Father Kilian McDonnell, OSB  and the Reverend Cecil M. Robeck, co-chairs of the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue are friends and colleagues. I met Fr. Kilian when I spent some time on sabbatical at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota in 1993. We worked in offices located in the University Library for three months. Reverend Robeck introduced me to Pentecostal history and theology when we were members of the North American Academy of Ecumenists  My interest in this dialogue is very genuine because of their leadership in the dialogue and because they have both contributed significantly to its progress.


The introduction to the report of the fifth phase of this dialogue bears the following testimony:


“As we complete this fifth phase of dialogue we wish to recall the many important contributions made to these conversations by Father Kilian McDonnell. With the aid of David du Plissés, he helped to initiate these discussions in 1972. He served as Catholic chairman from that time through the beginning of this fifth phase, before he retired in the year 2000. We acknowledge with deep gratitude that both communities owe him a huge debt for his contributions to whatever success this dialogue has achieved over the years.”

The Dialogue

 The first two phases of the Dialogue published reports in 1977 and 1984. the report of the third phase was entitled Perspectives on Koinonia (1990). wThe fourth phase as on Evangelization, Proselytism and Common Witness (1997).  The theme of this phase of dialogue is “On Becoming a Christian”. Catholics and Pentecostals are convinced of the importance of being fully integrated into the life of the church. In this dialogue they attempted to understand how an individual moves from his or her initial entry into the Christian life to being a fully active member of the church.

There are two important reasons for this focus on this theme. First, during the study on Evangelization, Proselytism and Common Witness participants in the dialogue concluded that some members of our churches do not always recognize one another as Christians. As a result, it is easy to imagine that from time to time, tensions exist between Pentecostals and Catholics. By exploring together how one becomes a Christian, how one is initiated into the Christian community, and by reviewing the importance of religious experience in one’s life, the Dialogue believed they might be able to assist our communities to recognize more easily that we are sisters and brothers Christ. The topics chosen to understand how one becomes a Christian therefore includes faith, conversion, experience, formation and discipleship and Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Both teams made presentations on these subjects and each of them was the focus of one annual session.

In the course of the study on Baptism of the Spirit, Kilian McDonnell co-authored a study on Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Spirit which stressed that Baptism in the Spirit has a direct relationship to the earliest understandings of Christian Initiation in the early church. The work concludes that Baptism in the Holy Spirit belongs to what is “constitutive of the church”. Writings of the Fathers of the church show evidence of the experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the dialogue members studied the texts to which they referred and other early texts to determine whether they might provide a bridge between the two communities.


                        The Dialogue found new energy in the realization that we are living in a new era after the historic event of the Second Vatican Council. We are now in the third millennium and we have the experience of fifty years of dialogue and study in bilateral and wider sharing in dialogue including conversations between different Christian churches and within the extensive work of the World Council of Churches and other exchanges. Though the ecumenical movement has moved from years of great enthusiasm to those of more sober realism, the work continues among theologians and authorities in the churches as well as among people in parish and diocesan and judicatory settings.


Rev. Cecil Mel Robeck

Rev. Cecil Mel Robeck

This new energy which is the fruit of prayer together with ecumenical partners and a growing appreciation of the dedication ofcolleagues and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have contributed greatly to progress achieved and hope received through the human response to divine grace and the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one.”