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Round VIII of the dialogue between Catholic and Reformed communions is well underway after January's meeting in Austin, TX. The new topic: Ecclesiology.
Ecclesiology studies the nature and meaning of the church. In the context of history, scripture, and tradition, it explores issues such as authority, governance, and the mission of God's church, especially examining ministry as it relates to and flows out of sacramental theology.
The theme for the current round of Catholic-Reformed dialogue takes up ecclesiological issues that were identified by participants on all sides of the dialogue during Round VII as clear points of both convergence and divergence. Dialogue members feel that a return to these questions is timely, building on the foundation of unity that was established by the last round's Baptism Agreement.
In 2011, leaders of four churches of the Reformed tradition and the United States Catholic Bishops signed the historic Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism, agreeing on a baptismal formula to be officially adopted by all of the communities that would assure the recognition of sacramental validity between them. See the Catholic response to reception of the agreement.
The agreement requires that flowing water and Trinitarian language be used for baptisms to be scripturally valid.
Update: In January 2013, leaders from these five denominations stood before the entire body of Christian Churches Together (CCT), with its more than 35 member churches, to publicly celebrate the agreement during an ecumenical prayer service. Members of the many churches present felt moved, calling it a healing moment and a step forward. Please see our latest news release.
We have been pleased to see both mainstream and religious news outlets report on this milestone of ecumenical progress. See below a sampling of related articles. And if you want to see more pictures of the prayer service at St. Mary's Cathedral in Austin, TX, visit this page on the web site of our friend and partner CCT.
The Second Vatican Council's "Decree on Ecumenism" had readjusted the ecumenical landscape, and the Catholic Church was thrust headlong into an ecumenical movement that had been a largely Protestant and Orthodox enterprise. This is not to say there was no Catholic involvement in ecumenism until after Vatican II, however. Yves Conger, John Sheerin, Gustav Weigel, and many others, with some support from church leadership, had blazed the trail, but without the full endorsement that came from the Council on November 21, 1964.
It was in that context that in 1965 four denominations of the Reformed family of churches and representatives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops launched an official conversation in the United States. The United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),the Presbyterian Church (U.S.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ appointed a team of pastors, theologians and lay members to initiate an ongoing consultation. At several points, other members of the Reformed family, such as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church and the Hungarian Reformed Church, have joined in the process.
The first round in the series met to discuss and share their insights on the topics of revelation, the scriptures, and tradition. This work was foundational to the collaboration on various topics that has occurred since. Over its lifetime this consultation has produced eight important publications, some of which continue to inform both Reformed and Catholic traditions, as well as others, in their ecumenical relationships and work.
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