Friday, February 26, 2010

Pentecostals and Catholics together on conversion and the Christian life?

One might reasonably suppose that Roman Catholics and Pentocostals have diametrically opposed understandings of the nature of conversion and other dimensions of the Christian life. Yet as a little-known ecumenical text published in 2007 and now available online reveals, these two vital expressions of global Christianity have been able to articulate surprisingly substantial agreements regarding "how an individual moves from his or her initial entry into the Christian life to being a fully active member of the church." The Roman Catholic Church has held formal dialogues with international representatives of "Classical Pentecostal" churches since 1972 (the photograph with Pope Paul VI that accompanies this post is from an early meeting of this dialogue). The report "On Becoming a Christian: Insights from Scripture and the Patristic Writings With Some Contemporary Reflections" summarizes the findings of the fifth phase of this dialogue (1998-2006). It devotes major sections to "Conversion and Christian Initiation," "Faith and Christian Initiation," "Christian Formation and Discipleship," "Experience in Christian Life," and "Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation." Beyond their common engagement with Scripture and Christian theological literature from the first few centuries after the New Testament era, mutual reflection on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) implemented by the Catholic Church in 1972 highlighted how much the two traditions share in common regarding what it means to be converted to Christ, to be incorporated into the church, and to be formed in a life of Christian discipleship.

Awareness of this report is important for Baptists and other Free Church Christians as they relate not only to Roman Catholics but also to other communions that baptize infants (in addition to baptizing believers whose baptism follows their commitment to follow Christ--for all churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, baptize believers; some, like the Roman Catholic Church, also baptize infants)--and vice-versa. The points of agreement identified by this text are representative of the convergence that may be possible between other credobaptist (believer-baptizing) and paedobaptist (infant-baptizing) communions.


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    Pablo from Argentina

  2. Hello, Steve--

    I believe my Fuller colleague Mel (Cecil M.) Robeck has been involved in the leadership of some of these dialogues.

    With best wishes,

  3. Charlie,

    Yes, Dr. Robeck is one of the long-time leaders of the Catholic-Pentecostal bilaterals. I met him at the WCC Faith and Order Commission meeting in Crete last October, but we didn't have a chance to converse extensively. I'd like to become better acquainted with him and his work. Please give him my greetings.

  4. This evangelical, sacramental, charismatic Anglican found this quite interesting. Thanks.