Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011

The beginning of the 2011 observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, is only 20 days from today. But it's not too late to plan for local, congregational, group, and individual observances of the most important practice of spiritual ecumenism: joining Jesus in his prayer that his followers "may be that the world may believe" (John 17:21 NRSV).

The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, has provided an extensive array of resources for observing the 2011 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity online, along with ordering information for resources available for purchase.

Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (available directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon) serves well as the basis for a group or individual study of grassroots ecumenical engagement in connection with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (The publisher offers group discounts on orders of five copies or more if contacted by telephone or e-mail.)

A Century of Prayer for Christian Unity, ed. Catherine E. Clifford (Erdmans, 2009), published in connection with the 2009 centenary of the founding of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is a useful companion resource for those interested in exploring more deeply the historical and theological dimensions of the observance.

Most importantly: remember to pray for the unity of the church--during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and throughout the year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Baptist World Alliance / Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity joint international commission press release


Theological Conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
December 2010

The final round in the second series of theological conversations between the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) of the Catholic Church took place December 12-18 in Oxford, England. The co-hosts were two Permanent Private Halls of the University of Oxford: Regent’s Park College (Baptist) and St. Benet’s Hall (Benedictine).

A first phase of international conversations had taken place in 1984-1988, resulting in a report in 1990 entitled “Summons to Witness to Christ in Today’s World.”

An overall aim is to explore the common ground in biblical teaching, apostolic faith and practical Christian living between Baptists and Catholics, as well as an examination of areas that still divide the two Christian traditions.

The objectives of these international conversations are to increase mutual understanding, appreciation, and Christian charity toward each other; to foster a shared life of discipleship within the communion of the triune God; to develop and to extend a common witness to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and the Lord of all life; and to encourage further action together on ethical issues, including justice, peace and the sanctity of life, in accord with God’s purpose and to the praise of God’s glory.

The theme of this phase, from 2006-2010, is “The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia.”

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey, USA, and Rev. Dr. Paul Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology in the University of Oxford, Oxford, England, UK, co-chair these conversations on behalf of the Catholic Church and Baptist World Alliance respectively. The secretaries for the co-chairs were Rev. Dr. Fausto A. Vasconcelos (BWA) and Rev. Dr. Gregory J. Fairbanks (PCPCU).

The Baptist team consists of permanent members, and persons specially invited as “esteemed guests.” Permanent members participating in this round of conversations include Drs. Fred Degbee (Ghana), Timothy George (USA), Steven Harmon (USA), Nora Lozano (USA), Tomás Mackey (Argentina), Rev. Tony Peck (Czech Republic), Drs. Rachael Tan (Taiwan) and Tadeusz J. Zielinski (Poland). Drs. Curtis Freeman (USA) and Elizabeth Newman (USA) participated as “esteemed guests” for this round of conversations.

The Catholic team consists of permanent members and consultants. Participating Catholic members included Drs. Peter Casarella and Susan K. Wood, SCL of the USA, Dr. Krzysztof Mielcarek from Poland, Rev. William Henn, ofm cap. and Dr. Teresa Francesca Rossi of Italy, and Rev. Jorge Scampini, O.P. of Argentina. Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., of the USA, participated as a consultant.

BWA General Secretary Rev. Dr. Neville Callam sent a message which was read to the Joint International Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the start of the week.

Greetings were also conveyed by Rev. J. Felix Stephens, OSB, Master, St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, Co-Host of the Conversations; Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis, Principal, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, Co-Host of the Conversations; The Very Rev. Dr. Richard Finn, OP, Regent of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford; Rev. Brendan Callaghan, SJ, Master of Campion Hall, Oxford; Dr. Paul Joyce, Chairman of the Board of the Faculty of Theology in the University; Monsignor Andrew J. Faley, Assistant General Secretary, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; The Rev. Graham Sparkes, Head of Department for Faith and Unity, Baptist Union of Great Britain, and Rev. Dr. Mary Cotes, Ecumenical Moderator, Milton Keynes,

The 2010 meeting in Oxford brought to completion the second phase of international conversations and focused on the preparation of the final report.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Goal of Baptist-Catholic Dialogue

At the invitation of Associated Baptist Press, I've written an opinion column reflecting on the conclusion of the 2006-2010 series of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Here's a snippet from the beginning of the article:

(ABP) -- Updating my Facebook status about being in England last week to participate in the final of current international theological conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity prompted a friend to respond: "What's the big goal?"

A lot of Baptists probably share the question. Some may be intrigued that theologians from such seemingly opposite Christian communities would spend a total of five weeks over a five-year period in sustained dialogue with one another. What do they talk about? What are they trying to accomplish, and how?

Others may be suspicious. Are the Catholic theologians trying to convince Baptists to embrace Catholic teachings? Are the Baptist theologians faithfully representing the Baptist beliefs and practices held dear by the global Baptist community? Are the representatives of both communions pursuing a unity that compromises convictions?

Read the full article at

Friday, December 10, 2010

Baptist "Receptive Ecumenism" in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of dining with Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (yes, they have an archbishop--more on that below) at the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford (the pub where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and other members of the "Inklings" literary discussion group met regularly). Archbishop Songulashvili is in Oxford for a couple of months of study and writing, and my friend Curtis Freeman (director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina) ran into him there earlier in the day and arranged for us to have what proved to be a most fascinating and rewarding dinner conversation.

Earlier this year I delivered the 2010 Lourdes College Ecumenical Lecture on the theme "How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians," which was subsequently published under that title in Ecumenical Trends vol. 39, no. 6 (June 2010), pp. 11/81-5/85. The lecture/article included this paragraph calling attention to the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia as an example of Baptist receptive ecumenism that defies Baptist stereotypes:

The congregations of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia represent a fascinating case study in Baptist receptive ecumenism that includes striking forms of liturgical as well as ecclesiological reception. In a culture that is historically Eastern Orthodox, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia has maintained “belief in believer’s baptism, autonomy of the local church, freedom of conscience and religious liberty,” while adopting an ecclesial structure that is a hybrid of congregational and episcopal governance with a threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. In this structure the local congregations are autonomous in relation to one another and to the structure of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, but they are presided over by a bishop, whose office is a “symbol of unity” with the “ provide spiritual guidance to the whole church as prophet, preacher, and teacher of the Gospel.” The ministers of the Evangelical Baptist Church wear Orthodox vestments and employ the Orthodox use of the sign of the cross, incense, and icons in their worship services. The Church sponsors monastic orders for men and women and a school of iconography. As their archbishop puts it, they “technically should be considered a Reformed Orthodox Church. On the one hand,” he says, “we are committed to the principles of the European Radical Reformation, and on the other hand we hold to our own Orthodox legacy.” In other words, they have received the gifts of the Orthodox tradition and incorporated them into their Baptist pattern of faith and practice.

These aspects of ecumenical reception of gifts from the Eastern Orthodox tradition cannot be attributed merely to the influence of living in an Orthodox culture. They are the fruit of intentional ecumenical engagement between Georgian Baptists and their Orthodox neighbors, and it was not easy for these Baptists whose historical identity was formed in contradistinction to Orthodox identity to decide together to receive these gifts as a community.

Ecumenical reception was also not a one-way street, for the Orthodox Church in Georgia also identified gifts in the Baptist tradition which they believed would strengthen Orthodox faith and practice, including the importance of the proclamation of the word and the relation of baptism to the church's practice of making disciples.

Other Baptists and other Christians have much to learn from this little-known communion and its quest to embody the unity Christ wills for his church in this particular place. I look forward to reading the future publications by which Archbishop Songulashvili and others will document this fascinating and encouraging story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ACTS: Action of Churches Together in Scotland reviews Ecumenism Means You, Too

Rev. Lindsey Sanderson, Assistant General Secretary of ACTS: Action of Churches Together in Scotland, has written a review of Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010) for the organization's web site. Here's a snippet from Sanderson's review:

Although originally written for an American context the issues explored are equally applicable to Scotland and Harmon uses his experience as a member of the Baptist World Alliance delegation in international discussions with the Anglican Communion, and Roman Catholic Church and his involvement in the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission to present his work with global perspectives. As someone who has enjoyed U2’s music since a teenager the use of the songs grounded the discussion in what was familiar and in fact has prompted me to go and listen again with fresh insight. ‘Ecumenism means You, Too’, is immensely readable but whilst this might be an ‘easy read’ the content offers both insight and challenge for everyone concerned that ‘like children who inescapably inherit a world of broken relationships, simply because they are born into it, every Christian is reborn into a church that is sinfully divided.’ (p.84)

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA has been the primary institutional structure for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. Member faith groups from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Peace churches include approximately 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Upcoming UK travels--Baptist/Catholic conversations (Oxford) and guest lecture (Durham)

In a few days I will depart for the UK to participate in the fifth and final meeting of the 2006-2010 series of bilateral ecumenical dialogues between the Baptist World Alliance and the (Roman Catholic) Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (photo at left is from the 2008 meeting at Duke University). This year's meeting will be hosted at Oxford University by Regent's Park College and will be devoted to the preparation of the official report from this series of conversations. In advance of the December 12-18 meeting in Oxford I will travel to Durham (the "proper Durham," as a former colleague from Scotland insists) to deliver a guest lecture on the theme "Ecumenical Theology and/as Systematic Theology" for the Theology and Ethics Seminar at Durham University led by Professor Paul D. Murray.

Below is a précis of the 2006-2010 conversations between the BWA and the PCPCU:

Theme for the 2006-2010 cycle of Theological Conversations: “The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia

This theme is being handled in 5 sessions, one each year in 2006-2010:

2006, Birmingham, AL (Beeson Divinity School, Samford University)

“The Authority of Christ in Scripture and Tradition”

(1) The meaning of ‘The Word of God’ (as God’s self-expression in the Koinonia of the Trinity and the Church; understanding of Koinonia).

(2) Relation of Scripture and Tradition (new Baptist appreciation of tradition; Catholic discernment of the authentic Tradition; the self-giving of Christ in the Spirit in scripture and tradition).

(3) The use of scripture in the church.

2007, Rome, Italy (International House Paulus VI)

"Baptism and Lord’s Supper/Eucharist as Visible Word of God in the Koinonia of the Church”

(4) The notions of sacrament and ordinance in our respective traditions (in light of an understanding of scripture and tradition; as means of grace and as requiring faith).

(5) Baptism as part of the process of initiation, or the journey of Christian beginnings (including the place of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper in the process; the role of faith in the life of the church; salvation itself as a process; relation of initiation to the life of discipleship).

2008, Durham, NC (The Baptist House of Studies, Duke Divinity School)

“Mary in the Communion of the Church”

(6) Mary in the light of scripture and the early church (e.g. the Mary to whom Christ directs us, the Virgin mother, the handmaid of the Lord, Theotokos, the hearer of the Word, the daughter of Zion, witness to the cross, resurrection and Pentecost).

(7) Mary in the light of ongoing [T]tradition, in relation to Christology and ecclesiology (e.g. development of doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and the Assumption of Mary; the honoring of Mary by the Protestant Reformers; Mary in the celebration of Christmas; the intercession of Mary in the context of intercessory prayer).

(8) Mary and contemporary issues of inculturation and spirituality (e.g. the ‘local identities’ of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the relation of culture to scripture and tradition; the distinction and confusion between intercession and mediation, and between devotion and worship; Marian issues in feminism; Mary and the sanctity of life).

2009, Rome, Italy (International House Paulus VI)

“Oversight and Primacy in the Ministry of the Church”

(9) The notion of oversight in relation to scripture and tradition (local and universal episkope; oversight and servanthood).

(10) Contemporary developments of the Petrine Office, including the ministry of unity as outlined in “Ut Unum Sint.”

2010, Oxford (Regent’s Park College), England

The main focus will be the preparation of the report of this current cycle of conversations.