Sunday, June 30, 2013

Baptist World Alliance General Secretary on challenges to Baptist ecumenical dialogue

Neville Callam
On the eve of the opening of the 2013 Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, the BWA has issued the following press release summarizing General Secretary Neville Callam's presentation on challeges faced by the global Baptist community in its ecumenical engagement with other Christian communions:

Why theological dialogues are challenging

Washington, DC (BWA)--Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam said that the BWA faces four major challenges in its participation in international dialogues with other Christian traditions: different attitudes to ecumenism within the BWA family, the difficulty of having proper international representation on BWA dialogue teams, an indifferent attitude to the dialogues by some Baptists, and the lack of funding.

Callam, who was speaking at the 8th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE), said there are three basic attitudes toward ecumenism among member organizations within the BWA. Some Baptist groups are indifferent or even hostile to the very notion of ecumenism, including holding dialogues with other Christian traditions. Others, while they are generally uninterested in ecumenism, may nevertheless be open to dialogue with groups they approve of. And there are Baptists who believe that the ecumenical enterprise is imperative and an obligation.

The lack of interest, commitment, or even hostility to ecumenism is one cause of the second problem - inadequate international representation. "The non-existence of a firm ecumenical commitment in some sections of the BWA community has impacted negatively BWA's capacity to identify truly representative international teams for the bilateral dialogues in which the organization participates," Callam said.

The fourth problem, the lack of funding, also contributes to lopsided representation on BWA dialogue teams, with the overwhelming majority coming from the Global West and relatively few from the Global South. "Unless Baptist participation in theological dialogues is properly funded, we will not be able to secure credible representative international participation that is needed."

Callam told the international gathering of Baptist leaders, theologians, teachers and pastors in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, that "to date, an average of 10.7 percent of BWA teams participating in international dialogue have come from the South." Most participants come mainly from Europe, North America and Australia.

The problem of poor representation from the Global South is not unique to the BWA. Callam reported that "at the most recent Forum [on Bilateral Dialogues] held in Dar es Salaam in 2012, the view was expressed that the representation from the Global South in international dialogues teams was still inadequate."

The BWA leader said "traditional sources of funding, where these once existed, are drying up. New sources need to be found." For that to happen, "those who endow bilateral theological dialogue will need to be motivated by a concern for the unity of the church reflected in the prayer of Jesus in John 17."

Callam stated that Baptists have not been as receptive of the dialogues as they could have been. Those that do are often involved in dialogues on the local level, such as Baptists in the United States, Norway, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Australia. "More BWA member organizations need to take seriously the findings of international bilateral theological commissions - especially those in which BWA participates."

He declared that reception does not necessarily involve full agreement. "Reception does not require unanimous consent to the agreements," he said. "What it entails is taking seriously what has been agreed and appropriating, in the life of a church group, those insights that are found to be enriching."

The BWA has so far participated in dialogues with five other Christian traditions: the World Alliance (now Communion) of Reformed Churches I1973-77); the Catholic Church (1984-88 and 2006-2010); the Lutheran World Federation (1986-1990); the Mennonite World Conference (1989-92); and the Anglican Communion (2000-2005).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Report of 2006-2010 Baptist-Catholic conversations published

The report of the 2006-2010 series of bilateral ecumenical conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church has now been published. A new issue of the American Baptist Quarterly (vol. 31, no. 1), a publication of the American Baptist Historical Society, includes the full text of the 95-page report "The Word of God in the Life of the Church" along with introductions and commentaries. An editorial introduction by Curtis W. Freeman, who is co-editor of the American Baptist Quarterly as well as Research Professor of Theology and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School, makes connections between these recent international conversations and the national-level conversations that began in 1967 soon after the Second Vatican Council between representatives of the American Baptist Churches USA and the United States Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (pp. 3-5). Baptist-Catholic dialogue commission co-chair and report co-editor Paul S. Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology at Oxford University, provides an extensive introduction to the report that contextualizes the themes of the report in relation to other ecumenical dialogues the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church have held with other Christian communions (pp. 7-27). The text of the report (pp. 28-122) is followed by a pair of responses to the report by two Baptist theologians of note who were not members of the Baptist delegation to these conversations: a commentary by Josué Fonseca, who was Professor and Academic Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Santiago, Chile from 1978 to 2008 before his current service as pastor of First Baptist Church in Concepcion, Chile (pp. 123-37), and a commentary by Stephen R. Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who is also a minister in the Baptist Union of Scotland (pp. 138-53).

The all-important process of reception of the report begins for Baptists at the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance July 1-6, 2013 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. A session of the gathering on July 3 will be a plenary forum for the presentation and discussion of the report, led by a panel of some of the members of the Baptist delegation to the conversations. Paul Fiddes will introduce Section I, "Aims, History and Context of the Conversations"; Timothy George, Dean of Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama will introduce Section II, "The Koinonia of the Triune God and the Church"; I will introduce Section III, "The Authority of Christ in Scripture and Tradition"; Curtis Freeman will introduce Section IV, "Baptism and Lord's Supper or Eucharist: The Visible Word of God in the Koinonia of the Church"; Elizabeth Newman, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, will introduce Section V, "Mary as Model of Discipleship in the Communion of the Church"; Anthony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, will introduce Section VI, "The Ministry of Oversight (Episkope) and Unity in the Life of the Church"; and Professor Fiddes will offer concluding reflections.

A follow-up post will provide information for ordering individual copies of this special issue of the American Baptist Quarterly when available. Readers of Ecclesial Theology who are attending the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Greensboro, North Carolina later this week (June 26-28) will be able to purchase copies of this issue at the Duke University Divinity School Baptist House of Studies booth. The report will also be available at the Baptist World Alliance annual gathering in Jamaica.

The report will also be published by the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church in various print and electronic media. I will provide details for those publications when they are available here at Ecclesial Theology, along with other information about the report and notices of events and publications related to its ongoing reception by Baptists and Catholics.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Christianity Today on "The Baptist Bearing Robes and Incense"

Archbishop Songulashvili preaching in chapel at Duke
University Divinity School (Curtis Freeman, Director
of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke, in background).
Photo by Callie Anderson.
In December 2010 I wrote an Ecclesial Theology post on "Baptist 'Receptive Ecumenism' in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia" following a supper I shared with Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia at the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford (the pub frequented by C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the "Inklings" once upon a time). The June 2013 issue of Christianity Today includes an article by William E. Yoder on "The Baptist Bearing Robes and Incense," which introduces Archbishop Songulashvili and the Baptist communion he serves to CT readers. Here's an excerpt from the opening of the article:

"There is a solemn procession to the altar. The choir is chanting. A bishop in a long, black robe and a full, gray beard swings an incense burner back and forth. We bow. We cross ourselves. It's a typical Sunday service at the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.

"Yes. Baptist."

That is how Alexander Cuttino, an American pastor, recently described worship at the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG), a denomination famous for its unusual method of contextualizing the gospel. The man behind those efforts: Malkhaz Songulashvili, archbishop of the EBCG....(read the full story at Christianity Today)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lutheran–Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017

Several media outlets have reported the announcement of the joint publication by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church of From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. (Ecumenical News, for example, posted "Catholics, Lutherans launch historic joint document on Reformation" on July 18.) A PDF of the full 93-page document is available for free download on the Lutheran World Federation web site. I hope Christians of all communions will read, mark, and inwardly digest this publication and contemplate how they might receive these convergences beyond the sixteenth-century divisions of the church in the West.

While this is a most welcome ecumenical development, it is not unanticipated, for it represents the harvest and synthesis of almost fifty years of sustained Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical dialogue that involved rigorous mutual biblical, historical, and theological scholarship. The following documents issued by the Lutheran-Catholic joint commissions over the years (published among other places in the three-volume Growth in Agreement series issued by the World Council of Churches) represent the foundational work for this exciting publication:

Phase I (1967–1972)

The Gospel and the Church (Malta Report – 1972)

Phase II (1973–1984)

The Eucharist (1978)
All Under One Christ (1980)
Ways to Community (1980)
The Ministry in the Church (1981)
Martin Luther – Witness to Christ (1983)
Facing Unity – Models, Forms and Phases of Catholic-Lutheran Church Fellowship (1984)

Phase III (1986–1993)

Church and Justification (1993)

Phase IV (1995–2006)

Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (31 October 1999)
The Apostolicity of the Church (2006)