Baptists and Catholics together–Twitter edition

Baptists-Catholics

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What do Baptists and Catholics have in common?

That sounds like the set-up for a joke of some sort–or at least for a very brief response, given the anti-Catholicism that has marked much of the Baptist tradition (even when we were defining ourselves over against the Church of England).

When the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church engaged in a series of international conversations from 1984 through 1988 to see what they might be able to say together, the two communions were actually able to say a great deal about their agreement on “God’s saving revelation in Jesus Christ, the necessity of personal commitment to God in Christ, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and the missionary imperative that emerges from God’s redemptive activity on behalf of humankind,” as paragraph 2 of the 17-page report “Summons to Witness to Christ in Today’s World” summarized the matters on which Baptists and Catholics were able to say something together about our common commitment to the good news of our testimony that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

That report also identified deep differences evident in those conversations that warranted continued exploration: theological authority and method; the shape of ecclesial koinonia; the relationship between faith, baptism, and Christian witness; and the place of Mary in faith and practice.

When I served as a member of the Baptist delegation to a second series of conversations between the BWA and the Catholic Church from 2006 through 2010, we directly addressed those ongoing differences. The result was a nearly 100-page report, “The Word of God in the Life of the Church,”  published last summer and presented at the annual gathering of the BWA in Jamaica that July. The document is not a description of our differences. It is rather a statement of our surprisingly substantial consensus on the church’s participation in the koinonia of the Triune God, the authority of Christ in Scripture and tradition, baptism and the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper, Mary as a model of discipleship, and the ministry of oversight (episkope) and unity in the life of the church.

We presented these agreements as a “differentiated consensus”: paragraphs set in bold type expressed our basic consensus, followed by paragraphs set in regular type that offered commentary on the nature of that consensus and/or identified the ways in which there are remaining differences in how each communion understands and embodies what Baptists and Catholics have been able to say together.

Having said these things together, Baptists and Catholics now have the responsibility of “reception” of the report. In a “Glossary of Key Ecumenical Terms” in my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity, I offered the following definition of that task:

Reception—The process by which worldwide communions, national churches and denominations, local parishes and congregations, and individual Christians become informed about, consider, and act upon the proposals and agreements that result from bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogue.

When the “The Word of God in the Life of the Church” went online last October, I launched an experiment in utilizing social media to encourage reception of the report. Beginning on October 11, I began posting a semi-daily “tweet” from my Twitter account summarizing in 140 characters or less a statement of agreement from the bold-type consensus paragraphs of the report (actually a good bit less than 140 characters, as the inclusion of the hashtag #BaptistsCatholics and the condensed URL link to the report left only 89 characters for summary and paragraph number reference). Since Facebook status updates don’t have the 140-character restriction, I posted a parallel series of Facebook updates with the full consensus statements from which the tweets were abridged.

I posted the final #BaptistsCatholics tweet on January 3 of this year. Here’s the tweet-by-tweet “Twitter edition” of the bold-type consensus paragraphs from “The Word of God in the Life of the Church,” sans hashtags and URLs:

7. The one God exists from eternity in a life of relationship–a koinonia of persons

7. Jesus Christ, God’s self-revelation, draws us into communion with God & each other

7. The Word of God in the church in the fullest sense is Christ himself

11. The church is a koinonia (fellowship) grounded in the koinonia of the triune God

11. Believers are joined in koinonia through participation in communion of Triune God

11. Believers also in koinonia through participation in community gathered by Christ

11. “Communion ecclesiology” expresses the heart of the nature of the church

12. Principle of koinonia applies both to local church & to gatherings of congregations

12. Local church does not derive from universal church, nor is universal a mere sum of local forms

12. There is mutual existence & coinherence between local and universal church of Christ

16. The koinonia of the church may also be understood as a ‘covenant community’

16. Covenant is God’s initiating relationship with us & our commitment to each other & God

16. Church is gift in being gathered by Christ, & gathers in response to call of Christ

16. Koinonia of church is both gift & calling, as unity of church is both gift and task

20. Communion with triune God & whole church is continually actualized in Eucharist/Supper

20. In Euch we share communion not only w/ congregation but whole church in time & space

20. Because we hear word of God in eucharist, it is a sharing in both word and sacrament

23. Local churches must be in visible communion w/ each other, or communion lacks fullness

26. Local churches have communion w/ each other to hear Word of God & find mind of Christ

37. The Bible is the divinely-authorized written norm for faith and practice

37. The normativity of Scripture is principally located in the worship of the church

37. The Bible was canonized by and for the worshipping community

37. Bible supplies narrative content of acts of worship that recall/represent acts of God

37. Scripture is the source of story of the triune God in which worshippers participate

41/42. God is the author of Sacred Scripture…through human instrumentality

46. OT and NT together form coherent story that requires a Christ-centred interpretation

56. Bible is written embodiment of living tradition handed down through work of H. Spirit

56. The source of this process of transmission is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ

58. Scripture & tradition coinherent–mutual indwelling & interweaving of 1 in the other

58. Scripture and tradition should not be considered as separate and unrelated sources

58. Scripture & tradition = 2 streams flowing together from same source: God’s revelation

63. Apostolic tradition distinguished from merely ecclesiastical trad; apostolic normative

73. Sacraments/ordinances = signs through which God acts, visible signs of invisible grace

77. Sacrament and ordinance express both God’s gift of love & faith-filled human response

77. Sacrament/ordinance becomes intersection between divine commitment & human commitment

79. Christ central to meaning of sacraments/ordinances & their relationship to the church

81. There is a coinherence between sacraments/ordinances and preaching of the Word of God

83. Baptism and the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper are central to the life of the church

85. Sacraments/ordinances are encounters w/ Christ that transform worshipers by the Spirit

85. No experience of salvation is fully whole without entrance of the believer into church

85. There can be no experience of grace apart from faith

91. Rel. of faith & sacrament/ordinance involves faith of individual believer & community

93. We baptize in obedience to Christ’s command ‘Go therefore..baptizing them’ Mt 28:19-20

93. Baptism has its foundation & meaning in the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology

93. Through baptism we are brought more deeply into the communion of the triune God

93. Through baptism…we [also] share in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ

97. Faith is always necessary for baptism

101. Initiation into Christ & his church is a process wider than the act of baptism itself

101. Can recognize different forms of initiation as an entire journey of faith and grace

107. Baptism is with water, in name of Father & Son & Holy Spirit, & a once-for-all event

109. In baptism we are united with other believers in the church of Christ (1 Cor 12:13)

113. Baptism signifies forgiveness of sins and new birth

116. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper is essential to the church & celebrated in obedience to Jesus

119. The Bible must play a formative role in the liturgy of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper

121. There is a trinitarian pattern in the order of worship of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper

125. Christ is really present to his disciples in celebration of Eucharist/Lord’s Supper

130. There is a strongly ethical & eschatological dimension to the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper

133. Mary has significant place in NT–witness to Christ, mother of Savior, called blessed

133. Beliefs about Mary should be rooted in, warranted by, & not contradicted by Scripture

135. Mary belongs to the Jewish people….Mary may be called ‘Daughter of Israel’

137. A number of Old Testament passages may be interpreted as referring to Mary

139. The Gospels present Mary as ‘hearer of the Word’–a disciple who heard, obeyed Word

140. Jesus conceived by Spirit, born of Virgin Mary–sign of divine origin & true humanity

143. Mary is properly named the Theotokos or ‘God-bearer’–safeguards identity of Christ

146. Mary has a special calling in plan of salvation, but also redeemed by Christ by grace

150. Mary is a model of discipleship in faithful listening and obedience to God’s Word

154. Mary is not only a member, but also representative figure, of the church of Christ

156. The church prays with Mary and learns to pray like Mary in the communion of saints

159. The representations of Mary in particular cultures are subject to the gospel as norm

162. Christ is the head of the church, her founder, creator and cornerstone

162. The church owes her whole existence to Christ, who is her ‘episkopos’ (1 Pet 2:25)

162. Christ nourishes/sustains church with Gospel & celebration of sacraments/ordinances

165. Episkope (oversight) is Christ’s gift to church to enable ministry of people of God

165. Christ calls whole people of God to share in his ministry as prophet, priest & king

165. The episkope of some is a gift of Christ to enable & equip body of Christ as a whole

168. Our differing patterns of episkope seek to be faithful to Scripture & apostolic trad

173. Episkope is exercised in personal, collegial and communal ways in the church

176. Episkope primarily exercised in local church, but always in communion w/ wider church

179. Personal episkope is established by Christ for the good of the church

182. One principal purpose of the ministry of episkope is the promotion of Christian unity

184. Jesus’ prayer for unity (=both spiritual&visible) sets out vocation of all Christians

186. The unity of the church reflects its apostolicity, expressed both by faith & ministry

186. Ministry is apostolic if it hands on apostolic faith & fulfills missionary mandate

200. Past failures of both Baptists & Catholics must be addressed with due repentance & appropriate action

The report itself says those things much more fully and with all the necessary qualifications and distinctions. I hope this radical abridgement of the essential Baptist-Catholic consensus expressed in “The Word of God in the Life of the Church” will pique the interest of ABPnews Blog readers enough to encourage further reception of the report—which is not necessarily agreement with its take on Baptist-Catholic consensus, but “the process by which worldwide communions, national churches and denominations, local parishes and congregations, and individual Christians become informed about, consider, and act upon the proposals and agreements that result from bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogue.”

That sort of reception starts with reading—even if it’s only 140 characters (or less) at a time.

Steve Harmon

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About the Author
Steven R. Harmon teaches Christian Theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. His most recent book is "Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity" (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2010). Dr. Harmon blogs at Ecclesial Theology. He and his family are members of St. John's Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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  • Todd Daniels

    Dr. Harmon, I truly enjoyed your blog. I wonder about witness and the Great Commission. Could you share some thoughts on that at some point? Thanks again!