Report of the Third Phase of the International Theological Dialogue
between the Catholic Church and the
World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1998-2005)



1. “The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God” was the overarching theme of international theological conversations sponsored by the Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches between 1998 and 2005. This was the third phase of the Reformed-Catholic international dialogue. Annual meetings were held in Venice, Italy (1998); Oegstgeest, the Netherlands (1999); Castel Gandolfo, Italy (2000); Cape Town, South Africa (2001); Newry, Northern Ireland (2002); Toronto, Canada (2003); and Venice, Italy (2004). A subcommittee appointed to finalize this report and prepare it for publication met in Rome, Italy (2004, 2005) and in Geneva, Switzerland (2005), and submitted the result of its work to the commission for comment and approval.

2. More than thirty-five years ago, when Catholic and Reformed representatives met to explore the desirability and feasibility of official conversations through an international joint commission, a convergence emerged around the importance of addressing three subjects: christology, ecclesiology, and the attitude of the Christian in the world.[1] These three topics are reflected in the themes of the three rounds of theological conversations held since then.

3. The general theme of the first round (1970-1977) was “The Presence of Christ in Church and World”. This theme was chosen because “it seemed to have a bearing not only on the ultimate salvation of man but also on his life and happiness here and now”. It was also expected that it would “tend to bring to light the differences between the two communions and that an honest appraisal of these differences could help the two traditions to overcome them…”[2] The final report, a revised version of the common statements adopted at the end of each of the five sessions, addressed the following topics: Christ’s relationship to the church; the teaching authority of the church; the presence of Christ in the world; the Eucharist; and ministry.[3]

4. The second series of conversations (1984-1990) focused on the understanding of the church. The resulting report, Towards a Common Understanding of the Church,[4] opens with a substantial effort at reconciliation of memories in which the dialogue partners share with each other the ecclesiological and reforming concerns of their sixteenth century predecessors as well as their own contemporary attitudes towards one another. The report then moves to a common confession of faith that includes affirmations of Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and humanity, on justification by grace through faith, and on the role of the church in justification. It also identifies some distinct Reformed and Catholic understandings of the Church, its continuity throughout the ages, and its ministerial order. In its final chapter, entitled “The Way Forward”, the report notes that “‘living for each other’ as churches must also mean ‘bearing common witness.’”[5]

5. In choosing the theme “The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God” for the present series of conversations, the two communions wanted to shed new light on the two areas just mentioned, ecclesiology and common witness. They intended to make clearer the complementarity claimed by Towards a Common Understanding of the Church[6] between the Reformed emphasis on the church as creatura verbi and the Catholic emphasis on the church as sacramentum gratiae. They intended also to reflect on the ecumenical significance of witnessing together to the kingdom of God.[7]

6. From its beginning, the Reformed-Catholic dialogue, with its aim of overcoming our historical divisions, has been attentive to the issue of the method best suited to approaching the ecumenical experiences, needs, and hopes of our communities living and witnessing in a great variety of situations around the world. Those who prepared this dialogue in the late 1960s firmly believed that it must reflect “not only the peculiar tensions between the two traditions”, but also “their common concern to make manifest the relevance of Christ in the world today”.[8] The ecumenical work accomplished in Towards a Common Understanding of the Church was carried out in the framework of an effort of reconciliation of memories that engaged Catholic and Reformed communities by drawing from local case studies to illustrate the relationship between the two traditions throughout history.

7. The third phase of our dialogue was no exception to this concern about the most appropriate methodology. In fact, the dialogue was marked by an intense discussion on ecumenical methodology, discussion that sometimes cut across our respective confessional borders. At the heart of this discussion is the desire to find the most appropriate way of articulating the struggle to overcome Christian divisions in relation to the struggle to overcome what divides societies, nations, cultures and religions in today’s world. Of course, this gave rise at times to that tension which results when believers give unequal importance to one aspect of such correlative issues as practice and theory, contextual theology and universal theology, Christian life and Christian doctrine, Christian unity in the struggle for justice and Christian unity in matters of faith, sacraments and ministry.

8. The inner structure of the present report and the order in which its results are presented reflect both this vigorous discussion and the methodological convergences to which it gave rise. Thus, the joint commission decided to approach the theme of the kingdom of God first of all by a return to the sources of Christian faith – and primarily to the Scriptures. The work on biblical exegesis as well as the daily meditation on biblical texts in the context of morning and evening prayer helped us also to experience growth in mutual respect and friendship and to see the discipline of spiritual ecumenism as a vital element in the common search for that communion in faith and life that bears witness now to the future recapitulation of all things in Christ. The return to the biblical sources was followed by explorations in our common patristic heritage and of Reformed and Catholic theology after the sixteenth century. This is the essential content of the first chapter of the present report.

9. The second chapter turns to the witness to the kingdom by Reformed and Catholic Christians living in challenging situations today. To enable its reflection, the joint commission decided to hold its 2001 session in South Africa, its 2002 session in Northern Ireland, and its 2003 session in Canada.[9] As a result, the essential content of chapter II includes three witness narratives in which Christian life is successively confronted with major challenges such as the apartheid system in South Africa, the search for reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland, and the struggle for justice of aboriginal peoples in Canada.

10. In the course of this reflection on witnessing to the kingdom in challenging situations, the joint commission realized the importance of exploring ecumenically how Christian communities construe the discernment of God’s will in their particular contexts. Thus the third chapter focuses upon our common sources of discernment and upon how Catholics and Reformed make use of them in their distinctive patterns of discernment. It concludes by commenting on the possibilities of common discernment and witness.

11. The first three chapters of this report provide a promising context to investigate further some aspects of the nature of the church (chapter IV). The common work in ecclesiology undertaken by the present phase of our dialogue was marked by the hope that, by revisiting ongoing issues of ecclesiology in the light of a fresh appreciation of the kingdom of God and the contemporary search for Christian obedience, new ecumenical possibilities might be opened which could be the source of renewed perseverance and commitment to the unity to which God calls us.

12. The last chapter of this report proposes, in more meditative language, a reflection on issues of spiritual ecumenism which were central to our theme and to our common life. In a fundamental sense, our dialogue itself is already an act of common witness, a reconciling experience that calls for further reconciliation of memories as obedience leads us to unity in faith and action, to a common witness in which the signs of the kingdom are shared with the poor.

13. We explored the theme of the kingdom of God in full awareness of the fact that it had already been taken up by other bilateral dialogues. Their reports reveal a rich body of material. They treat themes such as the relationships between kingdom and church, kingdom and world or creation, and the implications of the kingdom of God for church-world relations. They also illustrate differing views among dialogue partners in regard to aspects of the kingdom. In order not to duplicate work that has been already done, this joint commission decided to review the way those bilateral dialogues dealt with the theme of the kingdom. Although the results of this review do not comprise a chapter in this report, we did draw much inspiration from them and they remain a valuable resource for further research. We therefore include our summary of them as an appendix.

14. This joint commission commends The Church as Common Witness to the Kingdom of God to our sponsors – the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity – for their consideration. It humbly asks that the sponsors will give the report wide circulation, and foster reception of it in every way deemed appropriate. We also hope that this report will stimulate theological exchange, contribute to ecumenical formation and foster and intensify mutual understanding and recognition as well as common witness at all levels of our churches.

15. In the course of our meetings together we have been inspired anew by the many Christians, female and male, young and old, whose discipleship to the kingdom (Matt 13:52) proclaimed in the gospels prevents them from being conformed to a divided world and to separation among Christians. Instead, it urges them to be willing to offer their own lives as a sacrifice (cf. Rom 12:1) in order that the wounds of Christian division and human alienation may be healed. The opportunity to meet such sisters and brothers in some truly challenging situations has been a major encouragement for the participants to complete this series of theological conversations. We hope that, in due time, a fourth round of theological dialogue might be taken up, benefiting from the results of a solid reception process of this report. “May God’s Kingdom come”!

Chapter I
The Kingdom of God in Scripture and Tradition

16. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Thus Jesus inaugurated his public ministry and provided the point of departure for all later Christian reflection upon, and action on behalf of, the kingdom of God. As noted in the Introduction, the present phase of Reformed-Catholic dialogue began by returning together to our common sources in Scripture and tradition, but soon opted also to consider narratives of recent witness to the kingdom by our two communities. The first two chapters of our agreed statement reflect this journey. Chapter I explores biblical teaching about the kingdom and the way it has been understood throughout history, leading to a presentation of the converging theological perspectives emerging from our discussions. Chapter II then presents several narratives of common witness that, by illustrating some ways in which Christians from our communities have tried to live according to the values of the kingdom, provided a rich source for our dialogue and reflection.


1. The Biblical Teaching

17. The theme of the kingdom of God was chosen as a basis for our ecumenical efforts in this third stage in the dialogue, because of its solid biblical roots, its comparative neglect by both sides at the time of the Reformation division (at least in the sense of modern biblical studies), and its helpfulness in addressing the concerns of contemporary Christians which relate to hope for a greater measure of peace, justice and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) in our turbulent world.

18. To speak of the kingdom of God entails a certain complexity. The biblical terms malkuth (Hebrew) and basileia (Greek) can be translated in three different ways in modern, more differentiated, languages, depending upon the context and accent of the original biblical text. When the term basileia refers to the office of a king it should be translated kingship. When it refers to a king’s exercise of his government, it should be translated reign. When it refers to the people governed and to the territory under the king’s rule it should be translated kingdom. Modern translations of the Bible into English still tend to prefer the term kingdom. This has the advantage of preserving the concrete social and political connotations of the biblical image, against tendencies to limit the term to something purely spiritual or otherworldly, tendencies that separate the king (God, Christ) from the kingdom. On the other hand, for some the term can sound not only archaic but also insensitive.

19. For some people today, the word kingdom can convey notions of feudal systems, monarchical structures, authoritarianism, homogeneity, rigidity, exclusiveness, gender bias, and a control that strives to suppress human freedom and justice. To be sure, kingdoms still exist on earth, and this form of government, as limited by constitutions, is cherished by some. Biblically, God’s kingdom represents justice, peace and a fellowship (koinonia) that invites all to involve themselves, to participate fully, and to celebrate unity in diversity. We need therefore to use language about the basileia tou theou carefully. Some options suggested in our discussions are: the reign of God, communion, the household of God, the commonwealth of God. We should emphasize the empowering and energizing aspects of the concept when choosing a term to designate the basileia tou theou.

20. The Bible speaks in symbols and metaphors, one of which is the kingdom of God. This symbol is intended to convey something definite, albeit analogical, about God’s relation to, and plan for, this world. It reveals God’s faithful commitment to creation, including the everyday lives of human beings. The fullness of the kingdom is the great final grace of God for this world.

1.1. The God of the Kingdom

21. The theme of the kingdom can be used to tie together many different strands found in the Old Testament, which also serve as a preparation for the gospel. While Old Testament scholarship has not achieved a clear consensus, some of the elements of the broader picture include: (1) God as king over all creation;[10] (2) God as king over Israel (1 Sam 8:7); (3) eschatological hope for God’s rule;[11] (4) the concepts of a chosen people and election (e.g., Gen 12:3); (5) the Jubilee tradition of Leviticus 25, by which land that has been sold reverts to its original owners every fifty years; and (6) the tradition of worship in Israel which witnesses to the experience of God as sovereign Lord in the worship of the Temple.[12]

22. The New Testament takes up Old Testament thinking. For Paul, the God revealed in Jesus Christ is none other than the one God of Israelite monotheism.[13] God is a living and true God.[14] Each of the so‑called “gods” worshipped by the Gentiles were by nature “no gods” (Gal 4:8). Idols have no ultimate reality (1 Cor 10:20‑21). Satan is the force hostile to God.[15] Satan and other powers are powerless before God (Rom 8:38‑39). For Paul, God is the creator of the cosmos.[16] God orders all things providentially.[17] God is the just judge.[18]

23. The Synoptic Gospels depict the God and Father of Jesus as compassionate and merciful,[19] loving,[20] forgiving (Matt 6:12; Mark 11:25), and caring.[21] God sees in secret (Matt 6:1‑6) and judges (Matt 25:31‑46). God is the God of compassion and justice. The call to repentance in the preaching of Jesus is urgent: God’s immediate and sovereign presence is at hand. The time for temporizing is over and the establishment of right relationships is imminent. In such a day words alone will not suffice. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46) We are called to be merciful just as God is merciful and it is the failure to be merciful that brings us into conflict with the will of God (Luke 6:36).

24. The Gospel according to John emphasizes that God is Spirit (John 4:24). No one has seen God (1:18), or heard God’s voice, or seen God’s form (5:37). The only true God (17:3) continues to act as Creator of the universe (5:17), filled with love for all human beings (3:16). Family imagery is important for John. The Father‑Son relationship is used to emphasize the nearness and approachability of God. John reinterprets the fatherhood of God, demythologizing or freeing it from all patriarchal constructions of power. God sends the Son out of care for suffering and needy humanity (1:14; 3:16). This imagery depicts a two‑way dynamic movement of giving and drawing (12:32). God gathers the community of believers (cf. 17:6), and through the Holy Spirit enlightens and teaches it (14:26; 16:12‑13), sanctifying, equipping and sending it (20:21-22).

25. For John, there is a link between the kingdom of God and the knowledge of God. In John 3:3‑5, the Evangelist writes that birth from above is equivalent to the knowledge of God; one sees the kingdom and enters it. For John, the kingdom is a process of attaining knowledge, but the “from above” makes it clear that the kingdom is not within one’s human capabilities; it is only God’s to give. God gives this knowledge, which is the divine self‑revelation, from above. This is the experience of eternal life (John 17:3), a growing knowledge of God by the power of this self‑revelation. It is made possible by the Logos becoming flesh (John 1:14).

1.2. The Kingdom as Future and Present, as Gift and Task

26. In the strict exegetical sense, the kingdom of God, understood as the divinely achieved world government which succeeds to the four world empires (Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece) and which extends God’s rule over Israel‑Judea to the whole world, is found only at the very end of the Old Testament, in the apocalyptic visions of Daniel.[22] These visions directly influenced John the Baptist and Jesus, especially the combination of kingdom and Son of Man (Mark 8:38-9:1). Also contributing directly to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom of justice and peace was the vision of a future messianic kingdom in Proto‑Isaiah (11:1‑10), itself nourished by Amos (4:1‑13; 5:18-24) and Micah (4:1‑4). Deutero‑Isaiah (61:1‑2; 58:6-9) also played a role (see Luke 4:16‑30, esp. vv. 18‑19). Isaiah’s vision offers hope for humanity and for all creation, even expressing it in the images of peace and non‑violence among the animals.

27. The coming of the kingdom is announced in the first words of Jesus’ public ministry;[23] it belongs to the heart of his prayer (Matt 6:10 parallel with Luke 11:2) and forms the horizon of his hope (Mark 14:25). This vision, message and promise is connected with the Son of Man and thus with Christology. Because the hope of the kingdom of God coming to earth appears as part of a schema of successive eons of salvation history,[24] it contains the start of a Christian theology of history. The ethical content of the kingdom of God consists of justice (Matt 6:33), and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Historically, the biblical promise of the future kingdom does not lead believers to passivity and quietism. Rather, this promise relativizes the present – often oppressive – situation, makes it clear that the evil is not God’s will, and emboldens believers to try to correct social evils.

28. Jesus spoke not of the end of the “world”, but of the end of the “age” (aion in Greek), the present period of salvation history. God was doing something new in Jesus. The Hebrew olam, Greek aion, and Latin saeculum all have temporal as well as spatial dimensions (age, period, eon, but also world). Kingdom of God language in New Testament usage is primarily temporal, not spatial. The realization of the promise will occur within history as its culmination, and not, as in Platonic, anti-­material views, just over the edge into eternity. So the kingdom hope is for this world, but in a new era.[25]

29. Jesus speaks of the kingdom not only as coming in the near future, but also as already present at least fragmentarily, as sign, anticipation, foretaste (Matt 12:28, parallel with Luke 11:20). The kingdom of God is already present in an incomplete, non-exhaustive way in this eon, in this world, and in the Christian community.[26]

30. With power and grace, God makes the seed to grow (the parables of Mark 4). The kingdom of God is a gift. God invites to the eschatological banquet (Matt 22:1-14). We may prepare ourselves for the kingdom of God (Matt 25:1-13), we may seek it (Matt 6:33; Luke 12:31), but it is God who gives it (Luke 12:32). God promises it to the poor in spirit and to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt 5:3-10); in this sense God decides whose it shall be. The kingdom is also a task (Matt 25:31-46; 13:44-50). The task consists in the effort to live according to all the ethical instructions of the New Testament, from the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6) to the exhortations of the letters (e.g., Rom 12-15). Its chief values are faith, hope, love, justice, knowledge, and wisdom. The Bible never speaks of our building the kingdom. Rather, Christians are called to the humbler tasks of (1) removing obstacles to the coming of God’s kingdom, e.g., situations of injustice; (2) preparing people to receive the gift of the kingdom when God decides to bring it, by religious and moral instruction and prayer. In these ways we hasten its coming (2 Pet 3:12). The kingdom is already present through: (1) the gift of the Holy Spirit; (2) baptism into the risen Christ; (3) the Scriptures; (4) the proclamation of the Word; (5) the eucharistic assembly; (6) prayer; (7) the love experienced in the community; (8) the celebration of the liberation of the poor; (9) the healing of the sick and the expulsion of evil; and (10) the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation. These all also give testimony to the coming fullness of the kingdom of God.

1.3. The Kingdom of God and its Cosmic and Eschatological Dimensions

31. God’s invitation to the kingdom has a universal scope (Matt 8:11; Matt 28:18‑20). The kingdom will be taken away from the disobedient, and given to a people that will produce its fruits (Matt 21:43). The kingdom is fully realized when all things are put in subjection to God. Then God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:24‑28). The church as the people of God should manifest the plan of God who leads the cosmos to its final destiny, so that the whole of creation may partake of the unsearchable riches of God (Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:20).

32. The cosmic dimension of the kingdom of God is foreshadowed in Isaiah 65:17: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” The apocalyptic language of the Book of Revelation, often influenced by the Old Testament prophets, describes the consummation of God’s kingdom thus: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them” (Rev 21:3). The people of this renewed creation participate in the never‑ceasing worship of God (Rev 4). The different cultures will bring and offer their glory and their honour (Rev 21:26; cf. Matt 2:11). God’s kingdom, even in its final manifestation, continues to bring fullness and healing to all the people (Rev 22:1,2).

33. Jesus speaks also about Satan having a kingdom (Mark 3:23‑27; Matt 12:24‑29). The forces of evil, representing those who have a vested interest in things such as injustice and war, work against God’s plan. In the same sense John speaks a few times about the Antichrist (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Mark 13:22 refers to the messianic pretenders that arose before and after Jesus. Recognizing the presence of evil in the world is part of the sober realism of the Bible, but the forces of evil are subjected, not without a struggle, to God through Christ.[27] Therefore the figure of the Antichrist and other evil forces are a subordinate element in the larger narrative of God’s sovereign and saving activity in the universe and in human history. The hope for the coming of God’s kingdom represents one aspect of faith that in the end God’s power will triumph, that his justice will prevail and overcome evil.

34. Scripture refers to evil as a mystery (2 Thess 2:7; Rev 17:5,7). Sin affects us as individuals, as societies, as a cosmos. Violence is one of its manifestations. In the Bible God gradually weans people away from violence: from the unlimited revenge of Gen 4:15,24, to the limited revenge of Exod 21:22-25; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21 (talion), to the golden rule of Matt 7:12 and Luke 6:31, and, finally, to the highest and most perfect level, the renunciation of violence and the love of enemies.[28]

35. At times, as in Mark 9:43-48, Jesus speaks of life in a way that parallels his language about the kingdom of God. Life here clearly means the fullness of eschatological life as intended by God for God’s people in this age and in the age to come. The Gospel according to John picks up this parallelism and develops it in its own way. In John, life and eternal life become the usual way to express the state of eschatological blessedness. While present in this gospel (3:3,5; 18:36), the kingdom, in contrast to fullness of life, recedes into the background.

36. Eternal life is eschatological blessedness and participation in God’s own life through the gift to us of the Spirit. The Johannine terminology about mutual indwelling and abiding express the believer’s experience of life in its fullness. John emphasizes realized eschatology, but his Christology looks forward to the realization of eternal life at the coming of the Son of Man. In John (10:10), as the Good Shepherd who protects his flock from thieves and murderers, Jesus says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This saying expresses Jesus’ will to restore, to maintain and to increase human dignity, that is, the divine image in us, by laying down his life out of love for us.

37. Christians affirm the hope of the resurrection and the enjoyment of eternal communion with God in heaven. Biblical revelation affirms two interrelated aspects of hope: (1) the kingdom coming in its fullness to earth as the goal and completion of history; and (2) resurrection and eternal life with God in heaven. Both aspects of hope should be held in creative tension.

1.4. The Kingdom of God and the Poor and Marginalized

38. That there is a connection between the kingdom of God and the poor of the world is obvious from the first beatitude (Matt 5:3; Luke 6:20). Indeed, from this beatitude one would get the impression that the kingdom belongs to them in the first place, or, in a special way. Throughout the Bible, God, who led the Hebrews out of the slavery of Egypt, surpasses the noblest earthly king in maintaining justice by protecting the weaker, more defenceless elements of society: widows, orphans, the poor. The beatitudes do not say that the poor are morally better than the rich. The Bible does not sentimentalize the poor, but it takes their situation seriously. On the basis of Matt 25:40,45, the Christian is taught to see Christ in the needy sister or brother, and to help them for his sake.

39. In the Old Testament, wealth and possessions are generally regarded positively, even as signs of divine blessing. At the same time, in affirming God’s sovereignty over all of life, the prophets repeatedly identify Israel’s treatment of the poor and vulnerable as a test of its covenant faithfulness. They denounce indifference toward, and abuse of, the poor and vulnerable as disobedience to the will of God. In the New Testament, this theme is repeated, particularly in James (2:1‑7) and in the synoptic gospels. Jesus exclaims to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23). Again he says, “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth…” (Matt 6:19) and “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt 6:24; Luke 16:13). In itself wealth is not evil (cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19), but it constitutes a profound spiritual challenge: to possess wealth without being possessed by it. Those who have much may be distracted from the priorities of the kingdom of God. The faithful stewardship of wealth, including its equitable distribution, remains a challenge today when a few nations have much and many nations have little.

40. Jesus’ saying, “the poor you have with you always”, is not intended to encourage indifference to the poor, because in the Marcan version (Mark 14:7), there is a clear allusion to Deut 15:11, where poverty is regarded as an evil we must help to overcome. The qualified form of the first beatitude in Matthew, the “poor in spirit”, remains a difficult phrase to interpret with perfect accuracy, despite the Qumran parallels. Probably the phrase should be understood against the background of the frequent prayer of the poor and the afflicted in the Psalms. The poor in spirit are those who acknowledge their need for God and their dependence upon God, who strive to live according to the divine commandments and values, to walk humbly before God, and who seek to live a simple life in order to live closer to God. In other words, biblical concepts of poverty, while beginning with an economic situation that is regarded as evil, can also generate profound spiritual orientations to life lived under the providence of God.

1.5. The Kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit and the Church

41. We have already referred several times to Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God ... consists ... in justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul connects the kingdom of God with the work of the Holy Spirit. First, concerning justice in the Spirit, Matt 19:28, parallel with Luke 22:29-30, is another relevant text besides Matt 6:33. Here the twelve are commissioned to judge, that is, to govern, to establish God’s eschatological justice of the end time. Second, as to peace in the Spirit, biblically, peace means total wellbeing, wholeness, reconciliation, authentic harmony (cf. Luke 15:7). In John, Jesus’ mission is to bring peace. The message of the risen Christ is peace.[29] Third, regarding joy in the Spirit, joy is the expression of the fullness of life and love (Luke 15:32; Matt 13:44-­45).

42. The Synoptic Gospels indicate that God’s eschatological rule was already being manifested in the present, particularly through the Spirit,[30] whose powerful activity is regarded as the manifestation of God’s kingdom. For John, the Holy Spirit is the Counselor (John 15:26) who will lead the community into all truth (16:13). Paul thinks of the Spirit as the first instalment of the kingdom of God.[31] For Jesus, Paul and John, then, the Spirit is the presence already, as sign, instrument and foretaste, of the kingdom of God still to come in its fullness. Creation is subjected to futility, but the consummation represented by the kingdom of God will set creation free from the bondage of decay and sin (Rom 8:20‑21).

43. The hope in the kingdom shapes a spirituality incarnate in Christian communities and in personal lives. It is the church and the Spirit that cry out: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). This spirituality includes sacrament (Mark 14:25), prayer (Matt 6:9-13), and other elements. The early Christians prayed: Marana tha, Our Lord, come! (1 Cor 16:22), implying “with your kingdom in its fullness, in your power and glory, into our hearts, into our lives, into our church and into our world”.

44. The prayer par excellence for the kingdom is the Lord’s Prayer, which expresses a longing for the completion of redemption and salvation. It can serve as a model for all Christian prayer, which could be further characterized by four qualities: compassion, passion, responsibility and thankfulness. Prayer for the kingdom expresses compassion for the suffering people in the world, passion that God’s will for justice and peace be done, and willingness to assume our modest but real responsibility to contribute to the preparation for God’s gift of the kingdom. Thankfulness is expressed in the confession that the kingdom is not primarily ours, but is rooted in God’s initiative. Thus the kingdom hope becomes the principal goal of prayer.

45. The Bible also relates the church to the kingdom. This relationship remains a difficult area where theologians struggle to arrive at some clarity and balance, in the light of Scripture, tradition and experience. Matt 16:17‑19 asserts explicitly that there is a connection between kingdom and church, that Peter will hold the keys to the kingdom. Some interpreters think that Matt 16:17‑19 refers to ongoing church leadership; for others, these verses refer to a promise made to the historical Peter and to him alone.

46. The secrets of the kingdom are revealed to the disciples of Jesus (Matt 13:10‑12). The church is the new community grafted into God’s covenant relationship with Israel (Rom 11:17‑24). In both Testaments the covenant formula runs as follows: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” or “I will be with you, and you will be with me.”[32] This formula finds its eschatological fulfilment in the new covenant in Christ, the people of God, the church. The church is the people of God who are called to live the values of the kingdom consistently, which may often bring them into conflict with the world. Paul, in a baptismal context, expresses this bold insight: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The church as ambassador of reconciliation is the sign of God’s new creation (2 Cor 5:16‑20). If reconciliation is viewed from the perspective of the Pauline communities, then ethnic, economic and gender justice is very much a part of the experience of salvation. Breaking the chains of injustice, promoting reconciliation and forgiving love are signs of the presence of God’s kingdom. The church as people of God manifests the hidden saving plan of God (Eph 3:3‑10; 1 Cor 2:6‑10). The church has to be seen in the perspective of God’s plan for salvation, which in principle extends to all human beings and to creation as a whole (Rom 8:22‑23; 1 Tim 2:3-4).

47. Of particular importance, the celebration of the kingdom of God occurs in worship and sacrament. In the breaking of the bread (1 Cor 11:23‑26; Mark 14:12‑26), and in baptism (Rom 6:1‑11; Matt 28:18‑20), the community’s hope of the kingdom of God is experienced as a tangible reality. In worship and sacrament the community celebrates and experiences the kingdom breaking into the community’s life, which enables, empowers and equips it for its mission of serving the kingdom.


2. History and Tradition

48. Not only does the New Testament offer the range of meanings relating to the kingdom of God outlined in the previous paragraphs, but the subsequent history of the church also presents a panorama of visions concerning God’s reign. These reflect the contexts in which Christians found themselves at various times and places. Those living in a time of persecution for their faith, for example, would tend to emphasize the kingdom as pertaining to the next life, while those living in a situation where church membership was promoted as an element of civic identity might tend to see service of the kingdom as the establishment of a Christian society here on earth. Our discussions of this history focused primarily upon the Patristic period and the centuries since the Protestant Reformation.

2.1. The Patristic era and afterwards

49. In the patristic era, it is not always possible to find material that directly corresponds to questions which we have today regarding the kingdom and its relation to church and society. Texts directly devoted to the kingdom are largely limited to the various commentaries on pertinent passages of the Scripture, such as Mark 14:25: “I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” or 1 Cor 15:20-28 (v. 24: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power”). One can also explore patristic views of Christian hope in that body of literature emerging from the patristic custom of writing commentaries on the Lord’s prayer (“Thy kingdom come”) and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (“of his kingdom there shall be no end”). Although the church fathers seldom address directly the topic of the church, a surprising number of ecclesiological insights can be gathered from their writings. They concern the nature, mission and structure of the church, and might be gathered together under the four headings appearing as its marks in the Creed: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. While systematic treatises are rare, patristic literature proposes a wealth of images which give insight into the church’s mysterious being, such as the boat whose mast is the cross, whose captain is Christ and whose propelling wind is the Holy Spirit, on her journey to the kingdom.

50. Several distinctive visions of the kingdom of God and of its relation to the church may be distinguished within patristic literature. There is a social vision that looks for the coming of the kingdom at the end, as in the Pauline theology of the recapitulation of all things in Christ at the end of time, a view championed by St. Irenaeus of Lyons at the close of the second century. According to this view, the church looks forward to the fulfilment of the kingdom within the historical process at the end of history. There is also a view that puts the emphasis upon the aspiration for individual perfection, as developed by the Alexandrian fathers Clement and Origen, in the early third century. With the toleration and eventual adoption of Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea developed a theology of history which saw the kingdom as actualized, at least to some extent, in the harmonious union of church and state which was then emerging under Constantine and which would continue to exist, with various modifications, for many centuries. In contrast, Augustine found it necessary to answer those who blamed Christianity for the sack of Rome by the barbarians in the early fifth century by writing his longest book, The City of God, which offers what might be called an ecclesiological interpretation of the kingdom. The kingdom is now present in this world in the church, the heavenly city, which lives in a constant state of struggle with the sinful earthly city. The monastic movement, as reflected in the final words of the “Prologue” of The Rule of St. Benedict, intended to help Christians to share patiently in the sufferings of Christ, through the faithful observance of a special way of life, so that they might also “share in his kingdom.”

51. At a later period, the monastic profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience came to be understood in relation to the kingdom, as a testimony to the fact that Christ’s reign is not limited to the present world but promises a fulfilment which goes beyond the enjoyment of the goods of earthly life. These various ways of envisioning the kingdom and its relation to church and society persisted throughout the middle ages and even beyond, with perhaps the most recurrent tendency being that of identifying the kingdom with the church. But there were minority views as well, promoting a different vision of history and of the relation between kingdom and church, as represented by figures such as Joachim of Fiore and the spiritual Franciscans in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, or the Anabaptists of the radical reformation in the sixteenth. The Anabaptists understood the Gospel as requiring radical separation from the entanglements of “the world” and also from a church they saw as corrupted by compromising with worldly society. Their movement was consequently seen as subversive and frequently forcibly suppressed by both Catholic and Reformed authorities.

2.2. Protestant Reformation and Catholic Reformation

52. Calvin’s keen awareness and repeated teaching about the sovereignty of God shapes how the Reformed churches understand the kingdom. All of creation stands under the authority and providence of God, including the very mundane activities of everyday life: spiritual and religious commitment is not limited to a distinct and separate sphere while visible and social life belongs to another. Believers live out their vocation as Christians not only in the church but also in the secular realms of political and economic life. Ethical formation in harmony with the values proclaimed by Christ in the Scriptures should lead the members of the church to act in a way which brings about a society ordered along the lines of God’s plan and purpose for creation. The social order must be transformed by the gospel. The church has a vital role to play in this task, but this role is carried out humbly and realistically and in the attempt to be obedient to the sovereignty of God. These basic convictions have informed the thought and practice of the various communities of the Reformed tradition in subsequent centuries. They are reflected, for example, in the protest of the Reformed “monarchomachians” against incipient royal absolutism in sixteenth century France and in the appeal of the Scottish Covenanters to “the Crown-Rights of the Redeemer” in the seventeenth century. In the English and North American Puritanism of the same period, the vision of “a godly Commonwealth” predominated, together with the sense that every individual soul is a battle-ground between God and the devil and that each elect individual should grow in holiness according to the stages of an ordo salutis. It tends to include such stages in each individual Christian life as effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification, saving faith, repentance, good works, perseverance of the saints, assurance of grace and salvation. This Puritan inheritance from the ancient church in turn fed into Methodism and other Holiness movements. The kingdom motif later appeared elsewhere, such as in the evangelical revivals originating in the eighteenth century, then in the following generations in the mainly North American Social Gospel movement. Mention may also be made here of such nineteenth century hymns as “Thy Kingdom Come! On Bended Knee the Passing Ages Pray”, and of the renewed interest in eschatology awakened in nineteenth century millenarism.

53. Catholic proclamation of, and reflection about, the kingdom of God has appeared in a variety of ways since the sixteenth century. Through the Catechism of the Council of Trent, a resource for basic Christian formation used until well into the twentieth century, the Catholic faithful were introduced to the various dimensions of the kingdom present in the Scriptures, the creed and the Lord’s prayer. Thus the kingdom was understood as coming at the end of time, but also as already present in some way in the church and in the hearts and souls of individual believers. Catholic theologians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries explored the ethical or moral approach to understanding the kingdom, seeing the church as an agent promoting conversion and growth in virtue and thus serving to prepare for the transformation of the world into the kingdom of God. The social doctrine of Pope Pius XI between the two world wars of the twentieth century was predicated largely on the conviction that lasting peace and social welfare could only be achieved by accepting the rule of the prince of peace. To further this end, Pius XI initiated a feast dedicated to Christ the King, a liturgical development with broad ecumenical resonance.

54. The story of how Christians understand the kingdom of God and relate it to the church underwent a critical turning point with the exegetical work of Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their argument that Jesus proclaimed a kingdom which is fundamentally yet to come opened the way for a reappraisal of views that identified the kingdom too completely with the church or associated it too predominantly with the moral perfection of believers and the transformation of society. Since then, the way in which the kingdom relates either to the church or to the ethical transformation of individuals and of society has taken more account of the fact that the kingdom of God is the work of God, in which ecclesial and moral collaboration should be seen in a more modest light.

2.3. The Twentieth Century

55. For Catholics, a very important step in giving due attention to the kingdom comes with the Second Vatican Council, which integrated some of the more significant insights of 20th century biblical and theological scholarship into its vision of the church. The Council presents the origin and mission of the church in terms of the kingdom (cf. Lumen gentium 5). Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World firmly places Christian action to improve human society within the context of the kingdom: “although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress clearly is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society” (Gaudium et spes 39). Advocating social improvement should not obscure the transcendent purpose of the Christian community: “Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic, or social order: the purpose he assigned to it was a religious one. But this religious mission can be the source of commitment, direction, and vigour to establish and consolidate the community of men according to the law of God” (Gaudium et spes 42). The kingdom is even singled out as the ultimate principle governing the church’s mission in and for the world: “Whether it aids the world or whether it benefits from it, the Church has but one sole purpose – that the kingdom of God may come and the salvation of the human race may be accomplished” (Gaudium et spes 45).

56. The new context created by Vatican II and by the ecumenical movement contributed to the emergence of a distinctive approach to doing theology that was particularly attentive to the kingdom. The kingdom of God took on the role of a hermeneutical key in the liberation theology that emerged during the 1970s in developing countries, particularly in Latin America. The almost desperate economic, social and political situation of the majority of people in these countries made for a different reading of the main themes of the Bible like the Exodus, the prophets’ cry for justice, and the kingdom theme of the New Testament. These great concerns of the Bible took on renewed meaning in settings that matched those in which they were first written: abject poverty, oppression, dependence and gross injustice. Oppressed people felt the Word of God was speaking directly to them, addressing their situation and giving them new hope and courage to face their situation, and to do something about it. The kingdom of God was experienced not as an abstract idea or a symbol but, first of all, as a principle for action that called for change and for engagement on the part of all who would let its power into their lives. “The kingdom of God consists not in talk but in power” (1 Cor 4:20). The Basic Ecclesial Communities, which were a principal source from which liberation theology developed, are worshipping communities. It is in celebrating the Word of God together and reflecting on it in prayer that they come to experience the kingdom present among them and to understand that the kingdom message of Jesus demands active engagement in the struggle for justice and freedom of one’s fellow human beings. The Synod of Bishops of 1971 called action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world a “constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel” (Justice in the World 6).

57. Liberation theology also found resonance among Reformed Churches in Latin America and elsewhere. A prominent (if also controversial) example is the Cuban Confession of 1977, which combined classical themes of Christian theology with impulses deriving from a critical Marxist analysis of society. On a wider front, one of the most lively streams in Reformed theology throughout the world in the last half-century has also been driven by awareness of the political dimension of Christian proclamation in confrontation with social and economic injustice, racial discrimination, threats to peace and ecological destruction. In retrospect, a significant milestone on the road to this new consciousness was the Theological Declaration of Barmen in 1934. This manifesto of the German Confessing Church was admittedly not in itself a political statement of opposition to German National Socialism. It was much more a theological challenge to those in the church (the “German Christians”) who aimed to make the German Evangelical Church an instrument of Nazi ideology. The main author was the Reformed theologian Karl Barth and it has increasingly come to be seen in the Reformed family as a major modern confessional document. Its effectiveness in the context of the Third Reich was sadly limited, but its voice has been heard and echoed in many other contexts in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond – for example in the South African Confession of Belhar (1986) in the setting of the last years of apartheid, or more recently, in the 2004 Accra Confession, adopted by church representatives at the General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

58. These issues have been prominent in the work of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and elsewhere in the Reformed family. An influential thinker among Reformed theologians in this area has been Jürgen Moltmann. His writings combine central themes of Christian theology, including Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, the theme of creation and the message of the kingdom of God with a sense of contemporary and future-oriented political, social and ecological responsibility and offer many points of contact with work in the Roman Catholic and other traditions. An especially positive aspect of his theology is that it does not fall prey to the old dichotomies between “Faith and Order” and “Life and Work” or between “theoretical” and “contextual” thinking. Instead, in understanding theology as “critical reflection upon praxis” it pays attention to central and fundamental theological themes and perspectives as decisive for that reflection but also as requiring to be re-thought in the light of praxis.

59. The exploration of this history of interpretation by our dialogue reveals something of the diversity of understanding of the kingdom of God and its relation to the church and to the world within the Christian traditions. Furthermore, we frankly acknowledge that, at times, the idea of the kingdom of God has been distorted to serve aims contrary to the justice and peace that are inherent aspects of God’s reign. In the Crusades, for instance, violent means were used to recapture the Holy Land, imposing terror and suffering on civilian populations, including Christians. Later on, the legitimate effort to carry the Gospel to those who had not yet heard it was horribly abused by some to further their own colonial designs.

60. The present survey suggests at least two observations having special relevance for our present phase of dialogue and for this report. First, we have chosen quite deliberately to examine not only the biblical witness pertinent to our theme but also writings from later periods, especially from the patristic era and from the time after our division. Both Reformed and Roman Catholics see the authority of post-biblical witnesses as related to their faithfulness to the inspired Word of God in Scripture, though we have not yet arrived at a common conviction about the extent of that authority. Second, our present phase of dialogue has opted deliberately to give special attention to the way in which context serves as a conditioning factor for Christian thought and practice, especially in the realm of the church’s action in serving the arrival of the kingdom in its fullness. “Context” should not be thought of simply as a locality; indeed, “context” may refer to the spirit of an age which could extend to the whole world. Attention to context need not imply an historical or cultural relativism regarding Christian faith about the kingdom of God and the role of the church in serving as God’s instrument for its arrival. The survey presented in this chapter suggests that the historical and cultural setting in which the Christian community finds itself will play an important role in discerning the nature and demands of the kingdom at any given time or place.


3. Converging Theological Perspectives

61. The report from the first phase of the Reformed-Roman Catholic international dialogue declared: “The church professes that Christ himself is the carrier of the message of the rule of God and the liberation of humankind. If the church goes out into the world, if it brings the Gospel to men and women and endeavours to realize more justice, more conciliation and more peace, then in doing so it is only following its Lord into domains that, unbeknown to us, already belong to him and where he is already anonymously at work.”[33] The proclamation and inauguration of the kingdom of God were intimately rooted in the words, actions and very person of Jesus himself. The kingdom, already present in the Christ event, takes shape wherever human beings and cultures are in relationship with him.

62. The kingdom of God is a multi-faceted reality, part of that mysterious design of God for the salvation of the world. It includes various tensions or polarities: the kingdom is both present and future; it dwells in the hearts of individuals and transforms society; it is religious and spiritual but has secular and political consequences; it gradually grows but may also break out suddenly in a particular event. It is the work of God, but is served by the actions of human beings. The kingdom is present with a special force and power in the church, whose first members were those who believed Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and were sent to proclaim the good news of its expansive reality through his death and resurrection. At the same time, the kingdom is broader than the church; it is present in a hidden manner whenever the Spirit of the risen Lord inspires individuals and communities to live according to the values of the Gospel. This depth and complexity is intrinsic to the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. An adequate theological exposition of the kingdom will maintain these tensions.

63. A similar balance needs to be maintained regarding the fact that the kingdom is both a gift and a task. The kingdom establishes, first and foremost, an intimate, childlike relationship with God in which God deals with us as daughters and sons; we are God’s children. From this vertical orientation follows the horizontal relationship making us brothers and sisters. Both relations are essential. Our adoption and subsequent living as God’s children are both a gift and a task, as are the creation and maintenance of profound human fellowship among us. A dynamic unity exists between gift and task. The gift is accepted precisely by undertaking the task entailed in it. The kingdom thus transforms human relationships. It grows gradually as people learn to love, forgive and serve one another. Jesus taught that the entire law could be summed up in the commandment of love (cf. Matt 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28), adding on the eve of his passion: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you…. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34; cf. 15:12). Commenting on this passage, Pope John Paul II wrote in Redemptoris missio, 15: “The kingdom’s nature, therefore, is one of communion among all human beings – with one another and with God”. The kingdom may also be described in terms of liberation and salvation; it frees from sin and death in such a way that it affects both the physical and the spiritual aspects of human life. In this way, as the ministry of Jesus himself demonstrates, the kingdom is intended to touch and improve the day-to-day lives of people. It is not primarily a concept, but a call for real transformation of personal and social life in the contexts in which they live.

64. The kingdom proclaimed by Jesus provides the context for understanding the nature and mission of the church. As the Faith and Order Commission stated in its 1990 study document Church and World (Chapter III 8),

The church is that part of humanity which has been led to accept, affirm and acknowledge ever more fully the liberating truth of the kingdom for all people. It is the community of those who are experiencing the presence of the kingdom and actively awaiting its final fulfillment. The church is therefore called to live as that force within humanity through which God’s will for the renewal, justice, community and salvation of all people is witnessed to. Endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and continually strengthened by Christ’s word and sacrament, the church is sent by God to witness to, and proclaim the kingdom in and for, this broken world through word and deed, life and suffering, even suffering unto death. In this mission the church is the new community of those willing to serve the kingdom for the glory of God and the good of humanity. To the degree to which this happens the church is an effective sign, an instrument of God’s mission in this aeon (aion).

In this perspective, one can say that the kingdom and the church are not identical. The kingdom is truly already present in the church and yet it is beyond the church as the destiny of the whole of creation. The church is meant to serve the establishment of the kingdom as a prophetic sign and an effective instrument in the hands of God.

65. This means that Christians will be active in the promotion of justice, liberation of the oppressed, peace and the protection of the environment and will join their efforts with all those who seek to foster such values. The kingdom is therefore a reason for further dialogue and collaboration with the representatives of other religious traditions and with all persons who seek to bring about a more humane world, one governed by God and characterized by the kinds of behaviour about which Jesus speaks when he announces the kingdom in word and deed. Christian faith does not exclude others from the care and action of God; rather Christians rejoice in the fact that God is present among all people and that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are found among the followers of many spiritual paths. When those of other religions or even of no religious faith seek to reduce human suffering, to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, to advocate effective responses to such crises as natural disasters, famine, the HIV and Aids pandemic, to foster peace and reconciliation and to call upon governments and corporations to promote the care of our planet, then these are our partners. Out of our Christian faith we wish to obey Christ’s command “Seek first the kingdom of God”. We gratefully join together in solidarity with others who seek some of the same goals here mentioned. This opens the way for a more creative dialogue and for collaboration with adherents of world religions, as well as with any persons who seek to further the values of God’s reign.

Chapter II
Witnessing to the Kingdom:
Three Narratives from Different Contexts

66. In exploring the biblical testimony to the kingdom of God, and the insights and comments of writers from Christian history on this theme, it is clear that Reformed and Catholics can say a great deal together. These biblical materials and insights gleaned over the centuries are important resources for Christians who are trying to live the values of the kingdom in the complex world of today.

67. Clearly the search for unity is more than an intellectual effort. Progress in dialogue must be accompanied by a deepening communion in the life of the churches, for “it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires for unity take their rise and develop in a mature way.”[34] And sometimes a growing solidarity among Christians provides a vigorous spur to seek further progress in theological dialogue.

68. In this spirit we turn now to three narratives that are integral to this report. Different from the systematic reflection characteristic of chapter I, which will also characterize later chapters, the narratives that now follow are timely reminders that the faithful hearers of Christ’s proclamation of the kingdom (cf. Mark 1:14-15) bring their convictions about the kingdom of peace and justice into a labyrinth of human complexity – the myriad mixture of historical, social, cultural, political and religious factors found in every society. Each narrative describes the various and often courageous ways in which members of our Christian communities have tried to live the values of the kingdom. Even in complex conditions involving terrible conflict, facing danger and fear of violent reprisal or death itself, they sought to bring the values of the Gospel to their situation.

69. An important development in each case is that, while Reformed and Catholics began with their separate ways of confronting the major issue at hand, eventually they came to face the issues together. In doing so, they discovered a new resource for confronting the forces of the anti-kingdom, namely, the power of giving common witness to the values of the kingdom of God. By so doing, they experienced the importance of the call to be visibly one in Christ for the sake of the healing of the nations.


1. Advocating Aboriginal Rights in Canada [35]

70. In Canada, the challenges of witnessing to the values of the kingdom of God have included steps taken by churches to advocate the rights of aboriginal peoples. Canada is a vast land with a northern climate. Settlement stretches along the southern border leaving large parts of the interior and the north sparsely populated. Canadian society is multilingual and multicultural, a remarkable mosaic of people from diverse ethnic origins. However, reflecting its historical development, the country is constitutionally bilingual with English and French as the two officially recognized languages. According to government statistics, 76.6% of the population identifies itself as Christian. While more than thirty Christian churches are represented in Canada, eight (Catholic, United Church, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Pentecostal) account for 89.2% of these. More than half (56.3%) of the Christian population are members of the Catholic Church and francophones constitute about half of this number.[36]

71. Over the past thirty years Christians in Canada have increasingly sought ecumenical partners for research and advocacy in issues of social justice. As a result of this collaboration various social and religious concerns have been located in numerous coalitions. Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and united churches have participated in most of these coalitions. Other churches, such as the Mennonites, the Religious Society of Friends and the Salvation Army, participated according to specific interests. Since July 2001, the work of these inter-church coalitions has been coordinated by a single agency named “Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.”[37]

72. The social justice coalitions have provided a vital means of practical cooperation, serving as agents of the churches’ mission to proclaim God’s kingdom in the Canadian context. Through the work of these coalitions, churches in Canada are more readily seen as signs and instruments of the liberating will of God. In particular, this narrative will now focus on the formation and mandate of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, a coalition that reflects the experience of Christian mission to the country’s Indigenous population.[38] This seems a particularly appropriate way to explore the development of their appreciation and implementation of the values of the kingdom of God as well as newer understandings of the church’s role as herald and servant of that kingdom in the Canadian context. In the various responses of this coalition, the impact of koinonia ecclesiology is clearly evident, as well as the use of structural analysis and the concepts of social sin.

73. An educational resource booklet published by the Aboriginal Rights Coalition in 1995 lists a history of key contacts between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the country now called Canada.[39] The text notes that prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the country was inhabited by numerous Indigenous nations with their many different languages, cultures and spiritual traditions. In July 1534, Jacques Cartier’s contact with the Iroquois Confederacy at Gaspe included a presentation of Christian teaching. After a gap of more than seventy years, Jesse Fleche began missionary work among the Mi’kmaq in 1610. Early relationships between European settlers and the Aboriginal populations were characterized by commercial arrangements, inter-marriage, and military alliances. This relationship was formalized in treaties between various European monarchs and Indigenous nations which recognized each other’s independence and sovereignty. The Two Row Wampum Treaty of 1613, between the Iroquois and the Dutch, expresses this understanding of two nations on parallel paths: “neither going ahead nor cutting off the other”.

74. A period of colonization and treaty-making began with the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 which declared: “Aboriginal nations had rights to the lands they traditionally occupied; they should not be molested or disturbed on their lands without formal treaties being negotiated; only the Crown would have authority to enter into such agreements on behalf of the settlers.” In 1867, the British North American Act gave exclusive jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians” to the federal government of the newly formed Canada. From 1871 to 1921, a series of numbered treaties (#1-#11) negotiated land surrender of First Nations from Western Ontario through Alberta and the Northwest Territories. From the mid-1800s to the early 1970s, Residential Schools were established by the federal government and operated by four major Christian denominations. These schools contributed to the government agenda of assimilation, identified as official policy in its White Paper of 1969. Churches and Aboriginal peoples organized strongly against this agenda and prevented its codification into statute law. By the time the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples released its six-volume report in November 1996, there was a recognition that: “Assimilation policies have done great damage, leaving a legacy of brokenness affecting Aboriginal individuals, families and communities.”[40] In effect, the goal of assimilating Natives into Canadian society meant the eradication of Aboriginal languages, cultures and spiritualities.

75. Believing in the fundamental unity of the human race and the universality of God’s offer of salvation, missionaries might have been expected to hold a noble view of the spiritual potential of Aboriginal people.[41] Yet this theological conviction did not translate into a positive assessment of the actual spiritual state of those they encountered. Aboriginal practices which were seen as either irreligious or idolatrous were to be replaced by commitment to Christ.[42] Moreover, as they attempted to achieve their desired goal, Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries were themselves engaged in a conflict that went much deeper than mere denominational competition, for each party was convinced that the other was leading the Indians to perdition. In an atmosphere of mutual hostility, missionaries communicated their suspicions of Protestant heresy or Catholic superstition to Aboriginal converts.[43]

76. As noted before (chapter I, para. 30) the kingdom of God is both gift and task. The task “consists in the effort to live according to all the ethical instructions of the New Testament, from the sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7, Luke 6) to the exhortations of the letters (e.g. Rom 12-15)”. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, churches were recognizing the need for radical change in the historical relationship with Aboriginal peoples, many of whom were church members. Based on the kind of solidarity evident in Anglican and Roman Catholic responses to the federal government’s 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy, this new relationship would include political action on social, economic, environmental and cultural issues. The new church focus acquired added urgency as various corporations joined with governments to develop energy projects and Aboriginal people were again left out of the decision-making process.

77. The Inter-Church Project on Northern Development, or Project North, was launched by the Anglican, Roman Catholic and united churches on September 1, 1975.[44] The Lutheran Church in America – Canada Section, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Presbyterian Church in Canada joined in 1976. The Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and two Catholic religious communities, the Jesuits and the Oblates, became partners in subsequent years. A programme of research, communication and education was offered to assist the churches in supporting the activities of northern native peoples in their struggles for justice and the settlement of their land claims; and in challenging the peoples in southern Canada to become involved in creative action on ethical issues of northern development.

78. In March 1987, the sponsoring churches and church bodies agreed to suspend Project North’s operation for a year of review and restructuring. After an extensive process of consultation and evaluation, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC) was launched in December 1988. Based on a decentralized model, ARC describes itself as “a coalition of churches and church bodies working in partnership and alliance with both Aboriginal (political) organizations and regional network groups”.[45] With an emphasis on consultation, participation and networking, ARC notes its evolution “from an inter-church group to a coalition of three partner groups who make decisions and carry out the work together: churches, network groups doing the work on the ground across the country, and Aboriginal partners”.[46]

79. Through its programme of public education and action, ARC works to support Aboriginal peoples in some vitally important areas, namely: achieving just settlement of land rights issues; enhancing economic and political development; entrenching historic rights in the Canadian constitution; reversing the erosion of basic social rights of the Aboriginal peoples and communities; seeking reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and all strands of Canadian society; clarifying the moral and spiritual basis for action on Aboriginal justice concerns; and opposing industrial or military projects that threaten specific Aboriginal communities and the environment.

80. While ARC has an impressive history of action on behalf of Aboriginal justice issues and a clear commitment to achieving a more honourable relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples of Canada, the coalition continues to face serious challenges. Aboriginal organizations, often with the help of professional advisors, have assumed many of the roles once exercised by the churches. Yet, concern for aboriginal justice is the oldest human rights issue in Canada and ARC must find ways of broadening its base of solidarity beyond a small core of activists. Two specific challenges have come into focus so far: 1) to identify the structural links between Aboriginal communities and other sectors of Canadian society; 2) to explore the theological and spiritual dimensions of commitment to Aboriginal justice issues. Unless these challenges are met, it will be impossible to create what the Canadian churches refer to as a just relationship with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

81. From expressions of mutual hostility in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the churches moved to ecumenical cooperation. Their common effort to create a new covenant with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada reflects a commitment to koinonia, a recognition of restored relationships as integral to the coming of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is invoked as a type of mirror of the transformation that God will work within human hearts: a new covenant, a new people who will live the covenant as God has intended from the beginning. In this context, it seems evident that the notion of the kingdom as an ideal society, characterized by equality, justice and freedom, has been accepted. For those involved in these coalitions, the kingdom of God is seen as a call toward world-transforming actions.


2. Facing Apartheid in South Africa [47]

82. The struggle to live, in South Africa, in light of the kingdom of God has involved in a particular way the struggle against apartheid. A potent mix of philosophical, cultural, social, legal and economic factors contributed to what became known as apartheid.[48] While the history of racial tension, discrimination and segregation reaches back to the beginning of Dutch colonization of Southern Africa, there is no denying that Christian missionary efforts also formed an integral part of this story.[49]

83. For more than a century, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) played a decisive role in attempting to provide theological legitimation of apartheid in South Africa. In 1855 white worshippers in a rural Dutch Reformed congregation refused to share the Lord’s Supper with black Christians. The Synod held in 1857 decided that it was “preferable and scriptural” that all believers shared the same worship and the same congregation. However, where these measures, “as a result of the weakness of some,” obstructed the Christian cause, Christian privileges could be enjoyed in separate buildings and even separate institutions. As history has shown, the weakness of some became the norm for many.

84. In 1881 a separate church, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC), was established for coloured Christians, and during the course of the twentieth century several others would follow, all divided according to race or ethnicity. Although these churches were regarded as daughters of the DRC, there was no structural or visible unity between them. In fact, members of the (white) DRC gradually came to believe that having separate churches for each nation was the norm according to Scripture and thus the explicit will of God.[50] This church policy would later form the religious roots of the apartheid ideology, and since 1948 the official policy of apartheid. The DRC increasingly appealed to the government to introduce apartheid laws.[51]

85. As mentioned above (chapter I, para. 30) the Bible never speaks of our building the kingdom of God. Rather, Christians are called to humbler tasks, such as “removing obstacles to the coming of God’s kingdom, e.g. situations of injustice”, preparing people for the kingdom “by religious and moral instructions and prayer. In these ways we hasten its coming (2 Peter 3:12).” In the decades after 1948 there was growing opposition to the apartheid ideology within church circles, both inside South Africa and in the wider ecumenical movement.[52] The opposition to apartheid within the Dutch Reformed Church family reached a critical moment in 1982, and once more it involved the Eucharist. At the Ottawa meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, ten black Christians from the so-called “daughter churches” in the DRC-family refused to participate in the celebration of the official Eucharist. The reason was simple. It would be false to do so in an ecumenical context, while they were excluded from the Lord’s Table in the DRC in South Africa. After a long debate the WARC General Council recognized that apartheid theology in South Africa represented a crisis for the Christian tradition itself. The most profound problem was seen to lie in the convictions and theological views legitimating apartheid praxis yet contradicting the very essence of the gospel of Christ.

86. The WARC General Council found that apartheid was a sin for three reasons: it was based on an anti-Christian premise that human beings are irreconcilable with one another; it was applied through racial structures that provided exclusive privileges to Whites at the expense of Blacks; and it created oppressive injustice and suffering for the majority of people in South Africa. So the Council declared: “this situation constitutes a status confessionis for our churches, which means we regard this as an issue on which it is not possible to differ without seriously jeopardizing the integrity of our common confession as Reformed churches. Apartheid is a sin, and the moral and theological justification of it is a travesty of the gospel and, in its persistent disobedience to the Word of God, a theological heresy.”[53] As a consequence, the General Council felt obliged to suspend the membership in WARC of two churches, one of them the Dutch Reformed Church - a decision which went beyond the legal provisions of the WARC constitution.

87. On receiving the report from the Ottawa conference, the DRMC Synod also declared a status confessionis regarding the theological legitimation of apartheid. An historic moment had arrived. After decades of theological controversy and debate, the Synod needed to state clearly why it now claimed that the truth of the gospel itself was at stake. This gave birth to the Belhar Confession, an authentic expression of Reformed Christian conviction regarding the unity of the church, the reconciliation of peoples with God and with one another, justice and peace, and obedience to the Word of God. The DRMC members accepted the draft confession with enthusiasm. Over a period of four years church congregations studied the document and reported in writing on whether they found the draft acceptable as their confession of faith. Only after this process of reception did the Synod of 1986 officially accept the Belhar Confession as a confession of the DRMC.

88. Now a new phase began. As a Reformed Church, the DRMC could only claim that it had truly received the Belhar Confession once it was clear to everyone that the content of this confession had really made an impact on their spirituality and on their lives. The reception process brought about a renewed sense of identity and, in fact, gave rise to a new sense of calling to the DRMC. In 1986 the Synod decided to conduct dialogues with other members of the DRC-family on the basis of the Belhar Confession. During the very first meeting between representatives of the DRMC and delegates of the (Black, African) Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, the DRCA delegates immediately expressed their desire to accept Belhar as their own Confession. In other words, the Belhar Confession provided the basis for church union between the DRCA and the DRMC. On April 14, 1994, the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa was born.[54]

89. As opposition to apartheid became increasingly militant in the 1980s, Black consciousness and Black theology continued to resonate with many Christians in South Africa. Under the leadership of Steve Biko, until his death while in the custody of the security police in 1977, the Black Consciousness Movement developed a theological analysis of the class oppression and struggle for liberation in the midst of apartheid. Redefining the term black as a class location rather than a racial classification, Black theologians struggled for liberation from the slave mentality that had been inculcated by apartheid. Not surprisingly, anti-apartheid theologians increasingly drew on the resources of Latin American liberation theology for a critique of the institutionalized violence of oppression. In the midst of the popular uprising and state repression of 1985, an ecumenical group of theologians produced the Kairos Document as a critical reflection on the relation between Christianity and violence in the South African situation. This document identified three types of theology: state, church and prophetic. While a state theology had been developed to sanctify the current regime, a church theology tacitly supported the regime by professing personal piety, neutrality and non-violence. The Kairos of South Africa, however, required a prophetic theology that directly challenged the unjust state and neutral position of official church policy. In arguing that the heresy, sinfulness and moral illegitimacy of apartheid required Christians to confront and disobey the state in order to obey God, the Kairos theologians contributed greatly to such a prophetic stance.[55] Clearly, on all fronts, internationally and locally, as well as intellectually and spiritually, the Reformed church family strove to ensure that apartheid’s “ungodly and revolting position would be destroyed”.[56] In ways such as these, Reformed Christians worked to remove obstacles to the coming of God’s kingdom.

90. The Catholic Church, too, struggled against apartheid, working to root out this major obstacle to the coming of the kingdom of God. Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Catholic ecclesiology often identified the church and the kingdom of God. As a result of this type of identification, church practice in South Africa worked towards establishing an alternative society within which Catholics could live their lives. For this reason schools, hospitals and other services were provided, especially within the White Settler Community, thus allowing Catholics the opportunity of finding the social services they required within a Catholic world.[57] This tendency to create an alternative society was strongly reinforced by the prevalence of severe anti-Catholic attitudes and by the sense of threat and alienation experienced by Catholics in South African society, where the so-called Roman Danger was a stated problem for the Calvinist ethos of the governing Nationalist Party. For example, the minutes of the 1957 meeting of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) indicate that “the government was already determined that the Catholic Church should not rise above five percent of the population”.[58] A similar goal and purpose of creating an alternative society was found in the Catholic Mission Church,[59] but lack of resources meant that not all areas of life could be regulated by the church, and so education became the main focus and instrument of its missionary activity. By 1953 the Catholic Church administered 15% of all black schools, by far the most visible Catholic presence in society.

91. After Vatican II, the emerging ecclesiology emphasized more clearly the distinction between the church and the kingdom of God. By 1980 a new phase of Catholic involvement in South African society was emerging. The notions of God’s Plan for Society and The Church’s Plan to do God’s Will became the prevailing theological keys used by the South African hierarchy in their official discourse. In 1989, after ten years of consultation and planning, the bishops adopted for the church in South Africa the pastoral plan entitled Community Serving Humanity.

92. Two main reasons led to the pastoral plan. Firstly, Vatican II had evoked a reappraisal of mission and ministry throughout the world, which was continued in the 1974 assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome, which focused on Evangelization. This prompted the South African Bishops to commission their own survey of contemporary evangelization in Southern Africa. The principal problem for the Catholic Church became strikingly clear: in a country that is overwhelmingly black, it was structured along lines that were foreign and white. Secondly, the social and political situation was becoming increasingly grave especially after the student riots in Soweto on June 16, 1976.[60] A process of consultation and discernment, which involved Catholics from all over Southern Africa, led eventually to the pastoral plan. This plan outlined four main objectives for the church: to be inspired by Vatican II’s understanding of the church as people of God called to holiness of life; to be related to the realities of life in Southern Africa; to be clearly visible as a community serving humanity; to be committed to the ongoing formation of all members of the church according to the vision expressed in these themes.

93. In 1985, the Theological Advisory Committee of the SACBC issued a report entitled The Things that Make for Peace. Examining the morality of violence in the South African context, the report challenged the church to face up to its political and social responsibilities: “It is the church’s task to bring God’s concern and guidance into the political realm, and not to give the impression that God is found only in religious worship or personal relationships. Jesus himself showed this type of concern when he preached not just personal salvation but the coming of God’s kingdom.”[61] The kingdom brought by Jesus in his preaching establishes a new type of order. Above all, God’s reign is shown by releasing people from every kind of oppression and inspiring them to live together in freedom and peace.

94. A further important aspect of Catholic ecclesial practice in South Africa involved protest by both clergy and laity against unjust laws. Through a series of seven Pastoral Letters the bishops protested against apartheid and challenged the government by appealing to Catholic social teaching, which offers clear moral norms for nation states as well as the international community. The hermeneutical key of these letters is human dignity, and the principle of apartheid is condemned as something intrinsically evil.[62] Human activities are to be directed in light of the gospel, and nationalistic aspirations cannot therefore be the final criterion by which ends are determined.[63] In 1972, the bishops’ Call to Conscience represented a shift towards solidarity with the poor, especially with victims of apartheid policy. The hierarchy largely abandoned the standpoint represented by white society and moved towards a more radical commitment to the dispossessed within South African Society. This and later documents began to take up issues such as just wages, education and a more praxis oriented response.

95. With the 1977 SACBC document, Declaration of Commitment on Social Justice and Race Relations within the Church, the Catholic Church’s leadership became more actively involved in the struggle against apartheid. Among other things, the plan of action included changing derogatory social attitudes and customs, advancing black South Africans in the church, working towards a pastoral consultation with majority black participation for future policy on church life and apostolate. Justice and Peace groups began to spring up in dioceses throughout the country, and a national Commission for Justice and Reconciliation established by SACBC greatly encouraged Catholics who wanted to be involved in the struggle for equality. One of the first Catholic movements to become involved in justice issues was the Young Christian Workers. This movement was introduced into South Africa in the early 1950s and quickly got involved in worker issues. Its training methods of structured group meetings and study weekends were very effective in producing leaders, many of whom eventually became officials in trade union movements.

96. Just as the Reformed had to face the problem of internal racism, the increasingly strong stance of the Catholic Church against apartheid provoked the emergence of Catholic groups opposed to this shift. As early as 1957, the first black bishop of a diocese was appointed by the Vatican. This gave rise immediately to some white Catholics of that diocese objecting to a non-European as Bishop of Europeans. Such attitudes within settler culture, the so-called South African way of life, were common among whites, including supposedly “good Catholics”. Groups such as the Catholic Defence League emerged claiming that the Church’s efforts against apartheid were influenced by Marxist philosophy and communist agencies. They viewed the kingdom of God as an otherworldly reality and the practice of the church as a purely religious one concerned with worship. In 1979, the SACBC issued a statement repudiating their activities. In 1988, the offices of the SACBC were bombed.

97. While the above paragraphs have dealt with the Reformed and Catholic responses separately, it would be quite wrong to give the impression that the two communities operated in isolation from each other. There is no doubt that the struggle against apartheid brought churches closer together. The growing sense of shared purpose among Christians saw people and organizations working together in many projects. The Diakonia Ecumenical Agency in Durban is probably one of the best examples of this. Diakonia’s social programmes and training events involved Christians from many denominations in an attempt to respond to the socio-political crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. The various church consultations, such as those held at Cottesloe (1960) and Rustenburg (1990), allowed Christian leaders to exchange ideas and grow closer in vision and praxis. This unity of conviction was often strengthened in marches, many of which involved confrontation with the police, as well as in more structured events such as the Standing for the Truth campaign launched by the South African Council of Churches in 1988. During this period, the SACBC and other Catholic bodies issued a number of documents together with the SACC or their non-Catholic counterparts.[64] The importance of ecumenical collaboration is expressed in the following SACBC statement: “There was excellent cooperation between the SACBC and the SACC on practical socio-economic and political problems since both groups were convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had to be introduced and lived in these areas and so transform South African Society.”[65]

98. A further observation can be made about the courageous struggle against apartheid in South Africa, especially with regard to the church local and universal. Usually a Reformed Confession is made by a geographically circumscribed Christian fellowship in response to the concrete situation which believers face in their daily lives. In the example of apartheid, however, a much wider body entered into the process. At the Ottawa meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Reformed Christians from many different parts of the world became convinced that the challenge of apartheid in South Africa had become so divisive and urgent that a moment of truth had arrived for the Alliance itself. Therefore WARC took the lead and declared the status confessionis, and then the DRMC drew consequences from this decision for its own context in South Africa.

99. The involvement of the Catholic Church in South African life over the last fifty years reflects its own self-understanding of the mutual dependence of the local and the universal church. The local Catholic Church was deeply involved in the South African struggle against apartheid, and in the challenges it faced this local church brought vital and important experiences of mission to the universal Catholic Church. The clear need for deeper inculturation of the church in local cultures is of course the most striking example.

100. At the same time, the universal church directly influenced the way in which the Catholic Church in South Africa responded to its difficult context. Vatican II’s vision of the church as people of God encouraged Catholics to be personally involved in witnessing to the values of the gospel at every level of society. The Pastoral Plan (1982) was a courageous attempt to implement such a vision in the South African context. Also, in the confrontation with racism within its own members, it was an appointment from the Vatican which brought the first black bishop into a South African diocese. The influence of Gaudium et Spesled to the emergence of Justice and Peace commissions, which in turn became rallying points for Catholics involved in the struggle for justice.

101. In short, for both Reformed and Catholic, even with their particular understandings of ecclesiology, there is little doubt that their own experience of the universal church helped to renew the church in South Africa and contributed significantly to the ways in which the local church responded to the affront which apartheid posed to the credibility of the gospel of Christ. Equally, for both Reformed and Catholic, the local church in South Africa, in trying to live the gospel in a context which dealt with some of the major challenges facing humanity, bore witness to the universal church of some timeless truths, namely, that theology and ethics, doctrine and life, confession through words and action are impossible to separate. In this sincere common witness many were martyred, others incarcerated or tortured for choosing Christ and the values of the kingdom. A few words from the celebrated Belhar Confession can express what was involved for both the Reformed Church and the Catholic Church: “The church, as the possession of God, must stand where he stands, namely, against injustice and with the wronged; in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.”


3. Struggling for Peace in Northern Ireland [66]

102. In Northern Ireland, efforts by Christians to live by and witness to the values of the kingdom of God have involved the need to struggle against complex factors fostering violence. In its landscape and in its peoples, Northern Ireland is a place rich in beauty and culture.[67] To the world outside, however, it is known largely through news bulletins reporting the most appalling violence. As with most politico-religious strife this conflict has deep historical roots. The politics of Northern Ireland are dominated by the issue of union or separation. Even in pre-violence days this political conflict was categorized along specifically religious lines as the conflict between a ruling Protestant majority with allegiance to the union with Great Britain, and a socially and politically marginalized Catholic minority with a strong belief in a united Ireland.

103. Prior to the rise of violence in the late 1960s, the Protestant and Catholic churches remained largely uncritical of these politico-religious alliances. Until the early 1970’s there was no official dialogue between the Reformed traditions and the Roman Catholic Church; their relationship was at best one of polite co-existence, at worst, one of outright suspicion and hostility.

104. From the Protestant side, the Roman Catholic Church, and what was perceived to be its undue influence on the mechanisms and institutions of the State in the Irish Republic, was a source of considerable fear and suspicion.[68] The ecclesiological model repeated by papal encyclicals such as Mystici corporis and Humani generis was that of the church as perfect society.[69] Ecclesial structures and institutions were viewed as the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in history. In this context, the church was the kingdom. Reflecting this mindset to some degree, the Northern Nationalists, after partition in 1921, kept a distance from the Protestant State and became “a society within a society.”[70] The Catholic Church became the key institution in integrating the community; there was an intertwining of Catholicism, Irish culture and political nationalism.

105. From the Catholic side, the Orange Order was perceived as the significant unifying force within the otherwise disparate elements of Protestantism and Unionism. Motivated by its oath, “to strenuously oppose the fatal errors of Rome” and “to uphold a Protestant State for a Protestant People”, it promoted the inter-relation of Unionism and Orangeism.[71] At the heart of this alignment between Unionism and Orangeism was an often unspoken ecclesiology of the kingdom. The Orange Order was seen as the external political manifestation and celebration of the kingdom of God in what many Protestants believed to be the chosen land of Northern Ireland.

106. Therefore, until formal ecumenical dialogue between the churches in the 1970s, both communities in Northern Ireland lived largely autonomous and politically divided lives. Critically, what sustained this experience in religious terms was the existence of two mutually excluding ecclesiologies in which the proximity between the kingdom of God and visible structures of ecclesial life was presumed to translate, more or less directly, into self-contained and mutually exclusive ecclesial-political entities.

107. In the gospel of John, as already seen (cf. chapter I, para. 41), “Jesus’ mission is to bring peace. The message of the risen Christ is peace” (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19). How then were the churches to become genuine instruments of God’s kingdom? How were they to become instruments of peace? How were they to help their respective communities through the mutually excluding ideologies of conflict to a framework of collective need and inter-dependence?

108. From the Catholic perspective, the seeds of this shift were found in the ecclesiological aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council. A previous tendency towards an insular self- understanding of the church was replaced by a deep sense of the church’s relationship with the world. At the same time, the emphasis on the church as “the sacrament of unity…among all men (LG 1) gave new impetus to the search for Christian unity as well as constructive dialogue with the other world religions. The implications of the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) for the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland were immense.

109. The new ecumenical impetus and social engagement were both timely and providential. From 1969 there was a significant escalation in cross-community tension and violence. The emergence of the working group of the four main church leaders in this same year is regarded as the first sign of official Roman Catholic-Protestant cooperation.[72] As the troubles escalated this became a vital witness to cross-community tolerance and respect in an otherwise desperate situation. In May 1970, the work of the four church leaders led to the establishment of the Joint Irish Council of Churches-Roman Catholic Group.[73] Church members, often at considerable personal risk, sought to give visible expression to their conviction that the kingdom of God was not served by inter-community conflict and violence. In March 1972, the Irish Episcopal Conference issued an invitation to representatives of the Protestant churches in Ireland to attend a joint meeting at which the whole field of ecumenism might be surveyed. In response, the Irish Council of Churches (ICC) warmly welcomed the invitation from the Catholic bishops as “one of the most progressive moves made in Ireland.” This initiative, in turn, established the first Ballymascanlon Meeting in 1973, later to become the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM) that continues to this day.[74]

110. Two of the more influential projects to emerge from this vigorous new ecumenism were the establishment of the Christmas Peace Campaign in 1974 and the Inter-Church Working Party on Violence in Ireland, which reported in 1976.[75] Such joint Christian witness gave prophetic voice to the possibility of respect, tolerance, friendship and even forgiveness across the established political, religious and cultural divide. While political leadership remained locked within traditional boundaries, church leaders were trying to build bridges among local communities.[76]

111. The ultimate impact of these endeavours on subsequent events in Northern Ireland is incalculable. The tough issues of the day were discussed frankly and often painfully, but now within the restraining boundaries of Christian respect and forgiveness. It is testimony to the prophetic vision, foresight and perseverance of these various church-based activities that many of the concepts and values established through their reflection would emerge some twenty years later, albeit in more secular and political terms, in the Belfast Agreement.[77] A particularly striking example of this is found in the principles proposed by the Inter-Church Working Party on Violence in Ireland, namely, that:

  • the churches and their members act justly within themselves and towards each other;
  • the churches come to the aid of victims of injustice and encourage their members to take all legitimate action to overcome injustice;[78]
  • the churches should not hesitate to give a direct lead to public opinion on issues of justice and should stand together for all political proposals that clearly attack injustice;
  • the churches should promote and support reconciliation;
  • the churches should encourage all political leaders to see their task as that of reaching a just agreement with their opponents rather than that of achieving victory over them; and that to this end they should be open to any reasonable settlement proposed.

At this time such proposals were unique in terms of the values they expressed and their practical implications. From a political point of view they were prophetic.

112. At an all-island level, the Irish Bishops’ Conference established a series of Episcopal Commissions, most notably, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, the Commission for Social Welfare and the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas. These also became valued sources of pastoral and practical aid. The ICJP, for example, provided an important mediation role during the hunger strikes in 1981; it provided detailed analysis of the religious imbalance in the ranks of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and other areas of employment (which led indirectly to the establishment of the Fair Employment Agency), and it established a joint Peace Education Project with the ICC.

113. The Roman Catholic bishops also called on the political community to address the social and economic inequalities of the day. Church representatives began to meet with British ministers of state as well as local civil servants, with whom concerns could be shared openly and honestly.[79]

114. One of the most influential aspects of the churches’ leadership at this time arose out of their ministry to the families of those who were killed. The very public funerals were a suitable occasion for Catholic and Protestant clergy to proclaim Christian values to the widest possible audience. Candidly reported by the media, these burials often involved heroic appeals by the bereaved: for a new spirit of forgiveness, the rejection of violence, respect for religious diversity, and the need for a way forward characterized by these values. Undoubtedly such appeals influenced both the impetus and direction of the subsequent search for a political solution.[80]

115. Reconciliation would mean going beyond the right and wrong of the conflict, to break the vicious cycle of reactive violence in order to create new and lasting relationships. What was required was to give full constitutional recognition to both identities and give proper political and institutional expression, at all levels of decision making, to Protestant and Catholic alike. “Northern Ireland’s problem is finding ways of sharing two traditions, not ways of suppressing one or other tradition, or of subordinating one to the other. It is a problem of giving two equally valid loyalties, which have an equally valid historic and moral right to be constitutionally recognized, an integral part of Northern Ireland. Recognition of two Ulster loyalties, two Ulster identities, is an indispensable precondition of any solution to the complex problems of Northern Ireland.”[81]

116. In its Preface, the Belfast Agreement commits all its participants, “to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the rights of all, and to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships”. The end of a majority rule which takes little account of the minority, the principle of cross-community consensus, the return to devolution, the creation of a Human Rights Commission, the proposal to have a Bill of Rights, the inter-dependence of North-South, East-West institutions, the Review of Policing and the Criminal Justice System, the new Equality Commission, the new Victims Commission, the recognition of linguistic diversity, the commitment to social inclusion and economic development, the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means of resolving the Irish conflict were all both implicit and explicit in the comments and writings of many inter-church groups and individuals in the period leading up to the Belfast Agreement. The need for such commitment continues to the present day where tensions and community conflict are never far from the surface.

117. There is no doubt that religious factors such as unresolved doctrinal conflicts of the sixteenth century played a significant role in the political and cultural identity of both sides in the conflict. For many believers and non-believers alike the politico-religious strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland during the latter half of the twentieth century was more than simply a counter-witness to Christianity; it was an affront to the gospel of Christ. Four centuries after the fragmentation of the Western Church, the harmful effects of disunity are still experienced in some truly horrific ways.

118. So what was required of the churches in Northern Ireland in the face of this situation? From the evidence given above, there is no doubt that the Catholic and Protestant churches have made a profound journey together, and have tried to live the values of God’s kingdom in a truly difficult situation. But what facilitated this new common purpose?

119. With regard to the Catholic Church, it is impossible to overestimate the liberating development that resulted from the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Under the influence of the biblical studies movement, which renewed exegesis and teaching in contemporary Catholicism, the church sought to present its gospel ideals with fresh vigour. Through the work of the Council, the church perceived once again the possibility of presenting these ideals in helpful scriptural terms. This resulted of course in a renewed ecclesiology, one which opened the way for fresh developments in every local church throughout the world, including the church in Northern Ireland. A previously self-contained understanding of the church was replaced by a deep sense of the church’s relationship with the world. Catholics were officially encouraged to develop friendly relations with their Protestant neighbours.

120. It is important not to overlook the impact of the Catholic Church’s metanoia on the Protestant community itself. Clearly a change in one part of the body has the potential to affect the whole. For many there would have been surprise, and perhaps even some distrust at this sudden change of heart. Nevertheless, large sections of the Protestant Church welcomed the possibilities that could arise from a new era in inter-church relations. The ultimate potential impact of such ecumenical endeavours remains incalculable.

121. Of course, as always, a new commitment to the kingdom mandates of justice and peace was far from easy for the people involved. It called for a compelling Christian witness in the face of terrible and terrifying evil. In embracing the values of the kingdom, many personally experienced the violent resistance that Christ himself endured when he proclaimed the kingdom of God. There have been martyrs on both sides. What sustains such heroic witness? For both Catholic and Protestant there remains the primacy of grace in the prayerful celebration of Word and Sacrament. In the liturgy, the church remains in touch with the risen Lord and is inspired by this contact to remain faithful, even if that includes the ultimate witness of giving one’s life for the values of Christ’s kingdom.

122. Where do the people of Northern Ireland go from here? Clearly the churches now have a responsibility to continue to walk together in order to give further common witness to the enduring values of the kingdom of God, even if that witness continues to be met at times with the inscrutable mystery of evil.



123. The three narratives just presented, illustrating efforts to promote values of the kingdom, involve myriad factors relating to each of the specific and unique contexts. They raise important questions for Reformed and Catholics as we seek to deepen and extend the possibilities of common witness in a consistent manner. How can we discern together, in different situations, God’s will in the service of the kingdom? It is this question of discernment that we now consider together in chapter III.


Chapter III
Discerning God’s Will in the Service of the Kingdom

124. The harvesting of biblical and traditional teaching about the kingdom of God and the stories of common witness by our communities in Canada, South Africa and Northern Ireland, presented in the previous two chapters, show how our very identity as Christian communities is rooted in accepting God’s message and seeking to live it out in the circumstances of our time. The pairing of these chapters is of importance for our present report in so far as it highlights the correlation between the Gospel as heard and the Gospel as lived, each illuminating the other. As such they lead directly to this third chapter, which will now consider how our communions discern God’s will for their service to the kingdom within contemporary situations throughout the world.


1. Discernment and the Holy Spirit

125. Discernment may be described as the process of listening to the Holy Spirit in order to discover the presence of God, the signs of God’s activity in human history and God’s will or call in any given situation. It uncovers the presence of the kingdom of God, which St. Paul described succinctly in terms of “justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Where these qualities are lacking or even violated, disciples of Christ are obliged to work for change, in obedience to his command to “seek first the kingdom” (Matt 6:33). “Discernment of spirits” is one of the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit for the common good (1 Cor 12:10); it enables the Christian community to promote the gospel values evident in the words and deeds of Jesus. It gives new insights into the Christ event and new perspectives to the wider community, inviting it to encounter God anew and to profess anew its faith.

126. John’s gospel, in its last supper passages about the Paraclete, illuminates the role of the Spirit in the process of discernment. Jesus promised his disciples: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). As this passage suggests, the Spirit reveals an alternative outlook to that offered by the world. Moreover, there is continuity between what Jesus has taught and what will be learned from the Spirit: “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Or again, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). In light of such texts, discernment may be seen as a process of remembering, in which the prophetic meaning of salvation history illuminates and is applied to the present, proclaiming its implications for the future. It seeks to understand and to communicate the truth of the good news, the liberating power of God in a given context.

127. The Spirit who guides Christians in the process of discernment is also active in bringing about the realization of the kingdom of God throughout the world. As the first Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogue affirmed: “It is through the Spirit that Christ is at work in creation and redemption. As the presence in the world of the risen Lord, the Spirit affirms and manifests the resurrection and effects the new creation. Christ who is Lord of all and active in creation points to God the Father who, in the Spirit, leads and guides history….”[82] One of the signs of the presence of the Lord in history can be found “in those movements of the human spirit which, with or without the assistance of the church, are achieving the ends of his kingdom.”[83]

128. Some might be tempted to contrast Christ’s promise of the kingdom, on the one hand, with the life of the church, on the other. But the Book of Acts militates against such a view, recounting how the Holy Spirit leads the church, through pain and struggle, to discern and accept God’s will. Such discernment can also be doctrinal in nature. Paul emphasizes the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in arguing that gentile converts need not observe the prescriptions of the ceremonial law (cf. Gal 1:6-10). John points out how decisive the doctrine concerning the humanity of Jesus Christ is for the discernment of the community: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2). The Spirit brings newness of life in Christ to the baptized person, allowing the believer to discern the will of God: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). The Spirit builds up the church by bestowing upon it different gifts (charismata) for the benefit of the whole body. In this way the kingdom touches the church and makes its presence tangible. Moreover, the Holy Spirit encourages us to enter into adoption, freedom and renewal of life of those who, through Christ, are “children of God” (cf. Rom 8:9-17).

129. Discernment also means reading the signs of the times (cf. Matt 16:3). As our consideration of the discernment of our communities in Canada, South Africa and Northern Ireland showed, many factors can be at play in the various social situations in which Christians find themselves called to witness to the gospel. At times, political, economic, racial or other factors can be disguised under the garb of religion or “justified” by appeal to Scripture or tradition. It is not always easy to discover the true nature of particular situations, their causes or solutions. A special danger is that of selective inattention, e.g. overlooking the evidence of injustice because such evidence would require disciples of Christ to abandon a comfortable acquiescence in the status quo and undertake the challenging task of trying to introduce needed change. The research and dialogue needed for discernment demand effort and can be a painful process. At the same time, the witness of exemplary figures of the past and present serves as a guide, pointing the way prophetically to where God is calling the church.


2. Common Sources for Discernment

130. The Word of God is the primary source by which the Holy Spirit guides the discernment of the church. Our dialogue team received testimony about the way in which, through their regular shared reflection upon the Scriptures, communities in South Africa were able to identify situations in daily life which contradicted God’s kingdom and were encouraged to take action to change such situations. Living with the Word of God is a necessary condition for discernment. One of our earlier reports affirmed: “God’s Word in history has taken a threefold form. Primarily it is the Word made flesh: Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen. Then it is the Word as spoken in God’s history with God’s people and recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as a testimony to Jesus Christ. Third, it is the Word as heard and proclaimed in the preaching, witness and action of the church. The third form depends upon and is bound to the second, through which it has access to the first, the Word incarnate in Jesus Christ.”[84] Both of our communities affirm the ultimate authority of the Word of God in discerning God’s will for the church. But the paths by which we claim to have access to that Word can be quite different.

131. The present phase of Reformed-Catholic dialogue has sought intentionally to listen to Christian voices from the past, especially from the patristic era, which provide a common heritage to us, since they date from prior to our divisions. To the extent that this heritage treated the moral implications of discipleship, one can say that we share a common moral heritage of interpreting the Word of God regarding Christian behaviour and conduct in society. Even after the divisions, Reformed and Roman Catholics, although in different ways, continued to be keenly aware of their moral obligation to be servants of the kingdom of God in society. Our traditions learned much from the secular struggles for social change in nineteenth century Europe and North America. Both communities also admit that this history is not only one of success but includes the shadows of failure. This history of reflection upon the moral imperatives of the kingdom of God and of actions or failures to promote its values, especially in the area of social justice, can contribute to discernment today. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that cultural developments, sometimes without a direct link to the tradition of Christian moral reflection and action, can be decisive for how questions are approached today. For instance, the development of awareness of human rights owes as much to philosophical, cultural and political advances as to insights stemming from explicit reflection on the gospel.

132. Among the indicators essential for discerning God’s will for the church’s witness in society is the voice of the poor. The conviction that the poor must not be overlooked can be gleaned from Jesus’ own words and actions. In Matthew’s depiction of the last judgment, Jesus identifies himself with those in need (cf. Matt 25:31-46); the way one cares for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the homeless constitutes the criterion for entering the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was concerned for the wellbeing of people in the present life, not only in the fulfillment promised at the end of time. This echoes the concern already expressed in the story of the Exodus. God spoke to Moses from the burning bush: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod 3:7-8). If the kingdom of God belongs to the poor (cf. Luke 6:20), then we must ask ourselves how the voice of those who are poor, deprived and discriminated against, is effectively and decisively heard in our communities so that they become a guide for our interpretation of the way God is calling us to serve the kingdom today.

133. Discernment takes place within the realization that, while the kingdom of God is present in the life and witness of the church, it is not so in an “exhaustive” way. The church, as foretaste of the kingdom of God, is called to offer a counter-witness to the self-centred acquisitiveness and xenophobia that can characterize cultures today. Christians recognize that the whole of the universe belongs to God and are able to see signs of the kingdom of God in other peoples – signs that the Holy Spirit is at work in them. The first creation narrative repeatedly pronounces “good” the diverse beings fashioned by God in the beginning. This evaluation could be also applied to much of the variety displayed by human cultures and traditions. Respect for others includes respect for all that is good and true in their cultures and in their religions, which we recognize when we see them as in conformity with the kingdom. The church witnesses to the adherents of other religions through the quality of its own life and faithfulness. At the same time, out of obedience to Christ and love for their neighbours, disciples do not shrink from explicitly sharing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, according to the possibilities afforded by the conditions of time and place. Not only have Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians been able to work together in a sustained fashion in order to further goals of justice and peace, but also they have been able to collaborate with peoples of other religions in order to transform their societies according to commonly held convictions. We see kingdom values in the life and work of those other faiths and can learn from them and cooperate with them to achieve common goals.


3. Differences Between Reformed and Roman Catholics in the Use of Sources

134. Our use of the above-mentioned sources – the Word of God and its inspired expression in Scripture, the heritage from the tradition, the voice of the poor and the testimony of people of good will who are not Christians – is related to and guided by our distinctive understandings of what can serve as genuine sources for discerning the will of God.

135. The Reformed tradition is well known for its insistence that, in the last analysis, it is only Scripture, read and understood in specific times and places, by people and church assemblies marked by those times and places, that can be the final authority in the communal discernment process. This is not to say that Scripture is the only authority, but it is the ultimate authority. The pattern of discernment regularly emerges from the dialogue between Scripture and life. New insights may emerge when Scripture is read with new eyes or when contradictions appear between certain conditions of life, on the one hand, and the received interpretation of Scripture, on the other. Such discernment is also enriched by the witness of other traditions within the Christian faith and beyond. The fact that Scripture alone has the authority of Jesus Christ in the church means that the other authorities from the past – the creeds and conciliar decisions of the “undivided” church and the recorded convictions of those adjudged to be “fathers”, as well as the pre-eminent confessions of the Reformed churches themselves – can be regarded only as “subordinate standards”. The degree to which these speak in conformity with Holy Scripture is the degree to which they have authority. Reformed believers see such an approach as the proper way to give due place to the Word of God.

136. Reformed people may commit themselves to new interpretations and expressions of the Christian faith, provided these new claims conform to the message of the Scripture, communally interpreted in dialogue with the Reformed tradition. This Reformed position shows a clear awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the Reformed understanding, church assemblies play a decisive role in discerning, but Reformed Christians know that all ecclesial statements are subject to revision and all institutions are subject to reform, because of the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit through history. This is precisely the reason why all believers, themselves prophets, priests and kings (servants), are called to become mature in their own faith and able to discern and judge for themselves in all spiritual matters. Ultimately, this is the rationale behind the conciliar system of church governance, widely spread through Reformed churches.

137. Roman Catholics consider Scripture to be “the supreme authority in matters of faith”.[85] It is the Word of God, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This Word is “transmitted in an integral way” by the Tradition, which is thus indispensable for its interpretation.[86] These convictions are rooted in a deep appreciation of the fact that the writing, recognition and interpretation of the divinely inspired Scriptures are intimately related to the life of the community of disciples. Therefore, in interpreting the Word of God, Catholics refer, as a matter of principle, to the Tradition and to the discernment of the church, especially as the latter is expressed in official teachings. The authority of Tradition derives from the fact that it is guided by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send for the purpose of leading his community into the whole truth (cf. John 16:13). The liturgy provides a privileged place where the Word is contemplated and celebrated in worship and sacrament. Thus the “rule of worship” (lex orandi) is also a most important “rule of faith” (lex credendi).

138. Discernment of the Word and application of it to the circumstances of life also take place in small groups that gather to study the Scriptures and in the personal meditations of individuals as they ponder the riches of the Word in their hearts, after the example of Jesus’ mother Mary. Mindful that Scripture is not a matter of merely human invention (cf. 2 Pet 1:20) and that Jesus himself criticized the way in which some people of his day were “making void the Word of God” (Mark 7:8.13), Catholics believe that the church has a duty to “test everything” (1 Thess 5:21), so as to discern what truly pertains to the Word. The process of discernment involves the whole prophetic people of God (laity and pastors; cf. Lumen gentium 12) who, along with the gift of faith, are endowed with that “sense of the faith” (sensus fidei), which enables them to recognize the Word of God for what it is, to grow in deeper knowledge of it and to apply it to their daily lives. Theologians and exegetes, who dedicate themselves in a specially informed way to exploring revelation at greater depth, offer an irreplaceable contribution to the church’s ongoing task of interpreting God’s Word.

139. Finally, the decisive role in the process of discernment is exercised by the bishops, whose unity in faith and love is confirmed by their communion with the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome. Catholics believe that one of the reasons Christ selected the apostles and entrusted to them and to their successors the task of guiding the community in his name was to provide the church with a special aid for the process of interpreting God’s Word. In discerning what witness is required regarding social questions, Catholics draw upon the teaching of the universal church, as reflected in the social doctrine of councils, bishops and popes. Ultimately, on the basis of such moral principles shared by the worldwide community, a precise course of action can be discerned locally, by a careful consideration of what the kingdom of God requires in each particular situation.

140. Reformed and Roman Catholics agree that discipleship to Jesus Christ entails the discernment of God’s will regarding ethical issues and moral behaviour. Both of our communities are aware of the complexities involved in moral discernment. The revelation of God’s Word remains for us a lasting source of inspiration in this area, while we acknowledge that one cannot expect to find in Scripture a ready-made solution to the moral situations which human beings face today. Both communities acknowledge the contribution of human reasoning to moral and ethical discernment, although theologians and ethicists within our communities have at times evaluated in differing or even contrasting ways that philosophical understanding of good and evil usually called the “theory of natural law”. As is well known, Catholic teaching affirms the possibility of knowing right and wrong actions on the basis of natural law.

141. Deeply appreciated in both of our communities is the importance of the situation for discerning what should be done in any particular circumstance. Conscience comes in to play whenever there is a question of subjective guilt or innocence. Both of our communities would acknowledge that conscience, as a particular subject’s grasp of what is right and wrong, is formed as one grows from childhood to adulthood and that the church has an important contribution to make to the proper formation of the consciences of believers in light of the gospel. Since moral discernment is increasingly a topic that exhibits church-dividing potential and since our present report has focused upon moral engagement in various social questions, we feel it important to signal some of these aspects of moral discernment here. They need to become part of the ongoing dialogue between our two communities in the future.

142. In this present phase of dialogue, our option to examine the role of the church in relation to the growth of God’s kingdom in society meant that our three stories of common witness focused mostly upon social ethics. We have seen that our common concern for social justice, related to the kingdom of God as an alternative vision for humanity and the locus of gospel values and human hope, enables common witness, which is already going on in many places around the world, even if we are not yet fully united. The kingdom of God urgently calls for our commitment to justice and peace and encourages us to speak with a common voice, as our experiences in Canada, South Africa and Northern Ireland have shown.


4. Different Patterns of Discernment

143. As is true with discernment in general, discerning ethical issues in each of our communions takes place according to different patterns and habits. Roman Catholic moral thought is often guided by the social doctrine that is found in the teachings of councils, synods, bishops’ conferences and papal encyclicals. For Reformed communities, the way of discipleship is aided by an ongoing tradition of social witness policy and ethical reflection that guides action in local contexts and facilitates learning between them. Our communities can find challenge, enlightenment and encouragement in each other’s ethical discernment and witness.

144. Our patterns of discernment are related to, and guided by, our distinctive ecclesiologies and by our distinctive understandings of authority and of the role of experience in our traditions. These patterns encourage Reformed congregations to take their local contexts very seriously and to start with their own experience in that context. While the emphasis on the local context is important in shaping local witness to the kingdom, without wider conversation and discernment it can be too narrow and, in its narrowness, can distort the gospel message. An example of this is the way in which the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa developed a non-accountable kind of local theology in order to justify apartheid. That theology and the life of the church it informed badly needed the correction of the larger Reformed family of churches.

145. However, practice is not always clear, precisely because of the hermeneutical questions involved here. How can one convincingly demonstrate that new claims conform to the clear message of Scripture? The appeal to the principle of sola scriptura might not sufficiently take into account the fact that our understanding is shaped by cultural and other factors. For this reason, many Reformed Christians are wary of immediate appeal to an ostensibly objective deposit of truth, believing that in the face of new challenges in diverse contexts we require renewed guidance from the Holy Spirit.

146. In the Catholic Church, such phenomena as the Catholic Action Movement in the early twentieth century or the development of Basic Ecclesial Communities in more recent decades, commonly followed the method of seeing, judging and acting. First, the given situation was carefully analysed; then it was evaluated in light of God’s Word; finally the community sought to respond to God’s call as that became clear from the previous two steps. Such local discernment takes place under the influence of the sensus fidei, […] that believers receive from the Holy Spirit, whose guidance is necessary for individuals and the whole church in applying the Word of God to the situations of daily life (cf. Lumen gentium 12). Their characteristic sensitivity to the unity of the whole church naturally leads Catholics to look for insight and guidance from other local churches (dioceses) and from organs of discernment and teaching at the universal level, such as councils, papal teachings or synods of bishops. A significant aspect of the ministry of the bishop is understood precisely as that of serving as a link between the local community and the wider regional, national or universal Catholic community. One question that seems to need further reflection is the authority of more localized discernment for the wider community: what weight does a determination by the bishops’ conference of one country have for Catholics of other nations? Our stories of common witness suggested that teachings of the universal church assisted new and positive developments in local settings, such as when the teachings of Vatican II strengthened the ability of many Catholics in Northern Ireland to see Protestants more clearly as their sisters and brothers.

147. It is possible for our two traditions to learn from the strengths of each other’s discernment processes and thus to enrich one another. For example, we can broaden our patterns of moral discernment, not thinking exclusively in ways shaped by our own ecclesiology but seeing how we might learn from each other and support each other. Those whose thought characteristically begins with the general norm which is then applied to the particular situation may learn from giving more attention to the context; those especially attentive to context may gain fresh insight by looking again to the general demands of discipleship which are addressed to all peoples in all contexts. By learning from one another in such a way, not only can the tensions between the local and the universal that sometimes appear within each of our communities be eased, but also we will become more related to one another, each benefiting from the strengths of the other. Thus our different patterns of discernment may begin to converge.


5. The Functioning of these Patterns in Ecumenical Collaboration

148. The fundamental parallel between the approaches of our two communities to discernment lies in our common desire to know God’s will and to respond to grace as disciples of Jesus Christ in specific situations. We do this according to uses and patterns that are somewhat different, as we have attempted to explain above. But the climate created in recent decades by the ecumenical movement has prompted us to join together in this process of discernment and advocacy of the gospel. Living side by side in Canada, South Africa and Northern Ireland, Reformed and Roman Catholics at times were able to witness together about issues of justice, peace and the environment. One significant lesson of these stories of common witness is that they illustrate how distinctive each situation can be. The complex variety of factors woven into each context and the appropriate Christian response thereby called for caution against making facile generalizations about common discernment and witness which would not do justice to this diversity.

149. In Canada (see chapter II), our churches live in a context that has allowed them substantial ecumenical cooperation for quite a number of years. One of the more prominent examples of such recent ecumenical collaboration has been in the area of our common efforts to support the “First Nations” or Aboriginal peoples in their struggle for justice. Our history in relation to the First Nations was not free from that prejudice which overlooked many of the good qualities of these peoples and was, moreover, an occasion for competition and lack of Christian charity between our two communities. In recent decades, by learning more of the values and needs of the people of the First Nations, our approach to them changed. As the narrative showed, the ecumenical climate helped us to join together in supporting their rejection of the recommendations of the “white paper” of 1969[87] and to act in solidarity with them on a variety of issues. Complex issues regarding the relation of the churches to the First Nations continue to surface. For example, more recently there have been charges and court proceedings related to the residential schools, some of which were run by our two communities. The attempt to assimilate the First Nations by force to the European culture effectively led to the weakening or even loss of their own culture, language and spirituality by many Aboriginals. Nevertheless, it seems clear that a new stage has been reached in which witness for the equality, justice and freedom of the kingdom of God in regard to the First Nations can be a shared effort.

150. Our consideration of Christian social witness in South Africa (see chapter II) focused predominantly upon the single question of apartheid – the policy of racial segregation officially adopted by the government in 1948 – although many other issues were interwoven with that policy. A struggle within the Reformed family was sparked by the theological justification for apartheid offered by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. This led eventually to the Belhar Confession, adopted in 1986. The process of receiving this confession demonstrates the significance of confessions within the Reformed pattern of discernment. They are contextual in the sense that the context demands that a confession be made because the truth of the gospel is at stake. For Reformed Christians contextuality implies that confessions are in principle open to revision and evaluation, which may be undertaken by believers from other contexts. A confession has wide ranging authority when it is received by many other churches as an expression of the message of the gospel. Confessions authoritatively define a geographically circumscribed Christian fellowship, but remain open to revision in light of new developments and may be revised or augmented when so required by fresh local insights into the gospel. The process by which the Belhar Confession evolved and was received illustrates how discernment concerning issues that affect the entire church can be made within the synodal structure of the Reformed tradition. It illustrates how the worldwide community cannot remain aloof when a local doctrine or practice is in contradiction with the convictions and practice of the rest of the communion. Moreover, support from Reformed Christians throughout the world served to strengthen the resolve of those who suffered for their witness against apartheid.

151. The Roman Catholic witness from South Africa, on the other hand, showed how that community moved from a more isolated, minority self-understanding to an ecumenical, collaborative role in the struggle against racism and injustice. This local development was influenced by initiatives from the universal level of ecclesial life, such as the appointment of a black bishop to South Africa by the Vatican in 1957 and, soon afterwards, the teachings of Vatican II, which encouraged all the local churches to take up their responsibility as active advocates in promoting a more just society in their various parts of the world. In South Africa, bishops took a leading role in Catholic engagement against apartheid, but they were by no means the only agents in this process. Theologians helped with their reflections on human dignity, on solidarity with the poor and on the church’s role in promoting the kingdom of God. Many individual Catholics, moreover, participated in justice and peace committees and in protests against apartheid, some paying the price for this involvement in imprisonment, torture and death. Discriminatory attitudes within the church also had to be addressed and ecumenical collaboration was gradually fostered.

152. The narrative from Northern Ireland (see chapter II) described a situation quite different from the previous two. Here a bloody conflict between two sides was based on a myriad of social, political and economic factors, but the two opposing groups identified themselves primarily in terms of their church affiliation. Thus this twentieth century conflict shows how the painful divisions stemming back to the sixteenth century are still very much alive and have been used as justification for subsequent division with tragic consequences. The hatred and desire for revenge caused by the violence in Northern Ireland, for the most part politically inspired, posed a huge challenge to establishing reconciliation among members of different Christian communities. Rather early on during these “troubles,” which date from the late 1960s, people of influence within the four main churches began to meet regularly to try to respond to the violence and the sentiments which it caused. The Second Vatican Council stimulated Catholics to relate more to others and made possible some of the steps subsequently taken towards greater appreciation of their Protestant sisters and brothers. The wider ecumenical movement also contributed to such changes for both parties. Various initiatives were sponsored together by the Roman Catholic bishops and the Irish Council of Churches.

153. Believers from both sides took part in frank, often painful, dialogue; and these exchanges witnessed to the possibility of friendship, even within such a tense conflictual situation. Ministry to the families of those who had been killed was a particularly painful way in which the churches tried to make possible reconciliation: funerals of victims became occasions for courageous witness to God’s grace of forgiveness. The isolation of the two communities from one another as well as their self-understandings as churches had contributed to the building up of prejudices and misconceptions. The many efforts by church leaders and their communities were all part of a process that tended towards overcoming these prejudices and misconceptions.

154. Obviously these narratives illustrate, first of all, how Christians face very different situations as they seek to promote the kingdom in various parts of the world. This panorama of ways in which the one gospel inspires a plurality of responses according to the particular needs of time and place illustrates the catholicity of the church. Within such variety, some constant features are present, such as the strength that comes from working together for the kingdom; the participation of the entire people of God – leaders and ministers, theologians and the whole community; the use of public statements issued by churches either individually or together with others; the advocacy organized by committees and task forces; the presentation of programmes of formation in gospel values; the importance of friendship and mutual encouragement; and the role of mutual accountability. Our stories of common witness also show that the discernment of good and evil and of a plan of action in any given context is not, and cannot be, isolated from the interest and contribution of the wider church. Especially when the gospel is at stake in local discernment and action, the community of all the other local churches and, thus, of the universal church as well, cannot remain indifferent, but has both a right and a responsibility to be involved and a duty of solidarity.

155. As our narratives show, the collaboration of different churches on many social questions has contributed to a growing consensus and commitment among Christians about witnessing together on behalf of God’s kingdom. This kind of ecumenical experience participates in the mystery of koinonia. At the same time, when a crisis passes, effort must be made to ensure that cooperation continues to take place. In this perspective, koinonia is directly linked to reconciliation, especially a growing reconciliation of memories, making use of a common reading of history.[88] While historical research is of immense value and sheds light on the origins of our differences, reconciliation is possible only when those involved modestly refrain from judging the actions of persons and bodies in the past (cf. TCUC 63), and acknowledge their own responsibility, aware that often the past continues to operate under the surface in the present and thus continues to affect the future. For healing to occur, nothing less than conversion is required. In its study entitled For the Conversion of the Churches, the Groupe des Dombes makes clear that conversion and identity are not exclusive, but mutually presuppose each other: “Far from excluding each other, identity and conversion call for each other: there is no Christian identity without conversion; conversion is constitutive of the church; our confessions do not merit the name of Christian unless they open up to the demand for conversion.”[89]


6. Possibilities of Common Discernment and Witness

156. The experiences of our communities in Canada, South Africa and Northern Ireland show that we can agree and witness together about some important social issues. Moreover, it is possible to learn from each other and at times to be inspired by each other through such common witness, especially as we come to understand better our differing processes of discernment.

157. There is no disagreement between us regarding the basic affirmation that the church is and should be a community of common witness to the kingdom of God. Common witness evokes and enables the joint action of our churches in advocating the realization of Jesus’ message about the kingdom in different times and places. Our common understanding of the kingdom enables us to read together many of the signs of the times. For example, in South Africa, members of our two traditions, over a sustained period of time and motivated by a common recognition of how Jesus situates the poor in relation to the kingdom of God, learned to work together for economic and racial justice. Both of our communities are committed to listen to the voice of the poor as a privileged source of discerning the demands of God’s kingdom in our world. In this sense, their voice can serve as a kind of “hermeneutical key” for interpreting the signs of the times and for engaging in common discernment based upon our ecclesial self-understanding as moral communities. This is one of the clear implications of the discussions on “ecclesiology and ethics” which took place within the World Council of Churches in the mid-1990s and produced such texts as Costly Unity, Costly Commitment, and Costly Obedience.[90] It is also clear around the world in the life of our communions, as Catholics and Reformed Christians live and work together on common projects and concerns.

158. Even as we rejoice in our ability to witness to the kingdom by thinking and acting together in many times and places, especially where we find great injustice and suffering, we recognize that our traditions have distinctive habits of communal discernment. While the paths we take to arrive at conclusions about moral matters sometimes take different routes, we often arrive at similar or even identical moral positions. In such matters as racial or economic justice, the stewardship of creation, violence in our societies or the rights of Indigenous peoples, we not only learn from each other but also encourage one another and work together. In this way we begin to see ourselves as in many ways morally accountable to one another.


Chapter IV
The Kingdom of God and the Church

159. Our common consideration of the kingdom in Scripture and Tradition (chapter I), three narratives of common witness to the kingdom (chapter II) and principles for discerning the mandates of the kingdom (chapter III) all lead naturally and logically to the following question: what does the focused attention of Christians on the kingdom of God imply for our understanding of the nature and mission of the church? The present chapter seeks to offer a shared response to this question. First, it will indicate something of our distinct perspectives and fundamental agreement about the relation of the kingdom to the church. Then three sections will develop this theme in terms of the three fundamental ecclesial activities of worship (celebrating the kingdom), witness (by word and deed) and service (acting to influence the quality of human life here and now). Finally, our exploration of the church-kingdom relation in the current phase of Reformed-Catholic dialogue has allowed us to deepen, in a number of significant ways, some of the ecclesiological convergences that were recorded in the previous phase of dialogue between our two communities. The chapter will close with a fifth section devoted to that progress.


1. Jesus, the Kingdom and the Church

160. Jesus’ central message was the kingdom of God (see Mark 1:15). Its proclamation and establishment are the main reason for his mission (cf. Luke 4:43). Jesus himself is integrally related to the “good news”, as he declares at the very beginning of his public ministry in the syna­gogue of Nazareth when he applies to himself the words of Isaiah about the anointed one sent by the Spirit of the Lord (cf. Luke 4:14-21). Since the “good news” is the proclamation of the arrival of this anointed one (the Christ), there is an identifi­cation between the message and the messenger. Jesus’ power, the secret of the effectiveness of his actions, lies in his total identification with the message he announces: he proclaims the “good news” not just by what he says or does, but also by who he is. Whoever becomes involved with Jesus, becomes involved with the kingdom of God. In this context we have to understand also the coming into being of the community of disciples, rooted in Israel as God’s people, that witnesses to Jesus and his kingdom in a new way. The nature of the kingdom and its link with the church, while not a matter of disagreement for our dialogue, have been seen in different ways by our respective communities.

161. For Roman Catholics, the Second Vatican Council described the church as “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery”.[91] In the church is realized the eternal plan of the Father, manifested in Jesus Christ, to bring humanity to its eternal destiny. Here the church is seen in connection with the “bringing about of the secret hidden for ages in God”.[92] Therefore the church has to be seen in this broad perspective of God’s plan of salvation, which includes all human beings and creation as a whole (see 1 Tim 2:4; Rom 8:22 ff). While Jesus’ message of the kingdom was addressed to all, his disciples were the first to receive it, but their special proximity to the kingdom did not turn them into a closed society. One of the chief temptations for the church through its history has been to over-identify itself with the kingdom. The Second Vatican Council clearly distinguished between the kingdom present in history now and its eschatological fullness still to come.[93]

162. There are consistent themes in the Reformed understanding of the relationship between church and kingdom. First, the Reformed emphasize the continuing role of the Bible in interpreting this relation and have attempted to structure church government through collegial and communal processes of decision-making. The Reformed also see the kingdom as a principle of critique with respect to the church and the surrounding culture. Within this common core one can find different Reformed emphases at varying times and in varying places. Some have radically separated church and kingdom, identifying the latter with the spiritual realm within. Others have practically identified the two, for example, in missionary endeavour, in the Scottish covenanting movement and in the social gospel movement. Especially in the twentieth century the kingdom of God as a theological category moved more and more into the centre of theological thinking. This growing influence underscored the way in which God’s salvation in Jesus Christ embraces our earthly reality, including its social and political aspects. However, sometimes the specific significance of the church has been neglected. The Reformed tradition sees itself as enriched by ecumenical insights and sharing life with ecumenical partners. For example, partly due to the impact of liberation theology, present-day Reformed thinking recognizes the strong theological relationship between the church and the kingdom, and the value of calling the church a sign and instrument of the kingdom. The recent report of the Pentecostal-Reformed dialogue shows a clear awareness of this link. “The Church as the community of believers should be a ‘model,’ making evident – even in an inadequate way – what the future kingdom will be.”[94] And again: “The Church is birthed by the Spirit and serves as an instrument of the kingdom that Jesus Christ proclaimed and inaugurated. The church is called to serve the kingdom rather than be self-serving or an end in itself.”[95]

163. Reformed and Catholics recognize a fundamentally shared vision of the church-kingdom relationship, even if we may continue to express ourselves theologically in different ways shaped by our traditions. Although the kingdom may not be identified with the church, that does not mean that signs of the kingdom are not present in it. They are also identifiable in creation, in history, in human society and in the world. The kingdom shows itself in soci­ety and is encoun­tered in society, but no particular society should be identified with the kingdom. The word church does not appear often in Jesus’ teaching, which focused upon the kingdom of God. However, the concept of a messianic community is intrinsically bound up with it. Jesus gathered disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to be the core of a kingdom-oriented community.

164. The idea of communion, prominent in recent ecumenical dialogue, can and should be seen as expressive of the relation between the church and the kingdom of God. Many ecumenical dialogues describe the visible unity of all Christians with the biblical term for communion – koinonia – which they understand in analogy with the Trinity, that is, not as uniformity but as unity in diversity. The fifth World Conference of the Faith and Order Commission gave the following rich description of this koinonia:

Koinonia has been the focus of our discussions. This word from the Greek New Testament describes the richness of our life together in Christ: community, communion, sharing, fellowship, participation, solidarity. […] This koinonia which we share is nothing less than the reconciling presence of the love of God. God wills unity for the church, for humanity, and for creation because God is a koinonia of love, the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This koinonia comes to us as a gift we can only accept in gratitude. Gratitude, however, is not passivity. Our koinonia is in the Holy Spirit who moves us to action. The koinonia we experience drives us to seek that visible unity which can adequately embody our koinonia with God and one another.[96]

As this text shows, there are profound links between communion and the kingdom of God. As “the reconciling presence of the love of God”, ecclesial communion is an expression of God’s rule. It is a gift and a task. By seeking greater visible communion, against all the stumbling blocks which stand in the way, Christians strive to respond more fully to God’s will for the complete realization of the kingdom. Ecumenical dialogue, prayer and cooperation have helped communities better appreciate the real communion they already share and to grow towards fuller communion. At the same time, such communion impels Christians to serve the kingdom of God by fostering awareness of the needs of all human beings, to explore the main causes of the brokenness of the human community – as manifest in violence, injustice and the degradation of nature – and to foster healing.


2. Celebrating the Kingdom in Worship

165. Sharing word and sacrament in the presence of the Triune God, the church discovers anew its own nature as a communion and becomes what it is: the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 2:21). Our understanding of the church can be enhanced by a closer look at the way a community celebrates the kingdom of God in its worship.

166. Decades of ecumenical dialogue have produced a strong convergence on many of the essential elements of Christian liturgy, some of which show a strong orientation towards the kingdom of God. For example, in many of our communities, after opening hymns of praise, worship will begin with an act of repentance and a declaration of pardon. We come together as sinners. We live in a world in which God’s good gifts in creation have been marred by misuse, abusive relationships, gross injustice in the distribution of wealth, and gratuitous violence. Sharing God’s forgiveness is the point of departure for all other forms of communal sharing in worship and life. In the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, the sights, sounds and fragrances of the kingdom may be discerned. Preaching in the narrative style functions in much the same way as did Jesus’ parables of the kingdom, drawing hearers into the plot and inviting them to find their place in the story. A common profession of faith, such as the Nicene Creed, reminds us of our belonging to the church of all times and of all places, now manifest in our own community. In our intercessions for the whole church and for the world we deepen our longing for the promises of the kingdom of God. Christian worship at its best is an expression of present reality transformed by God’s grace.

167. When bread and wine have been prepared, we give thanks to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit for the marvels of creation, redemption and sanctification. Corporate worship is one of the ways of expressing the conviction of the Westminster Catechism that the chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.[97] Likewise, at the heart of the Catholic Eucharistic Prayers is the offering of thanks to God “for your great glory”. The liturgical celebration allows us to enter afresh into God’s saving act in Jesus Christ, whose ultimate goal is the kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). Our liturgical sacrifice of praise (cf. Heb 13:15) celebrates the sanctifying grace of God’s gift and anticipates Christ’s return in glory. We celebrate what we hope for and yet already experience: the joy of salvation.

168. In our ecumenical exchange regarding worship we have learned to see the vital importance of the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis) on the community and on the elements of bread and wine. Liturgy as such is an epiklesis, an invocation of the Holy Spirit, through whom the crucified and risen Christ is really present in the gathered community’s eucharistic celebration.[98] In the power of the Holy Spirit and through Christ our high priest, Christians offer their prayer to the Father and, in this offering, consecrate themselves to God in the communion of the saints.

169. Prayer for the return of the Lord and the definitive manifestation of his kingdom is also a central aspect of worship. Christian liturgy invites us into a world renewed, a world that we can only hope for and yet already can experience. This is the world of God’s loving and perfect reign in a community of just and fulfilled relationships. “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ Let everyone who listens answer ‘Come!’” (Rev 22:17).

170. The biblical witness invites us to perceive the transforming potential of Christian worship in which diversity (e.g. in terms of race, social class and gender) is honoured and yet not taken as a ground for discrimination. All are one in Christ Jesus! In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal 3:28). In the liturgical assembly, the freedom, justice and grace of Christ can be experienced and celebrated by the Christian community as newness of life in the kingdom of God. As Jesus welcomed publicans and sinners to table-fellowship during his earthly ministry, so Christians are called in their prayer and praise to be in solidarity with the outcast and to become signs of the love of Christ who lived and sacrificed himself for all and now offers the grace of his presence in worship and especially in the eucharist.

171. Holy Communion especially is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the kingdom to come. It opens up the vision of the divine rule promised as the final renewal of creation. Signs of this renewal are present in the world wherever the grace of God is manifest and human beings work for justice, love and peace. The eucharist is the feast at which the church gives thanks to God for these signs and joyfully celebrates and anticipates the coming of the kingdom in Christ. So, beyond the ritual forms of liturgy and their importance for personal piety, it is the very newness of life which the Christian community experiences and celebrates (Acts 2:42-46; 1 Cor 14) that urges every Christian to make his whole life, in obedience to the new commandment of love, a continuing offering of worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). The foretaste of the age to come sends worshippers out to the world in a spirit of loving service to all God’s people. In the Quaker phrase: “Our worship is ended, our service begins.”

172. The very fact that full communion has not yet been realized cannot but challenge us to continue our efforts to overcome this fundamental division. When Christians will finally be united around the same table to eat the same loaf and drink from the same cup, their missionary witness will be strengthened at both the individual and the corporate levels.


3. Witnessing to the Kingdom in Word and Deed

173. The risen Lord appears to the apostles, speaking of the kingdom of God, and promising that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (cf. Acts 1:5,8). This charge of the risen Lord is decisive for the life and witness of the church, which, from its beginning and through the ages, cannot be understood without reference to witness to the kingdom. To receive the gospel is to be called to bear witness (martyria) continually, not occasionally, to God’s will for the salvation and transformation of the world. The integrity and authenticity of the church is at stake here.

174. Seeing the church as a communion of common witness to the kingdom of God sheds new light on several ecclesiological issues. All believers are called to witness, with ordained ministers having specific responsibilities corresponding to their role within the community, so that both individually and communally, Christians participate in God’s activity in this world. In the course of history, sin repeatedly has disfigured the church’s witness and so has run counter to its true nature and vocation. The church can only rely on the faithfulness of God, who again and again offers forgiveness and calls to repentance, renewal and reform.[99]

175. Church witness in service to the kingdom is a multifaceted reality. (1) Primarily it occurs when the church gathers for the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. The liturgy is itself an act of confession that the kingdom has been inaugurated through the words, deeds and person of Jesus of Nazareth and that it is present even now, with a special density, in the Christian community, whose life the liturgy continually renews. (2) Another form of witness consists in the establishment of Christian communities throughout the world, communities called to demonstrate that the kingdom is present and operative even now. By concretizing in their own life justice, peace, freedom and respect for human rights, these communities can offer a countersign to society at large. (3) A third aspect of witness lies in the church’s prophetic voice, raised to criticize and energize society to transform itself along the lines of the kingdom. The Word of God will shape the way in which the church addresses the hopes and fears of humankind. Confessing Jesus Christ as Servant Lord, the church continually calls for renewal of life in culture and society, bearing witness to God’s promises and commandments to peoples, earthly principalities and powers (cf. Col 1:16 and 2:15). The advancing of justice, peace and human rights is a constitutive part of evangelization, of the announcement of the good news of the kingdom. (4) Finally, daily intercession, as repeated so often by Christians in the phrase of the Lord’s prayer – “Thy Kingdom come” – is a witness to the sovereignty of God in bringing about the transformation of the world. Jesus’ own teaching on the power of prayer inspires confidence that this request will be granted in due time according to God’s design.

176. Since witness to the kingdom of God is inspired by the gospel itself and directed towards what really determines people’s lives, taking into account particular times and contexts, it has to be concrete and contextual. But since God’s world is one and God’s kingdom is not divided against itself, witness has universal dimensions at the same time.

177. The church is called to relate the heart of the gospel – i.e. the reconciliation of humankind with God and among all people – to the specific needs of human beings and of creation itself. Such witness requires a strong personal commitment, although it transcends individual responsibilities as well. Since it also includes strong ecclesial implications for each Christian community, this challenges the autonomy of the separated churches. Costly witness calls for mutual accountability. Therefore an ecumenical approach to this mandate is a prerequisite of more effective witness. Common witness is a matter of obedience. Churches need each other, in specific local contexts as well as on a global level, to live according to God’s promises and to fulfil God’s commandments.

178. The distinction between church and kingdom has consequences for how one sees the church’s mission. This mission includes the struggle for justice, peace and the liberation of the oppressed in this world and aims towards that eschatological kingdom still to come in fullness at the end of time. Such struggle is intrinsically related to the kingdom already present and it may at times also take place within the church. Furthermore, the kingdom provides Christians with a basis for engaging in dialogue and cooperation with members of other religions. If God intends the kingdom as the ultimate goal for all humanity, then one must ask not only how other religions relate to the church but also how they relate to the kingdom. The distinction between church and kingdom thus can help us to engage fruitfully with the world and its destiny and to enter into a more open and creative dialogue with other religious traditions or secular ideologies.

179. Like the Son of Man, who came not to be served but to serve, the church exists for the praise of God and the service of the coming kingdom. Proclaiming the Gospel and establishing churches everywhere is only part of its abiding vocation to mission. Seeking dialogue and cooperation with all people of good will (who may belong to other religions and spiritual families), the church is called to manifest and foster the reign of God, signs of which can be discerned in various cultures and religions as well. Thus the church acts as the people of God among all God’s human family.


4. The Kingdom of God as a Principle of Action

180. The kingdom aims at the transformation of the whole of creation into eternal glory, and the church must be understood in the context of this divine intentionality. Citizenship in the kingdom means an ongoing summons to solidarity with people, particularly with the excluded and oppressed. The kingdom will only mean something to the multitudes that suffer when it is experienced as a transforming power. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 4:20, “For the kingdom of God consists not in talk but in power.”

181. In the Catholic Church the relationship between church and kingdom was re-evaluated at Vatican II. As a principle for action both individual and communal, the kingdom theme was most vigorously taken up after the Council, particularly by Christian communities and theologians living in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Because of their experience of oppression and abject poverty, they perceived the kingdom primarily as a catalyst for historical liberation and world-transformation. With increasing clarity it was seen that the kingdom of God belongs also to this world and not only to the world to come, is not only a gift but also a task that calls for our human cooperation, and is distinct from the church, though not fully separated from it. These aspects of the kingdom proposed an agenda for action and forged a new understanding of the church’s own identity and mission, views which were based upon the teaching of the Council itself:

The mystery of the holy Church is already brought to light in the way it was founded. For the Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God … Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder ... receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and beginning of that kingdom (Lumen gentium 5).

182. The Reformed tradition also sees the church in the light of the kingdom. The perception of the kingdom of God as a catalyst for historical liberation – a liberation envisaged primarily in the southern part of the worldwide Christian community – finds ample recognition in the wider Reformed family. There is a strong awareness that the kingdom of God is a living reality, transcending our ecclesial structures and our theological interpretations. The way churches implement their responsibility in the world today, e.g. in their social teaching or in their diaconal activities, has relevance to the transformation of the world and to Christian unity. They are called to remain obedient to the gospel in changing situations, when giving account of the hope they proclaim. Therefore, they need to address particular questions and needs, both in acts of witness and of service. But these acts should in principle remain open to renewed consideration and further adaptation. In this ecumenical and eschatological perspective, the structures for the church’s service to the kingdom of God can benefit from critical ecumenical and theological debate.

183. Churches in the Reformed tradition have always been committed to the unity and the catholicity of the Christian church. Because Reformed Christians do not attach ultimate authority to their own confessional history and documents, most of them see their denominational existence as historically conditioned, and thus capable of change. The founding of what is now known as the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1875 and 1891) shows how Reformed believers were – and still can be expected to be – committed to the visible, structural unity of the church, including a unity of faith, order, life and work. Churches in the Reformed family, probably more than in any other Christian World Communion, have been ready to venture into organic unions with churches from the same as well as from other families. That, however, does not mean that such organic unions can be understood as “the” Reformed answer to the question of the unity we seek. The shape, nature or form that such unity should take in the future will emerge in continuing ecumenical dialogue.

184. We should not underestimate the degree to which our different traditions find common ground in our understanding of the kingdom. We both value the kingdom of God as a catalyst for historical liberation, and we both are aware that its mystery transcends concept and history. Together we want to emphasize that Jesus did not envision the kingdom as belonging totally and exclusively to the age to come. Yet the future kingdom cannot be deduced from the circumstances of present history; it will be qualitatively new and lies beyond human planning and capability, something we can only allow to be given to us. While the kingdom theme takes the world and human effort in history seriously, it does not surrender openness to a transcendent future in the fullness of God. Only God ultimately can fulfill humankind’s deepest aspirations.

185. The question still remains: What does the kingdom of God have to say to situations of utter oppression and exploitation in which many now find themselves? The world in which we live and into which the kingdom of God is coming is not a neutral territory. There are hostile forces that stand in opposition to the kingdom. This anti-kingdom is not just the absence or the not-yet of the kingdom but is its direct contradiction. The kingdom stands, therefore, in combative relation to the anti-kingdom. They are not merely mutually exclusive; they fight against each other. Our engagement in promoting the kingdom implies, by necessity, actively struggling against the anti-kingdom. Though we know that the anti-kingdom will ultimately be defeated by the power of God, we are called to resist the power of evil that seeks to enslave humanity.

186. The kingdom of God is present among us. If we see the church in the light of the kingdom, we do so in the awareness that – whatever specific responsibility we may have within our churches – as citizens of this world we share the suffering of humankind and creation. But even if we see ourselves primarily as victims, that does not take away our responsibility. If we have to admit that we share guilt for profiting from unjust global relations, then that should inspire us even more to commit ourselves to a world that corresponds better with the characteristics of the kingdom of God. It requires receptive openness towards others, patience and resolve.

187. This theme of responsibility also relates to our ecclesial structures. The church, as a part of the wider society, has power – and is therefore responsible – within the human community. Whether the church acts as a peacemaker (promoting the reconciliation of peoples) or a destructive power (adding still other divisions) depends on how faithfully it lives according to the gospel, and the degree to which its sacraments and liturgy relate to its members’ daily lives, and to which it puts its proclaimed words into practice. The very division among Christian communities can add another element that divides society.

188. This dialogue intends to contribute to the renewal of the life of both our communities, by pointing to the kingdom of God as their “principle of action”. It is precisely in serving God’s transformative action in the world that the Christian community will be an authentic symbol of, and witness to, the kingdom of God.


5. Deepening our Common Understanding of the Church

189. Our previous report, Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, observed that “The two concepts, ‘the creation of the Word’ and ‘sacrament of grace,’ can in fact be seen as expressing the same instrumental reality under different aspects, as complementary to each other or as two sides of the same coin. They can also become the poles of a creative tension between our churches.”[100] Can the theme of the kingdom lead to further convergence about the nature and mission of the church as creatura verbi and sacramentum gratiae? Can the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God provide perspectives for looking at the issues which our previous phase of dialogue signaled as deserving “further exploration” and offering “new challenges”?[101] We conclude the present chapter by attempting to respond to these questions.

5.1. The Church as Creation of the Word and Sacrament of Grace in light of the Kingdom

190. Considered within the context of the theme of our current phase of dialogue, it seems clear that each of these two expressions conveys something about the way in which the church should serve the establishment of the kingdom of God in the world. The church is intimately related to the Word in a double sense. First, the community is created by the Word of God as it hears and responds to it. Jesus, the Word made flesh, proclaimed that the kingdom is at hand and the community of disciples is that group of human beings which, under the influence of grace, has responded in faith. Second, this response of saving faith impels them, for their part, to proclaim the Word of salvation and commissions them to witness to the kingdom values that Jesus taught. In its mission as servant to the kingdom, the church shows itself to be the creatura verbi in both of these ways.

191. At the same time, the kingdom is envisioned in Scripture as the effect of the powerful activity of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit, in history and beyond history. It is not the result of human efforts but of grace to which humans are privileged to respond. To the extent that the church is an instrument intended by God to serve in bringing about the kingdom, it must then be an instrument of grace, which is what is meant by the expression sacramentum gratiae. The transformation of the world occurs in part through efforts to create a more just and peaceful society. But Christians also believe that this transformation is realized now, in an anticipatory way, in that communion between God and human beings which takes place in the church, especially through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and eucharist and other sacraments or rites. As sacrament of the kingdom, the church is and must be both creation of the Word and sacrament of grace.

192. Our exploration of the patristic literature also underscored this fact. While we did not uncover patristic writings making use of the precise phrases creatura verbi and sacramentum gratiae, patristic authors do emphatically relate the church to the Word and to the grace of God. The discernment of the canon of the Scripture, the massive presence of commentaries on the individual books of the Bible and the recourse to Scripture in doctrinal treatises and magisterial decisions (which, by rejecting certain heresies, illustrated the need for the church to discern the adequacy of interpretations of the Scripture) are all relevant to the vision of the church as creatura verbi. In this sense, the early Christian writers would certainly have considered the church to be a “creation of the Word of God”, even if they never used the expression. In a similar way, texts from the patristic era about baptism, the eucharist and other ecclesial rites – both those by individual authors and, perhaps even more significantly, those preserved in liturgical books – surely are relevant to the understanding of the church as sacramentum gratiae. In this regard, perhaps no other patristic writings are as impressive as those “mystagogical catecheses”, in which bishops instructed newly baptized Christians during the week after Easter. In this sense, early Christian writers would surely have considered the church to be a “sacrament of grace”, because the grace of the Holy Spirit is always operating and constitutive in the proclamation of the Word and in the celebration of these rites. A church without a strong sacramental celebration of the gift of grace could not be the church of Christ as they knew it.

193. According to Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, these are “two different concepts for understanding the church and the way in which it fulfils its ministerial and instrumental role, the first, more ‘Reformed,’ the second, more ‘Roman Catholic’” (94). Paragraph 108 goes on to state that the church is an instrument “through the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments and the oversight of communities.” We can now affirm, in light of our investigation both of the kingdom and of the patristic literature, not only that these visions are mutually informative and complementary but also that neither is fully adequate without the other. A “sacramental” church that does not give proper place to the Word of God would be essentially incomplete; a church that is truly a creation of the Word will celebrate that Word liturgically and sacramentally. If our churches differ according to these two visions, perhaps it is less because either church is convinced that the church is only creatura verbi or only sacramentum gratiae and more because each tradition has emphasized one aspect to the point of de-emphasizing or neglecting the other. In such a case, arriving at full communion will amount to a process in which each community recovers the full scope of God’s provision for the life of the church. A further question which arises at this point and which would need further exploration in future dialogue is the relation of ordained ministry to the proclamation of the word and the celebration of the sacraments.

5.2. The Church in Relation to the Holy Spirit and Eschatology

194. In reflecting upon what our communities could say together about the way in which the church “fulfills its ministerial and instrumental role,” the previous dialogue report mentioned the possibility of describing the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God.”[102] Reformed Christians can affirm the concept of church as sacrament in following Calvin’s teaching about the instrumental role of the church as our “mother in faith”.[103] In Roman Catholic teaching, calling the church a “sacrament” is based upon two analogies: that between the church and Christ and that between the church and the rites of baptism and eucharist. Both of our communities affirm that Christ’s action is the foundation of human salvation; sacraments and other rites are vehicles of the unique grace of God mediated ultimately by Christ alone. Just as Christ’s life and ministry, death and resurrection, are instrumental in bringing to realization God’s plan of salvation, so in an analogous way the church is a “visible sign and instrument of the unique mediation [of Christ] across time and space…. an instrument in Christ’s hands…. entirely dependent on the Lord, just like a tool in the hand of a worker.”[104] When Reformed Christians traditionally considered any role of the church in mediating Christ’s salvation, they always tried to safeguard the total sufficiency of his “once for all” self offering (cf. Heb 7:27) and of the Spirit’s freedom in graciously bestowing Christ’s benefits upon human beings. Such radical dependence is also a major aspect of Roman Catholic reflection on the nature of sacraments and the analogous application of the word “sacrament” to the church. Complete dependence on Christ through the Spirit thus is acknowledged by our present dialogue. We note that an exclusively christological framework would not allow for uncovering and expressing all that we can affirm together about this theme. Our present report, focusing as it does on common witness to the kingdom, led us inevitably to consider the church in relation to the Holy Spirit and to eschatology.[105] Both of these relations open up the possibility of extending what we might now say together about the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God.”

195. The Holy Spirit actualizes Christ’s work of redemption in the hearts of individuals by bringing about their conversion and regeneration. As such, the Spirit is a principal agent in establishing the kingdom and in guiding the church so that it can be a servant of God’s work in this process (chapter I). It is the Spirit who plays the decisive role in leading believers to discern what they should do to serve the fuller realization of the kingdom in particular situations (chapter III). Relating the kingdom instrumentality of the church to the Holy Spirit allows us to acknowledge together a more historical and dynamic vision of the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God”. The Spirit is the basis both of the efficacy of Word and sacrament, and of the emerging presence of the reign of God. Our previous report did refer to the Holy Spirit, reflecting both the “more Reformed” emphasis upon the freedom of the Spirit and the “more Roman Catholic” appreciation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the historical existence of the Christian community. When we consider the role of the Spirit in relation to the kingdom, it becomes clear that these two confessional perspectives require one another and are complementary and mutually informative. The Spirit who blows freely […] (cf. John 3:8) also guides and equips the community of faith (cf. John 16:13,14; 1 Cor 12:4-13). In bringing about the kingdom, the Spirit works in such a way as to include people, both within and outside of the church, making use of whatever capacities and limitations they have.

196. Our discussion of the kingdom during this phase of Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogue also naturally focused attention upon the theme of eschatology (chapter I). Our previous report noted: “We do not think in the same way about the relation of the church to the kingdom of God. The Reformed insist more on the promise of a ‘not-yet’; Catholics underline more the reality of a gift ‘already-there.’”[106] The present dialogue has shown that both Scripture and tradition hold these two perspectives together, so that our earlier contrast needs to be seen more as a difference in accent than a church-dividing opposition. We fully agree that the church lives in an eschatological perspective and that it is not possible to grasp its identity except within the framework of a shared openness to the work of the Spirit in history, even in our own days. This requires attending to the “signs of the times” and to fresh opportunities for common witness. The distinction between the church and the kingdom allows for a more common vision of history. What we shall be has not yet fully been revealed (1 John 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 13:12). This means that the present age is still on the way to the perfect realization of God’s plan of salvation that will occur with the full coming of the kingdom. Church history is complex and, as our previous report noted in its reflection upon the “healing of memories,” can be interpreted in various ways. Sometimes it gives evidence of inspirational continuity with the Gospel, but it also includes the enigma of division and discontinuity. We dare to believe that even in the most regrettable moments of this history God’s Spirit was at work for good (cf. Rom 8:28). This can never mean that human failure is turned into divine virtue. It provides, however, an appropriate basis for understanding the nature of sinful division and enmity in the church. Thus we are called to conversion and renewal, receptive to the ongoing work in history of the Holy Spirit, whose “unifying power must prove stronger than all the separation that has occurred through our human sinfulness”.[107]

197. Through exploring the theme of common witness to the kingdom, Reformed and Catholics have thus been able to discover a further fundamental agreement about the church. We can affirm that the church is a kind of sacrament of the kingdom of God, with a genuine role of mediation, but only in so far as it is utterly dependent upon God. Our agreement about the church’s dependence upon God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit gives hope that we have also made some progress in opening the way for greater convergence. By speaking about the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God” past tensions regarding differing convictions about the continuity, ministry and order of the church through the ages may prove to be complementary and even creative in shared reconstruction. We hope that our articulation of the church’s ministerial and instrumental role, in total dependence on the Spirit of Christ and directed toward God’s kingdom, can make a contribution to Christian unity that reaches beyond our own communities. The ecumenical movement as a whole may be understood as participation in the movement of the Holy Spirit, who calls and inspires us to seek the kingdom of God together, and to commit ourselves to one another. If churches find new ways to give shape to this mutual support and accountability, then we pray that the result will be greater visibility for the church as sign and instrument of God’s kingdom.


Chapter V
Dialogue and Common Witness

198. Having reflected on ways in which this phase of dialogue has deepened our common understanding of the church beyond what Towards a Common Understanding of the Church had achieved (chapter IV), we would like to add some further reflections now on the notion of common witness in its relation to ecumenical dialogue. The particular content of this round of dialogue, and what has been said thus far, has illustrated how dialogue itself can be a reconciling experience. If the cause of the kingdom of God and the call to bear common witness to it animate our encounter, then each tradition stands in the same challenging place, because both the present and future dimensions of the kingdom open us to God in a way that neither of us can presume to control. In dialogue we can face such questions together. Both our traditions stand before God’s plan for our future with open hands. Thus, the content of this dialogue and our active common witness should contribute to the renewal of both communions.


1. Ecumenical Dialogue as Common Witness

199. In the promotion of Christian Unity, three interrelated dimensions are commonly identified: prayer, practical cooperation and theological dialogue. While prayer and practical cooperation provide clear opportunities for common witness, dialogue helps to clarify the theological basis for such shared prayer and action. Furthermore, ecumenical dialogue itself can be a form of common witness.

200. In authentic dialogue words are used not to dominate or control the other, but rather to build bridges of understanding. Here the witness potential of dialogue begins to emerge: “Far from encouraging relativism, genuine dialogue begins with an immersion in one’s own tradition and a desire to share its richness with others for the salvation of the world.”[108]

201. Christians are called to “put on the mind of Christ.” Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-11) describes the incarnation of Christ as a “self-emptying” for the sake of humanity. This text suggests a profoundly spiritual process which may be applied to all forms of dialogue. There can be no dialogue if either identity is undervalued. Those who engage in dialogue must be prepared to let go of ill-conceived notions and enter into a process of self-giving, a type of imitation of Christ crucified. In light of the paschal mystery, dialogue purifies its participants so that each can approach the other with the freedom that comes from taking on the mind of Christ. This leads to a servant spirituality which is essential to ongoing dialogue, prayer and practical cooperation in the search for Christian unity.

202. Dialogue implies mutuality and the desire for reconciliation. The spirit of reconciliation recognizes and confirms the unique identity of each dialogue partner. Yet this does not imply an unlimited pluralism or indifference to doctrinal divergence. Rather, in recognizing the identity of the other, the dialogue partners are challenged to affirm the same truth expressed in different or complementary forms and to respect sincere differences where they occur.

203. Basic to any dialogue is an attitude of humility, a readiness to admit ignorance and failures, a desire for deeper knowledge, and openness to truth wherever it is found. While acknowledging that the fullness of truth has been revealed in Jesus Christ, individual Christians “have no guarantee that they have grasped the truth fully” and so there must be openness to an ever deepening knowledge of that truth. We agree with the words of Pope Paul VI: “In the last analysis truth is not a thing we possess, but a person by whom we have allowed ourselves to be possessed. This is an unending process” (Ecclesiam suam, 81-82).


2. Dialogue as a Reconciling Experience

204. Our work and life together has resulted in a deeper understanding of each other’s traditions, including the way in which each tradition handles the emergence of new insights and perspectives. Disagreement over different methodological approaches emerged between our two delegations and also within them. At one moment of challenging and critical discernment, mid-way through our deliberations, we chose to include and give special consideration to a contextual approach to the theme of our common witness to the kingdom. This decision reinforced our conviction that common witness to the kingdom would lead us to greater solidarity with the poor.

205. This contextual approach led us to hold our subsequent meetings in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Canada. In these situations the challenge to common witness for the Reformed and Roman Catholic is daunting in at least two ways. Firstly, in each context there is a history of mutual distrust and in one of them even a history of violence toward each other. Secondly, witness to the kingdom has been made in the face of long-standing social evils and in resistance to anti-kingdom values. In such contexts common witness is costly witness. One of the fruits of this more contextual approach was the encounter with church leaders and pastoral ministers, who were living and witnessing in a courageous manner. Our decision, after intense and sometimes painful debate, helped us, as members of the joint commission, to grow in fellowship.


3. Dialogue, the Healing of Memories and the Reconciliation of Communities

206. An openness to God’s reign rightly characterizes the common witness of the Reformed churches and the Catholic Church today. Yet the past continues to make itself felt in the present. At the beginning of the year 2000, WARC withdrew its representative from the Ecumenical Committee of the 2000 Roman Catholic Jubilee in response to the theological assumptions of the Bull of Indiction on “Conditions to Gain the Indulgence of the Jubilee”. Catholic officials were startled that their well-intentioned ecumenical invitation was refused by WARC. Similarly, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Dominus Iesus, many Reformed leaders were startled, hearing in its use of the language of defect to explain the difference between “church in the proper sense” and “ecclesial community” a lack of recognition of the significant ecumenical progress made since Vatican II. Since the dialogue was meeting outside Rome only three weeks after the appearance of Dominus Iesus, it was inevitable that we would enter into some frank exchanges. One of our members observed that no one group has a monopoly on pain. It was a significant moment for members of the dialogue when, after such exchanges, we met with Pope John Paul II and heard him enunciate again “the irrevocable commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenism.” Clearly, alongside the mandate of openness to God’s future, contemporary dialogue must include grappling with the churches’ painful past and abiding disagreements.

207. As TCUC observes (155, 156), new research and fresh interpretations may yield altered perspectives and indicate more fully something of the complex history that we share. Even in those countries evangelized well after the Reformation, it is not possible simply to overlook the quarrels and developments of the sixteenth century. At the very least we need to explain why the divisions among Christians in the West occurred and why they continue to exist, and what relation these divisions may have to new divisions among the younger churches arising out of local conditions. It seems that in almost any context we will have occasion to give some explanation for the lack of visible unity among Christian churches.

208. Our painful past continues into the present whenever we fail to speak with respect about the faith of our sisters and brothers. Our dialogue, thus, requires reviewing language we have used to characterize one another over the ages and even today. A polemical and often uncharitable attitude provided the tone for much of our comments about one another prior to the dawn of the modern ecumenical movement. A principal aim of dialogue should be to sift through our language to discern what assertions have been due to a failure in truth and charity, so as to ask pardon of one another for them. Equally important is the uncovering of any elements of truth from our past discourses which we must repeat to one another in love (cf. Eph 4:15) even today, in the hope of finding greater communion. As the Holy Spirit continues to lead us into shared and active expectation of the kingdom, we may well find new ways to hold each other in mutual accountability and to grow in reconciling love and common faith.

209. Dialogue can benefit from and foster a healing of memories. For many Reformed, the call of Pope John Paul II to a purification of memory during the Jubilee Year 2000 and his courageous prayers of repentance on behalf of Catholics have been encouraging. The recent theological interpretation of these actions in “Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the Faults of the Past,” by the Vatican’s International Theological Commission adds significantly to the discussion of the question of sin in the church. Complex and terrible truths are acknowledged, and prayers are cited from both Daniel and Jeremiah confessing, “We have sinned.” The Commission’s report is particularly encouraging in its careful and candid investigation of biblical paradigms for the confession of sin by the whole people of God. Most Reformed Christians will agree with those whose response to “Memory and Reconciliation” is that it will strengthen the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church. There would be widespread agreement that the credibility of any church would be strengthened by doing something similar. Those who think that open admission of faults will damage the church’s ministry, especially with the young, seem to us to be asking the church to set service of its own life above service of truth. As TCUC 109 states, God’s fidelity in maintaining the church is to do so also through “the transfiguration of human failure.”

210. Reconciled communities presuppose reconciled ministries. This issue is a specific challenge to our dialogue. As TCUC 123 notes, from a Roman Catholic point of view, by breaking with the ministerial structures handed down by tradition, the Reformed “had deeply wounded the apostolicity of their churches.” TCUC 132 later names word, sacrament and oversight as the triple function of ministry. The Reformed have this triple function, exercising the ministry of oversight in a conciliar fashion. The common acknowledgement of this fact could be an important step towards convergence in our search for a common understanding and recognition of ministry.


4. The Experience of Unity in Common Witness Today

211. Our three narratives reflect varying degrees of collaboration in common witness. In Canada, there has been a relatively strong and constructive relationship between the Canadian member churches of WARC and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. A desire to give common witness to the kingdom has spawned a network of inter-church social justice coalitions. However, the challenges of facing lawsuits arising from sexual and physical abuse in church-administered Indian Residential Schools and of relating the Christian Faith to traditional Aboriginal spirituality have tested the ability of the historic mission churches to act on a common basis.

212. In the South African study, it appears that the churches were first struggling with the challenge of apartheid in parallel but unrelated ways. Each communion had its own internal struggle and strategy for public witness. For instance, there was not always agreement in the Roman Catholic community in regard to racial policy. For the Reformed, internal theological struggles over election and the providential significance of the different races seem to have dominated. Nevertheless, despite such differences, there was widespread cooperation across confessional lines in strenuous resistance to the ideology of apartheid. As is often the case, the witness of individual pastoral and lay leaders outran official deliberations and actions.

213. In Northern Ireland official collaboration between the churches seemed more evident. Church leaders knew one another personally and had clearly borne one another’s burdens. Even so, they told us that one of the things they had learned in their shared leadership was the importance of discernment – discerning just when and where to intervene with public expressions of unity without jeopardizing their credibility. Again we heard deeply moving accounts of the courageous commitment to reconciled relationships on the part of local pastoral and lay leaders.

214. In situations of costly witness, as in South Africa and Northern Ireland, the pastoral and lay leaders who offer this witness often find themselves experiencing exceptional forms of unity. When martyria(witness) entails possible martyrdom (suffering for Christ and kingdom), confessional or denominational differences are relativized and put more into the background. In South Africa, the “grass-roots” witness of black, coloured and white Reformed and Catholic Christians against apartheid was nurtured and sustained by common prayer. Such sharing underscored for those involved the eschatological presence of the kingdom.

215. In Northern Ireland, we heard about several examples of courageous witness. In the context of our Reformed-Catholic dialogue, we looked in particular at the work of the Corrymeela Centre for Reconciliation, founded by Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Ray Davey. Its central purpose is to enable Protestant and Roman Catholic adults and children from Belfast’s segregated neighbourhoods to meet each other and to learn, pray and play together. Davey was subsequently to receive an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical University of Maynooth, on the first occasion in its history when a Protestant minister was so honoured. The citation for this honorary degree was given by Bishop Anthony Farquhar, co-Chair of our dialogue and Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Down and Connor, the diocese in which the Corrymeela Centre is located. In his citation, Bishop Farquhar aptly quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney:

History says Don’t hope
On this side of the grave
But, then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

216. In the time of persecution in the early centuries of the Christian era it sometimes happened that a new convert gave his or her life in martyria before being baptized. That individual’s death was regarded as a “baptism in blood.” If there is a baptism in blood, is there not also full communion in shedding one’s blood for the faith? Indeed, in the encyclical Ut unum sint (84), the late Pope John Paul II wrote:

I have already remarked, and with deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is growing at many levels of ecclesial life. I now add that this communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings nearer those who were once far off (cf. Eph 2:13).

217. The unity in common witness that most of us experience is far from that of giving up our lives. Yet all of us are able to give our energy and hope in ecumenical service of the kingdom. Whether in shared advocacy against homelessness or serving in a soup kitchen, whether through inter-church parish covenants or collaborative inter-religious dialogue, there are privileged opportunities for all Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians to engage in common witness today and to experience both breakthroughs in understanding and joy in service of the kingdom.


5. Seeking Greater Common Witness Today

218. The kingdom of God is a symbol of a universal community ordered according to the will of God so that fullness of life and right relationships abound for all. In Christian theology, the church is a sacrament of the kingdom in so far as it represents the inauguration of such fullness and such right relations in the community of believers gathered together in faith, hope and love. While both WARC and the Roman Catholic Church are global bodies, the fact that such multiple Christian world communions exist in separation can be a challenge to the catholicity that is a mark of the church. Churches separated or divided contradict the symbol of the kingdom of God as a universal community of fullness of life and right relations. This also means that the ability of the church actually to function as a sacrament of the kingdom is limited. As long as there are unresolved denominational divisions, witness to the universal character of the kingdom is compromised. So too, our commitment not only to resolve doctrinal differences through dialogue, but also to achieve a greater degree of common witness is a vital contribution to ecumenism.

219. The symbolic and transformative power of the kingdom is compromised when divisions exist within any individual church. Communities of faith give a counter-witness when they support a status quocharacterized by an ideological interpretation of cultures, race relations and creedal difference that is in opposition to the gospel. Conviction about the need to act justly and to show mercy (Micah 6:8) in such situations can vary significantly in both the civil community and among members of the Roman Catholic Church and Reformed churches. In Northern Ireland, Christians had difficulty resisting the continuing appeal to adversarial religious sentiment, rooted in sixteenth and seventeenth century conflicts. In Canada, church members are tempted to downplay the mandate of justice for the First Nations since it involves the payment of reparations for past abuse by both government and the churches, and the resolution of longstanding unresolved land claims and treaty rights. In South Africa, the theological struggle over the ideology of the separation of races is well known. These instances raise the question, within each communion, of where authentic witness to the kingdom is to be found. Our three narratives provide evidence that each communion has an ongoing challenge in achieving greater common witness within its own house.

220. One of the clear recognitions of this Catholic-Reformed dialogue is that our common witness must focus on sharing signs of the kingdom with the poor. Biblical images of the kingdom evoke a celebratory vision in which those excluded from the circle of acceptance and wellbeing finally arrive at the banqueting table. Those whose common witness is to the kingdom of God will learn to “wash the feet of the poor” through advocacy, service and personal encounter. In such ways all of us may catch glimpses of the world God intends and thus find hope renewed. Our two communions already share a common commitment to listen to the voice of the poor as a privileged source for discerning the demands of God’s kingdom. It is our conviction that the two communions need to accentuate this commitment.

221. In its concluding chapter, “The Way Forward,” TCUC presents an appealing invitation. Rather than opposing each other or even simply living side by side, our two communions “should live for each other in order to be witnesses to Christ” (149). TCUC 157 explains that “living for each other” means “bearing common witness” and making every effort to speak jointly to our contemporaries about “Christ’s message of salvation.” In this invitation to live for each other, we sense a kingdom summons to pray for each other, and to receive as our own concern the wellbeing and faithfulness of the other. In undertaking such mutual care, our common witness might be a persuasive sign for other Christian communions. Perhaps the unbelieving around us would be compelled again to exclaim, “How these Christians love one another!” Dare we consider truly “living for each other?”


6. Unity in Faith and Action

222. We believe that in dialogue and in common witness we must aim at a unity which embraces both orthopraxis and orthodoxy, a unity that is shaped and tested by the symbolic and transforming power of the kingdom of God.

223. Orthodoxy, understood as a concern for the truth of the Gospel, is important since it represents a decisive commitment to the apostolic faith. In ecumenical dialogue it involves discerning the degree to which we share the same understanding of the faith. It is true, of course, that contemporary questions of right practice (orthopraxis), involving personal and social morality, can be just as divisive and contested as were the doctrinal and liturgical disputes of the Reformation period. However, to imagine that we could leave questions of orthodoxy – divergences in worship and doctrine – in the shadows of the sixteenth century would be a form of denial. Such questions need to be faced with the openness of those who already belong to each other through baptism into Christ. Even when we cannot agree on what is essential and non-essential to the faith (e.g. episcopal succession, the Petrine ministry, ordination as appropriate for both sexes), respecting each other’s views would better represent “living for each other” than drawing lines in the sand. If we can each affirm that the church is a kind of sacrament of the kingdom of God (see chapter IV, para. 197), let this be the basis of our dealings with one another.

224. One of the tests of orthodoxy is orthopraxis, understood as the truthful practice of the values of the Gospel. This has to be the way we act towards each other: “By their fruit you will know them” (Matt. 7:20). Mere declarations of intent to live for each other will not suffice; we need to hear in each other’s official teaching and public communication a consistent tone of loving respect, even when critical or admonitory observations are being offered. Our prayer: “Thy kingdom come” is the hope for the arrival of concrete conditions in which humans find right relationships with each other under the sovereignty of the loving God.



225. The period in which this third phase of dialogue has taken place was quite unique in that we passed from one century to another, and from one millennium to another. During this period, significant events have taken place in which the new relationship between Reformed and Catholic, which began at the time of the Second Vatican Council, has been greatly enhanced. At the same time, signs of the divisions which have kept us apart since the sixteenth century have been seen and felt.

226. The new relationship has been evident in the consistent invitations by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) to send a representative to its Executive Committee and General Council meetings, as well as to various consultations it has organized. Reciprocally, there have been invitations by the Holy See to WARC. The Alliance has accepted various invitations: to participate in the Ecumenical Commission of the Planning Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000; to join Pope John Paul II and other Christian leaders in the Ecumenical Service in Rome just after the closing of the Holy Year in 2001; and to the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi on January 24, 2002. Inviting each other to such significant events enhances our developing relationship. It demonstrates unambiguously our commitment to acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if there are still serious divergences in our understanding of faith to be resolved.

227. Painful signs of our continuing division have also occurred during these years of dialogue. During the Jubilee Year 2000, WARC chose not to accept invitations by the Holy See to participate in some ecumenical events organized for the Jubilee Year because of the associated tradition of indulgences, a cause of considerable dispute in the sixteenth century. However, shortly afterwards, at the invitation of the PCPCU, Reformed and Catholics, along with representatives from the Lutheran World Federation, addressed the question of indulgences for the first time at a symposium. Clearly, ongoing differences call for ongoing dialogue.

228. During this third phase of dialogue, both Catholics and Reformed made extraordinary gestures related to a healing of memories, even if in quite different ways. During the Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II, in the liturgy of the First Sunday of Lent 2000, a day which has become known as “the Day of Pardon”, called upon the Catholic Church to look back over the millennium just closing and to ask God for forgiveness of sins committed against unity. While no particular historical instance was mentioned, it clearly included any type of wrongdoing towards the Reformed, either in the distant past or in more recent times. Within the WARC family, two member churches decided to address specific anti-Catholic statements in their sixteenth and seventeenth century confessions of faith, and made it clear in an official way that these harsh historical statements do not represent their views on the Catholic Church today, even if there are still serious disagreements between us on related doctrinal issues.

229. Thankfully, theological dialogue is the instrument we use today to resolve such differences. We have travelled a long way together. In this third phase of dialogue just completed we have explored the biblical notion of the kingdom of God and have been able to say much together. First, the notion of the kingdom of God has been treated in a variety of ecumenical dialogues (cf. Appendix), and we have made use of these materials. At the same time the systematic treatment of the kingdom of God presented here makes a further ecumenical contribution by tracing this notion from its biblical roots, through stages of church history, with the goal of helping the partners move towards a common understanding of the church. Thus, our treatment of the biblical concept of the kingdom of God is followed by an exploration of the distinctive visions of the kingdom of God and its relation to the church found in patristic literature. The biblical and patristic insights, in turn, form the background for a discussion of the specific emphases given to this notion in the sixteenth century and afterwards in our respective Reformed and Catholic traditions. In this process we have discovered converging theological perspectives particularly in regard to the relationship of the kingdom of God to the church.

230. Second, in exploring the notion of the kingdom of God, we kept before us two challenges of Towards a Common Understanding of the Church: those of building upon ecclesiological developments already achieved, and of extending our efforts of common witness. In regard to the first, we have been able to deepen important convergences concerning the nature of the church claimed by TCUC precisely because we can now position those insights in the broader, more dynamic continuum required by our exploration of the kingdom of God – e.g. the biblical, patristic, and more recent theological perspectives, including the results of ecumenical dialogues. Thus, the convergence described in TCUC between the notions of the church as creation of the word (creatura verbi, emphasised by Reformed), and as sacrament of grace (sacramentum gratiae, emphasised by Catholics), though rooted in biblical thought, was presented in a contemporary theological analysis. The present report deepens this convergence in two ways. First, it illustrates that both concepts are integral to the notion of the kingdom of God and should serve the establishment of the kingdom of God in this world. Second, our exploration of the patristic material illustrated that the themes of the Word of God and the grace of God were of great significance in the ecclesiological reflection of the early Christian writers, even if they did not use the specific terminology used later in TCUC. Those writers certainly would have considered the church to be both a creation of the Word of God, and a sacrament of grace. Both factors help us affirm that neither of these visions of the church can wholly exclude the other, but are mutually dependent. Both are basic to an understanding of the nature of the church.

231. The same dynamic framework of our reflection on the kingdom of God also suggests ways of going further on another TCUC suggestion: that we might be able, together, to describe the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God,” (111) and, thus, say more, together, about the role of the church in mediating Christ’s salvation. This is because the notion of the kingdom of God requires a more explicit recognition of its relation to the Holy Spirit, and to its eschatological dimension. In TCUC, the Catholic understanding of the church as sacrament is based on two analogies: that between Christ and the church, and that between the church and sacramental rites. It was strongly christological, though not lacking reference to the role of the Spirit. But since the activity of the Spirit is the basis both of the efficacy of the sacraments and of the spread of the reign of God, the perspective of the kingdom and its particular reference to the Spirit allows both Reformed and Catholics to acknowledge, even further, the radical dependence of human beings upon God. This dependence is implied in the description of the church as a sacrament of the kingdom. Also, the distinction we make between the kingdom of God and the church is rooted in an eschatological understanding of the church, which is related to, witnesses to and moves toward its fulfillment in the kingdom. This reflects both the Reformed insistence on the promise of a “not yet” and the Catholic insistence of a gift “already there” (TCUC 122). Here again, our reflection fosters the description of the church as “sacrament of the kingdom of God.”

232. In regard to common witness, we have taken seriously the dynamics and challenges of particular contexts in which Christians have sought to live the values of the kingdom of God. The experience of Christians in the local settings, as described by the three narratives in chapter II, has underlined some important lessons. The narratives illustrated, for example, the growing significance of ecumenical relations between Reformed and Catholics. As each showed, although Reformed and Catholics began separately to bring kingdom values into the difficult problems faced in their contexts, eventually both moved towards witnessing together. Each illustrated, too, the way the universal expression of the church made an impact on the local church and vice-versa, and the importance of the interrelationship of these two aspects of the church. Furthermore, in light of these narratives, we explored together for the first time in Reformed-Catholic international dialogue factors involved in interpreting Christian experience, that is, the theological dimensions of discerning God’s will for decision making in service to the kingdom of God. These include the role of the Holy Spirit, common sources of discernment, differences between Reformed and Catholics in the use of these sources, different patterns of discernment and the functioning of these patterns in ecumenical collaboration, and the possibilities of common discernment and witness. As ethical and moral issues in our modern world raise challenges for human behaviour, and become more central and intense in ecumenical relations, the insights about discernment gathered here are offered as one contribution to the dialogue on these vital questions that concern all Christians. These insights can assist Reformed and Catholics in their efforts at common witness.

233. Finally, the process of introducing these narratives into our dialogue has as such helped us to understand better the various methods of dialogue within the ecumenical movement. Relating our theological discussions to the experiences of Christians in local settings has helped us to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (cf. Rev 2 and 3). As we have seen in the narratives (cf. chapter II), common witness to the kingdom by Catholic and Reformed people is happening in various places all over the world. This common witness, this coming together around events and issues and ideals of peace and justice in the concrete lives of human communities, happens in spite of the historic issues that continue to divide us. We note that this common witness is one way in which mutual respect, trust, and affection grows between our communions, making life between us spiritually richer, and nurturing our sense of mutual belonging. We rejoice in this common witness, to the shared faith that underlies it, to the sense of new possibilities it nurtures in our communions and the contribution that it makes to the fullness of unity that we seek.

234. Dialogue, healing of memories, efforts at common witness – all of these are a continuing challenge for us to deepen the developing relationship between us, a relationship grounded in our one baptism in Christ. It is part of our common understanding that we are involved in the one ecumenical movement, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A new century and a new millennium are additional reasons for us to distance ourselves even further from the conflicts of the past, and to face the future with an uncompromising commitment to continuing reconciliation. Eventually this could and should help our fellow Christians in both our communities to live up to the standards of the kingdom of God.

235. For the privilege of taking part in this dialogue and for the efforts made and for whatever degree of success we are able to claim, we give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed that his disciples “may all be one” (John 17:21) and who taught his disciples to pray: Thy Kingdom come!



The Theme of Kingdom of God
in International Ecumenical Dialogue


At first glance, the concept of “kingdom of God” has not been of particular concern in the international bilateral dialogues. Only the 1984 Anglican/Reformed Dialogue on God’s Reign and Our Unity has explicitly addressed this topic. Yet, there are significant references to the “kingdom of God” in several of these dialogues, and three of them include major discussions of the theme in their dialogue reports.[1] In multilateral dialogue, especially in various World Council of Churches (WCC) conferences, the concept of “kingdom of God” has frequently been used to critique the present state of affairs in church and society. For the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, the concept of “kingdom of God” has provided a context for integrating the theological search for the unity of the church with social justice concerns for renewal of the human community. Its study document, Church and World: The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of the Human Community, was published in 1990. In addition to basic affirmations about the kingdom or reign of God, these dialogues explore relations between kingdom and church, kingdom and world/creation, and the implications of the kingdom of God for relations between church and world/creation.


I. Basic Affirmations

In several of the dialogues members affirm their belief in the kingdom of God as an eschatological hope, the consummation of God’s purpose for the created world.[2] The historical mission of Jesus is to announce the good news of the kingdom or reign of God, to embody it in word and deed, and to inaugurate it in his cross and resurrection.[3]

The gift of the Spirit is the pledge and first instalment of the coming kingdom of God. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers the fulfilment of God’s kingdom of which Christ is the first-fruit.[4] Christians are called to proclaim and participate in the kingdom of God. To hold eschatology as a context for understanding mission means that the ultimate demands of God’s perfect reign continue to confront Christians and the churches with the challenge of obedience.[5]


II. Kingdom and Church

Kingdom and church are integrally related. In Christ, the church is called to be a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom of God. What Christ achieved through his cross and resurrection is communicated by the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.[6] Specifically, the church as the communion of the Holy Spirit is called to proclaim and prefigure the kingdom of God by announcing the gospel to the world and by being built up as the body of Christ. The church is to serve the kingdom, rather than be self-serving or an end in itself. In fulfilling this vocation the church is called to follow the way of Jesus Christ, the suffering servant. Just as the reign of God redeems the lost, so too it calls those who are saved to solidarity with the lost, and prepares them to accept persecutions, slanders and sufferings for righteousness’ sake. This is a sign of God’s choice of the way of the cross to save the world.[7]

The church owes its origin not to a single isolated act but to the totality of the Christ-event starting from the election of the people of God of the Old Testament. The blessing God promised to Abraham has its climax in the promise of blessing for all the families of the earth. The ministry of Jesus was addressed to a people, so that the first persons who heard and accepted the proclamation of the kingdom were already oriented to one another by their relationship within Israel. Jesus’ disciples become personal witnesses to the nearness of the reign of God. They are to leave everything and follow him.[8]

The church is the dawning and the instrument of the kingdom of God. On the one hand, there is the reality of the powers of the kingdom of God, especially in the proclamation of the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments, and the experience of a reconciled community of sisters and brothers. On the other hand, there is the interim nature of all words and signs in which salvation is imparted as well as the empirical inadequacy in preaching, worship and the serving community[9] Until the kingdom is realized in fullness, the church is marked by human limitation and imperfection, always remembering its “provisional” nature.[10] Yet, in spite of all the inadequacies of the churches as they actually exist, the reality of their character as signs of the eschatological rule of God is to be highlighted. The whole church of God, in every place and time, is a sacrament of the kingdom. [11]

The sacraments which are celebrated in the church proclaim and prefigure the kingdom of God. Baptism initiates new life and participation in the community of the Holy Spirit. The celebration of the Eucharist prefigures and provides a foretaste of the messianic banquet. It opens up the vision of the divine rule which has been promised as the final renewal of creation, and is a foretaste of it. Signs of this renewal are present in the world wherever the grace of God is manifest and human beings work for justice, love and peace.[12]

The church as the body of Christ and the eschatological people of God is constituted by the Holy Spirit through a diversity of gifts and ministries. Among those gifts, a ministry of episcopé is necessary to express and safeguard the unity of the body. Every church needs this ministry in some form in order to be the church of God.[13]

In Christ the victory of the reign of God over the powers of sin and death has begun. Thus, the leadership ministry of Christ is not like the leadership in the world of sin and death but has a character and quality determined by Christ’s way of being in and for the world. [14] Living according to the law of the Spirit, members of the church share a responsibility for discerning the action of the Spirit in the contemporary world, for shaping a truly human response, and for resolving the ensuing moral perplexities with integrity and fidelity to the gospel. [15]


III. Kingdom and World/Creation

In the reign of God, creation and human community are renewed by the Holy Spirit through their transformation in Christ. The cosmos is an object of God’s engagement and the fulfilled kingdom is not just the collection of all believers, but represents shalom for the totality of creation. A yearning for the kingdom of God implies a desire for the salvation of the lost and the redemption of the entire creation.[16] As stewards of the gifts of God, Christians are called to act in responsible faith towards all creation. They are to proclaim, in word and deed, the will of God concerning personal and social injustices, economic exploitation, and ecological destruction. Since the kingdom of God has not yet come in fullness, Christians experience the dynamic tension between the “now” and the “not yet” for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom in the world by engaging in patient action and active patience. The Holy Spirit guides the faithful to work for both personal transformation and the structural transformation of society, thus participating in the ongoing process and realization of the prayer for the coming of the kingdom.[17]

The coming of the kingdom of God involves the transformation of the human community now marred by sin, oppression and poverty into a community of justice, love and peace. While there are no grounds for thinking that the transformation will be complete in this world, all Christians must strive for it in order to bear witness to God’s promise to complete this transformation in the world to come. People who have experienced God’s faithfulness and righteousness will share what they have received by deeds of mercy and justice, seeking to shape society according to the pattern of the kingdom of God. Never claiming to build the kingdom by their own efforts, they will give all the glory to God.[18] Christ’s presence as Lord of history is seen in those movements of the human spirit which, with or without the assistance of the church, are serving the ends of the kingdom of God.[19]


IV. Implications of Kingdom for Church/World Relations

In its “working definition” of the kingdom of God, the Pentecostal/Reformed dialogue summarizes much of the discussion that has taken place in other ecumenical conversations about the topic. It identifies the kingdom of God as “apocalyptic and prophetic, both present gift and future hope.” It recognizes the theological content of the term as expressing “God’s sovereign, gracious, and transformative reign of righteousness and truth in the face of, but also beyond the forces of evil and sin.” Affirming that “[t]he kingdom cannot be identified strictly with earthly rule, although God reigns and acts in history,” the dialogue also asserts that “[n]either can the kingdom be identified strictly with the church, although the church and all creation exist in the eschatological hope of the fulfilment of the kingdom.”[20]

The Pentecostal/Reformed Dialogue’s assertion that discussion of the kingdom of God is not to be confined only to a theology of the last things but to be seen also as “an overall perspective” of Christian theology and life,[21] is echoed in many other dialogues. The 1987 dialogue between the Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches states: “Eschatological hope is no empty experience, since the end time has already commenced in the midst of the life of the church, which represents the continued unfolding reality of the kingdom of God in historical time... Therefore, the Christian does not press forward as though rejecting the experience of this world, but rather bears witness to God’s love through activity in the world.”[22] The 1992 Disciples/Roman Catholic Dialogue maintains: “At the very heart of the church’s memory, God’s saving acts in the past provide a foretaste of transformation so that the future breaks in already to the present. Salvation seen from the perspective of the scriptures reaches out from the past into the future.”[23]

The kingdom of God is the eschatological saving reality that affects the whole world. While the mission of the church shares in God’s activity in the world, God’s action goes beyond the sphere of the church.[24] The reign of God is being served wherever institutions, communities, movements and individuals contribute to peace with justice, to compassion for the suffering, to preservation and care of the creation, and to admonition and conversion of sinners. Called to witness to the reign of God, the church confesses that Jesus is the Christ even beyond the church where he is not recognized as such. One aspect of the church’s witness is a critical recognition of where the reign of God is being served. In this context, the church is called to cooperate with institutions, communities, movements and individuals contributing to the reign of God; to identify, warn against and oppose the powers of death and sin, without counting the cost. The church lives in anticipation of the consummation of the reign of God.[25]

Christians search for unity so that the church may be a more credible sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s purpose to “unite all things with Christ as head” (Col 1:19). Only a reconciled and reconciling community, faithful to its Lord, in which human divisions are being overcome, can speak with full integrity to an alienated, divided world, and so be a credible witness to God’s saving action in Christ and a foretaste of God’s kingdom. Concern for human unity is the only proper context for the quest for church unity. The unity of the church is not simply an end in itself but a sign, instrument and first-fruits of God’s purpose to reconcile all things in heaven and earth through Christ. [26] Yet, the unity of the church is not merely a means to an end, for the church already enjoys a foretaste of that end, and is only a sign and instrument in so far as it is a foretaste. Life in Christ is the end for which all things were made, not a means to an end beyond it.[27]

The church professes that Christ is the carrier of the message of the rule of God and the liberation of humankind. If the church goes out into the world, if it brings the gospel to people and endeavours to realize more justice and more peace, it is only following its Lord into domains that already belong to him and where he is already anonymously at work. The church, founded by Christ to share in the life which comes from the Father, is sent to lead the world to Jesus Christ, to its full maturity for the glory and praise of the Father. It is called to be the visible witness and sign of the kingdom of peace that is to come. The church carries out this task by what it does and what it says, but also simply by being what it is, since it belongs to the nature of the church to proclaim the word of judgement and grace, and to serve Christ in the poor, the oppressed and the desperate. More particularly, however, it comes together for the purpose of adoration and prayer, to receive ever new instruction and consolation and to celebrate the presence of Christ in Word and sacraments; around this centre, and with the multiplicity of the gifts granted by the Spirit it lives as a koinonia of those who need and help each other.[28]

There is a special presence of Christ in the church by which it is placed in a unique position in relation to the world. The church can therefore correspond to its calling if its structure and its life are fashioned by love and freedom. Accordingly the church does not seek to win human beings for a secular programme of salvation but to convert them to Christ and in this way to serve them. In its proclamation of the gospel there is at the same time a powerful creative cultural dynamic. As a koinonia, the church contradicts the structures of the various sectors of modern secular society when it opposes exploitation, oppression, manipulation, intellectual and political pressures of all kinds. By living as a new people assured of God’s acceptance in Christ, the church is a persuasive sign of God’s love for all creation and of his liberating purpose for all people. Christ’s gospel gathers, protects and maintains the koinonia of his disciples as a sign and beginning of his kingdom.[29] The church is therefore called to live as that force within humanity through which God’s will for the renewal, justice, community and salvation of all people is witnessed to. Endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and continually strengthened by Christ’s word and sacrament, the church is sent by God to witness to, and proclaim, the kingdom in and for, this broken world. In this mission the church is the new community of those willing to serve the kingdom for the glory of God and the good of humanity.[30]


V. Statements of Differing Views

The Pentecostal/Roman Catholic Dialogue of 1982 expresses a lack of unanimity on the question of whether or not non-Christians may receive the life of the Holy Spirit. The report of the Reformed/Pentecostal Dialogue notes that Pentecostals differ on how they view the role of the Holy Spirit in sustaining, reforming, or transforming human society. This same dialogue identifies differing approaches to the critique of social structures in asserting that Pentecostal missions have not always challenged social, or structural issues prophetically. The Reformed/Roman Catholic Dialogue of 1977 sees differences in approaches to the linking of ethics and politics: “We were all agreed that the ethical decisions which necessarily follow from the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the believing acceptance of this Gospel extend also to the realm of politics. In both confessions there were those who inclined to place greater emphasis on the need for a certain caution and those who stressed the need to derive concrete political decisions from the New Testament message and the possibility of doing so.”[31] Ecclesiological differences are affirmed in the 1990 report of the Reformed/Roman Catholic Dialogue which states: “we differ in our understanding of the nature of sin in the church … We do not think in the same way about the relation of the church to the kingdom of God. The Reformed insist more on the promise of a ‘not-yet’; Catholics underline more the reality of a gift ‘already-there.’”[32] In 1990, the Pentecostal/Roman Catholic Dialogue noted: “Though Pentecostals do not accept... the Roman Catholic view of the church as ‘a kind of sacrament,’ in their own way they do affirm that the church is both a sign and instrument of salvation.”[33]


Concluding Thoughts

As these international bilateral dialogues all show common interest in the kingdom of God, the relation of kingdom to church and to world/creation, it is interesting to note their distinctive emphases which appear to reflect both the particularities of the churches involved and the church-dividing issues under consideration. For example, the 1993 Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue on Church and Justification affirms: “What Jesus proclaims as the power of God’s reign is his justifying love, which creates salvation.”[34] In Anglican/Lutheran and Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogues, the theme of kingdom of God is often linked to the concept of koinonia. Dialogues involving Pentecostal and Reformed churches have a specific interest in kingdom/world relations. Dialogues with Methodist churches will often give emphasis to holiness and spiritual growth.



Catholic Members

Most Rev. Anthony J. Farquhar, Co-Chair
Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor
Northern Ireland

Rev. Prof. William Henn, ofm cap
Gregorian University
Rome, Italy

Rev. Dr Henry O’Brien

Msgr John A. Radano, Co-Secretary
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Vatican City, Europe

Rev. Prof. Benedict T. Viviano, op
Institut Biblique
Université Miséricorde
Fribourg, Switzerland


Sister Dr Donna Geernaert, sc
Mount Saint Vincent Mother House
Halifax, N.S., Canada

Rev. Prof. John Fuellenbach, svd
Via dei Verbiti, 1
Rome, Italy

Dom Michel Van Parys, osb
Monastère de la Ste Croix
Chevetogne, Belgium

Dom Emmanuel Lanne, osb (1998)
Monastère de la Ste Croix
Chevetogne, Belgium

Rev. Stuart C. Bate omi (2001)
Saint Joseph’s Theological Institute,
Hilton, South Africa

Rev. Timothy Bartlett (2002)
St. Mary’s University College,
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Reformed Members

Rev. Dr. Milan Opočenský (1998)
Prague, Czech Republic

Rev. Prof. Russel Botman, Co-Chair (1999-2001)
University of Stellenbosch
Western Cape, South Africa

Rev. Prof. Alasdair I. C. Heron
University of Erlangen

Rev. Prof. Leo J. Koffeman
Theological University of Kampen
The Netherlands

Rev. Principal Huang Po-Ho
Tainan Theological College and Seminary
Tainan, Taiwan

Rev. Maria Luiza Rückert
Igreja Presbiteriana Unida do Brasil
Vila Velha, Espírito Santo, Brazil

Rev. Principal Peter Wyatt
Emmanuel College
Toronto, Canada

Rev. Dr. Henry Wilson (1998)
Mangalore, India

Rev. Dr. Odair P. Mateus (Co-Secretary)
WARC, Geneva, Switzerland


Dr President Heidi Hadsell
Hartford Seminary
Hartford, CT, U.S.A.

Rev. Prof. Rathnakara Sadananda
Karnataka Theological College
Mangalore, India

Rev. Prof. Dirk Smit (2001)
University of Stellenbosch
Western Cape, South Africa

Rev. Dr David Stevens (2002)
Belfast, Northern Ireland



[1] “Preparation for the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches”. Proceedings of the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational), Geneva, Offices of the Alliance, 1970, 204-210; The Presence of Christ in Church and World (cf. footnote 3), para. 6.

[2] “Preparation for the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches”, op. cit., 206.

[3]The Presence of Christ in Church and World – Dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity 1970-77. Geneva, 1977, 39 pp.;; Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service 35 (1977/III-IV):18-34.

[4] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, Geneva, WARC, 1991, 61 pp;; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service 74 (1990/III):91-118.

[5] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 157.

[6] Ibid., para. 106-109.

[7] Cf. Ibid., para. 152-154, 157.

[8] “Preparation for the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches”. Proceedings of the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational), Geneva, Offices of the Alliance, 1970, 205.

[9] On two of these occasions, a Reformed and a Catholic theologian were each commissioned to present a paper describing the way in which their churches sought to bear witness to God’s reign in their particular contexts.

[10] Isa 40:12-17,21-23; Ps 74:12-17; Ps 95:3-5.

[11] Jer 23:5-6; Isa 2:2; 11:1-9; 25:6-10; 52:7-10; 60; 61:1-4; Hos 11:10-11.

[12] Exod 15:13-18; Isa 6:1-13; 33:17,22; Zech 14:9; Ps 11:4; 24; 29:9-10; 47; 48:1-3; 68:32-36; 74:12-14; 89:15; 93; 95:1-7; 96; 97; 98; 99; 102:12-17; 145:1,10-21; 146:5-10; 149; 150.

[13] Cf. 1 Cor 8:1,4; Gal 3:20; Rom 3:30. Cf. Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 1:17; 2:5; 6:15-16.

[14] 1 Thess 1:9; Rom 9:26; 2 Cor 3:3; 6:16. Cf. 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10.

[15] 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Cor 12:7.

[16] Rom 1:20; 4:17. Cf. 1 Tim 4:4.

[17] Rom 13:1-5; 8:28-30; 9:19-22; 11:29-32.

[18] Rom 2:6,11; 2 Cor 5:10.

[19] Luke 6:36; 11:9-13; Matt 6:31-33; 7:7-11. Cf. Luke 15:11-32.

[20] Matt 18:23-35; Luke 15:11-32; Matt 20:1-6; cf. 1 John 4:8-10.

[21] Matt 6:26,28,31; Luke 12:24; Matt 18:10; 5:43-45.

[22] Dan 2:1-49; 7:1-28, esp. vv. 13-14; every chapter in Daniel culminates in a reference to the kingdom.

[23] Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17; cf. Luke 4:16-30, esp. vv. 18-19 = Isa 61:1-2; 58:6.

[24] Cf. Rev 20:1-10; 2 Pet 3:8. The fullest of such schemas appears in the extra-canonical epistle of Barnabas (15:4,5) where seven eons are named from Adam to Noah; from Noah to Abraham; from Abraham to David; from David to the Exile; from the Exile to Jesus and the time of the church; from Jesus and the time of the church to his return in glory; followed by the Kingdom in its fullness.

[25] Translations of Matt 28:20 have accordingly been changed from “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” to “unto the end of the age”.

[26] Mark 12:34; Matt 25:31‑46; but cf. Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23.

[27] 1 Cor 15:27-28.

[28] Matt 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-30; cf. Rom 12:19-21; Prov 25:21-22.

[29] John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19,21,26.

[30] Matt 12:27, parallel: Luke 11:20; cf. Acts 1:6‑8.

[31] 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14.

[32] E.g., Lev 26:11‑12; Ezek 37:27; 2 Cor 6:16; Matt 1:23; 18:20; 28:20; Luke 1:28.

[33] From The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), para. 53.

[34] Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism 7.

[35] Our joint commission warmly acknowledges the gracious hospitality extended to us by the Mohawk Community at Grand River United Church and also the personal stories shared with us on that occasion. We thank the Rev. Dan Manning and the elders of the Grand River Church.

[36] Data released by the Canadian Government on May 13, 2003 as part of the national census of 2001.

[37] Kairos defines itself as a coalition of Canadian churches, church based agencies and religious organizations dedicated to offering a faithful response to God’s call for respect of the earth and justice for its peoples. Along with its partners and community based networks, Kairos works on the following themes: Aboriginal Rights, Canadian Social Development, Ecological Justice, Education and Animation, Global Economic Justice, International Human Rights.

[38] With the establishment of Kairos, the former Aboriginal Rights Coalition now works within the larger agency as a separate programme committee. Now called the Aboriginal Rights Committee, it has an enlarged membership which includes some non-church representatives. In recent years, the Committee has made a consistent effort to work with national and regional Aboriginal organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the (BC) First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the Association of Manitoba Chiefs, the Chiefs of Ontario, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq.

[39] Aboriginal Rights Coalition, The Sacred Path: A Journey of Healing for Canadian Churches and Aboriginal Peoples (Ottawa, 1995), 6-9.

[40] Aboriginal Rights Coalition, “The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples,” in Indigenous Perspectives of Jubilee (Ottawa, 1999), 23.

[41] A position affirmed by two papal bulls: Inter Caetera of Alexander VI in 1453 and Sublimus Deus of Paul III in 1537. Calvin’s understanding of a universal religious consciousness (divinitatis sensum) and of the imago Dei offers a parallel basis for the dignity of all creatures before God. See, for example, Institute of the Christian Religion, I.3.1. In his Commentary on John (1.5), Calvin writes: “There are two principal parts of the light which still remain in corrupt nature: first, the seed of religion is implanted in all men; next, the distinction between good and evil is engraved on their consciences.”

[42] John Webster Grant, Moon of Wintertime: Missionaries and the Indians of Canada in Encounter since 1534, Toronto, 1984, 229.

[43] For descriptions of the divisive effects of Christian preaching, see Grant, 255, 201. At the end of the 19th century, the great majority of Aboriginal people in Canada were at least nominally Christian. According to the 1991 census, 51% of the country’s 470,000 Aboriginal people identified themselves as Catholic; 34% Protestant; 13% no religion; 2% other religions.

[44] Information for this section is summarized from Peter Hamel, “The Aboriginal Rights Coalition,” in Christopher Lind and Joe Mihevic, Coalitions for Justice (Ottawa, 1994), 16-36.

[45] The Sacred Path: A Journey of Healing, op. cit., 30.

[46] Ibid., 3; this development has continued and intensified under Kairos.

[47] We gratefully acknowledge the valuable contributions made to our dialogue in 2001 by Prof. Dirk Smit who presented a study entitled “On Learning to Speak? A South African Reformed Perspective on Dialogue”, and by Dr. Stuart C. Bate, OMI, who presented a study entitled “What Does it Mean that the Church is the Instrument of the Kingdom of God in the South African Context: A Catholic Perspective”.

[48] Apartheid (English “apartness”) was the policy of racial segregation in the Republic of South Africa, supported traditionally by the Nationalist Party, and more recently by other right-wing groups. Under the policy, different races were given different rights. In practice, the system was one of white supremacy, while Blacks had no representation in the Central State Parliament.

[49] The ideology has several roots: Boer concepts of racial, cultural and religious separation arising out of a sense of national uniqueness; British liberal notions of indirect rule; the concern for job protection, promoted by white workers to maintain their status in the face of a large and cheaper proletariat, to name but three.

[50] At that time theologians of the DRC read the Bible as an apartheid Bible, finding that God was “the Maker of Separations”. For example, in the beginning God had separated the light from the dark, the waters above from the waters below, the land from the sea and so on, and all this to indicate that separation –apartheid– was the plan for creation. When God instructed humans to “be fruitful and multiply”, he meant that they should be fruitful and divide into separate groups, tribes or nations.

[51] There were very specific Apartheid Laws passed by the Nationalist government after its victory in 1948. The Laws included the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the Population Registration Act (1949), the Immorality Act and the Group Areas Act (1950), the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (1951), the Bantu Authorities Act and the Bantu Education Act (1953). The intention of these Acts was to separate White and Black living areas, educational provision and social intercourse. Jobs were also reserved according to race.

[52] Within the DRC in South Africa, a few notable theologians, such as Beyers Naudé, tried to counter apartheid by insisting on the one-ness of humanity in both church and society. Removed from his ministry, Naudé led the Christian Institute during the 1970s, which drew inspiration for opposing apartheid from the struggles of the Confessing Church Movement in Nazi Germany. See P. Walshe, Church versus State in South Africa: the Case of the Christian Institute (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1983).

[53] J.W. de Gruchy and C. Villa-Vicencio (eds.), Apartheid is a Heresy (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1983).

[54] The term “uniting” was deliberately chosen to indicate an unfinished process as well as the hope that other churches would join this process of confession.

[55] See C. Villa-Vicencio, Between Christ and Caesar: Classic and Contemporary Texts on Church and State (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986), 259-269; also D. Van der Water, “A Legacy for Contextual Theology: Prophetic Theology and the Challenge of the Kairos,” in M. Speckman and L. Kaufmann eds., Towards an Agenda for Contextual Theology: Essays in Honour of Albert Nolan (Pietermaritzburg, 2001), 33-64.

[56] P. Walshe, 221.

[57] S.C. Bate, “The Church under Apartheid,” in J. Brain and P. Denis (eds.), The Catholic Church in Contemporary South Africa (Pietermaritzburg, 1999), 12-13.

[58] SACBC 1957:26 Minutes; also J.W. de Gruchy, “Catholics in a Calvinist Country”, in A. Prior, Catholics in Apartheid Society (Cape Town,1982), 67-82.

[59] Two distinct churches could be identified in this period: a “settler church” for the Whites and a “mission church” for the Blacks. Whilst an overall Catholic unity was encouraged the reality was very much of two separate bodies with separate fields of endeavour, culture and praxis.

[60]This refers to the student disturbances which took place in the Transvaal African Township of Soweto, where several hundred people were killed during protests against the teaching of Afrikaans in schools. For many, this day marks the beginning of the final period of struggle against apartheid. June 16, Youth Day, is now an annual holiday in South Africa.

[61] The Things that Make for Peace: A Report to the Catholic Bishops and the Church in Southern Africa from the Theological Advisory Commission of the Southern African Bishop’s Conference (Pretoria, 1985). One commentator describes this document as the “intellectual highpoint” of the Theological Advisory Committee to the SACBC: see A. Egan, “Catholic Intellectuals,” in J. Brain and P. Denis eds., The Catholic Church in Contemporary South Africa(Pietermaritzburg, 1999), 341.

[62] 1957 Letter.

[63] 1960 Letter.

[64] See for example: Relocations: the Churches’ Report on Forced Removals in South Africa (1984); the Pastoral Letter of Natal Church Leaders on Violence and the Peace Talks (1989); and the SACC/SACBC Joint Pastoral Letter for Those Returning Home (1990).

[65] SACBC: Plenary Minutes January 1987. Through this type of cooperation the Catholic Church became a full member of the SACC in the 1990’s.

[66] We gratefully acknowledge the valuable contributions made to our dialogue in 2002 by Rev. Timothy Bartlett (St. Mary’s University College, Belfast), who presented a study entitled, “The Church as Instrument of the Kingdom of God in Northern Ireland: A Catholic Perspective,” and by Dr. David Stevens (General Secretary to the Irish Council of Churches and Secretary to the Irish Inter-Church Meeting), who presented a paper entitled, “The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God.”

[67] The island of Ireland consists of 32 counties: the Republic (Eire) is the twenty-six counties governed from Dublin and Northern Ireland is the six counties that remained part of the United Kingdom from 1921.

[68] An inter-denominational organization was later to make this observation: “An important part of Irish identity (in the Republic) was Catholicism. The model and mode of being of the Catholic Church in Ireland in the 150 years between Catholic emancipation and the visit of the Pope in 1979 were located in the idea of a Catholic society alternative to the alienating British colonial (and Protestant) one.” Faith and Politics Group, Transitions (Belfast, 2000), 7.

[69] Mystici corporis, promulgated by Pope Pius XII in 1943: “Christ wanted the community of men of which he was the founder to be established as a society perfect in its own order and possessing all juridical and social elements…..the eternal Father indeed wished it to be the Kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).” This same theme emerged again in Humani generis (1950).

[70] The Faith and Politics Group, Self-Righteous Superiority as a Cause of Conflict (Belfast, 1999), 18.

[71] Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd, The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict and Emancipation (Cambridge, 1966), 121, 180.

[72] Ian Ellis, Vision and Reality: A Survey of Twentieth Century Irish Inter-Church Relations (Belfast, 1992).

[73] Irish Council of Churches, Annual Report, May 1971, 6-8.

[74] The Irish Inter-Church Meeting, Background and Development (Belfast, 1998).

[75] ICC-RC Group, Violence in Ireland: A Report to the Churches (Dublin, 1976).

[76] Numerous marches, meetings and movements sprung up at this time and owed their origin, directly or indirectly, to church inspiration and support. These include the Irish School of Ecumenics, Corrymeela Community, the Cornerstone Community, the Columbanus Fellowship, the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, the Assisi Fellowship, PACE, People Together, the Servite Priory, the Faith and Politics Group, the Churches Initiatives Group, Youthlink and a host of children’s joint holiday schemes, to name just a few.

[77] The Agreement made between the political parties of Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments on Good Friday, April 1998 and upon which the current processes of administration of Northern Ireland are based. Officially entitled The Agreement, it is more popularly referred to as the “Good Friday Agreement” or the “Belfast Agreement”.

[78] In practical terms this implied that members of the churches should receive more education in the social and political implications of the Gospel, that the cause of non-violence be espoused as the greatest of the causes now claiming the support of Irish Christians, and that “the churches remind their members that they have a prima facie moral obligation to support the currently constituted authorities in Ireland against all paramilitary forces and that to do so is not in any way to pre-judge longer term political and constitutional developments.” It was noted that “in protest against injustice, it will usually be more effective if the churches are able to act together, showing compassion from and to both sides.” ICC-RC Group, Violence in Ireland: A Report to the Churches, 68.

[79] The general theme of these approaches is perhaps best summarized by the following extract from a talk given by Cardinal Daly in November 1984: “The alienation of nationalists in Northern Ireland from the political and civil institutions […] can be lessened and eventually removed only when the political process is allowed to prove itself capable of bringing about the institutional changes which will give effective expression to the nationalist identity and accord to it the constitutional legitimacy which is its right.” Cahal B. Daly, Communities Without Consensus: The Northern Tragedy (Dublin, 1984), 7.

[80] As the Inter-Church Group on Faith and Politics has pointed out: “One of the main reasons why violence was not much greater over the past thirty years has been the way that many people have chosen consistently to seek to cut cycles of vengeance by calling for, and practising non-retaliation and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a central aspect of the Christian gospel. It has significantly penetrated Irish life, and its practice, particularly by many victims and their families, has had social and political effects.” The Faith and Politics Group, Remembrance and Forgetting: Building a Future in Northern Ireland (Belfast, 1996), 5.

[81] Cf. Cahal B. Daly, The Price of Peace (Belfast, 1991), 3-5.

[82] The Presence of Christ in Church and World, para. 45.

[83] Ibid., para. 48.

[84] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 96.

[85] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, para. 79.

[86] Vatican Council II, Dei verbum 9.

[87] See above chapter II.

[88] See Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 12-63 and 153-156.

[89] Groupe des Dombes, For the Conversion of the Churches, Geneva, WCC, “Introduction,” para. 8.

[90] These three texts have been published together in book form under the title Ecclesiology and Ethics: Ecumenical Ethical Engagement, Moral Formation and the Nature of the Church, Thomas F. Best and Martin Robra, eds., (Geneva, 1997).

[91] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 3; see also

[92] Col 1:26; see Eph 3:3-9; 1 Cor 2:6-10.

[93] Cf. “From this source the Church (…) receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King” (LG 5). The same distinction is to be found in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio (=RM, 15 and 18), the Document Dialogue and Proclamation (=DP, 35, cf. 59), and the Declaration Dominus Iesus (=DI, 19).

[94] Final Report of the International Dialogue between Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Some Classical Pentecostal Churches and Leaders, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), para. 59.

[95] Ibid., para. 79.

[96] Message of the World Conference, para. 4, in: T. Best, G. Gassmann, On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, Faith and Order Paper No. 166, (Geneva, 1994), 225-226.

[97] Cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1. The Westminster Assembly was summoned by the English Parliament in 1643. The Westminster Confession of Faith was completed in December, 1646. The Shorter Westminster Catechism, intended for the instruction of children, and the Larger Westminster Catechism, intended for pulpit exposition, were completed in 1647 and 1648 respectively. These “Westminster Standards” function as official standards of doctrine in many denominations today within the Reformed tradition.

[98] Whether the presence of the risen Lord in the eucharist is located in the community, in its liturgical action, in the elements of bread and wine or in any combination of these is not yet a matter of full agreement between our communities and therefore remains an issue before our ongoing dialogue.

[99] The Nature and Mission of the Church – A Stage on the Way to a Common Statement, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 2005, para. 54.

[100] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 113.

[101] Ibid., para. 138.

[102] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 94 and 111.

[103] “There is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, nourish us at her breast, and, lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off this mortal flesh, we become like angels.”Institute of the Christian Religion, (IV.1.4).

[104] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 108.

[105] See chapter I, section 1.5 and chapter III, section 1 on the Holy Spirit and chapter I, section 1.3 on eschatology.

[106] Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, para. 122.

[107] Ibid., para. 146.

[108] “Sharing the Ministry of Reconciliation: Statement on the Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue and the Ecumenical Movement. The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, 2000”. Growing Consensus II – Church Dialogues in the United States, 1992-2004, ed. by L. Veliko and J. Gros, FSC. Washington D.C., United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005, 370.



[1] Reformed/Roman Catholic, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), 43-66; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 11-31; Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 74-95.

[2] Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 77, 78; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Salvation and the Church (1986), 30, Church as Communion (1990), 45; Baptist/Roman Catholic, Summons to Witness to Christ in Today’s World (1988), 19; Disciples/Roman Catholic, The Church as Communion in Christ 1992), 21; Evangelical/Roman Catholic, Dialogue on Mission (1984), 2.1; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 11, 24, 25, 75, 243, 302-308; Methodist/Roman Catholic, The Apostolic Tradition (1991), 32; Anglican/Lutheran, Episcope (1987), 24, 31, 70, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity (1995), 16, 18; Anglican/Methodist, Sharing in the Apostolic Community (1996), 15; Adventist/Lutheran Report of the Bilateral Conversation (1998), III.23; Old Catholic/Eastern Orthodox, Soteriology (1983), 7, Eschatology (1987), 1.2.

[3] Evangelical/Roman Catholic, Dialogue on Mission (1984), 5.3; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Salvation and the Church (1986), 26; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 11, 27; Methodist/Roman Catholic, The Word of Life: A Statement on Revelation and Faith (1996), 17; Anglican/Lutheran, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity (1995), 10, 13.

[4] Lutheran/Reformed, Toward Church Fellowship (1989), 18; Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 78, 79; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Windsor Statement (1971), 11, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church (1993), 19; Methodist/Roman Catholic, Honolulu Report (1981), 22, The Apostolic Tradition (1991), 32; Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic, The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church (1988), 10; Old Catholic/Eastern Orthodox, Eschatology (1987), 1.2.

[5] Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 81; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church (1993), 24; Disciples/Roman Catholic, Report (“Apostolicity and Catholicity in the Visible Unity of the Church”) 1981, VII.b; Methodist/Roman Catholic, The Word of Life: A Statement on Revelation and Faith (1996), 17.

[6] Anglican/Reformed, God’s Reign and Our Unity (1984), 15; Baptist/Reformed, Report (1987), 30; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Final Report (1981), 7, Salvation and the Church (1986), 30, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church (1993), 97; Anglican/Lutheran, Pullach Report (1972), 60, Episcope (1987), 25, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity (1995), 16.

[7] Baptist/Reformed, Report (1977), 30; Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 79; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Salvation and the Church (1986), 26; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 22.

[8] Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 11-24; Methodist/Roman Catholic, Towards a Statement on the Church (1986), I.2.

[9] Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 307.

[10] Anglican/Reformed, God’s Reign and Our Unity (1984), 18, 30, 35; Baptist/Reformed, Report (1977), 30; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 73, 307; Anglican/Methodist, Sharing in the Apostolic Community(1996), 25.

[11] Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 303, 305; Methodist/Roman Catholic, Towards a Statement on the Church (1986), I.8; Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic, The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church (1988), 22; Reformed/Roman Catholic, Towards a Common Understanding of the Church (1990), 111.

[12] Commission on Faith and Order, Lima Report (1982), “Baptism”, 2, 3, 7, “Eucharist”, 1, 22, “Ministry”, 4; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Windsor Statement (1971), 4, Church as Communion (1990), 11; Disciples/Reformed, No Doctrinal Obstacles (1987), 12; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, The Eucharist (1978), 43, Church and Justification (1993), 66-71; Anglican/Lutheran, Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity (1995), 18.

[13] Commission on Faith and Order, Lima Report (1982), “Ministry”, 23.

[14] Anglican/Lutheran, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity (1995), 10; Commission on Faith and Order, Lima Report (1982), “Ministry”, 15-16.

[15] Anglican/Roman Catholic, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church (1993), 97.

[16] Anglican/Reformed, God’s Reign and Our Unity (1984), 23, 30; Anglican/Roman Catholic, The Gift of Authority (1998), 50; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 22; Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 81, 89, 90.

[17] Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 81.

[18] Methodist/Roman Catholic, Honolulu Report (1981), 22, The Word of Life: A Statement on Revelation and Faith (1996), 79.

[19] Reformed/Roman Catholic, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), 48.

[20] Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 77.

[21] Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 78.

[22] Old Catholic/Eastern Orthodox, Eschatology (1987), 1.2.

[23] Disciples/Roman Catholic, The Church as Communion in Christ (1992), 38.

[24] Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 263, 285-289.

[25] Anglican/Lutheran, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity (1995), 15.

[26] Anglican/Reformed, God’s Reign and Our Unity (1984), 17; Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 305.

[27] Anglican/Reformed, God’s Reign and Our Unity (1984), 29; Pentecostal/Reformed, Word and Spirit, Church and World (2000), 82; Anglican/Roman Catholic, Salvation and the Church (1986), 30.

[28] Reformed/Roman Catholic, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), 54.

[29] Reformed/Roman Catholic, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), 54-56.

[30] Commission on Faith and Order, Church and World: The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of the Human Community (1990), Chapter III, “Kingdom-Church-Humanity”, para. 8.

[31] Reformed/Roman Catholic, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), 23.

[32] Reformed/Roman Catholic, Towards a Common Understanding of the Church (1990), 122.

[33] Pentecostal/Roman Catholic, Perspectives on Koinonia (1990), 94

[34] Lutheran/Roman Catholic, Church and Justification (1993), 22.