(The Seoul Report)

Report of the Joint Commission for Dialogue
Between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council



List of abbreviations:

BD     The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (2004).

BEM  Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, 1982).

CLP   Called to Love and Praise: The Nature of the Christian Church in Methodist Experience and Practice (British Methodist Conference, 1999).

DS     Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum.

GS     Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Second Vatican Council, 1965).

LG     Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Second Vatican Council, 1964).

SC     Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council, 1963).

UR     Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism, Second Vatican Council, 1964).


The Status of this Document

The Report published here is the work of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue Commission. Commission members were appointed by the World Methodist Council and the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The authorities who appointed the Commission have now allowed the statement to be published so that it may be widely discussed. It is a joint statement of the Commission, not an authoritative declaration by the Roman Catholic Church or by the World Methodist Council, which will study the document in due course.


The Commission’s members are:


Rev Dr Geoffrey Wainwright (Co-Chair), USA
Rev Dr George Freeman (Co-Secretary), World Methodist Council
Rev David Chapman, England
Rev Prof James Haire, Australia
Bishop Scott J. Jones, USA
Ms Gillian Kingston, Ireland
Rev Prof Helmut Nausner, Austria
Bishop Zablon Nthamburi, Kenya


Bishop Michael Putney (Co-Chair), Australia
Rev Donald Bolen (Co-Secretary), Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Bishop Michael Evans, England
Sr Dr Lorelei F. Fuchs, USA
Rev Dr Paul McPartlan, England/USA
Rev Prof George Tavard, USA
H. E. Cardinal Peter Turkson, Ghana
Archbishop James Weisgerber, Canada

Administrative Staff:

Mrs Roma Wyatt, World Methodist Council office, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina
Ms Giovanna Ramon, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome



This is now the eighth report to be issued from the international dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council which began almost immediately after the end of the Second Vatican Council. The reports have appeared at five-yearly intervals for simultaneous presentation to the quinquennial meetings of the World Methodist Council and to the Holy See.

To quote from Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter of 1995, Ut Unum Sint: "Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an 'exchange of gifts'" (28). For the past four decades our Catholic-Methodist dialogue has devoted most attention to the "exchange of ideas". That was necessary, given "the fundamental importance of doctrine" for the sake of truth (Ut Unum Sint, 18). In various informal ways, however, an "exchange of gifts" has already started to occur between Catholics and Methodists. The present report now offers a theologically responsible reading of our separate and common histories and our shared and respective doctrines as a basis for the more deliberate exchange of gifts that can be envisaged. Indeed, practical recommendations are made for an immediate exchange of some such gifts, while the prospect is opened up for other gifts that might be exchanged in the longer term.

The report of 2006 may be seen as a further stage on the way to keeping the promise contained in the title of the report of 1986: Towards a Statement on the Church. That report clearly formulated the final goal as "full communion in faith, mission, and sacramental life" (20). To that end, the dialogue of ideas must continue, with a view to reaching what the report of 1991, The Apostolic Tradition, envisaged as a "doctrinal consensus". The latter report noted that reaching the unity we seek will then “depend upon a fresh creative act of reconciliation which acknowledges the manifold yet unified activity of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. It will involve a joint act of obedience to the sovereign Word of God” (94). Resulting from the “exchange of ideas”, the present report offers progress towards “doctrinal consensus”; by its practical proposals for a more deliberate “exchange of gifts”, it seeks to prepare also for the “act of reconciliation” that will seal our unity. There are pointers in the present report to the topics in the faith and life of the Church that could occupy the Commission in the next round of dialogue as it continues to pursue “doctrinal consensus” and encourage readiness for a decisive “act of reconciliation” between Catholics and Methodists.

Our dialogue has always been surrounded by prayer, both within the Joint Commission and from others who also are committed to rebuilding the full visible unity of Christ's Church. We beg that such attention and concern may accompany this report and any continuation of our work. Meanwhile we invite studious engagement with this present text both in its theological foundations and in its proposals for implementation.

Professor Geoffrey Wainwright
Methodist Co-Chair


Bishop Michael Putney
Catholic Co-Chair

Pentecost 2006



1 Corinthians 1: 1 –10

1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

1. Listening to God’s Word has accompanied the deliberations and discussions of our Joint Commission through the years. In this eighth round of our Joint Commission, our attention was caught from the beginning by the introductory sentences of St Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, which resonates with our experience.

2. Written to a community that was beset with dissension, conflicts and division, the introductory verses of Paul’s letter sketch his vision of the Church, in reference to which he exhorts the Corinthian Christians to put an end to the division and dissension among them. The Church, wherever it is found, is called by God to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, is made holy, and is endowed with spiritual gifts for a life of unity and communion.

3. Paul addresses his letter to the church in Corinth. But before he greets the Corinthians, invoking God’s grace and peace on them (verse 3), he reveals that the Corinthian community does not exhaust the reality of the Church. The Corinthian church is not alone in the worship of Jesus as Lord. There are others in other places who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 2b).

4. However, while it is possible for Paul to invoke the “grace and peace from God and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 3) on all such churches, Methodists and Catholics regrettably have not historically always been able to greet one another with “grace and peace”, as Chapters One and Three of this report show. The fact that we are different churches is not simply a matter of “calling on the name of Jesus in different places” (cf. verse 2b). Rather it is an instance of diversity without unity and the result of a division and a separation, as again Chapter One illustrates. Instead of “grace and peace”, our churches have used infelicitous and even harsh language about each other in the past.

5. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that the Church is called to be holy (verse 2a); and it is called into the fellowship of Jesus the Son of God (verse 9). We believe, with Paul, that God has called us into the fellowship of his Son and made us holy in him. These divine callings, which underlie the reality of the Church, also characterize its life deeply. Thus, both Methodists and Catholics hold holiness and communion to be essential features of the Church. Methodists believe that holiness is the basis of the Church’s unity and communion. Catholics, in line with the Apostles’ Creed, follow their profession of faith in the holiness of the Church with that of the communion of saints.[1] These and other features of the Church are explored in Chapter Two of this report.

6. Divisions and separations, brought about by events of history and consequent confessional definitions, have obscured these features of the Church.

7. But, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Through the previous rounds of dialogue, Methodist and Catholic members of the Joint Commission have increasingly come to recognise authentic elements of the Church in the dialogue partner. Against the background of agreements and understandings which, under the guidance of the Spirit, the Joint Commission has set forth in those previous rounds, it is now possible to see through and beyond the veil of separation, and:

(1) to consider how we, both on our own and together, constitute the Church; and
(2) to discover the spiritual gifts with which each church is adorned.

8. This is what our Joint Commission seeks to do in Chapters Three and Four of the present report. Catholics discover and name gifts God has given to Methodists. They go further, to express an openness to sharing in them. Methodists do likewise with regard to Catholics. The discovery of this has warmed our hearts and disposed us to say with Paul: “We give thanks to our God for you, because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus” (verse 4).

9. This newly cultivated capacity to respect each other’s ecclesial identity and to rejoice at each other’s endowments (and even to share in them), is certainly the fruit of the ecumenical movement and the dialogue of our Joint Commission. More importantly, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Spirit’s power, the Church is not only strengthened to confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3); it also, in the power of the same Spirit, finds and lives a life of communion. This is the deepest vocation of the Church; and it is the common future towards which our sharing of gifts leads us.

10. As a final note, it is significant that Paul relates this common future to being made one “in the same mind and the same purpose” (verse 10). Fundamental unity in faith and in its profession is necessary for the Church’s life of communion and for its witness before the world.


Chapter One



A New Context for Mutual Reassessment

11. Reconciliation between Methodists and Catholics involves a mutual reassessment of each other, which includes a new understanding of the past. Since the beginnings of Methodism in the eighteenth century, Methodists and Catholics have formed assessments of each other. Some of these evaluations were based on genuine understandings of each other’s faith and life. More often, however, they were coloured by the religious, social and political conflicts which have generally characterized relationships between Protestants and Catholics, and they were fed by mutual ignorance, defective understandings or partial views of the other. The current phase of this dialogue has been guided by historical research that places the developments of the last three centuries in their proper context.

12. Forty years of dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Catholic Church have strengthened both the Methodist intention as “part of the church universal... to strive toward unity” at all levels of church life[2] and the Catholic desire, expressed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, to bring about an increase in “ecumenical spirit and mutual esteem” among all people and to seek “the restoration of unity among all Christians”.[3] The ultimate goal remains nothing less than “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life”.[4] We rejoice today that the Holy Spirit has created the conditions for better informed and friendlier relationships than obtained in the past and has opened up new possibilities for the future.

13. Neither Methodists nor Catholics should regard their separation as acceptable. Some may believe that certain separations were necessary in the past for the sake of the Gospel. Others may view all separations as failures by one party or the other, or indeed both, which have obscured the unity of Christ’s Church. In 2003, the Archbishop of Canterbury said of the divided histories of the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain: “Wesley came to the point where he believed that he and his followers could only be fully obedient to Jesus Christ if they took the risk of separation. No-one can easily pass judgement on this costly decision, and no-one is seeking to do so; what we can be sure of is that by God’s direction it bore fruit in witness and transforming service to the Kingdom of God in this nation and far beyond.”[5] Similarly, the separate histories of Methodism and the Roman Catholic Church can show how God has worked in both of them for the fulfilment of the divine purpose. Learning more about each other has confirmed the conviction that “in all things God works for good” among those who love him (Romans 8:28). Each of our communities has embodied features of the Christian life that are not as prominent in the other. It is incumbent upon each to recognise these good things in the life of the other, to be open to receive them as gifts for itself, and to be ready to share them in a common future. There is ample scope for a mutually fruitful “exchange of gifts” between us.[6]

14. The separations of the last five hundred years cannot simply be condoned even if they cannot simply be condemned and blame apportioned. Reflecting on why the Holy Spirit had permitted all the divisions between Christians, Pope John Paul II noted: “Could it not be that these divisions have been a path continually leading the Church to discover the untold wealth contained in Christ’s Gospel and in the redemption accomplished by Christ? Perhaps all this wealth would not have come to light otherwise....”[7] A review of past history suggests that God has led each of our churches in new ways that came through the separations. Catholics can recognise that God has used Methodism, both in its beginning and throughout its history, to develop gifts which eventually ought to bless all Christians everywhere. Similarly, Methodists can recognise that God has been at work in the Catholic Church’s preservation of important traditions and in its pursuit of fresh presentations of the Gospel for the benefit of all Christian believers. The Spirit of God has been renewing both of our churches, and this, in the mystery of divine providence, has opened new opportunities for witness to the reign of God. The present dialogue seeks to harvest such blessings, and thus to prepare the churches for the common future to which the Spirit of God is leading them.


The Emergence of Methodism

15. An historical factor in the mutual understanding of Catholics and Methodists is that the Methodist movement did not break from the Catholic Church. Methodism grew out of the established Church in England and Ireland, from which it separated in various ways in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There being “no history of a formal separating between the two Churches”,[8] there is between Catholics and Methodists no cloud of anathemas, as there was among Christians in the sixteenth century. Further, the origins of Methodism in the Church of England imply that it shares some of the features that are common to the faith and practice of historic Western Christianity. Since 1795, however, when the Methodist Conference took a significant step toward independence from the Church of England, some developments have brought Methodism closer to Catholicism, while others have had the opposite effect.

16. For the sake of relations between Methodists and Roman Catholics it is important to understand how and why Methodism became detached from the Church of England and how it perceived its particular contribution to the universal Church. Unlike the divisions resulting from the serious doctrinal disputes of the Reformation, Methodism grew apart from the Church of England without grave divergences over the Gospel and the faith. In North America, Methodism’s separation from the Church of England was a consequence of American independence. There the Methodist Conference in 1784 approved the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church, seizing an opportunity and an historic mission in the American territories. In Britain and Ireland, Methodists increasingly relied upon their own itinerant preachers to lead worship, nurture spiritual growth and provide pastoral support. After John Wesley’s death, the Plan of Pacification (1795) made provision for itinerant preachers to celebrate Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, effectively giving Methodism in Britain an independent ecclesial life.

17. In its origins, Methodism was primarily a renewal movement, concerned to evangelise the people, and to foster social and personal holiness in response to the proclamation of the Gospel. Significantly, Methodists did not make sustained efforts at articulating their doctrine of the Church. John Wesley accepted the Church of England as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in England. Efforts concentrated instead on Methodism’s calling to spread scriptural holiness. So important was this mission that it took precedence over questions relating to Church order, though Methodists were not indifferent to such matters. Holiness became the decisive mark of the Church in Methodist understanding, enabling Methodists to recognise others as belonging to the universal Church irrespective of their particular ecclesial allegiance. Thus the unity of the Church was viewed primarily in terms of unity in holiness and only secondarily in terms of structural relations. Holiness was the sign and criterion of catholicity, and the apostolicity of the Church was constituted by continuity in the apostolic mission to win people for Christ. For Methodism these were the emphases that had to be safeguarded at all costs.


Catholic Developments

18. Signs of renewal were also evident within the Catholic Church during the period when the Methodist movement was taking shape. The reform decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) had inspired a spiritual renewal, largely through the formation of the diocesan clergy in seminaries. New religious communities and lay movements emerged, with charisms centred on education, health care, ministry to the poor, the cultivation of social responsibility and the pursuit of holiness. Several devotions or forms of piety gained popularity (to the Blessed Sacrament, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus), while spiritual writers such as Francis de Sales and Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle encouraged believers to deepen their personal relationship with Christ. Missionary initiatives were undertaken in the Americas, Asia and Africa, sometimes resulting in the martyrdom of those who sought to spread the Gospel. The key emphases of holiness and mission within Methodism were thus also dominant thrusts within the Catholic Church during this period.

19. This renewal was accompanied by theological controversies and internal tensions within the Catholic Church, most notably concerning grace (for example, rigid interpretations of St Augustine’s doctrine of grace, as in Jansenism). Papal authority was challenged by those arguing for a more conciliar understanding of church authority, while others sought a greater concentration of authority in the See of Rome. In response to the Reformation, Catholic theology emphasised a commitment to living continuity with the apostolic Church and the Church through the ages. Concern with the Church’s unity and apostolicity led the Catholic Church to define itself over against those who had separated from it, suggesting that Protestants had cut themselves off from the Church Christ had founded. In addition to the larger social and political contexts which made it difficult to establish any relations between the Catholic Church and the emerging Methodist movement, these factors militated against any attempt of Methodists and Catholics to view each other positively.


Early Methodist Views of the Roman Catholic Church

20. Broadly speaking, before the middle of the twentieth century Methodism shared in the habitual anti-Catholic attitude of English and American Protestantism. This was true of John Wesley’s view of Catholicism. As an eighteenth-century Anglican priest with a mixed theological heritage, he was convinced that some of the dogmas, e.g., transubstantiation and purgatory, and some of the practices of the Catholic Church, were contrary to Scripture. He believed that Catholics worshipped the saints and holy pictures and practised several false sacraments. He was opposed to withholding the cup in holy communion and to the use of a liturgical language that most laity could not understand. He regarded the Catholic reliance on tradition as a threat to the authority of the Word of God in Scripture, and the power of the Pope as an abuse.

21. Wesley had an ambivalent attitude toward the tradition of the Church. Whereas he had a high regard for the patristic period, his view of the medieval period was mostly negative, though he did draw upon some writings of that time. He appealed to the early Church, and he intended Methodism to effect a renewal of the Church of England in line with primitive Christianity. Wesley accepted the doctrinal decisions of the first four ecumenical councils; however, he felt that a moral decline in Christian life and teaching, which he considered had already begun in the Church’s first centuries, characterised the long period from Constantine to Martin Luther.

22. Though loyal to the English Reformation, John Wesley was prepared to reach out to Catholics in significant ways. His Letter to a Roman Catholic, written in 1749 in Ireland, is marked by a conciliatory tone and a frank acknowledgment of a common faith and doctrine with Catholics. Wesley pleaded for Catholics and Protestants to “reason together” rather than engage in “endless jangling about opinions”. He recognised Catholics as Christians despite what he saw as the errors and superstitions of their church. He was himself deeply indebted to the Imitation of Christ of Thomas à Kempis, which he recommended to Methodist readers, along with the early Fathers of the Church. He also referred to other Catholic writers such as Francis de Sales as models of Christian perfection or spiritual guides.

23. The most eminent eighteenth-century Roman Catholic to comment on Methodism was Richard Challoner (1691-1781), Vicar-Apostolic of the London District from 1758. In A Caveat against the Methodists (1760), Challoner cited numerous biblical references to show that the Church founded by Christ is universal, one, holy, and orthodox in doctrine, with an unfailing succession of pastors and teachers under the direction of the Holy Spirit. In Challoner’s estimation, “The Methodists are not the People of God: they are not true Gospel Christians: nor is their new raised Society the true Church of Christ, or any Part of it.”[9]

24. Responding to Challoner’s Caveat, Wesley agreed that the Church is universal, one, holy and orthodox, but then found it difficult to recognise these same marks of the Church in “the Church of Rome, in its present form”. For him, the catholic Church founded by Christ is “the whole body of men endued with faith, working by love, dispersed over the whole earth, in Europe, Asia, Africa and America”.[10] In all ages and nations the Church is the one body of Christ. This Church is holy “for no unholy man can possibly be a member of it”. It is orthodox in all things necessary to salvation, secured against error in things essential by the perpetual presence of Christ and ever directed by the Spirit of truth. Wesley judged that “not Methodists only” but “the whole body of Protestants” had better title to these marks than the Roman Catholic Church as such. He was willing to recognise individual Catholics as being included in the Church despite the shortcomings of their institution. In his 1785 sermon Of the Church he said of the Church of Rome: “Therein neither is ‘the pure Word of God’ preached nor (are) the sacraments ‘duly administered’.” Yet, he would include those congregations within the Church catholic, if they have “one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father of all”.[11] At times, then, Wesley was dismissive of the Roman Catholic Church; nevertheless he was reluctant to unchurch Roman Catholic individuals or even entire congregations.

25. When the Methodist Episcopal Church was constituted in the United States in 1784, Wesley gave it an edited version of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Several of the Articles repeated the Reformers’ attack on Catholic teaching, thus providing a basis for the Methodist critique of Catholicism in America. After Wesley’s death, his opposition to Catholicism was remembered among his followers in England. The Wesleyan Methodist Conference published tracts and books that extolled the Reformation and attacked popery. International relations further complicated matters. For most Methodists on both sides of the Atlantic, a perceived allegiance to the Pope as a foreign ruler made Roman Catholics potentially disloyal citizens, dangerous to the social order.


Early Roman Catholic Views of Methodism

26. Early Catholic reactions to Methodism were rare. When given, they largely reflected the principle that the Reformation had been an unmitigated evil. The Recusants, whose views were affected by the experience of the penal laws against Catholics and their priests, generally rejected the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England as heretical. In France, the influential writer Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet taught that the Reformation launched a course of endless self-divisions and multiplications because of the absence of a true doctrinal magisterium and uncontrolled interpretations of Scripture.[12] Richard Challoner followed Bossuet and assimilated Methodism to the numerous enthusiastic sects that had broken off from the Church of England during the seventeenth century. He denounced Methodism as just another instance of the fissiparous process that many viewed as the essential heritage of the Reformation in regard to the structure of the Church.

27. In relation to doctrine, Challoner understood the Council of Trent as having defended the authentic apostolic tradition in opposition to the teaching of the Reformers. The Council having condemned “the vain trust of the heretics” (inanem haereticorum fiduciam) at its sixth session (1546),[13] Challoner was critical of the Methodist doctrine of assurance, in which he detected “mere illusion and groundless presumption”. He thus fostered among Catholics a perception of Methodist societies as a late sectarian growth that promoted false doctrine and unhealthy practices in a church that was already schismatic and heretical. When the Methodist societies came to be separated from the Church of England, these hostile judgments were automatically transferred to Methodism. This negative view was reflected in theological dictionaries published in France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One such depiction of Methodism concluded, “One sees here an image, an echo, not of the angelic hierarchies..., but of that empire of confusion and disorder where the evil spirits reign.”[14]

28. A few voices conveyed a different, though still mixed, understanding, even if they were not widely heard. In his Lenten lectures at the London Oratory in 1850, John Henry Newman could declare to his former fellow-Anglicans that “if you wish to find the shadow and the suggestion of the supernatural qualities which make up the notion of a Catholic Saint, to Wesley you must go, and such as him” (though “personally I do not like him, if it were merely for deep self-reliance and self-conceit”). Likewise, he went on, Wesley and his companions, “starting amid ridicule at Oxford, with fasting and praying in the cold night air, then going about preaching, reviled by the rich and educated, and pelted and dragged to prison by the populace, and converting thousands from sin to God’s service”, might evoke the great Catholic missionaries of former times – “were it not for their pride and eccentricity, their fanatical doctrine and untranquil devotion”.[15]

29. A more measured approach to Methodism from this period can be found in the work of Johann Adam Möhler (1796-1838). In a study of the major symbols and confessions of faith that had been formulated since the Reformation, he classified Methodism as “one of the smaller Protestant sects”, and recognised that John Wesley was distinguished “by great talents, classical acquirements and (what was still better) by a burning zeal for the kingdom of God”.[16] While he blamed Wesley for, as he saw it, assuming the office of bishop and ordaining priests, he was the first to suggest a similarity between the origin of the Methodist movement and the inspiration “which led to the origin of the monastic institutes” in the Catholic Church. In this perspective Methodism appeared primarily as a force for spiritual renewal. This positive reassessment, however, did not bear fruit in Catholic thought until the twentieth century.


Underlying Convictions

30. In this account of the history of our mutual assessment, wherein we can easily see uninformed and polemical judgements of each other, it is also possible to see a desire on both sides to preserve the Gospel and its proclamation. It can be seen that Methodism took steps to protect the holiness of the Church according to its insights. In the new context of industrialisation in England, mass emigration from Ireland, the development of the United States as a nation, and wide-spread colonisation, Methodism sought to bring scriptural holiness to ordinary people in the midst of great social upheaval. It adopted new forms of preaching and worship to convey the Gospel. The Holy Spirit was perceived by Methodists as raising up leaders for the newly formed churches in new structures of governance. They were passionate about transforming individual lives and shaping societies so that holiness might be more manifest.

31. With a centuries-long memory of Christian unity, the Catholic Church sought to preserve the unity of God’s people in every way it could. Catholics were deeply concerned about the fissiparous tendencies of Protestantism. The Catholic Church desired to protect the visible continuity of ministry and teaching in the Church, and saw catholicity as intimately connected with these. It reacted to the separations of the sixteenth century as losses to God’s Church and then saw other divisions within Protestant churches as movements further away from unity, apostolicity and catholicity.


Additional Factors Affecting the Relationship

32. While doctrine and theology are of major importance in the life of the churches, the religious experience of the faithful cannot be separated from their social setting. Majorities tend to restrict the freedom of minorities. When, in the past, Methodism was part of a Protestant majority or ascendancy, it tended to contribute to the marginalisation of Roman Catholics in society and to the imposition of measures against the free exercise of their faith. Likewise, where Roman Catholicism dominated, it tended to marginalise Protestants, including Methodists, to prevent them from full participation in society, and to limit the free practice of their faith and exercise of conscience.

33. Such political and social situations nurtured hostility rather than charity. Memories of oppression or discrimination were kept alive in the popular mind in both communities, fostering misunderstanding and mistrust. National rivalries between predominantly Protestant and Catholic countries were fed by the religious oppositions which in turn they nurtured. As the missionary movement established new churches around the world, many of these divisions and prejudices were passed on to the new Christians and their leaders.


The Ecumenical Movement and the Second Vatican Council

34. Methodists were prominent in the ecumenical movement that began in the late nineteenth century and gained momentum in the first half of the twentieth. Initially this activity was propelled by commitment to world-wide mission and evangelism, which led Methodists and others to join in the establishment of new collaborative organisations. They saw that cooperation among Christians was necessary for the effective pursuit of that mission. The mottoes ‘the evangelization of the world in this generation’ (Student Volunteer Movement) and ‘that they all may be one’ (World Student Christian Federation) motivated Methodists to forge strong working relationships with other Protestants. In so doing, they sought to live out John Wesley’s teaching about a person of “catholic spirit” as one who “gives his hand” to all whose “hearts are right with his heart”. Such a person regards “as friends”, “as brethren”, all who “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” and “love God and man”: “He assists them to the uttermost of his power in all things, spiritual and temporal. He is ready ‘to spend and be spent for them’; yea, ‘to lay down his life for’ their sake.” Looking outward, such a person’s heart is “enlarged toward all mankind”: “This is catholic or universal love. And he that has this is of catholic spirit.”[17]

35. This commitment to a “catholic spirit” progressively led Methodists to deepen their involvement in ecumenical organisations at the local, national and world levels. When the ecumenical movement began to take form in ecclesiastical structures after 1910, Methodist churches embraced it readily. After more than a century of independent existence, Methodist churches began to reflect upon their place in the larger Christian world. The British Methodist Church, while claiming for itself a place in “the Holy Catholic Church which is the Body of Christ”,[18] considered that existing “denominations”, being “but a partial and imperfect embodiment of the New Testament ideal”, have a “duty to make common cause in the search for the perfect expression of that unity and holiness which in Christ are already theirs”.[19]

36. As the twentieth century progressed, Methodist attitudes toward Roman Catholics began to be transformed. The breakthrough came with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the creation of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. The invitation extended by Pope John XXIII to Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches to send official observers to the Second Vatican Council was gladly received by Methodists. The relationships built between the Methodist observers and the Catholic participants at the Council contributed to a deeper mutual understanding between them. The Methodists gained a better understanding of Catholic teaching and welcomed the new articulations of traditional Catholic doctrine contained in the Council’s documents: in particular, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes), the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes).[20]

37. Unitatis Redintegratio launched the Catholic Church into the ecumenical movement and became the interpretive guide to govern its participation therein. The Decree expressed the conviction that the ecumenical movement was set in motion and led by the Holy Spirit, and that the search for Christian unity was intrinsically linked to the Church’s identity and mission. The Council recognised that elements of the Church founded by Jesus Christ were already present in other churches and ecclesial communities, and that their relationship to the Catholic Church was that of partial or imperfect communion, which contained an inner dynamic towards full communion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (LG §8; UR §3). The promotion of dialogue, joint collaboration for the common good and spiritual ecumenism were set forth as the principal means by which Christian unity is to be fostered. The conciliar teaching that ecumenical relations require interior conversion and repentance for sins against unity (UR §7), and that such conversion, along with “holiness of life”, is at the heart of the ecumenical movement (UR §8), is especially close to the Methodist conviction that the search for evangelical perfection should be at the centre of Christian living.

38. Beginning with Unitatis Redintegratio (1964) and building on the Council’s teaching, a body of texts has emerged which guides Roman Catholic participation in the search for Christian unity. This includes treatment of ecumenism within the revised Code of Canon Law (1983), a Directory of Norms governing Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement (first edition, 1967-1970; revised edition 1993), the papal encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995), and a large corpus of papal teaching and guidance from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Pope John XXIII (1958-63) identified the unity of Christians as one of the goals of the Council, and it has increasingly become a pastoral focus in successive pontificates. In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II insisted that the pursuit of Christian unity is not an addendum or an appendix but the way of the Church, an integral part of its essence and its pastoral activity.[21]

39. Both communions acknowledge the change in relations that came with the Second Vatican Council. Our dialogue has spent forty years building on that fresh opening. Immediately following the Council, steps were taken to establish a theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council. This dialogue began its work in 1967. Catholics and Methodists have also been partners in the work of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. In various ways the two communions have engaged in joint prayer, common witness, common mission and local dialogue. Many new relationships have been built, and a spirit of mutual love has been nurtured, replacing the indifference or hostility that used to prevail between Catholics and Methodists. As a result, there has been a shift from polemics to dialogue, from accusation to respect, and from ignorance to trust. The desire for unity has grown at the same time stronger and more widespread. Appreciation of the ecclesial character of each other has increased and has found tangible expression in our closer relations.


New Hermeneutical Perspectives

40. Catholics and Methodists have viewed each other with a vision shaped by their respective understandings of the Reformation and of the blame which was attributed at that time and which continued to be attributed from then onwards. The Methodist view of the Catholic Church changed during the twentieth century as did the Catholic view of Methodism. Part of this reassessment concerns our interpretation of the phenomenon of separation itself.

41. Catholics are now able to see John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement as having been “characterized by a desire to make known the love of Christ, to reform the inner life of the Church, to encourage participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, to foster Christian education, to serve the poor, to impassion professed Christians into articulate witness for Christ’s sake”.[22] Observing in Methodism many signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, Catholics can see that it had the potential to renew the Church of England of that time. Whatever their attitudes in the past, Catholics can recognise that John Wesley valued greatly the unity of the Church but also felt obliged to be faithful to his mission to preach “scriptural holiness”. He and his followers pursued their mission with great dedication despite the tragic consequence of ecclesial division.

42. That the movement became separated from the Church of England is the result of many factors, both theological and non-theological. While the separation is regrettable, it is impossible at this distance to judge the parties involved and it would be undesirable to try. It was understandable that Catholics should see the separation of Methodists from the Church of England as one more example of the disintegrating impulse of the Reformation. The Christian world was already divided and the restoration of unity was not yet an obvious counter movement of the Holy Spirit. The renewal of the Church through the Methodist preaching of scriptural holiness would eventually serve the goal of Christian unity. Sadly, as this impulse gained a lasting foothold, Methodism’s pursuit of its mission resulted in a further division. Catholics can affirm with confidence that it is good that this Methodist gift of working for scriptural holiness in all the world is one which has survived for all to share.

43. Methodists have come to understand that the many divisions of the Church have weakened Christian witness. They recognise that Catholics have a valuable approach to unity in diversity from which Methodists can learn. Catholic appreciation for the past is something which Methodists share, and yet Catholics have taken more seriously their continuity with the Church in early and medieval times than have Methodists. John Wesley’s appreciation for Catholic understanding of sanctification can give Methodists an impetus to reassess Catholicism in this area, too. Methodists and Catholics are both committed to personal and social holiness and have developed an important sense of solidarity as they work together for social justice.

44. Separated Christian communities must eventually grow toward one another if they grow closer to Christ. They are formed by the Spirit to be one and not divided. Methodists and Catholics are kept from full communion by still unresolved doctrinal matters that the churches each believe are vital to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we are conscious of the Holy Spirit drawing us towards deeper koinonia. All separations, therefore, are ever only temporary for those who seek to follow Christ, and can never be definitive. Christ alone knows the timing for the coming together of his followers. They only need to wait upon him and to respond whole-heartedly to the movements of the unifying Spirit.


Chapter Two



The Church – Visible and Invisible

45. What is the Church? And what is its purpose here on earth? People use the word ‘church’ in different ways: the building where we gather for worship, the local Christian community, a particular ‘denomination’ (e.g. Methodist or Catholic), the worldwide body of Christians, or even the collective leadership of the Christian community. There is something very visible and tangible about what ‘church’ means to most people. The Greek and Latin words for ‘church’ (ekklesia, ecclesia) involve the idea of being gathered and assembled. The Church is the assembly of God’s people, gathered to listen and respond to the Word of God. The English word ‘church’ comes from the Greek kyriake, meaning ‘what belongs to the Lord’. The Church is the people that God gathers both locally and across the world, the people that belongs to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Gathering together in a visible community, united in faith and in love, is central to what Church means to most Christians.

46. Dialogue between Catholics and Methodists is necessary because there is division among Christians, and this dividedness clouds our understanding of the Church. There is much about the Church, however, that we can say together as Methodists and Catholics, and there are many elements of the Church that we recognise in each other. This chapter presents key aspects of our common understanding of the nature and mission of the Church.

47. The Church of Christ cannot be defined in the way that we might describe any other international organisation. There is more to the Church than a visible community of people who share a particular view of the world, its origins and its destiny. The Church is indeed a visible reality; its visibility is essential to its nature and mission. But there is more to the Church than meets the eye, and only the eye of faith can discern its deepest reality, its invisible mystery.

48. The word ‘mystery’ is used throughout this chapter and appears often in previous reports of this Joint Commission. It is rooted in St Paul’s use of the Greek word mysterion to express God’s hidden plan of salvation now revealed in the incarnate Christ: in him, the invisible is now made visible. God has made known to us “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). St Paul was given grace “to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches in Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9). St Paul was deeply conscious of the intimate, nuptial bond between Christ and his bride, the Church. This in itself is “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32), and it is through the Church that the mystery of God’s saving grace is to be made known to the world. The Greek word mysterion was eventually rendered by sacramentum in Latin translations of the Bible and in Latin patristic writings. The Church, the creation of the Word of God, is “the ‘mystery’ or ‘sacrament’ of God’s love for the world”.[23] The invisible and the visible come together, and the former is made known through the latter. This holding together of the invisible and the visible is essential to our understanding of the Church as Catholics and Methodists. It is rooted in Christ himself, the invisible Word made visible in the flesh, fully divine and fully human.

49. What then is the Church’s deepest and hidden reality, the mystery that lies at the heart of its nature and mission? It is the invisible presence of the Triune God, the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God who is Holy Love. As Pope Paul VI said, “The Church is a mystery. It is a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God”.[24] The Church is a fruit of God’s grace, and its nature and mission cannot be understood apart from the mystery of God’s loving plan for the salvation of all humanity. God’s pilgrim people are “called to live by faith in the God whose undeserved generosity remains the alpha and omega of the Church’s very existence” (CLP, 5.6).

50. As Catholics and Methodists, we confess that the life and actions of the pilgrim Church have at times made it particularly difficult to look beyond its visibility to the invisible presence of God. The Church is a community of weak and vulnerable human beings who often fail and fall, alone and together. “In its pilgrimage on earth Christ summons the Church to continual reformation, of which it is always in need, in so far as it is an institution of humans beings here on earth” (UR §6). The Church is always in need of purification and renewal (cf. LG §8), and “there is much of which the Church needs to repent” (CLP, 2.2.7). There is a danger of presenting an idealised picture which bears little resemblance to the visible reality of the Church as it has journeyed and struggled through history. And yet we believe that God remains faithfully present to the Church, and calls us to holiness, whatever our human frailty and sinfulness. This belief is founded on the promise of the Risen Jesus: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).


Sharing the Life of the Trinity

51. The mystery of the Church is rooted in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and in the mystery of the saving life, death and resurrection of the Incarnate Word. The inner life of the Church is a sharing in the life of God, and the mission of the Church is a sharing in the mission of God’s Son and Spirit. “Because God so loved the world, he sent his Son and the Holy Spirit to draw us into communion with himself. This sharing in God’s life, which resulted from the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, found expression in a visible koinonia of Christ’s disciples, the Church.”[25] Koinonia (or ‘communion’) lies at the very heart of the way Catholics and Methodists understand the nature of the Church.

52. The Church springs from an initiative by the Holy Trinity and belongs to the sphere of God’s grace. “The revelation of the Triune God is the source of the Church’s faith, the Church’s mission, and the Church’s sacramental life.”[26] The Church did not create itself: “It originated in the redemptive act of God in Christ; and it lives in union with Christ’s death and resurrection, comforted, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit”.[27] As members of Christ’s Church, and in communion with Christians throughout the ages, we believe that we continue even today to share in the life and paschal mystery of the incarnate Son, upheld by the Spirit of God.

53. The New Testament provides a great variety of images and models, many of them drawing on the Old Testament understanding of God’s chosen people, to express what it means to be the Church, although “none of these can express exclusively or even adequately what the Church is, the whole of its mystery”.[28] Any theological attempt to describe the Church should reflect something of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Thus Methodists and Catholics affirm the Church as: the people and family of God the Father; the body and bride of Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate; and the living temple of God the Holy Spirit. The koinonia or communion of Christ’s disciples is a visible reflection of the eternal koinonia or communion of the Triune God who is the source, meaning, purpose and destiny of the Church. Indeed, “it is of the essence of the Church to be a sharing in this communion of love between the three Persons of the Trinity”.[29]


People and Family of God the Father

54. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The mystery of God is the mystery of God’s eternal love. The Father’s overflowing love created humanity for communion with himself, and that same creative love gathers together the followers of his Son into the visible community of the Church. By God’s free gift of the covenant, the people of Israel became God’s own royal, priestly and prophetic people, chosen to be a light to the nations. By the Father’s gift of the new and everlasting covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, those who are “in Christ” become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). By the unitive power of his Spirit of love, the Father draws us into a communion of life with his own beloved Son. In Christ, we become the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, members of his royal and consecrated family, the Church. All of this is the fruit of the outpouring of the Father’s creative and gathering love.


Body and Bride of Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate

55. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Catholics and Methodists affirm together their faith that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, of one being with the Father”.[30] He is the eternal Logos or Word who is God from all eternity and who became flesh and lived among us (cf. John 1:1, 14). “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), it was by his Word that the Father created all that came to be (cf. John 1:3); and it was by his Incarnate Word that the Father began his work of new creation and gathered together the scattered children of God. It was by God’s speaking his Word in Christ that the Church came to be, and that Church is “the place where the Word of God is spoken, heard, responded to and confessed”.[31] God’s Word is spoken to us through the words of Sacred Scripture, and it is Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who opens our minds to understand the Scriptures within the continuing life, worship and witness of the community of the Church through the ages (cf. Luke 24:45).

56. The origins of the Church lie in Christ himself: “Christianity arose because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus… As is shown by his gathering of those who walked with him and shared a common life with him, especially the Twelve, the ministry of Jesus created a community. After the resurrection this community shared the new life conferred by the Spirit, and very soon came to be called the Church. Baptized into the faith and proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord, the members were united to one another by the Spirit in a life marked by the apostolic teaching, common prayer, the breaking of bread and often by some community of goods; and those who were converted and drawn to them became part of this koinonia.”[32] This life-bringing communion with the Risen Lord is so profound that we call the Church “the bride of Christ” and “the body of Christ”. Christ is the true vine, and we are his branches, bearing fruit because he lives in us and we live in him (cf. John 15:1-17).

With him the corner-stone
The living stones conjoin;
Christ and his church are one,
One body and one vine.[33]

By keeping his commandment of love, we ourselves live in his love; through lives of Christ-like sacrificial love, Christ’s joy comes to us and our own joy is made complete. And so we are appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). This intimate union with Christ is God’s gift to the Church, maintained, deepened and renewed by the proclamation of the word and the breaking of the bread.

O Thou who this mysterious bread
Didst in Emmaus break,
Return, herewith our souls to feed,
And to thy followers speak.

Unseal the volume of thy grace,
Apply the gospel word,
Open our eyes to see thy face,
Our hearts to know the Lord.[34]

For Methodists and Catholics, the call to holiness and the call to be the Church belong together, and spirituality and theology are inseparable.

57. As with the first community of Christ’s followers, and the community of the faithful throughout the ages, so the Church today is rooted in the Father’s speaking of the Word and the gathering power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is summoned by the personal call of the Risen Lord. He says to each of us: Come to me, Follow me, and Go in my name. We are transformed by the touch of his presence and become new people, ready and able to follow him and to live a new life in Christ. We are sent forth by him into the world to proclaim with joy the good news of God’s love for all humanity, and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus’ call to communion with his life (Come to me) is inseparable from his call to communion with his mission (Go in my name). Jesus knew he was sent by the Father. If we are truly united with Christ as his bride and his body, and as branches of the vine, we will also be drawn into his mission to bring God’s saving love to the world and to invite people to the feast of the kingdom.


Living Temple of God the Holy Spirit

58. None of this is possible for the Church apart from the vivifying, empowering and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. Methodists and Catholics affirm together their faith in the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life”.[35] In the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos to bring light and life, and was breathed into Adam, God’s human creation. The same Spirit inspired the prophets, promising a new beginning, a new creation, a new covenant. In that new beginning, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Church, bringing the new life promised by Christ, the new Adam. The Spirit is the invisible bond of communion (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:13), uniting individual Christians to Christ and to one another, and uniting local church communities with each other in the one Church of Christ. Within the Church, the Spirit is the bond of communion and connection across both space and time. The eternal Spirit is God’s great eschatological gift (cf. Joel 2:28-29), giving us even now a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and an anticipation of eventual full communion with the Holy Trinity.

59. Abiding in the Church, the Holy Spirit preserves the Church’s communion with the Apostles and with the faithful through the ages, as well as leading the Church forward into all truth. Unchanging from generation to generation, the Spirit is the living continuity of the Church, making possible that memorial of Christ by which we participate here and now in the life, death and rising of the Lord, and anticipate his return in glory. That same Spirit inspires the Church’s pilgrim journey: “The power and presence of the Spirit lead the faithful from grace to grace.”[36] The Holy Spirit is also the power of God’s transforming love, calling all to holiness and working within the hearts of individual believers and their communities to bring the renewal and reformation of which they always have need. The Holy Spirit is the Witness to Christ in the world (John 15:26), anointing all believers for the work of witness and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gift of the Spirit to the Church brings many gifts to serve its unity and mission. “The Spirit is the invisible thread running through the work of the Church in the world, enabling our minds to hear and receive the Word, and giving us tongues to speak the Word (John 14:26; 16:13-14; Acts 4:31). Relating us to one another and to Christ our Head, the Holy Spirit gives coherent shape and variety to the people of God. Within that people as they are, and for that people as they shall be, the Holy Spirit invites us all to share in the service of the One who came to serve.”[37]


Visible Communion as Sign of Invisible Koinonia

60. The Church is by nature a “connectional society”, “a vital web of interactive relationships” (BD, pp. 128, 190). Both Methodists and Catholics have an essentially ‘connectional’ understanding of Christ’s call to discipleship, to holiness and to mission, always as God’s gift and rooted in our sharing in the invisible koinonia that is the life of the Holy Trinity. From the first call of Jesus to his Apostles, to be called is to be gathered – into local communities (churches) and into one universal communion (the Church). There can be no such thing as private and individualistic Christianity. To be Christian is to be joined together in Christ, to belong to the community gathered around the Risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Faith is always personal but never private, for faith incorporates the believing individual into the community of faith.”[38] This connectional principle derives from the understanding of holiness common to Catholics and Methodists: holiness is never a private affair, but a call to perfect love of God and of one another. “And since love is the real test of holiness, such holiness finds its natural milieu in, and not apart from, Christian fellowship” (CLP, 4.3.9). Because our communion is grounded in the holy love of the living God, it is a sharing together in a life of holiness and mutual love. That life of communion includes “deep fellowship among participants, a fellowship which is both visible and invisible, finding expression in faith and order, in prayer and sacrament, in mission and service”.[39]

61. This dynamic of connection and communion belongs not only to local disciples gathered together in community, but also to the worldwide community of those local communities united together as one Church, the Body of Christ. The Church of Christ is truly present and effective in some way in all local congregations of the faithful who are gathered together by the preaching of the Gospel and for the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. LG §26). But to be truly ecclesial, each community must be open to communion with other such communities. Individual Christians and their communities are essentially linked together in a web of mutual and interdependent relationships. St Paul’s image of the Church as the Body of Christ powerfully expresses this fundamental connectedness: “Every organ or limb has its own distinctive function, but belongs to a living whole. Similarly, neither individual Christians nor individual churches function effectively in isolation, but are dependent on a larger whole. And what is true of individual Christians and churches is also true of regional and national churches. The Church of Christ is an interdependent whole, because ultimately there is ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism: one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:5-6)” (CLP, 4.6.3; cf. 4.4.2, 4.7.1, 4.7.4, 4.7.9). Baptism is the gateway to communion in Christ, and so to those relationships which constitute the Church of Christ. Such a connectional understanding of the Church means that both Catholics and Methodists recognise the need for effective pastoral ministries of unity and oversight (episcopé) within the one Church of Christ. Catholics and Methodists firmly believe that Christ wills one visibly united, universal Church, even though they may differently identify the structures needed for such full communion.

62. The Church is called to be an effective sign to the world of the saving and gathering purpose of God for all humanity, and a foretaste of our final gathering by God in heaven. Visible unity is essential, therefore, to the nature and mission of the Church. Any division is contrary to Christ’s will for his Church “that they may all be one ... that the world may believe” (John 17:21), and seriously impairs the mission of the Church. As Catholics and Methodists, we are committed to pursuing together the path towards full visible unity in faith, mission and sacramental life.[40]

Touched by the lodestone of thy love,
Let all our hearts agree,
And ever t’ward each other move,
And ever move t’ward thee.[41]


Growing in Communion

63. Communion is much more than co-existence; it is a shared existence. Mutual sharing is at the heart of a life of holiness (CLP, 3.1.8). Communion involves holding in common the many gifts of God to the Church. The more of these gifts we hold together, the more in communion we are with each other. We are in full communion when we share together all those essential gifts of grace we believe to be entrusted by God to the Church. Methodists and Catholics are not yet fully agreed on what constitutes the essential gifts, in the areas of doctrine, sacraments and structures. We joyfully reaffirm together, however, the words of Pope John XXIII that “what unites us is much greater than what divides us”,[42] and that our continuing dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas but in some way always an “exchange of gifts” (UUS §28).

64. We already share together in the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who is the source of our communion in Christ. Methodists and Catholics are already in a real, though imperfect, communion with one another (cf. UR §3). We rejoice in the many essential elements of the Church of Christ which we discover in each other’s communities. Our communion grows as we learn to recognise God’s gifts in each other.


Marked with Signs of the Holy Trinity

65. A visible community which is in koinonia with God cannot but be marked with visible signs, however imperfect, of the invisible presence of God the Holy Trinity. The mystery of the Church bears the marks of the mystery of God. Methodists and Catholics joyfully affirm together in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. These four traditional ‘marks’ or ‘notes’ of the Church derive from its creation by and its communion with the Triune God who is one in the communion of three Persons; perfect in holy love; comprehensive in his reconciling purpose; and utterly generous in the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit (CLP, 2.4).

66. Unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity are already gifts of God to his Church, marks of God’s continuing and faithful presence. But we are a pilgrim people, and those marks are both gifts and goals, already present but not yet fully realised. As we seek to place ourselves and our communities at the service of the divine mission, we seek also by God’s grace to grow towards entire sanctification: “Just as the Church longs for the oneness of its members in love and prays for it in its liturgy, so it waits in hope for spiritual gifts that will lead it to a higher level of holiness, a more evident fullness of catholicity, and a greater fidelity in apostolicity. This striving after perfection in the God-given marks of the Church implies an ecumenical imperative. All Christian churches should pray and work toward an eventual restoration of organic unity.”[43]


Marked with Signs of Christ’s Life, Cross and Resurrection

67. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, “determine the identity, constitute the message, and empower the mission of the Church” (CLP, 2.3.4). If the Church lives in union with Christ, it will bear visible signs of his saving mystery.

68. “The reign of God is both a present and future reality” (BD, p. 44). Christ proclaimed that the kingdom of his Father was near at hand. This proclamation was the heart of his message, and therefore lies at the heart of the mission of his Church. Christ worked miracles as signs of the inbreaking power of the kingdom of God, which he embodied. His Church announces the kingdom and is a living communal sign of God’s reign: “The church is called to be that place where the first signs of the reign of God are identified and acknowledged in the world” (BD, p. 44; cf. LG §5). The Church in Christ’s name and by the power of his Spirit serves the kingdom of God by working to heal and transform the world here and now.

69. As an essential aspect of this calling, Catholics and Methodists are committed to serve the poor and oppressed of our time, and they understand the Church as an instrument in bringing God’s peace and justice to all God’s people: “personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world” (BD, p. 47). As Christ reached out to touch and restore the lives of the outcasts of his society, so the Church is called to reach out in his name to touch and transform the lives of the untouchables and marginalised of our world. Christ called his disciples to be servants of all (Mark 9:35).

70. As a communal sign of the crucified Christ in our world, the Church is called to a life of self-giving love which seeks always to serve rather than be served; to a life of humble and self-emptying diakonia which involves washing the feet of those among whom we live; to sharing the sorrow of God’s people and suffering with them in communion with the Suffering Servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Through Baptism into Christ we have been “baptised into his death” (Romans 6:3). The Church is called to a communion in the death of Christ, dying with him, crucified with him. Like the Risen Lord when he appeared to his disciples, the Church will be marked with signs of crucifixion, as testimony to our doubting world of the living love of the Risen Lord (CLP, 2.3.12).

71. We have been “baptised into Christ’s death” so that we can share his resurrection and “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Methodists and Catholics joyfully affirm together the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the faith that “Christ is risen!” lies at the heart of all that they hold in common. The Church is called to be an Easter community, marked with the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord. Like Mary of Magdala and the Apostles, Christians today are told not to look for Christ among the dead, but to proclaim him to the world as risen and alive:

Haste then, ye souls that first believe,
Who dare the gospel word receive,
Your faith with joyful hearts confess,
Be bold, be Jesus’ witnesses.

Go, tell the followers of your Lord
Their Jesus is to life restored;
He lives, that they his life may find;
He lives to quicken all mankind.[44]

The Second Vatican Council summed up the mission of the whole Church in its description of the vocation of every individual: to be “a witness to the world of the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God” (LG §38).


Marked with Signs of Pentecost

72. The Apostles after the crucifixion were understandably afraid and shut themselves away in the upper room. The Church may be tempted to do the same in the face of societies and cultures whose attitudes can range from apathy towards the teaching and values of the Gospel to active persecution. The Risen Lord came to the Apostles with words of peace to dissolve their fear, and breathed his Spirit upon them. His call to them is also his call to the whole Church founded on them: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (John 20:21). Christians and their communities can all too easily focus entirely on their fellowship and worship, to the neglect of mission and witness. As happened at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes with power to enflame our hearts and minds with a zeal for Christ and his Gospel, and sends us out from our “upper rooms” into the world to proclaim the joyful news that Christ is Risen. Our teaching as Methodists and Catholics demands that each and every church community be marked with signs of Pentecost, signs of the Holy Spirit: “In that Spirit we are called to share in the mission of Christ. In that Spirit we shall indeed become the People of Pentecost, the apostles of our time”.[45] We hear the Lord say afresh to us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In that way we truly become a community of faith and love, anticipating and journeying towards our final destiny with and in God.


Sharing the Divine Mission

73. Sharing the mission of the Son and of the Spirit in the world is central to our common understanding of the nature of the Church. The nature and mission of the Church are inseparable. The call to personal holiness, the call to communion and the call to mission intrinsically belong together: “Our connection and communion with one another serve our growth towards holiness and our sharing in God’s mission.”[46] “Faith flows into mission”,[47] and “Christian communion as koinonia necessarily includes communion in mission.”[48]

74. Methodists and Catholics affirm together a fundamentally Trinitarian teaching on the nature and mission of the Church, drawn by the Father, commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “The pilgrim Church is of its very nature missionary, since it draws its origin from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the plan of God the Father” (AG §2). The Church’s mission is a sharing in the continuing mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, expressing the Father’s love for all humanity.[49] Communion with the Triune God is the very life of the Church; communion with the mission of God’s Son and Spirit is the very mission of the Church.

75. Catholics and Methodists hold this common understanding of the Father’s gift to the Church of a sharing in the mission of the Son and the Spirit. Such an understanding is rooted in our affirmation together of God’s free decision to allow us actively to participate in his saving work. This takes place under God’s grace which comes first as his free gift. “The church as the community of the new covenant has participated in Christ’s ministry of grace across the years and around the world” (BD, p. 89).

76. The Brighton Report affirmed our common understanding of graced “cooperation” and “participation” in God’s work which allows us with St Paul to call Christians “God’s co-workers” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9): “Methodists and Catholics agree … that God works through people as servants, signs and instruments of his presence and action. Although God is not limited to such ways of working, we joyfully affirm together that God freely chooses to work through the service of human communities and individuals, empowered by his grace. The whole Church is called to be a channel of God’s grace to the world; within the Church individuals and institutions become agents of the Lord and thus servants of their brothers and sisters.”[50]

77. This agreement between Catholics and Methodists on the need for “graced, free and active participation in God’s saving work”[51] lies at the very heart of the possibility of our moving towards a common understanding of the nature and mission of the Church which makes use of concepts associated with ‘sacramentality’: “The Mystery of the Word made flesh and the sacramental mystery of the Eucharist point towards a view of the Church based upon the sacramental idea, i.e. the Church takes its shape from the Incarnation from which it originated and the eucharistic action by which its life is constantly being renewed.”[52] Though some have hesitated to refer to the Church itself as a sacrament, various phases of our dialogue have focused on affirmation of the Church as a ‘means of grace’ as a point of agreement between Methodists and Catholics. Filled with the Spirit of God, the Church is empowered “to serve as a sign, sacrament and harbinger of the Kingdom of God in the time between the times”.[53] The Risen Christ is present at the heart of the life of his Church, working in and through the Church which he unites with himself as a communal sign and instrument of his saving presence. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for the Church to be a sign or sacrament of the Risen Christ for our whole world.[54] Methodists and Catholics agree that “in all situations, the underlying truth of the Church’s nature and purpose remains the same: by its life and witness the Church points towards, by its sharing and worship it anticipates, and through its mission it is an instrument of the ultimate reality of the Kingdom of God, actualised in Jesus Christ” (CLP, 2.3.19; emphasis added).

78. During our dialogues, we have each grown in our understanding and appreciation of the means of grace with which the other is so fruitfully endowed. We have yet to reach full agreement on the sacramental nature of those means of grace, but we have already found significant convergence: “We agree that God has promised to be with his Church until the end of the age (cf. Matthew 28:20), and that all the means of grace, whether sacraments or sacramentals, instituted means or prudential means, are channels of God’s faithfulness to his promise.”[55] Catholics and Methodists give full recognition to each other’s celebration of the sacrament of Baptism. Our common Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is our sacramental bond of unity, the visible foundation of the deep communion which already exists between us and which impels us to ever deeper unity with each other and participation in the life and mission of Christ himself.

79. While we joyfully affirm the Church’s participation in the divine mission, we should be humbly conscious that in all of this we “rely on the primacy of God’s grace over all limitations and weaknesses, and on the invisible, active and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit who blows where he wills”.[56] We give thanks together to the Father that the power of his Son can shine through our human weakness: “You choose the weak and make them strong in bearing witness to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[57]

80. The innermost reality of the Church is its invisible communion with the Risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Son is ‘the Sent One’, and being drawn into the life of Christ will always involve being drawn into his mission from the Father. Communion with the person of Christ commits us to communion with the mission of Christ. This “participation in the mission of Christ is possible only because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit… In the Spirit, the proclaiming community itself becomes a living Gospel for all to hear.”[58] The whole prophetic people of God, lay and ordained together, is empowered in this work of witness and mission, precisely by the Holy Spirit drawing us into a deep communion with Christ himself.

81. Sharing the mission of God’s Son and Holy Spirit can never be an optional extra for Christians and their communities: “There can be no evasion or delegation of this responsibility; the church is either faithful as a witnessing and serving community, or it loses its vitality and its impact on an unbelieving world” (BD, p.90). Evangelisation, effectively proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, is “the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity”.[59] This is the richest meaning of the word ‘Tradition’: the Church is to carry forward Christ’s once-for-all redemptive act in space and time, to all peoples and to all ages.[60]


In Communion with the Past and the Future

82. The past, present and future dimensions of God’s saving work must be held together. The Incarnate Word speaks through the Church, carrying forward and handing on his saving work from generation to generation. For this service of Christ, the dynamic communion, connection and continuity of the pilgrim Church today with the Church of the past and of the future is essential: “Communion means therefore also communion with the Church of those who preceded us in the faith throughout the ages.”[61]

Come, let us join our friends above
That have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love
To joys celestial rise:
Let all the saints terrestrial sing
With those to glory gone;
For all the servants of our King,
In earth and heaven, are one.

One family we dwell in him,
One church, above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death:
One army of the living God,
To his command we bow;
Part of his host have crossed the flood,
And part are crossing now.[62]

83. The Holy Spirit is the source of our communion with the Apostles and the Church through the ages, enabling the Church to hand on the apostolic faith afresh to the world of today and of the future. The Church does not live in the past, and we cannot simply repeat what past generations have said and done. The Spirit of Truth works in a dynamic of continuity and change, shaping and enriching the memory of the community, telling the Church of the things to come, and leading it into the future with hope.[63] The Spirit is the power of living communion who makes possible our participation here and now in the saving events of the life, death and rising of Christ, in anticipation of his return: “It is this permanence in Christ and in the Spirit which gives the Church its identity and self-understanding, and keeps it in the Gospel which it has to proclaim to the world.”[64]


Led by the Spirit of Truth

84. Preserving the Apostolic Tradition has been at times a struggle for the Church. Catholics and Methodists differ in evaluating some of the past signs of faithfulness and perseverance, but “we certainly agree that God’s faithfulness has preserved his Church despite the faults, errors and shortcomings evident in its history”.[65] The whole community of faith has been sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who “preserves within the Church the truth of the Gospel proclaimed by Christ and the apostles”.[66] Because of the promised presence of the Spirit, the Church is “anointed with the truth”, “abides in the truth” and is “preserved in the truth”, so that Christians together can be “co-workers in the truth” under the leading power of the Spirit of Truth.[67] With different emphases, Methodists and Catholics “affirm both the human frailty and the God-given indefectibility of Christ’s Church. The treasure of the mystery of Christ is held in the earthen vessel of the daily life of the pilgrim Church, a community always in need of purification and reform.”[68]

85. All true renewal and reformation in the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit, who enables the community of the faithful to hear the Word of God and to move forward together in life, faith and witness. We affirm together the essentially dynamic nature of the pilgrim Church, which is not only continually in need of renewal but also on a journey into holiness and truth, led by the unerring Spirit of Holiness and Truth.[69] This process includes development in the Church’s understanding of its teachings, but it is more than that: “There must be growth in love to achieve more insightful knowledge of the riches of faith. In other words, there must be growth in holiness.”[70]


Gift and Gifts of the Spirit

86. Central to our common understanding of the Church as Methodists and Catholics is the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the transforming presence of the Spirit of Perfect Love. This ultimate Giftedness bears fruit in the plethora of gifts and graces entrusted by God to the Church, many of which we joyfully recognise and affirm in each other’s communities. Such mutual affirmation is a vital dimension of our desire “to give proper recognition to each other’s ecclesial or churchly character”:[71] “Many different gifts have been developed in our traditions, even in separation. Although we already share some of our riches with one another, we look forward to a greater sharing as we come closer together in full unity”.[72]

87. All of these gifts together are elements and endowments which build up and give life to the Church (UR §3). They are for the service of the communion and mission of the Church. They comprise “the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements too” (UR §3). Among the visible elements are the means of grace so central to the life of both our traditions, especially Baptism and the Eucharist as well as other rites which could be said to have a sacramental nature.[73] An essential gift is the apostolic ministry, including a specific ministry of ‘oversight’ (episcopé). For Catholics, these gifts of the Spirit include the episcopate in apostolic succession, and the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome. For Methodists, they include Christian conference.

88. The same Spirit is at work among all the baptised, across the generations and throughout the world. The whole community is anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such confidence in being gifted by the Spirit does not mean that we are blind to the failure of Christians, alone and together, to respond to his presence and make use of his gifts: “There are times, of course, when Christians do not respond as they ought to the Spirit’s guidance. They lack fidelity to Christ, they are lukewarm in the worship of God, they do not show love toward one another, they fail in missionary outreach.”[74] But the Spirit of God remains with the Church, as its source of life and hope.


Ministry at the Service of Communion and Mission

89. Catholics and Methodists affirm together that within the apostolic service of the whole community, “there has been, from the beginning, a ministry uniquely called and empowered to build up the body of Christ in love”.[75] Catholics and Methodists understand such ministry as a gift from God to the Church, a graced service of the Church’s living communion with Christ throughout the world and through the ages. “The Church is like a living cell with Christ as its centre; the community, as it grows and multiplies, retains its original pattern. Apostolic communities need people to do for their own time what the apostles did in theirs: to pastor, teach and minister under the authority of the Good Shepherd and Teacher, the Servant Lord.”[76]

90. During our dialogue, there has been considerable movement towards agreement on the ordained ministry as a means of grace through which Christ continues to lead and serve his disciples: “Together we recognise that Christ the Good Shepherd shares his pastoral care with others”;[77] and “In the pastoral care that is extended to them the faithful perceive themselves to be led by the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.”[78] Such language has opened up the possibility of a common sacramental understanding of ordained ministry as a graced participation in the continuing pastoral leadership of Christ himself.[79]

91. An ordained ministry thus understood is one of the ‘ecclesial elements’ that we each look for as we seek to affirm as fully as possible the churchly character of one another’s community of faith. Previous reports of this Joint Commission have dealt with the topic of ordained ministry and authoritative leadership. There is much that we agree upon and include among those elements of the Church which we recognise in each other: “We joyfully affirm together that the ministries and institutions of our two communions are means of grace by which the Risen Christ in person leads, guides, teaches and sanctifies his Church on its pilgrim path.”[80] With specific reference to the ministry of teaching with authority, an authority for mission, we further agreed: “Both Roman Catholics and Methodists affirm that in calling people to be agents in discerning what is truly the Gospel, God is using them as means of grace, trustworthy channels. All forms of ministry are communal and collegial. They seek to preserve and strengthen the whole community of faith in truth and love, in worship and in mission. In both Churches, oversight is exercised in a way which includes pastoral care and authoritative preaching and teaching. Methodists and Catholics can rejoice that the Holy Spirit uses the ministries and structures of both Churches as means of grace to lead people into the truth of the Gospel of Christ.”[81]

92. Clearly our increasing mutual understanding and our growth in agreement on questions of ministry do not exclude the fact that there are areas of serious divergence which require further exploration and discussion. Central to Methodist teaching on the Church is the role of Christian conference in which lay people alongside ordained ministers authoritatively discern the will of God and the truth of the Gospel. There remain aspects of teaching and ecclesial elements which Catholics regard as essential to what we must hold in common in order to have full communion and to be fully the Church of Christ. These include a precise understanding of the sacramental nature of ordination, the magisterial role of the episcopate in apostolic succession, the assurance asserted of certain authoritative acts of teaching, and the place and role of the Petrine Ministry.


Recognised in the Breaking of Bread

93. The first Christian communities were characterised by their devotion to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Coming together for the Breaking of Bread (the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist or Mass) was then and is now for both our communions an essential sign and instrument, a sacrament, of what we are as the Church of Christ. It is there, at the Eucharist, doing what Christ instructed us to do as a memorial of him, that we celebrate the mystery of faith.

94. There remain major issues which need to be resolved before Catholics and Methodists can give full mutual recognition to each other’s celebration of the Eucharist. These include the nature and validity of the ministry of those who preside at the Eucharist, the precise meaning of the Eucharist as the sacramental ‘memorial’ of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, the particular way in which Christ is present in Holy Communion, and the link between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion. It is essential that these issues be further explored. Methodists and Catholics are already agreed, however, that when the Eucharist is celebrated, we hear afresh the Word of God spoken to us; we enter together more deeply into the saving mystery of Christ; we encounter Christ anew in a way which ensures the living presence of Christ at the heart of the Church; we are anointed by the transforming love which is God’s Holy Spirit and become more truly the Body of Christ; we are sent forth together in Christ to share more deeply in God’s work in our world; and we share together a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As we celebrate the Eucharist, called together by the Father, the Risen Lord makes us more fully what he wills his Church to be, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Together these affirmations already provide a rich foundation from which we can face the remaining issues in the hope that one day Catholics and Methodists will be able to gather together in full communion around the table of the Lord.


The Continuing Journey

95. The Church of Christ is a pilgrim community, journeying together from sinfulness to holiness as God in his grace leads us forward. Even though we are still a wandering people, always in need of repentance and renewal, yet we are confident of Christ’s promises and the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. We place our trust in Christ who says to his Church: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

96. On their way to the fulness of the kingdom of God, Methodists and Catholics affirm their common conviction that “the whole community of believers is called together by God our Father, placed under the lordship of the Risen Christ, united with Christ as his Body, and has the Holy Spirit as the source of its unity of life, worship and witness. In the Father’s purpose for the Church, each and every believer is to participate in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing God’s outgoing, all-embracing and transforming love to all humanity.”[82]


Chapter Three



97. Already at an early stage in our dialogue, Catholics and Methodists recognised the need “to discover the underlying realities on which our churches are founded and to which the common features of our heritage point”.[83] Chapter One of this present report probed the history of our relationship, in order to reveal some of the principal underlying convictions about the nature and purpose of the Church which led Catholics and Methodists occasionally to appreciate, but much more often to criticise, one another. Polemics reveal priorities, though the polemical context itself can obscure what is held in common. The very considerable agreement reached over the years of our recent dialogue, amply summarised in Chapter Two, indicates that Catholics and Methodists do, in fact, hold in common many beliefs and priorities regarding the Church. It is time now to return to the concrete reality of one another, to look one another in the eye, and with love and esteem to acknowledge what we see to be truly of Christ and of the Gospel, and thereby of the Church, in one another. Doing so will highlight the gifts we truly have to offer one another in the service of Christ in the world, and will open the way for an exchange of gifts which is what ecumenical dialogue, in some way, always is (UUS §28). In our striving for full communion, “we dare not lose any of the gifts with which the Holy Spirit has endowed our communities in their separation”.[84] The Holy Spirit is the true giver of the gifts we are seeking to exchange. The present chapter identifies the principal ways in which Methodists and Roman Catholics are able to recognise each other’s ecclesial character, before describing those elements and endowments that they could suitably receive from, and give to, the other. Practical proposals for that exchange follow in Chapter Four.

98. Before giving an account of how we respectively see one another, it will be helpful to indicate some perspectives that are developing in this time of grace to the benefit of our mutual appraisal. First of all, the ultimate goal of the dialogue between Catholics and Methodists has been declared as “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life”.[85] These are not separate watertight compartments. On the contrary, faith and sacramental life, to take first those two features, are deeply interwoven, in accordance with the ancient principle, lex orandi, lex credendi (as we pray, so we believe). Much of Methodist belief is actually to be found primarily in the liturgy and in hymns (cf. British Methodist Church, A Catechism for the use of the people called Methodists, 68; CLP, 4.3.2), and has not received extensive articulation in other forms. In some cases, it remains implicit. In contrast, a feature of medieval scholastic theology was that it became rather detached from its liturgical moorings. Vatican II significantly strengthened the anchoring of Catholic theology both in the liturgy (SC §16) and also in the Bible (DV §§24-26), since the sacraments are “sacraments of faith, drawing their origin and nourishment from the Word” (Presbyterorum Ordinis §4; cf. SC §24). The Liturgical Movement had a profound influence across the Christian family in the twentieth century, not least on our two communions, and we rejoice now to share a strongly liturgical methodology in formulating our statements of belief and in the teaching of doctrine. Likewise, faith and mission cannot be separated in either of our traditions and that linkage is one of the main reasons for the resonance between our ecclesial lives that Catholics and Methodists often feel and that we are now seeking to explore and express. Both Catholics and Methodists believe that the Church on earth is “by its very nature missionary” (AG §2); it is “a community both of worship and of mission” (CLP, 1.4.1). “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ” (BD, p.87).

99. Regarding the relationship between the individual and the community, an important difference of starting point has tended to characterise Catholics and Methodists. On the one hand, Catholics start with the community, the Church as a whole, the bride of Christ, in whose life the individual participates. In other words, Catholic ecclesiology goes from the community to the individual, and regards the whole as greater than the sum of its parts. The blessings and the salvation enjoyed by each individual Christian are a participation in the blessings and salvation that Christ won for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27). Each individual is saved by being taken up into that greater whole, just as each local church, likewise, participates in the mystery of the universal Church. The Church is not a federation of previously existing local churches, and neither is the community a collection of already existing individual Christians. On the other hand, Methodism tends to reflect the focus upon the individual which characterised many of its sources and to say that the Church is constituted by a particular collection of individual believers. In other words, Methodist ecclesiology goes from the individual to the community, and regards the whole, at least in its earthly manifestation, basically as the sum of its parts. This rather more existential and episodic approach is, of its nature, far less concerned than Catholics tend to be with fundamental structural considerations such as historical continuity and succession, though the pronounced Methodist emphasis upon the connectional principle must not be forgotten in this regard. Many Methodist structures and practices “grew out of practical concerns regarding how to live and spread the Gospel”, and Methodists believe that “church structures exist always in the service of mission”.[86] Catholics have an instinct for the whole and an emphasis upon the confident actions of the Church as Church, while Methodists have an instinct for the individual and an emphasis upon the assurance that each individual has. Far from being conflictual, these respective emphases should be perceived as being necessarily complementary. The Church needs precisely those structures that enable individual Christians and local churches to achieve their true identity in and through communion. The one and the many, the individual and the community, achieve their identity simultaneously in the life which is patterned after the Trinity.

100. Related to the previous point is the fact that Methodists and Catholics have tended to adopt different approaches in defining the Church. Methodists impose few conditions and are reluctant to ‘unchurch’ other Christian bodies (CLP, 2.4.9; 3.1.12; cf §24 above), whereas Catholics have tended to be more conscious of what other Christian bodies lacked in terms of churchliness than of what they possessed. A movement from both of these positions has been evident in recent times. Vatican II had a clear sense of what is needed for the fulness of the Church (LG §14), and taught that this fulness has been entrusted to the Catholic Church (UR §3). However, it also adopted the idea of “elements and endowments” of the Church which can be found in many Christian communities (UR §3; LG §8). Moreover, it attributed a fruitfulness not only to those elements and endowments as such, but also to “the separated Churches and communities themselves [ipsae]” in which they may be found, which “have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation” (UR §3). Indeed, Pope John Paul II taught that: “To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them” (UUS §11). Very significantly for the purpose of the present statement, he also reiterated that: “Catholics must joyfully acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brothers and sisters” (UUS §47; cf. UR §4), and which can contribute to the edification of Catholics themselves (UUS §48; cf. UR §4). Methodists would gladly make a reciprocal statement along the same lines. Moreover, with an eye to the difference between our communions mentioned above, many Methodists are nowadays feeling the need for a more substantial definition of the Church. For example, “United Methodists acknowledge a need to grow in an appreciation of the sacramental dimensions of their own structures and practices, which are not simply functional”.[87]

101. Concern with essential visible structures has been a strong feature of Catholic teaching on the Church, whereas Methodism has placed more emphasis on spiritual features, especially holiness, than on permanent structures. Reflecting on apostolicity as a mark of the Church, Catholics tend to think first of apostolic succession, and Methodists of mission. Despite this difference of emphasis, there is a significant move towards convergence. In fact, both Catholic and Methodist churches are now concerned with structures and with holiness and mission, and indeed with the relationship among them. We agree that the Church’s structures must effectively serve both the holiness of its members and the mission of the Church (CLP, 4.7.10). [88]

102. The idea of a sacrament is ideally suited to holding together internal and external, visible and spiritual, and both Catholics and Methodists have begun to speak of the Church itself in a sacramental way. Christ himself is “the primary sacrament”,[89] and, as the company of those who have been incorporated into Christ and nourished by the life-giving Holy Spirit, “the Church may analogously be thought of in a sacramental way”.[90] “United Methodists and Catholics both proclaim that the church itself is sacramental, because it effects and signifies the presence of Christ in the world of today.”[91] This terminology is prominent at Vatican II (LG §§1, 9, 48; GS §§42, 45) and it is also repeatedly used in the British Methodist statement, Called to Love and Praise: the Church is “both the creation of the Word of God, and also the ‘mystery’ or ‘sacrament’ of God’s love for the world” (CLP, 3.1.10); it is “a sacrament or sign of Christ’s continuing presence in the world” (CLP, 2.1.1). Moreover, Methodists and Catholics agree on the constituent dimensions of sacramentality: “As agent of God’s mission, the Church is sign, foretaste and instrument of the kingdom” (CLP, 1.4.1; cf. 3.1.7; 3.2.1).

103. Here on earth, the pilgrim Church lives by the grace that draws us and all humanity to our destiny, and it already “prefigures and images the life of the kingdom of God”, especially when gathered for the celebration of the Eucharist (CLP, 2.4.8; cf. SC §8). While still on our way, the members of the Church on earth are called to bear witness to the unity, peace and reconciliation to which God calls all people. We are not only to model but also to minister those gifts to the world. Christians and Christian communities are called “to manifest koinonia as a sign and foretaste of God’s intention for humankind” (CLP, 3.1.7), and also to serve the achievement of that intention in the world. In other words: “The Church as communion is a sacrament for the salvation of the world.”[92] It is possible to see not only the Eucharist and Baptism, but also the other rites of the Church that Catholics regard as sacraments, as intimately related to the overall sacramentality of the Church. Our agreement on the latter would then give us a most promising basis for fruitful discussion about sacraments in addition to Baptism and Eucharist, their nature and their number.

104. Mention of sacraments immediately prompts reflection on another matter, namely, the relationship in the Church between word and sacrament. Here, also, there is a polarisation within Christianity that should be surmounted. Undergirding all, Catholics and Methodists are united in a Trinitarian faith. The all-holy God in whom we believe is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ our Lord is the Son of God. He, the Word incarnate, is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “the mystery of our religion” (1 Timothy 3:16); he is “the primary sacrament”.[93] Hence word and sacrament are not to be thought of as separate categories, as Protestants and Catholics have tended to do, with much dispute and division in consequence, but as profoundly united in the person of Christ. We believe that the incarnate Word is sacramental, the Scriptures are sacramental, and that the sacraments, which are “particular instances of the divine Mystery being revealed and made operative in the lives of the faithful”,[94] are all proclamations of the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26). In the liturgical celebration of the sacraments, word and action always go together. “The Mystery of the Word made flesh and the sacramental mystery of the eucharist point towards a view of the Church based upon the sacramental idea”.[95]

105. Catholics and Methodists have grown in knowledge and appreciation of one another in the years of our dialogue, as we have explained ourselves to one another and discovered how much we can say together. This process is ongoing, and it involves the possibility of discovering that we can have different ways of maintaining the same thing. One outstanding example is that, in and through our very different ecclesial structures, Catholics and Methodists are profoundly committed to living and showing forth the fundamental interconnectedness, communion or connection of the Church. “[B]oth United Methodists and Roman Catholics understand divine love as central to the nature and purpose of the church. This love leads one into partnership, connection, or communion with other believers. The sense of communion or connection is expressed through its structures.”[96] Explaining ourselves to one another helps us to recognise one another, and this important concept has two meanings here. In our ecumenical times, ‘recognising’ happens when one church accepts the Christian truth of another’s teaching and acts, as for example when one church recognises another’s Baptism. But there is another more basic sense. When Catholics and Methodists explain the way in which their respective structures relate to the Church’s fundamental interconnectedness, then we are able to recognise what is meant by one another’s terminology and titles. ‘Now I understand’ is the reaction to this latter type of recognition, and it is the essential prelude to the more formal type of recognition, in which an evaluation is given of what is now understood.

106. Catholics and Methodists wish to make what we respectively believe more easily recognisable to one another and to the world at large. This involves a willingness to consider changing some of the ways in which we do things and express ourselves. The Catholic Church demonstrated such a willingness by its teaching on episcopal collegiality at Vatican II (LG §22). This had immense structural consequences and was a vital means of expressing the communional nature of the Church, which had previously been overshadowed by a monarchical understanding of the papacy. For their part, Methodists have acknowledged the need to reflect seriously upon their own structures, particularly because of Methodism’s unique history and the rather unusual process by which it gradually came into being through a growing ecclesial self-sufficiency, apart from the Church of England. Methodism’s “own order and discipline emerged largely as the result of a series of ad hoc experiments”,[97] and some of its original patterns were clearly acknowledged to be “extraordinary” (CLP, 4.2.4; 4.2.6; 4.2.12). Methodists affirm, and Catholics readily acknowledge, the graced and fruitful nature of Methodist ministry from the outset. We both, nevertheless, nowadays see the opportunity of setting Methodist ministry within a more recognisable framework of apostolic succession as we pursue our goal of the full, visible communion of our churches. For example, some Methodist churches have expressed a readiness for serious consideration of the “historic episcopate” and also of primacy in the Church.[98] “In effect, Methodists rule out no development compatible with our ethos which strengthens the unity and effectiveness in mission of the Church” (CLP, 4.6.11; cf. 4.6.9).


The Exchange of Gifts: A Methodist Perspective

107. Methodists recognise Roman Catholics as fellow Christians, sharing the historic creeds and a common Trinitarian faith to a degree that is far greater than was often credited in the past. Methodists characteristically define the Church in the following way: “The church is a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redeemed and redeeming fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment” (BD, p.21, Preamble to the Constitution; cf. CLP 2.4.9). Consistent with this definition, Methodists can now recognise the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. Obvious as it may seem, this needs to be clearly stated because Methodists have not always viewed the Roman Catholic Church so positively. “While Wesley and the early Methodists could recognise the presence of Christian faith in the lives of individual Roman Catholics, it is only more recently that Methodists have become more willing to recognise the Roman Catholic Church as an institution for the divine good of its members.”[99] Accordingly, Methodists acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church itself to be a means of grace for salvation.

108. Correlatively, Methodists recognise ordained ministers of the Roman Catholic Church as agents of God, exercising a graced and fruitful ministry. To be more precise, Methodists recognise Roman Catholic priests as presbyters in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, exercising an authentic ministry of word and sacrament. Likewise, Methodists recognise Roman Catholic deacons as exercising a diaconal ministry in the Church, though further dialogue is required concerning the nature of the diaconate. At present, Methodists do not recognise an episcopal order of ministry as distinct from the presbyterate, though some Methodist Churches set apart presbyters to the office of bishop, and others have expressed a willingness to accept the ministry of bishops in the interest of Christian unity. Nevertheless, Methodists recognise that Roman Catholic bishops exercise episcopé in ways that correspond to individual and corporate forms of oversight in Methodism.

109. Concerning the sacraments, Methodists recognise Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church as constituting entry into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and therefore neither baptise nor conditionally baptise those Roman Catholics who subsequently become Methodist. Methodists also recognise that when Roman Catholics celebrate the Eucharist, Christ himself is objectively present. Moreover, Methodists find in Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist a resonance with their own teaching as expressed in the eucharistic hymns of the Wesleys. Methodists further acknowledge that when Roman Catholics celebrate other rites and ordinances God is present and operative in these means of grace. “Methodists, while using the term ‘sacrament’ only of the two rites for which the Gospels explicitly record Christ’s institution, do not thereby deny sacramental character to other rites.”[100]

110. Beyond these basic affirmations about the ecclesial nature of the Roman Catholic Church, its ministry and sacraments, Methodists recognise that Roman Catholics attach importance to particular ecclesial elements and endowments that are similarly valued in Methodism: regular attendance at worship; the means of grace, both instituted and prudential; frequent reception of Holy Communion; Baptism as a covenant relationship involving commitment to the community of faith; a high regard for ordained ministry; personal holiness as the gift and work of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Methodists and Roman Catholics agree in their understanding of holiness in terms of sanctification or participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4). In the words of Charles Wesley: Christians are “Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place”.[101] Besides individual holiness, Roman Catholics demonstrate a commitment to justice and peace which Methodists recognise as social holiness.

111. As a result of bilateral dialogue, Methodists are now better able to appreciate certain other ecclesial elements and endowments in the Roman Catholic Church which historically have been a source of dispute between Catholics and Protestants. In some cases, Methodists are increasingly open to receiving these ecclesial elements as gifts from the Roman Catholic Church, which would deepen and make more visible their real but imperfect communion with Roman Catholics. At a basic level, the diversity in unity of the Roman Catholic Church is one such element; another is its concrete expression of the universality of the Church. Whilst treasuring the Wesleyan emphasis on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Methodists would benefit from a more developed theology of the Eucharist, such as can be found in Roman Catholic teaching.[102] Certain forms of devotion which are present in the Roman Catholic Church are absent from Methodism because of the legacy of Reformation disputes. Recognising that some Protestant concerns have been resolved by recent reforms in Roman Catholicism, and as a result of greater understanding through theological dialogue, Methodists might in future be willing to adopt some of these devotional practices (e.g. the Stations of the Cross); Roman Catholic veneration of Mary is another example, subject to continuing dialogue about the later Marian dogmas. Greater awareness of the communion of the saints and the Church’s continuity in time, the sacramental use of material things and sacramental ministry to the sick and dying are also ecclesial elements and endowments that Methodists might profitably receive from Roman Catholics.

112. Methodists have tended to view the history of the Church episodically, focusing on those extraordinary occasions when the Holy Spirit has been discerned in particular events. As a result, Methodists have often neglected long periods of Christian history when the Holy Spirit has guided the Church by more ordinary means. Methodists now recognise that the fifteen centuries prior to the Reformation constitute a shared history with Roman Catholics. Methodists further acknowledge the importance of rediscovering for the present age God’s providence for the Church in times past, and historical scholarship is helping Methodists to appreciate those neglected aspects of the Catholic tradition which have long been obscured by Reformation disputes and their aftermath. Accordingly, Methodists acknowledge the episcopal college and the historic succession of bishops within the Roman Catholic Church to be a sign (though not necessarily a guarantee) of the unity of the Church in space and time. For the sake of unity in the Church, British Methodists, in considering the adoption of episcopacy, are willing to “receive the sign of episcopal succession on the understanding that ecumenical partners sharing this sign with the Methodist Church (a) acknowledge that the latter has been and is part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church and (b) accept that different interpretations of the precise significance of the sign exist”.[103] Historically, episcopé in Methodism has mostly been exercised corporately, even in those parts of the world where Methodism is endowed with bishops. However, Methodists increasingly recognise the value of episcopé properly exercised by individuals within the context of a collegial ministry of oversight. Thus Methodists are open to receiving from Roman Catholics fresh insights into the exercise of individual forms of episcopé for the building up of the Body of Christ.

113. In some respects the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome is less of an obstacle to unity between Methodists and Roman Catholics than it once was. “Methodists accept that whatever is properly required for the unity of the whole of Christ’s Church must by that very fact be God’s will for the Church. A universal primacy might well serve as focus of and ministry for the unity of the whole Church.”[104] According to one view, “Methodists could not accept all aspects of papal ministry as it is currently exercised, but would be more open to a universal primacy understood as a ministry of service and unity rather than primarily as a seat of authority” (CLP, 4.6.11). Methodists around the world responded positively to Pope John Paul II’s invitation to engage in dialogue about the exercise of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome (UUS §96). In the light of the present crisis of authority in the Christian Church, Methodists may come to value a Petrine ministry at the service of unity. In particular, with proper safeguards, Methodists may be prepared to receive a Petrine ministry exercised collegially within the college of bishops as a final decision-making authority in the Church, at least insofar as essential matters of faith are concerned.

114. John Wesley regarded the Methodist movement as having been raised up by God to “spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land”, and Methodists understand themselves to be “part of Christ’s universal church” (BD, p.43, “Basic Christian Affirmations”; cf. British Methodist Deed of Union, §4, as in The Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church, 2005). In the providence of God the historic mission of Methodism has been made possible by a number of ecclesial elements and endowments that, although not necessarily unique to Methodists, are nevertheless characteristic of their polity and discipline. Encouraged by Pope John Paul II’s description of ecumenical dialogue as an exchange of gifts (UUS §28), Methodists invite Roman Catholics to receive afresh from the common Christian heritage certain ecclesial elements and endowments that currently may be more evident in Methodism than in the Roman Catholic Church.

115. Some of these ecclesial elements and endowments stem from Methodism’s societal origins. For instance, Methodism is endowed with the connectional principle whereby local congregations or churches are visibly united in communion, watching over one another in love through the Conference. Methodists remain committed to Christian conference as a means of discerning God’s will for the Church, both as an agent of authority and as an initial sign of reception. Another consequence of the societal origins of Methodism is the prominent role of lay people in the Church. Methodism has always been dependent on the contribution of trained lay preachers, and lay leadership remains a hallmark of local Methodist churches. Furthermore, lay people are empowered by their Baptism actively to participate with ordained ministers in the Church’s instruments of authority. Theologically, Methodism’s reliance upon the contribution of lay people rests on the conviction that the Holy Spirit generously bestows gifts upon the whole people of God for the sake of the Church’s ministry and mission. In obedience to the Holy Spirit, the Christian community is called to discern particular spiritual gifts among its members. While some may seek ordination as presbyters and deacons, many more are called by God to employ their spiritual gifts as lay people. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how their own appreciation of the spiritual gifts bestowed upon lay people may be informed by Methodism’s fruitful experience of the spiritual empowerment of lay people for ministry and mission.

116. Whilst affirming the contribution of lay people to the life of the Church, British Methodism ordains by prayer and the laying-on of hands those whom it recognises as called by Christ to ministry as “stewards in the household of God and shepherds of his flock” (British Methodist Deed of Union, §4). Within the ministry of all the baptised, the United Methodist Church also ordains men and women to a ministry of word and sacrament (BD, pp. 89, 198, 230). Theological reflection has led Methodists to conclude that the Church’s mission is properly carried out by the whole people of God, lay and ordained together. In the movement’s early years, and again more recently, women have made a full contribution to the mission and ministry of Methodism. Nowadays Methodists do not restrict any ministry or office in the Church to either men or women, believing that to do so would be contrary to God’s will as they discern it in obedience to the Scriptures. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how the Methodist experience and practice of ordained ministry might contribute to their own understanding of the Church’s ministry.

117. Methodists are especially sensitive to the need for fresh embodiments of the apostolic faith for the sake of evangelisation in changing situations. One consequence of this missiological perspective is that Methodists adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach towards ecclesial structures. Thus the history of Methodism bears testimony to the conviction that in every generation God can and does raise up diverse forms of ministry for particular purposes. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how greater flexibility and pragmatism might enhance their own missionary activity.

118. Likewise, a significant feature of the historic mission of Methodism has been an emphasis on the crucial importance of personal experience of Jesus Christ and his redeeming love. However else it may be described, the Church is a community of Christians whose personal experience of Jesus Christ compels them to join with other Christians in worship, fellowship, mission and service in the world. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how this same emphasis, and the forms that it takes, might contribute to their own pastoral ministry and mission.

119. Arising out of its missiological and soteriological perspective, Methodism has an internal impetus towards deepening communion with all other Christians. For the sake of unity, Methodism is endowed with a longstanding commitment to ecumenism and a capacity for patient dialogue and cooperation with fellow Christians. Methodists have been partners in united and uniting churches, notably in Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, the United States and Zambia, and this reflects a willingness to sacrifice their long-cherished particular ecclesial identity in the pursuit of Christian unity. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how their own commitment to Christian unity might similarly influence their own understanding of their particular identity, and their willingness to distinguish between what is essential and what is changeable.

120. Methodists manifest a characteristic ethos in worship and spirituality. Notwithstanding the value attached to Holy Communion, Methodist worship places great emphasis on the ministry of the Word. Methodists hear the Scriptures and the proclamation of the Gospel with a strong sense that God is present and effective in them today. Thus, reading the Scriptures and evangelical preaching remain prominent features of Methodist worship. The liturgical use of corporate hymn singing is also characteristic of Methodism, and the hymns of Charles Wesley constitute a corpus of practical theology for the Methodist people. Other forms of worship used by Methodists have their origins in the Moravian Love Feast and Puritan forms of renewing the Covenant. In recent years the Liturgical Movement has influenced the shape and content of Methodist worship along ecumenically convergent lines. Devotional life in Methodism is similarly characterised by certain historic features that have contributed significantly to its fruitfulness. Particular emphasis is attached to Bible reading and study, as well as meeting with others in small groups for fellowship, extempore prayer and mutual pastoral care. The experience of assurance has been a treasured feature of Methodist piety, not necessarily as a guarantee of perseverance, which removes the need for hope, but as the Holy Spirit’s endowment of an inner conviction of having received saving grace. Methodists invite Roman Catholics to consider how these same ecclesial elements and endowments might enhance their own worship and spirituality.


The Exchange of Gifts: A Catholic Perspective

121. In accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism (UR §3; see above, §100), Catholics gladly recognise Methodist churches themselves as being of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation, and acknowledge that the Spirit of Christ has used and continues to use them as means of salvation, deriving their efficacy from the very fulness of grace and truth that Catholics believe has been entrusted to the Catholic Church. Catholics esteem many aspects of Methodist belief and practice and are very close to Methodists in their quest for holiness, their commitment to mission and their belief that the hallmark of life in Christ is communion or connection. These are core features of Methodism and are equally precious to Catholics. In some ways they give a blueprint for our future unity.

122. Catholics see in Methodists a vigorous Trinitarian faith and a great attachment to the person of the Word incarnate, who calls us to a holiness that is “perfect love”, and therefore “social”, patterned after the Trinitarian life of God. The unity of the Church therefore has the form of connectionalism, beautifully expressed in Methodism as “watching over one another in love”. Holiness understood as godliness is intimately related to unity, and unity takes the form of communion. Methodists are visibly united in communion, as a sign of God’s life and God’s love. There is a strong emphasis in Methodism, from its origins, upon the formation of small groups for the exercise of mutual care and shared discipline, and this resonates with the growing emphasis on small Christian communities in many parts of the Catholic Church. Moreover, Methodists are strongly committed to mission and to social responsibility, actually putting God’s love into practice, with a real care for the needy of this world. Communion is also expressed by a collegial understanding of ministry which resembles the Catholic understanding that priests form a presbyterium around their bishop in a local church (SC §41, LG §28) and that the bishops form a college together with the pope (LG §22). In numerous ways, Methodist ministers work together for the accomplishment of their mission in circuits, districts and councils of bishops. Methodists have a lived sense that no baptised Christian is ever alone, no minister is ever alone, no bishop is ever alone.

123. Catholics are at one with Methodists in their understanding that holiness entails conversion and transformation, being “changed from glory into glory”. Bearing in mind the controversy at the Reformation between Catholics and Protestants regarding cooperation with grace, it is of immense significance that Catholics and Methodists stand together on this matter. Methodists believe, as Catholics do, that we truly cooperate with God’s grace and participate in God’s life. God works through the visible community of the Church and through individuals in it, both pastors and laypeople. There are foundations here for a serious shared exploration of the idea of sacramentality. Moreover, while acknowledging only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, Methodists would regard the other rites that Catholics recognise as sacraments as, in some way, sacramental in character. The striking fact that Catholics sing with conviction a number of Methodist hymns expressing eucharistic faith is indicative of the extent to which we share an understanding of the Eucharist. We share a belief that devout reception of holy communion is central to the life of faith.

124. God is at work in the world through us. The Church is essentially missionary as an agent of God’s loving mission. The Methodist commitment to evangelism and the great history of Methodist missions are admired by Catholics, who have their own similar commitment and history. Methodists have a zeal for the salvation of all. John Wesley famously said: “I look upon all the world as my parish”.[105] One of the leading pioneers of the renewal of Catholic theology at Vatican II and of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical commitment, Yves Congar OP, was inspired by these words to entitle one of his own books on the nature and scope of salvation, Vaste monde ma paroisse.[106]

125. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one so that the world might believe (John 17:21). A remarkable feature of Methodism in the last hundred years has been its growing internal unity, undoubtedly influenced by the requirements of mission. Catholics see in this, and in the profound Methodist desire for a healing of past hurts, great signs of grace and authenticity. Furthermore, Methodists have been at the forefront of the modern movement for the unity of all Christians from the outset. The pioneering work of John R. Mott is particularly worthy of note. This, too, is a sign of grace. The Catholic Church entered the ecumenical movement during the Second Vatican Council, and has an irrevocable commitment to Christian unity (UUS §3), seeing it not as something optional, but as an intrinsic aspect of the pursuit of true catholicity (UR §4). Catholics and Methodists strongly resonate in this commitment.

126. In all of the above areas, crucial for the life of the Church, Catholics and Methodists would surely be strengthened by one another in the full communion of our churches. We would edify one another, building one another up in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Catholics can unhesitatingly state that they would gain from such a communion. We can also identify some further specific points of potential gain. Catholics can learn from Methodists’ love for, and devotion to, reading the Scriptures, with a vivid sense that God speaks to us personally as we do so. Catholics would benefit also from Methodists’ commitment to singing their faith in joyful hymns that express the very heart of Christian belief. Much Methodist music and hymnody is already benefiting Catholics. Likewise, Catholics have much to learn from the Methodist understanding and practice of lay ministry, based on Baptism and the priesthood of all believers, and they have much to ponder with regard to the place of lay people in the governance of the Church. The perception of Baptism as a covenant that can be regularly renewed, as Methodists do, is a valuable and scriptural one.

127. The gift of John and Charles Wesley themselves, outstanding and godly men, to be shared as heroes of Christian faith, would be a cause of joy and thanksgiving. The Wesleys are alive today, so to speak, because of the Methodist Church, and thereby enabled to be gifts to the entire Church. To preach so as truly to “warm the heart”, as the Wesleys did, is an important model for Catholics, too, and the Wesleys’ emphasis on frequent reception of holy communion is deeply edifying to Catholics. At a Methodist celebration marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, said: “Just as you continue to turn to the ministry of John Wesley for inspiration and guidance, we can look to see and find in him the evangelical zeal, the pursuit of holiness, the concern for the poor, the virtues and goodness which we have come to know and respect in you. For all of this, we can all afford to be profoundly grateful.”[107]

128. Gladly acknowledging the gifts they would like to receive from Methodists, Catholics would also like to invite Methodists to consider whether there are gifts which they in turn might receive. First, the Catholic Church has an articulated ecclesiology, with a long tradition of reflection on the Church and the benefit of the Second Vatican Council’s documents on the Church. Central to that ecclesiology is the visible manifestation of two dimensions of communion, namely communion across space, expressed by the collegiality of the bishops, and communion across history, continuity in time, served by the apostolic succession of the bishops. These can be regarded equivalently as two dimensions of connection, and the Catholic tradition would see bishops as nodal points of the web of ecclesial communion in Christ which spans space and time. Catholics invite Methodists who do not have bishops to consider this time-honoured way of expressing connection, and would be happy to explore with Methodists who do have bishops the sense of collegial responsibility that their bishops already have.

129. Within the framework of the college of bishops, Catholics also invite Methodists to consider whether they might receive the Petrine ministry. As an intrinsic part of that offer, they would like to engage with Methodists in accordance with the invitation made by Pope John Paul II when he proposed a dialogue with the leaders and theologians of other churches about the forms that the papal ministry might take in order to be recognised as “a service of love” by all Christians (UUS §§95-96). Catholics are convinced that the Church needs a universal focal point for its pastoral care, and that Christ himself instituted such a ministry in the primacy of Peter among the Apostles. Along with many Christians today, Methodists are beginning to experience the value of greater global cohesion and expression. Catholics invite Methodists to consider whether the Petrine ministry might serve that end. It may be helpful to approach the topic of the personal exercise of the Petrine ministry by the pope through a sense of the corporate exercise of governance by the whole college of bishops, of which he is the centre and head.

130. Catholics invite Methodists to look afresh at those doctrines which, in the turmoil of the Reformation, became obscured in Protestant thought and life instead of simply being reformed of their excesses. Outstanding among these would be the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist and the understanding of ordained ministry as priesthood. At the Second Vatican Council and in the years since the Council, the Catholic Church has sought to articulate its teaching on these matters clearly and biblically, with an awareness of the misunderstandings and disputes of the past and a desire for constructive dialogue with Christians of other traditions. Part of the gift that Catholics would like to offer to Methodists regarding these matters is this new articulation of Catholic doctrine.

131. Vatican II taught that through the sacraments, and most especially by Baptism and the Eucharist, we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his passion and glorification” (LG §7). In other words, we are sacramentally united with Christ, as his body, in the great single act of his sacrifice, by which he entered into glory.[108] There can never be any repetition of that act; it happened once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Nevertheless, the Eucharist truly has a sacrificial character because Christ is really present there in the very act of his supreme self-gift to his Father. The sacramental presence of Christ himself is at once the sacramental presence of his sacrifice also, because the Christ who is present is he who has entered the sanctuary once and for all bearing his own blood to secure an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).[109] He now lives forever, exercising a perpetual priesthood, making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24-25). Catholics regret any impression they may have given of a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, but they also reject the overreaction which denies a sacrificial character to the Eucharist. In the sense outlined above, they endorse the statement of the Lima text of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission that the Eucharist is “the sacrament of the unique sacrifice of Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us”.[110]

132. From the same biblical basis, Catholics affirm that there is only one priesthood in God’s plan of salvation, namely that of Christ himself, which is imparted to the whole Church as his body. Vatican II taught that every liturgical celebration is “an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body” (SC §7), and that there are two proper sharings in this one priesthood within the Church, which are “ordered to one another”, namely the royal priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of those faithful who are called and ordained to represent Christ himself in the midst of his people, acting in the name and person of Christ to effect the eucharistic sacrifice and offer it to God in the name of all the people (LG §10). This new formulation contains an important re-anchoring of the concept of priesthood, which gets behind the Reformation disputes that so often treated either the priesthood of the minister or the priesthood of the people as the primary datum. Reformation misgivings about the priesthood of the minister were intimately linked to those regarding the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, since a priest offers sacrifice. These two issues must therefore be addressed together. Catholics believe that, as there is only one sacrifice, so there is also only one priest, namely Christ. Those who are called ‘priests’ are only ever representatives of Christ the priest in the midst of the priestly people. Through them, Christ the priest is sacramentally present to minister to his people. Catholics welcome the statement of the Lima text that ordained ministers are “representatives of Jesus Christ to the community”, and they value its further statement that ordained ministers “may appropriately be called priests because they fulfil a particular priestly service by strengthening and building up the royal and prophetic priesthood of the faithful through word and sacraments”.[111] Catholics believe that “when anybody baptises it is really Christ himself who baptises” and likewise that “it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church” (SC §7). The person who is truly active for our salvation in the power of the Spirit is always Christ himself, in accordance with his final promise: “ I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The confidence that Catholics have in the effectiveness of all the sacraments is ultimately rooted in this promise, which actually gives rise to a whole realm of sacramentality. Though the Lord is no longer visibly present, in countless ways he is truly present, and the key actions when his presence is proclaimed and trusted are called ‘sacraments’. Catholics believe that when the Church ordains those who will officially act in the name of Christ in the midst of his people, those acts of ordination are of such decisive importance that they, too, are sacraments, moments of prayer and of absolute confidence in the active presence of Christ himself, faithful to his promise.

133. Catholics agree with Methodists that “Ministry in the Christian church is derived from the ministry of Christ” (BD, p.194), and recognise the great care with which Methodists treat the question of priesthood (cf. CLP, 4.5.1; 4.5.6; 4.5.9; 4.5.11). The statement from the British Methodist Deed of Union that “the Methodist Church holds the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and consequently believes that no priesthood exists which belongs exclusively to a particular order or class” seems to Catholics to be marked by a Reformation rivalry between the royal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. However, the recent British Methodist statement that the office of an ordained minister “consists in enabling the Church’s whole ministry in such a way that Christ is effectively present in preaching, in the sacraments, in the Church’s discipline and pastoral care” (CLP, 4.5.11) reflects the grounding of priesthood in Christ himself that Catholics would wish to be the basis for ecumenical rapprochement.

134. Catholics would also like to share with Methodists the absolute confidence in Christ’s action through the ministry of word and sacrament. Whatever the weakness and sinfulness of the minister, God’s salvific action in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is never thereby brought to nothing. When Christ himself says to his followers, “I am with you always”, he is giving a guarantee on which we can rely. We must be vigilant and never complacent, but vigilance must not compromise our hope, confidence and trust. Catholics invite Methodists to ask whether their traditional reliance on the inner assurance of the Holy Spirit (cf. British Methodist Catechism, 18) might not also be applied to the Church as a whole. Can the Church not have a corporate assurance, particularly regarding the liturgical actions of its ordained ministers, and might not the ordained ministers also have a part to play in articulating the assurance of the Church? These queries first arose twenty years ago, when Catholics and Methodists agreed “on the need for an authoritative way of being sure, beyond doubt, concerning God’s action insofar as it is crucial for our salvation”,[112] and they recur now with some urgency.

135. Moreover, Catholics would wish to suggest to Methodists that the disputed issue of ‘infallibility’ can be approached from within this very confidence in Christ’s own action in word and sacrament. Just as Catholics believe that Christ can unfailingly wash, feed and forgive his people through the sacramental ministrations of the Church and its ministers, so too they believe that he can unfailingly teach his people. Not only does he do so whenever the Scriptures are proclaimed (cf. SC §7; in §132 above), for every such proclamation is in truth infallible, but he can also do so through the teaching of the Church on a matter of vital importance. Just as there are clearly specified conditions for the proper celebration of Baptism, Eucharist, and other sacramental actions, which, when fulfilled, enable the Church to trust without doubt that Christ himself is present and active, so likewise there will necessarily be specific conditions for recognising his presence and action in decisive instances of teaching. A close reading of the definition of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council shows that very specific conditions were indeed laid down for the exercise by the pope of “the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals” (DS 3074). The pope has to be speaking ex cathedra, as “shepherd and teacher of all Christians”, and defining “by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church” (DS 3074). It is also clear from the terms of the definition above that the basic assurance being expressed was of the infallibility given by God to the Church itself, as “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).



136. The previous chapter indicated five “areas of serious divergence” (§92) between Catholics and Methodists hitherto, namely, 1) the role of the laity in authoritative teaching, 2) the sacramental nature of ordination, 3) the episcopate in apostolic succession, 4) the ‘assurance’ of certain authoritative acts of teaching (i.e. infallibility), and 5) the place and role of the Petrine Ministry. The Joint Commission believes that a sacramental approach to the Church, already broached by the Nairobi Report (see above, §104) and more fully worked out in subsequent reports and now here in this present statement, offers avenues for progress on these issues.

137. With regard to the four traditional marks or notes of the Church, this chapter has sought to show that the reconciliation of Methodists and Catholics offers great potential benefits to both communities:

a) In an important sense, two uniting churches give to one another the gift of unity. In this case, two different aspects of unity would be valuably combined, one more structural and historical, the other more spiritual and eschatological. The Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning “subsists in the Catholic Church” (UR §4; cf. UUS §11), particularly because of the continuance in it of the Petrine ministry. In a sense, therefore, through this essential sign of visible unity, the Catholic Church can give the gift of unity to the Methodist Church. On the other hand, Methodists understand unity primarily as the spiritual unity of the body of Christ, which Christians must strive to make more visible in the world but which will remain imperfectly realised until the last day. This eschatological emphasis is important and reminds Catholics that unity is also a vocation that must inspire and challenge us each day towards an ever greater attainment of it.

b) The emphasis upon holiness which Methodists and Catholics already share means that we would give each other great solidarity and encouragement in our living of this mark of the Church and in our striving for an ever fuller realisation of it. We would also have the joy of sharing the inspiring example of our saints.

c) Christian divisions prevent the Church from realising “the fullness of catholicity proper to her” (UR §4, italics added; cf. above, §125). The firm commitment of Methodists and Catholics to ecumenism is indicative of our shared desire for ever greater catholicity, and that commitment and desire would be further strengthened by our unity. In accordance with its twofold meaning, the catholicity both of Catholics and also of Methodists would be enhanced by our unity: by an increased depth and balance of belief, and by an increased vigour and scope of outreach.

d) Methodists can receive a vital sign of apostolicity from Catholics, namely the apostolic succession of bishops. However, Catholics have much to gain from the commitment to apostolic mission which is an explicit part of Methodist identity.

The mutual enhancement of each other’s oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity through Catholic-Methodist unity would be the fullest possible realisation of John Wesley’s famous appeal that Protestants and Catholics should “help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads to the Kingdom”.[113]

138. The members of the Joint Commission, both Catholics and Methodists, are deeply conscious of drawing on the common heritage mentioned previously (above, §100), and of wanting to remind one another of elements of that shared patrimony which we have, respectively, neglected. No-one owns this treasure: we all hold it in trust for one another and for the world. Since it all comes from the God who is love (1 John 4:8), and who poured out his love for us in Christ, it is imperative that we should all be converted to an equal generosity with the gifts of God, which is only ever a participation in his own generosity. We hope that this statement may itself be such a participation in God’s generosity, and that it may prompt a widespread mutual generosity between our churches, as they seek together to grow in a common sharing of the gifts that God wants his people both to enjoy and to minister to the world. We gladly affirm together the vision of unity that Pope John Paul II outlined when he said: “Full unity will come about when all share in the fullness of the means of salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church” (UUS §86).


Chapter Four



139. At the beginning of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI declared in unequivocal terms his commitment to rebuilding the full visible unity of the Church:

Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master’s supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Luke 22:32).[114]

With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter’s current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty. He is aware that good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress.[115]

From their own experience of ecumenism, Methodists are all too aware that good intentions alone are insufficient to advance the cause of Christian unity. They would therefore echo Pope Benedict’s conviction that “concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential” for ecumenical progress to be achieved.

140. If relations between Catholics and Methodists are to develop further, gestures are required from our two communions that are both realistic and appropriate at the present time. Though there are still doctrinal issues that will need to be resolved on the way to full communion between Catholics and Methodists, it is now possible, drawing on the preceding chapters of this present report, to identify a series of concrete gestures that will facilitate a deepening of communion between us. The principle of ‘unity by stages’ can be embraced. Catholics and Methodists are called to advance step by step in our ecumenical journeying together, living as fully as possible the degree of unity we currently share whilst taking appropriate action to reach the next stage.

141. Already, Catholics and Methodists have moved beyond the initial stages in our relationship to a point where we have discovered a considerable amount in common and no longer live in ecclesial isolation from each other. Chapter Two of this present report surveys the extensive agreement that we share about the nature and mission of the Church. Chapter Three constitutes a significant achievement in our dialogue, as we have been able to state for the first time what we recognise to be truly of the Church in each other. Moreover, it has been possible to identify various ecclesial elements and endowments that might form part of a fruitful exchange of gifts between our two communions. Building on the foundations laid in Chapters Two and Three, it is now possible to make a number of specific recommendations to help us attain the next stage on the way to the full visible unity of the Church.

142. Whilst the recommendations set out in subsequent paragraphs of this chapter are relevant to Catholics and Methodists at every level of ecclesial life, they are addressed especially to the following groups:

(1) Regional and national bishops’ conferences and each autonomous Methodist Conference;
(2) Catholic and Methodist bishops and their equivalents;
(3) Theologians within our two communions;
(4) Those directly responsible for ministerial and lay formation within our two communions;
(5) The national Catholic-Methodist dialogue commissions in Great Britain, New Zealand and the United States and other relevant dialogue commissions.

These recommendations are not expressly addressed to Catholic parishes and local Methodist churches. An international report cannot take proper account of the immense variety of local circumstances that affect relations between Catholics and Methodists in different parts of the world. Recommendations that are appropriate in one situation may be impracticable in another. Applying the principle of subsidiarity, the groups directly addressed in this report are better placed to translate its overall recommendations into practical plans that are appropriate to their situation. By this means, the concrete gestures envisaged at the start of this chapter will be implemented more effectively throughout our two communions.


General Principles

143. Before specific recommendations are considered, it is possible to state a number of general principles. These will serve to guide future relations between Catholics and Methodists as we seek to advance from one stage to another on the way to full visible unity. While a number of these principles may seem obvious, nevertheless they need to be stated. This is because relations between Catholics and Methodists in some parts of the world are still characterised by the suspicions and misunderstandings identified in Chapter One of this present report. These our dialogue has exposed as no longer justified.

144. The following general principles are based on what Catholics and Methodists already agree together about the nature and mission of the Church and what we recognise in each other as being truly of the Church:

(1) Dialogue between Catholics and Methodists proceeds on the basis of our common Baptism in the body of Christ which we are called to make visible in our ecclesial life.
(2) Catholics and Methodists are committed to the goal of “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life”.[116]
(3) Catholics recognise Methodists as fellow Christians and Methodist churches as ecclesial communities in which the grace of salvation is present and effective.
(4) Methodists recognise Catholics as fellow Christians and Catholic churches as ecclesial communities in which the grace of salvation is present and effective.
(5) Catholics and Methodists respect each other’s ecclesial life and discipline, instruments of authority and ordained ministries, and therefore extend due courtesy in their mutual relations at every level.
(6) Catholics and Methodists are committed to finding ways of giving greater visible expression to their real, though imperfect, communion within the body of Christ.
(7) For the sake of the Church’s mission to the world, Catholics and Methodists recognise their obligation to share resources wherever practicable.
(8) The pursuit of closer relations between Catholics and Methodists is compatible with other ecumenical possibilities for both partners according to the opportunities and challenges presented in different territories.
(9) In their relations with Methodists, Catholics should make the fullest use of the provisions contained in the Ecumenical Directory, except that no breach of Methodist discipline should be encouraged.
(10) In their relations with Catholics, Methodists should make the fullest use of the provisions contained in their ecumenical legislation, except that no breach of Catholic discipline should be encouraged.
(11) Catholics and Methodists each have gifts to share with the other. These gifts are not owned by anyone but are held in trust for the sake of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and its mission to the world. In exchanging gifts with each other, Catholics and Methodists would be receiving them as from the Holy Spirit.
(12) Full communion between Catholics and Methodists “will also depend upon a fresh creative act of reconciliation which acknowledges the manifold yet unified activity of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. It will involve a joint act of obedience to the sovereign Word of God.”[117]

145. In some places these principles may seem unduly restrictive; elsewhere they may appear to permit more than was hitherto thought possible. Nevertheless, they reflect the current level of agreement and recognition between our two communions. As such, they constitute a secure framework for practical actions now and for future conversations, both formal and informal, between Catholics and Methodists at every level and in every situation. Accordingly, the groups expressly addressed in the present report are invited to employ these general principles when implementing its recommendations.


Practical Proposals

146. Based on the preceding chapters of the present report, and within the framework of the general principles stated above, it is now possible to make a number of specific recommendations that will facilitate closer relations between Catholics and Methodists, enabling us to advance to the next stage on the way to full visible unity. These recommendations fall into one of three basic kinds:

A) Proposals for making more evident in practice the existing degree of shared belief between Catholics and Methodists about the nature and mission of the Church, as registered in Chapter Two;
B) Proposals based on what Catholics and Methodists already recognise in each other as being truly of the Church, as affirmed in Chapter Three;
C) Proposals for the sake of the mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments between Catholics and Methodists that was identified as desirable in Chapter Three.

147. For convenience, these proposals are listed under three headings corresponding to the threefold goal of dialogue between Catholics and Methodists – towards full communion in faith, in sacramental life, and in mission. A degree of overlap between these headings is inevitable since aspects of the Church cannot be separated into watertight compartments. But, whatever classification is employed, the proposals listed under each heading are practical and timely. Catholics and Methodists, and especially the particular groups addressed in this report, are invited to consider whether and how they might implement them in their own situation.


Towards Full Communion in Faith

148. While substantial progress has been made in the course of our dialogue during the past forty years, there are still some key aspects of Christian doctrine on which Catholics and Methodists are not yet fully agreed. Theological dialogue still needs to take place if these doctrinal differences are to be resolved. Nevertheless, the proposals presented in this section are directed towards specific action based on what we can already affirm together. Such action will enable Catholics and Methodists to progress towards the next stage on the way to full communion in faith, whilst simultaneously facilitating the process of identifying and overcoming the remaining obstacles.

A. Proposals based on the existent degree of shared belief

149. There are a number of ways in which Catholics and Methodists could make more evident in practice the considerable degree to which they share a common faith about the nature and mission of the Church. To that end, Catholics and Methodists are invited to study in greater detail the practical implications of:

(1) Recognising the Church to be both a visible community and an invisible fellowship (§48);
(2) Describing the Church as a pilgrim people who live by faith, and treating each other as fellow pilgrims (§49);
(3) Maintaining that God faithfully remains present to the Church in every generation (§50);
(4) Expressing the conviction that what unites us is much greater than what divides us (§63);
(5) Describing the Church as a sacrament or means of grace (§77);
(6) Respecting each other as partners in national and regional ecumenical structures and dialogue commissions (§91).

B. Proposals based on the existing degree of mutual recognition

150. Based on what we are able to recognise and value in each other as being truly of the Church, Catholics and Methodists are invited to carry forward our discussion of God’s providential way for the Church by focusing on the following matters:

(1) The process by which the canon of Scripture was established in the Church, the historic creeds were formulated, and ecclesial structures were developed in the first Christian centuries (§107);
(2) The fifteen centuries of common history prior to the Reformation and God’s activity in the Church during this period (§112);
(3) The ministry of the people of God as a whole, lay and ordained together (§116);
(4) The priesthood of the ordained ministry in relation to the royal priesthood of the Church (§132);
(5) Episcopacy both as a form of governance in the Church and as a sign of succession in apostolic faith and life (§108);
(6) The nature and exercise of diaconal ministry in the Church (§108).

C. Proposals for a mutual exchange of gifts

151. For the sake of a mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments, Catholics are invited to give concentrated attention to:

(1) Their ecclesial identity in order to distinguish what is essential and what might be changed or let go of for the sake of Christian unity (§119);
(2) Lay leadership in the Church and the participation of lay people in instruments of authority by virtue of their Baptism (§115);
(3) Christian conference as an instrument of authority and reception in the Church (§115);
(4) The contribution of women to the Church’s ministry (§116);
(5) Personal and corporate forms of assurance and the Church’s corporate assurance as the context for the infallibility of the Pope (§§134-135).

152. For the sake of a mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments, Methodists are invited to give concentrated attention to:

(1) Their ecclesial identity in order to distinguish what is essential and what might be changed or let go of for the sake of Christian unity (§118);
(2) The historic succession of bishops and the individual exercise of episcopé within a collegial ministry of oversight (§112);
(3) The exercise of universal primacy for the sake of unity and as an expression of the universality of the Church (§§113, 129);
(4) The Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome as a final decision-making authority in the Church (§113);
(5) Personal and corporate forms of assurance and the infallibility of the Pope within the context of the Church’s corporate assurance (§§134-35).


Towards Full Communion in Sacramental Life

153. Catholics and Methodists agree that the Church itself is a means of grace and sacramental in nature (§§76-77). The sacramental life of the Church encompasses the entire liturgical and spiritual life of the people of God. Whilst full communion in faith is an essential prerequisite for full communion in sacramental life, there are intermediate stages on the way to this goal. Catholics and Methodists already enjoy a real, though imperfect, communion based on their common Baptism into the body of Christ. The proposals presented in this section are intended to further deepen that communion.

A. Proposals based on the existent degree of shared belief

154. There are various ways in which Catholics and Methodists could make more evident in practice the existing degree of shared belief about the sacramental life of the Church. For example:

(1) Emphasising our common Baptism would represent a more tangible expression of our shared conviction that the Church is a koinonia in the Holy Trinity (§§51, 53);
(2) More opportunities for joint prayer and spiritual retreats would testify to our shared belief that the call to holiness is intrinsic to the call to be the Church (§56);
(3) Serious self-examination would give substance to our common perception that continual reformation, purification and renewal belong to the very nature of the Church (§50);
(4) The connectional nature of the Church ought to be made more visible in our respective ecclesial structures (§60);
(5) Greater respect needs to be given to each other’s ecclesial life, instruments of authority and structures as means of grace for salvation (§91).

B. Proposals based on the existing degree of mutual recognition

155. Based on what we are able to recognise and value in each other as being truly of the Church, Catholics and Methodists are invited to consider the following.

(1) The common Baptism in water and the name of the Trinity which Catholics and Methodists share has significant implications for our ecclesial life which deserve to be explored much more fully;[118]
(2) Since Catholics and Methodists recognise the validity of each other’s Baptism, it is sufficient for individuals to offer their baptismal certificate as proof of Baptism when seeking to be received from either of our two communions into the other;
(3) When a Baptism, wedding, funeral or similar kind of service in a Methodist church directly involves Catholics, for example through an interchurch family, it is appropriate that a Catholic priest be invited to take an agreed part in the service itself and any preparation, subject to both the constitutional practice and discipline of the relevant Methodist Conference and the norms of the Catholic Ecumenical Directory as interpreted by the relevant Catholic bishops’ conference;
(4) When a Baptism, wedding, funeral or similar kind of service in a Catholic church directly involves Methodists, for example through an interchurch family, it is appropriate that a Methodist minister be invited to take an agreed part in the service itself and any preparation, subject to both the norms of the Ecumenical Directory as interpreted by the relevant Catholic bishops’ conference and the constitutional practice and discipline of the relevant Methodist Conference;
(5) When Catholics and Methodists attend the Eucharist in each other’s churches, they may present themselves to receive a blessing as a way of participating in the grace that is present and operative in the Eucharist;
(6) There is potentially a fruitful conversation to be had about the nature of sacraments in general and the sacrament of ordination in particular (§§103, 132);
(7) Drawing on both the Wesleyan and Catholic traditions, Methodists might usefully articulate a more developed theology of the Eucharist with special reference to its sacrificial nature, the sacramental memorial of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, the real presence, the ministry of those who preside, and the link between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion (§§109, 131-32; cf. §93);
(8) Catholics might usefully explore the conditions laid down in the Ecumenical Directory under which individual Methodists who request it could be granted exceptional permission to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church on particular occasions;
(9) Catholics might also consider how the ecumenical provisions contained in the Ecumenical Directory could be applied in each territory to the fullest possible extent in the case of Methodists, subject to the overall constraints of the Directory and official Catholic teaching.
(10) Catholics and Methodists might usefully engage in a joint study of the Lima text Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, particularly with regard to these issues.

C. Proposals for a mutual exchange of gifts

156. For the sake of a mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments, Catholics are encouraged to:

(1) Invite Methodists to experience different forms of worship and spiritual devotion in the Catholic Church (§111);
(2) Investigate the boundaries of permissible ecclesial diversity in the Church (§117);
(3) Value the contribution made to the life of the Church by small groups meeting for fellowship, prayer and mutual pastoral care (§120);
(4) Develop more effective means of Bible study for lay people as well as personal reading of the Scriptures by individuals (§126);
(5) Promote the place in Christian worship of evangelical preaching and corporate hymn singing (§120);
(6) Reflect upon and be inspired by the example and witness of John and Charles Wesley (§127).

157. For the sake of a mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments, Methodists are encouraged to:

(1) Invite Catholics to experience different forms of worship and spiritual devotion in Methodism (§120);
(2) Investigate the boundaries of permissible ecclesial diversity in the Church (§111);
(3) Promote the Church’s sacramental ministry to the sick and dying, and the sacramental use of material things (§111);
(4) Consider making a weekly Eucharist the norm in their pattern of Sunday worship;
(5) Explore Catholic forms of spiritual devotion such as the Stations of the Cross and the veneration of Mary (§111);
(6) Reflect upon and be inspired by the example and witness of the saints through the ages (cf. §127).


Towards Full Communion in Mission

158. In some respects the mission of the Church is the least problematic area for closer relations between Catholics and Methodists because full communion in faith is not a prerequisite for shared mission. The present level of agreement between our two communions already permits Catholics and Methodists to work together in many different ways as partners in mission, though in some places this is not always fully understood or appreciated. Even in those parts of the world where Catholics and Methodists enjoy cordial relations, cooperation in the mission of the Church has yet to achieve its full potential. The proposals presented in this section are intended to develop and extend the ways in which Catholics and Methodists share together in the mission of the Church.

A. Proposals based on the existent degree of shared belief

159. There are various ways in which the existing degree of shared belief between Catholics and Methodists about the nature and mission of the Church could be made more visible in our common mission to the world. In particular, Catholics and Methodists ought to:

(1) Recognise that each other’s ministers and ecclesial structures already participate in the mission of the Church (§75);
(2) Collaborate in local ventures in evangelisation, either bilaterally or with other ecumenical partners (§80);
(3) Develop partnerships in a broad range of projects to serve the poorest members of society, but especially in projects that involve social action relating to justice and peace (§69);
(4) Find ways of enabling the whole people of God, lay and ordained together, actively to participate in the Church’s mission to the world (§80);
(5) Engage in shared mission as a ministry of diakonia in the world (§69).

B. Proposals based on the existing degree of mutual recognition

160. Based on what we are able to recognise and value in each other as being truly of the Church, Catholics and Methodists are invited to consider the following.

(1) There are already instances of Catholic parishes and local Methodist churches sharing buildings for worship and other ecclesial activities. In some parts of the world there may be greater scope for such sharing of buildings.
(2) In places where Catholics and Methodists have invested in schools, colleges, hospitals and other institutions, experience and expertise could be shared to mutual advantage.
(3) In some places Catholics and Methodists are already partners in ministerial formation as participants in ecumenical training institutions and similar programmes. Those responsible for ministerial formation in our two communions may usefully consider how the benefits of such institutions and programmes could be made available to greater numbers of those training for ministry.
(4) National and regional bishops’ conferences and autonomous Methodist Conferences may wish to consider making joint statements on appropriate topics of mutual concern, possibly in conjunction with other ecumenical partners, especially where a united witness to the Gospel would have a greater impact than statements issued separately by church leaders.

C. Proposals for a mutual exchange of gifts

161. For the sake of a mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments, Catholics are called upon to:

(1) Empower lay people to take a full and active role in the mission of the Church (§115);
(2) Encourage the contribution of personal evangelism to the mission of the Church (§117);
(3) Study the diversity of ecclesial structures raised up by God to advance the Church’s mission (§117).

162. For the sake of a mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments, Methodists are called upon to:

(1) Develop a greater awareness of the testimony made to the Gospel by the saints of every age and place (§111);
(2) Consider bishops as nodal points in the web of communion for mission across space and time (§128);
(3) Recognise that the diverse forms of spirituality and ecclesial life in the Catholic Church exist in order that men and women may grow in holiness (§111).



163. The practical proposals outlined in this chapter do not exhaust the possibilities for closer collaboration between Catholics and Methodists in pursuit of the goal of “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life”. Nor are they equally relevant to the groups specifically addressed in this report. Nevertheless, these proposals constitute a comprehensive set of concrete gestures that will assist our two communions as we journey towards the next stage on the way to our full visible unity. It is for each of the addressees to judge how best to implement the proposals in their own particular context.

164. While this report is the fruit of a theological dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Catholic Church, its content is relevant to a wider ecumenical audience. Catholics and Methodists hope that their common endeavour, embodied in the present document, will serve the ecumenical movement at large. May it contribute, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the reconciliation of all Christian communities within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.



2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 6: 1

17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(6) 1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

165. Christianity was born in a milieu of political and social tension. Early Christianity sought to transcend this violent environment, and to create a new identity based in Christ. St Paul speaks of God’s new creation and God’s act of reconciliation. His words have spoken powerfully to us in this eighth round of our dialogue. In Chapter One we looked openly at the mutual misunderstandings and rejections that belong to our history, acknowledged them, and have been led to seek to transcend them.

166. In the cultural context of the early Church, where social roles often legitimated violence, Paul summoned Christians to new social roles grounded in reconciliation and a new identity. Paul called for a transformation of their communal identity. No longer based on kinship or ethnicity, Christian identity nevertheless was to be as cohesive as the former groups were. Paul’s community members bound themselves together as a reconciled community, founded upon their being newly created in Christ. In our dialogue, this hope for reconciliation and the creation of a new identity between us has been central to our work as noted in Chapter Two.

167. As Paul strove for a new identity in Christ, so we in our ecumenical journey have been called to rediscover our reconciled relationship to each other in Christ. We are seeking to transcend the present forms of our individual ecclesial identities and to move towards a reconciled and transformed communion. Such a community is being achieved in our appreciation of each other. It responds to the same call of Christ, and it is endowed with the same gifts of the Spirit. Thus through our dialogue we have heard the call to engage in an exchange of gifts, as is outlined in Chapters Three and Four.

168. God’s reconciliation in Christ points us to the eschatological significance of the reconciliation between our two churches. The death and resurrection of Jesus are, for Paul, eschatological events; through them the Time to Come enters our human time. Those who now are Christ’s possession have passed through this death and resurrection into the new life with God. Our churches are called to live out the eschatological nature of their relationship. As we become reconciled in Christ, so too we move towards the Age to Come created for us. Equally, God in Christ calls us forward towards the fulfilment of that new creation.

169. In reconciliation, as Paul points out, there is a new creation. There is both continuity and discontinuity with the past. In the resurrection of Jesus, it is both he himself from before, and yet he is in new form. Humanity in Christ is still humanity, and yet a new creation has occurred in each believer, and in the newly reconciled community. As churches we have heard this call to new community. God reconciled us to himself through Christ. Reconciliation replaces a relationship of hostility and hatred with one of peace.

170. God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ and has also given us the ministry of reconciliation. Christians are called to follow Paul in speaking of, and living out, the wonder of God’s reconciliation with humanity. Christians are called to a life of praise, which embraces all our life, in its practical, ethical, religious, political and intellectual aspects. This we have experienced in this shared dialogue.

171. We are ambassadors for Christ. Our two churches’ commitment to mission calls us forward. The Apostle has no message of his own, he acts on Christ’s behalf. He is Christ’s slave, and also exists for those to whom he ministers. Moreover, Christ speaks in and through Paul the very word of reconciliation. For the sake of the human race, including ourselves, Christ stands in the place of those who are estranged from God. Through God’s act of grace in Christ, we stand in a relationship with God which is described by the word ‘righteous’. Our reconciliation as churches seeks to proclaim that message. This reconciliation is indeed our witness to the world. In this we are ambassadors.



[1] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §946.

[2] United Methodist Constitution, Article V, Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2004), hereafter BD, p. 23.

[3] Unitatis Redintegratio, §19; §1.

[4] Towards a Statement on the Church, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Nairobi, 1986), §20.

[5] Rowan Williams, Address at the Signing of an Anglican-Methodist Covenant, Westminster, England, 1 November, 2003.

[6] Cf. Ut Unum Sint (1995), hereafter UUS, §28.

[7] Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994), p. 153.

[8] The Denver Report, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (1971), §6.

[9] A Caveat against the Methodists, showing how unsafe it is for any Christian to join himself to their society, or to adhere to their teachers (1760).

[10] Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Ed., 21:304f (emphasis in original).

[11] “Of the Church”, §19, Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Ed., 3:52.

[12] Essai sur les Variations des Églises Protestantes (1692).

[13] Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, hereafter DS, §§1533, 1562-1566.

[14] René Rohrbacher, Universal History of the Catholic Church (1849).

[15] Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, vol. 1, pp. 88-91.

[16] Möhler, Symbolism, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company (1997), p.436.

[17] “Catholic Spirit” (1750), §III.4-5, Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Ed., 2:94-95.

[18] Methodist Church of Great Britain, Deed of Union (1932), “Doctrine”.

[19] The Nature of the Christian Church according to the Teaching of the Methodists (1937), §III.3.

[20] The Conciliar texts will be abbreviated in the text as follows: Lumen Gentium as LG; Unitatis Redintegratio as UR; Ad Gentes as AG; Dei Verbum as DV; Sacrosanctum Concilium as SC; and Gaudium et Spes as GS.

[21] UUS §20.

[22] Cardinal Walter Kasper, Homily at Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church, Rome, June 22, 2003 (a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley).

[23] British Methodist Conference, Called to Love and Praise: The Nature of the Christian Church in Methodist Experience and Practice (1999), hereafter CLP, 3.1.10.

[24] Opening address to the second session of the Second Vatican Council, 29 September, 1963.

[25] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §1.

[26] The Word of Life, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §4.

[27] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §3.

[28] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §4; cf. The Apostolic Tradition, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Singapore, 1991), §51.

[29] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §109.

[30] Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

[31] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §15.

[32] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §2.

[33] Charles Wesley, “See where our great High Priest” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 622).

[34] Charles Wesley, “O Thou who this mysterious bread” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 621).

[35] Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

[36] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §32.

[37] Ibid., §52.

[38] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §113.

[39] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §23.

[40] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §20.

[41] Charles Wesley, “Jesus, united by thy grace” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 773).

[42] Quoted by Pope John Paul II in UUS §20.

[43] Speaking the Truth in Love, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Brighton, 2001), §28.

[44] Charles Wesley, “All ye that seek the Lord who died” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 188).

[45] Pope John Paul II, Homily to Confirmation Candidates at Coventry, England, 1982.

[46] Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §48.

[47] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §9.

[48] Ibid., §123.

[49] Cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §73; The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §7.

[50] Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §49.

[51] Ibid., §52.

[52] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §10.

[53] Ibid., §8; cf. LG §5; CLP, 3.1.10, 3.2.1.

[54] Cf. the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (LG §48).

[55] Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §61.

[56] Ibid., §52.

[57] Roman Missal, Preface for Martyrs.

[58] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §75.

[59] Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), §14.

[60] Cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §74.

[61] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §126; cf. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §18.

[62] Charles Wesley, “Come, let us join our friends above” (Hymns & Psalms, n. 812).

[63] Cf. John 16:13; The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §§35, 31, 20.

[64] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §33.

[65] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §127.

[66] Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §118.

[67] Cf. Ibid., §§30-45.

[68] Ibid., §39.

[69] Cf. Charles Wesley’s hymn “Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide”, affirming the Church as “By thine unerring Spirit led” (Hymns and Psalms, no. 62).

[70] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §61.

[71] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §22.

[72] Ibid., §23.

[73] Cf. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §60.

[74] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §62.

[75] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §84.

[76] Ibid., §86.

[77] Ibid., §120.

[78] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §73.

[79] Cf. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §§63-68. In Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (hereafter BEM), the “convergence text” unanimously adopted by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in 1982, ordination was characterized as a “sacramental sign” (“Ministry” §41) through which “God…enters sacramentally into contingent, historical forms of human relationship and uses them for his purpose” (“Ministry” §43).

[80] Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §68.

[81] Ibid., §81.

[82] Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §48; cf. CLP, 2.1.12.

[83] The Dublin Report, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (1976), §17.

[84] United Methodist-Roman Catholic Dialogue, USA, Through Divine Love: The Church in each Place and all Places (2005; hereafter Through Divine Love), §178.

[85] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §20; cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §§4, 111.

[86] Through Divine Love, §§157, 158.

[87] Through Divine Love, §§146, 178.

[88] Regarding the real purpose of Church structures, John Wesley asked “What is the end of all ecclesiastical order?” and immediately gave his own answer: “Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God, and to build them up in His fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not, it is nothing worth” (Letter of June 25, 1746, to “John Smith”; Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Ed., 26:206). More recently, after urging the development in the Church of a “spirituality of communion”, Pope John Paul II frankly stated: “Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, ‘masks’ of communion rather than its means of expression and growth” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001, §43).

[89] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §89; The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §94.

[90] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §96.

[91] Through Divine Love, §109.

[92] Extraordinary Synod to reflect on the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, 1985, “Final Report”, II D 1.

[93] The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §§94-95.

[94] Ibid., §97.

[95] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §10; cf. above, §77.

[96] Through Divine Love, §55.

[97] CLP, 4.7.9; cf. 4.7.11; Through Divine Love, §§157-58.

[98] Cf. British Methodist Conference, What sort of Bishops? (2005).

[99] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §100; cf. above, §§36, 43.

[100] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §13.

[101] “Love divine, all loves excelling” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 267).

[102] Cf. Methodist Church of Great Britain, His Presence Makes the Feast, 2003, n.11.

[103] British Methodist Conference, Episkopé and Episcopacy, 2000, §114.

[104] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §58.

[105] Letter to James Harvey (see John Wesley’s Journal, 11 June, 1739).

[106] Published in 1959; trans. The Wide World My Parish (1961).

[107] Cardinal Walter Kasper, Homily at Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church, Rome, 22 June, 2003.

[108] Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 2003, §§11, 12, 15.

[109] Cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, §3.

[110] BEM, “Eucharist” §8.

[111] BEM, “Ministry” §§11, 17.

[112] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §75.

[113] Letter to a Roman Catholic; cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §36.

[114] First Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the end of the Eucharistic Concelebration with the members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, 20 April, 2005, §5.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §20.

[117] The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §94.

[118] Cf. “Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of a Common Baptism”, study of the World Council of Churches/Catholic Church Joint Working Group (2005).