From Dialogue to Communion?

Fruits and Challenges of the Ecumenical Dialogues

45. International Ecumenical Seminar, June 30-July 7, 2011

Half a century ago, in 1961, there was a decisive turning point in the then still-young ecumenical movement. At its third assembly in New Delhi, the World Council of Churches adopted a trinitarian constitution as well as a vision of unity in which the churches—including the newly joined Orthodox churches—committed themselves to  bilateral dialogue. In the same year, Pope John XXIII convoked a council. The Second Vatican Council was also a turning point in the attitude that the Roman Catholic Church had had toward the ecumenical movement up to that time. From then on, this church was not only an official dialogue partner but also a decisive initiator of multiple international ecumenical dialogues. While the Reformation churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist) had already been in dialogue with one another, in this year flourishing bilateral and multilateral, national and international dialogues developed that have lasted to this day.

In the past 50 years, nearly all churches have engaged in bilateral dialogue with one another. The goal of these efforts was and is the common formulation of the Christian faith, which is a basic prerequisite for the unity of the church. The yield of this half-century’s labor is considerable. Many questions that have been divisive up till now have been defused, and wide-reaching consensus has been worked out. The still open questions have not only been identified, but also numerous long-standing conflicts now appear in a promising new light.

A decisive step along the path of doctrinal dialogue was the declaration of consensus by the Faith and Order Commission entitled Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), which was adopted in Lima in the year 1982 and whose 30th anniversary approaches. On the basis of the doctrinal dialogues, various declarations of church fellowship emerged that permitted a new experience of common life together as church. In the discussion between Lutherans and Catholics, the dialogues made possible the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999).

Naturally, there were also criticisms. Many doubted and still doubt the methods and results of consensus ecumenism. One can indeed question whether the accumulation of new dialogue results is the appropriate answer to the pressing question of the unity of the church. It is necessary to find new ways to push forward with the results of the dialogues toward the lived fellowship of the churches. The 2011 Summer Seminar of the Strasbourg Institute of Ecumenical Research (a close associate of the Lutheran World Federation) pursued this question.

Walter Cardinal Kasper,, Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter

Walter Cardinal Kasper, Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter

Seminar 2011 - Participants at the Séminaire Protestant

Seminar 2011: Participants at the Séminaire Protestant