Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry -- Preface
The World Council of Churches is "a fellowship of churches which confess the
Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures and therefore
seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit" (Constitution).
The World Council is here clearly defined. It is not a universal authority
controlling what Christians should believe and do. After only three decades,
however, it has already become a remarkable community of some three hundred
members. These churches represent a rich diversity of cultural backgrounds and
traditions, worship in dozens of languages, and live under every kind of political
system. Yet they are all committed to close collaboration in Christian witness
and service. At the same time, they are also striving together to realize the
goal of visible Church unity.
To assist the churches towards this goal, the Faith and Order Commission of
the World Council provides theological support for the efforts the churches
are making towards unity. Indeed the Commission has been charged by the Council
members to keep always before them their accepted obligation to work towards
manifesting more visibly God's gift of Church unity.
So it is that the stated aim of the Commission is "to proclaim the oneness
of the Church of Jesus Christ and to call the churches to the goal of visible
unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and
common life in Christ, in order that the world might believe" (By-Laws).
If the divided churches are to achieve the visible unity they seek, one of
the essential prerequisites is that they should be in basic agreement on baptism,
eucharist and ministry. Naturally, therefore, the Faith and Order Commission
has devoted a good deal of attention to overcoming doctrinal division on these
three. During the last fifty years, most of its conferences have had one or
another of these subjects at the centre of discussion.
The three statements are the fruit of a 50-year process of study stretching
back to the first Faith and Order Conference at Lausanne in 1927. The material
has been discussed and revised by the Faith and Order Commission at Accra (1974),
Bangalore (1978) and Lima (1982). Between the Plenary Commission meetings, a
steering group on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry has worked further on the
drafting, especially after September 1979 under the presidency of Fr@re Max
Thurian of the Taizé Community.
The ecumenical documents also reflect ongoing consultation and collaboration
between the Commission members (approved by the churches) and with the local
churches themselves. The World Council's Fifth Assembly (Nairobi 1975) authorized
the distribution for the churches' study of an earlier draft text (Faith and
Order Paper No. 73). Most significantly, over a hundred churches from virtually
every geographical area and ecclesiastical tradition returned detailed comments.
These were carefully analyzed at a 1977 consultation in Crêt-Bérard
(Faith and Order Paper No. 84).
Meanwhile particularly difficult problems were also analyzed at special ecumenical
consultations held on the themes of infant and believers' baptism in Louisville,
1978 (Faith and Order Paper No. 97), on episkopé (oversight) and the
episcopate in Geneva, 1979 (Faith and Order Paper No. 102). The draft text was
also reviewed by representatives of Orthodox Churches in Chambésy, 1979.
In conclusion, the Faith and Order Commission was again authorized by the World
Council's Central Committee (Dresden, 1981) to transmit its finally revised
document (the "Lima text" of 1982) to the churches, along with the request for
their official response as a vital step in the ecumenical process of reception.
This work has not been achieved by the Faith and Order Commission alone. Baptism,
eucharist and ministry have been investigated in many ecumenical dialogues.
The two main types of interchurch conversations, the bilateral and the multilateral,
have proved to be complementary and mutually beneficial. This is clearly demonstrated
in the three reports of the Forum on Bilateral Conversations: "Concepts of Unity"
(1978), "Consensus on Agreed Statements" (1979), and "Authority and Reception"
(1980), subsequently published in Faith and Order Paper No. 107. Consequently,
the Faith and Order Commission in its own multilateral consideration of the
three themes has tried to build as much as possible on the specific findings
of the bilateral conversations. Indeed, one of the tasks of the Commission is
to evaluate the net result of all these particular efforts for the ecumenical
movement as a whole.
Also important for the development of this text has been the witness of local
churches which have already gone through the process of uniting across confessional
division. It is important to acknowledge that the search for local church union
and the search for universal consensus are intimately linked.
Perhaps even more influential than the official studies are the changes which
are taking place within the life of the churches themselves. We live in a crucial
moment in the history of humankind. As the churches grow into unity, they are
asking how their understandings and practices of baptism, eucharist and ministry
relate to their mission in and for the renewal of human community as they seek
to promote justice, and reconciliation. Therefore our understanding peace of
these cannot be divorced from the redemptive and liberating mission of Christ
through the churches in the modern world.
Indeed, as a result of biblical and patristic studies, together with the liturgical
revival and the need for common witness, an ecumenical fellowship has come into
being which often cuts across confessional boundaries and within which former
differences are now seen in a new light. Hence, although the language of the
text is still largely classical in reconciling historical controversies, the
driving force is frequently contextual and contemporary. This spirit will likely
stimulate many reformulations of the text into the varied language(s) of our
Where have these efforts brought us? As demonstrated in the Lima text, we have
already achieved a remarkable degree of agreement. Certainly we have not yet
fully reached "consensus" (consentire), understood here as that experience of
life and articulation of faith necessary to realize and maintain the Church's
visible unity. Such consensus is rooted in the communion built on Jesus Christ
and the witness of the apostles. As a gift of the Spirit it is realized as a
communal experience before it can be articulated by common efforts into words.
Full consensus can only be proclaimed after the churches reach the point of
living and acting together in unity.
On the way towards their goal of visible unity, however, the churches will
have to pass through various stages. They have been blessed anew through listening
to each other and jointly returning to the primary sources, namely "the Tradition
of the Gospel testified in Scripture, transmitted in and by the Church through
the power of the Holy Spirit" (Faith and Order World Conference, 1963).
In leaving behind the hostilities of the past, the churches have begun to discover
many promising convergences in their shared convictions and perspectives. These
convergences give assurance that despite much diversity in theological expression
the churches have much in common in their understanding of the faith. The resultant
text aims to become part of a faithful and sufficient reflection of the common
Christian Tradition on essential elements of Christian communion. In the process
of growing together in mutual trust, the churches must develop these doctrinal
convergences step by step, until they are finally able to declare together that
they are living in communion with one another in continuity with the apostles
and with the teachings of the universal Church.
This Lima text represents the significant theological convergence which Faith
and Order has discerned and formulated. Those who know how widely the churches
have differed in doctrine and practice on baptism, eucharist and ministry, will
appreciate the importance of the large measure of agreement registered here.
Virtually all the confessional traditions are included in the Commission's membership.
That theologians of such widely different traditions should be able to speak
so harmoniously about baptism, eucharist and ministry is unprecedented in the
modern ecumenical movement. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the Commission
also includes among its full members theologians of the Roman Catholic and other
churches which do not belong to the World Council of Churches itself.
In the course of critical evaluation the primary purpose of this ecumenical
text must be kept in mind. Readers should not expect to find a complete theological
treatment of baptism, eucharist and ministry. That would be neither appropriate
nor desirable here. The agreed text purposely concentrates on those aspects
of the themes that have been directly or indirectly related to the problems
of mutual recognition leading to unity. The main text demonstrates the major
areas of theological convergence; the added commentaries either indicate historical
differences that have been overcome or identify disputed issues still in need
of further research and reconciliation.
In the light of all these developments, the Faith and Order Commission now
presents this Lima text (1982) to the churches. We do so with deep conviction,
for we have become increasingly aware of our unity in the body of Christ. We
have found reason to rejoice in the rediscovery of the richness of our common
inheritance in the Gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit has led us to this
time, a kairos of the ecumenical movement when sadly divided churches have been
enabled to arrive at substantial theological agreements. We believe that many
significant advances are possible if in our churches we are sufficiently courageous
and imaginative to embrace God's gift of Church unity.
As concrete evidence of their ecumenical commitment, the churches are being
asked to enable the widest possible involvement of the whole people of God at
all levels of church life in the spiritual process of receiving this text. Specific
suggestions relating to its use in the worship, witness and study of men and
women in the churches are included as an appendix to this document.
The Faith and Order Commission now respectfully invites all churches to prepare
an official response to this text at the highest appropriate level of authority,
whether it be a council, synod, conference, assembly or other body. In support
of this process of reception, the Commission would be pleased to know as precisely
- the extent to which your church can recognize in this text the faith of
the Church through the ages;
- the consequences your church can draw from this text for its relations and
dialogues with other churches, particularly with those churches which also
recognize the text as an expression of the apostolic faith;
- the guidance your church can take from this text for its worship, educational,
ethical, and spiritual life and witness;
- the suggestions your church can make for the ongoing work of Faith and Order
as it relates the material of this text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry
to its long-range research project "Towards the Common Expression of the Apostolic
It is our intention to compare all the official replies received, to publish
the results, and to analyze the ecumenical implications for the churches at
a future World Conference on Faith and Order.
All responses to these questions should be sent by 31 December 1984 to the
Faith and Order Secretariat, World Council of Churches, 150 route de Ferney,
1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland.
William H. Lazareth,
Director of the Secretariat on Faith and Order
Moderator of the Commission on Faith and Order