CTS & NABPR GO TO THE MARKET
I was present the first time NABPR met with CTS at Dayton in 1996. It provided a space for Baptist scholars to engage in vigorous conversation akin to what is found at CTS and CTSA. At that first meeting in Dayton there was interaction between members of the two organizations, but there were no joint sessions.
While we hoped early on for shared scholarly conversation in formal sessions, it is significant that this emerged above all from a liturgical context. The two organizations began to come together very early on for the Friday evening prayer service. Baptist participation in the Eucharistic liturgy came about in two steps. The first few years, during the time of Communion, the Baptists would remain in their pews. After two or three years, we began to come forward for a blessing, which has without question been a great blessing for me (and I am confident I do not speak only for myself). Even so, there has also been grace in the mutual acknowledgement of the pain that the participation could not be complete. In short, the space for shared scholarly discourse merged from personal and liturgical interactions rather than simply theoretical considerations.
In our ongoing shared life, we Baptists contribute from our heritage of being communities created by the action of the Word and Holy Spirit, gifted to be church in and for particular times and places. We want to draw from the depth of our theological, spiritual, and worship wisdom in a dialogue of equals.
We look forward to more opportunities to explore points of convergence and tension in documents such as the Baptist World Alliance - Vatican dialogue (in "The Word of God in the Life of the Church"), the Protestant engagement with Catholicism (Noll and Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over?) and the Catholic engagement with Protestantism (Gregory, The Unintended Reformation).
1) What Can Catholics Gain from Evangelicals & Episcopalians?
More than anything, Evangelicals are noted for their emphasis on the Bible. Catholics could learn a lot from Evangelicals about providing a more rigorous education of the Bible. But this is where the strength/weakness paradox enters. Catholics believe—and rightfully so—that it’s important for children to learn some basics of church history, liturgy, Sacraments, and doctrine, not simply the Bible. Perhaps it’s a question of balance, but clearly Evangelicals have a biblical edge in this area.
Second, Catholics can learn something from those Evangelical churches that have a more contemporary style of worship because it’s a matter of finding a point of contact with the culture of our day, a culture that is more informal and egalitarian. For example when Catholic students attend local churches with contemporary worship styles, they are ready to go back again. It’s a reality that the Catholic Church should consider.
Thirdly, Evangelicals has to do with the experience of salvation. While it’s true that Evangelicals are noted for their emphasis on a personal faith experience, Catholics often lack the language and even the opportunity to talk about their own relationship with God. This language of personal relationship is not Catholic language but the experience may be. Catholics could better help their people find ways to talk about their experience in language that makes sense to them.
2) What Can Catholics Gain from Episcopalians?
Episcopalians think of themselves as following the “middle way,” (via media), having one foot in Catholicism and one foot in Protestantism. Catholics can learn from Episcopalians in areas that are rooted more in Protestant sensibilities.
First and most important is the Eucharist. The theology that underlies my view on this is rather simple: baptism initiates us into the body of Christ. There is no other pre-requisite for Eucharist other than baptism. Eucharist is an expression of the basic unity that exists by virtue of baptism.
Second, I believe that the Anglican tradition can teach Catholics a more dialogical relationship among Scripture, Tradition, and the contemporary world. The most obvious examples are the current controversies of women in ministry, homosexuality, and divorce and remarriage. People of good will disagree on these matters, but I believe that the dialogue must include more than just Scripture and Tradition. A strength of the Episcopal Church is that it allows the contemporary situation to have its weight in matters of faith and morals. Similar to Vatican II when the Catholic Church updated its views about religious freedom, I believe the Catholic Church should participate more in this type of dialogue.
Wilburn (Bill) T. Stancil, Bill.Stancil@rockhurst.edu