Conferences in US Answer Call From Rome for Greater Efforts in Christian Unity

Pentecostal Leader Gives Outlook on Ecumenism's Future

Washington, D.C., (Zenit.org) Kathleen Naab | 2000 hits

The web sites for two conferences held this month in Virginia now feature the videos of the keynote addresses presented there, including those given by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Deacon Darrell Wentworth, a liaison for the Catholic Fraternity's North American Regional Communities, was the organizer of the Pastors, Leaders, Clergy Summit 2014 and the Awakening the Domestic Church conference. 

The Catholic Fraternity, an ecclesial community given juridical personality by Saint John Paul II in 1990, works in collaboration with the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and Promoting Christian Unity. 

In 2010 Cardinals Stanislaw Rylko and Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and retired president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, respectively, encouraged the Catholic Fraternity's communities to engage more fully in the Church's efforts toward the New Evangelization and full communion of the Christian churches. 

The Clergy Summit and the Awakening the Domestic Church conference, featuring lectures by Fr. Cantalamessa, were a response to those requests.

ZENIT interviewed Deacon Wentworth here. The texts of three of Fr. Cantalamessa's addresses can be found here.

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Below is an interview with a participant in the Pastors, Leaders, Clergy Summit, Dr. Dale Coulter. Dr. Coulter is an Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Regent University's School of Divinity.

ZENIT: From the Pentecostal perspective, how do you approach the ecumenical movement?

Dr. Coulter: Individual Pentecostals have been involved in the ecumenical movement since the 1960s when David Du Plessis heard the Holy Spirit tell him to get involved. The official bilateral dialogue between Catholics and Pentecostals began in 1972 and continues to this day. While the ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is visible unity, that goal is a long way off. Right now the two realizable goals are 1) mutual understanding and 2) common mission. 

From a Pentecostal perspective this can be achieved through an exchange of gifts that I would say occurs when Pentecostals receive the gift of the sacramental dimension from Catholics and Catholics receive the gift of the charismatic from Pentecostals. Before we can even discuss visible unity, we need to discuss how to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow participants in the communion of the saints.

ZENIT: Could you further explain how you view this exchange of gifts, practically speaking? What do you understand by the 'gift of the sacramental dimension' for Pentecostals? And how do you think Catholics should receive the 'gift of the charismatic?"

Dr. Coulter: Ecumenism begins to work when each side re-discovers something about itself or discovers an implication of its theology. Ecumenism can never succeed if one side is just trying to make the other into a clone as it were. Successful ecumenism happens through relationships that are established at the local level, which then generate friendships as well as through dialogues that occur at the formal and informal levels.The first step of those friendships is to learn the language of the friend--the family speak. This helps overcome stereotypes and caricatures. That was one of the goals behind the Clergy Summit.

The second step is when you discover something about your own tradition that was there but minimized or you discover an implication of the theology of your tradition. This happens practically speaking when each side begins to see how the other mirrors something important in their tradition. Thus, the charismatic dimension of Pentecostalism has enabled many Catholics to re-discover the rich charismatic heritage of the ancient and medieval church as something for the laity as a whole. It was always there in the saints, but the charismatic movement has helped at least some Catholics re-discover the charismatic dimension even of the sacraments. For example, confirmation is an additional work of the Spirit received through the anointing of oil at the hands of the bishop. It is to be an encounter with the Spirit, not simply a symbolic act. As with all sacraments, the sign conveys the grace. Like the Pentecostal view of Spirit baptism, confirmation should be a further release of the Spirit in the life of the person with the implication that the person experiences a deepening encounter. Thus, it seems to me, in dialogue with Pentecostals, Catholics have re-discovered the charismatic dimension of Christianity that was already present in its tradition.. 

Likewise I would say that Pentecostalism is implicitly sacramental. I say implicitly because many Pentecostals operate with a view that the Spirit is present in and through the elements but they don't formulate it that way. Thus through personal relationships and conversations with Catholics, Pentecostals have been moved to draw out the implications of their own theology of encounter with God. I have a Pentecostal pastor friend who became sacramental through ecumenical relationships because those relationships helped him to see that Pentecostal tradition has an implicit sacramentality to it. 

This is what I mean by an exchange of gifts. I mean helping each other to discover or re-discover something already within their tradition, but not fully articulated or minimized. Both Pentecostals and Catholics embody renewal traditions within them. After all, St. Francis wanted to recover the gospel in order to build the church. 

ZENIT: What do you think is the value of the Pastors, Leaders, Clergy Summit or an event like it?

Dr. Coulter: The Clergy Summit offers an on the ground ecumenism that helps push Catholics and Pentecostals toward the goals of mutual understanding and common mission. There remains a lot of misinformation and stereotypes on the part of both sides. During the conference our dean at the School of Divinity had someone approach him to ask why Regent was allowing such a summit to occur because it simply did not match with the older narratives about the Catholic Church. Those narratives are still alive and well in some parts of the Pentecostal movement and we need to deal with them. 

By older narratives I mean things like individual Catholics are going to heaven, but the Catholic Church is teaching a false theology of salvation. Even worse is the idea that the Catholic Church is somehow complicit in the spirit of the antichrist. These narratives can be dealt with through friendships between Catholics and Pentecostals that promote mutual understanding by getting about what is common to both. 

Clergy Summits like the one United in Christ NA put together and Regent helped to sponsor are excellent ways of promoting a common vision and forging friendships. I particularly enjoyed the complementary testimonies of Jack Hayford and Fr. Cantalamessa. Fr. Cantalamessa gave a testimony of becoming involved in the ecumenical movement because of his baptism in the Spirit through the charismatic movement. This opened his eyes to the grace of God flowing in other expressions of Christianity. Jack Hayford gave a testimony of pulling in front of a Catholic Church and being led by God to pray for the success of that church. Hayford then noted that God spoke to him and said something to the effect of why wouldn’t He be pleased with a church that continually offers up the blood of His Son on the high altar.

These two testimonies show what God is doing in helping to facilitate mutual understanding and common mission. The charismatic movement thus far has become the spiritual vehicle to make that occur on both sides. This is because it advances a spirituality first and then moves toward a theology. Of course, this does not mean that the charismatic movement is the only vehicle because it is not, but it is an important movement that all three recent popes recognized.

ZENIT: Will the ecumenical movement ever "get anywhere" and if so, what factors need to come into play?

Dr. Coulter: I remain hopeful about the ecumenical movement even though there are conflicting signs right now. The breakup of mainline Protestantism over the moral issues suggests an ecumenical winter. When one adds to this the way in which geo-politics will impact the Orthodox churches, especially the situation in Russia and the Ukraine, the prospects do not look good. It suggests more fracturing rather than any coming together. At the same time, the spirituality being facilitated in and through the charismatic movement coupled with numerous Catholic/Protestant initiatives show signs of a potential spring. In addition, the Ecumenical Patriarch has called for a pan-Orthodox council and preparations are being made.

Given this state, what can we do:

1.      We need work at the diocesan level between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. I don’t simply mean here common statements on hot button issues but some genuinely cooperative ventures, either through meetings of mutual understanding or some kind of common mission

2.      We need to get bishops and other church leaders in the same room and in front of their people talking about what we have in common and informing their priests and pastors

3.      We need some sort of ecumenical dimension to current catechetical practices. Thus it is not enough simply to catechize people in the faith of our ecclesial body, we need to inform them about other ecclesial traditions as well. Possibly by having diocesan theologians or other official representatives go into churches and talk to classes about some core similarities and differences. Another possibility would be to build on the trend toward ancient forms of Christianity by utilizing Benedictine houses or other orders to facilitate common spiritual retreats.

At the end of the day, the global charismatic movement holds within it a method for ecumenism that says pursue a common spirituality first and then let that be the mechanism to address the challenging theological differences. It’s a different starting point that does not define “exchange of gifts” in terms of theological contributions so much as in terms of the rich spiritual traditions that comprise both.

ZENIT: Do you see any particular opportunities or challenges when it comes to ecumenism in the United States?

Dr. Coulter: The challenges are

1.      Overcoming misconceptions and stereotypes at the parish and diocesan levels in all of our churches

2.      Moving beyond the fear of proselytism, namely, that ecumenism means we lose our members to one another. If someone is nominal in any ecclesial tradition, then we’ve lost them already and we should not be upset if they return to faith through another form of Christianity. The charismatic Catholic theologian Ralph Del Colle (d. 2012) is an excellent example. Ralph was baptized Catholic but fell away from the church. He came back to faith through the charismatic movement and then his own journey led him ultimately back to the Catholic Church. We should not worry about “converts” to Catholicism or Protestantism as though it means a loss.

3.      Getting denominational officials in Protestant churches to see ecumenism as a necessary part of advancing the kingdom of God and thus part of the mission of the churches

4.      Getting Catholic and Orthodox bishops to recognize the differences between the churches of the Reformation and the churches that were formed by global Pentecostalism. Too often the latter are read as though they are the same as the former when they are not.

ZENIT: Some see the issues surrounding religious freedom, both at home and globally, as key elements in progress toward unity. What's your outlook on that? 

Dr. Coulter: I certainly think religious freedom is one of the key issues currently. I also think it can bring about a common vision because Catholics and Pentecostals and other evangelicals must work together in this mission to preserve the dignity of the human person. What is needed is an approach that does not sever the links between religious freedom, economic freedom, sexual freedom, and other kinds of freedom. When economic freedom is severed from the human person, it can actually work against human dignity through exploitative economic practices that treat persons as economic agents only. Likewise sexual freedom can become sexual libertinism and lead to a contraceptive mentality in which individuals sever the links between the sexual act and the procreation of children. This was the concern of John Paul II. Pentecostals would approach this issue through the orders of creation whereas Catholics would talk about natural law. While Pentecostals would not go so far as to see artificial contraception as immoral, they would certainly agree about the problems surrounding a contraceptive mentality. At the end of the day, they both are referring to the given structures of human existence in and through which human freedom functions. Preserving religious freedom is about preserving the dignity of the human person, but resisting reducing persons to economic agents is too.