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Dialogues on baptism close with learning and prayer

From left: Alfred Neufeld, Theodor Dieter, Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, Marie-Hélène Robert, Larry Miller, Friederike Nüssel, Fernando Enns, John Rempel, Luis Melo, Kaisamari Hintikka, Musawenkosi Biyela, William Henn, Avelindo Gonzalez. Photo: Wilhelm Unger
Release date: 
Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Fifth meeting of the Catholic, Lutheran and Mennonite Trilateral Dialogue Commission on baptism

Augsburg, Germany – Representatives of the Catholic Church (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), the Lutheran World Federation, and the Mennonite World Conference met in Augsburg, Germany, 9–14 February 2017, for the fifth meeting of the Trilateral Dialogue Commission on Baptism. The meeting in Augsburg concluded a five-year dialogue process.

The commission discussed and developed its final report, entitled “Baptism and Incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church,” drafted by professors Theo Dieter (Lutheran, France), William Henn (Catholic, US/Vatican) and John Rempel (Mennonite, Canada). The trilateral commission agreed on a further process to finalize the report, which summarizes the rich discussions that have taken place over the last five years on three fundamental themes: 1) the relation of baptism to sin and salvation, 2) the celebration of baptism and its relation to faith and to membership in the Christian community, 3) the living of baptism in Christian discipleship. The report will be published in early 2018.

The meeting was hosted by the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and took place in the Haus Sankt Ulrich, the conference centre of the Catholic Diocese of Augsburg. The trilateral group met at the same time and place as the Executive Committee and the four commissions of MWC. During the meeting, the trilateral commission gathered in morning devotions and Bible studies. Evenings, they joined the MWC for prayers. One afternoon, members of the trilateral commission participated in a tour led by Augsburg Mennonite Wolfgang Krauss, introducing the Anabaptist and Mennonite history of the city.

—Mennonite World Conference release courtesy of Lutheran World Federation

Reflections from a Mennonite participant in the dialogue:

During the five years in which we have reflected on our theology and practice of baptism under the eyes of our partners, we have learned to respect, trust and challenge one another.

From the Lutherans, I have seen more clearly that their concern about justification by grace through faith is not that discipleship is a secondary matter. Their concern is that following Christ be a lifestyle of gratitude for God’s grace and not good works to earn God’s favour.

From the Catholics, I have learned that the sacrament of baptism does not have an “automatic” role in salvation. If someone persistently lives life against the Spirit of Christ, baptism will not save them.

What did I realize about Mennonites from the observations of our dialogue partners? One insight is that our concern for the human response to God’s grace in conversion and baptism is so central that we neglect to give God’s initiative toward us its due.

— Prof. Dr. John Rempel (Canada)

Participants

Roman Catholic

  • Sister Prof. Dr. Marie-Hélène Robert, NDA (France);
  • Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, IMC (co-chair, Colombia);
  • Revd. Prof. William Henn, OFM Cap (USA/Italy);
  • Revd. Prof. Luis Melo, SM (Canada);
  • Revd. Avelino Gonzalez (co-secretary, USA/Vatican).

Lutheran

  • Revd. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka (co-secretary, Finland/Switzerland);
  • Prof. Dr. Friederike Nüssel (co-chair, Germany);
  • Bishop Emeritus Dr. Musawenkosi Biyela (South Africa);
  • Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter (France).

Mennonite

  • Revd. Rebecca Adongo Osiro (Mennonite);
  • Prof. Dr. Alfred Neufeld (co-chair, Paraguay);
  • Prof. Dr. Fernando Enns (Germany/The Netherlands);
  • Prof. Dr. John Rempel (Canada);
  • Revd. Dr. Larry Miller (co-secretary, France);
  • Prof. Dr. Alfred Neufeld (co-chair, Paraguay).

Regrets

  •  Revd. Dr. KS Peter Li (Lutheran, Hong Kong, China).

 

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Comments

First of all, I am very glad that such ecumenical dialogue is occurring, on baptism as well as other subjects. Second, I much appreciate John Rempel's observation that "our (Mennonite) concern for the human response to God's grace in conversion and baptism is so central that we (Mennonites) neglect to give God's initiative toward us its due." Was any attempt made to include persons from the Reformed faith family in these deliberations? With their stress on the sovereignty of God and emphasis on predestination, that emphasis on God's initiative would have come through very clearly. Since the Swiss Brethren came out of the Zwinglian Reformed movement, it would seem logical to me to include Reformed folk in these dialogues. Again, I do much appreciate the work of this Commission and other cooperative efforts as we begin to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Not reformed this time, but we are considering to have a special dialogue with the Reformed Tradition. Actually Zwingli was not so strong on predestination as Luther or Calvin. And remember, the fact TULIP of The Duch-British Calvinists was invented many years after Calvin died. But what is not so well known is that Calvin's wife was the widow of an Anabaptist preacher.

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