December 2017 / January 2018 - Vol. 95

 Christian unity

On the Path Toward Unity

Together we put our hope and trust in God, that he will accomplish in his own time and his own way this great work of unity among his people 
by Dr. Dan Keating

Do you ever wonder what’s going on in the search for Christian unity among the various churches these days? Is there anything happening? Is there good news around the corner? Or has the search for Christian unity stalled?

There is a lot happening, far too much to describe in a short write-up. Yes, there are some very good things going on. No, we are probably not on the verge of being fully united across our churches. But we live and walk in hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has us all in hand, and confident that the Spirit is constantly at work.

Let me highlight a few of the initiatives between theologians of the churches that display real advances in working together.
  • The Joint Declaration on Justification, 2017. Many of us will recall the Joint Declaration between Catholics and Lutherans in 1999. This was a partial but genuine step in agreement on issues that divided the two churches in the 16th century. What most of us don’t know is that the World Methodist Council signed on to this agreement in 2006. And this year, 2017, the World Communion of Reformed Churches also signed on to the joint declaration. This is very noteworthy.
  • Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Catholic church have been meeting together for many years. The discussions have not been easy. But last year, the two groups produced a common statement summing up their initial findings together. The subject was how the various churches related together in the first millennium, and what this can teach about seeking unity in this third millennium. It’s a very modest step, but every small step is appreciated.
  • I have been involved over the past four years in the Evangelical-Catholic National Dialogue in the United States to consider the issue of justification. The dialogue has been very rewarding and in fact a great deal of fun. As a member of the Catholic team I have greatly enjoyed getting to know the members of the Evangelical team. We have enjoyed rich fellowship and a clear sense of common life in Christ.
You might ask: “What do these dialogues and discussions accomplish? Do they ever lead anywhere?” Well, we shall see! But it’s important to realize that these kinds of discussions cannot on their own produce or create full unity. This must happen through the work of the Spirit in his own time and way.

The discussions between theologians can, however, remove (or lighten) obstacles and hindrances to greater unity. They move things out of the way, and open new avenues to walk down together. They also forge real friendships in Christ and reveal to us that we are all disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is an enormously important thing. All this enables the Spirit to work more easily and accomplish his purposes.

The work we are about in the Sword of the Spirit is hugely important, even if it seems like a few small steps and modest gains. Together we put our hope and trust in God, that he will accomplish in his own time and his own way this great work of unity among his people. What a blessing to have even a small share in this great work!
> See previous articles in Living Bulwark by Dr. Dan Keating

Dr. Dan Keating is an elder in the Servants of the Word and teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA. He has authored a number of articles and books, including Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, by Baker House 2011, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: James, First, Second, and Third John, by Baker House 2017, and Deification and Grace, by Sapientia Press 2007.

Justified in Jesus Christ book coverDan Keating recently contributed two essays in a new book entitled, Justified in Jesus Christ: Evangelicals and Catholics in Dialogue.

In 2017 the National Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue in the United States sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the University of Mary, Bismarck, North Dakota, completed its four-year round of discussions on the doctrine of justification. Sessions were held each year on the following topics:

2014: Original sin and its effects within the economy of salvation
2015: Initial justification
2016: The relationship between justification and sanctification
2017: The relationship between justification and final judgment

At each of these annual meetings, members presented background papers that formed the basis of that meeting’s discussions and became the starting point for constructing a common statement. These common statements and background papers comprise this book. Quite unexpectedly, the members of the dialogue discovered many points of convergence on the subject of justification. The members of the dialogue hope this book will provide a fruitful starting point for future conversations between Catholics and Evangelicals.

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