BAPTISM, EUCHARIST AND MINISTRY
Charles Brockwell introduced briefly the BEM study of the WCC and the response of the United Methodist Church.
The Baptist, Eucharist and Ministry Document (BEM as it is commonly called) is probably the best known document of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC. It resulted from a long study process and was published in 1982. The churches were asked to respond to it at the highest and most appropriate level of authority. They were asked to respond to the following questions:
* To what extent can your church affirm this document as an expression of the apostolic faith?
* What consequences will your church draw from it in your relationship with other churches?
* How will it affect your church?
* What would your church suggest to Faith and Order?
In the United Methodist Church the BEM document went to the General Conference which is its highest governing body, which delegated the authority to deal with it to the Bishops. The Bishops instructed the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to produce a first draft of a response. In order to do so a group of about ten experts was formed. The official response was sent to the WCC after it had received the approval of the Bishops. The United Methodist Church learned a lot through this process. For instance, with regard to the work of the Spirit (see Section II "Baptism as a Gift of the Spirit") we learned that there must be a daily renewal of grace abounding in our lives, and that as United Methodists we need to reflect more on the meaning of Pentecost. It helped us to think more carefully about the power of the healing ministry.
Ecumenical engagements have been very important for our Church. Through these we have come to understand that 1) we are not everything in the church, and 2) that we are surely something.
Jeremy Crawford added some comments about the response to BEM of the Orthodox churches.
The Orthodox churches were involved from the beginning in the formulation of the document. They responded individually and together (after a meeting of Eastern and Oriental churches in Boston in 1985). In general the Orthodox saw the document as a hopeful sign of convergence. Some of the positive points for them were:
* The affirmation of the integral link between baptism and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
* The working of the Holy Spirit in the eucharist and the role of some liturgical elements.
* The role of the presbyter and bishop in the ministry of the church.
Some of the aspects on which the Orthodox asked for more clarification or expansion were:
* The renunciation of evil in baptism.
* The relation between confession of sins and participation in communion.
The Orthodox felt that the section on ministry was weak compared with other sections of the document.
The methodology of a "magisterial" document constitutes a difficulty for Pentecostal churches which are not used to this style of communicating. As one participant put it "In my church it wouldn't fly". Pentecostals are familiar with personal testimonies and faith stories as ways to reach common agreement but not written documents. The example was given of the Faith and Order work on the Apostolic Faith and the Nicene Creed which raises similar questions for Pentecostals, many of whom are suspicious of "creedalism". It was said that this issue of the WCC style of working on doctrinal matters should be given more attention in discussions with Pentecostals and Evangelicals. Could the WCC provide space for different traditions to feel comfortable and participate in their own way?Language was also noted as a possible problem. For instance, Pentecostals are more at ease with the term "holy communion" or simply communion, than "eucharist". Several participants mentioned the changing views on baptism as one of the great results of BEM. It had helped them to accept infant baptism in other churches and to leave behind the practice of re-baptizing believers according to the Pentecostal understanding.
Pentecostals and unity. A final remark was made saying that documents like BEM could help the Pentecostal constituency to enter the discussion on unity. Many believe unity is a spiritual reality that already exists. They deplore fragmentation and division but have no solution to it. "It's God's problem, not ours".