Representatives of the Catholic Church (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), the Lutheran World Federation, and Mennonite World Conference met in Augsburg, Germany, February 9-14, 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, U.S./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. In the evenings, they joined 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.
The Mennonite participants were Rebecca Adongo Osiro (Kenya), Alfred Neufeld (co-chair, Paraguay), Fernando Enns (Germany/The Netherlands), John Rempel (Canada), and Larry Miller (co-secretary, France).
“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,” Rempel wrote about the dialogue experience.
“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.”