“Without a doubt, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics comprise a majority of the world’s Christians. . . . Why are these two groups gaining members at such a dramatic rate when other denominations are declining . . . The answer may lie in their shared openness to the Holy Spirit, to the charisms, and to their value of an embodied, experiential and supra-rational faith.”
Karen R.J. Murphy, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics on Becoming a Christian: Spirit Baptism, Faith, Conversion, Experience, and Discipleship in Ecumenical Perspective, Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, vol. 28 (The Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, 2018), p2.
In this monograph, Karen Murphy examines how Roman Catholics and Pentecostals are discovering through formal ecumenical dialogue, key similarities between themselves within the themes of “Spirit-baptism, faith, conversion, experience, and discipleship.” More specifically, her work provides a timely and important analysis on how the fifth phase of the International Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue (1998-2006) (IRCPD) explored these topics within the broad theme of, “On Becoming a Christian.”
The fifth round report can be viewed at the Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research: http://www.pctii.org/cyberj/cyber18.html
As Murphy notes, two methodologies significantly facilitated the fifth dialogue. First, they consistently asked one another the “hard questions” about how their respective traditions understand the selected topics, and responded, in an effort to clearly identity similarities and clear differences. Second, for the first time in the history of the dialogues, they together approached the selected themes from the perspective of both biblical and patristic sources (15, 293, 305-306).
Murphy stresses that the most important outcome of the fifth round was the participants’ shared conclusion that their dialogue demonstrates:
“At their core, both Pentecostal and Catholics desire all to experience Christ in a personal manner, to express, visibly manifest, and grow in their faith through discipleship with the aid of the community, and to be joined in the unity of the Spirt. In this regard, Catholics and Pentecostals are more similar than they are different and share a common goal with regard to their hopes for all who become a Christian.” (p. 306).
On this note, I find pertinent to quote the final paragraph from the fifth phase report, which I will break into three crucial parts:
“Finally, each of us has learned a great deal about the ways in which the other fosters faith, conversion, discipleship and formation, understands experience, and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. As we reflected on the scriptures and to the witness of the early church writers, and as we heard the way our partners in this dialogue engage in fostering the Christian life in those who come to the faith, we recognize in each other a deep commitment to Christ.
Although Pentecostals and Catholics may give different emphases on aspects of becoming a Christian, each fosters the Christian life for the glory of God. Knowing this helps overcome misunderstandings or stereotypes we may have had about each other. It follows that this calls Catholics and Pentecostals to examine their conscience about the way they have sometimes described one another in the past, for example calling the other a “non-Christian” or a member of a “sect”.
We have found much that we share together. Although we have significant differences still on some questions, we are able because of our study in this dialogue, to call one another brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Murphy also notes of course, the ongoing friction, ignorance, and caricatures worldwide, that far too many members of each tradition carry and of one another. Regarding common Pentecostal ignorance, Murphy states:
“Frequently viewing Roman Catholics through a pre-Vatican II lens, many Pentecostals accept old stereotypes of the Catholic Church dating back to the Reformation or earlier, and a, as a result, ‘have failed to recognise the genuine Christian character of the Roman Catholic Church and its members’ going so far as to suggest that ‘virtually no Catholic is a Christian.” (p. 12).
The structure of Murphy’s book closely follows the fifth round’s thematic dialogues. These themes thereby structure her five middle chapters, which the book’s subtitle identifies. Though primarily written for those with ecumenical interests, her study is also helpful towards readers wanting to better understand how Pentecostalism and Roman Catholics converge and diverge in their respective understandings of becoming a Christian and growing in the Christian faith. Besides delineating the fifth round’s outcomes, Murphy also helpfully situate the dialogue within the history of the IRCPD, and suggesting how this fruit can further ongoing ecumenical progress between the two traditions, thus also inferring implications towards the greater field of inter-Christian ecumenicalism.
Meanwhile, the Sixth Phase (2011-2015) of the IRCPD has now also concluded, which was titled, “Do Not Quench the Spirit”: Charisms in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The report can be view at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/pentecostals/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_2011-2015_do-not-quench-the-spirit_en.html
I want to conclude this brief review by recalling a key aim of the fifth round, which was to help people within both traditions, recognise one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (5-13, 301-302, 307). Yet apart from formal ecumenical dialogues, how do we actually go about this, at the grassroots level? How do we help grassroots members of each tradition, move beyond ignorant based caricatures and misunderstandings of one another’s practices and beliefs? For this reason, the very best feature of Murphy’s work is her passion hope (13, 61-62) that through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we may continue these labours— until worldwide, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals eat together, the Eucharist at the shared table of Christ, who heals our broken communion.