Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-84: Insights and Significance

by Graham Kings

Date added: 10/10/2016

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Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-84: Insights and Significance

Lecture given at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, 7 October 2016

by the Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings, Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion and Honorary Fellow of Durham University



It is a great joy to be with you at the Pontifical Urban University, during this week celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome, and I am very grateful to the Rector, Professor Fr Alberto Trevisiol, I.M.C., and to the Dean of the Faculty of Missiology, Professor Carmelo Dotolo, for the invitation to give this lecture.

I have shared in meetings with Professor Sandra Mazzolini, Professor of Missionary Ecclesiology in your Faculty of Missiology, in Georgetown University in May 2015 and in Rome and Frankfurt, in January and May this year, and have rejoiced in her scholarship and fellowship.

When the Holy Father was elected Pope in 2013, I commented on twitter that he was an ‘evangelical Catholic’ and that Archbishop Justin was a ‘catholic Evangelical’. This was retweeted by the Catholic Herald in London, which, may, or may not, have given it some gravity.

I was thinking of Pope Francis’s background in Argentina, with his sympathetic understanding of the evangelical movement there, and of Archbishop Justin’s evangelical, charismatic background in Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London and of his long term membership of the Catholic Charismatic order, ‘Chemin Neuf’. Later, this insight was further confirmed with Pope Francis’s first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium,and with Archbishop Justin’s founding of the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace.

This led me to ruminate on the topic of ‘Evangelical Catholic and Catholic Evangelical Theologies of Mission’. Since I have a desk in Lambeth Palace Library, I undertook to read the archival papers there of The Reverend John R. W. Stott (1921-2011)[i], and of the ‘Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission’ (ERCDOM), which met three times between 1977 and 1984. Stott was the Anglican Co-Chair and was Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church Langham Place, London, and an Evangelical statesman and theologian. He had an influence on Archbishop Justin, after his conversion, through his Cambridge Christian Union mission addresses in 1977.[ii] The Roman Catholic Co-Chair was Monsignor Basil Meeking, (b. 1929) an official, and later Under-Secretary, of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Originally from New Zealand, he served as Bishop of Christchurch there, 1987-95.

Bishop Basil Meeking kindly wrote me an email, from his retirement, on 3 September 2016:

When the Council for Christian Unity entered into dialogue with some Evangelical leaders and theologians in the late 1970s it went with remarkable ease. That was in large measure because of the Revd John Stott. In no way did he act or speak as though divergences in belief did not matter or did not have to be faced; one has only to look at his book, The Cross of Christ,[iii] to be aware that he was not at all ready to sacrifice Evangelical principles for a cheap unity.

Yet from his Anglican perspective he was also able to see that important Christian doctrines are in fact held by Roman Catholics and many Evangelical Christians of various denominations and that these undergird the Christian mission as understood by Evangelicals and Catholics.  It was his genius and his holiness that enabled him to help all of us in the dialogue meetings to see that we hold certain common understandings in faith that require us to engage in mission.[iv]

I need to declare a personal interest. In July 1977, I had a gap year between Oxford and Cambridge working as the janitor and caretaker of All Souls Church, Langham Place. It was our first year of marriage and Alison and I lived in a flat at the back of the Church, opposite the BBC. Although I was a janitor, John Stott, then Rector Emeritus, invited me onto his study group and I remember ERCDOM from those days.

In his A History of English Christianity 1920-1985, Adrian Hastings wrote judiciously of Stott:

Within the world Evangelical movement of the second half of the century he played to Billy Graham a role not altogether unlike that which J. H. Oldham had played fifty years before to John R. Mott. In each case the less flamboyant but more intellectual Englishman was endeavouring to guide the movement into new, less simplistic vistas. What is remarkable is how far Stott was able to go without losing the confidence of Graham. All the same, on the international level it may well be that he did not quite succeed in converting a dominantly American movement to the extent he would have liked. He was bowling on too foreign a wicket. In England it was different. The ecclesiology which was so unacceptable an element in the synthesis for many an ‘undenominational’ American missionary, was fully acceptable within an English Evangelicalism which was becoming more and more consciously Anglican. [v]

As is clear from the archives, with the various letters and candid notes, Stott and Meeking enjoyed each other’s company, became friends and developed profound respect for each other.

One example is a letter from Stott to Meeking dated 1 October 1979, after Pope John Paul II’s visit to Eire.

The Pope seems to have had a really important visit to Eire. Many of us are deeply thankful for the Christ-centredness of his messages. There are times when he sounds like a true blue evangelical![vi]

The Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission is not so well known today as when it published its report in 1986, when it was featured in Time magazine in the USA.[vii] In this lecture, I shall be considering firstly the background, secondly the meetings and thirdly the report of ERCDOM, before concluding with its insights and significance.

  1. A.   Background

The background to ERCDOM was two significant global conferences in 1974 and one in 1975, Evangelical, Catholic and Conciliar. The Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization produced the seminal Lausanne Covenant (1974), whose architect was John Stott;[viii] the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops met in Rome to discuss Evangelization in 1974, from which emerged Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, (1975);[ix] the World Council of Churches met in Nairobi in 1975.[x]

A note by Stott in the archives dated 4 December 1975, is headed ‘Proposal for Roman Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue of Mission’:

Preliminary meeting of Basil Meeking and John Stott in Santa Barbara at the beginning of October 1975, a lunch discussion was held during the Fifth Assembly of the WCC at Nairobi in November, attended by  Charles Moeller, Pierre Duprey and Basil Meeking on the Roman Catholic side and David Hubbard, Bishop Don Cameron and John Stott on the evangelical side.

Confidentiality. It is proposed that the conference be private, that no publicity is given to it in advance and no report published afterwards [note added in pen ‘without mutual consent’].[xi]

The fact that ERCDOM developed into three meetings in all and did publish a substantial report manifests the significance of the developing process.


  1. B.   Meetings


  1. 1.   Venice, April 1977

Stott arrived in Venice hot foot from chairing the second National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Nottingham, 14-18 April 1977.[xii] He signed off the Nottingham Statement on 18 April,[xiii] and ERCDOM met in Venice the next day, from 19-23 April.

The Evangelical participants were: Professor Peter Beyerhaus, Bishop Donald Cameron, Dr Orlando Costas, Mr Martin Goldsmith, Dr David Hubbard, Reverend Gottfried Osei-Mensah, Reverend Peter Savage and Reverend John Stott.

Three of the eight were Anglican: Stott, Cameron (the Bishop of North Sydney) and Goldsmith (a lecturer in mission studies at All Nations Christian College).

The Roman Catholic participants were: Sister Joan Chatfield, Father Pierre Duprey, Monsignor Basil Meeking, Father Dionisio Minguez Fernandez, Father John Paul Musinsky, Father Waly Neven, Father Robert Rweyemamu and Father Thomas Stransky.[xiv]

It is interesting that there were no women amongst the Evangelical participants, but there was one amongst the Catholic participants and that Pierre Duprey was a delegate on the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, as well as Under Secretary in the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.

The short press release, in carefully noting a contrast, mentioned that the Evangelical participants were ‘representing no constituency but attending in a purely private capacity’ and the Catholic participants were ‘appointed by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity’.[xv]

In his Memorandum of the meeting,[xvi] Stott listed the sections discussed as: The Church of the Gospel, the embodiment of the Gospel, the agent of the Gospel; Conversion; Inculturation; God working outside the Christian Community; and Common Witness.

He wrote concerning authority:

It was noted that for Evangelicals such documents [Lausanne Covenant] are neither final nor authoritative while for Roman Catholics official church documents [Evangelii Nuntiandi] can have an authoritative teaching function.

Concerning Karl Rahner’s concept of ‘Anonymous Christians’ not being liked by Evangelicals:

Often in discussion it seemed to be a question of emphasis. While Catholics would say that some outside the Christian community are saved, Evangelicals prefer to say that some could be saved, that those who respond to natural revelation, to the dictates of conscience, to the law written in their hearts “are” or “could be” saved by the power of the cross of Christ in view of which God overlooked their past sins.

On 30 May 1977, John Stott wrote warmly to Cardinal Jan Willebrands, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity:[xvii]

The initial apprehension with which some of us came to dialogue was soon transformed into confidence, and suspicion into trust and even affection.

You may have heard of the evening in which we shared naturally and informally our experiences of Jesus Christ; we came to rejoice in the grace of God which we saw in one another.

Our discussions were open, relevant and friendly. Both parties to the dialogue received a number of surprises. On our part, we were delighted to discover the biblical orientation of the Roman Catholic members, and were grateful for the courtesy with which our contributions were received. At the same time, although some consensus was evident, we were perhaps sorry that we did not make further progress towards an actual written statement.

We hope, therefore, that another dialogue may be possible in about a year’s time…On the Evangelical side, we hope that the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization may be willing to appoint the team and sponsor the dialogue.

In the event, the whole Lausanne Committee did not officially appoint the team or sponsor the dialogue.


  1. 2.   Cambridge, March 1982

Between Venice and Cambridge, Stott and Meeking had tried to set up some regional meetings around the world, but there were various problems and only two took place, in London and in the USA.

On 29 June 1978, Stott wrote intriguingly to Bishop Alan C. Clark, Chair of the Ecumenical Commission of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales and Co-Chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission:

Dear Bishop Clark,

My warm greetings to you! You may recall that we have a mutual friend in Julian Charley, and that we met with Bishop Kenneth Sansbury at a Holy Week meeting convened by Bishop Maurice Wood, at which you disapproved of my doctrine of the Atonement!

He then went on describe ERCDOM, and regional dialogues to prepare for a second meeting, and continued:

Its purpose is to study areas of convergence and divergence in our understanding of mission, arising from the Lausanne Congress, the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi and the WCC Nairobi Assembly.[xviii]

It is interesting to note here the first mention of including the WCC Nairobi assembly with the Lausanne Covenant and Evangelii Nuntiandi. As it turned out, ERCDOM focused on the latter two.

The reply, on 22 July 1978, had an equally light touch:

Dear Dr Stott,

It was good of you to write, and I apologise for any delay in replying to your letter. I hope you have forgiven me for disapproving of your doctrine of the Atonement!...

I may have disapproved of your doctrine of the Atonement, but I will remember with gratitude and wonder your magnificent talk at the Church Leaders’ Conference in 1972.[xix]

In April and May 1979, there was a fascinating exchange of letters between Meeking and Stott concerning the agenda for ERCDOM II. It shows the give and take at the heart of their relationship. 

Meeking wrote on 21 April 1979:

I must say very frankly that I have a substantial problem about the Common Agenda [for ERCDOM II] as it stands at present. It is intended for joint meetings of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals but it reads like an Evangelical document. I do not think it good that the agenda for such a meeting should already have taken a position…

So my concern is that the agenda should be framed in such a way that in posing the questions room is left for the approaches of both sides and that it should not lay itself open to the accusation of being slanted to one or other side in a way that would predetermine the discussion. I am sure that you will see and feel for the problem as I have tried to state it.

With that in mind I have tried to revise the agenda…It has seemed essential from the Roman Catholic side to mention salvation as the work of the Spirit, to at least mention the resurrection and to point to the connection of Gospel and community.

Could you let me have your reactions and any further changes you may want to make.[xx]

Stott’s reply on 31 May 1979 was magnanimous:

I come now to the common agenda. I am very glad that you found yourself in substantial accord with my proposal. But I am sorry that I was insensitive enough to produce a document which smelled ‘evangelical’! I am quite happy with your suggested emendations, and of course I support your desire to include consideration of the doctrines of the Resurrection, Spirit and the Church…[xxi]

The second meeting was originally planned for March 1981 but had to be postponed to the following year. There had been a ‘hardening of attitudes’ from some conservative Evangelicals, who were not on ERCDOM, and the presence of two Catholics at a Lausanne meeting in Thailand in 1980 had been objected to by some, since it had not been previously announced.

Stott showed his passionate perseverance and chaired a crisis meeting on 11 February 1981 in his London flat, with Martin Goldsmith, Basil Meeking and Tom Corbishley. A way forward was found. He wrote a memorandum about the  ‘Hardening of Attitudes’:

Basil said that, against this background, the continuance of dialogue might seem to some incompatible with true ecumenics, since RCs were already rejected as non-Christians.

JRWS [i.e. Stott] pointed out (and M. Goldsmith) the scars some had from recent persecution; situation had not basically changed since evangelical spectrum has always been broad, with different attitudes to RC church; situation exacerbated by clumsy WEF and COWE PR; and some felt John Paul II’s election had seemed to strengthen RC Church’s conservatism.[xxii]

Concerning the choice of Trinity College, Cambridge, on 9 April 1980, Stott wrote a Memorandum to the Evangelical participants:

I have confessed to Basil that we cannot rival Venice! Nor can I produce a Cardinal Archbishop or Patriarch to entertain us! But Trinity College, Cambridge (my old college) have agreed to accommodate us. A tour of the Cambridge colleges will be arranged. We will be accommodated in rooms in college (pretty primitive, though, with no private bathrooms etc. – so be warned!), and we can have all our meals in Hall (with the famous portrait of King Henry VIII looking down upon us with a mixture of severity and condescension).[xxiii]

The Evangelical participants were: Dr Kwame Bediako, Professor Peter Beyerhaus, Bishop Donald Cameron, Mr Martin Goldsmith, Dr David Hubbard, Reverend Peter Savage, Reverend John Stott and Dr David Wells.

The replacement of Reverend Gottfried Osei-Mensah with Dr Kwame Bediako was significant. Both were from Ghana: The former was General Secretary of the Lausanne Committee and the latter was a PhD candidate and lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, and later became a leading African theologian.

The Roman Catholic participants were: Sister Joan Chatfield, Father Parmananda Divarkar, Father Pierre Duprey, Father René Girault, Monsignor Basil Meeking, Monsignor Jorge Mejia, Father John Mutiso-Mbinda, Father John Redford, Monsignor Pietro Rossano, Father Thomas Stransky.

Nine background documents were circulated beforehand and nine commissioned papers were presented.

Some of Stott’s handwritten notes of the oral discussions are worth quoting at length, for they give a sense of the animated exchanges – we almost seem to be there in Trinity College with them - as well as Stott’s own choice of quotes, which he thought were significant:[xxiv]

In reaction to David Wells’s paper on how Evangelicals see Catholics

Basil:   For the transmission of faith, the Church looks to bishops, not theologians.

JRWS:   judge Catholic Church by bishops who teach the faith, not by theologians who undermine it!

Basil:    Constellation of bishops, theologians, and consensus of faith

Tom [Stransky]: Bishops and theologians are not polarized. Division runs right through both groups.

In reaction to Tom Stransky’s paper on how Catholics see Evangelicals

Kwame [Bediako]:  Does not want to drag in the polemics of past history which isn’t our history – the Christ introduced to Africa by different traditions seems to us to be the same Christ.

Concerning Verbum Dei

Tom Stransky: Waldron Scott said at Pattaya [Lausanne sponsored conference in Thailand] that he saw the World Council of Churches as ‘Johannine’ and Evangelicals as ‘Pauline’.

Jorge Mejia: Church v. Scripture is an ancient problem. He does not see them as completely distinct realities. Scripture is the result of God working through men as instruments in the Church (and the unity of Scripture is due to unity of the Church). So Church is behind, before and under Scripture, and after it. The Word of God creates the Church, but it is then translated and communicated through the Church.

JRWS:   Jesus was against the traditions of the elders.  Also Paul & John (Rev 2, 3). Confrontational.

Tom Stransky: In evangelical Christianity and institutions there’s the possibility of not being reformed by Scripture. We rationalize our non-reformation - both Catholics and Protestants - we need to perceive this evasion of challenge. Why are most ‘Bible Christians’ the most racist? [Stott marked a line beside this comment in the margin]

John Mutiso-Mbinda:   Scripture, tradition and the believing community are the tripod of an African stool.


Kwame Bediako: Irenaeus: not only where the Bishop is, there is the Church, but also where Jesus Christ is confessed, there is the Church. So tradition and confession both have a place.

Criticism of Evangelical Missiology, of the Homogeneous Unit Principle and ‘People Movements’ – cultural barriers are penetrable.

Tom Stransky (response):

  1. East-West and Rome-Protestant divisions are both ‘North’ to many people, and no longer their own Third World concern. Third World theologies are no longer peripheral.  Are we listening to the questions Third World people are asking the Bible?
  2. Not enough to look at culture in the receptor country; our own culture binds and blinds us. It is popular to be ‘counter-culture’, but if everybody is that, it is part of the culture! In USA young people go to counterculture meetings in Hilton Hotels!

Peter Beyerhaus: To Roman Catholics original sin is less a radical perversion than a damage…Roman Catholics build on Incarnation and Incorporation and Evangelicals on the Cross, which is judgement on man and therefore on our culture.

David Hubbard: Assurance is a difficulty. But are not Roman Catholics missing the New Testament note of joy and knowledge?

Concerning Mary

René Girault: concerning ‘mediatrix’. Before Vatican II some bishops demanded a definition, but this was not done. Cardinal Bea asked for  ‘mediatrix’ not to be used. It occurs once only in ch. 8 [of Lumen Gentium] alongside other titles. But several times Christ is the only mediator.

Meeking: ‘I can’t stand term ‘mediatrix’, and have an immense difficulty with it. Yet have to keep asserting it.’

Concerning Other Religions

Donald Cameron: John V Taylor’s quotation is unacceptable.[xxv] Man in general is not forgiven but alienated.

Jorge Mejia: ‘Extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ was condemned by the Holy Office in 1949.

René Girault: Yves Congar said ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’ is now replaced by, or is now succeeded by, ‘Church as the sacrament of salvation’. First was from Cyprian, and made things rigid. Second formula appeared with the Council.

Pietro Rossano: All Salvation is from Christ, but some people who reject him are rejecting a conceptual caricature.

Work together? Especially Common Witness

Tom Stransky: We are separated because of what we’ve done to each other; we can be united only because of what Christ has done for us.

Tom Stransky: Is this the last ERCDOM? Hopes for a third and final one. Should consider this seriously, especially because I and II do not mesh. Only fulcrum round which we can come together is Mission. In ERCDOM II no unifying topic, unless hermeneutics. Yes I & II could be integrated, and III could produce a synthesis of I & II.

John Redford: (a) ARCIC topics of are especial interest to the ‘Catholic’ wing of the Church of England (Authority, Eucharist, Ministry) (b) Of 12 Anglicans only one is evangelical.[xxvi] So the interests and theological formulations are Liberal Catholic. So the growing Evangelical movement is left out. ERCDOM is therefore of incalculable importance.

The press release, of one and half pages, begun with the historic context:

The English Reformation began in Cambridge when Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, and others met in the White Horse Inn to study Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. So it seemed appropriate that Cambridge should be the venue for the second International Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission (ERCDOM).[xxvii]

Two significant events occurred in the following two months after ERCDOM II. In April 1982, The Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission[xxviii] was published. Stott was critical of The Final Report and, on behalf of the Church of England Evangelical Council, wrote Evangelical Anglicans and the ARCIC Final Report: an Assessment and Critique.[xxix] Julian Charley, the former curate of Stott’s and the evangelical Anglican on ARCIC wrote more positively later that year, Rome, Canterbury and the Future.[xxx]


The following month, May 1982, Pope John Paul II visited Britain. In his Newsletter for Easter 1982, Stott wrote positively about ERCDOM II, stated on Papal Primacy that he remained ‘unconvinced of the propriety (let alone the possibility) of this’ and on the Papal Visit, commented, ‘My own attitude is best summed up by saying that we should “welcome him as John Paul, but not as Peter”.[xxxi]

  1. 3.   Landevennec, France, April 1984

Both Stott and Meeking were encouraged by the suggestion of ERCDOM III and Stott spent two days conflating the Venice Memorandum and Cambridge Report, commenting to Meeking on 12 April 1983:

I confirm that the main lacunae, as we agreed, seem to be Christology (in particular the person of Christ), the work of the Holy Spirit, the nature and basis of mission, and the thorny question of Common Witness.[xxxii]

An interesting ecclesiological drafting point was made by Meeking on 7 June 1983, which was accepted by Stott:

On p. 25 [of the conflated documents of ERCDOM I and II] “local” for “national” helps Roman Catholics for whom “national” is male sonans ecclesiologically.[xxxiii]

Landevennec, in Brittany, is one of the oldest monasteries in France.

The Evangelical participants were: Dr Kwame Bediako, Bishop Donald Cameron, Dr Harvie Conn, Mr Martin Goldsmith, Reverend John Stott and Dr David Wells.

The Roman Catholic participants were: Sister Joan Chatfield, Father Matthieu Collin, Sister Joan Delaney, Father Claude Geffré, Monsignor Basil Meeking, Father Philip Rosato, Bishop Anselme Sanon, Father Bernard Sesboué, Father Thomas Stransky.

There were thus two Sisters and one Bishop for the first time amongst the Catholic participants.

A key paper was given by Kwame Bediako, ‘The Work of the Holy Spirit in Mission’. As well as expounding Justin Martyr and the ‘holy pagans’, he stressed:

In the light of Ephesians 4:13, the unity “in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God” cannot be the possession of any one phase of Christianity; rather, it is the inheritance of all the “ages” of the Faith, so that, though complete in Christ from all eternity, yet the fullness of its revelation in the Church lies before us. [Stott put a question mark in the margin of his copy of this paper at this point] This means that our participation in the outward, cross-cultural thrust of mission is essentially a participation with and in the Holy Spirit in His revelation of Jesus Christ.

Bediako and Stott corresponded after the meeting. Bediako wrote:

You may recall that during one plenary session, Bishop Cameron made the observation that the heritage of the Reformation had been diluted in the Younger Churches…

You will understand that what distressed me was what I felt to be a tendency to project the interests and fears of “North Atlantic” Evangelicals to an extent that made it seem as though there was no other way of being Evangelical in the Church worldwide.[xxxiv]

The final sessions of the meeting focussed on drafting the ERCDOM report. Most of this went well but the final section, on ‘The Possibilities of Common Witness’ Stott felt needed revision later. He wrote a Memorandum to Meeking, Stransky, Cameron and Delaney on 24 April 1984:

The revised draft which was submitted to the Plenary did not seem to me to do justice to the subject, or to the initial papers by Tom Stransky and Don Cameron.

Many readers are likely to turn to this last chapter of our Report first. It is the conclusion of the Report, and the only practical section. It must not be seen to be less thorough than the preceding theological sections.[xxxv]

Meeking replied on 13 August with suggested revisions, most of which were accepted.

  1. C.   Report

The 23,000 word Report was published first in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research in January 1986 and then by Eerdmans in the USA, Paternoster Press in the UK, and by the Vatican.[xxxvi] Stott was the editor, Meeking provided most of the draft of the Introduction and, according to Stott, ‘the Secretariat have been through it with a toothcomb, so that it does carry their own commendation’.[xxxvii]

Between the Introduction and the Conclusion, the seven chapters of the Report are headed: ‘Revelation and Authority’; ‘The Nature of Mission’; ‘The Gospel of Salvation’; ‘Our Response in the Holy Spirit to the Gospel’; ‘The Church and the Gospel’; ‘The Gospel and Culture’; and ‘The Possibilities of Common Witness’.

Each chapter begins with a comment which introduces the sections.


The Evangelical participants are described as ‘drawn from a number of churches and Christian organisations. They are not official representatives of any international body.’ A helpful overview of the diversity of Evangelicalism is then given before a ‘cluster of theological convictions’.

The Roman Catholic participants ‘spoke from the point of view of the official teaching of their Church’ and ‘were named by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity’. A brief summary is given of the Second Vatican Council and its approach to Scripture and its acknowledgement of ‘common ground with other Christians’.

The background of the Lausanne Covenant and Evangelii Nuntiandi and their ‘convergence on the nature of evangelism’, and the experience of dialogue during the three meetings, is described before the comment, ‘This Report is in no sense an “agreed statement,” but rather a faithful record of the ideas shared.’

1.   Revelation and Authority

The are four sections: ‘Revelation, the Bible, and the Formulation of Truth’; ‘Principles of Biblical Interpretation’ (with subsections on ‘Humble Dependence on the Holy Spirit’, ‘The Unity of Scripture’, ‘Biblical Criticism’, ‘The “Literal Sense”’, and ‘A Contemporary Message’); ‘The Church’s Teaching Authority’ (with subsections on ‘The Individual and the Community’ and ‘The Regulation of Christian Belief’); and ‘Can the Church be Reformed?’ (with subsections on ‘The Need for Reform’ and ‘Our Response to God’s Word’).

Two key quotations are:

We are agreed that since the biblical texts have been inspired by God, they remain the ultimate, permanent, and normative reference of the revelation of God. (1.1)

Many of our teachers belong to the past. Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have inherited a rich legacy of tradition. We cherish creeds, confessions, and conciliar statements. We peruse the writings of the Fathers of the Church. We read books and commentaries. (1.3)

2.   The Nature of Mission

The four sections of this part comprise: ‘The Basis of Mission’; ‘Authority and Initiative in Mission’; ‘Evangelization and Socio-political Responsibility’; and ‘God’s Work Outside the Christian Community’.

Key quotations are:

We are agreed that “mission” relates to every area of human need, both spiritual and social. Social responsibility is an integral part of evangelization; and the struggle for justice can be a manifestation of the Kingdom of God. (2.3)

Roman Catholics would expect God’s mercy to be exercised effectively in benevolent action by his grace for the majority of humankind, unless they specifically reject his offer. Such a provision gives them cause for confidence. Evangelicals consider this view has no explicit biblical justification, and that it would tend to diminish the evangelistic zeal of the Church. Evangelicals are therefore less optimistic about the salvation of those who have no personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (2.4)[xxxviii] 

3.   The Gospel of Salvation

There are four sections: ‘Human Need’; ‘The Person of Jesus Christ’; ‘The Work of Jesus Christ’; ‘The Uniqueness and Universality of Jesus Christ’; followed by an appendix, ‘The Role of Mary in Salvation’ (with subsections on ‘The Interpretation of Scripture’ and ‘Mary and Salvation’).

Key quotations are:

Roman Catholics think Evangelicals overstress the corruption of human beings by affirming their ‘total depravity’…while Evangelicals think Roman Catholics underestimate it and are therefore unwisely optimistic about the capacity, ability, and desire of human beings to respond to the grace of God’. (3.1)

Evangelicals lay much stress on the truth that Christ’s death was “substitutionary.” In his death he did something which he did not do during his life…Roman Catholics express Christ’s death more in terms of “solidarity.” In their understanding Jesus Christ in his death made a perfect offering of love and obedience to his Father, which recapitulated his whole life. (3.3)

4.   Our Response in the Holy Spirit to the Gospel

There are four sections: ‘The Work of the Holy Spirit’; ‘Conversion and Baptism’; ‘Church Membership’; ‘Assurance of Salvation’.

Key quotations are:

Church members need constantly to be strengthened by the grace of God. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals understand grace somewhat differently, however, Roman Catholics thinking of it more as divine life and Evangelicals as divine favour. (4.3)

Evangelicals think Roman Catholics sometimes lack a visible joy in Christ, which their assurance has given them, whereas Roman Catholics think Evangelicals are sometimes insufficiently attentive to New Testament warnings against presumption… In summary, Evangelicals appear to Roman Catholics more pessimistic about human nature before conversion, but more optimistic about it afterwards, while evangelicals allege the opposite about Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals together agreed that Christian assurance is more an assurance of faith (Heb.10:22) than of experience, and that perserverence to the end is a gratuitous gift of God.[xxxix]  (4.4)

5.   The Church and the Gospel

The four sections are: ‘The Church is part of the Gospel’; ‘The Church is a Fruit of the Gospel’; ‘The Church is an Embodiment of the Gospel’; ‘The Church is an Agent of the Gospel’.

A key quotation is:

Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are conscious of past failure in their understanding of the Church. Roman Catholics used to concentrate on the Church as a hierarchical institution, but now (since Vatican II) see it in new perspective by stressing the important biblical images such as that of the People of God. Evangelicals have sometimes preached an excessively individualistic gospel, “Christ died for me.” This is true (Gal. 2:20), but it is far from the whole truth, which is that Christ gave himself for us “to purify for himself a people…” (Tit. 2:14). (5.1)

6.   The Gospel and Culture

The four sections are: ‘Culture and the Bible’; ‘Culture and Evangelization’; ‘Culture and Conversion’; ‘Culture and Church Formation’.

A key quotation is:

In the development of the Christian community in each place, as in the other areas we have mentioned, missionaries must avoid all cultural imperialism; that is the imposition on the Church of alien cultural forms. Just as the gospel has to be inculturated, so must the Church be inculturated also. (6.4)

7.   The Possibilities of Common Witness

The three sections are: ‘Our Unity and Disunity’; ‘Common Witness’; and ‘Unworthy Witness’. The long second section of ‘Common Witness’ has seven subsections which consider: ‘Bible Translation and Publishing’; ‘Use of Media’; ‘Common Service’; ‘Social Thought and Action’; ‘Dialogue’; ‘Worship’; and ‘Evangelism’. In only some aspects of the latter two were there particular problems, and these focussed on sharing in the Eucharist and in Evangelism.

A key quotation is:

We desire to affirm all these truths [about Evangelism] together. In important areas, however, substantial agreement would seem to be premature, although we are aware of situations in some parts of the world in which Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have felt able to make a common proclamation. (7.2.g)


The Report concludes positively:

We who have participated in ERCDOM III are agreed that every possible opportunity for common witness should be taken, except where conscience forbids…

We believe that the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission has now completed its task. At the same time we hope that dialogue on mission between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals will continue, preferably on a regional or local basis…

We commit these past and future endeavors to God, and pray that by “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

 D.   Conclusion: Insights and Significance

Gerald H. Anderson, the editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, commented in his editorial to the edition publishing the Report in January 1986:

Occasionally there is an event of such significance in shaping the future course of mission theology and practise that it becomes a permanent part of the landscape of mission studies…[The ERCDOM Report is a] landmark, in our judgement, that will have lasting influence on our understanding and practice of mission.[xl]

An anonymous article in Time magazine on 3 Feb 1986[xli] was an accurate report, with a quotation from David Wells. The headline was, ‘A Near Miracle: Divided Christians in accord’. It stated:

The Vatican was unaccustomed to dealing with a loosely knit movement like evangelicalism.

And concluded:

Whatever transpires, the contact represents a breakthrough for the evangelicals, who in the past have been staunchly anti-ecumenical and anti-Catholic.

Clifford Longley wrote in The Times on 7 April 1986 entitled, ‘It all depends on what is meant by the concept of ‘assurance”’[xlii] He was wryly positive and realistic in quoting and commenting on chapter 4.4 on this subject.

In this lecture, through excavating and exploring the Stott archives in Lambeth Palace Library, we have discovered a rich seam in the archaeological strata of a significant period for mission and ecumenism, 1977-84.

Both the Dialogue and resulting Report were extraordinary and unique in their time. The style of the Report is neat, eirenic, lucid and concise – as to be expected of Stott. The content is fair in its elucidations of the two traditions.

There was a double listening in the Dialogue and a double direction in the teaching of the Report: interpreting Roman Catholics and Evangelicals to each other. The aim was for more mutual understanding and it was hoped that this would become a teaching aid in mission and ecumenism.

Stott was famous as a bird watcher and called the ‘birds of the air’ our teachers, following the dominical command in Matthew 6:24. What is clear from the Lausanne Covenant is that he had learnt both from the ecumenical movement at the World Council of Churches conference in Uppsala in 1968, and from Evangelicals in the ‘Third World’ through his travels. Now, through ingesting and discussion in the ERCDOM process, he had learnt also from Roman Catholic theologians and missiologists.[xliii]

Anglican tradition is both Catholic and Reformed and so is ‘ecumenical’ within itself. The ERCDOM Report provides excellent teaching material for the breadth of Anglican identity, including the liberal tradition, which may be said to be represented by the little word ‘and’ in the phrase ‘Catholic and Reformed’.

It seems to me that the ERCDOM process and Report laid the foundation for the work of the current International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), which has been meeting this week in Rome. Its significant 2007 report is entitled, Growing Together in Unity and Mission.

Jeffrey Gros, FSC, wrote a chapter on ERCDOM in John A. Radano and Cardinal Kasper’s jointly edited book, published in 2012, Celebrating a Century of Ecumenism: Exploring the Achievements of International Dialogue. He concluded:

ERCDOM was pioneering because (1) its foundation in two important texts The Lausanne Covenant 1974 and Pope Paul VI’s post-synodal exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) (2) the methodology of the dialogue and (3) the quality of its text…It pioneered an important innovation in bi-lateral conversations sponsored by the Holy See.’[xliv]

ERCDOM eventually led on to the World Evangelical Alliance and Roman Catholic dialogues and the joint World Council of Churches, Roman Catholic and World Evangelical Alliance 2011 report, Christian Witness in Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Action.

In my introduction I quoted from Bishop Basil Meeking’s email to me and it is appropriate that he should have the last word. So, I finish with the conclusion to his email:

It was promising that this Report was used for discussion in several places by groups of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics concerned for mission. It has also played a part in opening up and nourishing positive relations between certain Evangelical organisations and the Holy See. Yet it is true to say that the potential of the Report for a renewed understanding of mission and for a common witness has not yet been fully exploited.

May I suggest that a new step be taken? Could the Report be presented at a Plenary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples? SEDOS[xlv] and the Unions of Superior Generals might then follow suit, with a view to awakening renewed awareness on the Roman Catholic side. A similar effort would be desirable among the main international and national Evangelical bodies.

I am convinced that the ERCDOM Report offers a solid stimulus, if now taken seriously, for progress between the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical bodies “towards a common understanding, sharing and proclaiming of ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’  (Jude 3) (ERCDOM page 92)[xlvi]

Perhaps the celebrations this week of the 50th Anniversary of Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s visit to Pope Paul VI, and of the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome, may encourage the fulfilment of the suggestions of Bishop Basil Meeking.

[i] See the biographies of Stott by Timothy Dudley Smith, John Stott: the making of a leader (Leicester: IVP, 1999) and John Stott: a global ministry (Leicester: IVP, 2001) and by Alister Chapman, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (New York: OUP, 2012). See also Brian Stanley, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: the Age of Billy Graham and John Stott (Nottingham: IVP, 2013), though ERCDOM is not mentioned in the latter two books.

[ii] Andrew Atherstone, Archbishop Justin Welby: Risk Taker and Reconciler (London: DLT, 2014).

[iii] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1986). Interestingly, the same year the ERCDOM report was published.

[iv] Basil Meeking, email to Graham Kings, 3 September 2016.

[v] Adrian Hastings, A History of English Christianity 1920-1985 (London: William Collins, 1986), p. 617.

[vi] Lambeth Palace Library, ERCDOM II  1978-82     Stott/3/10/3/59 Letter from John Stott to Basil Meeking 1 Oct 1979.

[vii] ‘A Near Miracle: Divided Christians in Accord’, Time Magazine, 3 Feb 1986. Stott /3/10/4/81 ERCDOM III 1982-1984

[viii] https://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant The Second Lausanne Congress was in 1989 in The Philippines and again Stott drafted the statement, Manila Manifesto. I commented on this in Graham Kings, ‘Evangelicals in Search of Catholicity: Lausanne II in Manila’, Anvil Journal, (1990), pp. 115-128. The Third Lausanne Congress was held in South Africa in 2010 and Christopher Wright, International Director of Langham Partnership International and the successor to Stott in his ministry to the ‘Majority World’, was the chair of the drafting committee for the ‘Cape Town Commitment’ (2010).

[x] Eventually, partly as a response to the Lausanne Covenant and Evangelii Nuntiandi, the World Council of Churches published Mission and Evangelism: an Ecumenical Commitment (Geneva: WCC, 1982) which grew out of the Nairobi Assembly.

[xi] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/25  ERCDOM I   1975-1977.

[xii] Julian Charley, a former Curate of Stott’s at All Souls Church, had written the chapter ‘The Roman Catholic Church’ in volume two of the three preparation books for the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Nottingham. Stott was the General Editor. Volume 2 was Ian Cundy (ed.), Obeying Christ in a Changing World: The People of God (London: William Collins, Fountain Books, 1977), pp. 142-158. Ian Cundy later became Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham (and was there during the ordination training of Archbishop Justin) and then, as Bishop of Peterborough, Chair of the Church of England Council for Christian Unity. Charley was the only evangelical Anglican on ARCIC. In his chapter, he stated:

Debate is not most fruitfully conducted in a spirit of bitterness and animosity. It tends to polarize the opposing viewpoints and force the participants into entrenched positions…At the Colloquy at Ratisbon in 1541 the participants achieved agreement on the highly controversial subject of justification, only to be denounced by those they represented as guilty of betrayal. (pp. 144-145)

He also admitted:

Not all evangelicals share my convictions, nor would I expect it. Some feel that there is a need for more negatives, definite denials from the Catholic side of some of the dogmatic statements of Trent, before evangelicals can give a whole-hearted welcome to such [ARCIC] agreements. (p. 154).


[xiii] The Nottingham Statement (London: Falcon, 1977). Adrian Hastings commented on NEAC 2 in Nottingham:

In April 1977 Stott chaired the second Anglican Evangelical Congress at Nottingham as he had chaired that at Keele exactly ten years earlier…His position was now very clear. ‘Evangelicals ought to be conservative on the Bible and radical on everything else’ — yet not too conservative even on the Bible. The accepted patriarch of English Evangelicalism, he had moved steadily forward in his own thinking and, while doing so, had struggled with skill and determination to liberate evangelicalism from its worst narrownesses and overcome the schism within Protestant Christianity between ecumenicals and Evangelicals, which had dogged it since almost the start of the century. Indeed on almost all the issues where Evangelicals had been accustomed to point the finger at the former, Stott had come down in defence of the wider ecumenical position, always carefully phrased but increasingly unequivocal.

Hastings, English Christianity, pp. 616-617.

[xiv] The official press release mentioned further details of the participants.

Evangelicals: Professor Peter Beyerhaus, Prof of Missiology, Tubingen – German Lutheran; Bishop Donald Cameron, Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Sydney  - Australian Anglican; Professor Orlando Costas, Dir of the Latin American Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies, Costa Rica  - Puerto Rican Baptist and Congregationalist; Mr Martin Goldsmith, Dir of Missionary Studies, All Nations Christian College, Ware, Herts - English Anglican of German Jewish stock; Dr David Hubbard, President and Prof of OT at Fuller Theological Seminary – American Baptist; Rev Gottfried B Osei-Mensah, Exec Sec of Lausanne Committee since 1975 – Ghanaian Baptist; Peter Savage, International Coordinator of Latin American Theological Fraternity since 1969, Peru of British Parents; Rev John R W Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Souls Langham Place. Advisor at WCC assemblies at Uppsala (1968) and Nairobi (1975) – English Anglican.

Roman Catholic: Sister Joan Chatfield, Dir of Maryknoll Mission Institute. American – experience in Hawaii; Father Pierre Duprey, WF. Under Sec of Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. French – experience in Lebanon and Jerusalem; Monsignor Basil Meeking, staff member of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, especially with WCC. New Zealander. Observer at CWME Bankok, 1972/3 Salvation Today. Observer at Lausanne, 1974; Father Dionisio Minguez Fernandez PhD, SJ, Prof of NT at Pontifical Biblical Institute. Spanish; Father John Paul Musinsky, SVD. Superior General of Society of the Divine Word, Rome. American; Father Waly G Neven, WF. Sec of Meetings for African Collaboration. Experience in Burundi. Belgian; Father Robert Rweyemamu. Professor, Faculty of Missiology, Urban University, Rome. Tanzanian. Attended meetings of Lutheran World Federation, Baptist and Presbyterian Alliance. Father Thomas F. Stransky, CSP, President of the Paulist Fathers. American. 1960-70 was staff member of Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. On editorial board of Missiology and editing with Gerald Anderson, Mission Trends.

Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/23  ERCDOM I   1975-1977

[xv] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/23  ERCDOM I   1975-1977

[xvi] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/6  ERCDOM I   1975-1977

[xvii] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/2  ERCDOM I   1975-1977.

[xviii] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/31  ERCDOM I  1975-1977. Letter from John Stott to The Rt Rev Alan C Clark, Ecumenical Commission of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales 29 June 1978

[xix] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/1/30 ERCDOM I  1975-1977  Letter from Rt Revd Alan Clark, DD, Bishop of East Anglia to John Stott 22 July 1978.

[xx] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/3/70-71 ERCDOM II  1978-82  Letter from Basil Meeking to John Stott 21 April 1979.

[xxi] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/3/67 ERCDOM II  1978-82   Letter from John Stott to Basil Meeking 31 May 1979.

[xxii] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/3/92 ERCDOM II  1978-82 Notes of Meeting of Messrs. Meeking, Corbishley, Goldsmith and JRWS at No 13 [Bridford Mews – Stott’s flat] on 11 Feb 1981. ‘WEF and COWE PR’ refers to the World Evangelical Fellowship and the Consultation on World Evangelism Public Relations concerning the Thailand conference.

[xxiii] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/3/96 ERCDOM II  1978-82 John Stott Memo 9 April 1980 to Evangelicals re Cambridge meeting planned for 16-21 March 1981. Stott added a note which is significant for the funding of ERCDOM:

Cost. I am asking the Langham Trust (which supports my ministry) to pay the cost of board and lodging for all 20 of us. Since this will total about £2,000, the trustees would naturally be grateful if any of you could pay your own way or have access to funds from which a contribution could be made.

[xxiv] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/3/14-23 ERCDOM II  1978-82 John Stott’s handwritten notes of ERCDOM II at Trinity College, Cambridge


[xxv] This seems to refer to John V Taylor’s statement: ‘We live in a forgiven universe’. John V Taylor, The Go-between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission (London: SCM Press, 1972), p. 180.

[xxvi] Julian Charley, see above note xii.

[xxvii] Lambeth Palace Library, Stott/3/10/3/1-2 ERCDOM II  1978-82

[xxviii] ARCIC, The Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (London: Catholic Truth Society and SPCK, 1982).

[xxix] John Stott, Evangelical Anglicans and the ARCIC Final Report: an Assessment and Critique (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1982).


[xxx] Julian Charley, Rome, Canterbury and the Future (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1982).


[xxxi] Lambeth Palace Library Stott/6/2/36   John Stott’s Newsletters 1967-2007. 


[xxxii] Lambeth Palace Library Stott /3/10/4/149 ERCDOM III 1982-1984 Letter from John Stott to Basil Meeking April 12, 1983.


[xxxiii] Lambeth Palace Library Stott /3/10/4/141 ERCDOM III 1982-1984 Letter from Basil Meeking to John Stott 7 June 1983.


[xxxiv] Lambeth Palace Library Stott /3/10/4/115 ERCDOM III 1982-1984 Letter from Kwame Bediako to John Stott 21 May 1984.


[xxxv] Lambeth Palace Library Stott /3/10/4/38 ERCDOM III 1982-1984  Memo from John Stott to Basil Meeking, Tom Stransky, Don Cameron and Joan Delaney 24 April 1984.


[xxxvi]International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10.1. Jan 1986. The Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-1984 (Grand Rapids and Carlisle: William B Eerdmans and Paternoster Press, 1986). It was translated by Rene Padilla into Spanish and this was checked by Father Pierre Duprey. It is now on the Vatican website http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/evangelicals-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20141007_report-1977-1984_en.html

[xxxvii] Lambeth Palace Library Stott /3/10/4/111 ERCDOM III 1982-1984   Letter from John Stott to Paul G Schrotenboer on 13 August 1985

You are a discerning literary critic! For you are quite right that much of the writing and editing was done by my own evangelical hand. Nevertheless, the Secretariat have been through it with a toothcomb, so that it does carry their own commendation.

[xxxviii] Section 3.4 of the Report, however, ‘The Uniqueness and Universality of Jesus Christ’ gives a more nuanced range of Evangelical views on this topic:

Most Evangelicals believe that, because [the unevangelized] reject the light they have received, they condemn themselves to hell. Others go further in expressing their openness to the possibility that God  may save some who have not heard of Christ, but immediately add that, if he does so, it will not be because of their religion, sincerity, or actions (there is no possibility of salvation by good works), but only because of his own grace freely given on the ground of the atoning death of Christ. (3.4)

[xxxix] ‘The gratuitous gift of God’ was Meeking’s preference to Stott’s original draft of ‘unmerited gift of God’ in the his draft Report of ERCDOM II.

[xl] Gerald H. Anderson, editorial, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10.1. Jan 1986, p. 1.

[xli] ‘A Near Miracle: Divided Christians in Accord’, Time Magazine, 3 Feb 1986. Lambeth Palace Library, Stott /3/10/4/81 ERCDOM III 1982-1984.

[xlii] Clifford Longley ‘It all depends on what is meant by the concept of ‘assurance’ The Times 7 April 1986. Lambeth Palace Library, Stott /3/10/4/78 ERCDOM III 1982-1984.

[xliii] In 2011, I wrote an article for The Times entitled ‘John Stott (1921-2011): More than Anglican but not Less’.

[xliv] Jeffrey Gros, FSC, ‘Evangelical-Catholic International Dialogue (From 1977)’ in John A. Radano and Walter Cardinal Kasper (eds), Celebrating a Century of Ecumenism: Exploring the Achievements of International Dialogue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 218-235.

[xlv] SEDOS is a Roman Catholic service of documentation and the study of global mission in Rome.

[xlvi] Basil Meeking, email to Graham Kings, 3 September 2016.

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