I was joined on the panel by three other participants: Bishop Marie Jerge, Bishop (ECLA--Upstate NY Synod); Rev. Dr. Allan Janssen (Professor at New Brunswick Theological Seminary/Reformed Church in America and Theologian in Residence at the First Church of Albany, NY, and the Rev. James Kane, Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer, Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
You might wonder what a Baptist is doing at a workshop on Vatican II. You looked at your program and wondered, “Did he take the wrong exit while looking for a church potluck?”, or “Is this the Baptist version of ‘joyriding’?” To which I reply, “I’m hoping finally to experience having a wine list at communion. All these years, and I’ve had only Welch’s....”
I suggest that as a Baptist, and especially as a member of the American Baptist Churches/USA, of course somebody from my tradition would be here today. If time allowed, I would gladly speak of the deep value of American Baptists place on ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. The ABC/USA is a founding member of the WCC, the BWA and the NCC. Particularly regarding the National Council of Churches, three NCC presidents have been American Baptist clergy, including the current presiding officer, the Rev. Roy Medley who is the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches/USA and a strong advocate of Baptist/Muslim dialogue. We are engaged in ecumenical efforts, not only because of our interest in Christian Unity. We are being faithful alongside all other Christians to heed Christ’s call to be one (John 17:21).
The Second Vatican Council (colloquially “Vatican II”) is rightfully hailed as a great moment in church history. Fifty years later, Christians of varying traditions still find themselves pondering the fruitful insights into doctrine, liturgics, mission and ecclesial structures brought about by St. John XXIII’s decision to convene such a Council.
In this aspect of the Council’s legacy, I believe Vatican II generated a great deal of capital in the form of goodwill, warm relations (even if still “separated brethren” as the Decree terms Christians not in full ecclesial communion) and partnerships where we have realized gradually and delightfully more fruitful ways of co-existing, if not overcoming the religious divisions past and present. As evidenced by the open hands and willing spirit of its Bishops, especially Howard Hubbard, the Diocese of Albany has offered a genuine welcome and friendship to the other Christians and non-Christians of this area, embodying the spirit of Vatican II and the vision of St. John XIII. At Bishop Scharfenberger’s recent episcopal ordination service, I sat in a pew with three Episcopal priests and a couple representing the Hindu community. (I’m telling you, did St. John XIII ever foresee the day when a Baptist helped a Hindu navigate the bulletin of a Catholic liturgy? By the grace of Albany bishops, it was indeed so!)
In August 1962 the BWA Executive Committee spent one whole day considering an inquiry from the Vatican as to whether the BWA would favourably receive a formal invitation to send observers to Vatican Council II. Strong if honest differences of conviction divided the committee which replied: ‘It is not agreed it would be desirable for the Baptist World Alliance to encourage a formal invitation to the forthcoming Second Vatican Council’.
Curiously, while the minutes were not retained in the official record, the BWA’s centennial retrospective book notes an interesting division among the Baptists making the decision.
In the end, only “a few Baptists were actually present at various sessions of the Council”. I note with some gratitude that among those few were included Dr. Stanley Stuber, an American Baptist minister and ecumenicist, whose legacy is celebrated annually at Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School with a memorial lectureship. Further, the National Baptist Convention, the largest African American Baptist denomination, sent their President, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Jackson, who was invited by the Vatican Secretariat. Other U.S. Baptist observers would follow, though often with their own initiative rather than a denomination or academic institution officially sending them, including persons related to the Southern Baptist Convention.
One would think Baptists and Catholics have very little agreement. In some ways, it is a strange pairing for dialogue opportunities. Baptists are so named due to our historic affirmation of believer’s baptism and stressing the need for full immersion. We are part of a Free Church polity, stressing the liberty of conscience and the primacy of local churches over ecclesial structures (if a given Baptist church belongs to a denomination). Even as one serving in a Baptist denominational capacity, I have very little power or authority similar to an episcopal form of church governance. My primary role is to foster common ground and collaboration between congregations who are free to choose when and how they opt in and opt out of denominational relationships. (Oft invoked is the analogy of leading Baptists is similar to herding cats.)
Yet, the call to be at the table in dialogue has not been forgotten. After the Second Vatican Council concluded, seeds sown in these tentative ecumenical overtures began to take root. By 1967, delegations from the ABC/USA and the US Catholic’s Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs began seven years of annual meetings. Baptist scholar Curtis Freeman observes, “Rather than being polar opposites it became clear that Baptists and Catholics have much in common.” Terming the result “a differentiated consensus”, Freeman notes areas of shared affirmation in “faith in the triune God as a source of authority and in God’s unique self-revelation in the Scriptures”. Whole-world evangelization, salvation by grace through faith and a mutual respect for the freedom of conscience and religious liberty soon followed in these meetings. While Vatican II did not gain a great deal of immediate opportunity for Baptist and Roman Catholic scholars to be in dialogue, it paved the way for some remarkable dialogues forty years ago between US Baptists and Catholics.
At the start of this endeavor, the two dialogue partners stated their intention:
The Joint International Commission met for four successive Decembers between 2006 and 2009. Each meeting offered opportunities for exploring areas of mutual agreement and opportunities to hear from scholars about areas of difference in teachings and traditions. Session I explored “The Authority of Christ in Scripture and Tradition”, Meeting II explored “Baptism and Lord’s Supper/Eucharist as Visible Word of God in the Koinonia of the Church”, Meeting III explored the role of “Mary in the Communion of the Church” and Meeting IV dealt with issues of “Oversight and Primacy in the Ministry of the Church”.
The report of the proceedings was offered in a unique manner, using typeface (bold or regular fonts) to highlight areas of agreement and divergence. The co-chairs note,
Further, Holmes offers a cautionary word:
All conversation about Christian unity is essential, yet it is only fragmentary if left to the scholars and church authorities to debate and seek areas of concurrence. The fruitfulness of our mutual calling to be One in Christ is found in our everyday ways of being obedient to Christ together. While we speak with the particulars of tradition, formed as much by one another, more than we are sometimes willing to admit, our mutual desire to be in fidelity to Christ should help us arise together in mutual discipleship wherever the Gospel is needed.
 Pierard, Richard V., Elna Jean Young Bentley and Gerald L. Borchert, eds. Baptists Together in Christ, 1905-2005. Falls Church, VA: Baptist World Alliance, 2005, p. 137. The BWA did send a good word with its decision, hoping “that the Council would ‘contribute to an increased understanding of the will of God and the unity of his people”. Ibid., 138.
 Manley, n.p.
 For more on Stuber’s work and remarkable ministry, please see the biographical sketch and accompanying Stuber lecture transcript via: http://abhsarchives.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/TheGlobalMarket.pdf.
 For reference to Stuber and Jackson’s presence at the Council, please refer to: http://conciliaria.com/2012/10/pope-intends-to-work-suffer-to-hasten-unity, n.p.
 As recorded by a National Catholic Reporter interview available via: http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/pfw0131.htm, n.p.
 As I note, not all Baptists are in lock-step. Significant reflection on the need for Baptists to recognize their indebtedness to the larger traditions of the Church is being creatively addressed in the work of Steven R. Harmon, Curtis Freeman, Molly T. Marshall and other Baptists, particularly among British Baptists. Not all Baptists see the need to avoid a wider “catholicity” in doctrine, ritual and values is the only way for Baptists to consider their identity within the greater ongoing story of Christianity. See particularly Steven R. Holmes, Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision. London, UK: Paternoster, 2006. Forthcoming is Curtis W. Freeman, Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, September 2014. According to the publisher’s advance publicity, Freeman’s book will offer “something of a referendum on whether Baptists are truly sectarians or have always been part of the reforming church....[Freeman] remains in constant conversation across the theological spectrum, careful to locate his theological work in the grand tradition.” My mentor Dr. Molly T. Marshall speaks often of the need for regaining a sacramental understanding within the Baptist tradition. See her Joining the Dance: A Theology of the Spirit. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2003, pp. 73-96).
 The full report is available online via: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/Bapstist%20alliance/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20101213_report-2006-2010_en.html. The full text is also published in The American Baptist Quarterly, 31 (Spring 2012), pp. 28-122.
 Stephen R. Holmes, “Reflections on The Word of God in the Life of the Church: A Report of International Conversations Between the Catholic Church and the Baptist World Alliance, 2006-2010”, ibid., p. 152.
 This quotation by Dr. Alan Mac Arthur of the Church of Scotland to a Time magazine reported, quoted in W. Morgan Patterson, “A Baptist Historian Views Vatican II”, Baptist History and Heritage 1 (July 1966), p. 61.
 The Vision of the Ecumenical Movement and How It Has Been Impoverished by Its Friends, St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2003, p. 9.