The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) is a fellowship of 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries. Its member churches are Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed and United churches with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox and others. WARC has a small secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Oriental Orthodox began informal discussions with the Orthodox in 1964, and have also been involved in theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican and Lutheran communions. Dialogue with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches began in 1992.
The sixth session: sacraments
Representatives of the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Alliance met for a sixth round of dialogue from January 11 to 15 2000 at the Carberry Tower conference centre near Edinburgh. The meeting, hosted by the Church of Scotland, followed previous sessions in Egypt, the Netherlands, India, the United States and Syria.
The discussions focused on the question of the role of the sacraments in the life and witness of the church. Two Reformed delegates presented papers on the nature of the Reformed understanding of the sacraments in general and of baptism and the eucharist in particular. Three Oriental Orthodox participants presented papers on the same topics. It quickly became obvious that most of the discussion would centre around the number of sacraments. The Oriental Orthodox hold that there are seven sacraments (although there are those who say that, theologically, no number can be set to the sacraments, which are infinite), while the Reformed hold that only the two dominical sacraments - baptism and the eucharist - are the sacraments of the church. We had a lively debate on the role and recognition of church activities like penance, confirmation, ordination, marriage, and extreme unction: for the Reformed, these important activities are recognized as rites of the church, for the Orthodox, they are sacramental in nature.
The discussion also touched on how the sacraments are understood in relation to salvation. To put it simplistically, while the Reformed would say that sacraments are a means of grace, the Orthodox affirm that sacraments are a means of salvation.
Another area which opened up interesting lines of discussion was the role of the Reformers - Calvin, Zwingli and Luther - in Reformed churches. The question that came to the fore was that of continuity and change in the church and in church traditions. Varying approaches to the understanding of the church were placed on the table in an open, honest and self-critical conversation. Several misconceptions were cleared up and the spirit of ecumenical openness was visible - even through a sometimes heated process of interrogation and clarification! Both sides were of the opinion that further discussion on various points regarding the sacraments and the understandings of the church would be helpful.
It was decided that the group should meet again in Antelias, Lebanon from January 23 to 28 2001, responding to the invitation extended by his holiness Aram I, the Armenian Apostolic Church - Catholicosate of Cilicia.
Jayakiran Sebastian, Church of South India
Source: World Alliance of Reformed Churches