Such agreement is crucial to hope for Christian unity. Many find hope in the 1982 documents, “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” BEM, for short, was produced in Lima by the World Council of Churches—a 348-member organization including most denominations you’ve heard of: Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Quaker. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t belong to the WCC, the rationale being that the Church of Rome IS the Church. Joining an organization that renders us one “church” among equals sends the wrong message.
BEM was a work in progress since 1928. The resulting documents have been closely studied by the U.S. bishops. Here’s a short summary of their assessment. BEM on Baptism has much to be admired. Its teaching on Baptism as a cleansing from sin, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, all in the name of the Trinity, is sound. BEM recognizes Baptism’s “unrepealable” nature. It describes it as the foundation of, but no substitution for, a life of faith—a nod to both infant and adult baptism.
The bishops’ takeaway: BEM needs work in treating the Spirit’s and the church’s role in Baptism. The unity of all sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) should be clarified. The BEM distinction drawn between infant baptism and “believer’s baptism” (for adults) is an “unfortunate” phrase. But a movement toward a formal mutual recognition of Christian baptisms is plausible.
Regarding Eucharist, BEM calls it a “thanksgiving, memorial, invocation, communion, and meal of the kingdom.” BEM churches agree with Rome that frequent celebration of Eucharist is desirable. They concur that the entire Eucharistic celebration, not a single “moment of consecration,” makes Christ really present. BEM rightly stresses the social and ethical dimensions that travel with us from the Table to the world.
The bishops would like to see more about how the nature of the church is a direct result of our Eucharist; clarification of how Christ is present as spiritual food; how Christ remains present even when the sacrament is reserved, as in the Tabernacle. The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.
BEM views Ministry as the vocation of all Christians, while holding a distinct place for the ordained kind. It acknowledges the apostolic origins of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. U.S. bishops agree on “interdependence and reciprocity” between the laity and the ordained. They await more clarity on the uniqueness of ordination, its relationship to sacramental ministry, particularly in the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the ordination of women remains a sticking point between BEM and Rome. Reason to hope for unity? Yes. But not for holding your breath.
Mark 6:34-44; 14:22-25; Matthew 16:18-19; 28:19-20; John 6:22-58; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 3:1-13
World Council of Churches site for entire BEM text:
USCCB site for bishops’ statements regarding BEM: