Friday, July 24, 2015

Tectonic shifts in global Christianity?

Far reaching or far fetched? A couple of articles in the Catholic Herald have caught my eye. If they are 'on the money' then they have far reaching implications for the future shape of global Christian life. But they might be a bit far fetched. What do you think?

Luke Coppen thinks the Pope is reaching out to unify 'Evangelicals' with the Catholic church. Imagine this were to happen: it would be the largest re-alignment in Western Christianity since 1517. In 2015 it seems unimaginable (e.g. because of the huge lack of unity among Evangelicals themselves). But the world is changing fast. It is not unimaginable that the rise of Islam's global influence will focus the minds and hearts of Christians. In 2065, might we find we drag our feet no longer towards a re-marriage of the strands of Western Christianity?

Raymond de Souza, complimenting Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and now his own church on their 'green' credentials, reads into these credentials a new evangelization strategy.

"The key to understanding the environmental push is the Holy Father’s priority on the Church in mission. If the Church goes green, it is to improve the cultural climate for evangelisation. In this, Pope Francis’s pastoral strategy is to join an effort that has been underway for decades in both Orthodoxy and Anglicanism."
Now I absolutely get the point in the paragraph above when aligned with a point in the paragraph below, that a key to evangelization is for the church to keep close to the culture of the people it wishes to reach with the gospel:

"In the 1980s and early 1990s, as it became clear in both Constantinople and Canterbury that their respective communions were becoming increasingly marginal players in their own cultures, a conscious decision was taken to move environmental issues to the forefront of their public witness."
But, as an Anglican, I am not at all sure that we (via Canterbury) are capable of saying that we are increasingly distant from our own cultures, what will we do, I know let's choose environmentalism as an issue which will lead to re-connection. My strongest suspicion is that we simply saw environmental degradation and decided that we ought as biblical people to do something about it.

Nevertheless, there is some thing to reflect on here as Laudato Si makes waves around the world. If we want the gospel to be heard, what 'climate of listening' are the churches creating (or damaging) as we go about our public, corporate witness?

Back to Coppen's article. If there really is a document in the Pope's office which speaks of Catholics and Evangelicals "united in mission because we are declaring the same Gospel" then that goes to the heart of Christian unity: our message and our mission based on that message.

If this understanding of the gospel is centred on Jesus, then we may be hopeful of greater unity in the years ahead. I was particularly heartened to read this in the Coppen article:

"Francis is said to have told an Evangelical leader recently: “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community. Let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”"

It is not that hard, is it?


Jean said...

No it is not so hard a thing. Listen to the preacher to the Pope and hear how God his using Him for such a mission, at such a time as this...

Father Ron Smith said...

This Jesuit-turned-Franciscan Pope is merely 'telling it how it is', which is so obviously his interpretation of Evangelism or 'The Gospel'. Francis is now recognising that his own branch of the Church needed - and still needs- some re-formation. His openness to women and gays - though short of their encouragement for ordination - has already become a source of scandal to the traditional conservatives of his Church. And now, this approach towards the Evangelical Reformed Churches is another sign of his willingness to bring Roman Catholics into the modern world; where ingrained prejudice, based on Sola-Scripturism, or, alternatively, Traditional Dogmatism, is now clearly being seen as inimical to the Gospel's welcome to sinners (ALL of humanity)!

Herein, in the text of your article, Peter, is seen one of the problems:

"In 1999, after extensive talks, Catholic and Lutheran theologians concluded that the two communions now shared “a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ”.

In 2006, the World Methodist Council also adopted the declaration. But not one major leader of “born-again” Christians has publicly endorsed the text. So most of the world’s 600 million Evangelicals don’t realise that the protest is over."

One thing, however, that is yet to be overcome in Roman Catholicism, is its dogmatic approach to contraception and to the reception of divorcees to the Sacrament of Christ's Love in the Eucharist.

What needs to be overcome by those in the Protestant world who still see the Roman Catholic Church as 'The Scarlet Woman' is their suspicion of catholic tradition, in its understanding of the necessity for sacramental grace.

From both sides of the equation, there needs to be an active willingness to receive one another as fellow suppliants and recipients at the Lord's Table.
Only this will ensure that we become 'One Bread One Body, in Christ'.

Jean said...

Hi Ron

Unfortunately I think the article refers to the Pope's talks with popular US Evangelists rather than the 'Reformed Church' as you coin it.

I think the problem with the text you quote is the lumping of evangelicals as if they exist as an independent body. Although protestants of all denominations have been referred to as evangelical historically, many Catholics now identify as such. If you listen to the link I mentioned Father Cantalamessa would probably identify as being evangelical. But it is is becoming such a loaded word.

It is exciting though that different Christian traditions are coming closer together focusing as one on the core message of the Gospel is it not!


Father Ron Smith said...

Jean; from my long experience in the Church, I would say, uncompromisingly, that The Church of Christ was founded on both Catholic and Evangelical principles - where The Evangel' is actually interpreted realistically as 'The Gospel' - a term not exclusive to those who might consider themselves to be 'Evangelicals'. The historic creeds speak of 'One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church'. There is no such credal definition as 'Evangelical', the world itself being more appropriately applied to the whole mission of The Gospel.

The title 'Evangelical' would appear to have been self-assumed by those who consider both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to be in error - by virtue of their insistence on Tradition and Doctrine as being part of the integrity of the Church. It is not uncommon for Reformed Churches to have assumed that Sola Scriptura ought be the sum total of Christian doctrinal foundation. To such bodies the term Evangelical is assumed to be exclusive to them, as followers of the True Faith.

As an Anglo-Catholic, I reserve the right to call myself both catholic and reformed (in the tradition of the Anglican ethos). I am also, by virtue of being baptised into Christ, a proponent of the Gospel - an Evangelist. I hope that helps you, Jean, and other on this site, to better understand wherer I am coming from in this argument.

Another point, for Jean, is that all Christian Church bodies, formed after the establishment of the historic Churches of Rome and Constantinople (including the Church of England and her descendants) are, by definition, 'reformed'.

Jean said...

Hi Ron

That is interesting; makes total sense reformed as in after the reformation, and Evangel' as in reference to being an evangelist. A lot more common sense in those origins that the words as they are sometimes interpreted today!

As for followers of the 'True Faith', I think that error can also be found in Catholicism given historical teaching and which some still adhere to today is only Catholic's are saved or true Christians. Obviously something we all have to have a bit more grace over. Regardless of denomination a Christian is a Christian!


Kurt said...

Well said, Father Ron!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY