Thursday, October 4, 2018

Ecumenical winter? The beginning of the end of ecumenism or the end of the beginning?

A very thoughtful article here here by Michael Root (H/T Bryden Black).

Are we making any actual progress towards the church being one? Do headline moves re agreements and conferences signal any change "on the ground"? Is change on the ground being reflected in decisions within the citadels of ecclesial power?

Winter canvases the global scene, offers some sobering analysis (for ever hopefuls such as myself) and charts some hopeful prospects, but not with great optimism.


Unknown said...

My last comment anticipated this one. Vatican II was not just an outbreak of niceness. Rather, the highest authority consolidated Catholic doctrine in a new way that enabled a new relationship. In the half century since, who has reciprocated this bold move?

As Catholics were catching up to Protestants in theology and biblical studies, the latter were necessarily living past their thin Reformation formularies, and unnecessarily learning to enjoy doctrinal decadence. Ecumenism cannot advance until other churches do as Rome did-- acknowledge neglected and even uncomfortable truth that warrants a new relationship, say it in an authoritative way, and live it in practice. Peter Leithart has said that Protestants need a Vatican II of their own to promote a grown up ecclesiology. He's right.

Many comments at ADU have led me to suspect that reconciliation with Rome is bound up with our relationship to the Jews. When misrepresentation of the latter ends, so too will the anti-participative strain of Anglicanism that is most estranged from Rome, and for that matter from Canterbury. That will enable progress toward a scriptural practice of salvation in the Body, which will facilitate solid reunion.


Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter,

Being of an 'Anglo-Catholic' persuasion myself, I take hope from the following extract selected from this report:

" Let each church invite members of the other churches to receive Communion, even while church division remains! Unity can be experienced at the altar, even if not in a truly common life!

For Catholics, this proposal is unacceptable. One cannot separate unity at the altar from unity elsewhere. The reception of Communion is not a private exchange between the Christian and Christ. Reception joins the recipient to the gathered community and to those with whom the community is united by virtue of its incorporation into the universal Church made visible in her common life. Widespread inter­communion in the face of institutional division would contradict this truth about the Eucharist, a truth that is central to Catholic belief."

Despite the somewhat downbeat tenor of this article, I take note that the author say this: "One cannot separate unity at the altar from unity elsewhere. The reception of Communion is not a private exchange between the Christian and Christ."

In receiving Holy Communion - in whatever denominational context, one can only believe that one is receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, Head of the Universal Church. Whatever individual Churches imagine themselves to be - in terms of their own estimation of their privileged attachment to Christ - the primary intention of each and every communicant is to be united to Christ, who is indivisible.

ergo: Our invisible Unity is already 'en Christo' - or, at least, that is my understanding as a Catholic Christian.

Our visible unity is something else. However, with Pope Francis in charge of the Roman Catholic branch of the Universal Church, I have every hope that under his benign influence, our invisible unity may become more visible - as he seeks to open up the R.C. Church to a deeper theological and spiritual rapport with other Christians like ourselves, who actually believe that "In Christ Alone" is our Unity.

The signs of an ecumenical convergence are already there - if only one can see them! I think perhaps the outstanding problem for Rome is with church communities who do not recognise the 'Real Presence of Christ' in the Eucharist. After all, Christ is in that sacrament.

Bryden Black said...

“In these situations [elaborating the real causes for change and disruption], earthquakes occur and old patterns collapse.” Our present era’s lack of any “punctuation”, to continue Root’s language, however sees another key factor greatly at play, which is affecting (infecting?) all our church institutions and organizations.

The particular fault-lines I have in mind, theological and spiritual, are evident across and within all churches, so that all have among them so-called “progressives” and “traditionalists”, “revisionists” and “conservatives” (to signal typically used, albeit inadequate, labels). Such have been the “acids of modernity” that none have been immune from its corrosive effects, to one degree or another. For the fact is “modernity” is a profoundly mixed blessing—even to the point of my own diagnosis that it has become “a bastard step-child” of the Grand Christian Experiment, such is its genealogy and aetiology. (I note BW’s Prots “enjoy[ing] doctrinal decadence” especially.) And as the world continues its globalizing trend, that ambivalence extends even now to the church of the Majority World as well, I sense.

Sifting such an amalgam is extraordinarily difficult and slippery work. Just so my own classic twin maxims when confronted by any Theology/Culture interface: (1) The last creature to ask questions of the water is the fish; (2) The first time a fish knows itself to be the creature it is, is when it is caught and on dry land. Any sustained hermeneutical task is not for the feint-hearted, as Christians the world over might try to ‘read’ the “signs of the times” appropriately. Enter into this context Root’s lament for the current state of Ecumenism, and frankly, it is little wonder he concludes “our situation is not easy”. And while I can only endorse his own highlighting of some signs of hope (like the contrast between officially sponsored dialogue vs. occasional gatherings of the like-minded who conference together; common missional projects ...), formal ecumenism will require more than the equivalent of Vat II for Prots, if the ground is to shift in any significant way. For all organizations are tainted, albeit for slightly different reasons and in differing degrees.

Even as Ephraim Radner’s recent book, Church, surely does help us to map the global ecclesial environment of the 21st C, I am far from certain what might address those elements of the Church that persist in mirroring figurally “stiff-necked”, “deaf, dumb and blind” Israel - which, if his case has any validity, each and all of us reflect to some degree or other. For me at least, the real tragedy is the fact that the New Covenant was supposed to ‘fix’ these failures of the Old ... In which case, we’ve barely experienced the true nature of that New Covenant - which if better acknowledged and more fully entered into, may ...

If a combination of Radner’s thesis and my own detailed here leaves us in a pretty forlorn and pitiful state, then the only thing I may say, echoing Root himself is this: “Misdiagnosing the predicament, it prescribes solutions that will only make the ecumenical situation worse.” I can only hope that what I venture here assists a deeper diagnosis still than even Root or Bowman or Leithart proffers - and at least that might enable us to walk (limp?) a few steps towards a new dawn ...

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bryden and Bowman and Ron
I would go further!
Beyond the question of "church" and its scarring if not crumbling under the "acids of modernity" is the question of the gospel itself.
What is good news for the 21st century world?
Only when we freshly understand that can we freshly engage with what it means to gather together in the name of the Evangel, to break His bread, hear His word and praise the God of Israel.

Bryden Black said...

I remember a lively exchange in Melbourne between Dorothy Lee-Pollard and John Webster when the latter visited us during the latter part of the 1990s. She was saying that Paul’s letters were all written into specific sets of circumstances; and John was replying, and so ...?! That ball went back across the net as if we were down at the Rod Laver Arena - back and forth, back and forth!

Nice idea Peter - as long as each and all of us realise what the New Covenant Gospel is at all at all that is to be proclaimed into and for this 21st C.

Father Ron Smith said...

Fr me, an Anglican Catholic, Radner's 'gospel' is too narrow. Give me Rowan Williams, every time - at east he encourages the Gospel virtue of Hope in God's Mercy - very like Pope Francis. I guess we are all persuaded by our own favourite theologians.
our celebration of the Feast of Saint Francis gave me much to thank God for.

Bryden Black said...

... And in case there are objections to this primary question in relation to this thread re Root’s splendid article. Nor is this the only question - around which the classic answer(s) drive(s) much of the Ecumenical debate. For not only What is to be proclaimed, but By Whom? And then, How is it to be proclaimed? Thereafter possible answers to these questions create further questions the history of the Church has thrown up. As always, the very formulation of these questions - the diagnosis! - will determine the kinds of answers/solutions. Let the Ecumenical Games begin, Peter! Farther Up and Farther In ...

Bryden Black said...

It might be fairer on ER Ron if you were to encounter his work unfiltered, as it were. You and he have a degree of real overlap actually - even if I can see some divergences too.

Father Ron said...

Father? Or - further?

Bryden Black said...

Neither Ron: Farther Up and Farther In, CS Lewis, The Last Battle.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, from 'Daily Word' today, comes the heartening call to Joshua - the new Leader of the Israelites, to complete what Moses had begun - the journey into the Promised Land, for which he had been prepared by his illustrious predecessor. This seems to me an adequate encouragement for you at the beginning of your episcopal ministry in our diocese. Our pilgrimage into the era of enlightenment and liberation is accompanied - as always, by the grace and mercy of God.

Courage mon brave!

Peter Carrell said...


Jean said...

An overarching article.... I have always been a fan for ecumenicalism but it has never really meant to me a merging. More an agreement amongst Churches about the core Gospel tenants and doing mission together as and where possible, one in Spirit. As such the higher level theological disagreement about demonational details didn’t enter my orbit, that and because even at my mature age people I knew/know although committed to a particular church or denomination will for the most part have no hesitation about attending another church to visit or co-operate on outreach; or even choosing to attend a different denomination if they move. The what of the Gospel tenants hold more sway than the what of the denomination.