Thursday, January 12, 2006

Close, but no Cigar

Some of you more in the loop than myself may have heard already that Wheaton 'recently' (it was last spring) fired a professor who became Catholic. I had a multitude of reactions when first reading the article: how could they do that -> man they really do have a right and resonsibility to do that -> man this sucks that things like this happen -> sounds an awful like Sanders' deal -> Ecumenism huh, still got a long way to go don't we.

Let me say that I probably like my denominationof Christianity too much, but I try not to do so. Yet one of the toughest parts of being Catholic for me is our practice of closed communion [only Christians believing in transubstantiation and apostolically connected to Rome (in the measurement of Rome) can recieve communion- this limits it to some Orthodox and few Anglicans]. Anyhow, this has always been a thorn in my side especially when my in-laws come to Mass and can't take communion. I often leave Mass those days feeling sick to my stomach, but also know I should leave feeling that way because Jesus never wanted a spilt up body.

Though I feel I've lived in the midst of quite a bit of ecumenism and this blog is an ongoing piece of that I really don't know jack about it. I'm interested in what other churches (institutional and local) are doing about ecumenism, and how they feel about it. I know the Catholic church does a lot to promote ecumism, but does an equal if not greater amount to hinder the process. In the big issues we talk about here poverty, social policy, Pat Robertson, and peace does ecumenism stack up with those?


At 1/16/2006 1:15 AM, Blogger Liza said...

Adam, I had a hard time with denominations, a real hard time, for several years. I felt/feel exactly as you did- that Jesus wanted a body, not bodies, not people as far scattered as Jesus MCC churches and the Phelps phobes. However, I do have to say that I have turned the corner in this regard.

I love the catholicness of the Roman Catholic church. I mean the real catholicness- the universality, the millions and millions of people following the same missal and taking communion together, all over the world. However, there are things I don't like about the RC's. Hence, I'm not converting to Catholocism. Not that this means I don't think ya'll are saved, and that it makes me or anybody else not saved for not being part of a particular church.

At the risk of being individualistic here, I'm going to be individualistic. I think denominations have been incredibly useful at presenting the gospel in a much wider variety of ways, in a wider variety of settings, to a wider variety of individuals than one universal church could have. Once again, perhaps something Satan could have been behind, anticipating injury on the Church, was turned to be good, working towards good for all those who love Christ. The word never returns void, even when it falls on rocky soil. Jesus said in Mark 8:40 "for whoever is not against us is for us."

I think in this way, when RCs attempt to champion universality (through excluding those who fail to realize their universal status), they exclude many who would love to come to the table, because they love to come to Christ, and not because they want to steal RC sacredness.

Anyway, just about done here, but my mentor posted some good McClaren on this issue recently. Check it before you wreck it. And peace, brother. It is oh so good when we live together in unity.

At 1/16/2006 2:08 AM, Blogger [rab] said...

הני מה טוֹב וּמה נעים, שבת אחים גם יחד

is transliterated as:
Hine ma tov uma noyim, shevet akhim gam yakhat.

and translated to english as:
behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.

At 1/16/2006 11:21 AM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...


from where i'm at, the era of ecuminism is sadly winding down to a close. Let me start with a brief critique of the "official" ecumenical actions of the world council of churches. It is of note that this great body, an interesting and exciting step toward organized Chrisitan action in the world, gathered for a couple of decades without any representation from the Roman Catholic or the Anabaptist traditions. While some may say that the Roman Catholics didn't want to be involved because of their already believing they were the only church and the Anabaptists were concerned about associating with degenerate brethern, the true story is that neither were even invited. Eventually, some baptist churches have gotten involved but your traditional Anabaptists (mennonites, church of the brethern) are still locked out, as are the Roman Catholics. Although the WCC has moved toward shared statements of membership and sacraments, it has basically taken the shape of the mainline protestant churches, thus making an illusion of real ecuminical advances instead of real progress.

Regarding the Wheaton situation, I share your frustration, but also have to point out that this was no surprise. Wheaton has a strict policy wherein they will not hire Roman Catholics. They will, in certain circumstances, hire a Weslyan or a Baptist. On the whole, though, they are pretty clear about being a Reformed school. Thus, if a professor converts to Catholicism, the administration assumes he can no longer affirm the statement of faith that includes sola scriptura. I would suggest that the difference with Sanders is that Sanders was hired under the assumption that his documented commitment to Open Theism would not be a problem.

That being said, I think institutions are better off if they hire professors from all Christian traditions. Having Roman Catholics around only make a school like Wheaton better.

I really like where Liza is taking this, not so much because I agree with McLaren's version of ecuminism (anyone needing to revisit my thoughts on why McLaren is an evangelical+protestant+should be ok with that can find it here:
but moreso because I'm afraid that this is where the movement is going, basically to personal ecuminism. Basically fulfilling the destiny of a World Council of Churches that, in North America at least, represent mostly mainline Protestant bodies, it makes sense that the ecumenical movement would come down to "me and other Christians" as opposed to organizing massive religious bodies to work toward peace, justice, and religious unity. What we're left with, then, is basically evangelicalism wherein denominations no longer matter and the point is "where am I fed," or "where do I feel at home," or "who's doing the best job of being the church here in this town."

This means only more bad news for people like you and I Adam. So long as we have traditions that actually think that they're doing the right thing and are (hopefully) unwilling to accomidate every individual who is interested, we'll be left out of the ecumenical process.

In conclusion, I would like to actually answer Adam's question. One thing I do toward ecuminism is go to a seminary that is United Methodist. Also, I like to go to church with my friends from time to time. One day I would like to have a role in my traditions attempts to be ecuminical. This would include the bridgefolk folks ( who are working toward mennonite/catholic conversations. Finally, our church participates with all the other neighborhood churches on peace/justice issues in the neighborhood. Until recently we shared space (rented a room) from a United Methodist church. I actually think this arangement was more fitting for us and was a weekly witness to the process of ecumenical action, even if form alone.

At 1/16/2006 12:10 PM, Blogger adam said...

Liza, thanks for your thoughts. I agree with all your critiques of the RC church, to deny them I would be completely close minded.

Jake, thanks for the brief history of the WCC. One question I'm left with after reading your reply combined with Liza's is: Ideally, what is the point of Ecumenism? To shed denominations and form under one institutional Church? To have different bodies of believers work together across denominations for social justice causes (like the ones you cited in your local church, and I think would be the trend nationally as far as the local church ecumenical movement goes)? The individualistic route? The McClaren route? Something I haven't mentioned?

I'm asking this as much to myself as I am to anyone else, because as I read your reply Jake I could tell I was disappointed in the WCC, but I couldn't quite articulate why. To be disappointed I think there is something inside us that says 'it ought to be different'. In saying it should be different often we have an ideal in mind that we are contrasting the current situation with. But when I look at the WCC, and ecumenical movement in general, I'm not quite sure what that ideal would be.

At 1/16/2006 12:13 PM, Blogger adam said...

When I saw your post at the site the original just looked like a made up language on my computer, but when I went to post a comment it appeared otherwise. In case anyone else is having this problem I think they should know it is actually in Hebrew (at least that is my best guess). Beautiful quote.

At 1/16/2006 12:35 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

the ideal by which the church today is compared is the unification of all Christians under the headship of Christ. While I have friends who suggest this can be experienced in the present by Protestants returning to Rome, I am more convinced that this is an eschatological reality that will only be experienced fully "in the end." Thus, what does it look like in the meantime? I like most of what is mentioned in your list, with some modifications. I like organized bodies getting together to clarify what it is they really disagree about and then deciding if these convictions are strong enough to stay in disagreement. (The recent documents on the sacraments fit in this category, though again including the Anabaptists and the Catholics would have made this really interesting instead of marginally so.) Also, I like individuals who are trying to talk with people of other traditions and be open to other ways of being Christian. Ultimately, and this is where McLaren fits for me, I return to my analogy of Christian unity from the above mentioned McLaren review.

"At my church we have amazing potlucks because many in the church are coming from different backgrounds. What makes the potluck a success is that the Cambodians make their food and bring it, the Italians do the same, as do the Vegetarians. The dishes are all brought from these homes and placed together at a table, then we all benefit from the synthesis of a meal that is formed. If everyone from my church all crammed into one kitchen and tried to create a dish that was the synthesis of all of these dishes it would be terrible and disgusting. A relative generous orthodoxy must be developed within each part of the Christian family and the greater General Orthodoxy will be the synthesis of these, that sort of just happens, but cannot be crafted or manipulated."

The point being, fidelity and understanding of one's own tradition (lutherans actually being lutheran, evangelicals being evangelical, catholics being catholic, baptists being baptist) is the necessary precondition to any sort of sustained Christian unity. Within this identity there must be a relative generous orthodoxy that is open to learning from the other traditions. But for now we need to clean up our own messes or join up with someone more interesting and start cleaning up those messes. When each tradition interested in dialogue has an actual identity that it brings to the table and can represent their understanding of fidelity to the Gospel, then something interesting can happen. Add this to the other types mentioned by Adam and I think we're getting somewhere.

At 1/17/2006 9:10 AM, Blogger Dan Baker said...

Jake, I had this great analogy all thought up and ready to wow everyone with and you basically said it with the potluck picture.

I continue to think of a principle that many of us have heard heard before; unity and diversity are two distinct yet equal values that can exist together in one body.

I think that Adam is onto somehting with his lament of the Eucharist. We've discussed this before. I think that, although conversation and openness is a great thing, Worship is possibly a better route to unity. It would be so powerful to work on the barriers which keep us from worshipping together...


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