Tuesday 27 February 2007

Ten propositions on ecumenism

by Kim Fabricius

1. To adapt a famous saying of Emil Brunner, the church exists by ecumenism as fire exists by burning. Church unity is not an optional extra, or AOB on the parish or presbytery agenda, or a responsibility that can be delegated to the ecumaniacs, it is integral to MOAB, the ministry of all believers. Ecumenism is not an ecclesial suggestion, it is a dominical command.

2. In the Farewell Discourse in John, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his disciples in the truth as he sends them into the world. Then he prays: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world will believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21). The ecumenical imperative is inherent in the missionary imperative. How can the church, with integrity, proclaim shalom to the world when we are not a truly catholic koinonia? And our catholicity must be recognisably visible; a merely “spiritual” unity is a form of ecclesial docetism.

3. And speaking of koinonia and shalom: consider the cases of Martin Niemöller and John Howard Yoder. Niemöller said, “Because I was an ecumenist, I became a pacifist,” while Yoder observed that the ecumenical movement has its roots not only in the mission field but also in the peace movement. However my intention is not only to draw attention to the connection between unity and non-violence, my more general point is this: orthopraxy should be as integral to the ecumenical project as orthodoxy. After all, in the New Testament unity in ethics is no less central than unity in doctrine. Faith and Order Departments are not the only bureaus in our ecumenical instruments.

4. Nor can faith and order issues be reduced to a checklist where churches tick the boxes. Which leads to the question: Do you think of Christian unity primarily in terms of consensus to be reached, or koinonia to be received and witness to be shared? If the former, it would not be surprising if you were indifferent to ecumenism – indeed you would be right to be so: unity-as-consensus is always but a hair’s breadth from a kind of works righteousness. We are called not to agree with each other but to love one another.

5. We are called to be one because God is one. But the one God is Trinity: that is why unity cannot mean uniformity. The watchword of ecclesial diversity can sometimes give the impression that it is simply a tactical ploy to appease Christians who value freedom of conscience and fear centralised authority. On the contrary, it issues from the very nature of God. And scholars as denominationally diverse as Ernst Käsemann, James Dunn, and Raymond Brown confirm that “there is not just a narrow stream of faith in Jesus in the New Testament, but a great wide river of many currents” (Jean Mayland). There are, of course, limits to acceptable diversity, but I would suggest that they lie within the parameters of: (a) a common baptism, (b) a Trinitarian confession of faith, and (c) a belief in Christ crucified and risen as Lord and Saviour. All else, I suggest, is adiaphora – particularly matters of polity. Moreover, it would be unreasonable to expect more agreement between our churches than we accept within our churches.

6. And episcopacy? There is no question about espicopé (oversight) as such. The question is mono-episcopacy. The question is complicated by what John Webster rightly calls “naïve” accounts of apostolic succession – “their incapacity to envisage the history of episcopacy as political and ideological.” And non-episcopal churches, of course, cannot accept that mono-episcopacy is the esse of the church – the ascended, ruling Christ alone, the one high priest (Hebrews) and έπίσκοπος of our souls (I Peter 2:25), is the esse of the church. But that does not prevent us from being open to mono-episcopacy as the practical, rather than constitutive, bene esse of the church, along the lines of what Calvin called “convenience”, and what we might call “practical reason”. The crucial question is: does mono-episcopacy best witness to the ministry of Christ in his church, and best serve the apostolic project of missio Spiritus? Anglicans and Lutherans – as well as non-episcopal churches! – have recently shown some movement on questions concerning the nature of episcopacy and the reconstruction of the episcopate. Of course if Rome pursues the Frank Sinatra school of ecumenism – “I did it my way” – the future is bleak. But you know the old saying: At the next Vatican council the bishops will bring their wives – and at the one after that they will bring their husbands!

7. An even more promising suggestion that relativises the issue of mono-episcopacy comes from the 19th century Wesleyan ecclesiologist Benjamin Gregory. Commenting on the visit of Peter and John to new Christian communities in Samaria (Acts 8), Gregory observed that “whenever they found the work of the Spirit, the apostles lost no time in recognising, receiving, and connecting that which had been established independently of their own initiative.” Which insight leads Gregory to what the Methodist theologian David Carter calls a doctrine of apostolic recognition: namely, that “it should be the duty of the leaders of any church that claims ... a genuine apostolic continuity to recognise the preservation ... of Christianity under whatever forms and structures it may find.” And a doctrine of apostolic recognition, it seems to me, entails, at least, a generous approach to eucharistic hospitality. As Paul tells the divided church at Corinth, it is not because there is one body that there is one loaf, just the reverse: because there is one loaf, there is one body. The fraction prohibits faction. Ultimately, apostolic recognition rests on the acknowledgement that our unity is in Christ alone.

8. Of course it is not only conservative Catholics who can frustrate ecumenical initiatives, conservative evangelicals can be equally obstructive. The card they usually play is that truth trumps unity, and they are fond of citing Ephesians 4:15ff. George Caird, however, comments on “speaking the truth in love”: “Paul is not recommending frankness of speech tempered by consideration, nor is he suggesting that the claims of truth and love must be held in some sort of tension. There is no Christian truth which is not ‘rooted and grounded in love’, and love is the only legitimate test of men’s adherence to the truth of the gospel.... Those who perpetuate the divisions of Christendom on the grounds of their loyalty to truth can draw no support from this epistle.” Or as I once heard a Catholic theologian expound I Corinthians 13: unity of charity trumps unity of faith.

9. In my view, perhaps the greatest obstacle to an ecumenical future is the refusal to acknowledge our anti-ecumenical pasts. Catholics have killed Protestants, and Protestants have killed Catholics – indeed Protestants have killed other Protestants. I submit that progress in unity will be a pseudo-progress, a movement in historical denial, unless we engage in specific, collective, and mutual acts of penitence, forgiveness, and pledges of “Never again!” Only with the healing of memories can the church proceed in a pilgrimage of hope and promise. And, of course, repentance, recognition, and reconciliation are only staging posts on the ecumenical journey: there is an elephant in the caravan and its name is Israel. And journey’s end is the whole οίκουμένη.

10. Finally, a confession: I am part of the ecumenical problem, not its solution. The fact of the matter is that ecumenical work always seems to depend on church leaders, the men at the top – and they usually are men – working at the national or international level, while Christians at the grassroots are marginalised and patronised. Moreover, our discussions tend to focus on deracinated ideas, divorced from their social location and unrelated to questions of ideology and power. They are also often off the pace of hermeneutical developments – and, crucially, contemporary biblical theology. The recent Common Statement by Lutherans and Roman Catholics on the doctrine of justification, for example, “ecumenical breakthrough” though it may be, takes little account of the “new perspective on Paul” that has been reconfiguring New Testament studies since the 1970s. Dogmatic theologians are now rightly expected to be fluent exegetes; we should expect no less from ecumenical theologians. With regular, informed, and prayerful meeting around the Word in local communities, dry bones may yet be knit together and live.

Postscript: A Joke
The Trinity were discussing their upcoming holidays. The Father said, “I think I’ll go somewhere in Africa this year: they’re still so patriarchal there.” The Son said, “I’m going to Jerusalem again: they seem to like me there, and I get such good service.” “What about you?” the Father and Son asked the Spirit. The Spirit replied: “Rome: I’ve never been there before.” [For Rome, feel free to substitute Geneva, Wittenberg, Canterbury, Constantinople, etc.]


michael jensen said...

Hmm. no mention of the Eastern church?

I like point 10, however. To me, the local practice of unity is the only one worth having. Negotiations between bishops won't achieve - can't achieve - then by e unity that is experienced and expressed regularly and often by Christians in their locales.

Unknown said...

I also found the lack of reference to the orthodox communions (both eastern and oriental) surprising - all the more so given that one of the propositions is dedicated to the question of structural/sacramental episcopacy.

What I find disturbing is the quite snide comment regarding Rome doing a Frank Sinatra and the following joke about future catholic bishops with husbands. How this assists ecumenical dialogue is puzzling (though it would tend to confirm proposition 10 - such comments are an impediment to union).

The final joke is also revealing. Why choose Rome as the 'normal' punchline and then offer us the choice in brackets of other locations?

On a final note: I don't know of too many dogmatic theologians who are rightly speaking "fluent exegetes." Nor, do I expect them to be - a certain fluency with regard to trends in exegesis, an openness to talk with exegetes and learn from them, but themselves fluent in what is a highly specialised field???

Anonymous said...

Kim, Thanks for these thoughts. Could you give me the citation for Webster?



Anonymous said...

Hi Damian,

Lighten up, mate. An eleventh proposition might be: One of the great hindrances to the ecumenical movement is that we take ourselves too seriously. The "Catholic" jokes are repeated as I heard them - from Catholics - theologians, in fact. I myself have taken the liberty to insert the ecumenical brackets at the end of the postscript joke.

Sorry, though, about not explicitly mentioning the Orthodox. Part of the reason is that, although I have personally been involved in ecumenical conversations at the national and international level, I have
experienced almost no Orthodox input (for which omission I most certainly do not blame the Orthodox - it's been a matter of context). However what I have said about episcopacy, of course, applies to the Orthodox.

And Brian (that's some "anonymous"!), the Webster quote comes from his essay "The Self-organizing Power of the Gospel of Christ: Episcopacy and Community Formation", in Word and Church: Essays in Christian Dogmatics (T&T Clark, 2001), p. 210.

David Williamson said...

Among rank and file Christians the term ecumenism often inspires images of carbon-spewing aeroplanes trafficking bishops around the globe so they can don glam-rock outfits and do photo-calls together.

But it's interesting that while ecumenism as a formal concept is out of fashion, in practice it has become such a part of being a Christian in the postmodern west that a non-ecumenical approach to life and loving is almost unthinkable.

In Conservative America, evangelicals like Charles Colson have articulated a "theology of the trenches", where the urgency of the culture wars has stopped bickering about the council of Trent.

And in left-of-centre circles, Jim Wallis's Sojourners has brilliantly articulated a vision of Christians of all confessions pushing forward in the same race to create a more just society.

In student-dominated cities such as Cardiff, the crumbling of crumbling of loyalty to a denomination as opposed to an individual congregation is on of the most commonly remarked on phenomena. Multidenominational gatherings such as Greenbelt, Soul Survivor and Spring Harvest generate more excitement than an meeting of any synod. Similarly, participation in a parachurch organisation (such as overseas mission trips during vacations) seems to increasingly provide a life-defining spiritual rite of passage against which all local church activities are set in context.

In Catholic circles this is also happening, through the explosive growth of Sant Egidio and the popularity of Taize.

The revolution the pioneers of ecumenism longed for does seem to be coming, but not on their terms. But that shouldn't upset any but the most crusty.

Aric Clark said...

Hey Kim,

Right on about this one - particularly point 7 and 9. It seems to me that these two are keys which can help us unlock doors that are presently barred in many areas.

How I pray that rampant denominationalism in the US in particular might start to tend the other direction. I envy the Canadians and Australians with their united churches - though I have no illusions that this is a final solution. Still I think it is a profoundly right step...

Anonymous said...

unity-as-consensus is always but a hair’s breadth from a kind of works righteousness

Do you deny a works righteousness then?

Shane said...


there is a loss of denominational identity in lots of american christian imagination, agreed. i'm not sure this is entirely positive. Sure, i'm glad protestants and catholics can talk together. But what do they have to talk about? how much they like WWJD bracelets and shitty christian music?

It seems like this is a false ecumenicism built out an all-too-modern diffidence towards tradition.

It seems to me you can't really be ecumenical without actually having some deep theological commitments of your own. Of course, deep theological commitments are not the sort of things which one can just set aside willy-nilly.

Note that I'm not accusing you of saying that we should do this Kim. I'm just articulating a frustration I've had with 'non-denominational' evangelicals.

in other droll humor news . . . So, i'm a protestant studying medieval philosophy at a catholic university. Occasionally one of the rah-rah Catholics will ask me what is really holding me back from the loving embrace of Mother Church. I simply say, "Monotheism."


Anonymous said...

Hi Shane,

"Deep theological commitments" - absolutely. "Diffidence towards tradition" - absolutely not. Hey, if we can't fight in church... It's just that when we've punched ourseles out, we have supper together - if only to get nourishment for the next bout! That is, the commitments and traditions should not be church-dividing.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I absolutely agree that ecumenism is not optional and catholicity must be visible. Where I, as a Baptist (part of the larger Free Churches) worry is for those who think our catholicity must be corporate or organizational. I don't see that in the New Testament.

AndrewE said...

Kim, you write, (perhaps your answer to Michael's suggestion): "our catholicity must be recognisably visible; a merely “spiritual” unity is a form of ecclesial docetism." I think you are missing a category here. There is the church visible and particular (embodied in institutions), the church visible and catholic (visible in the body of believers), and the church invisible (stretching throughout the ages). The only alternative to an invisible and spiritual unity is not an institutionally visible one: There can be real, non-docetic unity without formal union.

I feel rather uncomfortable about your suggestion that mono-episcopacy might be the bene esse, even in a practical sense, of the church. Any sense in which the Pope represents Christ's rule over the church is deeply problematic.

Can I recommend, on this, chapter 15 in O'Donovan's, Ways of Judgment?

Anonymous said...

Michael and Andrewe,

Thank you for your critiques, and your worries - I mean about the church as "institution". In insisting on visible structures which are not merely "secondary" or "sociological" (Michael Kinnamon), I confess to being a student of Lesslie Newbigin. But listen also to John Webster:

"The danger of collapsing Spirit into structure ought not to frighten us into the equal danger of a purely punctiliar or actualistic ecclesiology. Church order is the social shape of the converting power and activity of Christ present as Spirit. This is not to claim that the Spirit can be formalized, or reduced to a calculable and manipulable element in what is envisaged as an immanent social process. It is simply to say that 'without institutions, the church canot become "event". This principle is correct however, only if it is also reversible; unless the church becomes an event, it cannot be the kind of institution it is supposed to be' [citing Miroslav Volf]."

Any good?

As for your concern, Andrewe, about mono-episcopacy, I was not referring to papal primacy (and certainly not with the trappings of infallibility), I was referring to what is otherwise called the monarchical episcopate (and the threefold order).

Interestingly, in my own British - and specifically Welsh - context, the biggest problem with episcopal schemes that have been proffered by ecumenical working groups (I was on such a group which presented proposals for an ecumenical bishop in the Cardiff area of South Wales) has been - the episocplaians themselves (the Church of England, the Church in Wales)! I also know that, in the current cold ecumenical climate at institutional level, bishops are no longer on the ecumenical agenda (the Methodists, who are in discussion with the Church of England, have just decided, after local feedback, to shelve all talk of bishops). Still the bishops is always going to be an ecumenical elephant in the room, and I'd rather continue to try to tame him rather than let him rampage (with apologies to my episcopal friends for my unseemly imagery!).

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I'm leaving aside my objections to any form of extra-congregational episcopacy for now. I agree that the church needs institutions, but I don't agree that our unity has to be institutionally expressed--not in anything more formal than the World Council of Churches, at any rate.

Frankly, I am NOT a fan of "united" churches because what happens is that the strengths of particular traditions then get lost.

You propose a common baptism as one of the non-negotiable signs of Christian unity. As a Baptist that worries me. Remember BEM? The WCC document Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry? The concerns of believers' baptizing groups (Baptists, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, many Pentecostals, etc.) were simply papered over--though clearly pedobaptism has the weaker exegetical and theological (see Barth) case. And what about Friends/Quakers who do not practice a physical baptism at all--are they cast out?

(I had even more problems with the BEM document on ministry. I reject the clergy/laity distinction. All Christians are called to ministry and ordained in our baptism. I have pastored two churches, but never had any more ordination than my baptism. The "professional Christian" must go for true discipleship to flourish.)

I believe in ecumenism. In fact, I would not mind working for either the World Council of Churches. But definitions of unity that look like corporate mergers scare me.

I prefer harmony. Four part harmony beats unison singing. The Body of Christ needs to be able to have the Lord's Supper together--but our division into denominations is not, in itself, scandalous. What is scandalous is that the church has so often gone to war over such differences. If we disagreed in love, a love visible in common communion, our separation into different denominations/traditions would not be scandalous--and might preserve essential strengths.

michael jensen said...

I can't believe I agree (for the most part) with MWW... !

But I always was a Baptist kinda Anglican...

It would help the WCC's cause no end if it didn't appear to be preaching a kind of new-age paganism...

Anonymous said...

Hi Michaels,

My own United Reformed Church (UK) recognises both forms of baptism. Both forms have to be made available in the life of local churches, but ministers who, in conscience, have objections to infant baptism do not have to preside at them.

Having said that, I recognise that there are important theological issue involved here. The whole question of "re-baptism" is very vexing, not least because 16th century Anabaptists (sic) were actually killed for their practice. Interestingly, Yoder points out that one way of interpreting their actions is as a protest against "indiscriminate baptism", of which BEM itself is critical. The tightening up of baptismal discipline in paedobaptist churches would take some heat off the problem - though the evidence of this happening is patchy at best - but, in any case, real theological issues still remain. But, again, I would not despair about talking them through as church-dividing issues.

As for the Quakers, good point - and I'm certainly not into casting folk out if they're already in - though in the UK, at least, there are intra-Friend discussions going on as to exactly how specifically Christian the movement is.

Mergers don't scare me as they scare you, Michael W-W. What really scares me is that people, whatever their denomination, are becoming less and less aware of their own traditions, so that, ecumenical or anti-ecumenical, their positions are more visceral than theological. And that can't be a good thing

Guy Davies said...

I agree with MWW too. The ecumenical movement's obsession with institutional unity is deeply problematic. This is especially the case as the instutution that the ecumenical movement aims to unite us with is the Roman Catholic Church.

Kim's list of essential doctrines is far too reductionistic. Is justification by faith alone an adiaphora? I don't think so. The same goes for the other solas of the Reformation. Besides, making a common baptism an ecumenical essential is problematic for baptists who do not recognise the validity of infant-baptism.

I believe in evangelical or gospel ecuminism that defies eccesiastical boundaries But I'm not sure that all who belong to the WCC hold to that Biblical gospel.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what exiled preaher means by an 'evangelical or gospel unity that defies ecclesiatical boundaries'. There is and can be only one ekklesia. It's the boundaries that are the problem.

Unity has to be structural and institutional otherwise by failing to be incarnational we fall into docetism. The Word became flesh and unity needs to be enfleshed.

My gripe with the ecumenical movement is that it seems to have lost its nerve and compromised its basic theological insight that inspired a generation.

Sean Winter said...

Hi Kim

Thanks for these. I want to echo Exiled Preacher's comment about using common baptism as an essential parameter - thus excluding those from baptistic traditions. Progress in this area has been made in recent discussions between the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Church of England, Pushing the Boundaries of Unity, drawing on the work of Paul Fiddes on mutual recognition of journeys of intitiation. The problem with making common baptism an essential parameter is that those Baptists who do not see infant baptism as baptism at all are thereby excluded from the ecumenical conversations that might help them to see that there may be some validity after all, even in a derivative sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous.

Given, as you say, that there is and can be only one church, and that it has to be institutionally structured, which church, of all the ‘churches’ out there, is that church?


Aric Clark said...

Michael and others:

It's great to see that this conversation has gotten lively and some substantive points are being brought up. I am with Kim in that I think institutional unity is important, but we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking institutional unity is identical to ecumenicity. Being ecumenical INCLUDES institutional unity, but it is not ONLY institutional unity.

This is because of what the church is: the "ecclesia", the gathering. It is a bit of a joke to talk about unity when we are not all gathering together in one place as one body. Your image of harmony is right on Michael, but we have to all be in the same building, a part of the same choir, singing the same song. It is no good for us to go on in our separate buildings, in different choirs, singing different songs and pretending that they all mesh together to form a unified composition. They do not. They make a cacophany.

Institutional Unity is important, but it needs to be accomplished in ways that don't overlook the very controversies you bring up. We can't ignore the baptism issue. Or doctrinal differences. These have to be resolved first before insitutional unity is even a possibility - but they need to be resolved in ways that bring them into harmony without enforcing uniformity. The ecclesia of the church catholic will have to be a very big and diverse gathering.

Unity will require all of us to learn to hold our distinctiveness gently and gracefully rather than adamantly and obnoxiously.

Anonymous said...

At now, at the risk of sounding obnoxious, the online gleanings of the ….. Conservative Catholic:

“The entire form of the Catholic Church stands between the extreme East and the extreme West, between Athos and Wittenberg, pure vision and pure hearing”

"It can happen that an individual possesses the objective holiness of mission and authority and yet has no subjective holiness. This is a grave misfortune, dangerously obscuring the Church's mission. But the Church as a whole can never fail to possess both gifts at the same time. This equally applies to the Church in its visible aspect. Consequently it will not do to divide the Catholic Church into two churches: an empirical Church with her authority and her ascertainable membership, and an invisible Church of saints, whose number is known only to God. Augustine saw very clearly that the visible bearer of the power of the keys cannot receive a sinner back into the Communio Sanctorum without the forgiveness of the Church of the saints, which the Song of Songs calls the 'one dove.' But he does not draw the same conclusion as that Augustinian friar, Luther, namely, that only the Church of the saints with its 'priesthood of all believers' has the true power of the keys. In Augustine the tension persists: Christ's Church has objective and subjective holiness, but they coincide perfectly only in Christ, the Church's head."

"It is only because the Church's internal structure has authority and an official dimension that she can admonish and encourage the imperfect Christian to pursue his own special mission. Of course it is important for the 'official' side of the Church to react with understanding to the distress, difficulties and helplessness of Christians, but it is even more important that the Christian should continually aspire to the authoritatively presented norm that is mediated and rendered concrete in everyday life by manifold Church practices. (Nowadays, the tendency is to loosen, abolish, or spiritualize a large part of these mediatory practices. The question is: Does this not cause the gospel norm to become abstract, remote from daily life, and ultimately forgotten?)... In this respect, the 'institution' is a 'necessary evil' (but could this not be said of Christ's cross too?), since human nature, crawling on the ground, needs to be held up by a trellis if it is to bear fruit."

"The Petrine principle is the sole or decisive principle of unity in the Catholica. And the more worldwide the Church becomes, the more threatened she is in the modern states with their fascism of the right and of the left, the more she is called upon to incarnate herself in the most diverse, non-Mediterranean cultures, and the wider theological and episcopal pluralism she contains, the more indispensable this reference-point becomes. Anyone who denies this is either a fanatic or an irrational sentimentalist."

AndrewE said...

Kim, sorry about the episcopacy blunder. Thanks for the clarifications. I thought your points on that were spot on.


Guy Davies said...


By "ecclesiastical boundaries" I meant gospel unity that defies differences over church government and polity. Maybe I should have said denominational boundaries.

My problem with the ecumenical movement is that it starts where we are now with lots of different church groupings and asks "How can we all get back together?"

The more fundamental question, "What makes for a gospel church in the the New Testament sense?" is fudged by institutional ecuminism. If the church is constituted the by the gospel, then there must be agreement on basic gospel truth for unity to exist. Kim's list of essentials is far too minimalistic for my liking. Christ's death and resurrection are abviously fundamental. But did he die for our sins, or simply give us a wonderful example of self-sacrifice? Was he bodily raised from the dead, or was his resurrection simply the continuation of a post mortem spiritual state? Paul gave clear doctrinal content to his gospel proclamation of Christ crucified and risen in 1 Cor 15:1ff.

I have already raised the difficulties with baptism as an ecumenical essetial from a baptistic standpoint. When baptismal regeneration is brought into the picture the whole thing becomes impossible.

Basic and serious doctrinal differences cannot be relegated to adiaphora if ecuminism is to have some kind of evangelical integrity.

(Guy Davies)

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Kim, what pedobaptists fail to understand is that those holding to believers' baptism do not consider what they are doing "rebaptism." The term Anabaptist ('rebaptizer') was a term used by enemies. What baptist groups insist on is that faith/conversion precedes the ordinance/rite/sacrament of initiation. We connect baptism not so much with salvation, but with discipleship, with following after Christ.
Being asked to accept infant baptism as an individual option or choice is, for us, like asking whether the Trinity or the resurrection are optional. Now, where we baptistic types differ among ourselves is whether or not we can share communion with those not scripturally baptized. I'm of the open communion party, here. With the 17th C. Baptist, John Bunyan, I hold that "Water Baptism is No Bar to Communion," the title of one of Bunyan's tracts--one that got him in trouble with fellow Baptists.

(And, yes, this is a strange day when I agree more with Michael Jenson and Guy Davies than Kim Fabricius! I do NOT agree that the WCC is preaching paganism.)

Do we all have to have the same episcopacy to sing in harmony? Why?

And I think corporate mergers are related to the loss of theological traditions, not a separate issue from it.

Guy Davies said...

MWW agreeing with me & Michael Jensen against Kim Fab. Now that's what I call ecuminism! ;-)

Guy Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


The doctrinal issues you raise are interesting.

On the sola fide, although there are not insignificant RC/Protestant differences, no one argues justification by works. And you will be aware of the Lutheran/RC agreement, as well as Küng's famous book on Barth and RC teaching. Not a church-dividing issue.

On atonement theory, the early church in its wisdom enshrined no particular model(s) in its creeds. Nor do I think you will find many unreconstructed Abelardians about. And the differences within Protestantism, intra- as well as inter-denominational, are as significant as any between Protestantism and RC. Not a church-dividing issue.

And the bodily resurrection - again the theological disagreements have nothing to do with denominational labels. Not a church-dividing issue.

Of course I have my own views on all these matters (including - I wonder if it surprises you? - a very somatic understanding of the resurrection), but none of them warrant not sharing Supper together with those who disagree.


Well, if paedobaptists don't understand that baptists, in their own minds, are not rebaptising then they haven't been paying attention. If the ignorance is really that bad then all is indeed lost. It seems to me that the concept of intentio fidei is absolutely crucial to edifying ecumenical conversation. However if one's baptismal theology and practice is right up there with "God is Trinity" and "Christ is risen!" - well, you've got me, partner! And yet you feel you can sit at table with folk who drowned your ancestors. . .

Whenever I get despondent about ecumenism, I just think of the early church. We filthy pigs - Gentiles - we came to share in the blessings of Isreal, one in Christ Jesus. Makes bishops and baptism seem like a piece of cake

Anonymous said...

Hi Bop,

Which of all the churches out there is the one Church? None of the above. All are deficient in lacking both true unity and catholicity.

exiled preacher, I agree that the question is not 'How can we all get back together?' but given that there is one Church, 'How can we become what in Christ we already are?'

Clearly we will not do so if we view it as some sort of merger proposal or project, and the final shape of the Oecumene will not be clear until Kingdom come. It's more about expressing what is given as faithfully as we can, and that will always be a step on the road.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that "justification by faith alone" is THE ecumenical doctrine par excellence. Because each of us is received into fellowship with God on the basis of faith in Christ alone, then we must receive each other on the same basis.

(That JBF has stood as a great shibboleth dividing Catholics and Protestants for so long is one of the deepest ironies of Christian history - as though we were justified by believing in JBF!)

So I'm sympathetic with Kim's desire to draw the list of "essential doctrines" rather minimally. This is not reductionism, nor is it to turn a blind eye to important differences. It reflects a desire not to erect doctrinal tests where the gospel demands only the test of faith in Christ ("Jesus is Lord!";"He is risen!").

It is for this reason, incidentally, that I think Kim is right to mention baptism in this context. This may seem like an arbitrary addition, until of course one understands that baptism is nothing other than the Biblically authorised rite for publicly declaring and pledging one's faith.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matheson,

Thanks for your comment on justification by faith alone. I am particularly glad that you mention it in the light of my comment on the "new perspective" on Paul, in #10. The "new perspective" has enormous ecumenical potential.

It is not that Luther's own insight does not still stand, it is just that it is not Paul's. For Paul, justification is not a soteriological concept but an ecclesiological concept. It answers the question not "How can I be saved?" but "Who belongs to the people of God?" And the answer is: those with faith - faith alone! Theologies, litugies, and various practices - the trajectory (as I would trace it) would make them "circumcision" - which may continue as a sign for the circumcised themselves, but should not be imposed on those who do not practice circumcision - and cannot be a church-dividing issue.

Guy Davies said...

Just a few remaks on justification.

Of course a person may be justified by faith alone without fully understanding the doctrine of JBF. A new believer or a poorly taught believer may have defective views on this docrine. They need teaching and further instruction to help them see the truth in all its glory.

But the ecumenical project aims to unite church groupings that express really quite different understandings of JBF. The official Catholic teaching on justification is different from the traditional Evangelical and Reformed position. The Lutheran/Catholic joint declaration does not resolve some of the main the differences. The document does not make a clear enough distinction between justification as a forensic declaration and regeneration as a transformative act. Baptistmal regeneration/justification seems to be affirmed. I can't go along with that.

The NPP may be ecumencally convenient, as it shifts the focus of justification from soteriology to ecclesiology. But again, some of of don't accept that faith is primarily a boundary marker that defines the people of God.

If JBF in its Evangelical and Reformed (and I would say Biblical) meaning is the article that defines the standing or falling of the church, then much work still needs to be done to before Evangelical Protestants can contemplate full ecumenical engagement. The same could be said for the sole authority of Scripture and other Reformed distinctives.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Well, my spiritual ancestors TRIED to sit at the same table with those who drowned them and those who burned them, THEN, so the least I can do is sit with their descendants who, whatever else, are not trying to do the same to me. (Although as recently as 50 years ago state pedobaptist churches in Europe were forcibly christening infants born to Baptists, Mennonites and other baptists!)
If Jesus could share the Last Supper with Judas, surely I can share the Lord's Supper with "whosoever will."

Yep! We filthy Gentiles were grafted in by grace! Wonderful!--but there is every evidence that the 1st C. Church had many, many differences so that One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church was not One Corporate Entity with identical polity, etc. And, in an ecumenical move, I cite Catholic Raymond Brown's The Churches the Apostles Left Behind as well as James D.G. Dunn's Unity and Diversity in Early Christianity.

I have been the sole Protestant on 3 different Catholic faculties. Loved it. Would do it again. But I do not feel we have a common baptism. My ecumenical model is cooperation, not merger.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Re. your middle paragraph, see my #5! Which suggests that we could begin, at least, with apostolic recognition (#7) and shared eucharistic hospitality (also #7). And then, who knows? I'm quite happy to be (mind-)blown by the Spirit.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I'm very big on eucharistic hospitality, Kim. I'm not sure what apostolic recognition is. I don't believe in apostolic succession and wouldn't think it important if it did exist. My tradition does NOT go back to the apostles but does attempt to recover apostolic beliefs and practices abandoned over the years.

I guess where we differ most on ecumenism, Kim, is that I see eucharistic hospitality, missional cooperation, joint efforts for peace and justice, etc. AS "visible unity," whereas you appear to see them only as steps toward a greater unity--which is where my fears of corporate mergers and suppression of needed features and distinctives of particular communions/traditions comes screaming to the fore.

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