On Practical Ecumenism; the reply to Carl R. Trueman

Čt 05 června 2014

(reply to a nice article about ecumenism on The First Things)

Good article! Thank you. It is really good to think not only about general platitudes and ecumenical Kumbaya but about the real life impact of our hope for unity.

I think what’s crucial is to disentangle couple of things which got meshed together in the last couple of thousand years. First of all, my personal pet peeve, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold  the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” It seems to me that this implies that a right Christian is the one who rationally agrees with some particular articles of faith. Without ANY article missing, which leads us to the crazy scenes, where my beloved compatriots Hussites are declared pagans because they require (under the penalty of damnation!) that every Christian accepts both body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, because of course the other party claimed that (under the penalty of damnation!) every Christian must agree with whatever The Council of Constance agreed upon.

And because this obviously didn’t lead to anything good, but because we still keep this faith being an intellectual assent with the articles of faith, we started to limit the articles which really matters. And so we’ve got to your “Nicene/Chalcedonian church” and feeling I have from your article that whichever Nicene/Chalcedonian church should be equal to other.

And of course when I don't ascribe to the intellectual assent as the foundation of the Christian unity, I even less accept the idea of institutional unity as required (which BTW is a complete myth in my opinion … since St. Paul’s times there have never been completely institutionally unified Church and that is The Good Thing).

I don’t think it leads anywhere. I think we have to really accept the idea that faith is something else than just an intellectual assent (what? that's a good question for which I don’t have well articulated answer), and that we can accept each other as a Christian (and for example accept from each other The Lord’s Supper as a visible sign of the Unity of this faith) even though we disagree on some matters which are really really important to us (Marian devotion, trust to the Roman bishop, or from the other side freedom of conscience and plurality of thought, equality of sexes, yes, even the unity of opinion).

That’s the one thing (inclusivity in diversity), but than from the other side I don’t think any Christian Church is a good substitute for the other one. Let me say an example from my life. I am a Czech Protestant with a strong tradition of intellectualism and high culture, but also with inclinations for the Charismatic movement. Then I’ve got to live for two semesters in San Francisco. Before the first Sunday in town I have opened my Yellow Pages on the Church section and I was looking for the church to attend to in the morning. I found all kinds of denominations and of course I found that even two different congregations from one denomination are not the same (all-white intellectual Baptist church on the one side of the city and really wild super-excited Black Baptist Church on the other one). I had to admit that although I agree with theological propositions of almost all congregations I've attended to (I guess, I haven't checked that thoroughly) there were some congregations which were just clearly not working for me well, For example that Black Baptist church was just too loud for me (I couldn't even understand the sermon so my opinions about their theology are rather limited). In the end we stayed in a nice Presbyterian church (St. John on the Lake Street) not far from my school (yes, even that was the factor, that other Baptist church was awesome, but too far from my school and I didn’t have a car) and we’ve found there awesome friends.

My point is that even though there could be a nice Orthodox (or in Czechia more likely Roman-Catholic) church down the road, and although I fully support that they are fully Christians, it doesn't mean that my Prague Christian Fellowship should shut down.


Category: faith Tagged: ecumenism FirstThings blogComment