Skip to content

The End of Ecumenism

By Halden Doerge and Ry Siggelkow

In recent discussions around here the issue of ecumenism has come up, and in particular the question has been raised about what we are to think theologically about the question of the church’s tangible disunity. In light of these discussions, my friend Ry Siggelkow and I spent some time working through what we think are some of the vital issues at stake in this important theological question, and to that end we offer these reflections in the hope that the cause of the church’s unity may in some small way be served.

That our concern is unity may not at once be obvious, as it is our contention that the most important way in which we can contribute to Christian unity and mission today is by actively working towards the end of ecumenism. Let us be quite clear about this, by “end” we do not mean “telos” or “goal.” We speak here not of working for the ultimate outworking and fruition of the project of ecumenism. Rather we are calling for the abandonment and termination of this project as such. Moreover it is our contention that this is necessary precisely for the sake of the unity of the church.

At the outset we must be clear what is meant by “ecumenism” as such. Certainly there are a variety of ways in which different churches and theologians have spoken of and pursued ecumenical endeavors, and there would be different lines of critique and engagement necessary in regard to many of the different forms that ecumenical impulse has taken in the history of the church. However, speaking broadly—but not, we contend, inaccurately—ecumenism can be properly understood as the effort of churches who, finding themselves not in fellowship with other churches, seek to bring about the unity that is lacking between them. Ecumenism speaks of the attempt, on the part of separated churches, to acknowledge and seek to address the reasons for their separation from one another.

What is important to see about the nature of ecumenism here is twofold. Ecumenism is fundamentally premised on the recognition of other churches as truly Christian, and on the recognition that, for various reasons, unity between these separated groups of Christians does not exist. Ecumenism involves the affirmation both of common belonging to Jesus Christ as Lord, and the affirmation that, despite this common belonging, we are not reconciled with one another for various reasons. The ecumenical problem, and its efforts to solve this problem are premised on this central conviction, that we are indeed brothers and sisters, but we are not reconciled and thus must work, through dialogue to become so reconciled.

As such, ecumenism inevitably takes the form of a sort of negotiation. Different communions, entering into dialogue with each other, learn to speak of the distinctives (theological, ethical, political, etc) that separate them so as to see if there might be a way beyond that division. Could it be that we are just misunderstanding each other? Or could we agree on a more basic compromise that would allow us to enter into full fellowship with one another? It is precisely these sorts of negotiations that make up ecumenism as we know it (a good example of this sort of effort can be seen in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation).

Over the past thirty or forty years postliberals of all stripes (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish) have sought to rethink the nature and purpose of ecumenism after “modernity.” The postliberals have rejected the traditional paradigm, with its concern for doctrinal propositions, as well as the old liberal paradigm that sought common ground on social and political fronts or in “religious experience” more generally. On the one hand there is no doubt that the unpopularity and rejection of these ecumenical visions has, at least to some extent, been bound up with the decline of mainline Protestantism. Yet, there has also been an acute sense felt among many that, although much headway has been made in official agreements and “declarations” between separated churches, this has failed to “trickle down” to the local, congregational level. Indeed, many have felt that too much ecumenical dialogue takes place among church leaders and officials at the expense of the interests and concerns of the laity and the local churches. The general trajectory of ecumenical dialogue in the postliberal vein has been a skepticism about “official” ecumenical dialogues toward a “local is better” approach.

Spurred on at least in part by George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine ecumenical dialogue in a postliberal vein has made a distinct turn away from the “abstract” and “universal” toward the “concrete” and the “particular.” In this perspective, what is needed for ecumenical dialogue to move forward is to attend to the commitments of particular communities and their practices, and to do this within a “grassroots,” lay context. The postliberal critique of liberalism (e.g., MacIntyre and Hauerwas) has shed light on the traditioned and culturally-conditioned character of all practices and convictions, whether liturgical, political, or theological. In this view, unity must be sought from the ground up so to speak, not by way of formal doctrinal agreement but by worshipping and reading Scripture together. It is by attending to these common practices that some shared vision may arise organically. This view finds the liberal view of “tolerance” distasteful, or worse, as a veiled form of oppression, but it places a high degree of value on difference and honoring the particularity of traditions. The hope is for a kind of mutually-enriching interpenetration of the treasures of each particular faith tradition. To avoid a naïve “foundationalism” each tradition is often understood as kind of self-contained whole—a “culture” in its own right. Against an overly speculative or dogmatic approach to ecumenical dialogue this approach moves forward primarily at the “practical” level by way of learning one another’s “culture” and “language” and the practices that flow from it and that inform it. In this view, little attention is given to formal doctrinal agreements, but there is rather a hope that if we begin to speak each other’s languages and learn each other’s culture through a set of common practices (e.g., reading Scripture together) then something fruitful might come out of it—hopefully some form of unity.

Much is to be commended in the postliberal turn to the “concrete” and the “particular,” perhaps especially its skepticism of hierarchy and formal doctrinal agreements, as well as its positive emphasis on the involvement of the laity. However, we are convinced that postliberalism still operates within the form of ecumenism as negotiation. In part, the problem is that postliberalism is unable to decisively break with the old ecumenical paradigm. In its turn toward the community and traditional practices as the site of ecumenical conversation, like the liberal paradigm postliberalism still works within the framework of a fundamental immanence. In its turn toward the “concrete” and against the “abstract,” like the traditional paradigm postliberalism tends to drive a wedge between doctrine and practice. The disregard of doctrine has often led to a strictly sociological perspective on the church and its practices so that the church in its visible empirical form becomes self-grounding and self-justifying.

The central problem with ecumenical dialogue in all forms is that it begins with the assumption that the empirical reality of the divided churches has fundamental theological import and that such division is something that we are charged to fix. The problem with ecumenical dialogue is that it assumes that we are the agents that bring about Christian unity. Ecumenical dialogue is unfaithful insofar as it assumes that the church as a configuration of practices is the active subject in bringing about visible unity. It is unfaithful not on account of its reliance on human agency, but because of a fundamental lack of faith in what has decisively been accomplished in Jesus Christ.

Thus, if we are to speak of the unity of the church we must begin anew, and most importantly, begin theologically. We submit that, theologically speaking, the one and only question that matters in regard to the church’s unity is: Is any given division between Christians something that, in Christ, is real? In Christ—in his work of breaking down the dividing wall of hostility, of calling those who were far off, and those who were near—is the division between, say, Protestant and Catholic a reality? Or, to put the question more biblically, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13). This and this alone must be our question when we seek to address the unity of the church. The one and only question before our eyes must be the question of what, in Christ, is truly real. So therein lies the question: Is the division between Protestants and Catholics something that is real in Christ?

If our divisions are not real in Christ, then we have no business living as if they were. If, in Christ, we are in fact truly one, then any reason whatsoever that we might have for refusing full and unconditional fellowship with one another is illegitimate. The only way there could ever be a “legitimate” division between Christians would be if that division reflected something that is in fact a reality in Christ himself. This is precisely why the quest of ecumenism as negotiation must be abandoned. If anyone is in Christ, none of us can ever have a legitimate reason for being separate from one another. Any negotiation we might have cannot but be disobedience from the start if, in Christ, our divisions are not real. All such forms of ecumenism as negotiation, whether they admit it or not, ultimately proclaim that our divisions from one another are real. This is to speak against the Gospel. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is not that through his work we are now able to be at peace with one another, rather it is that “He is our peace” and that he, himself has “broken down the dividing wall of separation” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel is not that this reconciliation is a possibility that we may achieve, but rather that it is an actuality that we may joyfully affirm. Ecumenism as negotiation is a betrayal of this proclamation.

Where then, does this leave us? If we are to reject ecumenism as negotiation in all its forms, what then remains of the visible unity of the church? What is our task amidst the church’s radical and manifest brokenness and division? First and foremost our vocation is to name the situation truthfully, namely that all division between Christians is a betrayal of the Gospel and a refusal to acknowledge it as true. This of course is not proper ecumenical manners, but theologically it is imperative. All divisions must be acknowledged and confronted as refusals of the Gospel. They are our sinful and rebellious refusal to affirm the actuality of the reconciliation established in Christ. They are not, theologically speaking, conflicts of interpretation or misunderstanding. They are acts of rebellion (perhaps unintentional and ignorant rebellion, but rebellion nonetheless) against the Gospel and as such we must constantly test ourselves as to whether or not we are in the Faith (cf. 2 Cor 13:5).

Secondly, since all ecumenical negotiation is an exercise of refusing the Gospel, the next important step in living towards the reconciliation actualized in Christ is for us, as bodies of believers to cease to live under the regulations imposed by such ecumenical forms. The lines of division that are drawn and proclaimed between the churches are not something to be “resolved” through dialogue. Rather they are part of the form of this present world which, in Christ, is “passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). As they are not part of the new creation that is in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15), we have no business acknowledging their power or seeking to appease it.

What is the upshot of this? It can mean nothing less than a call to all Christians and churches to “Welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you” (Rom 15:7). It means ignoring any pronounced wall of division that any person or community might seek to erect between Christians, no matter what its ecclesiastical source. It means we can never faithfully say “You are my sister or brother, but I cannot take eat with you for these reasons . . .” Such reasons are invalid in Christ. In Christ there is no longer any division and therefore any division that we acknowledge is to be counted among principalities and powers that crucified Jesus. To acknowledge them as legitimate is to betray the cross and the reconciliation it proclaims and effects.

The end of ecumenism is a risky proposition indeed. It calls us to attend first and foremost to the truth of Gospel, that in Christ, all our divisions, our violence, our alienation is done away with. And it calls us to cease living as if that were false; as if there were still some divisions that we need to negotiate our way through, as if there were still some alienations that Christ has not crucified in his own flesh. The end of ecumenism means the beginning of obedience, the obedience which refuses to say anything other than an unqualified Yes to fellowship, partnership, koinonia, indeed to living and dying with all those who follow after the Crucified One naming him as Lord.

125 Comments

  1. david wrote:

    one day some historical theologian will look back on this blog post as a turning point in the history of ecumenism,

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  2. Scott wrote:

    Does this mean that if I am a Protestant, and I am at an RCC church, I should commune on the assumption that I am one with those people? Does this mean we disregard other churches fencing of the table?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Scott, I would say that the lived experience of communion cannot be forced. So I wouldn’t demand that a church who vehemently didn’t want to eat with me do so. I would however actively and openly invite them to take the Lord’s Supper at my church without regard to whatever regulations the Catholic hierarchy places upon their laity. Also if I was at at Catholic church where I knew the people and where, because of our relationship, the priest was willing to serve me in violation of RCC teaching, I would gladly take it.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  4. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Question: if a brother/sister in Christ wrongs another brother/sister in Christ, is the offended party wrong to seek reconciliation with the offender? Is fostering dialogue between estranged Christians an affront to the gospel because of the prior truth of our reconciliation in Christ?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    No, certainly not. And I think this question brings to the forefront the importance of understanding “ecumenism” in precisely this sort of of face-to-face manner. There we are dealing with an actual relationship involving people (rather than, say disagreements about the ontological nature and importance of the episcopacy). What happens when wrongs occur and relationships are broken is that we fail to acknowledge the truth of how we are related to one another in Christ. Our “reconciling” with each other is, theologically speaking, our coming together to recognize the truth of our being reconciled in Christ, and thus also to recognize how one or both of us has failed to live that truth.

    That to me is the sort of true ecumenism, or “Kingdom Ecumenism” as I spoke of it (or tried to speak of it) in another post, and I think this sort of praxis is vital to life together.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  6. Tony Hunt wrote:

    I think ya’ll would find this post to be in very significant harmony with Ephraim Radner’s Palmer Lectures that he gave at Seattle Pacific, which are available for free on iTunes and which deal with solidarity as paradigm for modern ecumenism. It perhaps rustles your typology, though, that he is often considered a post-liberal.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden: I would urge you to reconsider your position on this issue. Even if you don’t regard receiving communion in the Catholic Church as a problem for you, it would still be problematic for the priest who allowed it.

    In those circumstances you would merely be shifting the lines of division, and not in a good way. Catholic priests owe obedience to the Pope and Catholic Bishops. Encouraging someone to disobey their pastors is not the way to restore Christian unity.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  8. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    No, I really doubt that we would find any overlap with Radner. Doesn’t Radner argue just the opposite of what we’re saying here? That the division of the church actually effects the division of Christ?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  9. Tony Hunt wrote:

    I suppose I shouldn’t overstate the similarities. The primary similarity is the effort to reject negotiation as ecumenical method and strongly away from a sociological understanding of the Church – though here he moves toward his figural interpretation of Scripture and I imagine you would be more weary here. Still, good stuff all around.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  10. Tony Hunt wrote:

    See below which I wrote as you were writing this. It depends on the work you’re referencing. In some of his previous work he sees the divided church as figurally recalling the abandoned Christ (see here http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2010/06/23/the-church-as-the-presence-of-the-humiliated-christ/).

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  11. Intriguing post, which I’ll want to think more about. But here’s the question that immediately comes to mind: So according to your vision, do we welcome Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or ___A___ the same way as we welcome Baptists or Catholics or ___B___? (If my examples don’t set up the question for you, I suspect that you still have some “A” and “B” groups with which to fill in the blanks. The point is: Are you sure you haven’t simply deferred the doctrinal, ethical or other identity-defining question that you will need to answer in order to account for a differentiated welcome? Unless you are going to extend the definition of whom you can freely welcome as already “in Christ” so broadly and mystically that it replicates the fuzziest form of liberalism, you really haven’t avoided the negotiating mode that you decry, have you? Or what am I missing?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    I realize you don’t agree with what I’m about to say here, but I believe that all of us owe our obedience to Jesus Christ, who has made us one. Neither popes nor priests nor anyone have the authority to divide the baptized from one another. Therefore, before the Lord, I just don’t believe I am free to disobey him and his work by regarding the authority of anyone else, whatever ecclesiastical titles they may bear.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  13. Evan wrote:

    Could you give some examples of ecumenical work where Christ’s prior and decisive accomplishment of unity is being denied? I don’t see how one would even begin doing ecumenical work of the “negotiating” sort without an initial commitment to the fact that in Christ unity has been accomplished decisively, and for that reason we can be confident in working out doctrinal or other differences amongst those who (in common) are baptized in and proclaim the name of the Lord.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  14. Nate Kerr wrote:

    In other words, the end of ecumenism means also the end of clericalism?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  15. Evan wrote:

    Perhaps similar to what Gerald has suggested (though from another angle), I was wondering how you would respond to unrepentant ecumenists. If in their work they are truly “refusing the Gospel” or represent a “betrayal of the proclamation”, aren’t these the sort of people against whom you should close the table and shake the dust off your feet?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    No, man the table’s open from my end. They just don’t seem to want to partake.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  17. Evan wrote:

    Could you be more clear here? Who are “they”, and what’s an “open table”?

    Since the argument that you and Ry make here is so reliant upon the unity of the faithful baptized into Christ’s accomplished work, wouldn’t it be problematic to receive the un-baptized (the non-Christians in Gerald’s question), or the un-faithful (the ecumenists in my question)?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    For me “they” are all those who name Jesus as Lord and seek to follow him and “the table” is the full gambit of fellowship, koinonia. For me it means partnership in ministry, mission, and taking the Lord’s Supper together.

    And the issue really is not about “faithfulness” or the “unbaptized” here. Its about how the baptized who recognize each other as Christians are willing to treat one another. The questions of the unbaptized or of “heretics” are quite different questions than that of how mutually recognizing Christians ought to regard one another in light of the work of Christ.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink
  19. Evan wrote:

    But does it really make sense to recognize those who “refuse the Gospel” as Christians? What would you call a refusal of the Gospel if not something like unfaithfulness or heresy? Or was this description of ecumenists just hyperbole on your part?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  20. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I think we have to reconsider the ways in which concerns to secure or define the church’s “identity” are bound up with, at some level, a refusal to take seriously the implication of the reality that the world has been reconciled to God in Christ. In other words, the church has no identity or definition outside of this event. Ultimately, what I think is at stake here is the extent to which our confession that “Jesus is Lord” drives our actions toward one another. If our identity lies not in our traditions or definitions but in Christ alone, and we trust that Christ’s lordship is operative in our relationships to one another, that Christ is truly active with and among us and is on the move ahead of us, then our concern should be faithfulness to the work that God has done and is now doing to break down all walls of division. Such faithfulness may require that we loosen our grip on the forms (doctrinal, liturgical, ethical) which have served to so clearly identify us overagainst one another in the past; it seems to me this only slips into a fuzzy liberalism if we assume that we are left to our own devices. But all I can say is that this is not the case if Jesus is Lord.

    As an aside, I think Bridgefolk is in many ways a good model for what we’re getting at here insofar as it refuses to wait on ecclesiastical institutions but rather begins to actually live into our unity which is a reality in Christ. Indeed, in this regard I would encourage an openness to certain forms of ecclesiastical disobedience (say, a Roman Catholic taking communion in a Mennonite church or the other way round).

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    We all refuse the gospel all the time, in all kinds of ways, do we not? No one ever said Christians don’t sin.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink
  22. Evan wrote:

    Right… no one ever said Christians don’t sin. Myself included. What I’m saying is that if a person continues to refuse or betray the Gospel, it’s not clear to me on what basis one would recognize them as a Christian.

    Making unrepentant refusal of the Gospel a disqualifier for Christian discipleship just strikes me as common sense, almost to the point of being tautological. It has nothing to do with acting as if Christians are sinless.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    Sinning is refusing the Gospel. It is living as if the Gospel were not.

    One is a Christian not on the basis of whether or not one betrays the Gospel, but on the basis of if they confess Jesus as Lord.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  24. Evan wrote:

    [this is to your comment at 9:25 pm]

    To begin, I’m not sure I would define sin as a refusal of the Gospel (although the two are related in fundamental ways, to be sure). On the other hand, I don’t see faithfulness to “the Gospel” and confession of Christ as really all that distinct. Of course there are differences between the two ideas, but what one is committing to in the Gospel and what one is confessing in Christ’s lordship strike me as pretty interchangeable when considering what makes for Christian identity.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  25. Evan wrote:

    …in any case, you still haven’t really touched on the problem of continued and unrepetant refusal of the Gospel. The whole point of my concern is that, while I agree with you that the communion table should be open regardless of ecclesiastical affiliations or various sins into which we fall and of which we repent, it doesn’t seem to make sense to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with someone who is actively, unrepetantly, and continually refusing the Gospel.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    But is not the unrepentance the refusal of said communion? I thought we made that clear. It seems rather obvious that there is no possibility of taking the Lord’s Supper with someone refusing to take the Lord’s Supper with you.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  27. Hill wrote:

    Seems to be an odd fixation on the Lord’s Supper as constitutive and exhaustive of Christian unity here, especially for a free churcher.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    @ Hill: I agree, actually. I myself think that the fixation on taking the Lord’s Supper together is another feature of the problems of ecumenism as usual. I mention it here just because it tends to be at the center of such debates generally.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  29. Evan wrote:

    I assumed that things went to the Lord’s Supper because, with the exception of recognition of orders, the Lord’s Supper is really the only thing that Halden can’t do across ecclesiastical lines according to their common understanding. That is, he can serve the poor, read Scripture, or evangelize with Catholics, so those case studies hardly seem to provide much traction for what is difficult about unity today.

    For what it’s worth, I think that’s why a lot of ecumenical discussion centers around eucharist and orders these days… not so much because everyone thinks “the eucharist makes the Church”, but rather because those are the main points upon which we’re still running against a brick wall.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  30. Evan wrote:

    “But is not the unrepentance the refusal of said communion?”

    This is what I’m saying: if you were to offer the Lord’s Supper to me, I’d gladly share it with you. But I’m also a convinced ecumenist of the sort that you say “refuses the Gospel”, and I’m not about to repent of that.

    This seems to create a problem for you: either you’re sharing the Lord’s Supper with a refuser and betrayer of the faith, or the problem of ecumenism isn’t really that serious, and you’re rashly throwing around hyperbolic accusations that you shouldn’t be.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  31. Halden wrote:

    @ Evan: To be sucinct, the fact is that I believe that I cannot, by virtue of the work of Christ, refuse the fullness of fellowship (in all its dimensions) to any other person who confesses Christ as Lord. If we are in Christ together, we are one and therefore I cannot withhold myself from them. To do so, I am convinced, would be to refuse the Gospel, to not affirm the truth it proclaims.

    That’s just what I think the Gospel is, theologically and scripturally speaking. So that’s what I’m putting out there. I don’t really know what else to say beyond that, as that is what I feel I have been given to say in regard to this issue. But yeah, I can see that it is something of hard word, it’s something that I by no means measure up to myself, its just what I believe the Gospel calls forth.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  32. Halden wrote:

    @ Evan’s final comment. Again this reopens the discussion of the meaning of sin. I believe all sin is a refusal of the Gospel. So if you shared the Lord’s Supper with me, even given theological differences, I would have no problem doing so. In fact, I think it is precisely there, in the sharing of the fullness of fellowship — even in disagreement — that we are in a position to talk about such differences fruitfully. The grave problem, I believe, is when we make the resolution of our theological differences a prerequisite for the unity that is already real in Christ.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  33. Zac wrote:

    I am likely totally off base here, but this whole discussion seems profoundly mixed up. This is what I “see” and “hear” happening here:

    Halden and Ry: “We are here to announce to fellow Christian bloggers that we welcome all of you, regardless of your doctrinal positions, theological perspectives, etc., etc., to commune with us, under the Lordship of Christ, which by necessity means sans ecumenism. That being said,we recognize many of you will want to retain ecumenical dialogue in your discipleship and so all of the comments following in this thread that may reveal disagreement with us and thereby produce a potentially open-ended discussion regarding these points of disagreement, are really quite unnecessary due to the fact that said disagreements are not real (aka. they are quite meaningless) to those “in Christ”. So, if you could all simply agree with us on that, we can all enjoy blissful unity under the Lordship of Christ.”

    Oversimplification? Confusion of your point Halden and Ry? Probably, but this is my gut reaction to reading your post through, I thought, carefully. Please clarify how I am misunderstanding you.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink
  34. dan wrote:

    Halden and Ry,

    I think that I agree with most of what you say here, but I would want to further challenge and problematize what I take to be your central assertion:

    If our divisions are not real in Christ, then we have no business living as if they were. If, in Christ, we are in fact truly one, then any reason whatsoever that we might have for refusing full and unconditional fellowship with one another is illegitimate.

    Let’s carry that thought from clerical practices or doctrinal discussions to the context of violence and oppression. Let us imagine that there are committed followers of Jesus — people who are “in Christ” — who also do things like wage wars, steal from the poor, and so on. Should these Christians be welcomed into “full and unconditional fellowship”? Shouldn’t we get to a point when some are told that they are not welcome to partake of the Crucified One for as long as the persist in crucifying others? I reckon that there is a good basis for this to be found in both the teachings of Jesus and Paul.

    Of course, you might be inclined to say that those who do so are not “in Christ” but I am cautious about making that call — after all, I reckon that their devotion is (in its own way) quite sincere and often such people are eager to confess Jesus as Lord. However, if you start to make the call as to who is “in Christ” and who is not, well, aren’t you just back where you started? Either that or doesn’t this point to the possibility of some sort of “real” division in Christ?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink
  35. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, I’m not sure you appreciate how much such a genuine type of reconciliation actually occurs in contemporary ecumenical dialogue. It is actually quite active.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  36. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    If what you’re saying is true, then the fact that all social and political divisions are abolished in Christ means that concrete attempts to actualize that through human agency are sinful refusals of the Gospel. Unless you’re envisioning a miracle that will bring us all spontaneously in line, I don’t know how else human beings can be reconciled to each other except through negotiation, development of practices, etc.

    I also don’t see what’s so scandalous about the fact that Christians with different opinions on doctrinal and organizational issues tend to group together. The suspicion of outsiders is perhaps overdone, but it’s kind of a corrolary of thinking you’re right, which is what all human beings who have opinions think. It seems odd that a Mennonite apparently believes that not having a unified institution and set of practices constitutes this huge offense against the Gospel — in fact, it seems as though a necessary consequence of your view is that basically no one is accepting the Gospel simply because nearly all Christians are affiliated with one of these particular institutions (or are sinfully trying to negotiate an end to this situation). Maybe we should all just be “spiritual but not religious”?

    Perhaps the discussion of the weak and the strong in Romans 14-15 is relevant here.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  37. Brad A. wrote:

    So you want to “loosen our grip on the forms (doctrinal, liturgical, ethical) which have served to so clearly identify us overagainst one another in the past,” but you are essentially arguing here for an alternative doctrinal conception of unity to that which you perceive is being held by those churches participating in contemporary ecumenism. And those who disagree with you are not taking the Christ “event” seriously enough, and are not faithfully embodying the confession “Jesus is Lord.” I think there’s a problem here.

    I am actually very sympathetic to the conception of hospitality and openness, and Halden’s explanation of his attitude toward fellowship very much echoes my own. However, in charitable dialogue and fellowship with my sisters and brothers I do not then discard for the sake of discussion what they see as essential, not merely to “securing” identity, but to genuine faithfulness to what they understand themselves to be called. I sometimes disagree with their conceptions, but I would never suggest that they are discounting the lordship of Christ. What your (collective) line of argument tends toward – and this comment is indicative – is a wholesale dismissal of anything that strikes you as entailing human participation in the “apocalyptic” in the form of identity-formation, liturgical rites, moral community, etc., which you seem to perceive from out of the gate as merely human-oriented, “sociologial” rather than theological, and idolatrous. It seems to me that such things cannot be assumed, but must be proved. This has not been done, and the burden of proof is on you. Until then, it seems that the openness and charity espoused in this and the last post on ecumenism would require some sort of deference to whose to whom you believe yourselves united in Christ. As I said there, that may even include the very notions of “unity” and “ecumenism” themselves.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  38. Brad A. wrote:

    I think this is well stated.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  39. Evan wrote:

    Ry, I was curious about your mention of Bridgefolk and “ecclesiastical disobedience”. To what extent does Bridgefolk actually go forward with this sort of disobedience and “refuse to wait on ecclesiastical institutions” in a way that ecumenical work of the “negotiating” sort doesn’t? Do they take communion at each other’s services? (again, back to communion, but see above for why I think it’s reasonable to take things here)

    What I found on Bridgefolk and shared communion was a lot of talk about grieving over the inability to share communion (which, indeed, Bridgefolk practices alongside of the negotiating ecumenists), and then this article from the Catholic co-chair of Bridgefolk.

    In the article, the Catholics don’t seem to be suggesting much other than refraining from eucharist to stand in solidarity with the Mennonites, and the justification given for why Mennonites may be able to receive the eucharist at a Catholic mass is based upon… not ecclesiastical disobedience, but papal encyclicals! I’m struggling with understanding how any of this is different than ecumenism as it is usually understood to be practiced… and that’s not meant to be dismissive, I’m quite supportive of efforts like Bridgefolk. I just don’t see how it’s appropriate to pit Bridgefolk against other ecumenical endeavors that supposedly refuse and betray the Gospel.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  40. mshedden wrote:

    R.O.,
    With Tony I actually thought of Radner’s lectures at SPU while reading this piece. The one I think would be most relevant is “Is Christ Divided? Locating the possibility of a true church” and in it I think he answers “no” Christ is not divided. Halden might have listened to this already I would be interested in both of your thoughts on the tack he takes for ecumenism.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  41. Brad A. wrote:

    But doesn’t Radner argue in his book that the Holy Spirit has left the church to the degree to which it is divided (and he does seem to see it as divided)?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  42. mshedden wrote:

    Yeah it’s been so long since I read the book but he gave the lectures in 2007 (I think) and the book was published in 1998. I got the feeling during the lectures that he has developed his thoughts quite a bit since publishing the book.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  43. Brad E. wrote:

    Halden,

    In the last paragraph you say:

    “In Christ there is no longer any division and therefore any division that we acknowledge is to be counted among principalities and powers that crucified Jesus. To acknowledge them as legitimate is to betray the cross and the reconciliation it proclaims and effects.”

    I appreciate and am sympathetic to this theological construal of the situation. What remains unclear is how something like this gets played out on the ground — or, perhaps, what you mean by “division.” For example, I have belonged to churches which are fundamentally divided from the lives and communities of fellow Christians who are black. What does it mean to say that this division does not exist? Neither side thinks it good, wants to see it perpetuated, or hates to imagine it being healed — but it is there, with severe and lasting power.

    So are you more speaking to theological/confessional/ecclesial “divisions” that are not “legitimate” however functionally actual they are experienced as to the persons involved? Because other divisions are real, insofar as they exist and are present and affect the lives of human beings in community. And to the latter, I would be happy to preach and to share in conversation that, in fact, in Christ these divisions have been abolished and “are no longer” — but precisely as a step toward mutual affection, relationship, acknowledgment, and dialogue toward the unity God has given us and commands us to receive.

    Let me know where in my phrasing of it I have either misunderstood your (and Ry’s) point, or where my own conception is different from yours.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  44. As director of Bridgefolk, let me respond to your final sentence, Evan. We certainly don’t see ourselves as pitted against other ecumenical efforts. Part of our role has been to support and disseminate the results of the international dialogue between Mennonites and Catholics. We have committed ourselves to accountability and transparency to our respective churches from the beginning. We do see ourselves as offering a fresh approach that extends or perhaps complements standard ecumenism with our more grassroots approach. In that sense we share Halden’s and Ry’s (and John H. Yoder’s) critique of ecumenism as a quasi-Constantinian effort to deliver blocs of Christians into new unities through top-down negotiation. And yet ecumenists have taken note both of the international dialogue between Mennonite World Conference and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and of Bridgefolk, precisely because they have done so much better at the “reception” of ecumenical efforts and documents than most other dialogues that go unnoticed in the pews. (Mennonite / Free Church / Voluntary Church expectations no doubt deserve the credit there.) But that means that standard ecumenists actually share some of Halden’s/Ry’s concerns.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  45. Tony Hunt wrote:

    I just want, again, to point to the comment I made yesterday @6:16 – there are strong differences to be sure, but on the two points (in those lectures, not necessarily in his two major books) that I mentioned there is overlap and agreement. There will also be very strong disagreements too.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  46. Evan wrote:

    “We certainly don’t see ourselves as pitted against other ecumenical efforts.”

    Right… my apologies if I was unclear here. I don’t think Bridgefolk takes itself to be pitted against other ecumenical endeavors. Insofar as Ry has opposed other ecumenical endeavors and offered Bridgefolk as a possible model for what he and Halden are talking about here, I took him to be pitting Bridgefolk against other forms of ecumenism. I wanted to question that sort of opposition because my understanding of Bridgefolk was more along the lines of what you’ve laid out here.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  47. Hill wrote:

    I’m going to continue being religious but not spiritual, thanks. And yes, it’s well stated.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  48. “A Roman Catholic taking communion in a Mennonite church or the other way round” does not have to constitute “ecclesiastical disobedience” if one is transparent and in conversation with the pastors in both communities. Despite what some of our new Catholic fundamentalists may tell you, Catholicism has ways of allowing legitimate exceptions to norms/rules/standards. The article that Evan cites elsewhere on this page by our Catholic co-chair of Bridgefolk illustrates.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  49. Hill wrote:

    This is a really important point for people to whom RC ecumenism is either an oxymoron or an abstraction.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  50. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Then obey him. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23–25).

    It’s hard not to have the feeling that you think Jesus rendered moot his own words from the Sermon on the Mount.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  51. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Brad, yes, we are most certainly arguing for an alternative doctrinal conception of unity, but one that, we hope, is grounded not in the church itself, but in the lordship of Christ. To say that we need to give up on our attempts to secure our ecclesial identity vis-à-vis others is not intended to be an accusation against others, but a word directed to all of us. I want to be sure that this point is clear. The point is to call ecumenical dialogue to act as if Jesus is the living Lord and to act as if this lordship is actually operative in our lives and in our relationships. In short, to not go on acting as if we are left to our own devices.

    I want to briefly address your second point about a dismissal of human agency, sociology, etc. Yes, we are insisting upon the priority of divine agency, but this is not at all to reject human agency or put them into competition. Instead, we want to emphasize that the fundamental relation is God-to-us and that faithful human action occurs as a response to what God does and is now doing.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  52. Brad A. wrote:

    Ry, please forgive any undue harshness (and typos) in my comment above. My intent was not to accuse, but to sharply question what I perceive as unwarranted assumptions in this discussion. Again, I’m sympathetic to much of this, including the critique Gerald mentions of top-down, artificially forced ecumenism. But your comment highlighted what are for me ongoing concerns about your larger collective argument. One of the most salient is the degree to which you seem to expect Christians from other confessions to abide by the normative understandings of your own, without having yet justified why they should be so beholden. In the present context, this would touch on the very definitions of unity and ecumenism and the assumed motivations behind such definitions and practices in confessional settings not your own.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  53. Brad A. wrote:

    It looks like I was writing when you posted, but let me again pick up on something here. Why would you assume from the get-go that alternative understandings of unity are NOT grounded in the lordship of Christ? Isn’t that something you need to actually prove before you can asked for the resulting ecumenisms to be replaced with your own?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  54. CCP wrote:

    (1) Terrific discussion.

    (2) It is a little ironic that you describe ecumenism (even postliberal ecumenism) under the banner of “negotiation” when George Lindbeck’s dictum concerned unity “without doctrinal capitulation.” And the Joint Declaration you cite has no “negotiations” in your sense of the word.

    (3) All Christians must do penance, every Lent, for ecclesial divisions. You are right to name ecclesial division as a consequence of sin and disobedience — and also as a consequence of social and political configurations of power. But for precisely that reason, you cannot simply say that every instrument (hierarchical or otherwise) that has been used in the past for heal these divisions is now to be thrown on the ash heap of history.

    (4) One instrument of unity that is local and concrete, particular and universal, is the office of St. Peter. Jesus telling Peter that he will build his church upon him is part of the Gospel, and Peter’s ministry remains, for two thousand years, a ministry of unity.

    (5) This means, it seems to me, that you cannot simply throw off — in radically adolescent fashion — it makes it sound like you want to throw off the “external husk” of ecumenism in order to go to its local and theological heart.

    (6) None of these points take anything away from my fundamental agreement with you that ecclesial divisions are not the will of God, and do not reflect the reality of the Body of Christ, which is the only body that will save us.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  55. CCP wrote:

    Revision to my hastily written point 5:

    5) This means, it seems to me, that you cannot simply throw off hierarchical instruments of unity that are available — in radically adolescent fashion. At times, it sounds like you want to throw off the “external husk” of ecumenism in order to go to its local (“interior”), theological heart, which sounds like the Reformation all over again. That is something I am not anxious to repeat.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  56. CCP wrote:

    It does seem important to observe these legitimate exceptions at the local level. But it seems to me the local exceptions cannot dispense with obedience to what the church teaches. The Eucharist is crucial in this regard because if you think you are being consumed by Christ himself in my consumption of the bread and wine, and I think we are simply remembering Jesus together, are we telling the truth about our communion?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink
  57. I agree. To partake casually as though these were trivial issues, without the hard work of local conversation with one’s pastors and communities, would in fact be “ecclesiastical disobedience.” All I said was that partaking as a carefully discerned exception to a norm that one does respect and honor and see the point of in normal circumstances “does not have to constitute” such disobedience.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  58. “nor anyone have the authority to divide the baptized from one another”

    I think the author of 2 John would be surprised to hear that. He says: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him;”

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  59. CCP wrote:

    So, for example, I don’t think when Hauerwas received the Eucharist while he was at Notre Dame, that was a “legitimate exception.” I take it to have been innocent — at least on his part — but not legitimate. And I even think it was counter-productive for thinking about communion because it encouraged the idea that it doesn’t matter what we believe about communion, just that we receive it. In short, you need something like Bridgefolk — and the habits that sustain people participating in Bridgefolk — to really converse about what the most local and concrete expression of ecclesial unity means in the Eucharist. This is “yeah Bridgefolk” and “be careful Halden,” if you see what I mean.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  60. Halden wrote:

    Nah, I don’t think so. Me and him would get along fine.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  61. Where’s the “Like” button here?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  62. Marvin wrote:

    Theses on Ecumenism:

    1. Ecumenism is boring.

    2. The laity are far ahead of the clergy and the theologians on ecumenism.

    3. Everybody’s already welcome at the communion table. The real question is, Are the clergy welcome to each other’s pension plans?

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  63. CCP wrote:

    I think you found it!

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  64. CCP wrote:

    Wow, so much anti-clericalism. It’s like a breath of stale air.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  65. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, I do hope you and Ry reply to some of these comments. The discussion warrants some more substantive responses, when you have the chance (and I know you’re busy, as we all are).

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  66. Steve Harmon wrote:

    Halden and Ry, thanks for this thoughtful post. I’ve linked it and offered my own $0.02 here: http://ecclesialtheology.blogspot.com/2011/03/christian-unity-as-concrete-end-picture.html

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  67. Myles wrote:

    Steve Harmon’s thoughts on the post

    http://ecclesialtheology.blogspot.com/2011/03/christian-unity-as-concrete-end-picture.html

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  68. James wrote:

    You’ve touched on some important emphases that need to be brought out in relation to the Church’s unity as rooted in the gospel. Certainly there are ecumenical projects which lose sight of this.

    However, you’ve also made some pretty big generalizations which don’t sit well with me.

    For one, I think you have seriously misconstrued the postliberal approach, if we can even speak of such a thing as an identifiable project. I don’t agree with your point that postliberals are not interested in formal dialogue or doctrinal statements, but prefer to proceed “practically,” and on a grass roots level. Lindbeck himself was deeply involved in formal ecumenical dialogues, including the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue that led to the JDDJ. His project grew out of his experiences as a participant in ecumenical dialogue. That’s why, at the end of /The Nature of Doctrine/, Lindbeck tests the worth of his theory by applying it to the cases of mariology and infallibility. The point is not to avoid doctrine and focus on practice, but to find a different way of looking at doctrine, so that possible agreement or at least non-contradiction might be found.

    Perhaps you could be more specific about who you are referring to when you describe the postliberal agenda. The postliberals I know are the kind of people who endorse the vision of ecumenism laid out in “The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity.” There is no flight from doctrine there.

    I think you’ve also made some generalizations about traditional ecumenical dialogue that are unfounded. To place an emphasis on visible unity is not to deny that unity is, first and foremost, a gift of God and brought about by the cross. Formal ecumenical dialogue on matters of doctrine does not presuppose that unity is something that Christians “create” by “negotiation.” You’ll find many “official” ecumenical dialogues which will affirm that unity is a gift which results from the action of Christ. They would also join you in pointing out the contradiction between our visible disunity and the reality of salvation in the one Jesus Christ. That is why division is a scandal. That is why it is said to obscure our witness to the gospel – because we are living in open contradiction of the gospel. Many ecumenists would affirm all of this wholeheartedly (including some who might be sympathetic to postliberal concerns). And that is precisely why those same ecumenists, though their efforts are often inadequate, try to overcome visible disunity through dialogue. That is why ecumenists view our divisions as “illegitimate.” This is all basic to the traditional ecumenical project. The “gift” of unity is to be embodied in the visible community of the church, and this may require, in part, that we overcome the divisions of the past and present, sometimes through attempting to overcome doctrinal disagreements.

    I also find your proposal that we simply “ignore” our divisions is naive, and like others, I wonder about what this means concretely. Once we acknowledge that our divisions are sinful and a denial of the gospel, we’re still left with significant doctrinal and practical disagreements, many of which are matters of conscience for members of our various traditions. We are left with a history of alienation and mutual condemnation and counter-witness to the gospel. These great sins have to be acknowledged (not ignored), and we need to repent of them. Ecumenical dialogue can, at times, make some contribution to this process of repentance.

    So I would say, that ecumenical dialogue is not necessarily about “negotiation” or human “resolution.” It is, precisely, about acknowledging that our divisions are sinful and doing what we can to overcome them in the concrete life of the church. Granted, formal dialogues are no “fix” and on their own can do little but clear the ground, but sometimes this is important.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  69. Further thoughts:

    Catholic triumphalism: If only everyone would rejoin the Roman Church, we’d again have Christian unity.

    Protestant triumphalism: If only Catholics would recognize our churches as equals (and thus implicitly accept themselves as one more denomination in the Protestant denominational system), we could have Christian unity.

    Free Church Protestant triumphalism: If only Catholics hung about about the unique status of their Eucharist, and Protestants hung up about doctrine, would decide these things congregationally and start to act like Free Church Protestants, we could have Christian unity.

    My point: No kind of ecumenical dialogue (old or some new proposal) can go forward if the arguments are petitionary — i.e. question-begging. There is no short-cut around facing our hard questions honestly and respectfully — respectfully enough to see our attempted short-cuts for the power plays they are.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  70. Halden wrote:

    Brad, at this point Ry and I are working on a follow up post that will hopefully develop and continue the discussion further. If I find time to get at some of the many comments here, I will, but regardless the discussion will continue, even if not solely in this comment thread.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  71. Charlie Collier wrote:

    This post raises many interesting questions, and I’m grateful to you both for provoking conversation and for your fundamental commitment to insisting on thinking about the church and its disunity in and through the work of God in Christ. I also share what I think is a desire to refuse any easy peace with the scandal of Christian division (though at the end of the day I think you might have done just that).

    I agree with Kotsko’s comment, especially the first paragraph (though I have to say, the fact that Adam read the post and found it worthy of some response makes his snarky put down over at AUFS feel all the more disingenuous).

    The more I think about it, the more it seems clear that y’all are simply doing systematic theology—working out with regards to ecumenism the implications of your theses on the apocalyptic character of theology. My worry is that y’all are systematizing a mistake, and that the degree to which basic mischaracterizations of ecumenism are on display in this post is an indication that the mistake is driving the conversation; it doesn’t appear that the critique flows from a careful investigation of what ecumenists are actually doing as much as from a prior and highly distinctive/problematic portrayal of the apocalypse of God in Jesus Christ.

    Re: mischaracterization, take the “negotiation” bugaboo. You make it sound as if ecumenists actually sit across tables from one another and say, “I’ll give up justification if you give up Mary.” Or, “If you accept our Arminian doctrine of the will, we’re down with real presence.” As if ecumenism has actually been some sort of horse-trading operation. Whatever else ecumenism has been, I’m fairly sure it has not been that.

    I’d also observe that in this post it’s almost as if you’re claiming that the apocalyptic event of our reconciliation in Christ is already complete, the eschaton is already here in its fullness, and that our agency and our temporality are therefore irrelevant to the redemption that is already fully accomplished in Jesus Christ. We don’t need to be healed, we already have been. We don’t need to be reconciled, we already are; and so on and so forth. The eschaton is fully realized, now, and so any effort to enact or step into that reconciled reality constitutes an effort to change the subject and focus on us rather than on the finished reality of God’s salvation in Christ.

    In other words, Augustine was wrong: God not only created us without us, he saves us without us as well.

    Well, at least when it comes to ecumenical dialogue, you come close to making this sort of move. When it comes to interpersonal relationships——Christians sinning against one another and thereby needing reconciliation——you back away from this fully realized eschatology and you admit a place for dialogical engagement and reconciliation. Yet no ground is given for this individualism, or for this disembedding of believers from their respective communities and their attendant structures of accountability. Nor is there any substantiation for the suggestion that ecclesial division has mainly to do with obscure points about arcane doctrine (which is a very strange thing for those influenced by John Howard Yoder to intimate). Ecclesial division has as much to do with accountability and discipline as anything else. Why should I be served at a Catholic Mass? Should we simply ignore the fact that I am not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, that I do not submit to the authority of the magisterium, that I have not been shaped by the Catechism, and so forth?

    Lastly, this post reminds me, strangely enough, of Rawlsianism, and here my thoughts overlap with Gerald’s post this morning about the necessity of non-petitionary proposals. Rawls’s liberal polity is, according to Rawls, all-inclusive, but it only works if the rest of us check our “comprehensive doctrines” at the door (at least according to the early Rawls). Never mind that Rawls’s liberalism is itself just another comprehensive doctrine vying for hegemony under the pretense of inclusivity.

    Likewise, this post makes the Lord’s table the place of inclusiveness, but it only works if all comers to the table replace their understanding of the gospel and God’s apocalypse with yours. Never mind that this post is just one more addition to the church’s conversation about the meaning of the gospel––an addition to the conversation that is, however, vying for hegemonic status under the guise of inclusivity. It seems to me that this proposal only works, like Rawls’s, by circumventing the real difficulties and challenges of pluralism/division through definitional fiat.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  72. roger flyer wrote:

    Fabulous commentary from the peanut gallery.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  73. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    For the record: Since this post came up we’ve been criticized by some for advocating a radically under-realized eschatology–too much emphasis on the “not yet” of the kingdom–and now by others we’re perceived to be advocating a radically over-realized eschatology. Others have suggested that we’re fundamentalist evangelicals who think that any form of human agency is inherently sinful. Still others think that in fact we’re really, at heart, liberal Protestants–or worse, gnostics or docetists. Or perhaps we’re secular Rawlsian liberals and this is all about a hegemonic power-play. Apparently our resident atheist theologian thinks that we’re calling for some kind of institutional unity–and finds it strange that free churchers would even want such a thing. While others think that this is entirely free church, anti-clerical, and completely disregards and dismisses the “apostolic” traditions.

    Honestly, I have yet to see any substantive engagement with the actual content of this post.

    Can you understand why it would be difficult to know how to respond?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink
  74. roger flyer wrote:

    @Ry. Yes. I like your response.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  75. roger flyer wrote:

    Sorry new commenters who are uninitiated to our pseudonyms. Roger Flyer is Ry’s (R.O.Flyer)
    dad. Ry is the theologian. I am in the bleachers.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  76. Evan wrote:

    No substantive engagement? Really? After you’ve just listed a whole paragraph of substantial criticisms from various angles?

    Surely some of the criticisms offered in the comment section have missed the mark or caricature certain aspects of the post here, but you really think that no one has extensively engaged with your “actual content”? Pretty much all I see here is substantive engagement. Why would you and Halden be in the process of writing another post on ecumenism if nothing here touched on your original content in a substantial way?

    Not everyone in the comment section is quoting sections of the original post and exegeting them, no, but many are bringing up test cases to raise criticisms of what your saying– “So by your understanding, Catholics would just do X?”, or “This sounds like Radner’s point Y”, or “But ecumenical endeavor Z doesn’t seem at all to deny the work of Christ the way you say it does”. I’d be careful not to mistake these introductions of new analogies, examples, or counter-examples as a failure to engage with your “actual content”. We may not understand fully what you two are trying to say here, but it’s not as if we’re talking past one another. Many commenters have hit on real points of conflict, and the fact that they aren’t in agreement with you or hold to a different conception of the Church’s unity doesn’t mean that they haven’t engaged with your work. It strikes me as unproductively dismissive and obviously incorrect to say that you haven’t yet seen any substantive engagement with the content of your post.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  77. Brad A. wrote:

    I completely agree with Evan here. I can’t imagine a more substantive and serious engagement by people who honestly care about what’s been argued. You don’t know how to respond? How about just addressing the questions and comments people have brought up? This is a blog. You’ve posted an argument. What was the point if not to provoke discussion? Now that you have discussion, you’re not going to engage it?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  78. Hill wrote:

    Adding my voice to Evan’s and Brad’s. I realize I’ve gone meta here, but if you don’t think there is substantive content here, it may be because you’ve immunized yourself to critique to some extent. One can only say “Jesus is Lord” as a response so many times before having to actually ground its meaning.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  79. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I hope you’re right, Evan. I hope we’re beginning to “hit on real points of conflict.” I didn’t mean to suggest that I see a lack of engagement, obviously people want to engage on these issues. And I appreciate the engagement, as does Halden I am sure.

    It is, nevertheless, frustrating to hear all sorts of different vehement criticisms coming from all sorts of different quarters. Perhaps our post simply lacks clarity–this may be so. But it seems to me that the only way to respond at this point is to clarify some of the issues in a follow-up post, something which I think we’ll try to do in the near future.

    .

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  80. Tony Hunt wrote:

    For the record I don’t see my response as substantive (as in, I’m engaging with the essay), but more a, “Hey, if this is a route you two want to pursue you should check this out because it could be fruitful and challenging.” But a bunch of the other stuff has been.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  81. roger flyer wrote:

    Evan, Brad and Hill. I like your responses, too.
    But ‘Jesus is Lord’ is ground zero. And that’s all we got is what I hear them saying. And Ground Zero might not be a bad metaphor for the ruins we find ourselves in apart from that simple declaration.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  82. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    So, what you’re saying here is that we need to substantiate or justify why Christians of other confessions should “abide” by our views and abide what we see as normative? Your concern is that we too quickly assume that everyone should be “beholden” by what we’re saying? And that this is especially a concern when we’re speaking of ecumenism because ecumenism is all about a conversation on issues like our various definitions of unity, of certain liturgical practices, of doctrine, etc. Am I understanding the question correctly?

    In response I guess I would say that I don’t expect everyone to be “beholden” by what we’re saying. In fact, I fully expect most everyone to reject what we’re saying. I am not sure how to convince you of my views other than to go about what we’re doing. If you don’t want to “abide” by our views that’s fine. If you’re not “beholden” by what we’re saying that’s fine too.

    Now, to address your concern about how this plays out in ecumenism, I would say that this is precisely the point we’re trying to make. Ecumenism as such needs to end. This is the point that I think no one is really understanding or perhaps not wanting to understand. It seems to me your response to our calling for the end of ecumenism has been: “Okay, but how does this play out in ecumenism” or “Okay, but how do we be mindful and respectful of those who don’t share our assumptions.” It seems to me that all of this assumes that what we’re calling for is simply a rearranging of the ecumenical furniture. But instead what we’re saying is that we must give up the project altogether.

    Part of what this rejection of ecumenism entails, then, is a certain kind of anti-clericalism and iconoclasticism. After all, we are free church theologians. That this is so offensive to people is part of the problem with the theological climate we’re trying to diagnose. A climate that is more beholden to working toward a kind of institutional unity than faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A climate that refuses to believe that Christ is risen and ascended and is Lord of church and world and that he, as such, is at work independently.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  83. Halden wrote:

    Since we have gone meta as Hill says, I just want to point out how ironic I find certain of the demands for immediate and thorough response to any and all comments on this post. Hasn’t one of the main criticisms of theoblogging been that it is too off the cuff, too fast, immediate, and impatient? Why then is it so suspicious and unacceptable to maybe take some time to read, consider, and reflect on such a large bevy of responses and then, upon thought and reflection work through a more thorough response? What’s so fucked up about that? Why is it such a big deal for us to put a post out there, allow people to have their say, and then leave it at that, at least temporarily? Why does it all have to be argued out to the nth degree right right now? Might it not be a good thing for the conversation to proceed more slowly and reflectively? Isn’t that what so many people have consistently criticized blogging as such, and this blog in particular for?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  84. dan wrote:

    I had no problem letting y’all ignore/reflect upon the questions I posed. It only becomes problematical when R.O. implies that y’all aren’t doing any such reflection because, hey, nothing substantive has been raised. Seriously, if my questions aren’t substantive for y’all, they are sincere on my part, so maybe you want to speak a little slower and spell things out in more detail for my sake?

    Much obliged (to borrow the language of my new boyfriend).

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  85. Hill wrote:

    Imburgia???

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  86. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Dan, I’m sorry, I do take your comment to be a substantial and very challenging one.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  87. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Honestly, I think this is something that really needs to be worked out. At this point, I would say, yes, I do think our response must be unconditional fellowship, even to those who persist in crucifying others. At the same time, I think we need to name the unfaithfulness as unfaithfulness. Perhaps we should think less in terms of who is “in Christ” and who is “outside of Christ,” and more in terms of what actions accord with Christ and what actions do not. To name certain actions as “outside of Christ” may lead the congregation to take disciplinary action or perhaps even excommunication, insofar as such actions themselves reflect a denial of Christ and therefore a refusal to live in fellowship with others in Christ.

    I wonder if we also need to think of this in apocalyptic terms, viz., do our actions accord with the age that is now passing away or the age that is coming to pass? Do our actions reveal our bondage and slavery to the power of sin or do they reflect our freedom in Christ? Are we obedient to what God has done in Christ and is now doing?

    Perhaps this doesn’t fully satisfy; what are your thoughts?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  88. Brad A. wrote:

    Sounds great, Halden.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  89. roger flyer wrote:

    What Dan and Dan are hanging out there in Raintown?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  90. Evan wrote:

    Halden, I think that’s all good. Brad A., I believe, is the one that asked twice for responses to comments on your part. I’ve objected to the idea that no substantive comments have been made, but I don’t expect you guys to address every little thing… I just would object to denials that there are has been any critique worth addressing.

    For my part, I think you and Ry both tend to write pretty thorough reflections on this and other topics. My own blog more often than not just ends up being links and bibliographies for this or that. I haven’t gone a fraction of the distance you or Ry have in spelling out some extensive theological work in blog format, so no criticism from me on that front.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  91. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Evan, Brad, and others, I want to apologize for what I said about there being no substantial engagement with the content of this post. I confess that I said this out of a general feeling of frustration. I realize almost everyone here cares very deeply about these issues, even to the extent of giving their lives over to working them out. I also realize that many people have taken a lot of time and energy to thoughtfully engage this post. I am extremely grateful for this dialogue. I was wrong to be so dismissive of comments that do, in fact, deserve sustained attention.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  92. roger flyer wrote:

    That’s my boy…

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  93. @Roger, really, there’s nothing unseemly going on, I just brought dan along to Puerto Rico to carry my luggage, the bling was just my way of saying thanks. Geesh, one pastor get’s caught snorting coke off a rent-boys ass and y’all’s imaginations run wild! Now as to the topic, well, I kinda agree with Charlie Collier, Schlabach, dan, and any Catholic comments above (but not if it means Halden is going to rescind my new ‘tag-line’ status). Although, to be honest, compared to like the 30 years war I ain’t sure exactly what the kerfuffle here is, and most of this wrangling coulda been avoided if y’all did what I did and got Jesus to sign a ‘pre-nuptial’ agreement before you committed yourselves….think about it as a new sacrament, obliged.
    (p.s. like some of you I’m wonderin just who is and who ain’t *”in Christ”* according to ROHalden, seems like they owe us that much…but please, take all the time you need U2, and remember what grandpa Willy used to say, ‘A cat can have kittens in the oven, but that don’t make em biscuits!‘ Oh, and, p.s.s., I notified the ‘Bridgefolk’ that even though I spend a lot of time painting Icons of the Blessed Mother Mary, and, I have an extensive rosary collection from all over the world, and have an impressive collection of saint cards–I have even found what I believe to be dried blood stains on my Padre Pio card!!– I will trade away all three if I never have to hear any of you prodies say to me again: Oh!…your Catholic!?…, I understand, *But* have you asked Jesus into your heart as your *personal* savior?” We gotta deal? talk about your ‘ecumenical awesomeness,’ Cum obligatione, Daniel.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  94. Brad A. wrote:

    I don’t expect you guys to address every question either, and my main request above was qualified wrt time and availability. We all can only do so much, and that’s fine.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  95. Brad A. wrote:

    Ry, I look forward to having a meal with you in a couple of weeks.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  96. Brad A. wrote:

    Ry, my point is that you’re not able to escape such discussion unless you converse only within your confession. Otherwise, you’re talking past your interlocutors (even while they continue to be disparaged as being unfaithful or heterodox). Given this blogs readership, I assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that your intended conversation partners were not limited to free church membership.

    Yes, you are free church theologians. I think everybody gets that. But the response you’re getting is not because people begrudge you that theology. There are far too many here who respect Yoder and other free church thinkers to do that. And no one I’ve seen here is afraid of clerical critique or iconoclasm when necessary (although some may object to presumptuous self-styling in that regard, which requires definition of the other as the targeted icon or its bearer). The response is because you continue to make moves like pitting efforts toward “institutional unity” over against “faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That dichotomy is assumed throughout your argument, and it is never justified. So why should you be surprised at the sharp response? Why should you be surprised that people are offended when you assume, but not prove, that inherent in contemporary ecumenism is a refusal “to believe that Christ is risen and ascended and is Lord of church and world?” As several here have pointed out at length, many who participate in contemporary ecumenism do so precisely because they are convinced of that lordship and that the church has acted against it in its divisions. Yet that seems to make no difference to you because they apparently don’t understand Christ’s lordship and its implications in the same way you do. For them, that points to further need for conversation. For you, that amounts to disobedience and faithlessness on their part.

    In my admittedly limited view, what causes offense here is not simply what is argued on your part, but also what continues to go un-argued. Why would you think that your free church understanding of Christ’s lordship and its implications is the only possible understanding? That’s what I mean by “beholden”: Why should others find your argument persuasive (a goal you admit to here) if you’ve not established why your understanding of most core commitments at work in this discussion is normative for them?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink
  97. roger flyer wrote:

    @DI, I’d carry your bags in Puerto Rico…

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  98. You and Daniel would be quite a hoot together.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  99. CCP wrote:

    H. Richard Niebuhr once imagined (in Social Denominations) that all the protestant Christian traditions might be understood as reform movements within the Catholic Church. Lindbeck played off this hope in the wake of his engagements as an observer at Vatican II…especially in his own hope that protestants could recover a more genuinely “catholic christianity” without leaving behind their “embeddedness” in their protestant traditions. Does the Rawlsian comparison mean that every claim to catholicity (exclusive or inclusive) just amounts to a power play? Here I am being triumphalist, now you are being triumphalist, and in the process we exhibit the same failures of the Christian imagination that put us in this position in the first place?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  100. CCP wrote:

    Over at ABC Australia, Stanley Hauerwas has an article on catholicity worth reading. In it, he writes (beginning with a reflection on Bruce Kaye’s work on catholicity):

    “Kaye is not suggesting that truth does not matter, but that truth demands that those whom we do not understand not be cast beyond the pale of fellowship. Anglicans have been committed to the local expression of the faith which means that the challenge confronting its reality as an international fellowship of churches should not be how we can enforce uniformity, but rather how we can be known through our love of one another.
    Catholicity is, therefore, that name we give to the priority of the local for the determination of faithfulness that can only be sustained by engagement with other local expressions of the faith, as well as engagement with the whole. As Rowan Williams reminded us at the 2008 Lambeth Conference:

    ‘The entire Church is present in every local church assembled around the Lord’s Table. Yet the local church alone is never the entire Church. We are called to see this not as a circle to be squared but as an invitation to be more and more lovingly engaged with one another.’

    Such engagement, moreover, is crucial if the church is to be an alternative to the forces that threaten to destroy locality in the name of peace. We are in danger of confusing the universality of the cross with the allegedly inevitable process of globalization. We are in the odd situation of needing one another in our diverse localities in order not to be subject to the power of false universals.”

    Of course, we would need to be able to differentiate true from false universals.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Permalink
  101. CCP wrote:

    Here’s the link to the Hauerwas article:

    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/03/10/3159823.htm?topic1=&topic2=

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Permalink
  102. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Well, I just spent the time reading the post; and “all” of the comments, so I think that earns me the right to say something.

    My general impression was (and others, more articulated than me have already voiced this) ‘in Christ’ is certainly the key, but who’s “in Christ?” Isn’t that the crux? That seems to be taken a priori as the new ground of a new-ecumenism (and it’s definitely laudable). But it seems to me that that’s the problem that “divides” (not communion – which is only a symbol of division for some); many Prot. don’t believe Catholics are “in Christ”; many Catholics don’t believe Prot. are in Christ; and EO’s believe that neither Prot/Rom Cath are in Christ — and then there are the Jews and the Muslims (which I guess gets us into inter-faith, which is another discussion).

    I’ll be interested to see that next post.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink
  103. CCP wrote:

    This post assumes radical difference and incommensurability of different communions. The Orthodox and Catholics recognize one another’s communions (what else does “in Christ” mean but communion?), and each may participate in the other’s communion. Since Vat II, Catholics have been very keen to say that while protestants are “separated” from the catholic communion, they are not at all separated from Christ. It may be that many protestants don’t believe that Catholics are in Christ, but you would be hard pressed to find many serious protestant theologians who would say that. You certainly do muddy the waters by bringing Jews and Muslims into the discussion, but then I think that underlines the misunderstanding about how different Christian communions do actually regard each other (not how one imagines they regard each other). Being “in Christ” is indeed the ground of ecumenism, but the scaffolding has to do with questions about who we are “in Christ” with — and what constitutes our particular mode of participating in Christ. If you do not think Christ is fully human and fully divine, you are not in Christ. But there are many, many issues that Christians may disagree about that does not *necessarily* need to be church-dividing, but only has become so contingently.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink
  104. CCP wrote:

    This is such a great response to the original post. Unity can only be a gift of God’s grace, but to assume that we cannot cooperate, or participate in becoming the one body that God surely intends for his people, is to tragically assume that no one has access to God’s grace at all. Unity does not depend on us, but that does not mean we can do nothing in God’s project of restoring the body of Christ on pilgrimage to full health. Formal and informal, official and unofficial, local and transnational, are not strenuous attempt to secure unity through human negotiations, but to participate more deeply in our hope that God’s grace is operative for just this end.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink
  105. Chad wrote:

    I was just curious Halden or Ry whether or how this end of ecumenism is related to interfaith dialogue? When I read this post I immediately thought of the work of Peter Ochs and David Ford. Their work in the field of Scriptural reasoning has a similar manifestation in practical unity. however, they do lack the foundation in Jesus Christ as the interdenominational context assumes. Does that mean their project is doomed to fail? Or, is the common basis in seeing Scripture as vital to their respective communities foundational enough?

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink
  106. CCP wrote:

    As one who once participated in SR, I wouldn’t say it is doomed to fail, but it is an entirely different “kettle of fish” with entirely different aims. But perhaps you are implying that the model of “improving the quality of our disagreements” (an SR motto) is what is implied in this “end of ecumenism” post. That is, you might have an implicit critique that this view of ecumenism veils a kind of hopelessness about Christian unity in this present life. I hope that is not the case. Unity in practice but not in actual belief is really the Kantian dream, not the Christian one.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink
  107. roger flyer wrote:

    CCP says: Unity in practice but not in actual belief is really the Kantian dream, not the Christian one.

    Might the problem be that we have a Christian ‘wish’ dream?

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink
  108. CCP wrote:

    As in: the vision of Christian unity is really just Feuerbachian projection? that would be to question revelation. John 17: be one as the father and I are one.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  109. Evan wrote:

    I hadn’t thought about the relevance of the high priestly prayer for all of this, but it could probably stand in constructive tension with some of the biblical examples Ry & Halden point out about us being one in Christ. In contrast, Christ prays that future believers may be one, in a subjunctive mood. Could this possibly suggest that a struggle towards this end is not itself a rejection of the Gospel, but actually a recognition with Christ that Christian unity hangs in the balance and must be pursued, petitioned of God for, etc.?

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  110. Brad A. wrote:

    The response might be that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (occurring after the prayer) effected the unity.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  111. CCP wrote:

    Or that visible unity has always been the ancient catholic vision of Christianity, and that while it is an eschatological gift of God, we must cooperate in the divine will, vigilant to guard ourselves from the idols which would divide us from one another in Christ. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The “subjunctive mood” does not respect endless deferal, but respects human freedom.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  112. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Not the Orthodox I know. They seem to look on RC’s with more spite than they do the Prot.

    It seems to me, CCP, that the fact that you have to qualify “serious protestant theologians” engages in the very kind of negotiating that Halden and Ry are declaring dead. That there is this unstated assumption about what “in Christ” is supposed to mean, and that if you’re really “in Christ” you’ll get this; which seems really circular to me.

    I agree with you, that there are many issues that Christians disagree about that don’t need to be church-dividing; but isn’t that the issue? They are church-dividing. Secondary issues are elevated to levels of primary.

    I like what Halden and Ry are proposing. I do think we need to provide a theologically thick and positive starting point for “Christian” engagement. And I do believe that we are indeed “one in Christ.” But then again, there is the subjective side to this; and at the moment all Halden and Ry have done is provided the objective ground for our unity in Christ. Clearly, theologically, all of this (both divine and human) have been provided ground through the vicarious humanity of Christ and through the Spirit’s creative work to bring us into that kind of resurrected humanity. But it seems to me that what Halden and Ry are calling for requires that we walk by faith and not by sight, and as Jesus said: “would He really find faith on the earth?” I don’t know . . .

    I’m just saying, I agree with the theory of what Halden and Ry are saying; I’m just not sure how it actually gets legs.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 1:05 am | Permalink
  113. CCP wrote:

    I misunderstood you, then. But then I just return to points others have made better than I have — e.g. Schlabach and Harmon. You’ve got to do the hard work. I would be cautious about he whole transfer of walking by faith and not by sight to this issue — because that text is about seeing God face to face. The most visiblility we get in that regard is sacramental. But in terms of the visible bonds, I really think we cannot let Romantic interiority guide us here.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  114. Charlie Collier wrote:

    From “The Nature of the Unity We Seek,” by Leslie Newbigin, written in 1957:

    “The unity of Christians rests upon, derives from, the fact that the name of God and the glory of God have been given to them in Jesus Christ. In other words, God’s act of holy love in Jesus Christ, by which his own inner nature is revealed, constitutes the ground of Christian unity. As God is one, so those who bear his name and the impress of his character must necessarily be one.

    This means that the quest for Christian unity must always have about it the character of repentance. All disunity among Christians is a contradiction of that upon which their being Christians rests. It has the character of sin, being a repudiation of the God-given nature of the Church. The quest for unity must therefore be regarded not as an enterprise of men aimed at constructing something new, but as a penitent return to that which was originally given but subsequently denied.”

    Yet Newbigin also insists that “The unity is to be visible in such a way that as a result of it the world will come to believe and know the truth of the gospel. ‘That the world may believe that thou hast sent me . . . that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou lovest me.’”

    And:

    “This necessarily raises the questions of order and ministerial continuity. The continuity of the ministry is the normal expression of the unity of the Church through successive generations. When a minister has been set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands by those who have authority in the Church so to do, he is accepted as one whose acts are the acts of the Church. When he presides at the Lord’s Table, it is the Table of the whole Church. When he lays hands in the prayer of ordination, it is to the ministry of the whole Church that he ordains. If the Church had not been divided, that would be universally true. All ministers would be accepted everywhere as having the authority and commission of the whole fellowship. Because of our divisions that is not so. The necessary consequence of every break in the unity of the Church has been that ordinations have followed which were repudiated at least by some. Our ministries do not carry a universally accepted authority.”

    Perhaps a follow up post might critically engage Newbigin’s account of the ecumenical task.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink
  115. CCP wrote:

    Nice set of quotes, Charlie. I think the “subsequently denied” point needs special attention…especially how configurations of power deform such subsequent denials.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  116. CCP wrote:

    …Or rather than deform, I should say form conditions that make subsequent denials more plausible.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  117. Rod wrote:

    I have offered my thoughts on this issue:

    http://politicaljesus.com/2011/03/21/rod-on-ecumenismandid/

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  118. mshedden wrote:

    Your recent posts made me finally right this comment. I almost left it on one of those posts but it seemed too far out of context so I placed it here.
    Good posts Halden. But one of the things I didn’t know quite how to comment on the ecumenism post was that this kind of “Christianity” is what is often more common in many protestant pastor’s situations. I felt what the Siggelkow and you wrote fit well for the more mainline discussions but what does one do when confronted with a larger percentage of local Christians being populated by people who listen to Mohler (or Driscoll, Dobson, etc)? This would have nothing to do with the table but much more to do with trust. In my situation they often don’t trust me and I struggle to trust them as well. You write about ending the alienation but that is exactly what it seems many of us revert when confronted with these beliefs (this happens on both sides). So what does ecumenism look like in this situation?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  119. ACM wrote:

    “Christian theology, if it is to have any future, ought therefore to strive for the identification, not of a hidden fundamental difference but of an ecumenical consensus, hidden or otherwise, in the historic belief and practice of the divided churches on all topics essential to the gospel or historically divisive. Identifying such an ecumenical doctrinal consensus will not by itself unify the divided churches, and there are many other tasks to which theology must attend. But if there is no such consensus, then the gospel is false, and all other theological projects are, in the nature of the case, quite useless.” (Theology Today, April 1993, p. 89)

    This quote comes at the end of an article by B. Marshall which is quite pertinent to the topic at hand. It is titled “The Disunity of the Church and the Credibility of the Gospel.” Has anyone else read this before?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  120. D. Stephen Long wrote:

    I have been reflecting and thinking about this post for sometime since I very much want to be an ‘ecumenical’ theologian and am pleased to work in an ecumenical setting where the scandal of disunity is taken seriously. Nonetheless I find myself in sympathy with much that Halden and Ry write. Of course we do have outsets of both “Rome fever” and “Geneva fever” running rampant today, seemingly returning us to a pre-Vatican II reality where the only way forward is for one side to surrender unconditionally — an outset I find utterly disheartening. But the truth is the divisions we face are no longer among various churches but within them, and for this reason any attempt at ecumenism by official agencies is pretty much useless. In his five page obituary for Karl Barth, Hans urs von Balthasar acknowledged this. He wrote, ““[Karl Barth] looked around already in 1945 and saw what in the meantime many other ecumenically minded Christians learned to see: the the front today ran widely through the churches.The critical line ran there, where the faith in Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2,5) and, we explicitly add, personal love to him is maintained or abandoned.” I think revisiting the friendship between Barth and von Balthasar may be the best way to think about ‘ecumenicity.’ Off to Basel.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  121. CCP wrote:

    I cannot share the “pretty much useless” sentiment, as the relationship between bishops (and those they send) are at least as important as the conversations between theologians (who might also be sent). But I wholeheartedly agree that the Barth-Balthasar engagement is the model we need to emulate more and more, not less and less — not repeating what they said, but relating their work to one another as they did. I’d like us to get off of the (tired) lay-clerical divide that lurks beneath the anti-institutional surface of these concerns about where ecumenical hope resides. Let’s stop dismissing the ecumenical work that others do, and pay attention to the work we theologians have been given to do.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  122. D. Stephen Long wrote:

    I thoroughly agree and retract the statement that “ecumenism by official agencies is pretty much useless.” CCP is absolutely correct to challenge that. By that comment I did not mean to impugn the hard work of bishops and church executives who work for full communion, many of whom are my colleagues and I deeply value their work and faithfulness. I meant that statement as a criticism of the church’s inability to receive this work — I think in particular of the reception of the “Joint Declaration” by Christians, especially evangelicals. There seems to lack a sense among them that catholicity and unity matter.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  123. Nathan Smith wrote:

    On the occasion of my brother-in-law’s wedding in a Roman Catholic Church I was faced with this dilemma. In the end I decided it was more important to partake of the communion in celebration of his wedding than to cater to the sensibilities of the RCC clergy. What a silly thing it would have been to let their rules on communion get in the way of celebrating the Eucharist at a wedding!

    As it happens, the LEM who gave me the host happens to be a friend of my wife’s family, and I am pretty sure she knew I was not Roman Catholic. Still, she served me.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  124. CCP wrote:

    I mean, there might be a way in which I agree with you that it is pretty much useless (on some sort of sophisticated, anti-utililatarian way of conceiving the Augustinian use-enjoyment distinction)…but I like this re-framing better. And it’s a more penetrating worry: that it is practically useless as long as it is not received by all Christians (and not only evangelicals). And why is it not received? It seems that there is a failure of formation that resides at the heart of a failure to receive, and participate in God’s work of gathering a people to himself.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  125. Evan wrote:

    Korinna Zamfir’s “Is There a Future for the Catholic-Protestant Dialogue?: Non-Reception as Challenge to Ecumenical Dialogue” in Receiving ‘The Nature and Mission of the Church’ gets into some of these problems, although it actually focuses on non-reception of ecumenical documents by theologians and church officials.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site