Monday, January 22, 2007

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

So I realize that this post comes late in this week of prayer, but I think it is necessary nonetheless. If we confess that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, but truly treat it as if we are just fine with the divisions that currently exist, then we lie in our confession. To spiritualize our unity we share in Christ Jesus, and make no effort to mutually build up our belief, our witness, our faith, then we fall into parochial thinking that damages the witness of our faith. All Christians should be appalled by the division that exists in the body of Christ... no matter the reason. And there is absolutely no reason that we should follow the rules of playground ecumenism taking our ball home when we reach the slightest disagreement and discomfort when others shine light on our own shortcomings.

John Paul II writes in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint the following.

This truth about dialogue, so profoundly expressed by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam,52 was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an "exchange of gifts".53

29. For this reason, the Council's Decree on Ecumenism also emphasizes the importance of "every effort to eliminate words, judgments, and actions which do not respond to the condition of separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations between them more difficult".54 The Decree approaches the question from the standpoint of the Catholic Church and refers to the criteria which she must apply in relation to other Christians. In all this, however, reciprocity is required. To follow these criteria is a commitment of each of the parties which desire to enter into dialogue and it is a precondition for starting such dialogue. It is necessary to pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party recognizes the other as a partner. When undertaking dialogue, each side must presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation, for unity in truth. For this to happen, any display of mutual opposition must disappear. Only thus will dialogue help to overcome division and lead us closer to unity.

To recognize the other as a partner and not an opponent is something that truly demands the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the dialogues. We must move from a posture of hostility to one of hospitality. Sometimes that hospitality might not be the most comfortable, but we must learn to see in those actions the graciousness of not assuming the worst and a desire to work towards more visible unity.

For many Lutherans, they see the document Dominus Iesus as a step backward in ecumenical outlook, blaming then Cardinal Ratzinger for a deterioration of ecumenism. Of course, it seems to be completely in keeping with Roman Catholic teaching. And to look at the whole picture, one should also look at the attempt of Ratzinger to save the discussions (single-handedly) that produced the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (read a previous post here about this).

At the same time, Lutherans would be well advised in this spirit of reciprocity to stop treating the Augsburg Confession as some sort of declaration of ecclesiastical independence. At its heart, the Augsburg Confession is precisely an ecumenical document that sought reform and reconciliation between two parties. It is important to note here that the Reformers did not leave but were essentially exiled. During this week of prayer, one thanksgiving to raise up is that there is conversation and dialogue that seeks to end the exile, even if it is difficult.

So what is the alternative to playground ecumenism, where we stomp away when we don't get our way? How about a courtship ecumenism? Courting one's future spouse can be a difficult task... hard decisions need to be made, there must be trust that each partner is working toward a more visible union, and the results are meant to be permanent. As the Church works toward and waits for the marriage feast that has no end, it seems only fitting that we divided members be preparing now for the relationship that will exist for eternity.


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