Christian Unity and Communion: Christian Counseling Training Program
Christian Unity and Communion is a difficult subject to breach because of multiple theological divisions and the multiple social reactions to unity. Some groups wish and desire that one Church emerge and others seem to relish the disunity via their hate filled speech against other denominations.
Is it possible? Does it matter?
First the later question. Christ calls for all to be one. St Paul further reprimanded Christians for those who decided to follow him or other apostles, but reminded them that Christians are called to follow Christ! Division is unnatural to Christianity because Christ is the natural head of the Church. So yes, Christian unity does matter!
It is an insult to the sacramental nature of Baptism which unites all in one Baptism and one Christ. Through Baptism one becomes a member of Christ’s Church and an integral part of the Mystical Body of Christ. This sacrament is so unifying, that even in petty divisions, all Christians are unified in a supernatural way that is beyond denominations and physical borders.
Yet an outward manifestation of this unity ceases to exist. There are a multitude of divisions between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox. Some of these divisions involve petty man-made customs, while others involve serious theological differences. Christ, however, is pure truth. He is not a division of truth and demands his children to come together under his name. So the issue of reunification does matter and it is critical.
In the latter half of the 20th Century, Ecumenism took central role in mainstream Christian denominations. A search for mutual teaching and oneness in Christ motivated many to bring church leaders to dialogue.
In this dialogue, the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church looked at its relation to other religions but most importantly its relation to the East and Protestantism. Common core beliefs were acknowledged and the beauty of the various traditions within those two groups were analyzed.
In response, main stream Protestant groups began to look at the ties with the Western Church and Eastern Churches began new dialogue with the West. This reached a pinnacle when the Pope and Patriarch of Constantinople mutually lifted the excommunications against each other that had lasted since 1054.
Also at the grass root levels of Protestantism, many non-denominational churches arose throughout America seeking unification with other Protestant groups. These groups also welcomed Catholics and Orthodox but, despite this, these grass root churches seem to be more Protestant orientated in unification since many reject or hold in extreme bias against many Catholic and Orthodox teachings.
So, the desire to reunify does matter and it is a driving element in all three branches of Christianity. Yet, is desire enough?
Is It Possible?
The first question if it is possible is the most troubling. While Christian theology does teach that the sacrament of Baptism makes one a member of Christ’s Church, there still exists formal and physical divisions of Christ’s Church. So, one can say theologically, in the most primitive sense, yes reunification is possible because spiritually the church is one via Baptism but things become more complicated when groups deny certain core elements of Christianity or create other ideas, yet still claim to be a follower of Christ.
What is orthodox? And how much of a core teaching must all adhere to in order to be unified with another branch? Most Christians would contend that the first order of unification involves the teachings of Scripture regarding the divinity of Christ and his Resurrection. Second, most Christians would adhere to the teachings of the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 which laid foundation for the famous Nicene Creed. This creed lays the foundation for the apostolic faith, the Incarnation, Redemption and future of the church.
The teachings of Scripture and the Creed are cornerstones of what is it is to be “Christian”. This leads one to very interesting reactions within two different groups. The first group is a very liberal group that seeks reunification at all costs. This group believes in core values that define one as Christian and lists a pillar of truths that all Christians can agree with. They believe that if these core beliefs are officially accepted by different Christian denominations, then a sense of union can exist.
They, however, dismiss other “truths” as not core essential to the brand of Christianity but only to the local church and its own tradition. Such liberal theologians as Rahner, and a younger Avery Dulles, all promoted a unified Church based on certain pillars of mutual acceptance but also room for disagreement on minor dogmas that reflect the particular denomination. An example would be Marian doctrines found in the Catholic Church. In a reunification, these dogmas would not be listed as necessary or uniquely Christian and an assent of belief would not be required for union between Catholics and Protestants.
The second group mentioned is a very conservative group. Within this group there are extremists but also realists. The extremist conservative group represent the very worst of our Christian faith. This group within Catholicism and Orthodoxy is very pharisaical and live by a codified law. In many cases, they spark division based off of man-made traditions or speculative theology. They are unmoved by human compassion but judge others by the law only. Within this mindset, they see others that outside the Church as damned to Hell.
Extremists conservative Protestants also exist that are governed by their own self and literal interpretations of Scripture. Many of these Protestants have become prey to cultish groups that openly engage in spiritual warfare against Catholicism. Some even go father, as in the case of the Westboro Church that condemns gays and lesbians to Hell.
Within this second group; also exists a more moderate response to Ecumenism that is more conservative but also realistic. This group acknowledges the reality of differences and the reality of common core beliefs, but refuses to demean ‘’lesser dogmas”. In their mind, all truth is truth, even the smallest dogma found in Christianity is essential to its teachings. The problem is which dogma is true and which is not? Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox will all disagree on the Immaculate Conception of Mary. How important is this to Catholics? Most Protestants believe that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic, but in a unified Church may be forced to accept the true presence. Would Protestant groups accept this? There are multiple theological ideals that define Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants beyond sacred Scripture and Nicaea. In many cases, most conservative Christians disagree not out of pride, as the extremist conservatives, but out of genuine belief. So how can there be true physical union?
I find myself in the moderate conservative camp. Yes we share common beliefs that make us uniquely Christian but we also disagree on fundamental ideals that would require us to sacrifice what we perceive as truth. If one knowingly sacrifices what they perceive as truth, whether true or not, then they turn on their conscience and who they are. True ecumenism does not seek to compromise, like the liberal stance, but seeks true union through dialogue and theological discussion.
Sometimes, false ideals or notions that once seemed to be a difference can be ironed out between two parties if the discussion is done with reverence and prayer. If a common ideal cannot be reached genuinely, then Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox groups must show mutual respect and hold to their truths. Yet in doing so, acknowledging the common pillar of truth which is Christ. The belief in Christ and our common Baptism is an initial step towards reunification. While it is not physically manifested where we worship on Sunday, it is spiritually manifested when we share Christ to the world through works of mercy and love and when we respect each other’s differences.
This stance differs from the liberal stance in that it denies subjectivism. The fullness of Christ’s teaching and faith is found in one Church, not many. One Christian cannot say the Eucharist is a symbol while the other views it is the Body and Blood of Christ. There is a truth and that truth we may never know, but these ideas cannot be swept under the rug as not important. We must hold to our apostolic beliefs and unless exposed to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we must hold firm to our traditions that have been handed down to us. The liberals, in their zeal for communion, deny true identity and teach a dangerous subjectivism that erodes the truth of the apostolic faith for the convenience of communion.
The moderate conservative stance differs from the extremist conservative in that it does not believe God’s grace is exclusive to a particular group or that man-made laws and speculative theological formulas should cause division. This does not mean we should not believe that our Church is the source of grace, it merely states that we believe the mystery of salvation can be applied in non-conventional ways that do not stem from our particular bell tower.
This differs from the strict and unmoving beliefs of pre-Vatican II Catholics and many Eastern Orthodox. The issue here is not that both parties have a true belief in their apostolic succession but the that they condemn each other to Hell. They dismiss the common Baptism and wish to hoard the sacraments for themselves. They seek to continue division between East and West over a prideful ideals of speculative or man-made theologies. An ideal of Return Ecumenism exists between the two parties, where they expect the other group to come back to them. The sad reality between Orthodox and Catholic is that a physical reunion is possible, yet this mentality prevents it from happening!
Not so is the case with Protestantism since the theological chasm is so wide, yet various letters of hate among Protestant groups that Rome is the whore of Babylon is not only non-sense but is also vile towards any true spiritual reunification of one’s common Baptism.
When Will Reunion Happen For All Christians On A Physical Level?
While we can say we are unified in one Baptism of Christ, a physical reunion for all Christians is not realistically possible under human hands. Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten all Christians to one truth and one physical fold. While some groups within Protestantism can find common ground or Catholics and Orthodox can one day physically unify, one must admit that for all three branches to agree would be a divine event. For this reason, true reunion will come when Christ returns. In the meantime, we must embrace our common love of Christ and share it with each other via action not theological speeches.
Let us pray for union, be kind to our fellow Christians, seek the truth of the Holy Spirit and always remain humble in the graces that Christ has given us!
If you would like to learn more about AIHCP’s Christian Counseling Training Program, then please review the program. Certified Christian Counselors must be well trained in proper Ecumenism and sensitive to the needs of other Christians. Christian Counselors have a unique way to spread the spiritual union of our faith with other Christians by sharing their wisdom and aide to spiritual children of any denomination that are in need of help and prayers.
This is why our program is called Christian, not Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, but Christian!
If you would like to also learn how to become a Christian Counselor, then please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA