Christian Ecumenism and One Church? Program for Christian Counseling Training Thoughts
This May, the Patriarch of Constantinople and Rome meet in remembrance of the historic meeting of Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagorus. Mutual excommunications were lifted and a fresh breath of air entered into the lungs of the Church. I say Church because in reality the apostolic tradition of East and West is one Church. Despite the schism, the “two churches” share the identical apostolic tradition of faith. While the faith is expressed differently, the two profess the same core beliefs. They share the same sacramental system and core dogmatic beliefs.
There is great hope in this coming meeting in Jerusalem. Both sides realize the error of the schism and understand that the fullness of Christ’s Church can only be accomplished via reunion. Yet, grassroot prejudice, historical hate, and anti-Christian feelings on both sides create barriers. Perhaps these barriers are greater than any dogmatic barrier?
From the Orthodox side, Andrew Estocin writes about this coming meeting in his article, What Orthodox Christians Can Learn from Pope Francis . The article is an excellent stepping stone for Orthodox to become re-acquainted with the West and its historical ties to the Patriarch of Rome.
The world will be watching from May 24-25, 2014 as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Pope Francis welcome each other in Jerusalem to observe the anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the subsequent lifting of mutual anathemas. The main focus of the many scholars and reporters who will cover this event will be the elusive question of “Old Rome and New Rome” that is the question of unity between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. However, hidden amidst all this media coverage will be a unique opportunity for Orthodox Christians to follow the example of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of blessed memory and to meet the Pope of Rome again as if for the first time.
To read the entire article, please click here
Yet, Estocin fails in the very end to convey the hope that is needed. After listing the many qualities of the Roman Pontiff and how Orthodox can learn from him, he then falls back into old habits, as he refers to the Orthodox Church as the church and how true ecumenism can never reject truth. What truth regarding reunion is being rejected?
Is it the Filioque? A Trinitarian Riddle at best? Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son or just the Father? Does it matter? Is it dogma? Does it affect one’s salvation? Or maybe he is referring to the issue of divorce? Both Orthodox and Catholic believe in the permanent nature of marriage, but the Orthodox permit divorce due to infidelity. This as well is scriptural based but is it really that big of an issue? Each Church, before the schism, handled its own internal affairs of its members, so why would it matter if West followed oneprocedure and East follows its own procedure? Maybe he is referring to the differences of Rite? But is this not the catholic nature of the Church? Many cultures and expressions but one truth? The East already exists within the Catholic Church through the Eastern Rites and there is no issue. So again, I ask what is the issue of reunification at the doctrinal issue? The author of this article does not say.
Maybe the issues are more Ecclesiological? Yet again, the role of the Roman Patriarch in the ancient Church as a first among equals was never debated. In fact, theologians do not have issues with this ancient arrangement. The sticking points become more apparent with the natural evolutions of the two traditions. The Pope as the primary Patriarch in the West become more centralized while the Eastern Patriarchs remained more autonomous. The dogma of Infallibility only emphasized a more greater centralization in the West at Vatican I.
Can the East accept a more centralized system. The answer is no and they do not need to. They must remember that the Pope is also the Patriarch of Rome and how he runs his church is a tradition within itself. It does not reflect upon the administration of the universal Church but only the Western church. As the successor of Peter, and first among equals, he does carry a special charism that is not repugnant to Eastern thought. He has the special charism of Infallibility not to bully other Patriarchs but only in time of great need to unify the Church. Usually clarity of issue was resolved via council in which the East historically partook in and would also today play a large role in a unified Church.
Infallibility is not even an issue since it has only been used twice! Once for its official proclamation and the second regarding the Assumption of Mary, which the Orthodox believe and celebrate as well under the name, the Dormition.
Yes, if the two traditions can get by the non existent issues, then capturing the grass roots of people will be the final hurdle. Something that has thwarted several other reunification efforts before.
What About Reunification in the West?
Since we are on the topic of reunification, what about issues in the West? This is a greater problem because the two traditions labeled as Catholicism and Protestantism stand apart on a variety of doctrinal issues. Since Protestantism is so diverse, each case needs to be looked at individually.
The Anglican Church which initially retained its apostolic roots was a Schismatic church under Henry XIII. He remained a Catholic in thought, but refused to bow to the Papacy over an annulment issue over his marriage with Anne of Spain. Under Elizabeth and Cromwell, the Church of England became Protestant. However, it retained bishops. In recent history, many Anglican ministers and bishops have become Catholic because of the issue regarding the ordination of women. As long as the ordination of women exists in the Anglican Church, there will be no reunification with Rome, but there may be a handful of “Oxford’ type converts that may reunify with Rome. Yet, while many will reunite with Rome, it will cause more division within the Anglican Church in England and its American counterpart, the Episcopalian Church.
Lutherans where the first to be labeled Protestant because they protested at the Diet of Worms. Led by Luther, they sought to reform the Church and revitalize Scripture. They renounced the priesthood, the papacy, the sacraments, except Baptism and the Lords Supper. Luther, however, rejected the idea that the sacrament of the Eucharist was truly the Body and Blood of Christ but merely Christ’s spirit was present within the bread and wine. Hence Luther’s doctrine of Consubstantiation came into conflict with the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. Other issues regarded salvation via faith or works.
In recent years, gaps in theology have greatly diminished between the Western Church and Lutheranism. Many find the word game of salvation by faith or works to be obsolete. Both traditions have affirmed that salvation is through faith in Christ and any good works are done through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Both traditions realize that works are important but are merely reflections or fruits of faith. True faith produces works. Both traditions reject, the Pelagian ideal that man can earn his own salvation.
Since Vatican II, the Catholic Mass and the Lutheran Service is very close in practice. Lutheran ministers wear a collar as do Catholic priests. If issues regarding the Papacy, Sacraments and Scripture can be ironed out, then a possible reunification could happen. This was not even a thought prior Vatican II in the 1960s!
The Calvinist rooted Churches of the Reformation era pose a larger challenge. Calvinist rooted communities have a greater dogmatic divide with the Western Church. There is a greater misgiving to venerate the saints, a stronger resistance to a priesthood and a greater push for “sola scriptura”. Other dividing points regards the Eucharist. The Eucharist in these circles is regarded as only a symbol. Which is an even greater divide than what Lutherans propose in contrast to Catholic teaching.
American Protestantism has also created Christian communities that are even at a greater distance from Rome. Clothed with ideals of democracy, these early communities found anything Roman to be foreign to the ideal of American life. In fact, the early Nativist parties found the threat of the Papist to be a grave concern for American life. The 19th Century in America is plagued with bias and prejudice towards the Catholic immigrant. It is a great stain on the American dream of religious freedom. Yet this is the environment and history that has led to division and false claims regarding the Catholic Church and the American Protestant.
At the grassroot levels, there are many Protestant Churches that are not only doctrinally at odds with Rome, but also personally. The Baptist Church is a Church known for its great love of Christ and scriptural observance. It is a supportive community and one that is proud to take Christ to the market place, yet the differences between Baptist and Catholic may never be reconciled in our age. Some of this is due to misrepresentation, while some is also due to mutual prejudice.
Like the Baptist and other American Churches, the Non-Denominational Churches are among the most hostile towards Catholic doctrine. I say hostile not to show contempt but portray the truth. From a point of doctrine, there are disagreements regarding Scripture, the Papacy, the Sacraments, and Mary.
Again part is due to misunderstanding. I am not condoning one movement over the other, but it is important to note that many Non-Denominational Christians were either brought up Catholic in the Post Vatican II Church and lost their faith, or were never Catholic and taught false ideas about the Catholic Church. Among such false ideals that prevent unification is the fabrication that Catholics worship Mary and the saints, or that the Pope is the anti-Christ. This type of vehement slander will never permit re-unification.
However, the Non-Denominational movement while sometimes misled regarding Catholic doctrine is still nonetheless a vibrant community within itself. If one does not hold to the ideal of a hierarchy, the sacraments, or veneration of the saints, then this is a Christian community that lives and breathes off Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Christ, as all Christians believe, is the center of their worship. If anything, the Non-Denominational Movement has brought attention to the mainstream denominations the importance of spiritual vigor and the need of scripture in everyday life.
With so many issues, I cannot within the realm of reason, see reunification with most of Protestantism and the Catholic Church. Christ wills all his Christian children to find union and share the faith, but one cannot practice a false ecumenism that tears at the roots of one’s belief.
Yes, Christ should be enough but how can a community celebrate Christ together, if they differ on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, veneration of Mary, and the need or lack of need of the sacraments.
In this imperfect world, I think we can only hope for an imperfect visible union. We can share the common core beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and share in the life of Christ at mutual prayer services. We can work together in the service of the poor.
Most importantly, despite impartial union, we do share in one Baptism which is Christ. This Baptism makes us all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. In this way, albeit not perfect union, we still are part of the same Church in which Christ is the head.
So, I do believe we must hold firm to our particular beliefs and not sacrifice them. Unlike the Orthodox and Catholic Church which can reunify, the West and Protestantism must find a common union in Christ which will have to be the glue that holds together an imperfect union but a union nonetheless via Baptism.
If you are interested in learning more about Christian Counseling or would like to take courses in Christian Counseling, then please review the program. The program is for Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant alike. It is Christian and focuses on core beliefs that all Christians can share.
The purpose of the Christian Counseling Program is not to pursue one denomination over the other but to share the common tradition of Christ and to take Christ to those in need.
If you have any questions regarding our Program for Christian Counseling Training, then please let us know.