3 thoughts on “Here I Walk on First Things

  1. In your First Things article you write,

    But this same quarter-century has seen, in the Lutheran domain alone, the growth of altar-and-pulpit fellowship in the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe through the Leuenberg Agreement, the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Catholic Church, and the apology of Lutherans for sixteenth century persecutions of Anabaptists, met with a full declaration of forgiveness from the Mennonite community.

    This same quarter century also has seen the wholesale abandonment of key aspects of the Christian faith by some of these same churches, to where many of these churches in Europe no longer talk of sin and the need for salvation, there is debate in the German-speaking countries and probably elsewhere about whether the substitutionary death of Christ is really a Christian doctrine but rather a cruel and loathsomely primitive notion that should be abandoned, and there is increasing acceptance in the churches of sexual mores which are contrary to the tradition of the church and to Holy Scripture.

    We may have removed some of the obstacles to unity from the 15th century, but new ones, even more insurmountable, are cropping up almost every day.

    You write further,

    If there’s any stagnation going on, it’s probably because ecumenism has become a victim of its own success. The bitter polemics and mutual distrust that were common on both official and local levels a century ago are all but gone. Two “Christian civil wars” (as the two World Wars are sometimes called), fresh encounters in the mission field, and joint service projects have made friends of Christians across all kinds of boundaries.

    But now we have an increasingly bitter civil war over whether homosexuality is a disorder or a legitimate variant of the created order highlighting the fact that large and influential sections of the churches no longer feel bound by the evident meaning of Scripture, producing such gems as Episcopal Bishop Bennison’s statement that “the church created the Bible, the church can change the Bible” — which, while not often expressed with such clarity, is a view shared by many in the Protestant churches.

    We are now at a point where Evangelical Protestants like myself share more theological convictions with Rome than with liberal Protestants.

    I am not surprised that the Ecumenical Movement is stagnating; the Roman Catholic Magisterium would have to betray its own identity if it went ahead at full steam in the face of the current realities.

    So while I wish you a very good pilgrimage to Rome I am not hopeful that it will do anything to re-start the ecumenical movement.

    Wolf Paul

  2. Sarah–

    From reading your writings I think you have the perfect understanding of true ecumenism. True ecumenism isn’t about watering down the differences in our faith traditions or compromising the truths we have become convinced based on our own study of history and scripture.

    True ecumenism should be concerned about two issues:

    First, is to discover the truths that we can agree on. As an evangelical Protestant (including a strong proponent for all of Luther’s “solas”) for 46 years, and now as an orthodox Catholic for 6 plus years, I was amazed to learn all that the essentials of the faith we share… “the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.” [Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism].

    We need to recognize the working of the Holy Spirit in all those who claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior. All Christians can agree with one of my favorite lines in the Catechism of the Catholic Church—“The cross is the only ladder to heaven”.

    Second, after discovering the truths we share we should work on properly identifying our differences and providing clarity. For most of my life, I had a very poor understanding of how Catholics view scripture and grace. One major problem is our vocabulary is a stumbling block. For example, “Praying to the saints” translates to “worship” for Protestants, but for Catholics only means asking for intercessory prayers. Our understanding of “merit” is different. For Protestants, “merit” means “earning” our salvation. For Catholics, “merit” means being “rewarded for being faithful” to Christ in our words and deeds. These are just 2 examples.

    I also recognize there are so many lukewarm, even “worldly” Catholics and I can’t blame Protestants for not being particularly impressed. However, the triumphalism of the past by both sides of the Tiber has not served either side well. Jesus prayed for our unity. We owe it to Jesus to achieve whatever unity is possible. We can always pray for each other. We can always achieve unity in love if not form.

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