A Quick Guide to Some Ecumenical Concepts: Reception

Posted on Posted in Theology

To many people it probably seems like ecumenical convergence and consensus are the decisions of far-off theologians having quick meetings all over the world and then saying, “Everything’s OK; forget your past; unity exists.” Life doesn’t work this way and neither does the church. Unity cannot be imposed by force or by just saying so. It takes time. It takes the acceptance of all the people in the church everywhere. And this can only happen by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Reception is spiritual. It is not a program with a schedule. Reception is something you always see afterward, never ahead of time. When Philip Melanchthon wrote the Augsburg Confession, he didn’t know that he was writing an important church document that thousands upon thousands of ordinands would take vows to uphold over the next several centuries! It was only later that the churches of the Reformation recognized how important the Augsburg Confession was. They received it; it became part of their spiritual life.

Every single generation of the church makes a decision about what it will receive from the past. Every generation of the church has received the Scriptures. Most churches have received the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed or both. The creeds are not true because they are old. They are old now because so many generations of Christians have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to receive them.

Newer things can also be received by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is an example of a new document with a very high level of reception among the Lutheran churches of the world, on the official level.

But it is not in the hands of church authorities to decide what will be received and what will be rejected. It is the long, slow process of discernment in the whole body of Christ that determines what is essential to the faith of the church and what by contrast divides the church. Which is why it’s so important for you—whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever you do—to take these matters to heart and join in the discernment process.

One thought on “A Quick Guide to Some Ecumenical Concepts: Reception

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Every sin­gle gen­er­a­tion of the church makes a deci­sion about what it will receive from the past. Every gen­er­a­tion of the church has received the Scrip­tures.

    But different “groups” choose to accept or reject different (and often conflicting) creeds/books/confessions. Take “the Scriptures,” which you say every generation has accepted. But Protestants have 66 books that they call the Scriptures, Catholics have 73, the Eastern Orthodox 75, and the Ethiopian Orthodox 78 (and even some Lutherans take Luther’s “canon within a canon” and relegate the books he dismissed in the first edition of his Bible to second-class status). So it is a bit too hand-wavy to declare that we all accept the Scriptures when we have so many differing canons for what, exactly, comprises God’s Word.

    Regarding the creeds, you didn’t explain why they are true (or aren’t), just why they are old. Under sola Scriptura Protestantism, a creed only has authority insofar as it agrees with [a given person’s interpretation of] the Scriptures. But since different Christian denominations interpret the Scriptures differently (and even have different books in their Scriptures), the creeds, under this system, cannot have any authority.

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