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You Are Here: Theology > The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity
Oct
16

The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity

Recent schemes for Chris­t­ian unity are less grandiose and more prac­ti­cal than ear­lier on in the move­ment. It’s been rec­og­nized that you can’t just cre­ate church unity by fiat. There’s a tremen­dous amount of ground­work to be laid first.

One such scheme is the Prince­ton Pro­posal for Chris­t­ian Unity. It’s the work of 16 the­olo­gians from the whole range of Chris­t­ian churches meet­ing over the course of 3 years. Their final text, In One Body through the Cross, ana­lyzes some of the causes of divi­sion and offers some prac­ti­cal advice to start knit­ting the churches back together in doc­trine and prac­tice before insti­tu­tional merger is even contemplated.

Here are some of their suggestions:

First, churches should rou­tinely include the­olo­gians from other tra­di­tions in doc­tri­nal com­mis­sions and con­sul­ta­tions. Sec­ond, offi­cial state­ments by churches should always be for­mu­lated for the widest pos­si­ble Chris­t­ian audi­ence. Third, edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions that serve denom­i­na­tions should hire and encour­age schol­ars who will teach in ways that serve the whole church.” §49

Oppor­tu­nites for coor­di­nated wit­ness and ser­vice should be affirmed and expanded. Mis­sion­ary strate­gies should be devel­oped across denom­i­na­tional lines, so that church growth is not accom­plished by sheep-stealing but rather by evan­ge­liza­tion of the bap­tized and re-evangelization of the lapsed. Protes­tant mis­sion­ar­ies to his­tor­i­cally Roman Catholic and Ortho­dox soci­eties must be able to artic­u­late the ways in which their work builds up the whole church in those places. Joint social and polit­i­cal action must be con­tin­u­ally con­se­crated in com­mon prayer.” §52

Against the present lack of reci­procity of mem­ber­ship and min­istry, we urge the fol­low­ing steps. We envi­sion two very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions: where agree­ments of full com­mu­nion are in place, and where full com­mu­nion does not exist. In the first instance, church lead­ers in each place should work to imple­ment exist­ing agree­ments. In order to pro­mote com­mon mis­sion, lay mem­bers should be encour­aged to wor­ship and serve in con­gre­ga­tions in part­ner denom­i­na­tions. Among ordained clergy, churches should iden­tify a min­istry of unity, and sem­i­nary train­ing should inten­tion­ally pre­pare min­is­ters to serve in part­ner churches. In the sec­ond instance, where the­o­log­i­cal reci­procity of mem­ber­ship and min­istry exists, con­gre­ga­tions of sep­a­rated Chris­tians should pray for one another. When bap­tism is mutu­ally rec­og­nized, this should be plain in the man­ner of its admin­is­tra­tion. The ecu­meni­cal voca­tion of mar­ried cou­ples from sep­a­rated com­mu­nions should be acknowl­edged and sup­ported by the churches. When full com­mu­nion does not exist, churches should acknowl­edge and encour­age spe­cial voca­tions for the sake of unity. God may call lay and ordained mem­bers of one church to sus­tained par­tic­i­pa­tion in the life and mis­sion of sep­a­rated churches, even if sacra­men­tal com­mu­nion is not pos­si­ble for a time. Such voca­tions do not deny real the­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences or dis­re­spect canon­i­cal order but rather are a call to endure sep­a­ra­tion as a dis­ci­pline which sharp­ens pas­sion for unity. Such sac­ri­fice is per­haps pos­si­ble only for a few, and it will cer­tainly take many forms, often par­tial and hid­den. The churches should seek to iden­tify and cham­pion these voca­tions as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the divided churches.” §55

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