The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity

Posted on Posted in Theology

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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