Ecumenism, Creed, Conflict, and Dr King

At Scriptorium Daily today, Matt Jensen offers a short essay/homily. He starts by considering the term “catholic” in the creed, noting that Protestants need not tremble at the term, as it origin: “Its etymology renders it simply ‘according to the whole’.” Mr Jensen cites two ways in which catholic touch the Christian via creedal declaration. The first is, that it connects us to the church universal, to the rest of the worshipers alive and dead through the (almost) 2000 years of our history. The second is a more telling point, especially in light of the day. This meaning, should make Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox all tremble a little as it indicts the current non-ecumenical nature of our church. He quotes Dr King:

Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I- it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression ‘of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? (‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’)

The current state of our church is ecclesial segregation. A church where one see no goodness in man, another can congratulate self for 0% agreement with Calvin, where ethnic, racial, and political division can all too often whelm our unity.

Brandon writes insightfully (as usual):

And that brings me to the view expressed in the title of this post. I’m inclined to think the divisions of the Church are rifts beyond all human healing; reunion comes not by human argument and scheming but by moral miracle, if at all. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else can contribute anything to it except insofar as we may be instruments of it. The pen does not write for the writer, the scalpel does not have the wisdom of the surgeon, the staff does not possess deep insight into the ways of the shepherd. Our task is not to invent the solution to the problem. It is not to force the other side to listen. It is not invincibly to refute them. Our task is what it is in every other part of our lives, to walk the path of Christ in the manner of Christ, prayerfully and through His grace, doing good to those around us as is befitting of children of the Father, teaching not with clever words but with the power of the Spirit. Our task is to begin in the right place. And it is only if we do this that there is any sure hope at all in this regard; the only certainty for hope is in the Lord. Reunion will come not because we have designed it, not because we have been smarter than our opponents, not because we have brought it about; it will only come about, when and if it comes about, as a living outgrowth of the Spirit-inspired conversation of the saints through the ages.

Theology and theological cleverness will not unmake the division in our churches unless we recall that theology is not sophistry, philosophy, or cleverness. As Lossky writes, theology is conversation with God. It is, essentially, prayer. It is, also, ultimately a rejection (or replacement) of Mr Buber’s quoted reference of Dr King noting the substitution “I->it” and “I->thou” … is incomplete. For the second, “I->thou” is also not what, I think, Christ, St. Paul, and the Saints and Fathers taught. We should always remember that arrow might be better written, “I-> (who am servant of)->thou” (recall this parable I linked last year). Those divisions and rifts also will not be healed until we remember, every Presbyterian, every Methodist, every Anglican, every Baptist, every Orthodox, and every Catholic, and (really) everyone you meet needs to be treated as if he/she were Christ or his Angel.

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2 comments

  1. D. P. says:

    Bravo! I think you’ve put your finger on something very important by reminding the church that we are meant to be servants of one another.

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