Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “Christian unity”

Are Roman Catholics and Orthodox about to unite?

There has been quite a lot of talk in the blogosphere about an imminent reunion between Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Father Milovan writes about it in “The Arrogant Papal Brow” | Again and Again. The Roman Pope has visited several Orthodox countries recently, and there has also been a proliferation of Byzantine-style ikons in Roman Catholic churches, as this Orthodox writer notes OCA – Q & A – Orthodox Influences on Roman Catholicism:

Of course, it is difficult to objectively detail influences Orthodoxy has had on Roman Catholicism. Very often an individual or a small group of individuals may have contact with Orthodoxy, digest certain things which they discovered, and incorporated them into the life and thought of their communion, generally without the knowledge of the Orthodox. Last May I encountered a Roman Catholic priest from France who operates a school for young adults interested in missionary and evangelistic outreach. He gave me a copy of the school’s magazine, which sported photographs of the school’s chapel, the interior of which was completely frescoed in Byzantine iconography. Other pictures revealed another small chapel filled with icons, as well as the priest himself in Orthodox vestments celebrating the Eucharist. Odd as all of this might be — imagine how one would react to find an Orthodox church in which the Sacred Heart statue was prominently displayed! — it does show that, in many ways great and small, Orthodoxy has had some influence, even if it is only external.

The last point, about the Sacred Heart, indicates, however, that there is still a very long way to go. Why is it that, as an Orthodox Christian, I find this Byzantinised image of the Sacred Heart (found at Clerical Whispers: Prayer To The Sacred Heart) quite shocking, and almost a desecration?

I don’t mind if Roman Catholics use Byzantine ikons, but this image strikes me as abuse rather than use. It indicates that the gulf is much wider than we think.

Unity is a lot more than Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops visiting and being polite to each other. I’m all in favour of them doing that, and even doing the same thing with Anglican and Zionist bishops, but it doesn’t mean that reunion is imminent.

Some think that it is only a few minor theological issues that can be sorted out quickly. But it’s not just papal primacy and the Filioque that keep us apart, but a millennium of history. We differ in soteriology (Anselm’s theory of the atonement, which swept the west, never got much traction in Orthodoxy), ecclesiology (the Orthodox temple versus the Roman monolith and the Protestant heap of stones) and missiology (Roman missiologists believe that Orthodox missiology is derived from Origen).

All these have led to a different culture and ethos, and this is just as much theology as the kind of theology that is written in books. And so before there can be any reunion, these things must be faced and examined.

So if Roman Catholics want to have images of the Sacred Heart, I think it would be better if they stuck to ones like the one on the left.

Unlike some writers, I don’t think a hasty marriage is imminent. We are far closer to the Oriental Churches, like the Copts and Armenians, than we are to the Roman Catholics, and I don’t see reunion happening there very quickly. I’ll believe it when I see an agreement that the next Pope of Alexandria to die will not be replaced, but that the other one will simply move in to succeed him and that thereafter there will just be one. But I see no sign of that happening yet.

Update

Some other posts that point to differences that need to be examined and sorted out before we can say that the time is ripe for reunion:

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

No surprises here: Vatican: Non-Catholics ‘wounded’ by not recognizing pope.

A 16-page document, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict used to head, described Christian Orthodox churches as true churches, but suffering from a “wound” since they do not recognize the primacy of the Pope.

But the document said the “wound is still more profound” in the Protestant denominations — a view likely to further complicate relations with Protestants.

If it weren’t so, we’d all have been Uniate long ago. That’s one of those areas of disagreement that still has to be hammered out before the churches can be reunited. The Orthodox, of course, see it from a different viewpoint. The “wound” is the claim of the Pope of Rome to “universal ordinary jurisdiction”, and perhaps his claim to be “the” Pope. We have a Pope in Alexandria, and as far as we are concerned, he is “the” Pope. The one in Rome is just the head of a non-Orthodox denomination.

All sorts of people seem to be getting their knickers in a knot over this document. But that’s just silly. Would they rather that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pretended to be what they are not, or that their ecclesiology is other than what it is? How can we have dialogues and discuss differences in ecclesiology if everyone is pretending that their ecclesiology is something else? Christian unity is not brought about by papering over the cracks and pretending that differences don’t exist. We need to face the differences honestly. Let’s face it: Roman Catholic ecclesiology is dffierent from Orthodox ecclesiology, and different from most Protestant ecclesiologies. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is just being honest. Would we prefer it if they weren’t?

Emerging church and Orthodoxy revisited

This morning I was playing around with the tag surfing feature on WordPress and came across this post, which was more than 9 months old, so I might not have found it otherwise: Just an apprentice: Emerging church and orthodoxy. This linked to some articles by Scot McKnight, an emerging church theologian, which answered some of the questions I posed in an earlier post here: Notes from underground: Orthodoxy and Evangelical Protestantism. And “just an apprentice” puts a finger on the biggest stumbling block in all ecumenical discussions between Orthodox and Protestants, whether the Protestants are Evangelical, Emerging, Pentecostal, Liberal, or anything else:

This question that Scot McKnight addresses is one that I have been asking on my journey. It is a question of ecclesiology. What is the center of the Christian church? What is the prism through which we worship God, read Scripture, and interact with our culture? What is the relationship of the emerging church with the Creeds of classical Chrisitianity? The commentary and analysis by McKnight are helpful in connecting a few dots.

The stumbling block is ecclesiology.

It was this that nearly caused all the Orthodox Churches to leave the World Council of Churches recently. It is this that causes some conservative Orthodox to call “ecumenism” a heresy.

The book to read is Beyond the East-West divide — the World Council of Churches and “the Orthodox problem” by Anna Marie Aagaard and Peter Bouteneff (Geneva, Risk, 2001 ISBN 2-8254-1350-X).

If you’re Protestant and want to talk to Orthodox Christians, read this book to understand where the Orthodox are coming from. It doesn’t matter what kind of Protestant — Evangelical, Ecumenical, Lutheran, Calvinist, Reformed, Pentecostal, Emerging, Anglican (even Anglo-Catholic, if you believe in the “branch theory” of ecclesiology).

One can’t go into all the nuances in a blog post, so what follows is probably over-simplified, not to say simplistic, but I try to summarise the point.

Most Protestants share a common basic ecclesiology.

Methodists (for example) are quite happy to see themselves as one denomination among many within a particular religion — Christianity (which is in turn seen as one religion among many). That applies to most Protestant Christian denominations, and those that do not see it in that way are regarded by the others as sects. Even non-denominational bodies tend to think of themselves as one nondenomination among many denominations and nondenominations within one religion, Christianity.

The Orthodox Church does not regard itself as a denomination, at least in the ecclesiological sense. And even the sociological sense, for conservative Orthodox, comes too close to the “heresy of ecumenism”. The “heresy of ecumenism”, in this case, being to regard the Orthodox Church as one denomination among many.

The Orthodox “statement of faith” (to use an Evangelical Protestant term), is the Symbol of Faith, usually called by Protestants the “Nicene Creed”, though the actual Nicene Creed was a much shorter document, which says nothing about the Church.

Among the statements in the Symbol of Faith is “(I believe) in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (is mian agian kathoikin ke apostolikin ekklesian). Not in many denominations (and nondenominations), but One Church.

In what sense is the Church “apostolic”?

If we read about the day the Church began, in Acts 2, we see that the first Christian converts “continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” (isan de proscarteroundes ti didache ton apostolon, ke ti kinonia, ti klasi tou artu, ke tis prosevches).

The Orthodox Church believes that it has “continued” unbroken in those four things from that day to this. It is not “Wesleyan” or “Lutheran” or “Calvinist” but “Apostolic”. The “apostles’ fellowship” is maintained by, among other things, the apostolic succession of bishops. The “apostles’ fellowship” is among the key elements of Orthodox ecclesiology, and, with the “apostles’ teaching” is what makes the one holy catholic Church “apostolic”.

There are numerous denominations, especially in the Pentecostal tradition, which have the word “Apostolic” in the name of their denomination, such as the Apostolic Faith Mission (from which many of the others sprang). As David du Plessis puts it, their criterion is not so much “apostolic succession” as “apostolic success”. But for the Orthodox Church the “apostles’ fellowship” (or “apostles’ communion”) is an essential mark of the Church.

In the New Testament the word “church” never means a “denomination” or “communion” (or even a “nondenomination”). In the New Testament the word “church” refers either to the local church or to the universal church. The worldwide church is the “ecumenical church” (not in the modern sense of “many denominations together”, but in the geographical sense of “the inhabited earth”). The local churches are bound together in the apostles’ fellowship through the communion of their bishops, as they commemorate and pray for each other in the Divine Liturgy.

The church is catholic, not in the sense of being “universal” (for the Orthodox that is covered by “ecumenical”) but more in the sense of being holistic. Catholic means “according to the whole”. In a holographic image, if you divide the image in two, you get not two half images, but two whole images. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So the church is like a temple, where the building is more than just the individual bricks and tiles. But each local church is not just a brick in the building, but like a holographic image, whole in itself.

From an Orthodox point of view, therefore, the congregationalist ecclesiology resembles a pile of bricks rather than a whole building, while Roman Catholic ecclesiology resembles a monolith – a single boulder rather than a building.

So for the Orthodox, schism is not within the church, but from the church.

And for the Orthodox it makes little sense to talk of “emerging ecclesiology”, unless it means that the ecclesiology that submerged a long time ago in the West is resurfacing.

I realise that to ecumenically-minded Protestants this all looks extaordinarily arrogant, saying “we’re right and you’re wrong” (non-ecumenically-minded Protestants, like those who generated the Biola report mentioned in an earlier post, assert that far more strongly than most Orthodox). But for the Orthodox it is more a matter of being true to the Orthodox understanding of history — that the Orthodox Church has continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, for twenty centuries, and it would be false to say that it has not. The Orthodox Church participates in the ecumenical movement because it believes that it would be good to restore the apostles’ fellowship among all who declare their faith in the Triune God, but not at the price of abandoning its own ecclesiology and adopting a Protestant one (and there have been times in which there has been pressure within the World Council of Churches for the Orthodox Churches to do just that — see the book by Aagard and Bouteneff for details).

In dialogue there are four things we need to learn: you need to know who I am, and how I see you. I need to know who you are, and how you see me. We need to know the reality of both sides, and the way in which both parties perceive themselves and each other. Or if you want to be really postmodern about it, the way the self is perseived by the self, and the way the self is perceived by the other. And our perceptions of others show the others more about how we see ourselves. So the Biola report about the Orthodox tells the Orthodox a lot about Biola, and much less about the Orthodox.

So when I describe Roman Catholic ecclesiology as a monolith and Congregationalist ecclesiology as a heap of stones, that tells you more about Orthodox ecclesiology than it does about Roman Catholic or Congregationalist ecclesiology. And so we learn more about each other, even through our misperceptions.

Let the discussion continue.

Research: charismatic renewal movement in South Africa

After reading Charles Villa-Vicencio’s book Trapped in apartheid (see Notes from underground: Trapped in apartheid – South African churches) I became aware that very little has been written on the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and its effects on church and society. There are occasional references in passing, which very often assume that the reader knows all about it. I discussed this with a few other people, and began to look at the possibility of writing a book on the subject.

The “charismatic renewal movement” was a rediscovery of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among non-Pentecostal Christian bodies. Pentecostal groups had flourished since the late 19th century, and they emphasised the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which became one of their distinctive doctrines. In the second half of the 20th century pentecostal experiences appeared with increasing frequency in non-Pentecostal Christian denominations. Some of those affected adopted the classical Pentecostal pneumatology, while others began to re-examine, and sometimes reinterpret, the pneumatology of their own tradition.

The focus of such a study would be on the charismatic renewal in non-Pentecostal bodies in South Africa the period 1960-1995. It could not be contained strictly within those limits, however, because there were similar renewal movements in other countries, both in southern Africa and overseas. There was also considerable interaction with Pentecostal groups, but others have written about those. The dating is bounded by secular events; 1960 was the year in which many secular political groups, such as the ANC and PAC were banned, a republican referendum held, and the implementation of the apartheid policy and civil repression intensified. Apartheid ended in 1994, with the first democratic elections. This was also the period in which the charismatic renewal movement flourished.

The story is complicated by the fact that the charismatic renewal seemed to spring up in many different places independently. It began differently in different denominations and spread in the 1960s. In the 1970s it drew people together, across denominational, racial and class boundaries, somewhat to the consternation of the National Party government. In the 1980s, however, it began to disintegrate, and the new-found unity proved short lived, and several new denominations took root, sometimes emphasising distinctive doctrines. People began to speak of “charismatic burnout”.

It would be impossible for one person to write a detailed history of such a variegated movement, and it is probably too soon even to make a preliminary evaluation. But something needs to be done to at least provide a full picture. No one did much to record the history of the movement as it was happening; they were too busy making history to record it. There were lots of ephemeral publications, newsletters and magazines, but most of them were concerned with teaching and doctrine rather than events. Where they did record events, they were often like the gospel pericopes — testimonies of healing and the like where the details of time and place got worn away, recounted for spiritual edification.

Indeed, trying to write the story now is in some ways a challenge similar to that faced by the gospel writers, trying to collect and recall memories of events that had taken place 30-50 years previously. Perhaps they were concerned, as I am, to interview living witness of those events before they have all died. And how, after such an interval, does one find such witnesses, and persuade them to tell their stories?

One way, which was not available to the gospel writers, is to post an appeal in a blog, as I am doing now, and that someone who knows something about it may read it. Or even that someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows may read it.

So I’ve drawn up a preliminary survey, to try to get some of the people who might be able to provide information. If you were in South Africa at any time in the period 1960-1995, and had any encounter with the charismatic renewal movement, and are willing to share information about it, please

Click here to take survey

It won’t take long, though since it is a historical survey rather than a sociological one, it isn’t anonymous, it does ask for your name and contact information, so that I can ask you for more detailed information if necessary.

If you are willing to provide information, or can suggest people or publications who could provide more, please write them in a comment here, or get in touch with me by e-mail.

Anglicans: Time for a divorce?

Over the last few days I’ve been reading in the blogs of Anglicans, some friends, and some unknown to me, or known only in the blogosphere, appeals for prayer for the Anglican Primates meeting taking place in Dar es Salaam this week.

Many are speaking of trying to preserve an increasingly fragile unity, but I think that Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent of The Times, gets it exactly right when she says that it’s time for Anglicans to divorce.

Since I ceased to be an Anglican more than 20 years ago, it’s no longer a matter of direct personal concern to me. I’m just relieved that I got out when I did, because I’ve missed 20 years of paralysing bickering. It’s not that I haven’t experienced disagreements and squabbles over the last 20 years. There have been many. But they haven’t been over the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

It is interesting to see that just as the Anglicans are tearing themselves apart, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia have been preparing to reunite after a split that has lasted more than two generations. But the reason that they can reunite is that they acknowledge the same fundamental faith. They are agreed on the essentials.
The essentials, however, are precisely what the Anglicans disagree on. When each side in the disputes sees what it regards as morality denounced by the other as immorality, there is no tent big enough to hold them all. So I believe Ruth Gledhill hits the nail on the head when she says

No Communion is big enough for these three Luthers, all equally sincere in their faith and convictions, all nailing opposing theses to their church doors. These are people who see so far from eye to eye that it is right and proper that they should go their separate ways. And there is no shame in that. There is an historical continuity in schism, reflected in the recent pasts of our political parties, in particular the Labour Party. Historically there are always critical moments and for the Anglican Communion, this is just such a moment.

What a divorce may do is free many Anglicans who are almost entirely wrapped up in their own internal problems that they cannot face the more serious problems of the world. I’ve seen many appeals for payer for the meeting of the Anglican primates in Dar-es-Salaam, but very few for a meeting that could have more important and more far-reaching consequences — for the first time in 7 years there is a possibility of a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the possibility of peace. If an Anglican divorce freed those of all parties to pray for that, it might have more significant effects on the world.

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