Tag Archives: ecumenical

Incarnation Roundtable (#ICYMI)


Some young Christian thinkers have an interesting project going over at Conciliar Post.  They are hosting regular “Roundtable” posts on major points of Christian doctrine or church practice, featuring voices from a wide swath of Christian traditions.  It’s refreshing to see such effort put into substantive engagement with doctrine and church teaching.  Clickbait and fluff are the stock-in-trade of the blogosophere, and Jacob Prahlow and the team over at CP should be commended for offering something so against the grain.

I was honored to be asked to contribute a Wesleyan voice to the latest Roundtable discussion which focused, appropriately enough given the time of year, on the Incarnation.  You can read my  Wesleyan/Methodist offering, as well as Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican perspectives, here.

Geoffrey Wainwright and World Communion Sunday

This Sunday marks the annual celebration of World Communion Sunday, in which many Christians from around the world go to the Lord’s table as a sign of the unity to which we are called.  In preparation for this celebration, I read from Geoffrey Wainwright’s Methodists in Dialogue.  This collection of essays and addresses is culled from the British Methodist’s decades of participation in the ecumenical movement, and broaches both general principles for ecumenical dialogue and the results of recent bilateral work (Methodists with Catholics/Lutherands/Episcopalians/etc.).  This is a brilliant book from a teacher I truly enjoy and admire.

World Communion Sunday brings together themes – church unity and the Lord’s Supper – that Wainwright has himself written on extensively.  I could think of no better way to recognize this Sunday than to quote from Wainwright, whose example shows us that one can be deeply embedded in a tradition and yet firmly committed to relationships and reconciliation with other communions:

…Christians involved in the ecumenical movement have already found it possible to discern sanctity also beyond one’s own ecclesial institution.  If, then, according to the Russian Orthodox dictum, “the walls of separation do not reach up to heaven,” the recognition of graced lives in other Christian communities should encourage the divided Churches to make unity in Christ more manifest on earth. (Methodists in Dialogue [Nashville: Abingdon 1995], 33.)

The Reformation: To Celebrate or Lament?

http://lexloiz.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/luther.jpgTo be sure, The Protestant Reformation was a “decisive moment,” but is it really one worth singing about?  If yes, then my inclination is to sing a song of lament rather than celebration.  As a pastor serving my first congregation, I was drawn to All Saints’ Day remembrance but never considered a whole Sunday dedicated to the Reformation.  Perhaps this is easy because I am not Lutheran.  But it seems strange to celebrate the fact that Christ’s body is broken and battered.  Yes, there was a day when Catholics were suspect as “un-American,” and they in turn were not supposed to darken the door of a Protestant Church (as my RC friends tell me).  But times have changed.  As Peter Gomes of Harvard points out:

That, thank God, is mostly ancient history. Now Roman Catholics routinely sing “Amazing Grace” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and for many Protestants the pope is one of the few bastions of orthodoxy left standing. Catholic bashing is not the “done thing” on Reformation Sunday, and a Protestant identity that continues to define itself by what it is not is in an increasing state of crisis.

Of course, this leads to a dilemma that Gomes names: What to do on Reformation Sunday?

I am in a church where Reformation Sunday is an option not normally taken.  But for the wider Church, I must ask: why celebrate this day? Why not an Ecumenical Day (instead of, not in addition to)?  Surely World Communion Sunday sends a better message.  As a corollary, I wonder of the Orthodox celebrate their break with Rome on a particular Sunday?

The gospel lection for this past Reformation Sunday was from John 8:31-36:

31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Of course it is ironic that we read from John to preach on Reformation Day; it is John’s Gospel, afterall, that records Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, “that they may be one.”  But this isn’t the stuff of sentimentality.  Christian unity is not a pie-in-the-sky dream, a wish based on the desire to finally “just get along.”  Rather, it is a hope (and a promise!) of Jesus himself, and an imperative for Christian mission.  What does it mean that people around the world have to choose between various factions (read: churches) and decide which one has the “right” Christianity?  It is more likely they will simply not choose for Christ at all.  The Word of God does not respond to market forces well; I’m not so sure that we are sharpened by the critiques of competing theologies and liturgies.

The results of the Reformation are obvious today: we have perverted this notion of conscience and freedom so that a myriad of “churches” exist, with a wide variance in faith, proclamation, and practice.  This is not the truth of Christ that sets us free.  Truth is unitive; God is truth and God is one.  There can be unity in that diversity (as with the Holy Trinity), of course, but Christianity is not diverse. The Church, tragically, is broken and divided.

I do not doubt that the Reformation was necessary; I only question our need to celebrate it.