Monday, 20 September 2010

The End of Ecumenism - So, What's Next?

As a continuation of my last post - “The End of Ecumenism?” - I now ask the question: If this is so, what’s next?

I suggest* that we will see the end of most of the official dialogues** - unofficial discussion will continue, of course - and a strategic retreat (or is it an advance?) to what I shall call “principled pluralism“, wherein each confession attends to its own house (heaven knows, we each have our burning issues, which are often the same issues!) and holds to its own confession as tenaciously as it can, while working together with other confessions in those res externa (external matters) where common witness can be given to the world and legitimate common objectives pursued without compromise of doctrine (thus “principled pluralism“). For example, life matters (the beginning and end of life questions) and other social questions could be addressed with common statements.

But, as stated, there would be no compromise on doctrinal matters, no mealy-mouthed language papering over substantial differences, but rather mutual respect in spite of such differences and a commitment to keep inter-Christian relations civil on all levels. In the midst of this, there might even be robust debates in the new media which could further the cause of doctrinal unity to a greater extent than the official dialogues have done to date.

There will be powerful forces working against this development initially, both within and without the churches. One could cite doctrinal indifference amongst the laity and clergy ambition within (the ecumenical movement has been a wonderful gravy train for ambitious theologians hoping to make a name for themselves - it was not for nothing that Luther remarked that "ambitious pastors are a pestilence in the church"), and secularism and the liberal agenda without, which will soon become intolerant of robust confession by the churches in the public space. We will also see the devolution of church bodies formed in the ecumenical-modernist era through mergers with insufficient doctrinal consensus (this is already happening), and possibly even the dissolution of centuries-old communions as they break upon the rocks of the liberal agenda (viz. Anglicanism). But, also, alliances will be formed across confessional boundaries because of a common commitment to fundamental articles of faith, e.g. authority of scripture, trinitarianism, justification.

At the end of this period, I suggest, paraphrasing Dr Sasse, it will be found that those church bodies which have held to their confessions (i.e. their doctrine) will actually be closer to each other than ever before, because closer to their Lord, their faith having been refined as if by fire.


* Of course, who really cares what I think! But permit me to indulge in this delusion of granduer for a moment and imagine that what I think matters ;0)

** Orthodox-Catholic dialogue may continue, although I believe papal primacy will be the sticking point on which neither side will budge.

[Pic courtesy OZinOhio]


Matthias said...

I can never see the Orthodox Churches accepting the pope as anything other than the Patriarch of Rome .I think the view of the Papal primacy and infallibility as being unscriptural runs as deeply in the East as it does in those churches faithful to the Reformation Confessions.
I also believe,am i beinbg prophetic or pathetic (?) that those churches which adhere to the liberal agenda and appeasing the secular culture,will support,the persecution of those churches which have "formed (alliances) across confessional boundaries because of a common commitment to fundamental articles of faith, e.g. authority of scripture, trinitarianism, justification."
Thus we could have Catholics,protestants etc against Confessional RC's,Lutherans and other Protestants.Then our faith will be refined by fire. Pray to the Judge of the Whole Earth ,that He will keep us strong in the faith and sustain our spirit.

Matthias said...

I should add that the Russian writer Vladimir Soloviev in his book THE ANTICHRIST talks about a situation much like you have alluded to here pastor ,except he palces it in events right before the Return of Christ and the Last judgement

Melanchthon said...

I think your comments are correct. Confessional churches will find ways to work together and churches like the ELCA will fold into a generic liberal Protestantism where nothing much matters except political dogma.

Melanchthon said...

"Of course, who really cares what I think!"

Actually, I think you are a keen observer of global Christianity and Lutheranism, so I do!



Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for your vote of confidence :0)

Yes, I expect liberals will support the persecution of conessionals, in fact it's already happening - just look at The Episcopal Church in the USA, where church authorities have gone to court to retain the property of congregations who have voted to leave because of rampant liberalism in that body. It is one of the great ironies of modern times that the self-proclaimed liberals are actually so illiberal and intolerant of dissent from their own agenda!