Saturday, 18 September 2010

The End of Ecumenism?

Those weary of the equivocal language customarily used at ecumenical gatherings will find this address by the head of the Department of External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, refreshing indeed. Given at Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, earlier this month, it addresses mainly Russian Orthodox-Anglican relations (this is one of the oldest ecumenical dialgues, with an unofficial inception well before the modern ecumenical movement inspired by the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910 began) but has wider implications for mainstream Protestant church bodies which have historically valued ecumenical dialogue but have, like large parts of world Anglicanism, succumbed to the liberal agenda.

Here are some excerpts...
Almost 1700 years have elapsed since the Council of Nicaea, but the criteria that were used by the Church to distinguish truth from heresy have not changed. And the notion of church truth remains as relevant today as it did seventeen centuries ago. Today the notion of heresy, while present in church vocabulary, is manifestly absent from the vocabulary of contemporary politically-correct theology – a theology that prefers to refer to “pluralism” and to speak of admissible and legitimate differences.
Indeed, St Paul himself wrote that ‘there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval’ (1 Cor. 11:19). But what kind of differences was he referring to? Certainly not those which concerned the essence of faith, church order or Christian morals. For, in these matters, there is only one truth and any deviation from it is none other than heresy.
Nowadays it is increasingly difficult to speak of ‘Christianity’ as a unified scale of spiritual and moral values, universally adopted by all Christians. It is more appropriate, rather, to speak of ‘Christianities’, that is, different versions of Christianity espoused by diverse communities.
All current versions of Christianity can be very conditionally divided into two major groups – traditional and liberal. The abyss that exists today divides not so much the Orthodox from the Catholics or the Catholics from the Protestants as it does the ‘traditionalists’ from the ‘liberals’. Some Christian leaders, for example, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way of building a Christian family: there are other models and the Church should become appropriately ‘inclusive’ to recognize alternative behavioural standards and give them official blessing. Some try to persuade us that human life is no longer an absolute value; that it can be terminated in a mother’s womb or that one can terminate one’s life at will. Christian ‘traditionalists’ are being asked to reconsider their views under the slogan of keeping abreast with modernity.

We are concerned about the fate of [the Anglican-Russian Orthodox] dialogue. We appreciate the proposal Archbishop Rowan Williams made this year to exclude from the dialogue those Anglican churches which failed to observe the moratorium on the ordination of open homosexuals. But we regard this proposal as not quite sufficient to save the dialogue from an approaching collapse. The dialogue is doomed to closure if the unrestrained liberalization of Christian values continues in many communities of the Anglican world.

The italicisation of the final two crucial sentences is mine. Hilarion's sentiments remind me of something Hermann Sasse once wrote, and I quote from memory: There are some matters that are not subject to dialogue.

Given the historical significance of this particular dialogue, and the Pope's recent opening of a door into Catholicism for Anglicans en masse, I think we are witnessing the end of the modern ecumenical project, exactly 100 years after it's formal inception.

Read the whole thing by clicking on the post title.
The pic shows Williams and Hilarion in discussion - I wonder what was said after the address?

I think Hilarion will be the next Patriach of Moscow; as a relatively young man he will have a long reign in that position and a very significant one in terms of world Christianity because it will see the Russian Church assert itself in the wider world over against both Constantinople and Rome. If it happens, remember, you read it here first!


Matthias said...

I hope that the current occupier of st Thomas a'beckett's office,takes notice of what is being said here. Otherwise he could well end up being the last Archbishop of Canterbury who is Global leader of the World's Anglicans.
I have thought for a while that the divide in Christianity is between thoser Faithful to Christ( traditionalists??) and those who perceive that being faithful means making Jesus a pluralist(liberal). we even have the emergence of evangelcial liberals -where do they stand

Pr Mark Henderson said...


One of the earliest and best studies of the difference between orthodox Christianity and liberalism is J Gresham Machen's 'Christianity and Liberalism', written in 1923. I have provided a link to an on-line version on my bookshelf to the right. Machen perceptibly concluded that Liberalism was not an attempt to reform Christianity, but a new religion entirely!

The fragmentation of the evangelical movement over the last couple of decades was quite predictable, given that they have no accepted doctrinal standards to rally around (even churches with such find it difficult enough to battle liberalism!). Even a strong, centralised authority is no guarantor of traditional faith, as the Roman Catholic Church is probably one of the most liberal church bodies in Australia, and in Europe it is not much better.

It should also be noted that Orthodoxy is not entirely immune from the incursions of Liberalism either - it has its own revisionists in its ranks and has had for a century now, it is just that everything develops more slowly in Orthodoxy.