Monday, 25 July 2011

Points of Convergence on the Unity of the Church

Nicene Creed in cyrillic writingImage via Wikipedia
Nicene Creed in Cyrillic writing
This is an article from this month's CTE News:

With the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the witness of Holy Scripture and as expressed in the ecumenical Nicene–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, we believe in the Triune God: Father Son and Holy Spirit. Because we here confess “one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church“, our paramount ecumenical task is to show forth this unity which is always a gift of God. (Charta Oecumenica 1)

The Churches in Dialogue Commission of the Conference of European Churches held a Consultation on “Visions of Unity in our churches – Points of Convergence” at Ráday College, Budapest from 22-23 June 2011.  (The third link in this paragraph is to the report of the consultation.  It is 8 pages and provides a summary of the proceedings and the five papers.)

The task of the consultation was to try to discern points of convergence in the conception of the unity of the Church as the main goal of the ecumenical movement. Five papers were presented on the positions of different traditions regarding visions of unity and points of convergence: the perspectives presented were by: Dr Walter Klaiber (Methodist); Dr Martyn Davie (Anglican); Revd Prof. Dr Viorel Ionita (Orthodox); Prof. Dr Annemarie C. Mayer (Roman Catholic); and Prof. Dr Friederike Nüssel (Lutheran/Reformed). From these papers eight points of convergence were identified: 
  1. The Unity of the Church is from God, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit… 
  2. Unity demands expression in live and mission…
  3. Between ecclesial and Eucharistic community there is an organic link…
  4. Christian identities are rich gifts of God to be shared with each other…
  5. The Search for unity always exists in a particular context…
  6. “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic” is the starting point of the theological reflection on unity…
  7. The unity of the Church also requires both conciliar fellowship and mutual reception of conciliar decisions by the churches… 
  8. Using the same terms does not always lead to or reflect common understanding…
The Report ends urging the churches to commit themselves: 
to follow the Apostolic exhortation of the letter to the Ephesians and persevere in seeking a common understanding of Christ’s message of salvation in the Gospel; in the power of the Holy Spirit, to work towards the visible unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in the one Faith, expressed in the mutual recognition of baptism and in Eucharistic fellowship as well as in common witness and service. (Charta Oecumenica 1)
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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You're more than 20 years out of date! Except that perhaps you're not.

    The Swanwick Declaration in 1989, which arose from the 'Not Strangers but Pilgrims' interchurch process, brought the period of full visible unity to a close. The commitment made in all four nations was to the 'Churches Together' approach which is the alternative approach you describe.

    But you are right to raise this because many people think we're still committed to full visible unity - which ended with the failure of the English Covenant in 1982. I think some of the confusion arises from the possibility of visible unity between the Methodist Church and a few close partners. Even if this were to happened it would fall far short of 'full visible unity'.

  3. I'm not sure I am out of date. I mention visible unity because you quoted a document calling for it. Churches together is - up to a point - an approach I'm more comfortable with, though in my experience it tends to be top-down, minister oriented, and with very little influence on the local congreataions which, when all's said and done, are the church. At the same time I see endless hot air being expended on issues of who should be ordained, and in the case of some denominations, who is or isn't properly ordained. If a church won't accept a woman priest, for instance, or a woman bishop, that affects their relationship with other denominations. Since when has the church been about ministers and bishops anyway? The church is people, and structures and minsters/priests are there to serve it, not to take over. Somewhere, I think we need to drastically overhaul out ecclesiology before we'll have much chance of making progress!

  4. Yes, I'm sure you're right. The 8 points of convergence are evidence conversations are taking place and so there are grounds for sharing in mission and other activities. To claim they're progress towards visible unity is a matter of interpretation and I suspect to a degree, unrealistic expectations. Deepening relationships do not necessarily lead to structural unity. The churches have discovered big theological issues are relatively easy to resolve but as they are resolved, secondary matters become big obstacles to structural unity.

    Moves towards full visible unity are bound to be top down and a movement towards less structural unity (as envisaged in 1989) is going to be less so. What you experience is a result of confusion between full visible unity and churches together. There are still many who insist on treating them as if they are the same thing.

  5. So why this remote, top-down movement towards full visible unity (you might as well call it organisational union and have done), rather than movement towards polycaphalic unity, which is rather more than churches together? All we ever see is the occasional turgid, often self-satisfied statement, and if they can't carry the people with them, it's probably going nowhere. At best, it will only involve a few denominations. Polycephaly, on the other hand, can combine both the sort of local network I'm involved in, and the structures, so everyone can play their part to the full.

  6. I think the problem is strategic. Formal conversations have achieved a great deal. I've argued for a long time they need to be re-framed - the idea of fvu is not helpful. Turgid papers are evidence of a lack of strategic analysis. Many people involved in formal talks will admit, at least in private, that their weakness is they are poor at reception. The belief seems to be that once an agreement has been reached it will gently percolate to the rest of the churches. I'm trying to address that through this blog but I'm only one person and mostly have raw material which has not been designed for reception.

    I don't really know what you mean by polycephaly (hydra?) and so I can't comment - can you provide me with a link?