At this point, I’m going to remind readers of a principle on this blog. It’s against the conversation-stopper of “true church” apologetics. It doesn’t belong to this blog. Those who are convinced Roman Catholics, Orthodox, etc. should set up their own apologetics blogs and sites. I believe in free speech but not shouting matches that make for reams of comment threads that we will either forget or laugh at in a year or two.
Also long strings of comments from the same two or three people can get boring and obsessive. An example can be found on the posting on Fr Smuts’ blog about Bishop Brian Marsh. The subject eventually changed to limbo, because of its value as an example of variations in Roman Catholic teaching. And on and on it goes. None of us have to read this stuff, either over there or here, but it does act as a deterrent to people who like to find other things on comment threads. A blog is both the blogger writing and the readers commenting.
All over the world, the lights are going out as the zealots dispute everything and anything. Starving people are told to go and eat cake!
We are therefore going to stop promoting any particular Church as the true Church, whether it be Orthodox, non-canonical Orthodox, Roman Catholic, any other kind of Catholic, Anglican, whatever. We are also going to stop gratuitous trashing (synonyms: knocking, bashing)* of any particular Church of the same categories or denominations as above. Discussions are interesting when one talks about theology or at least generally in the perspective of the Church of Christ being a sacramental mystery and subsisting to one extent or another in all Christian communities.
Do you want me to moderate postings, put more commenters on moderated status? Am I to post only subjects of less interest and about which no controversy is possible? It would be a pity, because you (plural) often have interesting things to say. I like Fr Smuts’ comments policy – laissez-faire except in cases of extreme rudeness. I try to be liberal, but I sometimes have the impression that such an attitude will be exploited until I have no choice but slamming on the tin lid.
* “Trashing” or any of the synonyms of that word don’t mean reasoned criticism of that Church’s doctrine or beliefs or simply “being negative” or saying “thanks but no thanks”. It means affirming that the Church in question is evil, graceless, sacramentally invalid, no good, rubbish, etc. for the sole purpose of trying to cause a member of that community to leave it and be proselytised to the “true” church in the eyes of the one doing the “trashing”. I don’t think I can be clearer than that.
Yes, I think it’s salutary to remember that we should accept that when one affiliates with or joins or continues with a particular religious tradition, it is a reflection of a conviction, however articulated or capable of being articulated, that for that person at least, it is the right path either for ever or for here and now. It is like the standard philosophical reality that we always pursue the good, even when in others’ eyes, and maybe also in fact, it is the bad. Taking one more drink may be in fact a very destructive act, but at the moment of choice, it is for the alcoholic the “good” he seeks.
Likewise, in religion. Most of us, I venture to say do not stray too far from our earliest formative situation because by the time we are adult or mature or experienced enough to make an alternative reasoned or courageous decision to do or go somewhere different, we are already moulded by that curious combination of nature and nurture. However, if and when we do diverge from earlier attitudes or understandings, it is always something significant, meaningful and I dare to say a sign of that moral autonomy that characterises the adult not the child. We have to be careful of how we interpret, say, Jesus’ saying “unless you become like little children….etc”. If you think it means just do as you’re told all the time, then your life will be problematic to say the least. If you think it means something like, love God in a calm and reassured way like a child implicitly trusts his or her parent, then that’s a different thing.
I have often reflected on something the Dalai Lama said, to the effect of encouraging people not to religion-hop but to seek out growth within one’s native tradition. I think he was recognising that one’s native tradition – in anything – is what ultimately makes most sense or provides the environment in which most sense can be made of things in general. At my age I am hardly likely to adopt a completely different emotional response or set of customs to those I grew up with for most of my life that I might call Western and Catholic, and the truth is I feel at home in a Catholic church in a way that I don’t in a Pentecostal church, even though, intellectually, I realise they both represent attempts by people to worship or be touched by God through and because of Jesus. etc
But that doesn’t – or shouldn’t – stop me or anyone from seeing and valuing the things that give insight and spiritual growth in other sources or rejecting or modifying those home-grown or native aspects or concepts or customs that now grate and appear wrong or harmful. This is the nitty-gritty of the spiritual and religious challenge, I think. How to do so without too much pride and self-deception etc.
I don’t worry all the time about what label I should use of myself. But if Thomas Merton can explore and embrace the good in Taoism and Buddhism, then so can many of us. And when I see and experience Christian love in people whose Christian tradition is very different from my native one, suddenly, any insistence on any superiority of theology or practice seems somehow wrong. (Well, to me, at least.)
We often talk, in religious, moral and theological areas, of “universal truths”. I like to remind myself that, from my position as a speck in the universe, I am probably unqualified to confidently recognise them unerringly. But maybe God can.
When it comes to promoting quality ecumenism it seems like we rarely get more specific than pray. While we won’t get anywhere without prayer and nowhere without the Holy Ghost, different specific actions seem like they are out there for all of us. Learning about others helps us to learn more about ourselves. Things like:
1. Read a good biography on a different faith group or denomination or one of its founders or key figures (John Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox, Wesley, Whitefield, a famous EO or RC saint, etc).
2. Read the life of one historical figure of a different faith group or denomination known for having broad experience & expertise, and, most importantly, who were peaceful and moderate, yet also very serious in outlook. Thinkers like John Cassian, Erasmus, Philip Melanchthon, Newman/Keble/Pusey, CS Lewis, etc.
3. Attend the eucharistic liturgy of a different faith group or denomination at least once.
4. Get to personally know someone of a different faith group or denomination and talk to each other about your faith & church.
5. Read at least parts of a good catechism or confessional document from a different faith group or denomination (e.g., RC CCC, Augsburg Confession, 39 & Irish Articles, Westminster Confession, etc.)
I think we’d all be most pleasantly surprised by what we could learn. (At Fr. Roberts’ suggestion, I just bought one bio on Calvin after reading two on Melanchthon. Recently I found the perpetual virginity of Mary in two Reformation Confessions (Luther’s Smalcald (Latin), 1537, and Bullinger’s 2nd Helvetic, 1561). My respect for continuing Anglicanism has been greatly increased by worshipping with them locally.)
Thank you for this great reflection. Ecumenism is an antidote to bigotry.
Somewhere in the blogosphere, there is a man who is preparing for reception into the Roman Catholic Church. Today, he really lost his marbles in his rant against the TAC and indeed against all “Protestantism”! If I were the priest responsible for his instruction, I would tell him to stop right there and ask himself whether he really wants to joins a Church in which ecumenical dialogue has been established for more than half a century, indeed longer.
We all have everything to learn from attending Orthodox liturgies, Protestant worship services, and even Jewish and Islamic services (doing the right things like covering the head, taking off your shoes, etc.). There are also plenty of books like Hinduism for Dummies, Buddhism for Dummies, etc. to give a basic introduction.
Yes, I do think it is helpful to read documents like the Book of Concord and other Reformation formularies.
Yes, Michael, you make very good suggestions. I absolutely agree.
I do believe that the most likely best fruits will be found around interactions of EO, PNCC, Confessing/High Church Lutherans, and Continuing Anglicans. Members of these groups really need to encourage their Churches, prelates, and synods to work productively and cooperatively. If only the EOs and Anglicans, respectively, could clean up our own jurisdictional houses in places like USA we could then present a more united front when dealing with others. If the American Lutherans can do it (since they are down to really just two major bodies, ELCA and LCMS), so can we!?!? But keep reasonable expectations and a sense of hope. Took them about 50 years? 😉