Tuesday, October 20, 2015
A strangely shallow ecumenism
That said, I have learned that there is another kind of loneliness which is even more a problem. It is the loneliness of those so unsure of their faith or so casual about their convictions that diversity and difference -- even conflict and outright disagreement -- are no bar to claiming the friendship of altar and pulpit. This kind of ecumenism is born of basic insecurity and uncertainty. Those who are unsure about what, if anything, can truly be known or believed are more likely to find answer and solace in the company of as many individuals are in the same boat as they are.
What we face today is what Mascall and Boyer have called Alice in Wonderland ecumenism. In this kind of ecumenical friendship, the more the merrier and doctrine is discarded or forgotten in order to foster such formal declarations of unity that often have little to do with truth. In this kind of ecumenism, everyone agrees (even to disagree), everyone is a winner, and everyone gets a prize. It is like the county fair in which the concessions always promise a prize whether you win or lose.
In truth, real ecumenism always begins with disagreement and even conflict. Unless we admit what divides us, we have no hope of uniting us. That includes a serious appraisal of what it is we believe, confess, and teach -- and whether it is Biblical, catholic, and faithful. The only path to real agreement begins when each group lays their convictions and confessions under the microscope of what Scripture says, what the Church has always believed and confessed, and how faithfully this group believes and confesses it now.
Real ecumenism always has winners and losers. We cannot all disagree and be correct. This is the modern fallacy of truth -- nobody is wrong. But of course some are wrong. The game here is not won in who is right and who is wrong but who is faithful to the Word, to the catholic tradition, and to expressing it fully today. The shame is not in being wrong but refusing to reject the wrong in the face of what Scripture says and catholic tradition upholds. Real ecumenism will always have winners and losers but those who lose win when they correct their confession and reject the wrong. We all do.
Real ecumenism gives out no prizes. It is not a game at all. It is the pursuit of faithfulness to the Word of the Lord and the catholic principle -- this is its own reward. We are not in it to pad the friendship count or to demonstrate we are better than anyone else but to make sure that we are faithful to Christ and His Word and faithful to the catholic tradition of what has always and everywhere been confessed from that Word.
So it is lonely at times being a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. But it is not as lonely as it is when fellowship is an participial creation of desire absent truth, creed, confession, and catholicity. Yes, we have our problems in Missouri. We surely do. And we cannot afford to overlook our own problems in order to concern ourselves with the problems of others. But neither can we afford to compound those problems by seeking such an Alice in Wonderland church in which truth is true for the moment, when faith is flexible, when doctrine lives within a diversity in which no one is correct, and the Word of the Lord merely suggests rather than defines us.
I long for the day when altars and pulpits are fully open, when we are strengthened by the convictions of others who speak with us in one voice, and when we harbor no errors of will and intent... but those whose hearts ache for the unity of the Church will find no relief for their pain in ignoring, overlooking or minimizing the serious theological differences that divide us. If we will not have it on earth to satisfy our desire, then let us be content with the promise of Christ that His Church is one and that He knows His own. Until then let us just make sure that we know the Shepherd rightly and trust that He who is Lord of the Church will bring all things to pass in the fullness of time.