Sunday, October 25, 2020

United not absorbed. . .

So long ago that few can remember, there was a dream of an ecumenical consensus that would result in one church -- a single church hierarchy, a single headquarters, a single structure, and a single liturgy.  The unified doctrine part of it all was rather fuzzy -- enough vague language to create harmony without necessarily being, well, doctrinaire?  But COCU (Consultation on Church Union in 1962) did not do what was envisioned.  A 1970 plan of union went nowhere.   It became Churches Uniting in Christ (2002).  From the original list, a much smaller group was left to sort it all out before the gas ran out.

  • African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Episcopal Church
  • Evangelical United Brethren Church
  • Methodist Church
  • Presbyterian Church in the U.S.
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

In the end, a few of those participating negotiated smaller mergers and the most profound accomplishment was fellowship between the many groups (including now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).  So intercommunion replaced a common church name, structure, ministry, and identity.

Some in Rome perhaps thought that it would be good for them to unite the various Reformation groups with the mom on the Tiber with whom the groups had previously departed.  But Rome has engaged this unity a little differently.  Perhaps it began with Benedictine Lambert Beauduin, who in 1925 had the ream of unity between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church but a unity in which the Anglican identity was not necessarily lost or surrendered.  Pope Benedict XVI was the one who turned the switch onto a full unity that preserved Anglican identity through an ordinariate.  It was an identity in which the groups were united under a papacy but the Anglicans were not absorbed into Rome.  They maintained their identity through their own liturgical tradition and a separate episcopal structure. 

Could it be that this is the model of ecumenism today?  While it might work for some, I have doubts that confessional Lutherans could accept such a model.  I could conceive of some Lutherans accepting it in theory as long as Rome would be amenable to the social stances they have taken as well as allowing the doctrinal deviation they are accustomed to already.  But in the end, what kind of unity is this?

I have wondered for a long time why anyone would be Orthodox and use a Western liturgy.  I cannot imagine why someone would desire unity with Rome and retain a separate identity.  While this might work for Byzantine Rite Roman Catholic congregations, the churches of the West have a Western liturgy -- like Rome.  The preservation of this liturgical identity when the Western liturgical tradition is so strong seems odd at best.  Rome long ago gave up the various distinctive rites in favor of the Roman Rite but, when Benedict re-established the Extraordinary Form, it led to two competing liturgical traditions in Rome -- one that perhaps would not find a problem with rites so long as Rome got to decide what stayed and what was left behind and everyone agreed with papal unity.  Nonetheless, this Lutheran is not so enamored. 

2 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

A Lutheran ecumenical consensus requires a quia subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580. However even among self-proclaimed "Lutheran" church bodies claiming altar and pulpit fellowship, that is not always the case.

Chris Jones said...

I have wondered for a long time why anyone would be Orthodox and use a Western liturgy.

The reason to be Orthodox, if there is one, is the belief that the Orthodox Church is, concretely, the Catholic and Apostolic Church confessed in the Creed; and therefore that the faith confessed by the Orthodox Church is the orthodox Christian faith in its fulness. The question then becomes, can someone hold that belief and still use a Western liturgy?

The reason that the answer to that question is "Yes" is that the Western Church of the first millennium -- the Church of St Cyprian, St Augustine, St Ambrose, St Gregory the Great, St Irenaeus, and many others -- was Orthodox. Because of that, the entire theological, spiritual, and liturgical patrimony of the first-millennium Western Church belongs to the Orthodox Church (as much (at least) as it does to Rome and to us Lutherans). If St Gregory and the others that I mentioned could celebrate a Western liturgy (and they did) and be regarded as Orthodox Christians in good standing (which they are, being Orthodox saints all), then an Orthodox Christian today may certainly do the same today.

There may be practical and prudential reasons why Orthodox should not use a Western liturgy; there are certainly no historical, theological, or liturgical reasons why they must not.