Sunday, May 01, 2005

"...that they may all be one..."

I generally try to be a hopeful creature - though I certainly can find myself in doubt, fear and uncertainty at times. For that reason, I am striving to find hope and encouragement amidst some mixed messages recently.
In his message, Pope Benedict greeted, with special affection, the Orthodox churches that are celebrating their Easter. The pope said he hopes the path toward Christian unity will continue. (from the Voice of America May 1 reporting of Benedict XVI's Orthodox Easter address, emphasis mine)
Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him....On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery are not Churches in the proper sense....The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities...
(excerpted from the original text of Domine Iesus, the 2000 declaration of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, part IV, section 17 - emphasis mine. Click here to read the entire text)
I had read article after article about then-Cardinal Ratzinger's authorship of Domine Iesus, and how it supposedly condemned other religions, as well as other Christian denominations. But I also knew that "nothing spreads faster than mis-information." So, when I read today's VOA article on Google, I decided to do a search on the original proclamation, and found this article in the Wikipedia, along with links to the original proclaimation's text from the Vatican web-site (so one could get it straight from the Vatican's mouth, so to speak).
(Speaking of mis-information, please note this brief side-topic before you crawl up my virtual nether-regions: contrary to some popular opinion, the Wikipedia is not Wiccan, or having anything to do with pagans, witchcraft, or the like. It is simply a free, public, open-source Web-based encyclopedia. Don't believe me? Check out the background articles here, here and here. Cool stuff, eh? Back to the topic at hand...)
An appointee of Ratzinger's was the primary author of Domine Iesus - but the document appears over Ratzinger's imprimatur, and is ratified by his mentor, John Paul II. Given that, I find it kind of hard to lend a great deal of credence to claims for Christian unity from Rome, given that the olive branch seems to be, "We can all be One, so long as you admit that we're The Real Thing, and we're right..."

At the time, I deeply hoped it was just my warped perception that led me to feel this, and that I hoped my views were not so close to reality as they seemed to be. But two years later, at seminary, these words became particularly irksome as I studied the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification between the Catholics and Lutherans (another document heavily influenced by then-Cardinal Ratzinger). The JDDJ was signed and celebrated on October 31, 1999 (Lutherans' Reformation Day) as a sign of Catholic/Lutheran unity - and yet just over a year later, in Domine Iesus we received word from Rome that no matter what we may agree on, there is still only One True Church, and the rest of us are understood to be defective in our faith.

So much for unity, I thought. So glad we spent all that time and effort (and money), just to find out that you may agree with us in some faint ways on justification, but that you really don't consider us to be "the church of Christ" after all. Thanks a lot.

That was not one of the more spiritual moments in my brief seminary career.

But in that claim of defectiveness, there is a hint of light. This statement, buried near the bottom of part IV, section 17 of Domine Iesus, holds a glimmer of hope for me:
...these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.
At first glance, it sounds silly - but wouldn't it be cool if every Christian sect and denomination could say something like that?

I know it seems simplistic and reductionistic, but I could at least hope for a world where every Baptist, Pentacostalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, born-again-independent and you-name-'em Christian in the world could say, "Yeah, you folks have your faults and defects, but the Spirit of Christ is is still using you as a means of salvation." Wouldn't that bring us a good deal closer to the Kingdom of God here on earth?

I could pray for that. I think I will, actually.

Now with praise and thanksgiving, we join in the song -
All are welcome! We gather to sing loud and strong -
Not enslaved, but set free! From now on, all will be
One in Jesus, one in water, baptized and set free!

("Baptized and Set Free," text & music Cathy Skogen-Soldner,(c) 1999,from the Augsburg Fortress Worship & Praise songbook)


Michael said...

It is typical of my church's style, though, Steve, not to come out and say directly "You people have significance for salvation." Instead we have to say it via verbal double negatives: you "have not been deprived of significance", the spirit "has not refrained from using" you.

I had some training as an editor, and putting things like that is about as grammaticaly weak as one can do it. "You are not wrong" lacks the affirming power of "You are right," even though the speaker/writer can claim that they mean the same thing. It is a sort of editorial passive-aggression.

So the words from DOMINE IESUS are a weak ecumencial gesture, but you are right. It is a bit of light, and praise God for whatever we can find.

Greg said...

I'm not sure even that weak statement is ecumenical, either, Steve. I recognize backhanded slaps from my denomination, too, and this sounds more like "God used Pharoah to accomplish the salvation of his people at the time of the Exodus", which, of course, is not a compliment or a statement of Pharoah's righteousness!

Keith Brenton said...

You posted this at a time when there are those within my fellowship (we're still trying to co-opt the name "church of Christ" after 200 years) have published what seems to be their non-negotiable items of fellowship, but are inviting discussion of them.

We're a bunch of odd ducks, aren't we Christians?

We want unity - like Jesus prayed for - but we want it on our terms.

Which, of course, must be His terms.

And yet, I have this unshakeable faith that God is drawing people to Himself through all kinds of peculiar systems of faith in His Son.

Isn't that astounding?

ScottB said...

Hmm, interesting thoughts. I do think there's virtue in being able to say that we have a shared faith in Christ, even if we don't agree on the specifics. That's a heck of a lot better than a lot of churches are able to say. In the faith I grew up with, I couldn't have said the same in reverse. Hopefully I've learned at least a bit in my thirty years. Unity does not have to equal unanimity, and respect doesn't always mean agreement.

Mychal said...

Unity does not mean uniformity, a fact often ignored within various Christian (and other)groups. In the Preface for the Mass for Christian Unity, we Catholics praise God that the Holy Spirit creates unity out of diversity. Yet in practice, we find it hard to see how that works.

Even a country like our own, with E PLURIBUS UNUM (one out of many) for its motto, struggles with the reality. The old metaphor of America as a melting pot, for example, is problematic, because it implies that everyone gets melted down, mixed together and ends up a grayish, indistinguishable mass. Those of us "already here" forget that our ancestors once were new arrivals, and we want everyone to melt down into our image. [I have some Native American blood, and even that part of the family has to admit that they were once newcomers to this land, although waaaaay back.]

I like the metaphor of quilt or tapestry better -- each one contributing a piece of the larger pattern, stitched or woven together, held by threads that bind but do not enslave, in a pattern which incorporates the differences without absorbing them and making them disappear.