Entries tagged with “ecumenism”.


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Just reading through The Catholicity of the Reformation, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. In their introduction, Braaten and Jenson remind us that the word “Catholic” was first used to refer to Christians by St. Ignatius of Antioch, when he wrote to the church in Smyrna that “Wherever the bishop appears there let the congregation be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church.”

It’s a good reminder to us all that the catholicity of the church depends ultimately on Christ’s presence. “The church is catholic when the living Christ is present,” as Braaten and Jenson rightly interpret. And that catholicity manifests itself in visible ways. Braaten and Jenson again: “The catholicity of the church includes many things: the Scriptures, apostolic tradition, sacraments, ecumenical creeds, worship, and the ministry.”

Sadly, we do not experience this catholicity in its full glory this side of eternity. “There manifestly are degrees of catholicity,” the editors write. “The full catholicity of the church—its completed integrity and comprehensiveness, its wholeness—is finally an eschatological reality in which the pilgrim church now participates through God’s word and the sacraments but which she does not yet fully possess.”

We yearn for that day. We are the catholic church, for Jesus Christ is present among us, as St. Ignatius writes. But His presence among us awakes in us a desire for unity with our separated brethren. For indeed, Christ Himself tells us that His presence in us goes hand in hand with His desire that we would be one. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them,” He says, “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

But we know this unity is not to be accomplished by the sacrifice of truth. For in this prayer, Christ also tells us that He prays we would be made unified not only in words or actions but in truth. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” he prays (John 17: 17). We are to be one in Christ and in the Truth of His Word.

May Christ, present and working in us, draw us at last to that glorious unity. And may His prayer—that we might be One—be ever our prayer too.

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We’re currently in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place January 18–25. It’s unsurprising, therefore, to see Pope Francis, like his forbears, calling on Christians to pray for the restoration of unity in Christendom. “In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal,” he said to a delegation of Finnish Lutherans visiting Rome this past Friday, “we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one.’”

Note the implication in the first clause there: There are “those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal.” However encouraging the pope’s words are, they include an acknowledgement that not all is well when it comes to the ecumenical project. In the above linked article, Cardinal Kurt Koch (head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) explains that part of the problem is a fundamental disagreement over what the purpose of ecumenism even is. The Catholic News Agency quotes him as follows: “‘The main problem that we have today in the ecumenical dialogue with all the Protestant’ communities . . . is the lack of ‘a common vision of the goal of the ecumenical movement. We have two different views. The Catholic view, (which) is also the Orthodox view, (is) that we will re-find the unity in faith in the sacraments and in ministries.’” Conversely, Cardinal Koch says, “the vision that I find today in the Protestant churches and ecclesial communities (is that) of the mutual recognition of all ecclesial communities as churches.”

It’s hard to argue with the cardinal’s assessment…

More on this in my post “The purpose of Ecumenism” over at First Things.

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two-hands-see-all-the-peopleThe Fall 2013 issue of Concordia Journal (CJ) focuses on renewed interest and effort among confessional Lutherans in taking part in wider ecumenical discussions. To that end, it begins with a reference to an article I wrote for First Things some months back:

This past summer, a blog by Mathew Block at First Things noted that the LCMS under President Matthew Harrison’s administration has actively pursued conversations and developed good relationships with the leaders of other Christian traditions both here in North America as well as round the world. This is a very good thing!

From there, Charles Arand (executive editor for CJ) goes on to note that “our Lutheran Confessions have bequeathed to us an ‘ecumenical obligation’ (Robert Kolb) to engage in conversations with other Christians in order to remove stereotypes of each other, clarify our confession, cooperate where we can, and work toward resolving long-standing disagreements for the sake of the church’s witness in the world.”

After discussing a number of recent issues affecting the Church—and especially Lutheranism—both in North America and around the world, Dr. Arand reflects that “we live in an exciting and uncertain time as the Christian landscape shifts before our very eyes.” For that reason, he writes, “it is fitting in this issue of Concordia Journal that we reflect on what has taken place up to this point and where things are going as seen through the eyes of those outside the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In a sense, this issue provides some context for what is happening in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church and for how the LCMS is finding a wider place at its table.”

We may, of course, expand on Dr. Arand’s words here to confessional Lutheranism on a global scale. Indeed, his introduction to the issue itself highlights Lutheran Church–Canada’s contributions to ongoing dialogue with the North American Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church in North America, as well as the International Lutheran Council’s emerging discussions with the Roman Catholic Church on the world-level. Important things are happening in Christendom worldwide; “we are witnessing a seismic shift in the Christian landscape resulting in realignments of churches around the world,” Dr. Arand writes. Confessional Lutherans, it seems, are committed to taking part in the resulting discussions.

There is much in this issue worth pondering. If you’ve got a print-edition, why not take a look now? For everyone else, it doesn’t seem to be online just yet, but you should be able to find it here eventually. Dr. Arand’s introduction to the issue is already online here. For those of you with immediate access, Jeffrey Kloha’s article “The Lordship of Christ and the Unity of the Church” makes for excellent reading.

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Two pieces of news worth noting:

1) I’ve recently been named Editor for the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) news service, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. I’ll be taking on this position in addition to my current roles as Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada and Editor of The Canadian Lutheran (making room for the new work by shuffling off some of my previous duties to others). For more information on what I’ll be doing with the ILC, check out this news release here.

2): In other ILC news, I’ve written an article for First Things discussing Catholic-Lutheran dialogue in light of a recent meeting at the Vatican between the ILC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. While noting that some hopes in Catholic-Lutheran discussions have faded from the optimism of decades past, I suggest that the entrance of confessional Lutherans on a global level to dialogues with the Roman Catholic church may breathe new life into discussions. Check it out in my article “A New (Confessional) Direction in Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue.”

That’s all for now.

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After a few days offline, we’re back. Here’s the news you might have missed in recent days:

– I’ve got a post considering the work of angels over at A Christian Thing.

If you’re anything like the vast majority of Protestants (and I include myself in this condemnation), you seldom think about angels. If pressed on the matter, most of us could no doubt offer up some fluff on what these beings are. But the idea that they are constantly at work in the Christian’s life—that we are, in fact, constantly in contact with these creatures today and yesterday and all the days of our lives—this is seldom a subject of thought.

– Over at First Thoughts, I discuss the re-election of President Matthew C. Harrison (of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) and what it might mean for Lutherans’ ecumenical relations (in light of ongoing talks with Roman Catholics, the Anglican Church in North America, and the North American Lutheran Church.

If the past few years are anything to go by, this growing interest in strong relationships between the LCMS and other confessing Christian churches is likely to continue into President Harrison’s second term. I for one couldn’t be more pleased.

Update: The First Things post above has also been reprinted at the LCMS’ “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog: http://wmltblog.org/2013/07/president-harrison-the-lcms-and-ecumenical-dialogue-first-thoughts-a-first-things-blog/.

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