Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Perhaps an example of how not to be ecumenical

Alvin Kimel over at Pontifications, posted several days ago on Bishop Thomas Wright's and Bishop David Stancliffe's responce to Cardninal Walter Kasper's recent address to the Bishops of Church of England on the ordination of women to the episcopate
I had begun a reflection on this a few days ago and felt I should wait to post it. My point is not to talk about Women's ordination. I support it and my current superior is an ordained woman and I worked for nearly three years along side Jane Schmoetzer an Episcopal priest and a woman at Church of Jesus Christ Reconciler. It was reading a discussion that happened over at Jane's blog on a sermon she preached a week and a half ago that reframed the issue for me.

The interaction that is relavant took place between the Rev. Ref and a regular visitor and dialogue partner on this blog the Young Fogey. I reference this not to dredge up an argument that I think has run its course, but because these two things lead me to wonder about ecumenical engagement and what we expect from it. And I am wondering if I expect something other than my former co-pastor expects and has expected, and perhaps she will be surprised by what I reveal here, I don't know. However, from my reading if Bishop Wright's and Bishop Stancliffe's comments fully reflect their understanding of ecumenical engagement I am sure I see things very differently than they.

I am engaged in an ecumnical work because I see the witness of my small Protestant Lutheran Pietist (or Evangelical depending on who you ask) denomination as partial witness to the Gospel at best. As I have said here before the faith I have is mostly due to faithful members of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The long puzzel for me in my faith has been that the faith I was raised with always pointed me beyond my denomination. Given a number of quirks of the Covenant it seems difficult if not impossible to believe that the Covenant Church has the corner on what it measn to be Christian or the Church, in fact I argued in a seminary paper that we lacked a coherent ecclesiology. A problem and yet also a boon, if what I am going to say bellow is true.

The other peice of this puzzle is that I do not believe nor do I think I have ever believed that the Reformation recovered or refounded the Church. In a very real sense the Reformation was a failure (I do not believe I have invented this veiw it is how I have read Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, espcially Braaten in Mother Church) while at the same time the Reformation had very catholic impulses. It seems to me in his own way though using this point to argue for a return to Rome, Louis Bouyer made a similar point. This paradox has various causes: the nature of the personalities involved on both sides, the state of the papacy and possibly even due to the dominance of nominalism at the time. What ever the reasons the Reformation did not end with a reformation of the church but further schism in/of the church. Schism that has continued down to our own day as Protestantisms continue to multiply and divide Christians which even effects my wife and I in our relationship with my mother-in-law. But even in these schismatic conditions there are and have been continuous catholic affirmations within Protestantism.

Where I engage ecumenism it is in this catholic affirmation not in attempts to deffend our schism(s) as if the divisions of Christians is in any way deffensable, while also affirming that I cannot explain my faith as it exists if I and the Covenant are completely and absolutely beyond the boundaries of the church. This is how I have read Braaten and to some extent Jenson, it is how I understand the Faith and Order commission of the World Council of Churches. BTW if Alvin Kimel or the Young Fogey, or Cliff or any other Orthodox or Roman Catholic want to dislodge me from my current ecumenism show me where Braaten and Jenson go wrong or the Faith and Order Commission (As should be becoming clear I am not the "Doctrine divides, Service Unites ecumenist) for that matter, without vitriolic and overstatement for effect. If you are convincing you may just achieve what you hope for. Oh and for the record Louis Bouyer simply reinforced my dilema as a Protestant with catholic affirmations so you might have to do better than he.

But I digress. This failure along with catholic tendency should cause one to pause as Kimel asks us to, before statements like the one given by the good bishops in responce to Cardinal Kasper. Such statements argue for rapid changes in the church, as if we (Protestants, oh sorry but I have to admit I see Anglicans as Protestant whatever protestation they may give about that label) alone in our isolated and shismatic contexts can discern new movements of the Spirit for which there is little or no evidence in Scripture or the history of the church. I must admit that I'd like to believe that we could move headlong ahead and consider the issue of woman's ordination a settled issue and lable all others who don't fall in line as wrong headed. I wish as well that the blessing of same sex couples and the ordination of persons in a commited same sex union could be settled and we simply move on. But to do so and not listen to the voices of those who keep telling us that there are sound theolgoical and Gospel and ecclesial reasons for not doing so and to move blindly forward expecting RC and Orthodoxy to accept the word of schismatics (no matter how catholic we may try to be) appears to me like a heedless narrow fixation on ourselves that borders on the self-righteous. Forgive me my good bishops but your responce to the good cardinal seemed like simple self-justification to do what you want in the face of a kind if firm statement that to do X simply continues your schismatic tendencies and is not in the spirit of your catholic tendencies. While I have and continue to support the ordination of women in my denomination I do so wihtout believing either that I or anyone else can claim the issue settled with any sort of certainty, nor do I believe that the debate could be settled between Christians who are in schism, as we all are from each other. Now admitedly I and the Covenant do not pretend to have the same view of ordination as the RC, while Anglicans I understand do, so I can understand from a certian pov that it stings more for Anglicans than for me to admit this. If the Covenant theology of ordination is the full truth then there is nothing to keep us from moving forward. However, the Covenant position on ordiantion is bound up with a vague ecclesiology and is possibly in part in contradiction to an ecclesiology that was held from the time Ignatius of Antioch onward by orthodox catholic Christians. So given both the fuzyness of Covenant theology and the older orthodox ecclesiology I think we need to have better arguments and face RC and Orthodoxy head on by not convincing them they are wrong and we are right but by seeking to show that their theology in fact supports what we believe to be right. I would think that Anglicans would especially need to do so since they have at least similar theology of ordination and ecclisiology and at least claim to be in line with the ecclesiology of Ignatius of Antioch. Though I will admit this might be a quixotic task.

In anycase I reject a certain type of ecumenism that simply wants the ecumenical endeavor to affirm everyones opinions or at least every groups opinions about what it means to be Christian and the church, as opposed to the ecumenism that seeks the whole witness of the church and is willing to submit to that long view, and to make decisions made from that universal perspective, as opposed to simply seeking to be timely. My hope is that Reconciler is instilled with this wide and deep ecumenical vision as an ecumenical congregation. I am niether a convinced Protestant nor a convinced ecumenist rather I am one who is seeking through ecumenical engagement to understand the paradox of my experience of faith as a Protestant: that I am both in a schismatic but also that my Lutheran Pietist denomination instiled in me a catholic and orthodox faith, or in the very least a catholic desire and love for the church. And by church I mean that entity/institution that came into existence on Pentecost when the Spirit descended on the Apostles and never ceased to be.

My suspicions are that I have in the very least puzzled most and possibly infuriated a few. But I hope it is clearer to all why I am a pastor of an ecumenical congregation.

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