Well, Ive been back in the blogosphere for about a full month now following my extended leave of absence. Over this month, I have visited a lot of blogs and have had many interesting conversations with individuals of varying theological backgrounds.
I would have to say that one of the most disturbing things I have seen is the tremendous ferocity with which many reject ecumenism within Christianity. This experience has corroborated other encounters I have had outside of cyberspace, as well.

To begin, I am not Roman Catholic, nor do I consider myself to be an apologist for Roman Catholocism. I say this because what I am about to say will be a bit harsh toward Protestants (which I am) and Orthodox. While I know that my personal experiences on this issue are not an exhaustive nor completely accurate rendering of all the issues involved, my experience is what I would like to talk about. Since this is my blog, here we go.

Concerning Protestantism, my experience has been that particularly in the non-mainline traditions, there is a deep-seated distrust of Roman Catholicism and a virtual ignorance about the very existence of Eastern Orthodoxy. The vitriol against RCism is, of course, complicated. For example, in many non-mainline Protestant traditions, there is a uneasiness and often complete disavowal of anything liturgical (in a ritualistic sense). Therefore, as RCism embodies liturgical worship to the Nth degree, the entire tradition is branded with the abhorrence these traditions hold for ritual and liturgy. Another example might be the significant clash in sacramental theology between the two. RCism has a very definite, salvific understanding of the sacraments while most non-mainline do not, preferring a Zwinglian, symbolic view. This difference, fostered by misunderstanding, is often construed by the Protestants as a clash between faith and works, and the former is dismissively rejected on the basis of what amounts to mostly rhetoric, rather than a meaningful attempt to understand. These are just two examples of the incredible divide: there are hundreds of others. But what occurs in the multiplication of these reasons is that Christian unity is fractured, if not irrevocably destroyed.

Now for awhile, I had hopes for Eastern Orthodoxy. During my conversations on christianforums.com, I met many Eastern Orthodox who seemed very open to the idea of ecumenism in general. However, in my own backyard I have met individuals who, upon being cathechized in the Orthodox church, speak very strenuously against the Roman Catholic Church and giggle under their breath about Protestantism.

Now in opposition to both of these perspectives, I must say that my experience with Roman Catholicism is that it seems the most open to Christian ecumenism. A quick perusal of the literature being produced within Catholicism today will reveal this openness as Catholic scholars engage in meaningful ways with Protestant (and Orthodox) literature. Concerning the Eucharist, the Catholic Church will allow those chrismated in the Orthodox Church to partake of the consecrated host (even though the Orthodox will not allow their members to participate). And in practice, there have been significant works of collaboration and mutual discussion between the Catholic Church and several mainline Protestant denominations, particularly the Anglican communion. Obviously, the move towards ecumenism, on Catholicisms part, is no blind rush to homogeneity, nor is it without condition. However, it has been my experience that Roman Catholicism seems to be the most open to an ecumenical alliance with the rest of Christendom.

All right, so there is a brief recounting of my understanding of issues involved. I realize that it is probably inaccurate at points, and is certainly not an exhaustive treatment of all the nuances and considerations that must be taken into account when analyzing the state of ecumenism throughout the Christian faith. So the reader may take my tentative conclusions for whatever they deem such experiences to be worth.

As I think about those that reject ecumenism outright, I become very disturbed. Throughout the history of the Christian faith, the slogan of old has been one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Underlying this simple phrase is a rich and profound theological affirmation of the unity of Christian faith. Notice it does not say, one Lord, one organization, one baptism. No, as Christian faith is based upon a shared commitment to the Lordship of Christ, the unity proscribed is not political; it is composed of spirit. Therefore, I do not have a problem with different political/structural arrangements within the Christian church. Given the differences in social circumstances, geographical considerations, cultural understandings, etc., these differences in politico/social arrangement might actually be helpful.

However, if one listens to the rhetoric which has become the currency of the three legs of Christianity, it is clear that the differences run much deeper than politics. Rather, the divide occurs on the level of spirit. But if this is true, it is possible to maintain the one Lord, one faith, one baptism philosophy of the ancient church? I would argue that the answer is no. Each side insists on preserving its share of exclusivity, cordoning itself off from the others through the rhetoric of true church. However, given the divide in spirit that exists, the deployment of this type of language is no mere rhetoric. Rather, it draws power from the exclusivism and elitism that is propogated, embodying the underlying belief that there are not actually 3 legs to Christianity at all. Rather, the language of exclusivism and elitism merely reveals that its promulgators believe that Christianity is encumbered by two wooden legs that should be rightly cut off and thrown into the fire so that the true leg might be untainted from their wooden influence.

Growing up, I remember having the distinct impression that Roman Catholics were objects of missionary activity, that they, like all other unbelievers, were somehow separated from relationship with Christ and in need of conversion. But upon what basis is this audacious claim made? Do not all 3 legs hold to the orthodoxy of the ancient, ecumenical church? Yet if this orthodoxy is not precise enough of a threshold determiner, then what become the further criteria? If unity cannot be found rooted in the ancient spirit of the Church embodied in the ecumenical creeds and councils, the determination must proceed from ever narrower qualifications which eventually terminate in the personal subjectivities of individual denominations, parishes, or even individuals.

I realize that many will not agree. I know that opinions are strong, and many feel very strongly about the exclusivism of the traditions to which they belong. However, there must come a point when we deliberately move beyond the personal prejudices which have been ingrained in us. I use the word deliberately because change and ecumenism do not come automatically, nor easily. There are many who have very strong vested interests in maintaining the divide to the destruction of the unity of the church. Yet unity is what we must seek, it must become that for which we fervently and incessantly pursue. Until then, the churchs mission in the world will remain in the nascent, nearly abortive stage of the contemporary situation. Without unity, the church will perpetually delay the fullness of the revelation of the kingdom of God in its midst.

As participation within the history of Gods salvation is the churchs ultimate goal, the only way forward is deliberate movements of ecumenism. True enough, the change will be slow, hard and will involve the setting aside of deeply rooted, yet misapplied beliefs. The beauty of ecumenism, however, is that in this movement of change, growth, pain and loss, healing, restoration and redemption are waiting in the wing
s. When the bride is matured and fully restored, her lover shall receiver her with rapture, mending all wounds, ushering her into the Shalom of the Father. In this eschatological fantasy, all theological difference and discord shall fall aside as we stand together, one body, united in embrace as we are ourselves embraced by the salvation and eternal love of the Trinue God.