Seriously folks, read this and come back at me - I know this is muddled, so help me out.
We discussed in a previous post how catholic Christians understand the unity of Christ's Church in terms of church order and doctrine. I now intend to expand that to cover mission and sacraments, but first let's consider why it's even needful to have the conversation. Catholic Christians by definition have a particular vision for the unity of the Church: in every place, there is a "local church," understood as the diocese. This is the whole Christian community in a particular geographic area with one pastor, the bishop, with subpastors (his priests) holding the charge of particular congregations/parishes. This community as a whole is understood to believe, practice and teach the Catholic faith as found in the Bible, the Creeds, and the Councils, to celebrate the Sacraments (chiefly baptism and Eucharist) and to engage in mission and Christian formation. We seek to become like Christ, and to invite others to be part of God's plan for saving the world.
Here's the awkward question: what shall be our view of other religions, like Methodism?
But seriously: remember that I started the discussion by insisting that everyone should be scandalized by Christian division, because it is a scandal. Everyone should be scandalized by any instance of people who take the name of Christ treating other people in unloving or destructive ways. It should go without saying (but I shall say it) that inter-denominational fighting and punditry is something I have no time for whatsoever, as it hinders both my transformation and yours. You will not hear me sitting around talking about "those awful benighted ______s, who are scarely Christians at all." Not. Interesting.
(Now exposing the deep poverty of certain dessicated practices, like the care and cultivation of praise bands, is another matter all together. People need to hear that.)
Keep in mind, then, that I share the concerns of the folks whose opinions I'm about to criticize. Many well meaning Christians conflate Christian charity and fraternal love with the rationalization of division by saying something like the following: "We all have different ways of worshipping and serving God, so it's okay if I go the Baptist church and you go to the Lutheran church, and they go to the Methodist church, as long as we all love Jesus and preach the gospel." This is a charitible stance, and the intent is worthy of respect. However, it is an unintentionally dishonest statement. Even if we imagine that there is some form of "the gospel" that we can understand both outside of and within our own culture and language, all of these separated Christians who want to affirm each other in their separation are actually testifying by their own choices that all of those groups understand the story of the Gospel and its demands for discipleship in radically different ways, and that these ways are radically different enough to be Church divding.
The unity of Christ's church has never been predicated upon warm feelings, but rather unity in teaching the faith and living according to the Christian story. If I really agreed so wholeheartedly with my separated breathern that we teach and live what is essentially the same Christian religion, why we do we consider our Christian communities to be different churches?
To live in separated churches, we have to have a particular reason to do so that we consider more important than the basic blanket demand for Christian unity that we find in John's depiction of Jesus? In the above example, the particular reason is ... personal preference. Does anybody really think it comes down to that?
So let us ask together: what are the important church-dividing issues? What are the ways that our different communities have of teaching and living the Gospel that justify our separation? If we can find no justification, what shall we do to end the separation?
Fr. Pete's Video Update
10 months ago