Ever since Pope Francis participated in the kick off of the Reformation commemorations, I have been giving serious thought to what an ecumenical future might be like.
That all be ONE has often (in my non-normative opinion) been interpreted either in a modernist (a la Kant, et al) manner or legalistic way (Dominus Jesus). The legalist model of Rome brokering "treaties" with various Protestant denominations is out of touch with the lived experience of most Christians. I am not optimist about the future of ecumenism in terms either of mutual recognition and acceptance of Christian churches or spontaneous movement to shared community by individuals. While religion has to do with the noblest and most worthy human aspirations, it is also infested with insidious strains of power, control, and position.
There seems to be little appetite for ecumenism among the expanding and growing protestant churches led by pastors who embrace conservative protestant theology. Within the Catholic church, while there are few statistics that correlate the theological positions of clergy/hierarchy with growth of parishes, in my experience (admittedly this is argumentum ex fabella) there is some kind of restorationist movement among younger clergy that puts the emphasis on ROMAN in the label “Roman Catholic.” Even current discourse regarding Catholic identity issues at Roman Catholic schools and colleges is suggestive of a circling the wagons approach that leaves little room for ecumenism.
Aside from issues of governance and various “orthodoxies” (biblical, confessional, or magisterial), on a day to day level the practice of Christianity is similar among Protestants and Catholics. They can get along with each other in terms of human values and social service. There are vast differences in terms of commitment to political action and in regard to the hierarchy of issues that merit political activism. I would draw from this the conclusion that “charity” works can be shared; “justice” issues will continue to be as divisive as current western political ideologies.
Richard Shields, email@example.com
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had something of an open door policy? We wouldn't need to give up our long held beliefs and yet we could freely go from church to church, denomination to denomination as the need arose. We would still be fed spiritually without feeling that we had given up something. This would mean that the term 'Christian' would be all embracing and not put into categories such as evangelical, protestant, catholic. etc. I would still hold to my Catholic creed, my Pope, and my sacraments, but would not feel guilty if I listened to and prayed with the local Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, etc. congregation.
Since Vatican II opened the windows for fresh air, I have no problem attending other than Catholic liturgical functions. I was thinking of it as being more universally possible. Too many 'churches' remain territorial, looking on other faiths as being the enemy, unwilling to put aside long-held animosities. Bbeing practical, if our country cannot come together politically with two major players, how could I possibly hope to see all the various sects coming
Sally Meyers firstname.lastname@example.org
Obviously different religions and denominations often have a hard time working together - and will continue to do so. Churches are divided by a common language, like "salvation," "original sin," and other root metaphors that define the contours of belief, practice, and power structure.
Secularization seems to be the more pertinent issue to me. I know so many people in the US who are very secularized, but even in the global South, despite the much-touted rise of evangelical churches, secularization is quickly rising as a force to be reckoned with there as well. The utilitarian yardstick that drives our budgets, our businesses, and the rest of our lives is inevitably going to be applied to the religious segments of our lives as well; no matter what need religion responds to, more and more people expect that it actually respond, and if it doesn't, it is not needed. Most of my friends in Latin America are as secularized as my American friends, if not more so, because they see so deeply how often institutional religion has been in bed with dictatorial governments. They also know the liberationist impulse arising from religious communities, but that feels more "below" and more or less "against" the institutional character of those religions.
Thoughts lean away from institutions in favor of a renovation of world views - related, I know, but clearly distinct. To what needs do religious practices respond, how do they respond, how is Jesus presented in a way that authorizes particular kinds of Christian action? Those are more "transcendental" questions that, to me, everyone needs to think about more clearly, regardless of denomination.
Patrick Cousins, email@example.com
The scandal of division in the body of Christ may not easily be corrected by those who hold juridical powers in the different churches. The reason is not because of personal pride but because of limited understanding of what it means to be a leader. To be pastor is not to be a custodian of laws but of the flourishing of the fellowship of friendship among the flock. Since this is currently the case I suggest the following: the faithful, adhering to the oneness in Christ should begin to welcome each other to the liturgies of their respective churches. When this becomes the norm, the magisterium of the respective churches will have no reason but to follow through.
We tend to forget that as baptized members of Christ’s family we also are called to be the light of Christ to each other. We do not always have to wait for the magisterium to lead us. We are not children but adults in Christ.
Christianity, on the same page with mainline religions, will be radically re-oriented toward global ecological crises. Doubters of man-caused global warming will be virtually non-existent. Religions will be primarily engaged in re-orienting how “Providence” is understood, in Earth-life context and in the ‘divine agency’ of personal conscience respecting global existential crises, and focused on special efforts toward habitat restoration for threatened species essential in preventing ecological collapses.
Religions will be practical minded, that is, this-world focused, more so, and ‘restitutionally’ concerned more so than institutionally. New insights of real-world physics will push theologians to rewrite traditional metaphysics. Health problems linked to ecological degradation will be more prevalent. Theology will be more ‘universalized’ in its sense of God as Word/ Light/ Love in real-world agency, and in the people-sense of trustworthy communication, informed consciousness and committed conscience.
Sylvester L Steffen, firstname.lastname@example.org
I don't think that eco-theology will replace theology anymore than liberation theology or feminist theology has cornered the market. I wouldn't say that they are fads but they will pass when they have succeeded in pushing issues into human consciousness that have not been attended to. I do have hope that ecology will have settled its place in human consciousness, religious or not, by 2050.
By twenty-fifty the religions will have taken on a clearer and cleaner profile. They will be forced to that by an increase in secularization that will not, in the long run, be antithetical to religion but will increasingly expose religion’s "soft underbelly" (Winston Churchill). While members of other religious communities can suggest their own hopes for their communities in twenty-fifty, the Catholic church, my church, will have shed its sillier ornaments and trinkets, among them mandatory celibacy, the religious inequality of women, the links to capitalist wealth and worldly power, militarism, vestments of all sorts, the Vatican, etc. Clean up the act!
Catholicism's needs are simple: an actual community life, a cleaner notion of God, and the discovery that every Catholic is Christ-in-the-world; a fervent recognition and actualization of the meaning of the cross in everyday life of every Christian. Every religion needs to allow and even promote legitimate secularization in its own bailiwick, and to join other religions in the common cause of liberation of the transcendence of the human community. How sad is the RCC and the USA from such a perspective!
William M. Shea, College of the Holy Cross, email@example.com
I take eco-theology very seriously along with liberation theology and feminist theology. All three point to what is urgently needed: in my view, a new socially-oriented metaphysics with priority given to the common good more than to the rights of individuals in abstraction from the rights of other individuals, both human and non-human. It is increasingly a matter of survival for the human race, as Pope Francis made clear in Laudato Si.
A theology is only as good as its philosophical underpinning. This is not an appeal for everyone to become a Whiteheadian although Whitehead has made a good start in fashioning a new socially oriented metaphysics that works with broader thought-categories like societies or systems of individual subjects of experience that are dynamically interrelated and together co-produce over time the always elusive but much needed common good of human society and of the natural world in which we all must live. Whitehead is admittedly for most people hard to understand because he is so new and different from the conventional modes of thought in which we all tend to find a personally comfortable intellectual security.
Joe Bracken, firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks for the simulating ideas suggested so far. Statistics suggest the very sober future of a very reduced Christianity in the West. First of all, ecumenism at the top (between ecclesial elites) is increasingly less important than ecumenism at the bottom which increasingly includes all men of good will. Pope Francis is promoting practical forms of ecumenism on a world scale with great success: about the environment, the refugees, the poor, science & technology at the service of humankind (e.g. the on-going Global Forum).
By 2040-50 church attendance in the US will be about 10-15% because today a third of young Catholics have given up their Catholic identity and the attendance rate among millennials is 10% or less. The biggest “denomination” today is that of “no religion.” By 2040-50 they will probably count for about 40% of the population.
There is little choice for the US church: revive or continue to decline. In this revival the participation of the laity in an egalitarian church will be vital. What is needed is a new ecclesiology, looking outside the US borders for inspiration, e.g. in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. Finally and not least, for our contemporaries spirituality is more important than doctrine.
I am a Lutheran teaching at a Catholic university. I tell students, "I am not here to convert you to Lutheranism but to help you explore your religious and spiritual identity, whatever that is." I also teach Catholic Social Teaching, stressing the value it has for people of all faiths. I attend mass on campus. This spring, I am teaching a course on Seton. I also teach our pastoral ministry students to help prepare them for work in the Catholic Church. In other words, as a Lutheran, I want to help support the Catholic Church as much as possible. That's one model of ecumenism.
For those of us, who live in the Global South where Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism are viewed as two separate religions (not denominations), ecumenical concerns are not the top priorities. Instead, the struggle to maintain denominational membership and religious identity in the midst of non-Christian populations is the urgent tasks.
For whatever reasons, the old theological disputes of the Reformation are still what divide the Christians in Asia. Many Catholics and Evangelicals have no sense of the historical circumstances surrounding the theological disputes, and instead they accept the simplistic versions of history handed down to them by Western missionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries. We do not even have a common Bible in many Asian languages, or shared a common theological vocabulary. In many cases there are a Catholic and a Protestant version, each with a different translation of proper names and terms. We do not join each other in worship nor study the Bible or theology together.
Given the religious pluralism of many Asian societies, Catholics and Protestants will maintain their separated ways for the decades to come.
So, the ecumenical concern for Euro-American Catholics and Protestants is not shared by Asian Christians – at least for a foreseeable future. The commemoration of 500 years of Reformation and ecumenism is not celebrated very much in Asia during 2016-2017. People watch those unfolding events with an interest of a by-passer.
Anh Tran, email@example.com
Yes, all the baptized followers of Christ are joined to the Trinity and all others in a basic Christian fellowship, but yes too, separated formulations of faith and separated church orders. Consequently, yes, a need for the ecumenical movement.
Before, during, and after any shifts in structures, practices, or interpretations of the gospel the whole community of Christians in all churches already is a fellowship in faith, hope, and charity. Growth there, especially in the grass-roots but without adverse reaction to official dialogues, in my present opinion, is where deepening unity keeps opening up, albeit in small ways.
Hughson, D. Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Church unity is probably beyond reach in my life time (perhaps only to be achieved the eschaton). The future possibly will witness both trends:
• the sharp identity issues that keep the tradition and culture of Catholicism and Protestantism distinct and protective of each side’s difference; individualism and loyalty to one’s own (shared) version of orthodoxy and what God wants that feeds denominationalism and has caused serious fissures in Catholicism
• also, there will be gentler and softer but no less committed movements among Christians to “bear each others’ burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Richard Shields, email@example.com
When I was a parish pastor in the ELCA we alternated between two translations of the creeds, one that used the word "catholic" and one that used the word "Christian." I tried to explain that "catholic" here didn't even mean Roman Catholic, but no go. Sigh. So one month we would use one version in worship, then we'd switch. That practice was in place before I started at that church, and I knew I wasn't going to succeed at eliminating it.
David VonSchlichten, firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been teaching in the ecumenical setting of GTU, and here is my experience.
1) The institutional collaboration between students and faculty among different member schools have been a positive experience
2) However, the biggest challenge for our students when they leave the GTU is that their local church experiences often do not mirror what they have seen at the GTU. Ecumenical relations are not at all in their top priority.
3) There seems to be a gap between academic understanding and tolerance of the religious difference and the actual practice in their local congregations. Inter-communion, or shared pulpit for example, is encouraged here at GTU, but not at their home institutions. I am not sure what to make of it.
Anh Tran, email@example.com