31 October 2007

Ecumenism and Orthodoxy

In a long and wide-ranging post the Ochlophobist looks at ecumenism from an Orthodox point of view. In an earlier post on the Emerging Church and Orthodoxy I pointed out the different views of ecclesiology that make "ecumenism" a controversial concept for Orthodox Christians. The Ochlophobist, however, looks at it much more widely: The Ochlophobist: real ecumenicic, augustinomianisms, there's no such thing as the wicked witch of the west, or, we are all the wicked witch of the west, etc., part 2.

When I taught missiology at the University of South Africa under the late Professor David Bosch he published his magnum opus,Transforming mission, in which he wrote about the "emerging ecumenical paradigm of mission". Unfortunately his untimely death put an end to the discussion about this. But much of the emerging ecumenical paradigm seemed to be built on a Western paradigm, Western history and Western assumptions. The Ochlophobist questions many of these from and Orthodox point of view.

Concerning the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, the Ochlophobist says
We have many differences, but some of them are obviously compatible. Easterns hold crowns over the heads of bride and bridegroom at weddings, many Orientals hold crosses over the heads of bride and bridegroom. Both obviously mean the same thing - that the couple is called to martyrdom. Here we have a classic example of common Orthopraxis. The Oriental and Eastern Orthodox wedding services clearly mean the same thing. Christian wedding services from other traditions, in terms of both text and actions, seem to quite clearly mean something different. For reunion to take place, so say the Holy Elders, there must be acknowledgement of a unity of faith and of a common life. The acknowledgement of the unity of faith must happen among bishops, and among Orthodox and Oriental theologians, and it must happen among clergy and laity at local levels. I must experience as an Eastern Orthodox layman, the act of going to an Oriental church and hearing the same faith taught that is taught in the Eastern Church. The acknowledgement of a common life must come through the broad recognition among bishops, theologians, and the rest, that both Easterns and Orientals share the same intuition with regard to discipline, piety, and prayer. There are differences. The question is whether or not both sides come to understand and trust that the differences are semantic, as it were, and not substantial.

With the Oriental Orthodox -- the Copts, Armenians and Syrian Jacobites -- the Orthopraxy is sufficiently similar, as in the wedding example, to make us feel at home in one another's churches and services. Thouigh there are cultural differences, there is also much that seems familiar. It is not so much the Orthopraxy that is different, it is the Orthodoxy, and specifically the christology over the two natures of Christ.

When it comes to Roman Catholics, and the thousands of Protestant groups, matters become more difficult.

Some thirty years ago in South Africa a group of denominations in South Africa decided to commit unity. Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists and several varieties of Presbyterians were joined in the Church Unity Commission (CUC). And on one Sunday in 1974 they were all to get together locally and have a service of commitment to unity.

I was then an Anglican, and in our area there were six congregations belonging to the CUC. The clergy of all of them got together to plan the unity service. It was agreed that it would be a Eucharist, and that it would be held in the Methodist Church and that we would use Anglican blotting paper for bread and Methodist furniture polish for wine. We would use Anglican chalices rather than dinky little Methodist glasses, and we would use the order of service provided by the CUC.

Then began the fun: who gets to do what. We decided to put the names of the clergy into a hat, except that there wasn't a hat, so we used the Anglican rector's fondue pot (fondues were big in the 1970s, but I haven't seen one for years). The Anglican rector's name was pulled out for the celebrant, who would say the Eucharistic prayer. Sighs of relief from the Anglo-Catholics -- it wasn't going to be done by one of those heretics who lacked apostolic succession, so it might be a valid Eucharist. The Presbyterian pulled the intercessions. The Congregationalist objected, because everyone knew that the Presbyterian was charismatic, and that would give him licence to do weird stuff. The Congregationalist also didn't like the fixed form of confession provided by the CUC. He didn't want extemporary prayer from charismatic Presbyterians, but trusted himself with an extemporary confession. The Anglicans objected to that -- how can you confess our sins?

And so the discussion continued. And what this service of commitment to unity revealed was that we were far more divided than we thought we were. The Anglicans wanted an offertory procession (bringing up the bread and wine), but the Methodists and Presbyterians saw no need for it, so it was there in the beginning elegantly covered by a mosquito net. The Anglicans ended up consuming all the leftover Methodist furniture polish (vile stuff!) and the Methodists wondered why they didn't just pour it down the drain.

Compared with that, the question of crosses or crowns at the wedding service is a doddle.

And just to show how effective the whole thing is, the CUC still exists three decades later, and there has been little progress towards unity. The whole ecumenism thing just showed how divided everyone was.

So one really needs to ask what kind of ecumenical mission paradgim is emerging, and whether in fact there is one.

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