As Kingdom Mission Society (KMS) gets further into ecumenism, the insight that God governs the church and the saints is particularly helpful. Each of the major traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, Protestant, Reformed, Historically Black, Pentecostal) has a take on why its way contains the fullness of the faith, or in some cases the equivalent of the best form of practice. In some ways this is natural, you wouldn’t have your own branch of the church without this sense of who you are; yet it is an odd barrier to unity.
You have this idea in ecumenical circles that all dialogue should be based on love and truth. And by truth it is meant the sharing of true doctrine and that part of love is sharing these points of division. When you do this, what you end up with is a unity based on the truths of one branch of the church, a unity that will never achieve a full unity or will do so at the cost of isolating other branches.
Yet, Calvin’s insights that the church is governed by Christ in invisible and visible ways is probably better and are more helpful as a means of thinking through divisions in the church as a practical matter even if not a focus of official dialogue.
Jesus retains the fullness in himself. The Holy Trinity decides where and in what manner a particular branch of the church will look most like Christ. Doctrine aids in supporting this kind of holiness, but in and of itself it is not the holiness that the Trinity alone retains.
This doesn’t diminish doctrine and form and substance and theology, instead such a notion would enhance it. For we are all called to make prudential judgement on the right forms and structures of the church on the means of grace and path towards sanctification, but what it does do is move us away from the idea that we must agree on doctrine to be part of the same body and to achieve unity or that our unity is achieved through a common table for the Eucharist. For unity is already active in one sense, God is actively governing the church and his people, in all of their expressions. This governing includes doctrine but also exceeds it and transcends our limitations. Doctrine is still very key, but we are pointing to the God that actively works in his church and people.
Such a view wouldn’t even diminish a church from seeking unity on its terms or forsaking unity in the aim of articulating the truths of its doctrine, but it would do two things. One it would point true unity towards that which already exists and is governed by the Holy Trinity. Two the dialogue could focus on where we see the fruits of saintly and holy movements and we could celebrate those fruits and thereby learn from each other in a way that actually builds mutual bonds of affection.
Consider some of the truths that flow from the idea that Christ ultimately has governed and does govern his church. We would say that the true spiritual substance that motivates the lives of the saints is similar and that with prudential reflection we can see how similar the work of God in the Christian church is among different people, traditions, and cultures. We would learn a new language to speak of the common witness of the church, and speak about its truest and brightest forms in the lives of holy men and women. We would learn from other traditions and cultures in the church and learn to recognize the fruits of the spirit born in their lives, and perhaps best of all we could learn from their witness in order to inform our witness today.
What does this mean practically?
KMS has three focuses 1) working to create a common memory and sense of our Christian past 2) taking pilgrimages to places of importance to other major Christian traditions, and 3) supporting the film This Changed Everything which is an excellent film on the reformation and is an excellent resource as we head into the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation.
Cultivating a Common Memory
Check out our KMS blog (this post in particular) for some of our best thoughts, we are in the processes of developing more resources for individual and church use.
Pilgrimage for the Fall of 2017
We are working with friends at the Pontifical College of North America and contacts in Assisi to do a 10 day pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, and Taize. If you an interest in attending please e-mail us.
This Changed Everything
Check out the trailer:
Please contact us if you’d like to host a screening at church, college, or in any other setting.