Last week I shared in several ecumenical events in Chicago. I will write more about these events in the next few weeks. I think they reveal what happens when God’s people listen to one another with love and respect and what potential there is for the future of the church in our increasingly secular culture.
What stands behind my personal interests, as my regular readers know well, is my vision/vocation, a vocation that sprang from God capturing my mind and heart through the words of our Lord in John 17:20-26.
I have included these words as translated by the late J. B. Phillips in the Phillips New Testament.
I am not praying only for these men but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you, I am asking that they may live in us, that the world may believe that you did send me. I have given them the honor that you gave me, that they may be one, as we are one—I in them and you in me, that they may grow complete into one, so that the world may realize that you sent me and have loved them as you loved me. Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am; I want them to see that glory which you have made mine—for you loved me before the world began. Father of goodness and truth, the world has not known you, but I have known you and these men now know that you have sent me. I have made your self known to them and I will continue to do so that the love which you have had for me may be in their hearts—and that I may be there also (italics mine).
My thesis today is quite specific–the lack of Christian oneness, or ecclesial and relational unity, contributes to the growth and influence of secularism, especially in the West. Centuries of Catholic and Protestant division, as well as the myriad divisions within Protestantism itself, have profoundly contributed to the secular force that is driving religion out of all conversation about public issues. Our scandalous disunity has caused the world to disdain our witness even more deeply with each passing year.
Fifty years ago Vatican Council II issued the Decree on Ecumenism–Unitatis Redintegratio–which stated that a divided Christian Church “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.” This decree called for dialogue among separated Christians, both Protestant and Orthodox.
One of my favorite writers is the late Catholic historian Christopher Dawson (1889–1970). Dawson, an independent British scholar, wrote numerous insightful, and immensely helpful, books on cultural history and Christendom. In his 1965 book, The Dividing of Christendom, Dawson maintained that the Catholic and Protestant worlds have been so divided from one another by centuries of war and power politics that they no longer share a common social experience.
What Dawson argued was that this division was deeper than a simple “party split” within the Christian Church. Yes, there were theological disagreements for sure. But these evolved into a cultural estrangement among those who were really from the same religious family.
Glen Argan, writing earlier this year in the Western Catholic Reporter, concludes: When the Western and Eastern churches agreed to reunite in 1453 after nearly 400 years of separation, Byzantine Christians rejected that union, saying they preferred Turkish rile to a union with the papacy. Doctrine was not the problem; culture was.”
While some might question this observation I believe it to be a fair and accurate portrayal of the time and of what transpired. The same can be seen in America when the Catholic and Protestant worlds collided ion the mid-19th century. With the huge wave of Irish immigrants to North America there was a moment in which the two worlds might have come together in the “new world.” But this was not the case as we now know all too well. A deep-seated prejudice between Catholics and Protestants profoundly shaped the culture of the United States for the next 150-plus years. Protestants and Catholics lived, as Glen Argan says, “in two solitudes.”
What happened as a result of these clashes and the resulting “solitudes” is nothing short of tragic. Tomorrow I will show why this is so.