During the days of September 11-13, 2014, twenty-six people from Catholic and evangelical churches gathered to build relationships for the sake of Christ’s mission. Yesterday I shared the first portion of our report. Today I share the second part of our document.
Relationships for the Sake of the Mission
The 2014 Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation
Nate Bacon suggested the Emmaus Road dialogue as a model of evangelization. In the context of sharing their pain, disappointment, and devastation the two disciples invited Jesus into their conversation, as did the disciples who Jesus sent out two by two, appearing to the townspeople they encounter as homeless people. In touching the wounds of humanity, we touch the wounds of Christ. We say to the poor, “we need you.” We need the poor; we do evangelization because we need to, in order to encounter Christ.
Fr. Barron had previously suggested another way of viewing the church: “the prolongation of the Incarnation through space and time.” Many were intrigued by this notion, but Suzanne McDonald explained how, to Reformed ears, it sounds almost idolatrous. The Incarnation is a phenomenon that cannot be repeated; a more congenial description of the Church, for her, would be “unity in distinction.”
If the goal of our collaboration is to unite in prayer and service, the analogy to the gospels in the early Church works well. But perhaps our goal is, as Wolfhart Pannenberg describes the church, to tarry through the world under the shadow of darkness and sin, but in the end it will be one. The “full, visible unity” that we work toward is eschatological. Before the eschaton, perhaps the “one” consists in collaboration.
That image suggested to Fr. Leo Walsh the model Michael Kinnamon has used: ecumenism moves through stages, from conflict, to coexistence, to cooperation, to communion. If the eschatological goal is full visible unity, perhaps we can establish an intermediate goal of “fuller” visible unity.
The Spirit seems to be saying that co-existence is not sufficient. So our charge is to ask, “How do we enter into cooperation and collaboration while acknowledging our differences?” We have made progress; imperfect but real communion does exist. Nevertheless, we must not use “eschatological unity” as an excuse for not working toward more and more visible unity.
How do we move toward visible unity?
- Fr. Don Rooney: “Prayer and charity is the process of ecumenism. Our work is not to fix the problem, but to leave the door open for the Spirit. Only the Spirit can solve this problem. Our job is to get holy together.”
- David Hickman: “When love has an agenda, it ceases to have power and purpose. Ecumenism needs to have an agenda-less love.”
- Brett Salkeld: “We’re not here to convert one another. We’re all here to be converted closer to Christ. Doctrine will emerge only through the lived experience of Christians. In that way, service does lead to doctrine.”
- Jeff Gokee: “Our common mission, our missional-ecumenism, is to show a generation that came out of a culture of divorce that unity is still possible.”
- John Armstrong: “If the term ‘The Body of Christ’ raises problems, because of our divisions, is ‘The Family of God’ a useful way of naming who we are?”
- Dan Olsen: “’Family’ is a Biblical word. Christians are in a ‘marriage’ [between Christ and his Church]. We are part of a family that cannot be broken. Churches are married to each other. And although churches are separated, they are not divorced.”
- Fr. Tom Baima: “Division is the obstacle that prevents evangelization. We do not have unity in mission, but unity for mission.”
- Chad Haines: “It’s right for us to feel the ache of division.”
- Fr. Tom Baima: “The Spirit has made us aware that we are past the first two steps [conflict and co-existence]. Now, we need to incubate how to address the third [cooperation].”
- Fr. Leo Walsh: “We need to ‘raise the sails’ and let the Spirit take us where the Spirit will.”
As a Lausanne Conversation, how might we “raise the sails”? Several ideas were proposed—spending more time in prayer and reading scripture together; as we get closer to Christ, we get closer to each other. In a practical sense, a slightly expanded program of two full days might allow for that, as well as including something service-oriented, such as “field trips.” There is a great need to include more women’s voices in the conversation, perhaps by establishing satellite locations. It is clear that the present cohort have developed a respect and affection for one another, and want to continue their relationship. We might move toward greater cooperation in future conversations by organizing the members according to their various competencies—theologians, those in ministry (especially to young adults), ecumenists.
Seasoned ecumenical leader and author Michael Kinnamon’s “series of five steps” can help us imagine where we are today. His “framework,” which became a template for our discussion on the second day of conversation, provides a model for envisioning our current work and our future in ecumenical relationships. Kinnamon proposes the following stages:
- Competition. A church or faith community sees itself as self-sufficient and in a state of rivalry with other churches and communities.
- Co-existence. A church, while showing little readiness for positive relations, acknowledges that Christ may be known and followed in other churches and agrees to live alongside others but with little interest in dialogues or structured relationships.
- Cooperation. A church or faith community recognizes others with sufficient warmth to undertake certain tasks or forms of witness together, to engage with them in real, if limited, partnership.
- Commitment. The mutual recognition between the churches or faith communities transcends simple cooperation, to such a degree that they affirm the existence of lasting bonds greater than expedient collaboration.
- Communion. Churches reach a stage where they no longer see themselves as separate entities. Earlier divisions having been reconciled, they now try to act as one in mission and to share “sacred things.” Christians generally speak of communion (the frequently used Greek term is koinonia) only in terms of other churches, not interfaith partners.
Without discussing each of these steps in detail, we generally agreed that Catholics and evangelical Protestants range widely across a spectrum in regards to this framework. Yet we, as Catholics and Evangelicals together, believe that we are now on the doorstep of Ecumenism 2.0 which we see as taking the form of stage three and four in Kinnamon’s model, with growing mutual interest in what this new form of ecumenism could look like in the years ahead. We are realists. We acknowledge the obstacle of some deeply developed doctrinal differences among us, but we also believe that “our unity in diversity” draws us to keep seeking one another in faith, hope, and love.
Participants summed up the entire conversation in words such as these:
- Humility—we witnessed one another being detached from our own ideas for the sake of unity.
- Self-effacement: “Take everything responsibly, nothing seriously.”
- Appreciating the Eucharist and acknowledging the presence of Christ in each person.
- The call to be transformed together by being together.
- The whole world is like the disciples in the upper room, waiting to find what they would do next.
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