July 18, 2005

Ecumenism III

[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]

Why Protestants--and Not Orthodox--Must Change Their Ecclesiology for Union to Obtain

In the two previous posts, I reflected on the difficulty of ecumenism precisely on the difference of understanding on what unity actually is, and on the impossibility to adjudicate the differences in dogma between Christian groups from within ecumenism. I also noted in the previous post that there can only be one criterion of truth and of unity: that of Christ himself, and that ecclesiologies that depart from this criterion are not only Church heresies, but ultimately Christological heresies as well.

Among Protestants generally, the dominant ecclesiologies seem to be: Nestorian (the Church is human and divine, both divided off from one another--humans do not partake of the divine nature but are in juridical relationship with the Godhead, and sanctified as morally pure humans--but called by the common name of “Church”), adoptionist (the Church is only a human institution, but has been adopted by God as his people, but is not otherwise divine), Arian (the Church is the highest human organization created by God, but not divine and always forever separated from union with God), or even perhaps a variant of gnosticism (the Church is neither human nor divine, but something like a bridge of those with “spiritual knowledge” for uninitiated humanity to the unite with the divine). This is not to deny that some Protestants have what seem on their face to be formally orthodox ecclesiologies, but in that they do not seem to sense the implications of their not becoming Catholic or Orthodox one wonders if the point is being missed.

So, if Protestant ecclesiologies are themselves deficient, then it stands to reason that their ecclesiologies must change if there is to be the sort of union Christ speaks of and embodies in Himself. For if Mary gave birth only to Christ's humanity, but did not birth Him who is fully God and fully Man, then neither does the Church give birth, by the Spirit, to deified humanity. The great divide between God and man is never overcome, and we remain separated from Him forever. This is the Nestorian ecclesiology, if you will. We become perfect and even sinless humans, but remain forever separated from God. All the rest of the Protestant heretical ecclesiologies also suffer from this ultimate conclusion: there is no union of the Church with God, but an eternal separation. Christians are perfect and sinless, but nothing more than “superhumanity.” Christ died only to make persons morally perfect, not to unite them to God.

Now clearly most Protestants don't intend this conclusion. They speak of union with God. But what sort of union is it? It's just like human fellowship. God is our Father. Jesus is our “bigger” brother. The Holy Spirit--well here is where the analogy falls apart (which itself should be a huge flashing warning sign). But there is no actual, real participation in God. The union is filial. But it is not the taking on of God's energies. It is red-orange painted on iron. It is not iron turning red-orange from taking on the fire's energy.

Further, for those Protestants who seem to formally have an ecclesiology that matches up with that of historic Christianity, there is a huge disconnect from the implications of such formal orthodoxy. For if it is the case that the Church is a divine-human institution, if the Church really is the Body of Christ, then it cannot be the case that any Protestant Church can, as a church, be that Body. But if that Protestant Church is not the Body of Christ, then intentional membership within that body is intentional schism. And the spiritual consequences and dangers of schism ought be obvious.

Please note two important things. I am not arguing for the failure of Protestant churches to be, in any real sense, the Body of Christ on the basis of the fact that either the Orthodox or Roman Catholic Churches claim to be that Body. Rather, I am arguing for that failure on the basis of the tenor of Protestant ecclesiologies themselves. In that these ecclesiologies instantiate Christiological heresies, they fail to instantiate the Church. And if that is the case, then no Protestant church can, of itself, be the Church. In fact, even those Protestants who espouse a formal ecclesiological orthodoxy, only end up intentionally perpetuating schism.

Now, it may well be that Protestants would deny that their respective ecclesiologies are tantamount to Christological heresies. I'm willing to predict that they will deny either that these Christological heresies apply to ecclesiology (or that their ecclesiology is no heresy) or deny that they adhere to these heresies. But they will have to argue for the former denial(s), and they still fall to the schism charge in light of the latter.

Since it is the case that the modern ecumenical movement arose from within Protestantism, then it is the Protestant ecclesiologies what will have to change for the reasons above. For even if all the Protestants of the globe are able to achieve an organic union, they will still remain Protestant. It may be an advance for ecumenism, but it will still be a failure for the unity of the Church.

Secondly, I am not arguing that anyone outside of Orthodoxy (or, to argue on principle, of Roman Catholicism) are not Christian in any sense. That may or may not be the case. But it is not part of my argument here. On a personal level, my opinion is that the Spirit of God blows where He wills, and although there is fact of the Body of Christ I have no basis to judge those outside the Church (which, sacramentally speaking, I, myself, still am outside the Church). In any case, salvation is not a given until, well, it's a given. There are many Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) who will fail to be saved and will be in hell. “Membership” is no guarantee.

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.

Previous posts:
Ecumenism I
Ecumenism II]

Posted by Clifton at July 18, 2005 11:44 AM | TrackBack

Hey. Good stuff. But I think you ignore the context of the Church in the West...and may not be including exercises of reconciliation in your thinking.

Here in the West the marriage to Empire was successful. Both Empire and Church seemed at first to survive the divorce...but as the Empire split, so too did the Church. Each Empire refused to allow for the other to even be Christian. This at least was the rhetoric. The Church is married to power here in a way that may have once existed in Russia but does so no longer. So, tread lightly.

You say that ecclesial polity is the trouble. This is correct, but not in the way you suggest. It is not we that must move to the East alone, but the East that must also move westward. All need to repent. The Church is not in sin, but you and I are. You and I must reconcile for the Tradition to be reconciled to itself.

Orthodoxy has no theology (that you have expressed) to deal with the complexities of the Church in the west. It comes close when it has to wrestle with the nationalist mess in which it finds itself. And, as you have suggested, there has been some reconciliation. But the divide is not only national...as you suggest...a division is always theological and spiritual. The Orthodox Church is divided. It is not divided over sacraments or over bishops or even liturgical colors...well...you may have to ask the Greeks about that. Heh.

The Orthodox Church is divided over nationalism. Zizoulus (sp) says so. It is not the same way we divide in the west. No. It is not a claim that Greeks are not Christian. But it is still division. And you have not yet addressed it. You have not addressed it here. And the Body is not yet reconciled to itself.

No, this is not a log and eye comment...but it is to say that neither of the communities claiming to be Church are populated solely by people who actually pull it off. Your ecclesiology, at least in the way you have thusfar articulated it, has no explanation for the sin that exists within its members. You say what to do when individuals are in sin. I like what you say. You know I do.

And when you have articulated that sin...and the theology of repentance the Tradition teaches, you oft assume that we have no such tradition. Or you assume that we do not engage in such a Tradition. This is a shortsightedness on your part. It is lazy thinking.

Hold on. Did I just say that? Let me check...

Yeah. I did. Holy cow!!! Forgive me brother, but I think it is. You are smarter than that. You are smarter than this. I ain't mad at you. I just want to call you on it.

All the sins/heresies you listed above are present in both communities and not the Tradition. You engage the Tradition. So do I.

So, where is the point of reconciliation? And why is it necessary to move Eastward? Clearly, you have found a means for salvation in that move. I have no doubt of this. And I have no doubt that there is need of and will always be need of repentance for both of us. We are in need of God's saving grace. It is an eternal need. I am never done sinning...not until God raises me up. And I am never done seeking salvation. I am never finished with the work of reconciliation.

And I will never suggest that you are not Christian. Nor will I suggest that your tradition is not Christian.

But I would also suggest that the Baptist tradition is a stream within the wider Tradition and its institutions and members need to reconcile with other Christians so that the Body of Christ will no longer be divided. And, I suggest again...The East must move westward and reconcile with us. Why? Because individually all of us are in sin. And as much as you and I both like to think in terms of the Body and the community, individuals are called to recincile first. It is not the Institution that must do it.

Thus endeth the rambling. You may now return to your regularly scheduled heresy.

Posted by: Tripp at July 18, 2005 04:06 PM


I think two things are confused here: corporate reconciliation and personal reconciliation.

In terms of personal reconciliation, you bet: Orthodox persons, especially those converting from Protestantism like me, can sometimes be a pretty arrogant lot, bringing over the very sins that pushed us out of our old haunts into Orthodoxy with us. And God knows, and so do you, I have much to repent of every single day. Certainly more than I am aware of in my sin-induced stupor.

And there is a sense in which corporate Orthodoxy (as opposed to Orthodox persons) has repentance yet to accomplish, not the least of which is the making of ethnicity a shibboleth.

But you yourself bring up an important distinction, though I do not see in your remarks that you have thought about the implications of that distinction. That is to say, to the degree there are ethnic divisions among worldwide Orthodoxy, there is schism of a sort among Orthodox. But this schism is not Eucharistic as it is between Orthodox and Protestants. That is to say, it is not a schism that bars from the Altar. Greeks may think Russians too full of themselves, and Syrians may think Greeks too corrupt, but these divisions are ethnically based prejudices and not divisions of Communion. Each can and does commune at the Altar of the other.

This distinction, I think, applies more widely. That is to say, to the degree that Orthodox have practiced anti-Semitism or have been judgmental or intolerant of Protestants or shown sinful triumphalist pride in their Orthodoxy (as though it somehow guaranteed them salvation)--then in this sense, yes, most emphatically, the Orthodox must repent and seek the forgiveness of Protestant Christians, Roman Catholic Christians and Jews (and whomever else against whom they have sinned).

But this is a different sort of reconciliation than what I am arguing that Protestants need to enact toward the Orthodox. That is to say, Orthodox are not guilty of schism in the way that Protestants are. If Protestants are to be reconciled to the Church, then this necessarily entails a reconciliation to Orthodoxy (and, proceeding generally on principle, Roman Catholics would claim the same).

You are right that Orthodoxy has reconciliation to enact with those against whom She's sinned. The difference however, is that Orthodoxy has not sinned by being Orthodox (i.e., the Church) in the way that Protestants have sinned by being Protestants (i.e., schismatics from the Church).

This is the point I am arguing.

Now, if your head hasn't exploded at these comments, let me say I fully recognize that you do not see it the way I do. If I understand you rightly, you see us all as branches of the Church, some of us (Orthodox perhaps) closer to the original or having more of a claim to the original than others, but nonetheless all of us the Church in part. Thus, for you, the reconciliation among all the different groups is doubtless the same, even if some of us have more to learn from others than others do from some of us.

This is where you and I part ways, however. I see that there is only one true Church and that Orthodoxy is it. Thus I in my current Protestantism have to be reconciled to Orthodoxy and not Orthodoxy to me. Oh sure there may be some zealous Protestant converts that have a bunch of repenting to do toward me for their treatment of me, but this is not the same reconciliation that I must enact toward the Church.

I'm not sure if this clarifies it for you. I am pretty sure you don't agree.

Posted by: Clifton D. Healy at July 18, 2005 09:16 PM

"Each can and does commune at the Altar of the other." And Methodists commune Baptists who commune Episcopalians who commune Lutherans who commune...Heck, even though it is against policy, I have received from RCC altars more times than I can count. "Don't ask. Don't tell." Heh.

My question is, reminding myself of Bro. Roger's words, should any of us commune at all? Probably not. I know this is an exaggeration. The reconciliation, as I understand it, that Paul speaks of is not about eucharistic theology as much as it is about life together. Thus, as an example, I cannot commune at the altar with my wife while we are still at odds over who should have paid the dern city sticker thingy. If there is division, then reconcile. The divisions are not limited to theological debates. I must reconcile in many ways. And as this may be impossible, I depend on grace.

Why cannot this idea also inform our theological and ecclesial differences?

Another thing, don't go forgetting that much of the Reformation was about rescuing the Church from something viewed as corrupted. This is important. So, if Calvinists discover (unlikely at best, I know) that the RCC is still the Church after all (Recent Evangelical facination with all things Catholic?), then the path to reconciliation is clearer. At any rate, per their press release, the Calvinists did not leave the Church. The institution that was located in Rome failed to be the Church so someone thought they should be doing it.

Messy. Wrongheaded. Well intentioned sometimes. Cornfuzzled. But it was not initially a schism from the Church. One cannot read Calvin or Luther without recognising this reality. That separation became the twist as the state began to have its say. Not having a Papal See in the East has saved Orthodoxy from much of this trouble. I wonder, as an aside, how the Russian Church would have changed into something more like Rome had the Revolution not taken place...or if Istanbul were still Constantinople...or a Protestant America with a history of World War victories to demonstrate divine Providence. Hmm. Nevermind. That's useless speculation.

You are right. I have to reconcile to Orthodoxy. Yes. But I do not see that as necessarily meaning that I have to go and join All Saints or St George's. No, I can reconcile within the Baptist congregation of my choice because we did not leave the Tradition behind. We tried to recover it. You stated this as well. We differ in this way. You are right.

You also have a peculiar luxury now that you would not have had 200 years ago. You have access to Orthodox churches and you are not xenophobic...prejudiced against Greek immigrants... This matters. Don't underestimate this reality. The fact that you are able to convert is a recent cultural shift in this country.

Also, In your framework, it may not even be worthwhile to discuss whether or not Protestant denominations and their adherents can reconcile with the East. We did not split from the Church. We split from the Romans who has split from the Church 500 years ago. That is the Orthodox understanding at least. How can one say that the Church spit in the West. It was not the Church in 1500. It was something else.

Calvin's use of (and Erasmus' discovery of )the Fathers shows the deep divides and the desire to return to the Faith that had been abandoned.

So, that messes things up a bit as well.

It is 11:38pm. I am still at work. I am gonna stop now while this is still kind of in English. See you in the morning.

Posted by: Tripp at July 18, 2005 11:47 PM

"We split from the Romans who has split from the Church 500 years ago"

Should read...

"We split from the Romans who has split from the Church 500 years previous to Luther and Calvin and Zwingli..."

Right, about that use of the languiage thing.

Posted by: Tripp at July 18, 2005 11:51 PM