February 11, 2010

Ecumenical Catechism: DOA?

John Armstrong's comments on and quotations of conservative Catholic opposition to Cardinal Kasper's call for an ecumenical catechism should come as no surprise to anyone, and suggest a few questions for our exploration. And I had to use the same photo of Cardinal K with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- both to show off the patriarch's cool head covering and to work in the phrase, "Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew." Now there's a title worthy of a nameplate on the desk!

In celebration of the time-honored catechism format, then, let's begin with the first question:

Q.1: Why should nobody be surprised by opposition to Christian unity?
A: Because ecumenism is technically defined by many as, "a Satanic compromise with those who lack our spiritual correctness and perfection" or perhaps, "proof that the Antichrist has already begun his diabolical work in the church." And, as Armstrong notes,
Sadly, this spirit is not limited to Protestants or Catholics. Only the grace of God and the fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit will alter people who fear so deeply loving and respecting those who are not in our communion. 
Q.2: Why would it be so difficult to accept an ecumenical catechism? Is there really so little scriptural support for basic doctrines that all of Christiandom could agree on?
A: I believe that there is sufficient support, though the very question reveals my Protestant bias in favor of the written scriptures and ignores the reality of church tradition's role in all our denominations. However, such a project could quickly become a political wrangle in which questions of "What scriptures?" and "What doctrines?" reveal the root issues of "Who has the power to force this decision upon the rest of us?" and "By what authority do you do these things?" Questions of power and authority, while critical to all of us, are threatening to many.

Moreover, changes to or sacrifices from our own self-defining lists of beliefs, necessary for the creation of a shared catechism of essentials, could call into question the validity of our own "second tier" beliefs, and the validity of our self-definition, as a result. Leave out dispensationalism? Baptism by immersion only? Transubstantiation? Without that, there would be no difference between us and ... that church down the road! Better to draw our own lines in the sand and cherish the golden calves that pop out of the fire of our disobedience than do the hard work of love, of keeping the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace -- with our own brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, mind you.

As for me and mine, our local church uses no formal creed or catechism, so we have been working our way though the Westminster Shorter Catechism at home. All of us have gained from discussing the questions, the answers, and our disagreements with some of the answers. Perhaps even more importantly, we have had the opportunity to start the broader conversation with our kids about how we know anything, why we believe what we do, and what to do with the inevitable disagreements we have with those we love.

Q.3: Could an ecumenical catechism include questions about why faithful Christians disagree with each other on matters of doctrine, exactly how disappointed Jesus is with us about that, and whether our diversity heralds the arrival of the beast? And could such a catechism help us learn to live with one another in humility and obedience as the body of Christ?
A: Hmmmm.... Perhaps I'll write that catechism myself.

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