Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Christian Ecumenism February 14, 2017


A talk with the Deerfield Daughters of the King February 14, 2017. It is a pleasure and a privilege to talk with you all today. I’d like to speak for a little while and then have some conversation. My topic is Christian Ecumenism.  

October 31, 2017 will be 500 years from the time an Augustinian monk posed 95 questions for theological discussion on the Wittenberg college bulletin board. Pope Francis has said that Martin Luther sought to reform the church, not divide it. But Luther’s was not the first nor the last church division.

I have spent 50 years of ministry in Christian Ecumenism in 3 dioceses, and was privileged to serve on the national Episcopal Church ecumenical dialogues with the Moravians and with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province in America. In those 50 years some progress has been made, and we have a way to go. I bid your continuing prayer and service for Christian unity.

Some history:  Jesus prayed that all might be one, and the Church was once united – when Jesus walked alone at the Sea of Galilee. His first apostles are claimed as founders of different churches – Peter of Rome, Andrew of Constantinople New Rome, James of Armenia. Egypt claims St. Mark as its founder. Communion with Armenia and Egypt was broken after the Council of Chalcedon in 381. Communion between Rome and Constantinople was broken in 1056. The Armenians and Egyptian Copts, called Oriental Orthodox, agree with the other Orthodox  that they share a common faith expressed in different words and languages, but internal conflicts make progress toward full communion difficult. Rome and Constantinople continue their discussions and slow progress toward unity.

Anglican interest in church union began shortly after our mid-16th century break with Rome, continued in the early 18th century and took on new life in the mid19th century.  In 1870 the Rev. William Reed Huntington, Rector of All Saints Church, Worcester, Massachusetts wrote “The Church Idea, An Essay toward Unity” suggesting “a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing, made toward Home Reunion.”  Huntington’s 4 points were adopted by the Episcopal House of Bishops in 1886 and by the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1888. The 4 points are these:
1.  The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2.  The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
3.  The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
4.  The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
They are Historic Documents in the back of the Prayer Book, and they continue to frame our church’s ecumenical life.

Charles Henry Brent was born in 1862 in Newcastle, Ontario where his father was rector for 42 years. He was ordained in1887 in Buffalo, New York, and served there and in Boston until he was elected missionary bishop of the Philippines in 1901. His ministry combined chaplaincy to the American community and missionary work among the pagan head-hunting Igorot people of northern Luzon and the Muslim Moors of Mindanao. He began with clinics and schools. Most Phillipinos were Roman Catholic, though all the prewar Roman Catholic bishops were Spaniards. A Philippine Independent Catholic Church had been formed by supporters of the prewar Philippine independence movement, Brent cooperated with them. After World War II under a full communion agreement Episcopal bishops re-consecrated the Philippine Independent Church bishops, and the churches now share St. Andrew’s Seminary.

Brent attended the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, and was General Pershing’s Chief-of-Chaplains in World War One. In 1917 he was elected bishop of Western NY. He organized and presided at the August, 1927 First World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was attended by 406 delegates from 108 Christian denominations.  Brent died in Lausanne March 27, 1939 (exactly 10 years before I was born.)

The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948 to continue the work of the Faith and Order Movement, the World Missionary Conference, and the Life and Work Movement.  Life and Work, led by Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of Sweden, held its first international meeting in 1925. The WCC includes 348 member churches including Protestants and Orthodox. Roman Catholics are active “observers.” Headquarters are near Lausanne, Switzerland. A number of national councils of churches are administratively separate but cooperate with local and state councils in a great deal of practical social ministry, and they are an important part of the Episcopal Church’s ecumenical work.

Continuing World Council Faith and Order work led in 1982 to an agreement “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” made in Lima, Peru. It recognized that all churches share convergent teachings on baptism and eucharist and all exercise a ministry of oversight – in Greek episcope’ - in various ways. This agreement has influenced all subsequent dialogues. Anglican history prepared the way for this statement.  

In 1931 in Bonn, Germany, the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht and the Church of England agreed on three principles of full communion between them: (1) Each communion recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
(2) Each communion agrees to admit members of the other communion to participate in the sacraments.
(3) Full communion does not require from either communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith.

The “participate in the sacraments” clause includes recognition of a common ministry. Clergy of churches in full communion may serve in both churches – subject to the requirements of each church.  Besides the Old Catholics, and the other churches of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church is in full communion with these churches:  The Philippine Independent Church, fully since 1961, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India since 1979, the Churches of South India and North India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan where Anglicans joined with Protestant missions to form united churches. Our diocese has a companion relationship with Durgapur in North India.  And since 2001we have full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and since 2010 with the Moravian Church in America.

Full communion dialogues continue with the United Methodist Church.  Full communion recognizes present unity and a move toward greater unity. We have two joint Lutheran – Episcopal congregations in Robbinsville and Newland.

Some churches have moved toward organizational unity, sometimes to heal old divisions. Four efforts succeeded; one failed.  The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church joined in 1939, and in 1968 added the Evangelical United Brethren Church.  Congregational churches and the Evangelical and Reformed church joined in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ.  2 successes.  Beginning in 1960 the Consultation on Church Union proposed a merger of northern Presbyterians, Methodists, UCC, and Episcopalians, later joined by the black Methodists and the southern Presbyterians.  Its 1970 Plan of Union on the Church of South India model failed to be approved by the churches. But Northern and Southern Presbyterians, divided by the Civil War, reunited in 1983 after a 1973 division formed the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America. In 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed by the merger of three Lutheran denominations.  2 more successes but probably the last.

Unity and diversity and division. In the Episcopal Church: in 1873 some old style low church evangelicals formed the Reformed Episcopal Church. 100 years later some old style Anglo-Catholics left over women priests and other issues. In 2003 almost 10% including 4 dioceses left over gay bishops and other issues. They are organized in the Anglican Church in North America. The Anglican Communion is divided over gay marriage and other conservative – liberal issues. We’re not alone. Presbyterian and Lutherans have had other conservative split offs. And independent evangelical megachurches have sprung up.

But the Eastern Orthodox last year held a Great and Holy Synod in Crete, attended by most of the churches in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, the first in over 900 years. Our dialogues with the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and others continue. The councils of churches continue to provide a way for us to talk and work together. I hope for dialogue among the separated Episcopalians and Anglicans and recently the ACNA dean of Trinity School for Ministry expressed a similar hope.

We seem to be in a time when all Christians will face increased pressure from militant secularists seeking a godless society. It remains to be seen whether these pressures will encourage Christians to work and pray together.  In the meantime your work of prayer and service – and the work of all of us – continues to be important to us all.    

A personal word:  I came to western NC in 1980 to be rector in Shelby. Bishop Weinhauer appointed me to the diocesan Ecumenical Committee and I continued in the 1990’s when I worked for the national church General Board of Examining Chaplains. I represented our diocese at meetings in Raleigh, particularly on the Christian Unity Committee of the NC Council of Churches.

At one of those meetings in the early 1990’s I sat next to the new Moravian Church representative. As we went around the table saying what our churches were doing he said, “We’re talking with the Lutherans.” Knowing of Bishop Weinhauer’s service on the Lutheran Episcopal Dialogue, I said, “We’re talking with the Lutherans.” At the coffee break we said, “We should be talking with each other.” And we began – one day once a year for several years. The NC folks decided we had enough in common that we should move this to a national dialogue, and our Bishop Robert Johnson got the General Convention to approve and fund a national dialogue and put me on it. In 15 years, by 2010, we came to an agreement of full communion and shared ministry, like the agreements both of our churches had made with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In many ways agreement with Moravians was easier to come to than with Lutherans. The Moravian Church has a succession of bishops from near its beginning in the 1450’s while the ELCA had to begin to ordain bishops in the historic episcopate, calling on the Swedish Lutheran church and the Episcopal Church. Moravians and Episcopalians share a theology based on relationships and the Bible without using the theological categories of the Lutheran Book of Concord.  But the Moravian Church is a single world wide body, and the American Moravians had to secure permission to enter into this agreement on shared ministry. And both Moravians and Lutherans have understandings of the ministry of deacons different from each other and from the Anglican understanding.

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