OΝΕ LORD AND OΝΕ CHURCH
WISHFUL THINKING AND HARD REALITIES
Επιστημονική Επετηρίδα Θεολογικής Σχολής (Τμήμα Ποιμαντικής), Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο, Θεσσαλονίκη 1992. (Τιμητικό Αφιέρωμα στον καθηγητή Ιωάννη Ορ. Καλογήρου).
1. A Movement toward Reconciliation
When we survey the progress in ecumenical understanding we must look in three directions: toward the Protestant tradition, the Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox. While all three have had dialogues with each other, there has also been an astounding reconsolidation of each respective tradition.
a. Protestantism and beyond
Most Protestant churches outside Europe and North America are the result of European and North American missionary enterprises. As these younger churches became independent and more self-conscious, many of them realized that they were the result of transplanted ethnic and denominational loyalties which had nothing to do with their own peculiar witness. For instance, in Hong Kong only ten per cent of the population adheres to the Christian faith. Nevertheless there are more than 100 Christian groups reflecting to a large extent the one hundred mission societies and mission enterprises active there. For the 30-40,000 Lutherans alone, there are the Chinese Rhenish Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong, the Tsung-Tsin-Mission, and the Lutheran Church-Hong Kong Synod.
Ιn many regions conscientious attempts have been made to overcome fragmentation. For instance in Tanzania seven churches merged in 1963 to form the independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Already in 1930 the Huria Kristen Batak Protestant Church was founded in Indonesia, a large church with more than one million members. Yet next to it there are still several smaller Lutheran churches in Indonesia, indicating that mergers do not always completely eliminate denominational fragmentation.
Sometimes even denominational lines can be crossed in mergers.
The Church of South India was established in 1947 through Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Reformed groups and has provided a strong and united witness in a traditionally non-Christian environmerιt.
Before any mergers or unions are consumated various groups must first talk to each other. Here the 20th century has been a century of dialogues on every side. Many of the so-called bilateral talks between two traditions or denominations have been highly successful. A 1984 publication of all reports and texts of agreements on a global scale amounted to 709 pages (Dokumente wachsender Übereinstimmung. Sämtliche Berichte und Konsenstexte interkonfessioneller Gespräche auf Weltbene. 1931-1982, ed. and intr. Harding Meyer et al.). An important reason for the many agreements and reproachments between different traditions can be gleaned from the introduction to Marburg Revisited. A Reexamination of Lutheran and Reformed Traditions. This publication summarized the first round of talks in the U.S.A. between the Lutherans, represented by the ALC, the LCA, and the LCMS, and the Reformed Church. They expressed the following sentiment:
During these four meetings we have examined carefully the major issues which have aroused theological controversy between our traditions for generations past. At some points we have discovered that our respective views of each other have been inherited caricatures initially caused by misunderstanding or polemical zeal. Ιn other instances it has become apparent that efforts to guard against possible distortions of truth have resulted in varying emphases in, related doctrines which are not in themselves contradictory and in fact are complementary, and which are viewed in a more proper balance in contemporary theological formulations(1).
This is an important witness to the danger and gradual overcoming of denominational entrenchment through which the significant insights of one's own tradition can be absolutized and thereby distorted. Since Protestant churches have more a regional awareness their most advanced agreemerιts and forward moves are on a regional level. Global, bilateral talks, however, such as the Baptist-Reformed dialogue (1973/77) or the Anglican-Lutheran dialogue (1970/72), dare not be underestimated. They often set the tone for regional cooperation. Such an understanding between the Episcopalians and the Lutherans in the U.S.A. led to a joint celebration of the Eucharist and to interim Euchariatic sharing.
1. Marburg Revisited. A Reexamination of Lutheran and Reformed Traditions, ed. Paul C. Empie and James Ι. McCord (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966), ii.