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).
2. The Way toward Unity
b. Unity-an actual possibility
At the Edinburgh meeting of the CFO (1937) three models were introduced which show a growing degree of unity and commitment:
1. A federation or alliance of churches to foster practical cooperation: This kind of unity is attained in many councils of churches and in confessional families.
2. Eucharistic communion which presupposes a total or a least partial mutual recognition of the respective churches.-This has been accomplished in most confessional families.
3. Organic unity or corporate union of all churches within a geographical region.-This is perhaps the hardest to attain. Even new churches resultant from mergers, such as the Church of South India or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, leave others on the sideline who are not interested in union.
At the Salamanca meeting of the CFO (1973) the model of conciliar fellowship was proposed which was then accepted by the WCC Assembly at Nairobi in 1975. The underlying idea is that all churches at a given place should actually be one. These local churches should be united in a conciliar arrangement which safeguards their legitimate individuality while it presupposes communion in faith, in the sacraments, in witness, and in service, and which offers a common representation to the outside. Yet such a goal may still be seen as very far from realization.
More promising is the more recent concept of a reconciled diversity sanctioned by the LWF assembly at Dar es Salam (1977), and prior to that by representatives of other confessional families. This notion of unity is already underlying the agreement of the Leuenberg Concord. The term 'reconciled diversity' shows that there are differences which call for reconciliation. But it also admits that after reconciliation has occurred there is still room for legitimate diversity.
Both models, reconciled diversity and conciliar fellowship, need not exclude one another. Both strive for a visible unity without which any talk about unity remains empty words in the long run. Both state that there must be agreement in the basics without which there can be no unity. But neither of them sees uniformity as the final goal. There is no neceasity and it is not even desirable that we agree on every last item. There must be diversity lest we end up in monotony. The notion of conciliar fellowship is perhaps more demanding, since it implies a joint outward appearance, while the notion of reconciled diversity can simply imply the question of a reconciled peaceful coexistence. Yet the question that must be addressed to both models is one of boundaries. Where are the limits of legitimate diversity and what are the specific minimal ingredients to necessary commonality?
It has been noted that a charismatic Roman Catholic has more in common with a charismatic Lutheran than with a conservative Roman Catholic. Similarly, Missouri Synod Lutherans quite often feel closer at home with Southern Baptists than with fellow Lutherans. This means that we pursue an unobtainable goal if we perceive ecumenical progress exclusively along the traditional linea of confessional loyalty. Transconfessional grassroots movements point much more in the direction of affirming the basic unity we already share in common. Thus we must conceive of adiaphora in a much more comprehensive fashion than may be acceptable to many confessionalists. For instance, when Lutherans are charged with a defect in the pastoral office which does not recognize the fullness of the pastoral office then this is not only a sad expression of a narrow confessional arrogance-whose office is ever without deficiencies?- but in the feeling of many «average Christians» such a judgment is totally amiss in the church of the one who was himself not «properly ordained». Similarly, if the Lord's Supper is really the Supper of the Lord, how do we dare to exclude others? Should we not be ashamed that he even invited those from the highways and byways to participate in his banquet?
Perhaps a good measure of self-criticism would be in order lest we seek to become more Christian than Jesus Christ himself. Such attempts to surpass Jesus Christ lead not to unity but to irrelevancy. We not only lose Christ but also many Chrisrians, not to speak of a loss of witness.
The Roman Catholic theologians Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner stated in the opening sentences of their book, Einigung der Kirchen- Reale Möglichkeit:
«The unity of the church is the command of the Lord of the Church who will demand an accounting from the churches' leaders whether they really did everything possible in that direction. This unity is a matter of life and death for Christendom in a time in which faith in God and his Christ is challenged through a worldwide and militant atheism and a relativistic scepticism even in those countries in which atheism is not yet a state religion. Ιn an age in which Christianity is no longer supported through a European colonialism it can no longer afford to encounter in a fragmented and torn way the nations and cultures whom it still wants to bring its message though until now without much success(13)».
For Fries and Rahner unity is no longer an option but a matter of the very credibility and survival of the Christian faith. They are pessimistic that, all good will notwithstanding, those in leadership positions will not bring about a unity of the churches in the near future. Yet they see the objective possibilities for the attainment of a far-reaching unity. To this end they propose eight theses and elaborate on them.
Fries and Rahner may not have answered all the questions about the proper way to unity. But in their old age they have been driven by the urgency of the pursuit of unity which is missing in many younger people, whether theologians, lay people, or church administrators.
13. Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner, Einigung der Kirchen - Reale Möglichkeit (Freiburg: Herder, 1983), 9.