Ecumenism is Radical (and that’s not good)

If conservatives value variety, why do conservative Roman Catholics insist on church unity? Russell Kirk said that true conservatives actually appreciate difference and pluriformity:

[C]onservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.

Maybe that makes John Turner a conservative who is not going along with the Reformation as tragedy because it divided the church:

First and foremost, there was no good reason for the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the first place. Jesus bestowed the keys of the kingdom on Peter, but it seems clear from the Book of Acts and the Pauline epistles that Peter hardly exercised anything like papal authority in the early church. The historical evidence for Peter becoming the first bishop of Rome (or even being in the city) is unconvincing to one not already convinced. While Protestants obviously sundered the institutional unity of the Western church, it was a sort of unity unauthorized by scripture and unwarranted by the circumstances of the early church. (It also seems snarky but necessary to mention that Rome bore considerable responsibility for the Great Schism between East and West that preceded the Reformation by a half-millennium).

Second, it is not at all clear to me that Jesus’s prayer for Christian unity means that Jesus wanted his church to have an institutional, hierarchical unity along the lines of either the late-medieval or contemporary Catholic Church. The Book of Acts suggests that the apostles in Jerusalem exercised a measured primacy among early Christians, but for the most part Christianity spread around the Mediterranean world and to the East in a way that fostered local autonomy and diversity. This diversity of theologies and even collections of scripture alarmed many Christians, some of whom identified many strands of Christianity as heresy. By the fourth century, newly tolerated and then established Christianity sought to impose theological order on this chaos. The result was the institutionally useful but not terribly New Testament idea that all Christians had to have essentially the same understanding of Jesus Christ and of the relationship among the members of the Trinity. Getting at least most Christians to assent to the fourth- and fifth-century creeds took a considerable amount of viciousness and sometimes violence.

So it’s the church unitedists who also likely go for the United Nations and the European Union (even while in some parts of the world arguing for a “two-state” solution).

12 thoughts on “Ecumenism is Radical (and that’s not good)

  1. It’s not tragic or even sectarian to have a different explanation for infant water baptism. Some teach that the water baptism is a result of being born in the covenant, others teach that water baptism joins you to Christ and puts children in the covenant, and others teach that water baptism promises nothing more or different than what is promised to any sinner, conditioned on their faith. So it’s not the ideological division which matters, but rather the failure of common praxis.

    Whatever reason you give, it’s a sin to not baptize your children, and the ignorance of your conscience is no excuse. Whatever reason you give, all who are catholic must agree that the Supper is not what we do but what God does—this thing is proven because God can kill you (or have you killed ) by the “means of grace”.

    John Calvin—“The integrity of the sacrament lies here, that the flesh and blood of Christ are not less truly given to the unworthy than to the elect believers of God; and yet it is true, that just as the rain falling on the hard rock runs away because it cannot penetrate, so the wicked by their hardness repel the grace of God, and prevent it from reaching them.

    Verduin–“With Augustine, the concept of sacrament became dominant in the Christian tradition. Sacrament was understood as a togetherness already in existence taking on a religious dimension. The togetherness of the empire became a religious togetherness through sacrament. Sacrament, thus defined, an inevitable feature of all pre-Christian societies, now became the central feature in Christendom….The word “sacrament” is not found in the New Testament –The word as well as the concept was grafted on the tradition,,,,”

    Augustine sermon on Luke 14: 16—“Whom thou shalt find wait not till they choose to come, compel them to come in. I have prepared a great supper, a great house, I cannot suffer any place to be left vacant in it. The Gentiles came from the streets and lanes: let the heretics come from the hedges, here they shall find peace. For those who make hedges, their object is to MAKE DIVISIONS. . Let them be drawn away from the hedges, let them be plucked up from among the thorns. They have stuck fast in the hedges, they are unwilling to be compelled. Let us come in, they say, of our own will. This is not the Lord’s order. ‘Compel them,’ saith he, ‘to come in.’ ”

    Augustine on Daniel 3: “There was given under Nebuchadnezzar a figure both of the times which the Church had under the apostles and of the times she has now. In the age of the apostles and martyrs was fulfilled that which was prefigured when the aforesaid king compelled pious and just men to bow to his image and he cast into the flames all who refused. Now however is being fulfilled that which was prefigured shortly after in the same king, when having been converted to the true God he made a decree throughout his empire that whosoever should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would suffer the penalty which his crime deserved. The earlier time of the king represents the former age of emperors who did not believe in Christ, at whose hands the Christians suffered because of the wicked; but the later time of this king represents the age of the successors to the imperial throne, now believing in Christ, at whose hands the wicked suffer because of the Christians.”


  2. When one remembers pope Billy Graham preaching Tricky Dick’s funeral, one thinks “justification by death” (and not only that, but also ascension by means of another body without a resurrection, John 3:13, Nixon has ascended into heaven even though he did not descend from there)

    Roman Catholic Thomas Howard hopes for the ecumenical end of division by means of forgetting history. “Only one quarter of American Protestants correctly identified salvation by faith alone as a core Protestant belief…Across European countries, a median of 29% of Protestants agreed with the Protestant reformers’ position that faith alone permits salvation, while 49% said that both faith and good works were necessary—a position traditionally associated with Roman Catholicism. But historical forgetfulness appears to be a boon to Christian unity.”


  3. DGH & Company,
    Excellent food for thought. A good start to the 501st year following the Wittenberg door incident! (And thanks for three great links.)


  4. Great quote by Kirk. I believe he also said that the only true diversity (or the only diversity that matters) is diversity of thought. The modern academic system abhors that idea.

    Mark says: “Whatever reason you give, it’s a sin to not baptize your children, and the ignorance of your conscience is no excuse.”

    No, it is a sin to not be baptized yourself as a declaration of your faith. Jesus never commands his disciples to go baptize babies. He commands them to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That command implies belief on the part of the person being baptized. Jesus himself was baptized as a grown man. There’s nothing to suggest John the Baptist was baptizing infants. Baptism is not a replacement for circumcision. This is the one issue that keeps me from becoming Reformed because I won’t be beholden to a man-made doctrine that has no solid Scriptural foundation.


  5. Regarding the last statement: I don’t know why Americans would object to the UN, it has never stopped the US from operating by the rule of force.


  6. As a suburbanite, in an “urban hometown” nestled between three central cities (per the federal analysts) I can appreciate Jane Jacobs views on neighborhoods, sidewalks, parks, etc. It seems we are being pulled into the 20th century, kicking and screaming, here. (We might make it into the 21st century in another decade or two!) I jest, but only a little.


  7. D.G.,
    I can appreciate how New Yorkers feel. But that such a such a small complaint in comparison to the alternative to the idea of the UN: the rule of force. For as long as we have the UN, we could reduce the rule of force by working for the UN Charter, which, btw, is legally binding on the US since the charter was ratified as stipulated by The Constitution.


  8. Curt, no one cares about the U.N. It’s a dying brand just like Pan Am and IBM.

    But it’s nice to see that you can go all originalist — when it’s convenient.


  9. D.G.,
    When it is convenient? So one must either be always or never originalist regardless of what that means?

    The UN is a dying brand because the most powerful nations refuse to follow the Charter when it interferes with their own quest for wealth and control.

    If you take the first part of the quote from June Jacobs, why is it that government structure is not included in determining when the government is closest to the people. We should note here that while we are well represented by vocation, because of the money involved in political campaigns, we are not well represented by vocation. Instead, for the most part our elected federal officials tend to be lawyers, business people, government officials elected to other offices, and educators make up the bulk of our elected representatives and Senators. That leaves factory workers, service sector workers, construction workers, and so forth without representation in government. Here the idea of employing soviets, which was abandoned by Lenin after he gained control, allows for a government to be closer to the people. And the U.S.S.R. should have been named the U.S.R. because Lenin had dismantled the soviets since he saw them as a threat to his power. Even the presence of that other S is questionable once you eliminate the soviets.


  10. Curt, “That leaves factory workers, service sector workers, construction workers, and so forth without representation in government.”

    non sequitur. Those people actually have representatives. You simply and always complain about the representatives.

    But OL is negative.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.