John Armstrong is the strongest evangelical proponent of the term “missional ecumenism” that I have read. He is wise to see in Pope Benedict a kindred spirit. In three different posts on his blog Armstrong engages with Pope Benedict’s recent book Light of the World. Here are some of the highlights:
The Pope says that we can/should acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters and join in service as Christians.
If I read this correctly we are not near union between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church. Some Protestant communions may be closer to union than others; e.g. Anglican. But even here the prospect of union has been damaged in recent decades as I noted in yesterday’s post.
What we are nearer to, especially since Vatican II, is missional-ecumenism. We can embrace the dynamic ways in which we are joined by the Holy Spirit as fellow believers. By this means we can find new and creative ways to “join in service.” We can read the Holy Scriptures together and pray together. This is precisely what I mean by the term missional-ecumenism.
This thesis is rejected, often rather strongly, by some Catholics. The individual Catholic who refuses to believe that Vatican II, in the Fourth Session, actually taught anything new about relationships with other Christians reacts against missional-ecumenism. In some cases this reaction is based on indifference since they believe Rome is the true church and Protestants are outside the true church and that is the end of the matter. These Catholic brothers and sisters need to read the encyclicals of their recent popes, listen to the words and witness of the Vatican’s Congregation of Christian Unity, and then remove the blinkers that still keep them from clearly seeing what the Spirit has done in the last fifty years.
On the other side there are many, especially conservative ones, who refuse to believe that anyone can believe Catholic dogma and be a real Christian. (This is often stated in a strange way that says: “An individual person in the Catholic Church can be a real Christian but they must not believe Catholic dogma or they will be lost!”) This prejudice is rooted in a number of misunderstandings about the present; e.g. the condemnations of the Council of Trent are misunderstood/misapplied, Rome teaches that one is saved by doing good works thus they preach a false gospel, Catholics pray to the saints thus they deny Christ’s sufficiency, etc.
A new day has dawned for the whole catholic church. We can embrace it in love or reject it out of hand. I believe missional-ecumenism is consistent with the teaching of the whole counsel of Scripture and thus commends itself to Christians on every side. I even believe Pope Benedict XVI agrees.