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Choose the narrow path

Choose the narrow path

Bishop Pierre Whalon

01 October 2018 7:48AM

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The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe is part of the US-based Episcopal Church and led by Bishop Pierre Whalon. In this post, he reflects on questions of ecumenism and Christian Unity.


Cet article est également disponible en français
This blog post is also available in French

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church ended on 13 July without the great controversies or internal struggles that certain media expected. My resolutions sent by the Convention of the Episcopal Churches in Europe in 2017 were approved by the bishops and deputies, in particular that our Church has always been in full communion with the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, and also the authorisation to continue an official dialogue with die Evangelische Lutherisch Kirche in Bayern, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria, itself a part of the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland.

“Full communion” does not signify the union or fusion of two churches, but rather the mutual recognition that they possess the faith, sacraments and ministry in common. In practice this means that the faithful can receive communion, marry and be baptised, and that ministers in one church can serve in the other.

As I am deeply involved in these two developments, the General Convention’s decisions give me a certain satisfaction. But on the other hand, they increase my dissatisfaction. To get to these ecumenical advances required a lot of effort, and time is pressing. We have entered a new age in which the public thinks that ecumenism has already happened, and doesn’t much care, and at the same time the movement is slowing, thanks to the lack of interest by Christian leaders.

This feeling of lassitude shared by the general public and ecclesiastical leaders, this disillusionment, comes not only from the difficulty of dialoguing and deciding together, with other Christians, issues of doctrine, of historic disdain and distrust, but also that the western churches are paralysed by internal crises. In particular, the drop in church attendance, and the parallel decline in social influence that are shaking the hierarchs.

Like me, for instance. I received a commission to write a book on ecumenism, that I am calling for now “Choose the Narrow path”. I am thinking of Christ’s saying, “Narrow the path that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14). Well, if we do not redouble our ecumenical efforts, we will either continue to decline into a gentle dusk, or else to compete for fewer and fewer faithful.

This “narrow path” is not only the gate that leads to our individual salvation, it is also means accepting that we Christians are already in communion. The Holy Spirit holds us all in an embrace with Jesus our Saviour, whose tangible sign is Baptism. And the same spirit nourishes us all with his Body and Blood. Whether we recite the Nicene and Apostles Creeds in church or not, they sum up succinctly our common interpretation of the biblical message. And we all believe in one way or another that the Spirit chooses human beings to serve God’s people by baptising, celebrating the Holy Communion, teaching the faith of the creeds, and marrying couples.

Of course, we do not do these things in the same way. However, we all do them. And for my part, I am more and more frustrated by the slowness of progress in our dialogues. We have to understand that our survival is at stake. I believe absolutely that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church”, but they will do their best nonetheless. The “new atheism”, the rise of a certain hostile form of Islam, and the ongoing shocks of scandals are all hitting us hard.

We do not need to merge, to accept one or another hegemony. What is needed is to come to full communion. Of course there will always be divergences and discord. But we no longer have the luxury, so to speak, to exclude other Christians for reasons of superannuated doctrines of long ago.

For our welfare, for our salvation, and to show others that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, let us assiduously pursue our dialogues. Let us choose the narrow path of full communion. By reinforcing the unity we share with other churches, and with the Holy Trinity, our common witness to Jesus Christ — the hope of the entire world — will be more and more convincing.

 

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