ENTRY 1292 | May
And he commanded
us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one
ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him
all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in
him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
from Acts 10, from today's
Orthodox lectionary readings
At a recent
cross-community meeting, I had a sudden and somewhat striking insight.
It was that Belfast is probably the most exciting city in the world
for ecumenical church work. In the group of a dozen or so clergy members
and laity gathered, there were Presbyterians, Methodists, Church of
Ireland, Roman Catholic (at least one bishop, several priests, and
a representative or two of a monastic community), and, counting me,
at least two Eastern Orthodox. We were all (I venture to propose)
there intentionally and without coercion; we all wanted to better
understand each other and work together on shared goals. And though
I knew of no self-described "evangelicals" in that particular
group, I know that 1) in other projects throughout Belfast that kind
of evangelicals are involved and are also working for better understanding
and harmony and 2) the "establishment" Protestant churches
in Belfast are more "evangelical" in the American sense
(or I might say "the Billy Graham sense") of that word than
their counterparts in the United States and the rest of Europe are.
That is, there is (so far as I can ascertain) much less liberal theology,
preaching, and teaching in Northern Ireland than in those other quarters.
In my many
years in San Jose and Palo Alto, I often met members of the clergy
and as the writer of a religion column in some local papers for several
years, I heard from others I never met in person. I often asked, "do
you know or have you ever met . . . " this or that other member
of the clergy from another denomination or communion. Invariably,
even if the other person might have been at a church just up the street,
the answer was always, "no, there's never enough time" for
setting up unnecessary meetings. I think that all the members of our
little Belfast group thought this meeting was "necessary,"
and even if we personally might have to miss occasionally, it will
continue and will have our support.
is Greek for 'inhabited world' but has long been used (especially
in the World Council of Churches) to refer to a worldwide unified
church. This artwork is from St. Anne's Cathedral, Church of Ireland,
have never been a big fan of the ecumenical movement, especially when
it is defined, as the World Council of Churches long did, as an effort
to bring into union the various denominations and communions of Christendom.
That, as C.S. Lewis often suggested (though he usually avoided saying
anything directly on the topic), is putting the cart before the pony.
It is imposing unity on people who are not united in spirit or in
truth, and that is, I believe, always a blueprint for failure. I grew
up in a village of under a thousand residents which had two churches.
One was Evangelical United Brethren, the other Methodist. The two
denominations had almost identical theologies, and the two parent
bodies merged into the United Methodist Church in 1968. But the two
village churches, neither of which has more than fifty active adult
members, have never merged, and though they have shared a minister
with other congregations a few miles away for years, they have not
shared the same minister in that tiny town. So much for the World
Council of Churches and its dreams of a top-down ecumenism.
But I heartily
endorse the kind of ecumenism or "cross-community work"
that Belfast son Lewis consistently and openly supported and which,
ironically, is practiced in Northern Ireland more sincerely than almost
anywhere else. That is a recognition that what Protestants of various
stripes, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox have in common with
each other amounts to much more than what divides us. And what our
common enemy is capable of doing to cripple us is a far greater threat
than any threat posed by any group organized around Jesus Christ and
any group's understanding of the Gospel. The "common enemy"
is the dominant religion (worldview) of all western cultures in this
generation, that which Lewis called "the spirit of the age,"
and which he along with many others call secularism (worldliness),
naturalism ("there is nothing beyond nature"), and materialism
("the spiritual is a fiction").
and Catholics have been holding literal cross-community marches
through their neighboring districts in some of the most troubled
parts of Belfast for some years.
it would be ludicrous to suggest that Belfast is an ideal in cross-community
co-operation. Our ecumenism is necessary and vital because
large populations calling themselves Protestant and Catholic have
chosen to wage war on each other in years past. And though the peace
is holding now, many still harbor deep resentments and insist on maximizing
rather than minimizing differences between them. It seems obvious
to this outsider that those on both sides who take Christ and the
Gospel as their first principles in life want peace and reconciliation
even agape loveas Jesus clearly teaches, but many of those only
nominally affiliated with a church but calling themselves Protestants
or Catholics are scandalizing the name of Christ (Tony Macaulay calls
them "Protestant atheists" and "Catholic atheists").
When we speak of "cross-community work," and there are many
such groups as the one described above in Belfast, we are referring
to efforts to get Protestants and Catholics together for the sake
of better understanding and fellowship. It's exciting and it's a blessing
to be part of it. But we must not forget that "may you live in
interesting [much less "exciting"] times" is generally
described as a curse.
You can comment on today's topic on the page linked here:
It's interesting that in this passage, just before the lines quoted,
Peter says, "God shows no partiality, but in every nation any
one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him,"
while going on to affirm that the Lord will judge all people, living
and dead, according to what they make of Him.
§ § §
my mission to Northern Ireland in your prayers. You
can read my overview of this undertaking here.
My residence/postal address is 227 Crumlin Road, Belfast, Northern
Ireland BT14 7DY, UK. Mobile: 44 7455 980890.
Webmaster Jon Kennedy