CHALLENGES IN ECUMENISM: CATHOLIC / PROTESTANT

Catholic and Protestant Christians have a lot in common:

  • Faith in God, in his crucified and risen Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.
  • Holy Scripture as the Word of God.
  • Baptism and the “common priesthood” of all baptized.
  • The belief that we are loved and accepted by God not because of our own achievement, but solely by grace.
  • The belief that through the Holy Spirit God renews our hearts and enables us to do good works.
  • The belief that Christ is really present in the Eucharist / in the Lord’s Supper with body and blood.
  • The belief that God wants to give us eternal life.
  • The Apostles’ Creed, the “Great Creed” (the Councils of Nicaia 325 and Constantinople 381), the celebration of Sunday many festivals, prayers, songs, etc.
  • The diverse commitment to social justice, peace and the integrity of creation

The Ecumenical Movement

(from ecumene, Greek oikoumene, “world, the whole inhabited earth”) is the endeavor of Christians who strive for worldwide cooperation and unification of the various Christian ecclesial communities.

Ecumenism: Unity in diversity is possible.

Of course there are also differences between the Christian denominations. But not everything that is different has to separate the churches. However, thing at churches, such as church furniture, are same in both the sects.

Differences in the forms of worship, in the theological priorities and in the church regulations (e.g. priestly celibacy; pastors’ marriage) can also be a mutual enrichment. The desired Christian unity does not want to eliminate this colorful diversity.

The goal of ecumenism is not a “uniform super church”, but the “reconciled diversity” of denominations.

What Really (Still) Separates Us:

»In the Catholic understanding of the church, the Pope is the “successor of St. Peter “and as such appointed by Christ to be the highest key bearer and Shepherd of the Church (cf. Mt 16: 18f; Jn 21: 15-17). The Evangelicals (and also the Orthodox) reject this claim.

According to Catholic (and Orthodox) belief, the clergy in the ordination sacrament (Latin ordo, ordinatio, American mostly translated as “priestly ordination”) are forever given a special stamp from God (cf. 2 Tim 1,6). Ordination empowers them to perform a service which is fundamentally different from the tasks and ministries of the rest of the baptized. It is donated by bishops who have themselves been re-ordained by bishops. This “chain of consecration” of living witnesses connects the bishops with the apostles chosen by Jesus and is a visible expression of the unity of the Church of all times and places. The bishops perform their office as successors to the apostles (apostolic succession).

The Evangelical Church rejects this “sacred” view of the spiritual office. She does not see a consecration of the person in the spiritual office, but “only” a function (although willed by God) that the church can assign to someone (possibly only for a certain period of time). This is “too little” for all churches that are older than the Reformation. It is difficult for them to see a purely functional office as the realization of what the Gospel understands by being a shepherd (cf. Jn 21: 15-17).

According to Catholic (and Orthodox) teaching, an ordained priest must preside over the celebration of the Eucharist; only he can consecrate bread and wine in the name of Jesus. According to the evangelical view, every baptized person can in principle preside over the Lord’s Supper. There is no essential difference between the authority of a pastor and that of a (only) baptized. In order to avoid disorder, however, even according to many Protestant church ordinances, only spiritual officials should normally preside over the Lord’s Supper.

“Catholic (and Orthodox) faith holds that Christ remains present in the Eucharistic bread and wine even after Mass (as long as the signs persist, they contain Christ’s presence). The consecrated gifts can therefore be kept in the church, venerated and, if necessary, brought to the home of the sick. For evangelicals, what is left of the Lord’s Supper becomes ordinary bread and wine again.

The Catholic (and Orthodox) Church celebrates seven sacraments, the Protestant Church only recognizes baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) as sacraments (marriage, confirmation, transfer of the spiritual office etc. are for them only blessings, but not sacraments, because they are find no explicit words of institution of Jesus in the Bible).

Evangelicals reject the veneration of Mary and the saints because they fear that it will diminish God’s honor. Catholic (and Orthodox) believers revere in the saints the manifold work of God, who has called people into his service at all times and works through them. The two Catholic dogmas of Mary – special election (“salvation from original sin”) and the perfection of Mary (“taking body and soul into heaven”) – are, according to the evangelical opinion, unbiblical. Catholic faith sees this as a legitimate and God-willed development of biblical faith.

“The right understanding of Scripture, according to Catholic doctrine, the people of God and the magisterium (councils, bishops, Pope) is given by the uninterrupted faith tradition. Evangelical faith considers the Holy Scriptures alone to be clear enough to check all doctrines against it (“Holy Scripture explains itself”).

The community of the church plays a much more important role for Catholics than for Protestants. Although there is also much human failure in the church, according to Catholic teaching she remains a comprehensive sacrament of salvation, that is, a sign and instrument of God’s love in the world.

The Path of Ecumenism Is Irreversible

“The path of ecumenism is irreversible. It is a task the Lord has given us. We must therefore do everything we can to promote the unity of Christians in truth and love.” – Pope John Paul II.

“Let us continue on our way together to deepen our community and give it an ever more visible shape. In Europe, this common faith in Christ forms, as it were, a green bond of hope: we belong to one another. Community, reconciliation and unity are possible.” – Pope Francis, January 18, 2017.

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