Friday, 25 March 2011

Heart Theology

I hope that you will allow me express some views on ecumenism, and that these thoughts will be accepted as incomplete pondering shaped in an attitude that is open to dialogue.

1.  I fear that some in the ecumenical movement don't value enough some of the things that I think are precious.  There can be a naive tendency to think that theological differences don't matter that much (I realise some may contest this, I am sorry if this perception is unfair).  I want to unapologetically preach justification by grace through faith.  I am also saddened when people put Mary in the place of Christ (as co-redemptrist and intercessor).  Though I need to be clear, there can be an inconsistency amongst evangelicals who notice the differences between ourselves and the teachings of Rome but fail to realise that on some issues we have a lot more in common with Rome than we do with certain strains of liberal Protestantism.  Also, some who promote ecumenism have said things that might worry conservatives of all stripes: I have heard more than one ecumenical advocate promote a religious pluralism that might rob all forms of Christianity of its uniqueness (although not all people in the ecumenical camp are guilty of this).

2.  Just as many non-ecumenical people can be mean-spirited so too can some of the most ecumenically-minded people.  For example, a person told me about a conversation they observed at Edgehill (which prides itself on its ecumenical outlook).  In this conversation Presbyterians (who were viewed as narrow) were being slagged off.  The person related to me how it struck them that no one would have dared speak of practicing Catholics the way that these people were speaking about Presbyterians.  Just look at some of the conversations going on in the blogosphere: many uncharitable and patronising things are said about conservative-evangelicals, some of whom are simply seeking to be consistent with their beliefs (and uncharitable things are said by conservative-evangelicals).  There can be a great intolerance towards people whose views are deemed to be intolerant.

But there are issues that conservative-evangelicals need to grapple with.  For example, most evangelicals I know will admit that there are people in non-evangelical churches who truly know and love the Lord.  If we feel that it is right to be cautious about official ecclesiastical relations, how are we to express our sister/brotherhood with such people?

Then there is the issue that prompted me to write this blog.  It strikes me that a person's 'heart theology' may be different from their 'ecclesiatical theology', and even their 'head theology.'  A person may attend a church where people like myself would fear that salvation is too intertwined with certain sacraments (I admit that there is a very long history of such sacramentalism and that when we read church history we esteem some whose views we would oppose if they lived today).  People attending such a church may subscribe to teaching and catechisms that place an emphasis on acts of penance (rather than simple dependence on grace).  Nevertheless, some of these people may have an attitude that simply cries out to a holy and gracious God 'have mercy on me a sinner' (Luke 18:13).  They might not say that they depend completely on God's grace to save them, but their heart betrays that profession. 
Just as the ecumenically-minded person may dream of one all-embracing church where people of all stripes worship together, so the conservative-evangelical, like myself, might long for a situation in which all those who are born anew attend churches which are 'sound.'  But life is more messy than this.  Our faith is lived out in imperfect settings.  For the ecumenically-minded person the truth is that even if there was some great ecclesiastical unity people might still nurse personal bitterness and division.  For the conservative-evangelical we have to figure out how to love brothers and sisters in the Lord who we may feel stubbornly remain attached to ecclesiastical institutions we disapprove of.

1 comment:

Mr Veale said...

Well said. And amen!