Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Truth and Love: The How and Why of Ecumenism

My theological life lately is a precarious balancing act. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to hold contradictory things together and perhaps I often am. The array of Christian thought and life is often confusing, bewildering, and sometimes disheartening, but I also believe that in spite of the negatives like division and error that are inherent in this state of affairs, there is also much that is good and right about theological, ecclesial, and liturgical diversity among Christians. Truth and the Triune life of God are many splendored things. As the clear light of God shines upon us, we behold many colors and shapes as though on the other side of a prism. These, of course, are not separate things. The entire color spectrum, when un-refracted and concentrated as a ray is the unity of pure and clear light. We are taught in the Scriptures to understand the body of Christ in the same manner.

The problem, though, is that because of our creaturely limitations, enlarged and polluted by sin, our thinking and acting is like a corrupt and impure prism, creating falsehoods and distortions within the components of pure light as this shines through the prism. Contradictions, errors, and divisions arise as a result. Until sin is removed in its entirety from us and our world, we should realistically expect this to continue. The question, of course, is, "What does God will for us in our repentance from sin in regard to this reality?" We certainly cannot give up the pursuit of truth or the conviction of conscience, for to do so would be to have the very contradictions, errors, and divisions we deplore as real evils to reign even more than they already do. We would simply be united in a free-for-all if we simply let truth and holiness go for the sake of unity, and that's no unity at all. Yet, because we are aware of our own sin and limits, we cannot be self-assured that we ourselves see all so clearly that we begin to think we are above this state of affairs. As a result, we seek the perspectives of Christian others to gain a broader view of truth and righteousness.

The things I have expressed are all well and good, but more is required of us than this purely intellectual approach. This pursuit of truth necessarily leads us to something else. We must speak of love. Our Savior loved us and died for us and he desires that we love one another as he has loved us. In fact, he tells us that inasmuch as we love one another we love him. This is the number one reason why Christians should be ecumenical, because Jesus commands us to love one another. And out of this love, for Christ and for all his people, we should be acquainted with what his people believe and do for his sake and love that which is from him in all that they believe and do. This is, I believe, a fundamental aspect to loving our fellow believers who differ from us in understanding and practice. Our first response should not be to correct their errors that we see, but to acknowledge Christ in them and direct our attention to loving him in them. From this love, the mutual pursuit of truth should then proceed.

As I noted above, this is tricky business. How do we hold truth and love together when sometimes to our appearance they pull us in opposite directions? Jesus Christ perfectly holds these together in full force. For those who are willing to take the ecumenical challenge, it is only by the perfection of truth and love in Jesus Christ himself that these can be present in us toward all of his followers. It is only in and through him that this is possible. As in all things, if we are to respond obediently to the love of Christ, we must cling tightly to him. Amen.

3 comments:

Joe of Shalom said...

"We would simply be united in a free-for-all if we simply let truth and holiness go for the sake of unity, and that's no unity at all. Yet, because we are aware of our own sin and limits, we cannot be self-assured that we ourselves see all so clearly that we begin to think we are above this state of affairs." Love this.

Anne Robinson said...

Bro, this is beautiful. Keep at it!

Jamie Stober said...

Thank you Annster and Broseph!