Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ecclesiological Relativism

Rocco highlights an interesting address Pope Benedict gave to the bishops from Brazil. Here is a quote:
Moreover, with the growth of new groups that call themselves followers of Christ, though divided in different communities and confessions, all the more necessary, on the part of Catholic pastors, is the commitment to establish bridges of contact through a healthy ecumenical dialogue in truth.

That effort is necessary, first of all, because division between Christians is in opposition to the will of the Lord that "all be one" (John 17:21). Moreover, the lack of unity is cause of scandal that ends by undermining the credibility of the Christian message proclaimed in society. And today, its proclamation is, perhaps, more necessary than a few years ago, given, as your reports show, that even in the small cities of the interior of Brazil, one witnesses a growing negative influence of intellectual and moral relativism in people's life.

The search for Christian unity has not a few obstacles before it. In the first place, to be rejected is an erroneous view of ecumenism, which induces to a certain doctrinal indifference that attempts to level, in an a-critical Ireneism, all "opinions" in a sort of ecclesiological relativism. Together with this is the challenge of the incessant multiplication of new Christian groups, some of them using an aggressive proselytism, which shows how the landscape of ecumenism continues to be very differentiated and confused.
 What does our lack of unity do? First it undermines the credibility of the gospel. It leads to an intellectual and moral relativism. If Christians can't agree on what the gospel they are teaching is then many will become uncertain about either all of it or parts of it. Relativism is a desperate attempt to find a foundation for things you think you know but don't have a good reason for knowing. Catholicism once formed the foundation for your world and life view. If you reject it and don't want you whole way of thinking to fall apart then relativism seems appealing. It tries to validate any thought that pops into anybody's head. The trouble is there are some pretty strange heads. There are terrorists. There are ruthless dictators. There are pedophiles. Is everyone's truth and morality just as valid as yours?

Pope Benedict takes this a step further. He talks about how people can bring moral relativism into the church. What he calls ecclesiological relativism.I wonder if he had England in mind when he wrote that. The idea that all theologies should be considered equally valid and the church should just make room for them all. Ecumenism is supposed to be dialogue that leads to a better understanding of God's truth. That can't happen if nobody is critical of anybody's opinion. You needs to start asking the hard questions before you learn anything.

Once you have that better understanding of what the other side is thinking then you need to try and come into communion. That is what the pope has done with Anglicans. At some point the talking is not longer productive and you need to make the best accommodation you can and see if they accept it. Some will and some won't. But the goal of ecumenism needs to be communion. That means doctrinal unity, sacramental unity, and some level of organizational unity. The Anglican case shows that there is some flexibility in what that might look like. But just holding hands and singing "Bind Us Together" is not enough.

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