Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Every year this week comes up and is marked the same way. Christians from different denominations worship together. They pray together. They make some sappy speeches about love and respect. What unites us is greater than what divides us. Then they go back to their regular lives and ignore each other or, quite often, compete with each other. This is a step forward from where we were 100 years ago. Where Christians did not respect each other. Some Christians still need to make this step but I think they are getting fewer and fewer. Those that have resisted these symbolic gestures despite all the cultural pressure towards tolerance and celebrating diversity are not likely to change their mind anytime soon.

So these events used to be significant steps forward but they really aren't anymore. We can't keep celebrating the same piece of progress forever. We need to take the next step. What is that? Asking why we can't all be part of one big church? What are the issues that divide us? What are the possible resolutions? That last question is particularly hard for protestants. Protestants can see that simply arguing their particular interpretation of scripture is right will not lead to resolution. But it is the only method of resolving truth claims that Sola Scriptura allows. So there are very few choices:
  1. God does not want all Christians to come to unity confessing one faith
  2. All these people in other denominations are not Christians
  3. Sola Scriptura is not what God intended
Given the fact that 3 is unthinkable for a protestant he is left with some combination of 1 and 2. But once you fellowship with other Christians and talk charitably about your areas of disagreement both those become untenable. Unity is God's heart and there simply has to be a way to get there. God would not leave us snookered.

You can see why most events praying for Christian unity do not want to go there. It is very uncomfortable. I was there for a long time. I wanted unity. I didn't dream it could require me to change my thinking so much. Nobody does. Nobody thinks they are far from the truth. Logically some people will need to seriously rethink some important doctrines. You just always think it is the other guys that are in need of the rethinking.

As Catholics, what are we to do? It seems pretty hypocritical to say everyone else must submit to our church. Even though we have good logical, biblical, and historical reasons for saying that it will always seem to protestants like we get a free ride on the unity issue especially for cradle Catholics. I am not sure we do. I am reminded of something a nun told me long before I considered joining the church. She said, "If you become a Catholic become a good one. We have enough bad ones!" The biggest thing preventing people from becoming Catholic is bad Catholics. The biggest thing causing people to become Catholic is good Catholics. From whom much is given much is required. We have been given much and we can't bury it in the ground.

First, we need to do a good job of submitting to the church but remaining a good critical thinker. When protestants look at the church they see dissenters and they see Catholics who avoid the topic of religion at all cost. Since they can't see themselves becoming either of those kinds of Catholics they think Catholicism is not for them. They need to interact with people who are completely Catholic and undeniably Christian. Many protestants don't believe that is possible. It is easier for them to believe that. Then they can write off the Catholic church. It is the job of every Catholic to be the counter example to that thinking. To make protestants think the church really might have something they are missing. In short, we are to be saints.


  1. These are great point, Randy. I'm about to give a talk on this subject at North Dakota State University through the FOCUS ministry.

  2. Good to hear. I shall pray for your talk.