Lesson 42: How Do We Determine God’s Word – Community 4

When I began my ministry in the early 1960s everyone was talking about Eugene Carson Blake’s proposal for uniting the Church. He urged mainline Protestants to unify before they began trying to reconcile their theological differences. His point was once we obeyed the New Testament call for one Body in Christ, we would become family and then with Jesus’ help we could begin creative conversations. His proposal did lead to the United Church of Christ, but his dream was never fully realized.

Other denominations agreed conversation was the key but reversed the order. For instance, the Roman Catholics and Lutherans entered theological discussion hoping it would eventually lead to institutional union. We discovered once we cleared up the language, we usually believed the same thing. However, again the dream was never realized.

I still think the conversation that takes place in community is a primary means for discerning God’s Word. Norma wonders how decent Christians can read the same biblical passage and get completely different understandings. Certainly one reason is in our present structure people are not reading together and sharing their different takes. We shall always have different perspectives, but we shall never come to a more common understanding until we begin to share these in creative conversation.

This break down in conversation is partially due to other developments that began in the 1960s. Churches began to divide rather than unite. Typical of what happened was the great increase of Baptist congregations in our small borough. When I observed his denomination seemed to be flourishing, a Baptist pastor responded I was missing what was really happening. There was no growth. Those new congregations were simply his members who got angry over minor conflicts and left to start their own churches.

All of this took place when the Holy Spirit was bringing about some of the fastest social changes in history. The society was debating the civil rights of African Americans, women, immigrants and homosexuals. Some churches have hardly moved since the 60s and others have radically changed. All claim “Gott mit uns”. This crisis has led to such conflict that people such as Anne Rice announce they are leaving, because they do not to be associated with the resultant mean-spirited hate mongering.

I find some hope in the current movement that seeks recognition of each other’s communion and ministry. It is not interested in institutional union but rather in gathering around Jesus’ table in the manner Juan described a couple lessons ago. When people share food, they also engage in conversation that shares their thoughts. They compare ideas about where Jesus’ Spirit might be leading his family. .

I saw what that could mean when Gustave Weigel, a prominent Roman theologian, and George Lindbeck, a Lutheran observer at Vatican II, discussed issues separating their communities back in the 60s. Realizing some were disappointed they had not reconciled all their differences in three days, the two went to great lengths to end their conversation with a public embrace, giving a sure sign there was hope in Christ to realize the dream.

I felt somewhat the same thing last year when I spend two weeks with a very, very conservative Roman Catholic layman. Even though it was obvious we were at the extreme opposite ends of almost everything we discussed, he departed asking me to do something nobody else had ever done. He bowed his head before me with the words “Bless me, Father”. That is what shall save the Church in the end, recognizing each of us has something to say to one another, especially when we speak in the name of Christ.

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