Friday, October 14, 2011

Catholicity and Ecumenism

One of the reasons I was eager to accept the position as Co-Director of the Reformed Liturgical Institute (besides being able to work closely with my friend Greg Soderberg) is because of the Institute’s emphasis on catholicity. As an evangelical who was rescued six years ago from the sectarian home-church mentality, I have found that catholicity and ecumenism are very important concepts to me. By ‘catholic’  I do not mean Roman and by ‘ecumenism’ I do not mean syncretism. Rather, both terms should be understood in the twofold sense that my friend Brad Littlejohn defined catholicity in his book The Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity. Speaking of the catholicity of Nevin and Schaff, he wrote that

“first, catholicity in the sense (or similar to the sense) of ecumenism – a passionate desire that all believers may be truly one, one in spirit and one in visible union; second, catholicity in the sense of an embrace of what I am calling the ‘catholic heritage,’ that is, the sense of motherhood of the Church, the mysterious power of the sacraments and the liturgy, the divine authority of the ministry, and the rest of the spiritual worldview that characterized the first five or even the first fifteen centuries of the Church.”
In trying to identify with the first fifteen centuries of the church, this ecumenical emphasis is enthusiastic about emphasizing and celebrating areas of continuity between Protestants and Roman Catholics or between Protestants and Eastern Orthodox.
Sadly, however, I have found that not all of my reformed Protestant friends share this agenda, and one of the primary reasons for this is because of the doctrine of Sola Fide. Indeed, if there is any doctrine that divides Protestant evangelicals from their brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions, the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone (Sola Fide) has to be it.
At least, that has been my experience. When having conversations with lay people, Christian educators and those in leadership positions in Protestant churches, I am frequently told that while individual Roman Catholics can be saved, this can only happen if they “trust in Christ alone for salvation.” When pressed to explain what it means to “trust in Christ alone for salvation,” the response I am usually given is that it means the Roman Catholic has to (more or less) believe in Sola Fide. To reject Sola Fide is to reject Christ, which is to reject any hope of salvation.

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