Jesus’ Prayer (John 17)
Myron Augsburger wrote a piece in the MWR (Dec. 5, 2005) entitled, In Praise of Christian diversity. He writes, “Mennonites have a subtle spirit of condescending exclusiveness. We tend to regard other Christians as inferior and miss out on an inclusiveness that could enrich us.”
He goes on to say, “We do accept a limited measure of ecumenicity. We borrow a few patterns in worship and liturgy, but very selectively–accepting either what is too popular for us to miss or what we deem best suited to our spiritual formation.”
Augsburger says, “We need an ecumenical spirit that is distinct from ecumenical organization.”
I guess I would start there in my answer to your question. I am homesick for a view of the church that is inclusive–yet does not sacrifice a commitment to the Faith we have received. Like Paul, could we say, “that which I received I passed on to you.” Or have we become too skeptical, too formed by Modern Enlightenment to be able to believe that the Scriptures and the worship of the Church are more than just something we make up, or interpret, or create as we see fit or as makes sense from our lens.
In my class Tuesday night, Brinton Rutherford noted that Christian theology of the classical era says, “God exists.” God is the subject period. After the Englightenment, with the radical shift toward individualism, theology says, “I think God exists.” “I” is the subject and God is the object. So we have moved from thinking of the architecture of Theology as Dogmatics, or even Systematic Theology. We see theology moving toward more of a “Constructive” formulation. We do theology (God words, God thoughts) from the bottom up, not from God down. We begin with our experience and try to explain God through that lens. We are skeptical of anything that begins with a foundation in revelation. Because of course the interpretation of that revelation depends on the perspective and experience of the individual.
This has been one huge sidebar to the question of “expressions of division.” I believe that when Jesus was praying that we (the Church) would be one, just as the Father and he are one he meant a oneness that is deep and even spiritual grounded in wholeness and truth. I don’t think Jesus was praying for a superficial oneness.
I write as one whose own views have shifted. Whereas at one time I would have looked with skepticism and eyes of superiority on believers outside of the Anabaptist/Evangelical/Charismatic stream… I have come to see that the Spirit of God is at work throughout the whole Church. My prayer is that we would work toward reconciliation, unity, and a true understanding of the Church.
In my own emerging theology, I sense a movement toward a more inclusive ecclesiology, that allows for the possibility that we (our church, our denomination, our historical stream) does not have the sum and total of truth and/or the way of faithful worship and witness. I pray that we could join our “distinctives” together with the whole and perhaps not even view them as “ours.” Could we let go of the need to define ourselves as seperate from the whole, or distinct in some way. I know this is not possible outside of the working of the Holy Spirit, for history has created some real rifts and tensions that cannot be minimized. But could we allow ourselves to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work to bring about the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that must be owned as the eschatalogical reality we are moving toward when all things will be brought together in Christ.
There are dialogues going on that are signs of hope. The dialogue between Anabaptists and Catholics. The dialogues between Anabaptists and Orthodoxy.