In essentials, unity;
in non-essentials, liberty;
in all things, charity.
St. Augustine said these words, long before schisms, disunity and denominational claims and clashes took place among Christians. Below is the first part of the best lecture I have ever heard on the possibility of Christian (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) reunion without compromise. It was done by Peter Kreeft, a former Calvinist who grew up in a strong evangelical Protestant family, converted to Catholicism, became an apologist, and is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. Here is the first part from the whole article titled “Ecumenism Without Compromise”:
I’d like to give a fairly short, fairly formal semi-lecture followed by an interesting discussion about ecumenism. If we are to witness to the world, the problem is not only the world, the problem is in us. And the problem in us is not just that we are wicked and foolish, that’s always the case. We are also split, we’re divided. We can ignore that, we can be dishonest and compromise our convictions, but obviously that’s not going to do any good.
Is there any hope for reunion? I am increasingly convinced that there is much more hope than most of us think. And my hope is based most fundamentally on the fact that the most passionate ecumenist in all of existence is Jesus Christ. We all know His prayer to His Father just before His Crucifixion in John 17, “That they may be one even as Thou the Father art in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe.” He explicitly connects apologetics and ecumenism. “I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou has sent me and has loved them even Thou hast loved me.”
If you read the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, you will see that denominationalism was not just a scandal, but absolutely unthinkable and intolerable to St. Paul. Because denominationalism is not the multiplying of subdivisions in an organization, it’s the amputation of limbs from an organism. Just as no sane person loves war, so no sane Christian loves the war among Christians that so scandalizes the world and weakens our witness to it. How could a divided church unify a divided world? No more than an infected physician can heal himself. But our divisions seem as intractable as war!
Here are 9 grounds for hope for ecumenical reunion that are commonly given, and not a one of them has worked:
- Reasonable compromises.
- Understanding and education: the hope that deep down, we’ll find that we don’t really disagree. That we’re all saying the same thing in different words but just misunderstanding each other.
- Mystical experience: if you only have one, you’ll see that the previous point is true.
- Tolerance: like a mutual non-aggression pact. Why can’t we just get along?
- Subjectivism: reduction of THE Truth to “my truth” or “your truth” or “our truth.”
- Skepticism: no one knows the truth anyway.
- Rational argument: perhaps we can persuade each other as in a scientific laboratory.
- A vague optimism: Dickon’s Mr. McColbers, “Something will turn up!”
- Merely a temporary tactical and pragmatic union to fight a common enemy: an ecumenical jihad. Good but not enough. None of these is the golden key to reunion.