18 May 2017
Does it matter whether Christians are content to exist in division? Does seeking unity mean we have to sacrifice the truth? 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church and it sparked a major controversy that continues today. Can the divisions of the church be healed and does it matter? What would it take? Does God care?
Such questions cannot be easily ignored or dismissed. Why? For a start our ancient Creed states that the Church is One. And here it echoes the Scripture: 'there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism' (Ephesians 4:5). Jesus himself prayed, 'that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21). So it seems plain that Christian unity is an imperative of the gospel and the will of God. Yet Christians continue to justify divisions and dissension, exclude, persecute and ignore brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing so Christian witness is undermined. If Christians worship a God of love, then it is incumbent upon Christians to love one another. This transforms lives. The great Church Theologian Tertullian (3rd century) said the pagans say, 'See how they [these Christian] love one another'. Such love created a desire for something more; a seeking of God. People were being drawn out of darkness towards the light of God.
And this goes to the heart of our present situation because our age is an age of anger and division. We see it unfolding with great pace across the world. Some might say it has ever been thus. Yet it is hard to resist the conclusion that this is a particularly fractious and divided period of history. Previously hard fought agreements, unions, and cooperative arrangements between countries are under strain. Even some of the most powerful world leaders seem more interested in snarling at one another rather than seeking the common good. Think of the slogans of separation and division: Brexit; America first. 'Border security' seems to trump a previously hospitable and compassionate approach to those in need. The closure of communities and the reassertion of a new secular tribalism point to a resurgent self interest. This is the heat-beat of nations, it infects institutions, politics, family life.
If love for one another transforms people then Christian unity, as a concrete expression of love and respect has something to offer a divided and violent world. It's not just a churchy thing to do. It's for the sake of the well being and healing of the nations. Christian unity goes hand in hand with Christian mission.
Clearly a first step in seeking unity means Christians need to begin to listen to each other more carefully and genuinely seek common understanding. It might not seem much but as every family knows learning to listen and understand is the first step in healing and reconnecting. So too with the divided family of Christ. There is a real need to gather around the table again; to exchange views; to figure out how to help one another seek a deeper and lasting unity in faith, hope and love.
Following two successful Ecumenical Roundtables, in 2015 and 2016, a third is to be held at the ACC&C on Monday, 29th May 2017. Using this 500th year of the Reformation, the theme for the Roundtable is, Luther at 500: Taking the Ecumenical Pulse. Speakers will come from Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist (NZ), Greek Orthodox and Baptists Churches.We will work towards a greater shared understanding and renewed working together for the sake of the Gospel of God. And as we do we remember the words of St Augustine (4th century), 'In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity'.
The Ecumenical Roundtable enriches the Centre's commitment to one of our key Pillars: peace through new religious dialogue.