Churches together: Seeking common ground

Published August 28, 2017

This year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It is significant, and a sign of the times, that a Roman Catholic publisher has published Towards Unity: Ecumenical Dialogue 500 Years after the Reformation, a collection of essays, edited by three Roman Catholics, in honour of Mgr. John A. Rodano, a respected Roman Catholic ecumenist.

With contributions from a wide range of authors across a broad spectrum of denominations, this is truly an ecumenical offering.

In the introduction, Cardinal Kasper underlines that while the 20th century was certainly one of the bloodiest centuries on record, the ecumenical movement stands as a glimmer of hope. It is indeed hopeful that in our broken and hurting world, Christians of all backgrounds feel called by God to come together in peaceful discussion to seek common ground and understand our differences.

It is impossible to address all of the essays in this excellent and thoughtful collection, so I shall touch on only a few, and draw attention to some important observations made therein that might be worthy of our consideration as Anglicans.

The Anglican contribution to the volume is from Dr. Mary Tanner, who discusses the 2013 Faith and Order Paper, The Church: Toward a Common Vision. She notes that like its predecessor, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, it is a “convergence document,” which “sums up what Faith and Order believes the churches can say together about the church and its unity.”

This sentiment sounds through the entire collection. What the modern ecumenical movement has demonstrated is the remarkable degree to which we hold many things in common. Yet, there is still much that separates us.

This collection likewise underscores the many difficulties yet to be overcome. If the chapter by Cardinal Cassidy notes the great strides made between Catholics and Anglicans, and Catholics and Lutherans, Henri Blocher’s article, “An Evangelical Reading of Ut Unum Sint,” demonstrates how wide the divide remains between many of the so-called mainstream and evangelical churches. What Blocher’s article reveals is how much of the modern dialogue is still dominated by the issues of the Reformation: the sacraments, church order, concepts of justification. These traditional categories are not the main lenses through which many evangelicals interpret their ecclesiology. He suggests opening some discussion on the topic of renewal in the life of the church, as most churches have experienced periods of spiritual renewal and awakening in the histories. This is an intriguing suggestion. One is left to wonder if the exclusion of a such category as renewal in ecumenical discourse is the result of the rejection in the 16th century of renewal movements, such as Anabaptism, by the mainstream Reformed churches (including the Church of England).

All of this is to say that continued discussion has the potential to open up new categories of discourse that will draw us more closely together in understanding, if not in shared ministry. This collection serves to further that purpose.


  • Daniel F. Graves

    The Rev. Daniel F. Graves, Th.M., is the incumbent of St. Paul’s, Newmarket, Ont., and the editor of the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society.

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