Ecumenical and interfaith ideas
"The truth is the centre of all religion," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. Here, you'll find ideas that honor that center, the "circle of faith" of which we're all a part. We hope they are helpful as you listen and contribute to the healing dialogue going on between faiths worldwide.
Christian Science in the Christian Community
By Maryl Walters
We’re devoting a few weeks to re-visit some of the popular blog jewels of the past couple of years. Some of our newer readers may not have seen these, and they’re great reminders for those of us who do remember them. Today, we are re-thinking Maryl Walters' point that the deeper purpose of our interfaith activities is our prayer for the ‘kin-dom’ of God. This blog first appeared in August, 2015.
Yesterday I sat down at a large conference table in a local seminary with 16 other people from the St. Louis area to examine and discuss the meaning of texts from the three Abrahamic faiths. An imam and two Muslim women in head scarves, a reformed Jew, a Catholic sister, a Mormon, a Buddhist, and several lay Christians were in attendance.
This was the first of seven Wednesday lunch meetings this fall, and then again seven in the spring, meeting together to listen and discuss holy Scripture. We are not trying to find a compromise position among the different faiths. Our purpose is to understand and respect both our similarities and our differences.
We read Genesis 41 from the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of Joseph interpreting Pharoah’s dream of the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows, and because of the wisdom of his interpretation he was appointed to be in charge of the wise storing up of food to last through the years of famine.
We read a Psalm of David, lamenting his sins and asking God to “come quickly to help me.” One of the Muslim women said they believe that all the prophets, including David, were without sin, so that was a notable difference between the Quran and the Bible.
We read Surah 74 of the Quran that speaks of the one whom Allah created and “granted resources in abundance” but who is greedy. “Woe to him! How he plotted” and characterized Allah’s word as “nothing but the word of a mortal.” Again a Muslim woman spoke of the importance of following God’s law, written in each of our Holy Scriptures.
We read and pondered Luke 12 that includes the statement, “Don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink…Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and God will give you everything you need.” The Catholic sister commented that in today’s world, where “kingdoms” are few, we might choose a new term, “kin-dom”, to understand our relationships with each other and all God’s creation. I felt the “kin-dom” in that room where all the individuals were one in their search for understanding although on different faith paths to find it.
As I left at the end of the discussion, I prayed for more of this type of respectful listening and learning to be practiced around the world. We all need to feel the “kin-dom” of God and each other, without compromising our own faith traditions. Small steps like this are ripples that move out and transform the world.
By Susan Humble
In last week’s Circle of Faith blog, Shirley Paulson shared some of her insights and questions related to the theme of “unity” that she came away with after attending the North American Academy of Ecumenists meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Discussed at this meeting were two important documents on reconciliation that have been hammered out in years of Catholic and Lutheran dialogues. Before you think about closing this blog because you think these documents do not matter to Christian Scientists, let me share a few thoughts about why they do matter. They matter to us because:
- Learning others’ religious issues gives us the language we need, and a clearer way to articulate, our Christian Science beliefs to others.
- This example of two very polarized positions finding reconciliation is a powerful demonstration to us of effective ecumenism at work.
The Protestant Reformation had a significant impact on Christianity, particularly in defining beliefs and doctrines, and has remained in the history and memory of churches since 1517. Recognizing this provides us with opportunities to ask questions of Protestant and/or Catholic friends and learn more about their denomination, an important step in ecumenical dialogues.
In October of 1517 Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, posted his “95 Theses” on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, criticizing the Catholic Church’s corruption and oppressive rule. Luther’s protests in favor of the Bible being the central religious authority rather than the church, and how justification may be reached by faith rather than deeds, sparked the Protestant Reformation. This Reformation affected religious, political, and social order throughout Europe. Perhaps the consequence the Protestant Reformation is best known for is the creation of Protestantism, first known as Lutheranism.
Since 1964 the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches have held dialogues and have even arrived at several statements of agreement on key issues such as the Eucharist, church, and ministry. One important lesson I have learned in reading and thinking about the development of these agreements is that ecumenism, with its encouragement of mutual understanding, takes persistent, intentional effort over time. Misconceptions, prejudices, and lack of trust can take years to resolve. The two important documents resulting from the Lutheran and Catholic dialogues are entitled, From Conflict to Communion, and Declaration on the Way. These will be highlighted next year at the 500-year Commemoration of the Reformation.
From Conflict to Communion, as the title suggests, takes a look at the origin and progress of the Reformation, from Luther through the contemporary attempts to overcome religious conflict. Included is a summary of the Lutherans’ attempt to maintain unity within their church through the Augsburg Confession, accepted in 1530. The Augsburg Confession is a list containing 21 confessions of faith, including statements about God, Jesus as the Son of God, sin, justification through faith, baptism, preaching, repentance, free will, good works, and ministry (just to mention a few). I find this list of confessions of faith easy to read and helpful in explaining their faith, which allows me to find a better way to talk with others about God, Jesus, sin, baptism, etc. in Christian Science.
Chapters four and five of the document From Conflict to Communion discuss Luther’s theology of justification through faith, the Eucharist, ministry, baptism, and the role of scripture. In these chapters the writers include Luther’s viewpoint, followed by statements of agreement by the Lutherans and Catholics. Admittedly, not every disagreement between these two religions has been resolved, but both express a commitment to continue dialogues. Another lesson from their persistence is that ecumenism requires commitment.
Declaration on the Way is a document developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Lutheran Church. It contains a detailed list of 32 agreements between the two organizations on the general topics of church, ministry, and Eucharist. Though progress has been made, there are still differences that require reconciliation, which they list in the final chapter of the book.
The above examples effectively demonstrate that it’s worth the prayer, the effort, the patience, and the love required to heal, bless, and fully live Jesus’ prayer to his Father, “…that they may all be one” (John 17:21). Finally, these examples of reconciliation between two very polarized positions, without either losing their unique identity, illustrates effective ecumenism.
By Shirley Paulson
Sue Humble and I enjoyed attending the North American Academy of Ecumenists (NAAE ) in late September, which was devoted to commemoration of the Reformation and considering how churches can look at it together. We agreed the events of 1517 hold deep meaning and relevance for all Christians, because Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17:21) was not only for Lutherans and Catholics! The Christian church – meaning all Christians – is divided between numerous denominations, so all of us are in a position to look back and look forward for a deeper understanding of Jesus’ prayer for unity. Even if we think our own denomination had nothing to do with the 1517 event where Luther’s 95 theses ultimately sparked the violent break-up of the Church, Jesus’ desire for this unity still applies to all of us.
It could be tempting to assume – as many Christians do – that as soon as everyone understands the truth the way we do, they will want to be like us, and then unity will be achieved. But that does not appear to be happening! In fact, some Christian Scientists feel that isolation from the larger Christian discourse has led to misunderstanding, irrelevance, and even fear.
For well over a thousand years, the Church was unified. There was only one Church. But the schism between Orthodox (Christians from the Eastern churches) and Roman Catholics (Christians from the Western church) occurred around 1100. And then some five hundred years later, the Reformers shook the Western world and caused innumerable denominational divisions. There were good reasons for the shake-up, as both Catholics and Protestants alike finally agreed that the church abuses needed to be corrected. Making people pay fees (‘indulgences’) they could not afford in order to be saved, for example, was a cruel abuse of church power. Three hundred and fifty years later, Christian Science also became another ‘break-away’, in that Mary Baker Eddy positioned her church as a type of Christian reform, but not another religion.
Lots of questions came when I listened to the NAAE speakers identify issues relevant to all Christians today. What does unity really look like? Are we all supposed to be the same, believe the same? Even within one denomination, there are huge differences. Is that wrong? Who has the authority to correct whom? And even, how do we relate to those from whom Christian Science broke away? Are we to think of ourselves as superior? Were Protestants superior to the Catholics (or vice versa) after they both reformed? That doesn’t sound right, so then, how can we all participate in elevating thought toward a more Christlike image?
A certain line of questions that stayed with me was, “What are the forces that separate?” “What are the forces that unite?” NAAE discussions helped us hear each others’ perceptions of what comes from God and what does not. For instance, I heard some Catholics say they learned from the Reformation commemoration how important it is to practice self-examination. Some Protestants said they need to be alert to the same temptations of falling into modern types of abuses themselves, such as judging others or making unrealistic demands on parishioners.
Both Catholics and Protestants generally agree that the ecumenical movement has enabled us all to do things differently – and better – than the sixteenth century. One example: the first Vatican Council in the nineteenth century pronounced anathemas (or curses) on Christians with non-Catholic beliefs. But the second Vatican Council (mid-1960s) reversed that position by acknowledging that Christ could be present with other Christians. In fact, now in the twenty-first century, Pope Francis keeps asking, “Who am I to judge?”
Speakers who emphasized in different ways how the ecumenical movement (that began in 1910) continues to provide opportunities for creating new memories of each other sparked my imagination. What if we could arrange for thoughtful conversations among, say Catholics and Christian Scientists – or Baptists and Christian Scientists – and find new things to talk about together? We would create new narratives for our memories of each other, without diminishing our distinctive views, but with deeper understanding of Christ’s work in all of us. It became increasingly clear to me that we are all striving for this unity in Christ, and our differences will be better known as gifts than threats.
Next week, Sue is going to share more about the details that have been hammered out in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue and why it matters to us. Stay tuned! We do want to hear what our readers may think about or experience with the 500th anniversary commemoration, so please let us know.
By David Corbitt
About once a month or so, a group of pastors get together and discuss relevant community topics and how solutions might begin to take shape for healing by building Christian unity. They have graciously included me in their group.
At a recent meeting, we began talking about the racism that divides, the politics of polarization, and the growing gulf between haves and nots. It was brought up that if we all are living by the Golden Rule, as found in the New Testament, then why are there so many evil acts going on in the world; so much greed; relationship issues with couples—divorce, divides between lawmakers, countries, religions? What can we learn from each other in order to experience real change in these areas?
My contribution to the discussion came from a book that I had read of late titled “Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know About God” by Doug Pagitt. I love the idea of flipping a conventional wisdom, not throwing it out, but flipping it on its ear to gain a new perspective. I definitely resonated with this book.
In his Introduction Pagitt’s main focus is “I believe Jesus’s message has the power to bring about healing of the human spirit, foster life in community, and give us a vision and path for living harmoniously with God and one another.” Our group’s focus matches up perfectly with Pagitt’s passion and harmonizes beautifully with the teachings in Christian Science.
I shared that ‘since I continue to see the bad ways people are being treated, I need to go back to the root of the Rule and ‘flip’ it.’ For me the Golden Rule was how I should treat others should be the way I treat myself. My ‘Flip’ occurred when I realized that I should treat others the way God treats me. It was a total perspective shift. The other pastors expanded on that ‘Flip’.
With these ‘Flips’ I am not throwing out the rule or principle, I am honoring it by acknowledging the way I’ve been looking at it for years may need a shift. Pagitt says “Jesus was famous for telling people, ‘You have heard that it was said…’ only to turn that bit of common knowledge on its head: ‘But I say unto you…’ This is Jesus doing what I call a Flip.”
At our next meeting, I shared another ‘Flip’ that was built upon the Golden Rule ‘Flip’. Much like the Golden Rule, the 2nd great commandment: (love your neighbor as you love yourself) is also about the relationship between me and my “neighbor” and our intersection with God.
At that meeting, a new “Golden 2nd commandment” was crafted together “with my actions and my speech, show my unconditional, faithful, and steadfast love for others (my neighbor) as God has shown unconditional, faithful and steadfast love to me!”
We asked, rhetorically, what changes we might see in our communities if each of us took this new Rule home and began practicing it daily for next sixty days?
What have you ‘flipped’ lately? We love hearing from you.
How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?
The Committee for Ecumenical Affairs works under the auspices of the Committee on Publication, and is engaged in ‘correcting in a Christian manner’ the misconceptions of Christian Science, particularly within the Christian community. Ecumenical team activities include writing pieces that appear on christianscience.com and articles for The Christian Science Journal and Christian Science Sentinel, and participating in ecumenical conferences, meetings, and organizations such as the National Council of Churches.
What is ecumenism?
Ecumenism is a worldwide movement among Christians to promote unity between Christian churches or denominations (or ‘communions’) in response to Jesus’ prayer that we be one (John 17:21). It recognizes the body of Christ in its entirety, learning to understand the ways, values, and communications styles of our fellow Christians. Ecumenical dialogue is vibrant and respectful, welcoming the gifts of others, while maintaining the integrity and purpose of each Christian faith tradition.
Why should Christian Scientists participate?
The ongoing dialogue with Christian leaders, clergy, and religion educators allows everyone to grasp better the idea exactly why Christian Science is Christian.
All churches and denominations are concerned with maintaining the purity of their ideas and practice of religion, and the ecumenical dialogue respects that integrity in others. It is with a spirit of humility that Christians value one another's faith and service to the common cause of Christianity. As we learn from others, we often find ourselves learning to appreciate and articulate better our own denominational roots. We have the opportunity to cultivate bonds of love and dispel misunderstandings. Ecumenism is one of many ways to practice active Christianity.
One of the most compelling reasons Christian Scientists have become ecumenically involved is that other Christians have been asking for us to participate in the greater dialogue and especially to explain and share our unique gifts more widely.
Talking to other Christians about Christian Science
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to successful ecumenical engagement can be the language we use. Every church or denomination has its own jargon, which can be baffling or unwittingly offensive to others. Without understanding the language, culture, and history of others, we often find ourselves trying to share our most precious ideas only to discover they mean something entirely different to our listeners. With love for others, we make the effort to learn their Christian ‘language’ in order to communicate the greatest depth of thought. Just as we maintain our own culture and identity when we learn a foreign language, we also maintain the identity of Christian Science while we learn the Christian practices and theology of others.
Prayer and insights about ecumenical engagement
- Getting our assumptions right in interfaith work by Brian Talcott
- Opening closed doors by Maryl Walters
- Invitation to worship by Kristin Jamerson
- What Christian Scientists Believe (Video) by Madelon Maupin, Brian Talcott, Eric Nelson
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (who first invited the Christian Science Church to engage in the ecumenical movement, 2008)
Video: Mary Baker Eddy — A Heart in Protest
Responding to common questions
Ecumenical activities for you!
Michael Kinnamon talks about the meaning of ecumenical dialogue (YouTube video)
Discussion with Michael Kinnamon about Christian Science in ecumenical dialogue (in The Christian Science Journal)