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
Last week David talked about the “why” of doing anything ecumenical. He asked first, “What was Jesus’ why?” This week I’d like to go back to a book that was blogged about three years ago: Unity in Mission: Theological Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Mission.
This book consists of many chapters written by people either on the Faith and Order (F&O). Commission of the National Council of Churches (NCC) or associated with it. Our own Shirley Paulson wrote one of the chapters: “Christian Science Christians’ Healing Practice: A Contribution to Christian Pilgrimage.” (F&O is a worldwide movement seeking to understand church-dividing and church uniting issues, for the purpose of understanding each other.) When the book was published I ordered it and read Shirley’s excellent chapter. Then I put the book on my bookshelf.
I pulled it off again this past week after David’s blog, thinking about the “why” of the whole concept of ecumenical unity of mission. Not just why we think unity is important, but what it’s important for. And this book has a lot to say about mission…what we might be doing together beyond dialogue.
One idea that particularly interested me is that while ecumenical dialogue has often tended to be an intellectual pursuit about doctrine, it is moving toward Christians coming together in their life and work, and in fellowship. The goal is to help create Christian community.
I knew several contributors from being connected with the NCC over the last 7 or 8 years such as both editors, Mitzi Budde and Don Thorsen. They write in the introduction that the Faith and Order Commission over a four-year period, met to study the nature of mission and how it may serve to unify Christians and churches. They write: “…it is the diversity of Christians within churches that overall help make the church successful.” “[The contributors] did not attempt to formulate one way that might ring true for all our traditions, or to seek the development of a unified consensus statement.”
What follows in the 20 chapters is a mosaic of ideas and ways that Christian churches are missional, such as the chapter Shirley wrote about the healing mission of the Christian Science church.
The book’s concept of pilgrimage (mentioned in the title) describes the ecumenical movement. It says that Christians are pilgrims—seeking to fulfill Christ’s prayer of unity for his disciples (John 17), and that the pilgrimage is a voyage of exploration, responding to the guidance of Spirit.
I had a clearer sense of the depth and breadth of the ecumenical pilgrimage after reading this book and feel better prepared to talk with other Christians in ecumenical settings about their life and work. I think anyone involved in ecumenical dialogue with other Christians would find this book inspiring and helpful.
By David Corbitt
“WWJW” (“What was Jesus’ ‘why’”?) While the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) movement swept the globe over the last few decades with wrist bands, seminars, posters, billboards, and even tattoos, I like to contemplate Jesus’ “why” for engaging humanity the way he did.
Every day when Jesus opened his eyes and rose from a sound sleep, what motivated him to engage humanity with such love and compassion?
Over the years I’ve asked myself and others this question “What was Jesus’ ‘why’” many times. While I do not presume to know exactly what Jesus’ motivation precisely was (he and I never had a specific conversation about it), I’ve been led to the Bible for answers. It is within those stories and verses that I can see and understand better Jesus’ motivation.
One Bible verse which I feel speaks to Jesus’ “why” is in the Gospel of John 18:37 “… I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify [witness] to the truth.” Common English Bible (CEB). Jesus is a great example to me of being an active witness. What was he witnessing to? In looking up the word “truth” in Greek “ ajlhqh/ß alethes” I found it to mean something that is true, truth-filled and not concealing.
Just as Jesus did not conceal the truth, I find my ecumenical conversations and actions are more engaging and rewarding when I pattern his example.
While I enjoy reading the many healings, parables, and the “kingdom of heaven is like” stories told to us by the New Testament writers, I have seen that Jesus’ motivation might also be found in the Old Testament. An “Aha” moment for me!
Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. —Luke 4:16-19 (CEB)
So often Jesus’ teachings and motivations came straight out of the Torah—The Lord’s Instruction as many scholars define the Hebrew word.
Here is one of my Bible based motivating factors for building better relationships with my Christian sisters and brothers.
Psalm 80:3— “Restore us, God! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!” (CEB) I love the plural pronouns here. There is no one carved out or excluded in this concept of salvation.
What was Jesus’ “why” in your eyes? What Bible verses provide your foundation for your motivation in ecumenical discussions and activities? We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on our Facebook group.
By Madelon Maupin
Wow! Who knew that one of the Holy Spirit’s functions is to lubricate ecumenical conversations? That’s not exactly how the book of Acts tells it, but close. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4, NRSV).
Confession: I always read that a bit literally. That somehow these Jews, traveling from cities throughout the Roman Empire to experience Pentecost in Jerusalem (and speaking numerous languages), were suddenly able to understand one another. But in thinking about how to communicate more effectively in ecumenical settings, the passage took on new meaning. It is the domain of the Holy Spirit to facilitate communication, to ‘oil’ our conversations with understanding, now as then. Our job, like early Christians, is to be so in line with Spirit’s promptings that the right words and actions come as naturally as a flower turns toward the sun.
This happened recently in a formal discussion with the Faith & Order Commission of the Southern California Ecumenical Council where I participate as a representative of The Christian Science Church. We are working through a booklet, The Church, Towards a Common Vision, published by The World Council of Churches in 2012. The goal is “to encourage reflection on the *Church and to seek formal responses to the text” (Introduction by General Secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit, p. vi.) In turn, the purpose of our F&O group is to develop a formal response that will then be shared with all Christian churches in Southern California.
The booklet itself is aimed at Church renewal and theological agreement, with questions for study and response. Members review each paragraph, and then comment. At first, there seemed little to contribute for me because of the unfamiliarity of the highly theological and liturgical language and practices. But I prayed to hear and follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings, then speak with the boldness that permeates the book of Acts by those fortified by Spirit, God.
As if watching a play unfold on a stage where I enjoyed a front row seat, point after point would be discussed when I’d find myself prompted to say something that seemed initially quite simplistic. It became a lesson in watching theological artifice give way to uncomplicated comments that cut through layers of obfuscating language. Sometimes this had the effect of substantially changing the direction of the discussion, clarified as someone would summarize a quite different approach than where we started.
As months passed, our discussions took on a more childlike quality and forthrightness in areas where individuals felt the document needed to be amended. Since we represented a broad cross-section of Christian faith-practices, I understood a bit more about those Pentecostal participants who spoke in 'other languages'. Our little band of Christ-lovers from every background, speaking with sincerity and transparency, were becoming united in the process.
At the end of the final session, I suggested we shoot short videos of what we learned from the experience and they enthusiastically agreed, three wanting to speak immediately--expressing what was learned, but more importantly, the affection and respect that had grown for each other through the process. The Holy Spirit, at it again!
By Susan Humble
What an important question Jesus poses to his disciples. As we can read by their diverse responses--John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet, the Messiah—Jesus was understood in different ways. This difference is not unlike people’s understanding of the person and nature of Jesus today.
Who was this man Jesus? Is Jesus human, divine, a combination? What does Jesus as the Christ mean? Debates on these questions have gone on since the 1st century C. E. and continue today. The modern word for this important inquiry is Christology. The word originated from the Greek words, Khristós (Christ) and logia (Word) which is translated “the study of the Christ.” So the primary result of Christology is to answer the questions, who and what is Jesus as the Christ. The value in answering the question “who do people say that I am?” for us individually is that it enables us to have a clearer and more confident understanding for sharing Christian Science with others.
The answers to these questions are broad and diverse. Each of the Gospel writers and Paul depicts their own views about Jesus and his relation to God. From their writings you might imagine a spectrum of descriptions of Jesus, with “Jesus is a human” on one end and “Jesus is God” on the other end, and numerous other descriptions across the spectrum. A few titles for Jesus include prophet, Rabbi, Son of Man, Messiah, Lord, Word, Son of God, and Christ. In addition to titles, Christology has dealt with questions of Jesus’ nature: was he pre-existent with God, did he have a divine or a human nature, was he the Word that became flesh, did he have the same substance as God?
How does this relate to ecumenical conversations and why is it important to understand what Christology is? For me, the primary reason is that at the heart of a Christian’s religious convictions is their personal understanding and view of God and Jesus Christ. The teachings, doctrines, and creeds of each denomination differ, as do the members’ understanding of them. The same holds true for students of Christian Science. Becoming generally aware of differing views of how others think about Jesus and Christ (Christology) can open up avenues of dialogue and understanding.
So, where might you begin in your thinking of Christology? Perhaps by making a list of several terms and looking them up in the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings. A list might include: Christ, Son, Son of God, divine, human, incarnation, Logos, I Am, and Messiah. Write answers to the christological questions above. The writing always helps reveal where I need more clarity. The value is not only in clarifying these christological concepts for yourself, but enabling you to have a clearer and more confident understanding for sharing Christian Science with others. We would enjoy learning about conversations you have had with others on this topic and hope you will share them on the Circle of Faith Facebook page.
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)
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)