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 Madelon Maupin
Have you ever had one of those episodes that seemed inconsequential at the time, only to realize later it was a watershed moment?
I did 13 years ago when attending my first Seminary class. Looking around at others’ Bibles, I quickly realized my love-worn King James Version was the only English translation of its kind. There were New Revised Standard Versions (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT), the Tanach (the canonical collection of Jewish texts), and others translated more recently than the 17th century! When I saw the variety I immediately asked the professor which one he preferred. “The original”, he declared, looking down at his well-worn Hebrew text of the Hebrew Scriptures.
We all laughed but I got his point. If you can read the Bible’s original languages of Hebrew and/or Greek, of course that’s preferred. But since most don’t, people rely on translations, knowing that every translation involves interpretation.
Although I had occasionally looked up complex passages in other translations, reading continually from a Bible in contemporary English was a new experience – and it took awhile to get used to it. Like many in my church, I grew up on the stately King James Version with its soaring, majestic language. It was the source of memorized childhood prayers such as the 23rd and 91st Psalms as well as all my Sunday School teaching. Yet I was discovering that many Christian denominations had long ago decided on a more modern version. If I was to enter into ecumenical conversations, it would help greatly if I was more conversant with the Bibles they loved and used.
Like most seminaries, San Francisco Theological asked students to use the NRSV in class. Published in 1989, it has received the widest acclaim and broadest support from academics and church leaders of any modern English translation. And since many seminary professors also serve congregations as pastors, they were using the NRSV for their large pulpit Bible as well as those bibles available to congregants in pew racks. This is also the version on which Christian Science chaplains train. One reason for its popularity is probably tied to its commitment to continue the tradition of William Tyndale, the King James Version, the American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version, being as literal as possible.
Continuing informal research revealed that conservative evangelical churches tend to use the New American Standard Bible (NASB), or the New International Version (NIV). More conservative mainline churches stick with the Revised Standard Version (RSV), an authorized revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which was a revision of the King James Version, published in 1611.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints love the King James Version, as do Baptist friends. I was surprised to learn of the public perception that many consider the King James Version to be more allied with fundamentalist denominations.
It has been educational to watch people discover contemporary Bible translations over the years, as I did, especially those who work with the public like institutional chaplains meeting with the incarcerated. Their appreciation for the holy messages of the Bible are the same, just easier to understand sometimes. And using translations other than the King James doesn’t mean one loves it any less, only that we might sound more familiar in ecumenical conversations.
An example is the term “Holy Spirit” in most present-day translations vs. the KJV’s use of “Holy Ghost”. The theatrical release this past week of the best-selling book, The Shack, makes this point current. The script personifies the character of the Holy Spirit, a term fellow Christians would be comfortable with us using in the inevitable discussions that will grow out of seeing the film.
Whatever version of the Bible meets your need is an individual decision yet what is really important is applying its teachings by loving our neighbor more.
Ute Keller (from Germany) shared this interesting information from WCC with Circle of Faith:
Meeting in Maseru, Lesotho, on 27 February, the WCC (World Council of Churches) started the process of developing a Global Ecumenical Health Strategy, following the legacy of churches’ high profile in health care and mission historically. Here are two quotes on the meaning of healing today.
“The church has been engaged in health services for centuries,” Makoka explains, “and has insisted through the years that there is a unique Christian understanding of health and healing which should shape the way churches provide healthcare.”
“The church realised and affirmed early, that health is more than medicine, more than physical and or mental well-being, and that healing is not primarily medical,” Makoka adds.
By Susie Jostyn
Easter is coming! Near my house in Boston, tree limbs broken by whipping frozen winds still lie on the ground, making it hard to fathom the oncoming cheery, warm, blooming springtime that typically accompanies Easter here. Yet recently, I was visibly reminded of Easter’s approach when I saw several fellow Christians wearing ashen crosses on their foreheads. When asked, some of them shared with me their thoughts about Ash Wednesday and the following season of Lent. (For more information on these celebrations, do a little research, ask a fellow Christian, or refer to this link.)
This in turn prompted me to think more deeply about my own beliefs regarding the repentance, purification, unselfishness, atonement, resolution, and new vision that are essential elements foreshadowing and leading to the Easter declaration, “He is risen!” Those qualities and their embodiment are central to the Bible. They--coupled with my gratitude for Jesus’ incredible love, courage, sacrifice, and strength in enduring the crucifixion and triumphing through his resurrection and ascension--are part of what unify me dearly with my fellow Christians now and throughout the year. I am thankful for interactions with other members of the body of Christ who remind me about our shared heritage and values.
I have tried the Lenten practice of giving up various things, activities, and mental habits. (The typical justification for this practice is Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness before his temptation by Satan.) I always appreciate the opportunity to “up my game” in all aspects of life, and a “team effort” like the one that happens during this season may be more appealing and/or successful for some than going it alone. But in the end, I can also see why Mary Baker Eddy, Pastor Emeritus of the Christian Science church (my church), stressed that members don’t need to feel bound to any specific external Easter observances. One major reason is that we need to support each other’s Christian growth all year long!
Ultimately the question for me has become, what most effectively motivates my faithful Christian discipleship? Working from the “inside out” or from the “outside in”? Outside changes in personal and societal actions are absolutely necessary, but they are more enduring when impelled by internal attitude changes or repentance. Outside changes can become merely superficial and overlook the more challenging and essential spiritual discipline that for me has been the most transformative and redemptive. That being said, Jesus rejected an exclusive focus on spiritual change that isn’t outwardly manifest. This is why his emphasis on healing as well as caring for “the least of these” is absolutely essential. It is critical that our spiritual practice be manifest in our personal lives, as well as in our engagement with the world. It’s not possible to prescribe what healing should look like, but I appreciate Eddy’s insistence upon Christian Scientists’ ongoing and persistent efforts to engage in spiritual practices that have inspired, healing, concrete external results. I am also grateful for all the activities that my fellow Christians are undertaking, that serve as good prompters for me.
In writing about Easter, Eddy wrote, “Gratitude and love should abide in every heart each day of all the years. Those sacred words of our beloved Master, “Let the dead bury their dead,” and ‘Follow thou me,’ appeal to daily Christian endeavors for the living whereby to exemplify our risen Lord.” (Church Manual, p. 60:15) Therefore, during the Easter season and all year around, whenever I am presented with cold images of hate, corruption, conflict, and injustice, I look forward to joining together with my fellow Christians in prayer and practices that warm our hearts and radically transform us and the world. Then we can truly say and witness together that “He is risen!”
Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), writes weekly newsletters on his representation of NCC in the ecumenical movement. This week, he shares his personal connection with Rev. F. Willis Johnson, pastor of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson, MO, and he commends Johnson’s new theologically grounded book, Holding Up Your Corner: Talking about Race in Your Community as a model for addressing racism with honesty and courage.
If you have thoughts to share, visit our Circle of Faith Facebook group.
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
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)