Image via Wikipedia
This is the third of eight posts reflecting upon a recent paper released by the Conference of European Churches. The background can be found in a post on Methodist Ecumenical News. The paper is Visions of Unity in Our Churches - Points of Convergence.
The report includes eight points of convergence and I thought it might be interesting to consider them one by one.
Between ecclesial and Eucharistic community there is an organic link. Any separation between these should be avoided. Unity of the church and in the Eucharist have to go together. There are steps that lead towards this but they are not a substitute for the ultimate goal of unity.
Oh dear, I have a number of issues with this convergence. This is a statement agreed between a relatively small group of people. To reflect on what they are saying might demonstrate some of the assumptions made in formal conversations.
The point here is eucharist and ministry belong together and are understood to be essential to unity. So, the argument goes, if the non-conformist churches adopt episcopacy, this will then enable them to move closer to the episcopalian churches.
The first sentence bewilders me. What are these two communities? Surely for episcopal traditions they are one and the same? The ordained priesthood (ecclesial community) is solely responsible for the Eucharist (and so is also the Eucharistic community). Lay people participate in communion but cannot themselves consecrate the bread and wine. The ministry is ordered hierarchically and it is the hierarchy that legitimates the conduct of the Eucharist by the clergy. Surely, from an episcopalian perspective, the ecclesial and Eucharistic communities are the same?
The problem is of course, there is no evidence this type of community supports unity. The ongoing debates between Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox show they are if anything moving further apart. Are we really expected to sacrifice women priests for unity?
And will the non-conformist traditions adopt bishops for the sake of unity? Maybe some of the traditional Protestant Churches will but it is the Pentecostal churches that are growing most rapidly and I can't see how they are expected to adopt the necessary episcopal and eucharistic approaches.
It may be true the unity of the church and the Eucharist go together. It is difficult to imagine a church where communion cannot be shared, being perceived as united by non-Christians. But it has to be asked to what extent are we expected to make sacrifices for the sake of the ecclesiastically powerful? Make no mistake about it, this business of the Eucharist is about power. There will always be Christian radicals who challenge this power.
The final sentence seems to suggest intermediate steps on the way to unity are not enough. I suppose this is fair enough. But it is not at all clear what they mean. I suspect it is a dig at reconciled diversity. I would question whether reconciled diversity is a step on the way to their vision of unity, rather than an approach in its own right. To what extent is this insistence on control of communion a barrier to unity itself?