19- Ecumenical Conclusion

Go To the Beginning of this Booklet The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity 

Ecumenical Conclusion with A Few Suggestions Towards the Practical Re-Establishment of the First Millennium Church’s Unity in Diversity

Ecumenical Conclusion

 There will be much more on the history of the Undivided Early Church and its implications for the re-establishment of Christian unity in diversity in Volume III of So That The World May Believe, but I would here like to note that the ancient Living Body of Christ the (unified Universal or Catholic) Christian Church in its 1st Ecumenical (worldwide) Council at Nicea (325 AD) dogmatically and irrevocably clarified, against the Arian Christian heretics with their sophisticated and thorough but not Traditional interpretation of “the Bible Alone,” the vital Christian belief that Jesus is God, “one in being with the Father.”  The 2nd Ecumenical Council of 381 AD (which Pope Saint Damasus declared to be of Ecumenical (worldwide) authority although no Western overseer/bishops were present), first authoritatively articulated and clarified the Divinity of the Holy Spirit as well and thus the primary Christian doctrine of the Trinity, ending all the previous disputes among Christians about the Trinity.  The 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (451 AD) under the direction of Pope Saint Leo the Great similarly precisely clarified in the Holy Spirit, against the Monophysite Christian heretics, the central Christian belief in the Incarnation, that Jesus is in fact “fully God and fully man.”  Vatican Council II (1962-5) was the 21st Ecumenical Council of the same Catholic Church (the ongoing Universal/Catholic Communion of today 26 Orthodox Christian Rites or ‘Sister Churches’) , and it likewise precisely articulated something that had always been part of the Christian faith at least implicitly but had never been explicitly clarified, which had likewise resulted in some Christians coming up with incorrect notions that caused many problems (and divisions).  Vatican II was the very first Ecumenical Council of the Living Body of Christ the Church to dogmatically clarify the nature and structure of the Christian Church, precisely articulating the instinctively lived reality of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium (a reality continued in the Catholic Church today but much harder to see since unlike in the First Millennium, the great majority of Catholics today are Roman Rite Catholics).  This has tremendous implications for the eventual reunification of Jesus’ Body the Church which became divided in the Second Millennium, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity.  As all Christians, including majority Roman Rite Catholic Christians who often have a more particularly Roman and less truly Catholic (Universal) understanding of their Church, come to fully understand and appreciate the nature and structure of the Undivided Early Church, it will become easier for today’s different Christian churches already united  in vast common saving Christian faith (see The “Common Creed” of Christianity) to better reflect the Undivided Early Church’s loving and mutually enriching unity in diversity, “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21) in Jesus when it sees the love of Christians for “one another” (John 13:35) – even for as long as our current formal divisions remain.  

A Few Suggestions Towards the Practical Re-Establishment of the First Millennium Church’s Unity in Diversity 

Of course, mutually agreed-on solutions to the few actually substantial current disagreements between divided Christian churches will need to be found before full formal Christian Church reunification can occur.  Volumes II and III of So That The World May Believe contribute considerably to loving dialogue about the biggest of these areas of tremendous misunderstandings and yes, real disagreement (Mary and the Papacy).  But hopefully most readers can see by now, after the above consideration of the Undivided Early Church (which fulfilled God’s plan for His Church since Adam and Noah, as Family Theology reveals), that the vast majority of the many differences between currently divided Christians are of the sort which were no cause for division between the Undivided Early Church’s different Sister Churches: mere differences in theological approach to common Divine Revelation, mere differences in worship and devotional customs and practices rooted in common Christian faith.  

But, as we, taking Jesus’ prayer for our unity as a serious obligation for us to pursue, work on those very few areas of substantial disagreement, we can already start thinking about what the future Christian reunification Jesus desires for us would look like, and how it may be accomplished.  

I suggest that in an ideal Christian reunion situation according to the model of the Undivided Early Christian Church, that is, the Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, the (usually larger) Eastern Orthodox portions (including the Patriarchs) of the ancient Eastern Patriarchates and their many “daughter” Churches would rejoin the Catholic portions of the same Rite, the Catholics teaching the Orthodox how to be in Universal/Catholic Communion with other, different Christian Rites “of equal dignity” and with the Communion’s Head Pastor, the pope; and the Orthodox teaching the Catholics how to be most true to each Eastern Rite’s traditional celebrations of Jesus’ Gospel in cases where there has been “Romanization” due to past inappropriate Roman Rite dominance of the minority Eastern Rites (this should eventually no longer be a problem, as Vatican II is gradually more and more implemented in the minds and hearts of the Roman Catholic majority, since the recent Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council, dogmatically defined the appropriate structure of the Catholic Church according to the Undivided Early Church model, in which the Roman Rite, despite its huge size, is still just one cultural expression of the Gospel of “fully equal dignity” with all the others, the mutually enriching Catholic Communion being superior to any one of its Rites, even the current largest).  This would also solve the problem of increasing divisions within the always only “loose” communion of Eastern Orthodox Churches – for example, today there are three separate denominations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church!  In cases where many centuries of separation between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox portions of the same historical Rite has resulted in distinctly different organic growth and development of the Rite with time and circumstance, such that reunification in one Catholic Rite or Sister Church is impractical, reunion could still happen with the Eastern Orthodox portion rejoining the ancient Catholic Communion of Orthodox Sister Churches as its own distinct Sister Church “of fully equal dignity” with all the others.  In any case, the two most influential Patriarchs of the ancient Pentarchy today, the Roman Patriarch (the pope) and the Byzantine Patriarch (the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch), have already signed joint declarations (in 1965 and 2006) indicating that both sides are working towards the re-establishment of the Christian unity Jesus prayed for, which existed between both sides in the First Christian Millennium.  

Within the now severely divided ancient Western, Roman Patriarchate (thanks to Western, Protestantism’s 35,000 distinct denominations, some losing basic Christian orthodoxy), the easiest Christian reunion to achieve according to the Undivided Early Church model would be the separated Anglican Rite rejoining the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion.  Before the Anglican schism of King Henry VIII over the pope not allowing the King to divorce his wife, the Church of England was effectively the Anglican Rite of the Catholic Church, under the Roman Patriarchate which evangelized England, with the Archbishop of Canterbury functioning effectively as its “patriarch” or Head of the Rite.  This situation would be relatively easy to re-establish now that the Catholic Church has officially defined its ancient nature and structure according to the model of the Undivided Early Church and is no longer so prone to inappropriate Roman Rite dominance.  There are in fact three major “streams” of the Church of England and its worldwide Anglican Communion today: the “Anglo-Catholic” stream, which is already very much like a Catholic Rite except it is no longer in communion with the pope; the Evangelical Anglican stream, which like the Anglo-Catholic stream, preserves the fundamentals of traditional, orthodox (Catholic!) Christianity; and the “liberal” Anglican stream, the largest, which, like so many of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations, has gone “doctrinally liberal,” doubting or denying even fundamentals of traditional, orthodox Christian faith and morality.  The cure for such uncertainty about even basic Christian orthodoxy (and sometimes blatantly unorthodox, heretical denial of aspects of it) is in rejoining the ancient Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion which firmly established the traditional New Testament and traditional fundamentals of undivided orthodox Christianity in history.  Many high-ranking (and lower-ranking) Anglican clergymen, in response to today’s typically liberal Anglicanism, have personally rejoined the Catholic Communion by leaving the Church of England and rejoining the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.  This is a personal choice, but I would suggest it would be ideal to remain Anglican but lead the Church of England and its worldwide Anglican Communion into seriously seeking reunion with the Catholic Church by re-establishing the Anglican Rite of the Catholic Church according to the Undivided Early Church model.  Ideally the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of reunion would formally become the Patriarch (or other title indicating Head of Rite) of the Anglican Rite or Sister Church within the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches collectively known as the Catholic Church, under the ancient Pentarchy’s Patriarchate of Rome which brought the Gospel of Jesus to England.  Of course not all would follow their leaders in such a reunion, especially because of the entrenchment of “doctrinally liberal” Christianity within Anglicanism, but this way those many Anglicans who are already “Catholic at heart” – firmly committed to the traditional fundamentals of orthodox (and Catholic!) Christianity – can come to be where they belong, and those Anglicans who are “Protestant at heart” – preferring to maintain the old protest against the Catholic Church at any cost (including basic Christian orthodoxy) can remain Protestant.  It would be my hope that the no-longer-hidden beauty of a reunited Christian Church loving each other on the basis of their vast common, orthodox Christian faith and enriching each other with their differences within one Christian Communion instead of criticizing each other for their differences will make “liberal” Christians jealous and shame them into embracing traditional Christian orthodoxy so that they too can be part of that wonderfully beautiful worldwide Christian Family. 

[Update: Recently, the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) within the Anglo-Catholic Stream of Anglicanism has formally rejoined the Catholic Communion as an “ordinariate” of the Anglican Rite within the Roman Patriarchate of the Catholic Church.  As more Anglicans reunify with the Catholic Church Communion they ideally should enlarge this already-reunified Anglican Rite body which should eventually be formally recognized as the (Roman) Anglican Catholic Church or the re-established Anglican ‘Sister’ Church within the Catholic Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches under the Roman Patriarchate.]  

The original dozen or so Protestant Reformation Churches were often associated with a particular culture in which the denomination was born, so the portions of those churches (together with the portions of the major splits within each of them) which remain steadfastly orthodox (and therefore “Catholic at heart” in terms of the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic Communion of Orthodox Sister Churches) could potentially be received back into the Catholic Communion as their own culturally-based Sister Churches.  For example, orthodox Lutherans (of the various major Lutheran splits) becoming a “German Rite” of the Catholic Church, Presbyterians a “Scottish Rite,” Reformed Christians a “Swiss Rite” (or “Dutch Rite” in the case of Dutch Reformed Christians) and so on.  All of these churches have valid distinct theology, practices and customs based on the common Christian faith of the Undivided Early Catholic Church which appropriately enrich the entire Catholic (Universal) Communion the same way these distinctions in the various Eastern Rite Catholic Sister Churches do.  

Of course, the Protestant Reformers split away from the Roman Catholic Church of the time which had already been largely separated from the Eastern Churches for a long time and had already largely forgotten that it was part of a larger Catholic (Universal) Communion and had already largely lost the sense of the First Millennium Catholic Church’s unity in diversity: that it was possible for many Christians to be very different and still belong to one Christian Church Communion.  Thus, the Protestants inherited from the Roman Catholic Church they left the erroneous notion that there was only one proper or best way to worship God according to orthodox Christianity.  Thus the many different Protestant Reformers hated each other and wrote to each other calling each other “sons of Satan” and the like for daring to “reform” the Church in different ways than their own.  And, following the precedent of the Protestant Reformation which did not  patiently wait for the Catholic Reformation of genuine problems and abuses (which began before the Protestant Reformation but had progressed very slowly) and which did not lovingly dialogue over disagreements as Christian brothers united in vast common faith (I am not saying there was no provocation here from the Catholic side), future Protestants likewise simply broke away from their current church to form whole new churches whenever they disagreed with each other, a process repeated over and over again such that by today the dozen or so Protestant Reformation churches have splintered into literally 35,000 registered church denominations worldwide.  Protestants somehow cannot remain in one church body unless they are almost totally like-minded, which is totally against the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity.  

To firmly recapture this unity in diversity they would need to rejoin the ancient Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of orthodox Sister Churches (especially now that the unbroken Catholic Communion through history has recently “rediscovered” itself and formally defined its First Millennium nature and structure which previously, because of the Muslim conquests and other factors, had been largely hidden during centuries of the numerical dominance of the Roman Rite within the Catholic Communion).  Unlike the Eastern Orthodox Churches which only have a couple dozen Rites to be reunified with the current 26 Rites of the Catholic Church’s orthodox Christian Communion (most of these being Catholic and Orthodox portions of the same historical Rite, which would leave the numbers of Catholic Rites still at about a couple dozen after reunification), it would not be possible to receive 35,000 different Protestant denominations back as their own distinct Rites within the Catholic Communion – and of course part of the point of reunion is to cure the particularly Protestant disease of absolutely fragmented unity.  But there are major groupings of orthodox (“Catholic at heart”) Protestant denominations sharing many common features which could possibly be re-constituted as orthodox Catholic Christian Rites in a Christian reunion situation.  For example, Evangelicalism, which likely accounts for a major portion of those 35,000 tiny splintered Protestant denominations, in many ways is a distinctly North American cultural response to the Gospel, which in a reunion situation might be able to be reconstituted as a “North American Rite” of the Catholic Church.1  Of course, although most of the historical Rites of the Catholic Church are culturally-based, there are also spirituality-based Rites of the Catholic Church, often associated with a particular Saint’s personal spiritual example, or with the spirituality of a particular religious order or other spiritual movement (the Carthusian, Carmelite, and Dominican Rites are distinct liturgical worship forms of this nature).  Evangelicalism could also be regarded as a spiritual movement and thus reconstituted as an “Evangelical Rite” with a particular general spiritual style of loving and serving and worshiping God, and in similar manner the Pentecostal or Charismatic movements, which are each represented in thousands of different Protestant denominations, could also potentially become Pentecostal or Charismatic Rites of the Catholic Church.  There are already several Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal “umbrella” organizations which include many individual but similar denominations, and this existing organizational structure might also possibly be adjustable into an organized Catholic Rite.  

Not all Rites are nor become formal organized Sister Churches with their own hierarchy, so reunified once-Protestant Rites do not necessarily have to become formal Sister Churches as all the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are (which was the universal form of the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Communion of Sister Churches, which is also shared by the Protestant Church of England).  But in many cases it would likely be the best thing for a reunified Rite to recapture what it has lost of the Undivided Early Church’s form by re-constituting itself with the basic organizational structure (for accountability to the orthodox Christian faith) which all the Undivided Early Church’s Sister Churches had, at least so that its own ordained leaders who best understand its particular spirituality can guide its particular development as a Catholic Christian Rite within the Universal (Catholic) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches – in this way the “fully equal dignity” of reunified Rites with their particular contribution to the richness of the Catholic Communion entire would be best recognized and maintained.  

It seems that God may be already preparing many Protestant churches for this kind of reunification.  Charismatic and other Holy Spirit-focused Protestant churches, which are among the most vibrant and growing Protestant church communities today, are actually becoming more Catholic by the Holy Spirit’s leading, the Holy Spirit is restoring to these Protestants who are particularly open to Him elements of Early, Catholic Christianity which were rejected by the Protestant Reformation.  Most notable among these elements are:  

1.         the belief in the mysterious Real Presence of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, even if they do not (yet) regard the mystery in terms of the particular advanced theology of transubstantiation.  The term “Holy Communion,” does, after all, mean intimate Holy Communion with Jesus, and many Holy-Spirit-filled Protestants, by God’s Grace, are starting to see and experience Communion in this way.  

2.         The belief in the real spiritual authority of Church leaders over their flock (not strictly of “the Bible Alone” although so far they usually still pay lip service to this doctrine).  In many cases the genuine spiritual authority given by God to their leaders to lead them is even being seen by these Protestants in Apostolic terms, as the Catholic Church regards the authority of Church leaders in terms of Apostolic Succession.  Whereas classic Protestantism maintains there is no Apostolic authority continuing after “the Bible Alone” was finished by the Apostles and the Canon of Scripture was closed, such Holy-Spirit-led Protestants speak of “the Gift of Apostleship,” or the “Five-fold Ministry of the Church” including Apostles  (Ephesians 4:11-13) – and they even have often organized themselves into City-wide Protestant church councils of at least like-minded Protestant church leaders.  Such Protestants are being shaped to be more like a Catholic diocese or eparchy [church jurisdiction based around a city] with leaders who have Apostolic authority.  As this trend continues it will put such Protestant “ecclesial communities” on more equal footing with proper Catholic and Orthodox Churches constituted according to the model of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church’s individual Sister Churches, which will aid Protestant/Catholic dialogue, and in a reunion situation such Protestant leaders who are certain the Holy Spirit gave them “the gift of Apostleship” (as indeed Paul himself had it after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus) could be formally ordained overseer/bishops over their reunified Rites of the Church within the Catholic Church’s constantly maintained Apostolic Succession since Apostolic times.  

All this may seem strange to some, but Vatican II and other official Catholic Church documents regarding Church Unity mention the necessity of Catholics and other Christians being open to the Holy Spirit of Unity doing whatever He wills to aid Church reunification, since although to human minds the Church of Christ may seem hopelessly divided, the Divine Holy Spirit who indwells us all is capable of truly uniting us, since after all “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  In the words of Vatican Council II,  

This sacred Council firmly hopes that the [Ecumenical] initiatives of the sons of the Catholic Church, joined with those of the separated brethren [Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians], will go forward, without obstructing the ways of divine Providence, and without prejudging the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Further, this Council declares that it realizes that this holy objective—the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ— transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). (Vatican Council II, Decree on Ecumenism, UR  24)  

As we seek the Holy Spirit’s loving guidance in this endeavor, the practical “nuts and bolts” of full Christian reunification will surely still take many years to work out.  Today’s divided Christians must conquer their prejudices against other Christians; we must eliminate habits of divisive thinking successfully sown by the Devil, whose work we have been doing  for centuries, marring the attractive beauty of the Body of Christ.  Since the Hebrew word for accuser is in fact satan, and the Greek word for accuser is in fact diabolos (devil in English), this means that when Christians accuse each other of being wrong for being different we are doing the Devil’s work, and we Christians are showing the world Satan, the Accuser, instead of showing the world JesusWe must first master unity in love despite our differences, based on our vast common saving Christian faith (below), keeping the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity in mind, before even attempting full, formal, structural reunification, which is a process that must be worked on lovingly and cannot be rushed.  But Reunification is a goal that is worthwhile to work towards and indeed, all Christians are obligated to work towards this goal, since Jesus Himself linked the success of His Church’s mission to the unity of His followers:  

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another … By this all men will know that you are [Christians], if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  Jesus prayed to His Father “that all [Christians] may be oneso that the world may believe that You have sent me … May [Christians] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”  (John 17:21,23)  

The Common Creed of Christianity: The Great Common Faith of Catholic, Orthodox, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christianity (and “Messianic Judaism”) Which is the Basis for Restored Christian Unity 

the One God, Creator of the Universe, who is Love, exists as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth, making Jesus fully God and fully man, able to make Atonement for the sins of all humanity, which He did by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead so that humanity can be forgiven and saved (and find human fulfillment) through Him; we acquire this forgiveness from sin and salvation unto eternal life through, drawn and empowered by God’s Grace, our turning away from sin (anti-love), accepting what Jesus has done for us and coming into loving, saving relationship with Him (and His Father and Holy Spirit) through belief and baptism, as He taught (Mark 16:16), which makes us members of the one Body of Christ the Church; Jesus’ literal Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven; Jesus’ future return in glory and judgement and the bodily resurrection of all the dead; the tenets of traditional Christian morality (described in the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, among other passages of Scripture) as how to be loving and so how to please the God who is Love; the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures which testify to all these things.  

© 2008 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO 

Go To the Next Section A Proposal for the Reunification of Today’s Divided Christians According to the Model of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church’s Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, for the Great Benefit of Both Today’s Catholic and Non-Catholic Churches and Towards the Belief of the World Which Jesus’ Prayer Linked to Our Christian Unity

Go To the Beginning of this Booklet The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity   

 1The greater appeal, to certain individuals worldwide, of this form of Christianity parallels the fact that Roman Rite Christians are found worldwide.  You do not have to be North American for you to find your personal spirituality most congruent with North American Rite worship any more than you have to be culturally Roman in order to be Roman Catholic, nor Ukrainian in order to be Ukrainian Catholic.  There is a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Canada who is ethnically Chinese!  Part of the point of the different Rites of the Church, especially in our increasingly multi-cultural world, is to provide different spiritual forms of worship which will most appeal to different people and most help different people to grow spiritually.  These different Rites usually start among people who share a common cultural baseline, and so usually bear the name of the original culture, but they are not only “for” people of the original culture, especially in our increasingly multi-cultural world.  It is a wonderful thing to be able to sample the different forms of orthodox Christian worship and be enriched by the different emphases of the different Rites.  Within Protestantism, some have noted the “advantage” of denominationalism despite the scandal of Christian disunity, that different kinds of people have different kinds of Christian worship to choose from and can explore different Protestant or Evangelical churches in order to find that which best appeals to their God-given personality and that which best helps them to grow in Christian faith.  But the model of the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic (Universal) Communion of different orthodox Christian Sister Churches shows that it is indeed possible, and much preferable, to have the advantages of spiritual variety in worship without Protestantism’s scandal of profuse Christian disunity in 35,000 distinct separated denominations (many of which have lost their grip on basic Christian orthodoxy).