Word Magazine May 1963 Page 9//16
THE PROBLEM OF REUNION
By C. G. Pallas
Perhaps nothing is more indicative of a new movement afoot among Christians than the frequent reference, in religious publications, sermons and discussions, to the Scriptural text, John 17:21, which reads: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
This text cannot be quoted too often, for it expresses a basic Christian ideal — the unity of the Christian family — and the fact that it is quoted increasingly today is a sign that at long last Christians the world over are awakening to a responsibility they can no longer, in good conscience, deny as theirs: the reunion of Christendom.
If it can be said of earlier times that due to political, social or psychological conditions they were not conducive to reunion, there is no doubt but that with the threats posed by a militant communism on the one hand and the misapplication of nuclear energy on the other, no other need is more pressing today than that of a truly united commitment to Christ. A divided Christendom is hardly capable of speaking to a world divided by hate and tension on how to achieve peace and co-existence. And then there is always the problem of trying to decide just who or what has the authority to speak as a representative of the Christian faith. Roman Catholics will answer one way, Protestants another, and Orthodox yet another. Is it any wonder then that many have relegated religion to Sunday morning, or that the modern idea of God would have Him off in some distant galaxy, totally unconcerned with the affairs of men, or that some of our most brilliant and potentially promising minds have nothing better to do than engage themselves in fruitless philosophical speculations and the establishment of the fictitious “new order”?
There is a basic falseness to the attitude, “The time for reunion is not ripe. It’s better to wait a couple of centuries.” Can we seriously believe that innovation and deviation from truth will cease miraculously? If the sorry witness of history is any guide, we can only expect Christians to grow farther apart and the deep divisions which now separate us to grow even deeper and to take on, perhaps, a psychological aspect that will add to our present lack of communication in the absence of any positive Christian fellowship and charity. To say that reunion is not our present concern, is to say that it is not our concern at all. And to say that is to admit we are not really Christians, or that we have forgotten or never learned the great bulk of Our Lord’s teaching.
Christian reunion and the tearing down of barriers of ignorance, misunderstanding and suspicion that must precede it are enough of a problem in themselves, and they would remain very much a problem even if all Christians desired their fulfillment. Unwarranted pessimism and narrow-minded complacency which, unfortunately, are found among the clergy as well as among lay people, only add to an already nearly insuperable burden. Our corporate sin is that we spend too much time deciding whether or not the time is ripe for reunion rather than in praying earnestly to God that reunion may come in our time. The Holy Spirit will not inspire reluctant people. Free will is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. The adage that God helps those who help themselves is one of the host of popular slogans that really makes some sense. No reasonable Christian can expect God to yank man out of his indifference if indifferent is what man wants to be. The prerequisite to reunion, indeed, will be prayer.
If the tone of the above suggests a naive optimism, that is unintentional. What is important is that we recognize that reunion is a problem, but it is a problem for different reasons than those we usually attribute to it. Primarily, reunion will prove a doctrinal problem, and all the good will in Heaven and on earth will not change that fact one bit. If Christian reunion is to be real, meaningful and lasting, it must come about by the union of men’s minds as well as of their hearts. We all know that good intentions can go astray. But the poorest mathematician will realize that one problem from two leaves one less to become frustrated over. And if Christians are able to unite on a purely social, non-theological basis and engage in corporate efforts such as the combating of secular influences, and the restoring to man the sense of his personal dignity and worth, and, above all, the priceless value of his soul in the eyes of God, that much will be an inestimably valuable step in the right direction. Too often, it seems, we worry about the mutual dislike and even hatred that Christians of different churches have for each other, as if dislike and hatred are in themselves insuperable problems. That they are not, we will never learn until we make an effort to ease them. We are compelled to limit theological discussion to the theologians, but Christian fellowship is not only open to us, but our solemn duty as well.
Something must be said, in a discussion such as this, of the psychological divisions that play a large and sometimes subtle part in keeping alive the Christian wound. While Protestants tend to think of the Church as a vaguely philosophical entity (if an entity at all), Roman Catholics, at the other extreme of the spectrum of Christian thought, will ascribe the importance of the Church to the personal infallibility of a single prelate, in matters concerning faith and morals. Against this background of a nonexistent (in all meaningful terminology) Church on the one hand, and a severely-disciplined army on the other, the Orthodox concept of the Church stands out with clarity and appeal. Yet, the Western mind is so absorbed in its own propensity for orderliness and organization, that the Orthodox Church is looked upon, in most cases, as a loosely organized communion of ecclesiastical bodies enveloped in the past and characterized chiefly by a common disavowal of papal supremacy. That it is more than that will depend on the efforts of the Church itself to demonstrate. It is time we turn our attention to more important things than our own meager bickering and our allegiance to a purpose higher than the preservation of national tongues that are bound to die off sooner or later in America. What for instance, we have to lay before Western Christians is our truly priceless treasure of uniform doctrinal thought — the miraculous fact that for two thousand years we have taught and believed alike, that we have, in effect, testified to Our Lord’s promise to keep His Church from the powers of Hell and to guard it under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Russians, Greeks, Syrians, Serbians Ukrainians, Albanians, Bulgarians, etc. — we have remained one in spite of our turbulent history, in spite of all the notorious political intrigue and unworthy alliances, in spite of, that is, our human weaknesses. What we have is a gift from God: a Church that is sinless despite its most sinful members, the Church that is destined to endure all time, to yield to no one and no power but its Lord. This is our contribution to the ecumenical movement. This is our way of doing something significant in settling the problem of the reunion of all those who call themselves followers of Christ.