Subhash Anand, May They All Be One." Towards an Ecumenical Theology of the Church.
John H. Armstrong, The Unity Factor: One Lord, One Church, One Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Ancton Institute (Christian's Library Press), 2011. Pp. 47. $7.95, paper.
Called to Be the One Church: Faith and Order at Crete--Report of the 2009 Meeting of the Plenary Commission. Edited by John Gibaut. Faith and Order Paper 212. Geneva: WCC Publications, 2012. Pp. 274. $24.00, paper.
These three books represent three genres: apologetic, devotional, and essay collection. They come from three distinct perspectives: Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and the World Council of Churches. As their titles suggest, each examines some facet of "oneness," though in strikingly different ways.
The title of Anand's long. detailed volume suggests to the reader a book on ecumenical unity; instead, this is an argument against hindrances that the Catholic Church has placed in ecumenism's way, which Anand locates squarely in the Vatican curia, the decrees of Vatican I, unquestionable papal authority, and infallibility. The reader is taken on a long, arduous, and sometimes repetitive journey through texts from Vatican I and II, a multitude of papal pronouncements, and patristic and Christian Testament writings. The tour de force is a defense of Vatican II's call for episcopal collegiality, a call that the author argues has been subverted by a clear preference for Vatican I ways by recent papal and curial leadership. Other practices, such as closed communion, the male priesthood, and clerical authoritarianism, come in for critique. The reader is lett to surmise that unity might come more easily without what Anand chastises as needless accretions, especially papal infallibility. We are left without advice on how unity might come about once such obstacles are removed. Perhaps it is then that one should take up Armstrong's book.
The Unity Factor spells out briefly the Christian Testament call to unity (Jn. 13:34-35, 17:20-23, and 20:21 figure prominently), arguing for the connection between the church's calls to be ecumenical and missional. Ecumenical engagement is a function of faithful discipleship, a theme Armstrong carries through in successive chapters on "One Lord," "One Church," and "One Mission." Obedience to Christ's sovereignty places disciples in the one church, a fellowship of love and mutual submission, a catholicity of unity in diversity. Because the Spirit professed in the creeds is active--the Spirit is linked with baptism and forgiveness--so does action typify the Christian life, which brings us back to discipleship's ecumenical imperative. The church's witness to Christ is hampered without ecumenical engagement. Those unconvinced by the gospel are likely to point to Christian division as a stumbling block. It is this imperative to make the healing of division central to Christian mission--but how? Armstrong suggests simple, immediate ways Christians can foster unity, including prayerful self-dedication to work for a unity that befits the mission of the church sent forth by a missional Trinity's reaching out to the world. Themes rooted in evangelical Protestant piety are presented in a way other Christians will not miss but can appropriate into their own contexts. He offers autobiographical accounts along the way of his own awakening to the urgency of Christian unity for the sake of the gospel. The book is "devotional" in the best sense of the term: brief, pithy, inviting of self-examination, with a call to action.
Finally, Called to Be the One Church presents twenty-three papers from the 2009 Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting in Crete that examine what oneness might mean from various geopolitical and cultural contexts and in terms of the church's mission. From its 1998 incarnation, The Nature and Mission of the Church was a W.C.C. study text still in process of refinement during the 2009 gathering, looking toward a common agreed document, which is the topic of six of the papers. "Called to Be the One Church" is the 2009 Porto Allegre statement, discussed in five other papers. Plenary discussions following the papers are summarized. One of the appendices features working group reports on the Nature and Mission text. Some of the papers here connect the reader to the emerging body of fresh perspectives offered by young theologians, whose participation in Crete was especially solicited by Faith and Order.
These books present three different ecclesiologies: For Anand, the ecclesiology of Vatican II is endangered by continued attachment to Vatican I models of authority and hierarchy. He sees the Catholic Church in an ecclesiological crisis that cannot be resolved until a thoroughgoing collegiality replaces traditionalist postures. The W.C.C. volume presents many voices addressing a common theme of oneness, displaying a variety of approaches to the question. Armstrong's text invites us to consider the church as a fellowship of disciples empowered for mission to the world.
While provocative, Anand's book needs the editorial polish of Armstrong's book. Anand's long chapters are followed by extensive footnotes with interesting quotations and accounts of the author's personal experience. The W.C.C. volume's essays are of uneven depth and breadth, as is commonly the case with such collections. Taken together, however, these three very different books invite the reader to consider how the question of "oneness" is best approached from multiple angles and with different hermeneutical starting points. Reading these books together cannot help but inspire rich reflection on the ecumenical imperative.
William McDonald, Tennessee Wesleyan College, Athens, TN
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|Title Annotation:||'The Unity Factor: One Lord, One Church, One Mission' and 'Called to Be the One Church: Faith and Order at Crete--Report of the 2009 Meeting of the Plenary Commission'|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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