Weedon on Ecumenical Engagement

Pastor Weedon has a couple of entries on his blog I would like to engage with. The first one is the simpler one, so I will tackle that this morning. My comments in [bold]

Thoughts on Ecumenical Engagements

1. Listen long and hard before you speak [Yes. Good Rule #one]; but do not let go the truth you have learned from God’s Word.

[Long note at this point: Weedon gives a word of caution at the very beginning–he seems to be suggesting that engaging with Christians of another confession will tempt you to “let go of the truth”. I hope it isn’t news to Pastor Weedon, but engagement with other traditions can actually bring you closer to “the truth”. I am especially concerned about the warning not to let go of “the truth you have learned”. This seems to assume already that “the truth you have learned” is indeed The Truth, or that “the truth you have learned” is really “from God’s Word”–there is always the possibility that the person you are engaging with has some grasp of “The Truth from God’s Word” too. The thing about Revealed Truth, is that you have to learn it from a source “extra nos” (you don’t learn it from introspective navel gazing), and Ecumenical engagement can be just as great a place to learn it as the Seminary. Authentic ecumenical engagement carries with it the possibility of learning The Truth (or more about it) from “The Other”. I guess that is what makes it so challening for some folk.]

2. The 8th commandment does not contain an exemption that makes it inapplicable to those one disagrees with – we still owe it to our neighbor, and most especially to our sisters and brothers in Christ, to explain everything in the kindest way. [Amen to that again. But it might be a sort of backhanded breaking of the 8th Commandment to assume (falsely) that everything to which your dialogue partner bears witness is false.]

3. Listen for the key terms being used and seek to understand what the speakers mean by them – don’t assume that they are operating with the same definitions as you are (they may or may not be).[This is essential–and it especially applies to discussions relating to grace, faith and salvation. I will demonstrate it when I get to commenting on Weedon’s Sanctification blog]

4. If heresy most often is one aspect of the truth emphasized to the diminishment of other aspects of the truth, seek to discern what aspect is it that is being emphasized and WHY that aspect receives among that particular group of Christians such accentuation. [A word of advice: don’t begin your engagement with other Christians with the assumption that everything they say will be heresy. This may be the case to varying degrees–but starting with this assumption will get in the way of understanding what they are saying. It starts from an “hermeneutic of suspicion” rather than the recognition of a brother in Christ.]

5. Don’t think that you can “get” another Christian confession merely from reading books – seek to engage real people and check out what is taught and practiced in concrete parish life. [Yes, reading books is not ecumenical engagement. Note also Fr Fenton’s blog on this one. ]

6. Don’t put all your eggs in a recent convert’s basket – in other words, seek to understand another confession by those who have lived under it for some time and when you consider the words of those who are new to that confession, do so with some caution – they may be right on, but they may not be. [Every Christian is a convert–and even Cradle Catholics/Lutherans etc. need to be “converted” to the Truth. It is better to say: engage with as many folk from the other confession as possible, because each one will have a different lived experience of their faith. But honestly, you also have to accept that some traditions, like the Catholic tradition, Lutheran and Orthodox, have strong public dogmatic positions, and sometimes the convert may be better aware of what these are than the cradle Catholic/Lutheran etc.]

7. Last, and most important of all: you don’t have to agree with someone to love them, and to act kindly and lovingly toward them; being high-handed and arrogant in our treatment of others never serves the purposes of God. If we need to warn, let us do so as St. Paul did, with tears. [And a final Amen to that too. In fact, this would be an even better Rule #1.]

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One Response to Weedon on Ecumenical Engagement

  1. Dixie says:

    Great corrections and augmentation, David…but then you are a professional in this so I would expect nothing less!

    I will be honest and admit the original comment regarding converts made me wince. In part because there was some truth to it. I am still shedding my Protestant skin and am not so Orthodox. It will take more time in the community for me to absorb and ultimately reflect Orthodoxy in my “being”.

    However…you are correct in that sometimes converts have the book learnin’ down better than the cradles. A number of cradles attended my Catechism class and I was quite surprised at what they didn’t know that I knew!

    The reality is, however, one can’t make generalities about converts or cradles. When I was a convert to Lutheranism…I didn’t know a thing. I just was joining because my husband and I wanted to go to the church associated with the school our son attended. I wasn’t a “serious” convert already familiar with the likes of the Book of Concord. In fact…it would be 10 years before I even learned what a Book of Concord was…which is a reflection of me as an unknowledgable convert (a serious convert would have read it and be able to quote from it) and of my cradle counterparts who were also unfamiliar enough to refer to it in our discussions of the faith.

    I think Pastor Weedon’s original point about not putting all one’s eggs in one recent convert’s basket is, in the final analysis, an excellent one and your augmentation about engaging many folk from the other confession as possible is the proper corrective.

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