Christian unity week makes gains (Alberta)

 — Feb. 8, 19938 févr. 1993

Western Report 8.2 (Feb 8, 1993): 41.

The shattering of Christendom into contending denominations in the 16th century ranks as one of the critical moments of world history, second perhaps only to the original conversion of the Roman Empire 13 centuries earlier. Historical explanations of these divisions abound. Yet the fact remains: Christendom was just then arriving at the pinnacle of world influence and power. Europe was soon to sweep the globe — the Americas, Asia and Africa. But because of the splintering of the faith, Europeans would rule the world as competing nations only loosely united by common traditions. Now, four centuries later, various denominations are grasping at the prospect of a new Christian unity. Whether they are acting from strength or from weakness, however, is not so clear. Figure not transcribed

Last month Albertans celebrated a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches. Part of the celebration included the awarding of the 1992 Ecumenical Leadership Award by the Montreal – based Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, to Edmonton nun Rosaleen Zdunich. For over a decade Sister Zdunich has chaired the Catholic archdiocese’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission. Her volunteer work led the archdiocese to open an ecumenical office last year, where she now organizes interfaith prayer services and conferences full – time.

The purpose of ecumenism is simply bringing Christians together,” says Sister Zdunich. “It’s not watering down the different Christian traditions — many people fear watering down — but each tradition has a richness it can offer to Christian devotion. What we vision now is a diversity. That’s what all the theology today speaks of, a unity in diversity.”

On the other hand, Sister Zdunich does not think that the Christian faith can remain a smorgasbord of beliefs and practices. “Ultimately, we hope that all Christian churches enter into true communion. But we don’t know what the Holy Spirit intends.” Then she adds, a little wistfully, “There is so much that must be done before we get there. For now, we pray together.”

The movement to persuade all Christians to pray together — let alone embrace “true communion” — has its problems, however. For the fourth year, the Calgary Evangelical Ministerial Society joined the devotions; but Edmonton’s evangelicals were largely absent. Roger Pedersen, pastor of Calgary’s Northeast Christian Victory Church, holds that “all who profess faith in Christ belong to one body, and he is its head,” but common membership does not preclude controversies within. “We try to pray with everyone, but whether others can pray with us depends on how far they’ve fallen away from Christ’s word. It’s sad, but some old mainline denominations seem to have thrown out the Bible and are now fighting among themselves. We can’t give up our faith and still expect to achieve real unity.” Edmonton’s Dr. Max Solbrekken is more blunt. “We can’t sit at the same table with people who presume to change the word of God — call God the Father ‘she,’ license homosexual acts, change Christ’s own words on marriage, or deny that he rose from the dead. That’s blasphemy. The only truth that unites Christians is the person of Jesus, and he is not negotiable. I’m all for Christians joining together, but Christ is the living word, not an ‘evolving idea,’ and he doesn’t change with the times.”

For her part, Sister Zdunich recognizes how troublesome moral differences can be, but she sympathizes with the confused. “Churches are rooted in culture,” she says, “and they must deal with the issues of their culture. That can be painful.”

To some extent, the absence of Edmonton’s evangelicals from Christian Unity Week seems to have been the result of poor communications. “I just found out about it today,” says Lyle Johnson, pastor of Edmonton’s Calvary Community Church and president of the city’s Evangelical Ministers Association. “We might have taken a more active part.”

Wherever there is real acceptance of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the absolute authority of his word, Mr. Johnson maintains, there is a potential for unity. “But some groups may just mouth the words; if they lack faith, they can’t even manage to pull themselves together.” Everywhere else in the world today, he says, people are flooding to Christ — in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. “Only in North America and Western Europe does the Church seem in trouble.” Scott Hahn, past – Presbyterian minister and now professor of theology at the charismatic – Catholic Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, insists that “we focus our ecumenical efforts in a Christ – centred way.” Real ecumenism is based in scripture and the historic Christian faith. “So for ecumenism to be real, it has to adhere to our shared revelation — it must reflect both the natural and divine law, as Christ reveals them. These days, that really narrows the scope for ecumenism, because even most Christians don’t want to face the authority of natural and divine law.” But notwithstanding the differences that divide, for example, Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, he contends there are even more important common commitments. “If we can adhere to the law, we have the chance right now to heal some of the wounds in the body of Christ.”

Christendom’s schisms must be seen as providential, says Dr. Hahn. “That doesn’t mean they’re good, but that God brings greater goods out of evils” — in this instance, perhaps the more unfettered conversion of the non – Western world. “Still, in the West, we are separated from our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that’s a tragedy.” In any family, he says, differences between brothers and sisters can be the hardest to resolve. “But we can’t patch over them; we have to work through them. Just because we are a family, our work to resolve our differences is so essential.”

Posted: Feb. 8, 1993 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Alberta, ecumenism, Edmonton, WPCU
Transmis : 8 févr. 1993 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Alberta, ecumenism, Edmonton, WPCU

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