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Ecumenism Today and Tomorrow

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2013, P. 1 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

On 10 November 1989 at the at long last reopened Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Willy Brandt proclaimed, "Now must grow together what belongs together". The political division of Germany had come to the long-awaited end. For years one had been working for it, and yet the at last reached unification was then experienced as a surprising event. And today we know: the growing together of what belongs together is still not complete. The joy of the reunification of Germany is nonetheless great and connects all its citizens.

Unifications are possible, if only they are wanted. This is an experience that can give courage. It is certainly true also beyond the political and economic area. This does not rule out that their implementation often costs patient efforts. This experience can, indeed it must also be applied to the distinctions and divisions which existed and exist but should not exist between the Christian churches. If people stand up for the overcoming of the in the course of history emerged juxtaposition or even conflicts, they deserve attention and gratitude. For it is important for them that the internal and external unity of Christendom can be experienced. This union must characterize the Church as People of God, Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit, so that she is able to cope with her mission. The history of such efforts, which can be summarized under the heading "Ecumenical Movement", includes meanwhile many chapters. Cardinal Walter Kasper has drawn attention to it in his important book "Die Früchte ernten" (2011).

With the statement "Ecumenism Now" of 5 September 2012, 23 well-known and eminent personalities from the world of politics and culture and from the churches made themselves heard in public. They speak as Christians and express their hope that "in the land of the Reformation" the Catholic and Protestant Christians who as "baptized are already connected to each other as brothers and sisters in faith" are at long last able to live their "common faith in a common Church." They remind us of the Reformation, which took place nearly 500 years ago, and of the opening of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago. They interpret both events as stimuli to deepen or renew the unity of the Church. In this statement, a strong hope manifests itself. And so it may, indeed must be appreciated and welcomed that it may give tailwind to the ecumenical efforts of all who work in this field.

 


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This is true although the statement in its concrete interpretations and suggestions has unfortunately some limitations. Its intended impulse will therefore work also only to a limited extent. Its authors have probably too little considered that the Christian churches are not, like all other human societies, simply left to our human discretion. It is characteristic of the Christian churches that they, when they determine their work and form their structures, see themselves obligated to the standards resulting from the faith in the Gospel. They consider them in their theologies and cannot simply dispense with the guidelines that they deduce. The fact that the Christian churches differ in their form and in their mission from political, economic or other associations has its reason here, and manifests itself here.

In the statement it says, "Are theological reasons sufficient to continue the schism? We think they are not." And then, "It is undisputed that there are different positions with regard to communion, church offices and churches. What is crucial, however, is that these differences do not justify the maintenance of the separation." And finally, "We can and must not cease to care for the unity of the whole Church until a theological agreement on the understanding of church offices or the Lord's Supper between the church leadership has been achieved." Such statements unfortunately lessen the weight with which the authors want to influence the not so simple ecumenical events. In them it is not sufficiently considered that the different theological positions are closely connected with the tenets of faith which are recognized and acknowledged in the churches. In bringing about the unity, they can therefore not simply be neglected. The statement has its limitations also in the fact that it looks only at the Catholic and the Protestant Church and disregards the churches of other coinage, and that it is interested only in the central European or even only in the German situation. It thus falls behind the now taken for granted standards of multilateralism and the international nature of the ecumenical movement.

Since several years or even decades, the Christian churches are living - thank God! - no longer in a mere juxtaposition or conflict. They were able to build, with difficulty and not without success, bridges to each other. Meanwhile, the ecumenical effort will have to focus on organizing the thus obtained Togetherness, and move forward step by step on the rocky road to closer unity. What is urgently needed in future is trustfully to pay attention to the basic concerns of the other churches. They may perhaps develop in the own community and contribute to the enrichment. "Do what unites us" and "bear what divides us" and finally "pray and ask for God's creative spirit that is able to unite what is separated" - that are and will remain for the time being the landmarks on our ecumenical journey.

 

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