John A. RANDO, Editor. Celebrating a Century of Ecumenism: Exploring the Achievements of International Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Pp. 330. $ 30.40 ISBN 978-0-8028-6705-6. Reviewed by Nathan R. KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618
Should those who profess to be Christian belong to the same Church? Should the Church be one? What should this one church look like? Should this oneness be seen as uniformity in doctrine, worship, morality, and polity? For more than a century these and other questions of ecumenism have been the subject matter of serious conversations among the Christian churches. This book describes, and summarizes, the results of the conversations dealing with doctrinal unity. It is well worth reading for anyone interested in Christian doctrinal development.
It deals with both the multilateral dialogue of the Commission on Faith and Order and the international bilateral dialogues. Thus the book is divided into Part I “Achievements of International Multilateral Dialogue” and Part II “Achievements of International Bilateral Dialogue following the Second Vatican Council.”
Part One takes up fifty pages of the book and provides the reader with insights from the Methodist, Orthodox, World Council of Churches, and the Roman Catholic perspectives. Success is claimed in accepting a common methodology. At Lund in 1952 they moved from a theological method of comparison (listing and analyzing beliefs) into a method of convergence (seeking the common convictions that underlay the beliefs). This change of methodologies resulted in agreement as to what is necessary for visible unity of the church, and an understanding of Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry, and the Nicene Creed. These were sent to church authorities for a response. Only twenty-four responses from the possible three hundred and forty-nine churches of the WCC have been forthcoming. This low response rate may indicate a lack of commitment to the results of dialogue among the churches. A number of the contributors to the volume also wonder about why it is that the theologians in conversation are enthusiastic about ecumenism but church authorities are not.
Part Two takes up the rest of the book dealing with eleven other dialogues between Catholics and other Christians. For the most part these dialogues treat the results of the bi-laterals with some topics specific to the Christian community’s relationship to Roman Catholicism. Here are some examples: the question of absolute non-violence and the ecclesial dimensions of being a peace church with the Mennonites, the issues of religious freedom, separation of church and state, open communion, and the necessary priority of the local congregation with the Baptists, the independence of the local and national churches with the Orthodox (and, what about those Eastern Catholic churches?), among Disciples of Christ the question of freedom of conscience vis-à-vis Catholic uniformity, and, with the Evangelicals the understanding and acknowledgement of others ways of acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church along with the manner of witness and conversion. The Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and Orthodox dialogues seem to have come to very substantial convergences in doctrinal matters. Of course, the role of the papacy is a common challenge to all the churches.