The Southern Cross recently began a new initiative. This entails publishing weekly articles that are written by members of other Christian denominations. It is referred to as the “Ecumenical Series”. Undoubtedly this series was launched with only very good intentions. I do however remember thinking at the time that allowing non-Catholics to write in the newspaper was fraught with risks.
Unless The Southern Cross, at the outset, put into place some very clear rules about the contents of these articles and then strictly vetted these articles, prior to publishing, it is almost certain that some of the articles in the series will inevitably prove to be harmful to some Catholics, despite the good intentions.
Christians can be extremely passionate about their beliefs and those Christians who are prepared to write publicly about their faith will almost certainly be among the more passionate. It is only natural, even commendable, that these writers will therefore be inclined, even unable to resist addressing issues of faith about which they feel strongly. Always, of course, with only the absolute best of all the possible good intentions that there may be.
Sadly, it has not taken long for my concerns to materialise. I think this weeks article may only be the third in this ecumenical series, but already it contains a clear example of how the writers of these articles will have a natural tendency of straying to promote beliefs and ideas, which could be harmful to some of the newspapers Catholic readers. Again, I am sure that this writer did so, just as The Southern Cross did and all future writers will do, with only good intentions in mind.
Before I continue, all this talk of good intentions must of course lead me to quote that old, but really well known proverb that: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (Some claim that this proverb may have originated from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.)
The person who wrote the article in this week’s edition of The Southern Cross is Rev John Davis, who is a semi-retired Anglican cleric, according to The Southern Cross. The article is titled “Fellowship Will Lead To Unity”[i]. In it, Rev Davis initially presents an argument, which is summed up quite well by the title of the article, that it is through fellowship with other Christians that we will have unity. We must, he contends, be prepared to get to know one another because, through this increased knowledge of one another, we will then come to the realisation of what it is that we all have in common and where we can be united.
I of course agree wholeheartedly that, regardless of ones Christian denomination, all Christian’s need to realise that because of our common belief in our Lord Jesus Christ, we will almost certainly have areas in which we are able to unite and work together, to bring the true love and peace of Christ to others in this world. As an example, Christians all believe that Christ requires us to feed the hungry. So, this common belief that Jesus requires us to feed the hungry is clearly a point of unity for Christians.
There are many examples of subjects like this, where Christians share common beliefs and, as a consequence, create scenarios where Christians can be united, despite not sharing completely all of their beliefs. Child abuse, human trafficking, poverty, drug addiction, illiteracy, homelessness, unemployment, pornography and many other subjects like these, can be points of unity for Christians, even though Christians do not all, for example, share a common belief in the Real Presence, or in the Sacrament of Confession or in the primacy of the Pope.
We need to focus, as Rev Davis suggests, on finding these many common areas where we can be united and fellowship is most certainly an effective means through which we can do so.
Having begun his article by making a very valid point, Rev Davis then sadly proceeds to promote the idea that we should not allow our differences to divide us and he also suggests, with examples, that we may need to change some of our beliefs to bring about this unity. This is where his article goes entirely wrong and this is precisely why his article should never ever have been published in The Southern Cross.
What Rev Davis suggests, though he may not have thought about it in quite this way when he wrote it, is that Catholics should commit mortal sins in order to make Christian unity possible! (Keep in mind that the Rev Davis is writing to a predominantly Catholics audience in a Catholic newspaper.)
Rev Davis states that: “The Church, as we know, is divided both geographically between East and West and also between those who love a centralised unity and those who love the freedom of a more flexible, democratic church system. Believers without bishops or leaders exercising oversight often discover that fragmentation is their lot. How we are going to be one in Christ (even in a so-called spiritual unity) is Our Lord’s closely-guarded secret but which he whispers from time to time to his loved ones. For me it is important to challenge the Church at the local level to discover what we hold in common and not allow differences to divide us.”
What Rev Davis is clearly missing is the reality of what Catholics believe about the Church. The Church was established by our Lord Jesus and, in doing so, Jesus also gave the Church a very specific hierarchical structure. This structure was not created on the basis of the personal likes and dislikes of the many and varied types of people who were disciples of Jesus at that time. The hierarchical structure of the Church was instituted solely by our Lord Jesus, without any democratic process to ascertain whether the Church should have a centralised or decentralised structure, as is quite evident from the following:
(1) Our Lord says: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[ii]
(2) “And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles”.[iii]
It must also be noted that our Lord Jesus has not, as the Rev Davis suggests, kept it a “closely-guarded secret” as to how the Church is going to remain one. Our Lord makes it plain for all to see that through St Peter, and his successors, we have a point of unity. “Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eternal.”[iv] (Where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is life eternal.) Catholics follow the Pope and the bishops closely, taking care to always be guided by the teaching of the Magisterium, because through it we know beyond any doubt, the truths of our Faith.
Rev Davis call to “challenge the Church” and to “not allow differences to divide us” is simply just not practically or theoretically possible. It is an impossible call. As a Catholic, I have certain beliefs that differ from what non-Catholics believe. It is precisely these differences, which differentiate Catholics from Anglican’s or other Christian denominations. The only way we can eliminate this ‘division’ is to eliminate those beliefs that we do not all share. This is, sadly, exactly what Rev Davis actually then suggests, even going as far as to give an example of one such area when he says: “Holy Communion can no longer be judged, in my view as an Anglican cleric, as being “valid” or “invalid” depending on whether the presiding clergyperson has been “properly ordained” or not (also, whether they be male or female).”
Effectively what Rev Davis is suggesting is that Catholics must change their core beliefs so that they align with those of all other Christians, thereby eliminating division and creating Christian unity. This is impossible! What he is suggesting is that Catholics commit a mortal sin and ignore the teaching of the Church, thereby condemning their souls to hell for the sake of achieving this Christian unity in the world.
It may have been more appropriate for Rev Davis, following the first part of his article, regarding the need for fellowship to find points of unity, to instead clarify the need for Christians to respect the different beliefs of the different Christian denominations. This respect of the various beliefs that divide Christian denominations, while remaining focussed on finding those areas where we are united, is what will bring the love and peace of Christ to the world and bring unity to Christians! Suggesting that we change some or all of our beliefs creates conflict and only serves to break down Christian unity.