One two sides of opposing points of view try to communicate, there can be difficulties in finding the right rules of the road
Several months ago I had an interesting interchange with a woman at an ecumenical (of the nature of unifying between Christian groups) event. There were speakers from different faith communities as well as singers. One of the facilitators of the event asked for all of us to turn to someone we did not come with, introduce yourselves including church background and pray for each other.
The woman I paired with went first and described how she was formerly in my kind of of faith community and now was in a different one. She described the hand of God in her life as she awakened spiritually when becoming active in the new community. I responded essentially in turn except it as reverse: I am a former Protestant who now identifies himself as Catholic. If I was not speaking to her in an ecumenical event I could describe myself as still evangelical but fulfilled as a Catholic.
But this event was not mean for such wording. The setting had the emphasis of uniting in common simplicity. As much as I have zeal about being a Catholic I needed to respect other principles at play.
One thing that helped me from blurting out something not appropriate is that did not want to minimize her testimony that showed the Lord’s fruit. After some years of not being active as a Catholic she found Jesus in a different setting and was revitalized. Am I generally biased that she would be better off in the Roman Catholic Church? Well, yes. But what Christian is not biased about what faith community you are in? Generally the ones that have no fuel in their fire staying our of fellowship and following Jesus in a way that is right in their own eyes. Now that would be a horrible place to be and in some ways I have been there. So with that nature of Christ in the backdrop we prayed for each other and she shared some words for me that she felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to say that I discerned to be from the Lord.
I have written that a scandal for the Body of Christ is that we are divided though Jesus prayed we be one. Two people at a time, one family at a time I believe the fire of descandalizing is burning through the earth. My sister in Christ followed a good rule of thumb by conceding for one day that the other person was right where the Lord wanted them.
But what if there is a bias from one side that there is not a present basis of unity? In a prig blog post I wrote about the Nicene Creed being a good rallying point for unity or limus test for basic orthodoxy.
For some Christians that is not enough. For instance, there was a semi-schism in the Catholic Church in the 1940’s that proclaimed that if one who was a non-Catholic Christian was not in full communion with the Catholic Church thus are not in God’s grace. The pope at that time warned them to repent, they refused and were excommunicated. On the Protestant side there are respected teachers like John Macarther who proclaim that Catholics have another gospel and only weeks after Pope John Paul II had died joked that he was in hell. Both of these anecdotes are sad and indefensible.
So where there are growing pains in ecumenical discussion I have some suggestions for rules of the road on perception and communication.
I see dead people
If one wants to they can find martyrs on their side at the hands of the other. Some of these points of history are facts and some of them due not hold up to scrutiny. But if they facts of murder, hypocrisy or other sins really happened be humble. Because among Catholics and Protestants there are plenty of anecdotes to go around. If one looks through materials that are neutral or from the other side of the debate there will be some inconvenient points found.
Reliable teaching source
Go to the original sources of the other side is teaching as doctrine. Going by what someone says is their doctrine, especially if it is second or third hand, is not a reliable way to see who teaches heresy. For my faith community it is The Catechism of The Catholic Church. If someone says something contradicting it and calls themselves a Catholic they are either poorly formed in Catholicism or are being untruthful in some way. One person by themselves does not speak for 1,2 billion people unless you count the pope but many catholics are “cafeteria”.
A Matter of Language
Christians in the same language may speak very different dialects of “Christianese”. So if one is alarmed by the wording of the other side, they should seek out the definition of that alarming wording in the mind of the speaker. For example, thousands of times per day police officers “pray” to the judge. Do they worship him? No, they petition the judge with a old style wording of prayer. So do the Catholics who ask for the intercession. But in the Protestant dialect, of which I am fluent, it sounds like Mary is a goddess. There were indeed some in the 4th century who offered sacrifices to Mary but they were excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
Benefit of the doubt
This next part may cut very close to home for some readers. If one is an ex-Catholic turn Protestant or vice-versa, you may have friends and relatives who see you as “fallen away” and with that may seem overbearing. Be patient. There can be assumed to be some to great sincere belief on their part that if you are no in their exact kind of Christian fellowship that you are missing something. Remember that their bias is sincere and they must love you a lot or they would not be concerned. Thank them for their concern and ask that they pray for you to discern God’s will for your life continually.
Yes, unity among Christians is a work in progress. I believe however that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and all will be well. Let us all, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant listen to the Master’s voice.