9.5 Theses for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

by Kim on January 19, 2009

I offer you 9.5 theses/questions for reflection, in memory of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. 9.5 theses/questions, however, not to honour the churches of the Reformation, but rather to make confession on their behalf, for, as Stanley Hauerwas once preached in a sermon entitled “Reformation Is Sin”, “Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand.”

1. The central ecumenical question I take to be this: Do we believe that there are other Christians in the world than ourselves? Yes?

2. If we are tempted to think that our church is the one, true church, ask yourself this: Do you really think that God would agree? Was not the Roman Catholic theologian Yves Congar right when he said that, in a divided Church, all churches “breathe with one lung”?

3. The Lutheran Martin Niemöller said: “Because I was an ecumenist, I became a pacifist.” Considering that the early church itself was pacifist, and that unity in ethics was as important as unity in doctrine, was Niemöller an eccentric – or a prophet?

4. Do you think of Christian unity primarily as an agreement among churches to be reached, or a command from our Lord to be obeyed? And if the former, don’t you catch a whiff of works righteousness?

5. In the history of the church Catholics have killed Protestants, and Protestant have killed Catholics. Progress in unity, I suggest, will be a movement in historical denial, unless we engage in specific, collective, and mutual acts of confession and forgiveness. Do you agree?

6. There can be no unity at the expense of truth – but neither can there be truth at the expense of unity. Therefore we must never tire, lose patience, and break off conversations with those with whom we differ; it must always be the other who leaves the table first. Again, do you agree?

7. Dialogue between denominations always seems to depend on the theological elite, the men – and they usually are men – at the top, while ordinary Christians are left on the sidelines. Can that be right?

8. We often seem to ask for more agreement between denominations than we do within denominations. Again, can that be right?

9. Christian unity is just the prologue of the church’s ecumenical agenda: the real business is our unity with Israel, because Christians have not replaced the Jews as the people of God, we have joined them. That, in any case, is the way Paul viewed the matter. How does that make you feel?

9.5. So – what next?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 01.19.09 at 8:58 pm

1. Yes, that seems like a reasonable stating of the central ecumenical question. I wonder, though, if it is wide enough. Another of your questions raises this issue also.

2. Yes.

3. I become more and more convinced that ‘prophet’ is the right word. Of course, eccentric may also apply!

4. If I had to choose, I’d go for a command to be obeyed. But both are capable of being interpreted through the lens of ‘works’, and it’s a temptation to be resisted.
However, I’d prefer ‘Christian unity as a reality to be accepted’

5. Christian living is a constant call to repentance and forgiveness. ‘Collective’ and ‘mutual’ I’d go with. I’m not sure how far I’d want to press ’specific’.

6. Absolutely, yes.

7. No. But I don’t know “off the top” what to do about it.

8. That is daft, isn’t it?

9. I’d go further (see also 1). The real business is our unity with humanity. Creation, even. But Israel would be a good start.

Thanks for the thought-proking questions. Sorry for the hasty responses.


Alwyn ap Huw 01.20.09 at 3:58 am

I understand the point of your post, and agree with it to a certain extent.

I have a fear that the “evangelical movement” has lost the plot.

Salvation is through faith, not doctrine. Too many evangelicals put emphasis on doctrine rather than faith.

The thief on the cross who accepted Jesus as Lord, probably knew nothing about the complex questions about transubstination of the host, predestination or even the question of the Trinity of God but yet Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. based on his faith, not on his understanding of theological debate!

My aunty’s mother in law was a Roman Catholic, when I had my heart set on the Methodist ministry, and I was a Theological Student in Bangor University. When I first encounterd her I use to feel for shame, a heathen in the family!

When I use to try to convert her from her heathen Irish ways. She would obstinately avoid every argument with the phrase I love Jesus, you love Jesus, Jesus loves us - let Rome, Canterbury and the Dons at Bangor University worry about the theology - we must love each other as Jesus loves us! How could any Christian disagree?


Harry 01.20.09 at 4:46 am

The most important issue was left out, Holy Communion. Lutherans, not the ELCA type, believe that we receive Christ’s Body in, with and under the bread and wine. We could never commune with others that don’t hold to that view.


Bryan Cross 01.20.09 at 6:47 am

Thanks Kim. May the Holy Spirit unite us all together in the unity of the Trinity.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan


Tony Buglass 01.20.09 at 9:58 am

“We could never commune with others that don’t hold to that view.”

So the one thing which should be the symbol of our unity remains the point where we focus our disunity. Tragic. I don’t believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation, simply because I don’t see why I should rely on an ancient Greek prescientific analysis of matter to explain what happens in the eucharist - or more precisely how it happens. I do believe that in the eucharist I really meet Christ at his table and with his followers (however we variously understand or misunderstand the mechanics of the act). Surely that is the heart of the matter? Shouldn’t we let him join us in love, and perhaps one day we will be closer in understanding? Doesn’t anything else grieve him?


Kim 01.20.09 at 10:12 am

Hi Harry,

Thanks for raising the issue of the Lord’s Supper. But I must say that I am dismayed to hear not only what you say but how you say it - so peremptorily. The Lutheran and ecumenical theologian George Lindbeck says, with sadness, “The eucharist tastes bitter in a divided church.” You do not sound sad at having your Members Only eucharists - and that, in turn, saddens me.

Of course I know the arguments about unity of faith (i.e. doctrine - and not just eucharistic doctrine, which, as you know, during the Reformation was inextricably linked to Christology) as the precondition of shared eucharists, but I find them not only unconvincing but deeply flawed, and finally trumped by unity of love. There were, after all, profound theological differences in the church at Corinth, but Paul gives no hint that they were grounds for a divided table. And at the Last Supper our Lord served even his betrayer - and yet you disdain someone who is not a consubstantialist?

Personally, I hold to a real presence (and find Calvin’s eucharistic theology edifying), but the way one finally defines it is, for me, irrelevant to the open invitation that Christ gives to his supper. Aquinas, Luther, Calvin - and even memorialists like Zwingli! - can come to the party he throws once a month in the church which I serve (he’d like to throw it every week, but these awkward Reformed folk wouldn’t come!). If you’re ever in the area, you can come too.


PamBG 01.20.09 at 1:19 pm

Having been raised conservative Lutheran, I can attest to what Harry says - even though I don’t believe it.

As I understand it, the theology is that the pastor will be judged negatively by God for giving communion to anyone who partakes unworthily. Not believing (conservative) Lutheran doctrine (which is always referred to as “Lutheran doctrine”) about the nature of communion constitutes ‘taking communion unworthily’. Also, there is the theology that to partake in communion with someone is to say ‘I believe what you believe’. Therefore one must be careful with whom one takes communion.

You may recall that some ministers in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod took a fellow minister to Ecclesial Court for having prayed in the name of Jesus in the presence of an Imam in New York City on the day of 9/11. This is because some conservative Lutherans also believe that praying with someone is to approve their theology. For the sake of the truth, I must point out that the LCMS did not find that the pastor had done anything wrong and he was not defrocked.


Kim 01.20.09 at 3:01 pm

Thanks for that info, Pam. I trust that you will agree that to interpret “taking communion unworthily” (I Corinthians 11:27), i.e. without “discerning the (Lord’s) body” (11:29), exegetically has nothing to do with holding a “sound” eucharistic theology and everything to do with with the “unity of love” of which I wrote. It is quite clear from I Corinthians 11:17-22, and then 33-34, that it is the sociological divisions in the worshipping assembly, and the self-centred conspicuous consumption of the richer congregants, that Paul has in mind in his admonitions in 27-30, with the selfless self-offering of Christ in his death as the standard of judgement. The failure in Corinth was moral, not doctrinal. God help us if “theological correctness” is the criterion by which we appraoch the table, let alone enter salvation! And as for being judged by the festive company we keep, that is sheer Pharisaism: “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19).


DH 01.20.09 at 4:45 pm

1) yes, amen Richard
2) It depends on what particular thing divides the church. We know that Scripture “rightly divides the Word of Truth”.
3) early church pascifist? I think that might be a hasty generalization. However, to the guy mentioned I would say he was neither.
4)agreement and “No”
5)yes, I totally agree
6) Yes but it depends if it is something that goes against Scripture or the foundations of the Christian Faith
7) yes I’m in agreement
8) yes
9) Paul’s view was both Gentiles being grafted in by Faith in Christ alone and Jews being grafted in by Faith in Christ alone. However, there is a covenent that Jews have and an extra benefit by experiencing the OT and NT covenent. It isn’t 100% replacement but Salvation is by Faith in Christ alone and rejection of Christ is rejection of the free gift made available to all. Paul was very clear that Jews by Faith in Christ alone could be grafted after being broken off. How do I feel about it? your are only half right and half wrong for you fail to mention the other half of Paul.
9.5) Let the Truth of God and His word change you not you change the Truth of God and/or His Word. The church and God’s people must follow that line and must not try to make exceptions from God’s Word to make one “confortable” with the world around it. If it says a certain thing is a sin it is a sin (period).


Kim 01.20.09 at 4:53 pm

Five Yeses from DH. Uh oh.


DH 01.20.09 at 5:35 pm

Kim, isn’t that a majority? Maybe I’m more ecumenical than you think? On some of the “yes’s” they were with some clarifications but yes nonetheless. :)

Maybe with a little thought and clarity we can change those “no’s” to yes’s? You never know.


PamBG 01.20.09 at 7:04 pm

Thanks for that info, Pam. I trust that you will agree that to interpret “taking communion unworthily” (I Corinthians 11:27), i.e. without “discerning the (Lord’s) body” (11:29), exegetically has nothing to do with holding a “sound” eucharistic theology and everything to do with with the “unity of love” of which I wrote.

Yes, of course I do. But I’m a namby pamby liberal unbelieving female minister under the influence of The Other Guy. Or so I’m sometimes told.

It’s pretty much an opposite theology of communion. Not a meal designed to create inclusion but one to designate who is included and who is not. But you know that already. A Girardian field day of a theology.


Kim 01.20.09 at 7:20 pm

To make the point, perhaps one Communion Sunday I’ll have our door elders hand out a short exam paper to the worshippers as they enter the sanctuary, which they’ll sit and I’ll mark during the sermon slot. I’ll make sure everyone fails - and then send them home hungry, though with a blessing for the re-sits next month!


Mark 01.20.09 at 9:30 pm

Being part of it, the LCMS does have many who would agree immediately with Harry. And the “enforcement” usually gets put on the local minister. This usually ends in three ways: 1) a very rigid and small church, 2) a members only policy or 3) a defacto communion as described by Kim. None of those is a good outcome with arguably #2 being the worst but most common.

One of the saddest days in church history was Luther and Zwingli at Marburg. Luther in regards to communion was very litteral. The constubstantiation tag is one that most Lutheran theologians would run away from. Luther at Marburg and elsewhere always stuck to true body and true blood being present without endorsing any theory. It just is, as He famously carved “est” in the table at Marburg. The 1 Cor 11:27 without discerning would be seen as exactly that. Do you believe the body and blood are present? Approaching a Lutheran table/altar is a confession that yes I believe this.

It is also a confession much in line with your theses that we are sinful and need the salvation contained in that body and blood. Luther most simply talked about worthiness as the person “who has the faith in these words - given and shed for you for the foregiveness of sin.” (Small Catechism)

In that way a Lutheran altar inclusively invites all who believe. Communion is the active expression of that belief. Take a look at 1 Cor 11:26. “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The act is the proclamation or confession. The act creates the body of Christ.

The running thread is essentially confession: 1) are you a sinner, 2) you believe that the body and blood are present and 3) that they offer forgiveness of sins. If you did not believe these, why would you show up at communion unless it was for those sociological problems the Corinthians were having?


PamBG 01.20.09 at 9:50 pm

LOL! That policy goes well with your agitated Avatar, I think. ;-)


DH 01.20.09 at 10:11 pm

I’m glad I’m not the one referenced as being the “agitated Avatar”.


John 01.22.09 at 6:11 am

Christian unity is impossible because all Christians, both “individually” and collectively, are always actively being separative in everything they do. As is everyone else in their dreadful sanity.

This essay describes the dreadful politics and “culture” created in the image of every-person in their actively presumed and constantly generated separativeness.


It also points out Indivisible Unity is our always already native state and condition, prior to the active presumption of separation. Hence:




Stephen Rose 01.23.09 at 3:52 pm

I’ve written an extended response here.

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