The night before he died, our Lord Jesus prayed for the unity of those who followed him as a sign of the truth of his mission (Jn 17.21,23). This was not to be a superficial unity, but one as deep as exists between the persons of the Trinity themselves. Many Christians experience this unity in the fellowship they find when they meet each other but, if it is to demonstrate Christs authenticity to the world, that unity needs to be seen by those outside the fold.
29th July 2022
Why we should keep Russia in
Since Putin sent his army into Ukraine tensions between the World Council of Churches and the Russian Orthodox Church have been increasingly strained and the cry has gone up that the Russian church should be expelled or suspended because Archbishop Kirill refuses to condemn his ruler’s crimes and blesses soldiers going to join the war. Some in the West might see this as a logical extension of sanctions against Putin’s regime and those close to him supporting him in his efforts. Suspending Moscow would send a strong message of Russia’s isolation and make the rest of the Church’s view on the matter very clear.
That might well be true, but to cut ties with a Chrisitan church over secular politics and which side of a secular conflict it takes would set a dangerous precedent for ecumenical prospects which could threaten to undermine the whole project. It would be to say Christian unity is secondary to the targets of governments and put secular politics above Christ as the one to whom we owe our ultimate loyalty.
I have little doubt God is appalled by the monstrous attack by Putin’s regime on a neighbouring country whose only crime is to want to act independently of its bullying neighbour. I feel certain he abhors the destruction of civilian homes and civilian lives and the unjustified aggression waged against innocent people caught up in the ambitions of a megalomaniac. It is difficult to see any reason for sympathy with Putin and those who keep him in power as he lies and cheats while inflicting such crimes on his fellow human beings. However, our disgust at what Putin does and Kirill apparently supports is no grounds for breaking fellowship with an entire body of believers, simply because their leader behaves badly.
Archbishop Kirill did not order the troops into Ukraine, nor is he directly prosecuting war against anyone. He simply has not condemned it in public and continues to act as if his countrymen are engaged in a Holy War. He has argued he simply provides, as military chaplains have always done, spiritual support to those ordered into battle, without getting concerned with the causes of the war or the justification of the action itself. That might be true, though it might ring a little hollow if he tells the soldiers they are doing a patriotic job, but we have to remember his circumstances. Like all Russians, Kirill’s main source of information will be government officials and Kremlin-controlled media, pumping out lies both about the reasons for the war and the manner of its prosecution. Indeed, the Kremlin denies there is a war at all, claiming it is undertaking a special (perhaps read limited) military operation against Fascist insurgents in Ukraine. His main route for hearing a contrary account would be those with information from outside Russia feeding information to his church through ecumenical contacts. To cut those would send a single message, but deprive him of further information, the very information he will need if he is to see the error of his ways.
Possibly those calling for Russian suspension would argue he has already had plenty of information and refuses to accept it, or is playing a political game by joining in the deception himself. Maybe so, but even then, is that a reason to set the precedent that the Church cannot cope with division except by cutting ties?
Cutting ties would be sacrificing the unity of the Christian Church to the misbehaviour of one or two powerful men. What would the Church mean after such a failure?
Such unity goes far deeper than ecumenism in the Churchs structures, but if it is to accomplish its Christ-intended purpose those structures must reflect it in an ecumenical way, otherwise they will obscure it and prevent the world seeing and believing. I believe it is no coincidence that the eighteenth century Enlightenment (which in setting up the ideal of pluralism also had the effect of marginalising individual convictions and thus religion in general) emerged after the conflicts which followed the Reformation. It is largely because Christians are not seen to agree in public that the world does not accept what we say.
But there is more, for our Lords prayer was not just a vague aspiration. Jesus promised us that a prayer in his name will be answered (Jn 16.23). Yet we give the impression in our apparent disunity that his own prayer has been ineffective. In doing so we also imply either that the Father has not sent his Son or that Christs words on prayer, among other things, are not to be trusted. So, we deny the very nature of our Lord and his mission on earth. In effect, disunity would deny the very Gospel we otherwise proclaim.
And again, how can we claim with St Paul that Christs work on earth, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eternal reign have reconciled us to God and given us the ministry of reconciliation (II Cor 5.18) if we remain unreconciled to each other, at least at the public level which matters so much for the proclamation of that reconciling Gospel?
The very word ecumenism is controversial to some, who fear its users seek to find agreement by compromising the truth. Unity, they say, must be in the truth. Of course, but from the argument above it should be equally obvious that unity is integral to the truth. Neither can exist without the other. Ecumenism and evangelism belong together. Indeed, ecumenism is a prerequisite for true evangelism because unity is an essential component of the Gospel. Without ecumenism there can be no true evangelism, for without unity there can be no true Gospel.
The problem was encapsulated by my own conversion, because it was two Baptists who challenged me as to whether I knew the Lord. I had been baptised into the Church of England as a baby, and therefore could be claimed as a Christian in name, and was seeking to live as such, but had never understood the need to offer myself to God for a life of service in Christ. Initially I rejected their approaches on the basis they were members of a different church with different beliefs, and it was only when they gave me a booklet to explain their faith which I recognised as an Anglican publication that I realised my mistake. Their faith was one with at least some Anglicans on the issue concerned, but I, blinded by the labels, had not seen that.
Because so much is at stake the task is urgent, but the urgency is not apparent from the response of the Church in general. Progress has been lamentably slow and has often concentrated on what we agree already. Perhaps Church leaders are naturally too polite to raise contentious arguments. Perhaps, they have felt a firm basis of respect based on common belief was needed before such issues could be pursued without causing offence. Perhaps a tentative initial exploration was necessary to establish the key issues, but should it have taken 90 years to get this far? Whatever the reason, the urgency of the task demands more progress, more debate, more involvement by more Christians to produce the ideas which will overcome the obstacles and even define the goals.
That is what this site is for. Please read it, use it, and make it a powerhouse of truth which will build up Christs Church.