Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jürgen Moltmann on Faith & Order Ecumenism

This summer I enjoyed reading Jürgen Moltmann's autobiography A Broad Place. Moltmann too is a theologian who in his own way has sought to do theology "in, with, and for the church":

"Because I did not grow up in a church, the church was not for me a matter of course. As pastor, too, I tried to answer the question, What is the church, and what is it there for?" (p. 202).

I was especially interested in a section in which Moltmann recounts and reflects on his involvement in the ecumenical movement as a member of the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order from 1963 to 1983. Moltmann's musings lend support to the recent calls of some ecumenists for a "re-confessionalizing" of ecumenical encounter as a somewhat counterintuitive way forward:

"[T]he ecumenical unity of the many churches is not effected by way of bi-lateral or multi-lateral negotiations but rather when every church traces its own tradition back to its foundations, and in those foundations finds the traditio dei, which is common to all....Yet this advice to return ad fontes, though theologically correct, naturally often means that in one's own church one swims against the tide" (p. 86).

"The programme of 'reconciled difference'...became the sleeping pill of the ecumenical movement. We all stay as we are and are nice to each other" (p. 86).

"The outcome of my ecumenical participation, as I willingly confess, is this: my origin is Reformed--my future is ecumenical!" (p. 87).


  1. That is such a fantastic quote at the end of the post! Moltmann has such an uncanny ability to succinctly verbalize simple ways to engage thought on one of the church's greatest fears in engaging in ecumenical dialogue: "How do we maintain our own identity through our distinct heritage if we are compelled to accept the approaches utilized in other traditions as valid?" I would be interested to think further on the differences between the concepts of "tradition or heritage" with that of "origin".

  2. Stefanie,

    Good question--it's possible to associate "tradition or heritage" with a commitment to remain in continuity with it and "origin" with a point of departure with which one doesn't necessarily maintain ongoing connections. But rather than thinking about ecumenical dialogue as something that makes us "compelled to accept the approaches utilized in other traditions as valid," I prefer to think of it as an opportunity for two things: first, for an earnest contestation of the faith in which all parties care enough about the truth disclosed in Jesus Christ that they are willing to contest their different understandings of it en route to a clarification that enables greater unity in the truth; and second, for an exchange of ecclesial gifts in which our tradition/heritage/orgin is seen as something that has preserved some aspect of the catholicity of the church that the rest of the church needs in order to be fully catholic, and at the same time is seen as our standpoint within the whole church from which we are able to receive the aspects of the church's catholicity that have been preserved in other traditions.

    Enjoy the Theological Conversation with Moltmann conference next month! Perhaps you can pose this question to him?