Dr. Josue Okoth
This year 2017, Christian world is celebrating 500 years since the schisms in the Catholic Church by Martin Luther in 1517. We are also marking 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church. Recently Pope Francis went to Sweden for these celebrations in which he and LWF signed a communiqué entitled, “From conflict to Communion”.
This is a significant breakthrough in dialogue at an international level in the history of Reformation. It is the highest level of reconciliation which Jesus talked about when he said in Mt 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.
First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Similarly in the Prayer he taught his disciples, ‘The Our Father…’ (Mt 6:9-13) says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven out debtors”. In our differences and bitterness, we call each other names, and we walk away with it. The reconciliation effort between the Pope and LWF makes a landmark in the history of Reformation and Christianity generally.
This is a healthy move towards achieving the Will of Jesus which we find in John 17, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.
It is like by this unity that people will acknowledge that we are his disciples. In Mt 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-16 Jesus commissioned his disciples to ‘go’, ‘preach’ ‘baptize’ and ‘make disciples’. Jesus also warned about false prophets, “…Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesize in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles’”(Mt 7:15-23).
Reconciliation has always been part of Christian history. In the Acts of the Apostles, there were always disagreements among the believers but they always sort reconciliation through the help of the Holy Spirit. The Council at Jerusalem which can be termed the first ecumenical council in Acts 15 solved the issue of the Gentles being circumcised and food sacrificed to idols. In Acts 15:36-41, were the disagreements between Paul and Barnabas.
In 1Cor. 3:1-22, St. Paul says “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly…For when one says, ‘I follow Paul’ and another ‘I follow Apollos, ‘are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to serve - as the Lord has assigned to each his task”.
Christian history shows that Christians continued to be divided over the interpretation of the faith and this called for various ecumenical councils. In 325, the Council of Nicaea repudiated Arianism which taught that Christ was not the same substance with the Father.
As a result of this disagreement the Council came up with Nicene Creed. In 381, the Council of Constantinople again repudiated Arianism together with Macedonianism and declared that Christ is “born of the Father before all ages” and revised the Nicene Creed in regard to the Holy Spirit.
So over the years, there have been controversies over various aspects of Christian faith. It is important, to come together and share these differences and invoke the Holy Spirit for guidance. Christ made promises, He said the ‘gates of Hades will not prevail against His Church’ (Mt 16: 18) and he promised, “I am with you always, to the very end of age” (Mt 28:20). Jesus does not leave the Church alone.
The initiative therefore of Pope Francis and the Lutheran World Federation to pray together and come out with a communiqué , “From Conflict to Communion”, marks a millstone in the history of Christianity and it should be pursued further by all Christians of good will. In recent time in Uganda, we have been seeing Christians carrying the cross together in the streets: is it cosmetic demonstration or truly spiritual? Joint demonstrations may not be enough.
Joint Christian Council (JCC) does not handle this crucial issue of unity; it merely protects Christian values. We need to sit around the same table and share the Last Super with Jesus, eating and drinking from “His cup of Blood of New and Everlasting Covenant” (Luke 22:2-; Mark 14:24).
That is why the vision of the Pope and LWF, “From Conflict to Communion”, makes theological logic. It is not enough to carry the cross together without sharing a meal. St Paul said to the Romans, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.
Keep away from them (Rom 16:17). Jesus used the phrase, “do not be afraid” many times in the Gospel. I would like to use the same: Go, do not be afraid of unity, and serve. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.
The writer is a concerned Christian