Monday, November 28, 2005

Where the Road Runs Out

Peter Lineham

Theologically Protestantism had moved some way since the 1940s. There is clearly little future for denominational theology. The prediction probably extends beyond the Protestant community into the Catholic, although the dynamics of Catholic theological development seem to be different. Liberation theology and humanisation had become central themes in the Christian community. Conservative forms of Christianity had also significantly strengthened, although this trend was not really considered by the founders of CCANZ. The goals of the movement included a theological statement, which proposed "to share together in mutual study and reflection the word of God as revealed in Scripture and Tradition and through the many voices of human experience." It also proposed "to facilitate and encourage a living theology among the people of Aotearoa" and "to make available to all the Gospel imperatives that underlie the Conference of Churches’ actions and reflections." In reality, however, the theological discussions around faith and order, which had been a characteristic of ecumenism worldwide went largely neglected in New Zealand after the 1960s.

The WCC made a major step towards unity in its Lima Text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry in 1982. Then in 1984, after the agreement had been reached, Anglican theologian Janet Crawford joined these discussions. New Zealand responses to the Lima text were circulated as a background to the formation of the CCANZ. A sign that New Zealand Catholics were increasingly embracing ecumenical theology came in the form of their comment to the Vatican that "the movement of the Spirit of God among the churches and other ecclesial communities throughout the world is evident."

Yet ecumenism was bound to be overshadowed if the churches and their agencies made joint activities their dominant concern. This is one key reason why international ecumenical trends since the 1980s have been discouraging. The present era is viewed as an "ecumenical winter" in WCC circles. So the vision was lost. In New Zealand by 2001, the final General Secretary of the CCANZ lamented that "we prefer to hide in the security of our sectarian style of worshipping our God, quietly believing that we alone have God’s truth and denying the gifts the other Christian traditions can teach us in understanding more about the mysteries of God’s ways."

The irony is that today belief is no longer essentially shaped by denominational tradition, and forms of worship have increasingly homogenised. Yet the net result has not been ecumenism.

From chapter 4 of Where the Road Runs Out – research essays on the ecumenical journey, published by CCANZ 2005
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