Saturday, March 25, 2006

Paul Owen: Ecumenace

Paul Owen is an ecumenist, or—should I say—ecumenace?

In this regard he reminds me of Paul Knitter, John Hick, and Winfred Cantwell Smith.

Not only does Owen regard Roman Catholics as true brothers in Christ, but he thinks that Mormons may be heaven-bound while Muslims worship the true God.

In order to be an ecumenist you must trivialize all the differences between one religious tradition and another.

Ecumenism is Hyper-Calvinism by another name. “We are going to save you whether you like it or not!”

One driving force behind ecumenism is the entrancing power of a modest metaphor. If, for example, the “body” is your controlling metaphor for the church, then schism reduces the church to an amputee. A schismatic is “rending” the body of Christ. Dante reserves a very special place in hell for schismatics.

But there are a couple of problems with this equation:

i) To begin with a metaphor is just that—a metaphor. And a metaphor cannot walk on all fours, as the saying goes.

Even if the “body” were the only metaphor used to illustrate the nature of the church, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get carried away with a figure of speech.

For example, overemphasis on this metaphor can lead to a high-church polity. The body has to have a head, so the church must have an earthly head, and you can’t have a two-headed body: hence, the pope is the vicar of Christ.

Very picturesque and all.

But when a simile ceases to depict reality, and is mistaken for reality itself, you then have the makings of a mental ward.

ii) Another problem with this overemphasis is that Scripture employs a number of different metaphors to illustrate the variegated nature of the church: a body, a bride, a family, a flock, a mountain, a temple, and a vine.

Now, these varied images illustrate the multifaceted character of the church.

Organic metaphors are apt images of unity. A body. A vine.

But a family or a flock is a looser affinity.

Unlike body parts, family members can live apart. Then shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.

Grown children leave home. Siblings mature and move away.

They remain related. They share a family resemblance.

But they don’t live and die under the same roof, or abide under the same head-of-household.

There is, in fact, an inverse relation between their inward unity and their outward disparity.

Because they share a common bond in blood, they need no visible architecture to unite them. A religion of externals is the embalming fluid of a cadaverous faith.

As Shakespeare said, “When love begins to sicken and decay, it useth an enforcéd ceremony. There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.”

Where is the church? Where do you find God’s church on earth?

Follow the fingerpost: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Wherever you find that kind unity, there you find the church.

Contrariwise, it is those who have no natural bond who lean on institutions to impose a semblance of unity.

On the face of it, there’s an odd contradiction in Owen’s ecumenical sympathies. Owen is far harsher in his characterization of fellow Christians (Baptists, Anabaptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians) than he is of Mormons and Muslims.

How can Owen make such magnanimous allowance for idolaters when he’s so hostile to all things Protestant?

Well, the ecumenist can tolerate a Protestant as long as he’s a nominal, conscience-stricken Protestant. A Protestant who beats his breast over the “tragedy” of the Reformation.

What the ecumenist cannot stand is the contented Protestant. The Protestant who has no hankering to return to the Roman fold. The Protestant who enjoys his independence, and takes pleasure his own traditions.

Not freedom for freedom’s sake, but freedom to serve his Lord, however, whenever, and wherever.

Such a man has moved on and made a life for himself. Has a family of his own. He’s not going to board his kids and send his wife to a nunnery so that he can move back in with Mother Church.

Unlike the high churchman, the Protestant is a potty-trained Christian. He no longer needs Mother Church to burp him or nurse him, change his diapers or dry his tears, tie his shoelaces or pat him on the head, read him a bedtime story and tuck him into bed.

To the discontented, nothing is more offensive than the sight of the contented.

The ecumenist takes the Erasmian view of the Reformation. The source of the problem was not the doctrine of Rome, but the corruption of the clergy. The only thing in need of reform was the moral tone of the church.

But to a Protestant, the outward decadence was not the disease, but only its symptom.

The ecumenist likes to point to the fact that for a brief time, right after the Reformation, there was a window of opportunity, a chance at reconciliation before both sides hardened and forever went their separate ways.

The ecumenist exhorts the contemporary Protestant to recover this longing for reunion. But that, again, is the Erasmian perspective.

And we can understand that first-generation Protestants felt like immigrants, torn between the old country, the country of their birth, and their adopted land.

But we, as great-great-grandchildren of the Reformers, have no such sentimental memories. This land is our land. This is our native air.

Owen’s animosity is due to the intransigent fact that true Evangelicals are irreconcilables. Our mere existence clutters his pan-ecumenical vision.

The ecumenist is laboring to pave a toll-free expressway to heaven, but our evangelical cottage stands on a parcel of land which lies smack dab in the middle of his blueprint.

He tries to buy us out, but like an obstinate retiree, we refuse to sell. It may not be much, but it’s our house. It’s bought and paid for. We burned the thirty-year mortgage. From the porch it commands a fine view of the Jordan River. Here we happily sit in our rocking chair to watch the stars and take in the breeze.

Owen offers us a dream home on higher ground. One of those mansions with the ten-car garage and two bathrooms for every bedroom. Along with two master bedrooms so that husband and wife will never need to see each other. Plus the tennis court, Olympic pool, stables, boathouse, and guesthouse the size of a…well…of a ten-car garage. Oh, and don’t forget the marble bidet with the gold-plated plumbing.

In other words, something on the order of St. Peter’s or the Archbishop’s residence in Vienna.

But we refuse to sell.

He threatens to indemnify us with solemn interdicts and Tridentine anathemas.

But we refuse to budge. Irreconcilables—that’s what we are.

Let him build his expressway around our cottage. A bend to the right or a bend to the left. Over us or under us. But through our property he will never go.


  1. ...and the wolf said:"Little pig, little pig let me in." "Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin.", said the pigs.

    So the wolf called for an ecumenical council to denounce the pigs as...well...pigs; and also heretical schismatics (read huffed and puffed, but couldn't blow the pigs house down.)

  2. This one was excellent. The Shakespeare quote was well-used.

  3. Only it's too bad your foil was merely Paul Owen. Maybe if you publish this one sometime (it's worth it) you could make the foil some abstract group of Paul Owen like personages.

  4. Honestly, this was absolutely brilliant. There are several poignant bits, e.g., 'Ecumenism is Hyper-Calvinism by another name. “We are going to save you whether you like it or not!”'

    In a Freudian moment, I wondered whether ea's reference to the Three Little Pigs was an unintentional reference to Exsurge Domine. But maybe it was intended, in which case it was brilliant, too.

    Protestants are both the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax, and Rome, et al., have to build a highway around us.