The head of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit Photo by Michael Swan

A Church divided is not whole in God - Rev. Tveit

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  • March 21, 2012

TORONTO - There’s nothing more Catholic than ecumenism, nothing more Christian than unity, nothing more urgent than the need to heal divisions in the body of Christ, but none of it will happen based on resentments, fears and identity politics, the head of the World Council of Churches told a couple hundred people in Toronto March 14.

On his first official visit to Canada, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit laid out challenges to ecumenism which he said oppose the Christian mandate to fulfill the Lord’s Prayer — “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.”

“We are forced to ask whether we are seeking a consensus for the sake of our own institution, for our tradition, for our own group,” said Tveit. “Or if we are seeking a consensus that is giving space for the other, for the wholeness of God’s Church and God’s creation.”

Tveit defended the ecumenical movement against the charge of relativism.

“It is not a general relativism or sense of everything goes, but the Christian faith in the triune God compels us to believe that God is not partisan and faith in God should not be used for those kinds of purposes,” he said.

Catholics have become too comfortable with a world divided, said Fr. Damian MacPherson, archdiocese of Toronto ecumenical and interfaith affairs director, in a response to Tveit’s address at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Toronto.

“It does not weigh heavily on our consciences, as it should,” MacPherson said.

The last thing Catholics should do is “fear that ecumenism threatens doctrinal consistency,” he said. The greater problem is that Christians condemning and rejecting one another “openly contradicts the will of Christ.”

Christians in general need a deeper, more profound understanding of what ecumenism means, said former World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson.

“Christians have reduced it to ‘some of my best friends are Anglicans,’ ” she said.

Wilson, a retired Canadian Senator and former moderator of the United Church of Canada, also urged a less skeptical attitude to interfaith dialogue.

“Unless we embrace the interfaith agenda wholeheartedly we will fail to reflect the mosaic of this country,” she said.

“The unity of the Church is an expression of the life we have been given in God,” said Tveit.

Allowing controversial moral questions to derail ecumenical dialogue, particularly the sex issues — ordaining women, gay participation in the Church — puts the cart before the horse.

“The tendency to make the Church a moral community or even a moral police is exactly what the Church is not meant to be,” said Tveit. “Unity is a call, and therefore an obligation. However, we cannot just accept to be subsumed under a unity in which we don’t want to be or agree. And we cannot ask others to submit to a unity we somehow demand.”

When ecumenism works it is because Christians base their action on the unity of Christ, said Evangelical Fellowship of Canada president Bruce Clemenger.

“It’s there even before we chose to act. It is a matter of praxis,” he said. “It takes us away from ourselves and to the common good.”

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