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:: Thursday, June 26, 2003 ::

Ecumenical Dialogue: The Fallacy of the Temperament Argument

Over at Chris Arnold's blog, an interesting discussion developed about his post on the future of Gen-X faith and theology.

Tracy made this point:
"Perhaps different churches are all about meeting the varied needs of people so that the message of Christ can be heard."

I've lost track of the number of times I heard this point of view when I first became Orthodox. The following is a condensed version of the type of exchange I had with a variety of Christian family and friends on this issue:

Them: "So what church do you go to?"
Me: "Actually I just became Eastern Orthodox."
Them: "Oh...what kind of church is that?"
Me: [insert 3-5 minute church history explanation here]
Them: "Interesting. Isn't it great there are so many different and wonderful ways we can worship the Lord and express our faith!"
Me: [Internal sighing and biting of tongue]

Depending on the person, a change in subject usually was imminent. Most of the time, I didn't bother pointing out what I did write to Tracy:

"Ah, yes. The well-known 'Temperament' argument... the problem is this only makes sense in a culture that *already* contains thousands of denominations. It is a "post-disaster" rationalization.

It is an attempt to explain the liturgical, doctrinal and otherwise messed up state of western Christendom in a way that makes true unity something to only dream about. And, in the end, not really necessary (despite the promise and prayer of Jesus in John 17).

The 'different churches for different personalities' position doesn't make any sense when you start to look at Pre-Schism Christianity. While there were local and ethnic customs and flavors, all doctrine, all worship, all spirituality was (basically) the same. There was only One Church with a common faith (As St. Paul wrote, 'one faith, one baptism', etc...Eph 4)

The plethora of denominations should be something we grieve about--not a reason to 'celebrate' and 'embrace' our radically contradictory experiences."

Chris then responded to me via email asking, "Unfortunately, what do we do about it? People do think theologically, and people will argue over the liturgical and political expressions of that theology, so how can we repair fragmentation?"

The first thing I would say is that we need to purge the "cult of the nice" tendency of our culture to avoid all forms of confrontation. Thinking about theology and arguing over these issues, in moderation, is healthy! The truth is, confrontation, finding truth, discussing truth, is a necessary part of what it means to live in human society. We must "always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence." (1 Peter 3:15)

This verse gives us the healthy balance. We should never be afraid of the questions themselves and we should aggressively enter into ecumenical discussion with the intention of reaching the truth and then living in that truth. For some reason many American Christians have a phobia about this. In part, it comes from witnessing the aftermath of squabbles in their families, churches, and businesses. After seeing my fair share of these meltdowns, I understand their fear.

So without gentleness and reverence for said truth and for the people involved, we will fail in our ecumenical endeavors and hurt people close to us. I certainly have caused no end of grief for many people in my life through rash and overly polemic comments.

But the other extreme, and tracy's comment betrayed this, is the popular relativism that whispers "Don't worry about your differences; it's all the same anyway. Just 'embrace' and 'celebrate' your respective views/experiences/denominations etc..."

A few weeks ago, Clifton wrote about nominalism and the epistemological errors it brings. The sad truth we absolutely should never lose sight of is that in these discussions, people bring not just different perspectives, but in many cases radically *contradictory* and *irreconcilable* perspectives.

So, in answer to Chris' question I would only say that we should start off with two assumptions:
1) Truth is One: thus the fragmentation is evil and *must* be fixed, by the grace of God and 2) only in gentleness and love will we find the grace to begin this process.

For some of us, the former will be harder to remember; for others (such as myself) the latter will prove more challenging. Either way, we all have our work cut out for us.

:: Karl :: 7:24:00 AM [Link] ::

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