I’ve just completed a thorough reading of a book by the now-deceased Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles entitled “The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System,” written in 1992 (a very good year: I might add, for theological and devotional writing!). He says towards the end of this most excellent volume:
“The churches that have held most steadfastly to the deposit of biblical and patristic faith, and those that have best resisted the allurements of modernity, may have the most to offer in an age that is surfeited with the lax and the ephemeral. The time is ripe to welcome the more traditional and conservative churches into the dialogue. For the Catholic Church it may not prove easy to reach a consensus with either the Orthodox or the conservative evangelicals, but these churches and communities may have more to offer than some others because they have dared to be different.”
I don’t believe that we can ignore or hide from the dogmatic differences that make us different and have heretofore separated us from one another, but I do believe that, abiding in a faith that is grounded in God’s Word, a people who are carrying the Cross of our same Savior and who are seeking to be directed and instructed by the Holy Spirit, we have much to share, something that I increasingly fear that I can’t say of mainline Protestantism or of the more leftist-oriented voices within Catholicism.
But sharing conversation & friendship with the likes of Father Dennis Gill of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, a man of exquisite humility, grace and Christ-likeness, as well as the same with Father Andrew Mahrous of The Coptic Church of St. Mary & St. Mercurius in my own lovely, little Borough of Conshohocken, a man of graciously-held conviction and conviction-suffused grace, I have hope that we can share Christ and hold Him forth before the increasingly beleaguered & desperate world that so urgently needs Him.
The enemy targets all of us, as it seems to recognize quite readily the forest from the trees. We don’t need to be ignorant to the differences to be alert & alive to the points of commonality, especially with a common Referent, who is Jesus. The times now require that men & women of like-mindedness; that is, those who share a common substratum of conviction in Christian devotion before the Father and deportment of Christian witness before the world, come together, a togetherness that will require (to be sure!) hard conversations and much forbearance & disagreement, but that will also entail much grace, joy & fruit.
I am well aware that I share much more in common with many of my Catholic or Orthodox colleagues than I do with many fellow Baptists and evangelicals, especially in this day of the dilution & diminution of the authority of God’s holy Word and standards of disposition & behavior, and I am finding the same being conversely articulated by many of my Catholic friends, especially as high-ranking ecclesiastics within their fold speak of the Ten Commandments not having “absolute” value to Catholic or personal practice. I don’t minimize the particulars of sound doctrine, though I do recognize the distinction betwixt issues of first and secondary import (the former being essential to salvation, while the latter being significant but not deleterious to one’s salvation.
It is also true that Jesus went on public record that the world would know who we are – aka His disciples – by the love that we bear for one another. As John Wesley, not one who would tone down the truth of God’s Word as he understood it, has said to his papal friend in priestly robes: “If we can’t think alike, then can’t we at least love alike?’ To which I reply, “Here; here,” and Amen and Amen!