On Being Christian Together (Part 1)

Some 300 persons gathered July 19-23, 2007 on the campus of Oberlin College to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first Conference on Faith and Order which took place on that same campus in 1957. The movement known as “Faith and Order” actually traces its history in this country to 1910 when Episcopal Bishop Charles Henry Brent and Disciples leader Peter Ainsley, among others, began to articulate the need for a setting where churches could together engage their differences in understanding the Christian faith and God’s intention for the right-ordering of the Church.

Banquet speaker, Dr. Martin Marty, Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, began by summarizing the many ecumenical accomplishments of the Faith and Order movement over these last fifty years. He cited such advances as actual mergers of churches into “united churches;” the development of the various state, national and world councils of churches; a number of full communion agreements; and theological breakthroughs such as the signing of the joint declaration on “justification” by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.

At the same time, Marty counseled against minimizing the difficulties the movement still faces. These difficulties are not so much in the area of “faith,” he observed, which operates in the area of mystery, depth and amplitude but is hard to define. Rather, the “sticking points” have to do with sexual issues and authority issues. These still remain communion-dividing issues within and among the churches and keep us from sharing the common Eucharist. Nonetheless, he concluded, we are not to “whine or weep, for none of that changes hearts.” Rather we should engage in the real repentance and action that does change things.

After an overview by Dr. Barbara Brown Zikmund and Dr. Donald Dayton on the legacy and ecumenical significance of Oberlin College and the reasons it was chosen as the site of the first North American Conference on Faith and Order, a number of visions of Christian unity were presented. Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ provided the Roman Catholic perspective and urged “an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of mutual testimony.”

Dr. David Daniels of the Church of God in Christ called for an ecumenism which would link “reach out beyond American denominationalism, link apostolic faith with apostolic power, and combat racism at every level.” Quaker Ann Riggs, PhD, Associate General Secretary for Faith and Order at the National Council of Churches, called for the ecumenical movement to move beyond “conflict resolution to conflict transformation.” And United Methodist Dr. Doug Mills drew a thread through all three presentations by highlighting Methodist contributions in these areas.

One of the exciting components of this “Oberlin II” conference was the participation of nearly 100 younger ecumenists, theologians, seminarians and undergraduates. In an ecumenical movement which often appears to be aging if not aged fresh voices and perspectives were more than welcomed. Veteran ecumenist Paul Crow was visibly pleased to moderate an evening session with a young local ecumenist from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Raphael Allen, a lay ecclesial minister from a Roman Catholic Church in Seattle, A.J. Boyd, and Dr. Keelan Downton, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Council of Churches and representative of the “emerging church” conversation.  

4 Responses to “On Being Christian Together (Part 1)”

  1. rwk Says:

    Faith and Order is an important combination of concepts. As a conservative, I often feel that “order” was lost in the Episcopal Church and that has led to a deterioration of “faith”. As I have said before on this site, I have felt more at home, more at One with a wide variety of other Christian groups than I feel in most Episcopal Churches — I have no problem worshiping and do worship with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Pentacostals, non-denominational Christians etc. I have been clearly and explicitly not-welcomed in Episcopal Churches, for example, I was not invited back to a Bible study — once my conservative beliefs were made known.

    Faith and Order, for me must be linked. The Episcopal Church has been unwilling to enforce any discipline on even the most flagrant denials of the most elemental aspects of the “faith” in the name of tolerance and ecumenism. This unwillingness to enforce order created the chaos we are living in today. Tolerance and ecumenism are noble goals, but ones that must be circumscribed or they become meaningless.

    I’m not sure what the future holds but I know I don’t need to be an Episcopalian to serve the Lord. Maybe reconciliation will come but I don’t see much sign of it now. But then again, maybe today is just Holy Saturday — that day of darkness between calvary and the resurrection.

  2. ecubishop Says:


    No church fully lives into the challenges of “faith and order.” The Episcopal Church defines her faith and order in doctrine (Bible, Creeds, Catechism), discipline (the Canons), and worship (the Book of Common Prayer.

    We are in a mess today. I like your image of Holy Saturday…because it is filled with pathos, but also hope and promise!

  3. rwk Says:

    Thank you, while I understand no church, being compromised of fallen men and women can live up to the full challenge of faith and order it seems that the level of disorder is hampering my usefulness in the service of the Lord. You’ve rightly gauged I have a great deal of frustration and disappointment over these issues. I don’t see much of a place for Christians like myself in TEC, our room to work out our faith grows smaller and smaller. I guess the thing that frustrates me the most is I feel it’s the church that’s changed, not me.

  4. ecubishop Says:

    Clearly, the church has changed, rwk. It always has and it always will change. It has never been easy for people to deal with change — from the inclusion of the Gentiles to the Reformation to the planting of the Episcopal Church on these shores to Prayer Book revision, rediscovering the centrality of baptism, the ordination of women, etc. etc. etc.

    I can only pray for our church that the “changes” are Spirit-led and faithful; and for you that God will bless and strengthen you in faith, wherever the path may lead…I know you are wrestling faithfully will all this.

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