I noticed that, in commenting on Jessica’s post on Saturday, my friend Dave Smith, quoting from the old penny catechism, commented that the ‘Church is one’ because it acknowledges one head – the Pope – among other reasons. I know what he means, but I also think that this Pope is about as far from a focus of unity as you could get. In yet another of his interminable monologues on a plane (can’t the man just watch the movies like ordinary people?) he seems to have said that it would be fine if folk used contraception to avoid conceiving because of the Zika virus. I write in the conditional tense because who can be sure what he means? If Dave really believes that he and his fellow Catholics are united under this Pope, or indeed under the last few, he’s ignoring the reality: under John Paul and Benedict the liberal Catholics ignored much of their social and moral teaching; now the boot is on the other foot. Any how, anyone who enters the Catholic blogosphere expecting the Church to ‘be one’ is going to be a sadder person after even half an hour there.
The RCC is not the only church which professes the Christian faith, or even the only one which can sustain a claim to have been founded by Jesus, and neither is it the only one to have been around from the beginning. With the exception of the Pope, the Orthodox Church claims all the same things, and they may both be right. They may also both be ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. The Creed is neither the product of, nor the possession of the Roman Catholic Church – indeed there was no delegate from the Rome at the 381 Constantinople Conference, and no one submitted the 325 Nicene one to Rome. I am glad the RCC exists, it gets more right than it gets wrong, but like billions of people in this world, I am not in the slightest convinced by its claims, neither do I think it has some unique access to the Holy Spirit.
I was pleased that the Pope met with the Moscow Patriarch, as I am whenever Christian leaders meet and behave like brothers. For once, Pope Frank did not shoot off at the mouth, and that can only be a good thing. But anyone who imagines that either of those churches is going to be the sole engine of some great evangelism is as barmy as anyone who imagines that my church or any other will be. Jessica is spot on in thinking that if we spend so much time on the past, we shan’t have much of a future.
A common complaint among Christians is the challenge we face in the public square. Jessica is quite right in thinking it cannot be met by insisting on old divisions, and, I fear, in thinking that too many Christians will carry on doing just that. With those, as with those Orthodox who rejected the compromises of Florence, nothing, not even the flag of Allah flying atop a symbol of Christendom, will change their mind. If they are the last Christians on earth, they will rejoice at being the pure remnant. You know, we might at least try to help the Holy Spirit out here.