Mobile Sheep and Stable Shepherds: The Ecumenical Challenge of Porous North American Denominational Boundaries
Lincoln, Timothy D., Journal of Ecumenical Studies
A Timely Question
Observers of the life of North American Protestant churches have noted for some time the movement of large numbers of members between church bodies. Ironically, this traffic of Christians across denominational boundaries is occurring at a time when many mainline Christian denominations are concerned, sometimes passionately so, with their identity. While many have commented on the stable or shrinking memberships of mainline Protestant churches and have offered some theological analyses of this "malaise," there has been a lack of reflection on the porosity of denominational boundaries between North American Protestant churches from the perspective of ecumenical theology.(1) In this essay I contend that the reality of porous denominational boundaries need not be read as the problem that it often is. Rather, I contend that some erosion of denominational loyalty is a clear sign of ecumenical progress. In these reflections I briefly review some of the statistics of North American Protestant churches as they relate to denominational loyalty, then argue that an ecumenical challenge for North American churches is to reframe the issue of porous denominational boundaries as part of the ongoing process of ecumenical reception. I further argue that parish ministers must shoulder a great deal of responsibility in this reception process.
While members join and leave the Roman Catholic Church as well as Protestant churches in the United States, I focus my analysis here on mainline Protestant churches for two reasons. First, research shows that American Catholics are far more hesitant about switching to Protestant churches than Protestants are in switching to another Protestant denomination.(2) Second, ecumenical dialogues among mainline churches have reached a point of maturity that Catholic-Protestant dialogues have not. Current discussions between Catholics and Lutherans on the proposed "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification," for instance, focus exclusively on the neuralgic point of justification and do not include issues of mutual recognition of ministries or eucharistic hospitality. Because mainline Protestant churches are now at a point in which there is - at least officially - openness to other traditions, I believe that church leaders should now examine denominational loyalty and switching in a new light.
Denominational Switching as a North American Fact
Many North American Protestant Christians baptized and raised within a given denomination become members of other church bodies as adults. This switching has been going on for over a generation. Nationwide surveys of the U.S.A. discovered that many of those surveyed had switched denominational affiliation. In 1952, twenty-one percent indicated that they had switched; in 1965, twenty percent; and in 1992, twenty-three percent.(3) Detailed research conducted by Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens surveyed persons confirmed in American Presbyterian churches who were between thirty-three and forty-two years old in 1989. In their sample, fifty-two percent were churched, that is, belonged to a congregation and attended at least six times a year. However, only twenty-nine percent were still members of Presbyterian churches. Six percent belonged to fundamentalist churches; thirty-nine percent to other mainline churches, and seven percent to other churches.(4) Statistics from denominational bodies that record the transfer of new members from other church bodies as a discrete category also reveal that members move from one denomination to another in the tens of thousands in a single year. For instance, during 1994 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America received 21,087 members from non-Lutheran congregations.(5)
While the statistics document the fact of mobility between denominations, interviews with North American Christians indicate that denominational affiliation by itself no longer reliably distinguishes the faith and passions of one set of believers from another. Christians passionate about prayer or about abortion may feel closer to Christians who sociologically belong to other churches than they do to other members of their own denomination.(6)
This movement of members between denominations and apparent loss of denominational loyalty comes at a time when many Protestant churches in the U.S.A. have very small numeric growth, no growth, or even dramatic declines in size. For instance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has seen very little change in its size from 1980 (5,276,489) to 1995 (5,190,489). The Episcopal Church had 2,786,004 members in 1980, but 2,536,550 members in 1995. In contrast, the United Methodist Church has shrunk from 9,266,853 members in 1984 to 8,538,662 members in 1995. The United Church of Christ reported 1,736,244 members in 1980; in 1995, only 1,472,213.(7) In the period from 1965 to 1990, the number of Presbyterians dropped from 4,250,000 (the combined membership of the Presbyterian Church U.S. and United Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) to 2,865,000 members in the reunited Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).(8)
Church leaders have reacted with understandable alarm.(9) They properly recognize that stable membership in a growing population means a relative decrease in the size of a church body as a proportion of the population at large. As Leander Keck has noted, "diagnosing the malaise of mainline Protestant churches and prescribing remedies has become a growth industry."(10)
Consensus, Liturgy, and Porous Boundaries
Parallel to the rise of porosity in denominational boundaries has been the rise in official ecumenical dialogue among churches in North America and a growing similarity in worship patterns. Since 1960, dialogues have led to some official relationships of amity and communion. For instance, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, American Lutheran Church, and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches were briefly in full communion in the late 1980's.(11) In 1997 the national assemblies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ voted to reestablish full communion through the Formula of Agreement.(12) Following the ratification of the Formula by a majority of presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), there is now an unprecedented degree of Reformed-Lutheran church fellowship in the U.S.A. There has also been growing reconciliation between the churches participating in the Consultation on Church Union since 1962. While the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America balked by the narrowest of margins in 1997 at establishing full communion between itself and the Episcopal Church, under a formula calling for one ministry shared between two churches,(13) these church bodies continue to have a relationship of interim sharing of the eucharist in which they practice eucharistic hospitality toward members of each other's churches and occasionally celebrate the Lord's Supper jointly.(14)
Undergirding each of the above agreements is a robust consensus about the meaning of the Christian gospel, sacraments, and church order as well as the desire to be faithful to the Sovereign of the church who calls Christians to unity (Jn. 17). The last two rounds of Reformed-Lutheran dialogue in the U.S.A., for instance, began by asserting the common fundamental convictions that both the Reformed and the Lutheran churches share by virtue of their affirmation and faithfulness to classic sixteenth-century Reformation theological assertions: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide.
If these churches have reached doctrinal consensus on many points, perhaps it should come as no surprise at all that members active in one denomination who attend worship at a church of another denomination might perceive that the same gospel is proclaimed and the same Sovereign worshiper, despite different denominational affiliations. The theologians appointed to serve on dialogue teams have already come to that conclusion.
Moreover, worship in many denominations in the U.S.A. has been profoundly affected by the liturgical-renewal movement. The movement has had at least two obvious effects: First, there has been a recovery in many Protestant denominations of the celebration of the eucharist as the principal service on Sunday.(15) Second, the new rites crafted by committees of various denominations have been shaped by the use of the same ancient Christian models and share many similarities. "Indeed," James White noted in 1989, "new service books from Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican traditions seem to be similar recensions of a single text."(16) If there is a consistency between the doctrinal formulations of the churches and the proclamation and prayer that take place in the life of congregations, then common patterns in the liturgical life of Christian denominations would also tend to make denominational borders more porous than impervious.(17) Similarities in worship patterns that bridge denominational lines would seem to help at least some Christians sense, even without being aware of official ecumenical agreements, that they share a common gospel, communion table, and Sovereign with Christians who do not necessarily share the same confessional or denominational heritage. Lex credendi, lex orandi. A shared gospel as lived in the liturgy of the churches aids and abets mobile Christians.
Reception of Mobile Christians
If denominational boundaries have become porous, at least in part bemuse of a growing realization that the churches share a common gospel,(18) then the reality of mobile North American Christians can be seen in a new light. Christians who are United Methodists in Ohio and then become Presbyterians when they move to California may in fact be faithful to Christ. Their movement from denomination to denomination is not a sign per se of faithlessness, poor pastoral care, or dissatisfaction with the theology of a given church. What appears unusual, given a history of church division and confessional polemics, is the fact that these Christians are not confined to the church body of their baptisms as they live out their lives of faith.
Theologically, I suggest, North American churches need to receive these mobile Christians in the technical ecumenical meaning of reception.(19) Reception entails receiving an aspect of church life that is perceived as being unusual or foreign to the receiving church. Rusch provisionally describes reception as including "the notions both of the churches' receiving the results of the ecumenical movement and of the churches' being changed by those results."(20) Reception as an ecumenical activity involves both formal and informal processes. Formally, the process of reception involves officially sanctioned and orchestrated activities.
In the case of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (BEM), the most widely discussed ecumenical study document of this century, that formal process entailed the discussion of the document in the churches and reporting back to the Faith and Order Commission at each church's "highest level of authority." The churches were asked to respond to specific questions in their reflection on the meanings and possible implications of the document.(21) However, the process of receiving BEM continues after the churches have filed their formal responses. The core of reception is not the formal ecclesiastical action of receiving, studying, and replying to an ecumenical proposal - as essential as these processes are - but, rather, "the existential digestion of the results of ecumenical reflection."(22) Existential digestion in the churches may require changes in attitudes, liturgical practices, pastoral care, and Christian education, which can not be accomplished by the passing of resolutions and may require decades. Rusch's fuller description of ecumenical reception includes "all phases and aspects of an ongoing process by which a church under the guidance of God's Spirit makes the results of a bilateral or multilateral conversation a part of its faith and life," as these results are perceived to be consistent with the apostolic faith.(23)
Mutual recognition of baptism highlights the need for both formal and informal elements in reception. Until very recently, it was difficult for Christians to affirm that Christians of another confessional stamp were actually Christians in a robust sense, even when the baptismal theology of one's church made such an affirmation. As a result of more thorough reception or existential digestion, many Protestant churches now explicitly recognize the baptism of other Christian church bodies (if not the validity of their eucharists or ordained ministries) and express this reception in the ways in which they treat the members of other churches. Recognition of baptism is concretized by the practice of not "rebaptizing" persons who affiliate with a different denomination and by the practice in some churches of open communion.
Types of Ecumenical Offerings
If we can distinguish formal and informal dimensions of reception, we need further to distinguish between different sorts of offerings that may be given from one church or communion to be received by another. There are at least four types of offerings. The first is an official document to be studied. The BEM document asked for prayerful, earnest reflection and response to the Faith and Order Commission, but the call was limited to study. The expressed purpose of the Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue is an exchange of views in order better to understand each other.(24) The second type calls for official action between churches that would establish new relationships of unity, such as concrete proposals for church union or the declaration of robust koinonia between churches. Overtures of this type come from official denominational or interchurch structures. One European example is the Leuenberg Agreement between the Reformed and Evangelical (Lutheran) churches, which officially endorses intercommunion. While not uncontroversial, these overtures are nevertheless managed by denominational officials and proposed to the various churches in as winsome a way as can be devised. They appear finite and relatively clear.
Not everything that is offered for reception between the churches, however, comes from such official, identifiable sources. A third type of offering is a practice that wells up from the grassroots rather than from official structures. Many liturgical practices in the early church developed in one area and then were assimilated - received - through a combination of informal and formal mechanisms into the life of the church in other areas. In the seventh century, for instance, Eastern monks brought the feasts of the Nativity of Mary and the Presentation from the Greek Eastern empire to the Latin West. In the twentieth century, the liturgical movement has functionally been received into the life of many North American Protestant churches without any formal votes or declarations on the part of church structures of governance, beyond the actions needed to create a committee to compile a new hymnal or create a new book of worship.
A fourth category of offering originates in grassroots movements, but in this case Christians themselves - persons - are the offerings to be received. One example of this type of offering is the interdenominational family. An interdenominational family contains members who belong to two different Christian churches and have a vital relationship to both Christian communities. Ecumenical reception of such interdenominational families involves two different Christian churches' providing support for family members. It further involves constant reflection in the lives of congregations and work of pastors on what churches, especially the congregational expression of churches, functionally mean when they officially recognize the baptism of other Christian churches.(25)
I contend that the reality of mobile Christians' traversing porous denominational boundaries is another instance of this fourth category of ecumenical offering. The challenge facing the churches is to receive joyfully these peripatetic Christians whose very existence as boundary-crossing believers is a sign of the unity in Christ's church.
The typology that I propose here is helpful, I think, because it sheds light on the fundamental unmanageability of ecumenical reception. "Even in a strategically planned 'reception process,'" like that surrounding BEM, Martien Brinkman noted, "such a process is in fact impossible to organize."(26) Experience shows that it is equally impossible to organize - or restrain - the movement of Christians across porous boundaries.
Reconciled Diversity and Mobile Christians
The reality of mobile Christians is understandable when viewed in light of the history of the development of ecumenical thought about the shape of visible Christian unity. The history of the modern ecumenical movement shows a progression away from a vision of organic union as the movement's goal and toward a vision of reconciled diversity between churches, a communion of communions. In 1937 the Edinburgh Conference on Faith and Order called for corporate union:
In a Church so united the ultimate loyalty of every member would be given to the whole body and not to any part of it. Its members would move freely from one part to another and find every privilege of membership open to them. The sacraments would be the sacraments of the whole body. The ministry would be accepted by all as a ministry of the whole body.(27)
By the 1970's, there was a shift away from an organic model toward a model that honors the diverse strengths of various confessional families within the church catholic. In a model of reconciled diversity, mutual recognition of baptism, eucharist, and ministry creates genuine Christian unity amidst a great deal of structural, theological, and liturgical diversity.(28) The Consultation on Church Union proposals, among others, have moved away from organic to more reconciled models.(29) Such a movement in ecumenical thinking parallels a general movement in theology away from large synthetic systems toward the current pluriformity of theologies (from Min Jung to womanist) that refuse syntheses in favor of particularities.
The unity of the church, in my view, is not at war with a variety of visible expressions of it. Moreover, church unity as such is still possible in the postmodern situation. I disagree with Ilse N. Bulhof's contention that ecumenism's ultimate goal of Christian unity "does not square at all with the postmodern emphasis on radical plurality."(30) A vision of reconciled diversity in the church, in my view, speaks to the postmodern yearning to honor the "otherness" of diversity. As in the Second Testament itself, theological formulae and church practices may vary and still express the unity that God wills for the church.(31) Even if Karl Rahner was correct in arguing that God guides the church to some irreversible decisions about doctrine and practice,(32) this does not mean that the church catholic is a homogenous creature. The church continues to live in a constantly new dance between itself and all the tribes under heaven. To put it another way, by the power of the Holy Spirit the church catholic is one community of discourse that finds its unity in the God revealed in Jesus Christ alone.
It is one thing to affirm the notion that churches of diverse theologies, structures, and pieties can be united in worship of the God revealed in Jesus Christ and in service to the world. This prayer and ministry might be done neatly through official church structures (mission planning boards, relief agencies, and the like), while the membership of given denominations have little reciprocal movement of members. It is quite another challenge, however, to receive and send actual members between the churches.(33) Such multi-directional traffic may stress the ability of a given denomination to have a coherent identity. Concern over denominational identity led Presbyterian Richard Osmer to suggest that mainline churches may, in fact, need "to focus temporarily on their own boundaries in order to become clearer about who they are and what they have to offer to the new cultural situation in which they will carry out their ministries."(34) While this analysis of boundaries may be a necessary exercise, such reflection will take place within a North American environment of pluralism and continued movement of members across porous boundaries between the churches.
Pastors and the Challenge of Mobile Sheep
North American parish pastors feel the stress of denominational porosity with special intensity.(35) By virtue of ordination vows and ecclesiastical structures of accountability, an ordained minister is required to teach in accordance with the confessions of the particular church to which he or she belongs. Moreover, the clergy bear a heavy responsibility for transmitting the theological heritage of their confession to others. By virtue of their seminary education, they have studied the classic texts of their tradition and know its history and theology.(36) With rare exceptions, pastors will serve in the same church body throughout their working lives.(37) As they minister to flocks that contain a significant proportion of members who have been shaped by other confessional backgrounds, however, ministers can not assume that their congregants have been inculturated for a lifetime in the mores and theology of the pastor's tradition.
For example, a Lutheran pastor should not assume that all adult members of her parish would understand the traditional Lutheran diagnostic distinction between law and gospel. Indeed, she should not assume that every adult in the congregation was taught Luther's Small Catechism as part of confirmation instruction.(38) Non-Lutheran adults who become members of Lutheran congregations may know almost nothing of these two distinctive features of Lutheran faith and practice. Cradle Episcopalians know what the term "vestry" means and its authority; newcomers to the Episcopal Church may not. Former Lutherans who affiliate with a United Methodist congregation may be shocked to discover that their Methodist pastor will be reassigned to a new appointment by a district superintendent. To aid in the assimilation of new members from a wide variety of backgrounds into congregational life, it is common for inquirers or new-members classes to include overviews of the theology and polity of a given tradition as well as introducing new members to purely local practices and programs. Such wide-ranging education for new members is an important task, given the fact that those who switch denominations are, as a group, more active in church life than those who have not changed church affiliation.(39)
Even Christians who have spent a lifetime in one denomination may not be articulate about expressing their faith. Recent research intended to assess the maturity of believers in several mainline North American churches suggests that, in many significant respects, most mainline Christians are not spiritually mature,(40) Obviously, one may question what Christian maturity means precisely and how one would measure it. Nevertheless, if we posit that pastors as a group rank high in spiritual maturity, this research suggests that a North American pastor stands over against her flock both in terms of familiarity with a theological tradition and in terms of maturity. Thus, like medieval European monasteries in times of civil strife, Protestant parish clergy are a key focus of continuity in a given theological tradition.
Porous denominational boundaries will not go away in the foreseeable future. North American Christians will uproot themselves from one city to another, continuing their internal migrations in search of steady jobs and better jobs. The faithfulness and skills of pastors will be challenged as they receive the offering of Christians from other traditions and blend them into the life of their churches. The ecumenical challenge for the churches is to welcome peripatetic members who cross denominational as well as geographical boundaries into the congregational life of receiving churches as offerings from different parts of the one catholic church, whose visible unity lies not in a single homogenous church structure but in complex relationships of partial communion that are growing as the Holy Spirit breathes on the people of God.
1 In Keith F. Nickle and Timothy F. Lull, eds., A Common Calling: The Witness of Our Reformation Churches in North America Today - The Report of the Lutheran-Reformed Committee for Theological Conversations, 1988-1992 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1993), notice was taken of "denominational switching," two consequences of which are "a significant decline in denominational loyalty and a significant increase in positive attitudes toward interdenominational activity" (p. 31).
2 In this regard, Dean Hoge comments that American Catholics are less assimilated than American Protestants. See his "Interpreting Change in American Catholicism: The River and the Floodgate," Review of Religious Research 27 (June, 1986): 289-299. The "lay liberals" discovered by Hoge and colleagues appear to have a "personal comfort zone" for American denominations that includes Methodism, Lutheran churches, and the United Church of Christ, but may or may not include the Episcopal Church. See Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens, Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), p. 120.
3 Martin E. Marty, S. E. Rosenberg, and Andrew M. Greeley, What Do We Believe? (New York: Meredith Press, 1968), p. 306; and Frank Newport and Lydia Saad, "One-Quarter of Americans Have Changed Religious Affiliation," The Gallup Poll Monthly 319 (April, 1992): 39-42, cited in Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens, "Types of Denominational Switching among Protestant Young Adults," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34 (June, 1995): 253-258.
4 Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens, Vanishing Boundaries, esp. pp. 67-127.
5 "June 23,1995, News Stories," Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, downloaded June 27, 1997, from http://www.elca.org.
6 See, e.g., the study of Minnesota Christians in the 1980's: Joan Chittister and Martin E. Marty, Faith and Ferment.' An Interdisciplinary Study of Christian Beliefs and Practices (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983).
7 The church-membership statistics used in this paragraph were reported in various editions of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (New York: Office of Research, Evaluation, and Planning of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., 1982-). The 1980 figure for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America represents a total of the figures reported by the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America, its predecessor bodies.
8 Cited in Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, The Re-forming Tradition: Presbyterians and Mainstream Protestantism (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), p. 67. While different denominations keep track of members differently and appear to value different categories of members differently (e.g., customarily citing figures for communing members rather than baptized members or vice versa), the pattern of declining or flat membership is still obvious.
9 It should be noted that many who drop out from participation in a given denomination do not switch to another church. See C. Kirk Hadaway and Wade Clark Roof, "Apostasy in American Churches: Evidence from National Survey Data," in David G. Bromley, ed., Falling from the Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988), pp. 29-46.
10 Leander Keck, The Church Confident (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993), p. 19. For other recent examples of diagnoses and prescribed treatments for this malaise, see Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, The Mainstream Protestant "Decline": The Presbyterian Pattern (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox 1990); William H. Willimon and Robert L. Wilson, "The Present Crisis: The Impact of the Membership Decline in the Mainline Churches," Quarterly Review 7 (Fall, 1987): 74-79; Constance H. Buchanan, "The Anthropology of Vitality and Decline: The Episcopal Church in a Changing Society," in Catherine M. Prelinger, ed., Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality, and Commitment in an American Mainline Denomination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 310-329; Lyle E. Schaller, Tattered Trust: Is There Hope for Your Denomination? (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997); and John B. Cobb, Jr., Reclaiming the Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1997). For provocative theological reflection on the nature of the church, see Michael Jinkins, "De-scribing Church: Ecclesiology in Semiotic Dialogue," Scottish Journal of Theology, vol. 51, no. 2 (1998), pp. 188-213; and idem, The Church Faces Death: Ecclesiology in a Post-Modern Context (Oxford University Press, in press).
11 These churches responded positively to the 1983 dialogue report: James E. Andrews and Joseph A. Burgess, eds., An Invitation to Action, Lutheran-Reformed Dialogue Series III, 19811983 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984). Since the Lutheran Church in America rejected this report's recommendations, this relationship of full communion was not carried over into the new church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which formed in 1989 as a merger between the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America. See Nickle and Lull, A Common Calling, p. 11.
12 The key text is found in Nickle and Lull, A Common Calling, pp. 66-67. Because of the differing politics of the churches, only national action was needed on the part of the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), however, required that a majority of presbyteries ratify a General Assembly decision of this magnitude.
13 William Norgren and William Rusch, eds., "Towards Full Communion "and "Concordat of Agreement", Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue, 3rd series, 1983-1991 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1991). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly voted affirmatively for the Concordat, with over 66% of those casting votes being in favor, but did not give it the two-thirds majority required for passage.
14 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson has appointed noted scholar Martin E. Marty to head the denomination's writing team that will, in concert with its Episcopal Church counterparts, develop a "revised and rewritten" proposal for full communion between the two churches. See The Lutheran 11 (January, 1998): 48. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is also considering a proposal to establish full communion between itself and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in America (Unitas Fratrum). See Following Our Shepherd to Full Communion: Report of the Lutheran-Moravian Dialogue with Recommendations for Full Communion in Worship, Fellowship, and Mission (Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1997). If approved by these churches, the agreement would begin to be implemented by December, 2000.
15 For a Reformed viewpoint, see Harold M. Daniels, "The Norm of Christian Worship: Word and Eucharist," Reformed Liturgy and Music, vol. 29, no. 3 (1995), pp. 152-159.
16 James F. White, Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), p. 34.
17 For a vigorous argument that all cultural boundaries are porous, see Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), esp. pp. 110-119 and 165-166.
18 I recognize that many nontheological factors are at work when Christians affiliate with a given congregation. Certainly, these include the pluralism, individualism, and privatism in North American life. See Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens, Vanishing Boundaries, pp. 11-19. A couple who became members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation to which I belong told me that their quest for a congregation with which to affiliate came down to a Lutheran church and a neighboring Episcopal church that had "everything except for a choir." Given the fact of such church-shopping, it should come as no surprise to read that Brent G. Goff and Manton C. Gibbs suggest in "Denominational Affiliation Change: Application of the Consumer Decision Model," Journal of Consumer Affairs, vol. 27, no. 2 (1993), pp. 227-257, that: "From a consumer perspective, religious denominations or movements can be viewed as competing brands of religious services. Therefore, general consumer decision models utilized to examine secular goods and services may be applicable to religious services" (p. 227). Goff's and Gibbs' research explores attitudes toward denominations (brands) but does not address the complex mix of factors involved when Christians choose to affiliate with congregation A versus congregation B in a given location.
19 For an introduction to the concept of reception, see William Rusch, Reception:An Ecumenical Opportunity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988); and Frederick M. Bliss, Understanding Reception: A Backdrop to Its Ecumenical Use (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1993).
20 Rusch, Reception, p. 11.
21 Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), p. x. The Faith and Order Commission asked for formal responses to be sent by December 31, 1984. The compilation of responses forms a small library, The Churches Respond to BEM, nos. 1-6 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986-88).
22 Martien E. Brinkman, Progress in Unity? Fifty Years of Theology within the World Council of Churches: 1945-1995-A Study Guide (Grand Rapids, Ml: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), p. 3.
23 Rusch, Reception, p. 31.
24 "One of the unique features of this Dialogue is that, from the beginning, there was a clearly stated objective that this Dialogue would not seek any sort of organic union between the Pentecostals and Roman Catholics" (Jerry L. Sandidge, Roman Catholic/Pentecostal Dialogue [1977-1982]: A Study in Developing Ecumenism [Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang, 1987], vol. 1, p. 344).
25 See Timothy D. Lincoln, "Ecclesiology, Marriage, and Historical Consciousness: The Domestic Church as an Ecumenical Opportunity," New Theology Review 8 (February, 1995): 58-68; and Ernest R. Falardeau, "Mutual Recognition of Baptism and Pastoral Care of Inter-church Marriages," J.E.S. 28 (Winter, 1991): 63-73.
26 Brinkman, Progress in Unity? p. 3.
27 Leonard Hodgson, ed., The Second World Conference on Faith and Order Held at Edinburgh, August 3-18, 1937 (London: Student Christian Movement Press), p. 252.
28 On the evolution of the idea of reconciled diversity in ecumenical thought, see Gunther Gassmann and Harding Meyer, "The Unity of the Church: Requirements and Structures," LWF Report, no. 15 (June, 1983), pp. 1-54. For a cogent argument calling for the churches to move beyond classic faith-and-order issues to include context-specific issues of oppression, see Teresa Berger, "Ecumenism: Postconfessional? Consciously Contextual?" Theology Today 53 (July, 1996): 213-219.
29 A Plan of Union for the Church of Christ Uniting (Princeton, NJ: Executive Committee, Consultation on Church Union, 1970) envisioned a merger creating a new church body. Covenanting toward Unity: From Consensus to Communion, approved by the Sixteenth Plenary of COCU in 1984, envisions Christian unity through covenanting, which would involve mutual recognition of ordained ministers, joint mission, and joint decision-making, without merger. See Paul A. Crow, "Covenanting," in Nicholas Lossky et al., eds., Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991), pp. 244-245.
30 "The Postmodern Challenge of the Ecumenical Movement: New Contexts and New Goals," p. 36, in Anton Houtepen, ed., Ecumenism and Hermeneutics: Findings of the VIIIth Consultation of Societas Oecumenica Association of Ecumenical Institutes in Europe, Dreibergen 25-31 August 1994 (Utrecht: Interuniversitair Instituut voor Missiologie en Oecumenica, 1995).
31 See David Rhoads, The Challenge of Diversity: The Witness of Paul and the Gospels (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996).
32 E.g., in Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, tr. William V. Dych (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), p. 330.
33 There is a parallel, perhaps, in the recent arrival in North America and Europe of missionaries from Africa and South America. The conceptual lines between "mission sending" and "mission receiving" areas are shown to be murky, at best.
34 Richard Robert Osmer, A Teachable Spirit: Recovering the Teaching Office in the Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), p. 12.
35 My reflections focus on ministers who are serving congregations. Left implicit here is the setting: congregations themselves as the places where the Word is preached, the sacraments are experienced, and Christian service is performed. For a helpful discussion of the congregation as a key locus for making official ecumenism part of the normal pattern of Christian life in parishes, see Gabriel Fackre, "The Congregation and the Unity of the Church," Currents in Theology and Mission 24 (April, 1997): 113-123. Fackre realistically noted that an official vote - formal reception of dialogue - is not the same as vital communion.
36 Some argue that far more attention in ministerial education should be paid to the classic pieties, theologies, and ethical patterns of a given tradition. See, e.g., John H. Leith, Crisis in the Church: The Plight of Theological Education (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1997). Even those in favor of such seminary reforms, however, would agree that ministers as a group know more of Calvin, Schleiermacher, and Barth, e.g., than do their parishioners.
37 Ecumenical agreements that include the mutual recognition of ordained ministry also provide for the exchange of ministers between churches. As a practical matter, I expect that such transfers would be rare. A minister builds layers of pastoral history within a specific denominational context. Only exceptional pastors, in my view, will journey across these real ecclesial-contextual divides. There are, to be sure, some small churches in rural areas that work cooperatively and share one minister.
38 Concerns about basic theological and confessional literacy underlie the current project of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to create a new catechism for adults.
39 Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens, "Types of Denominational Switching," pp. 257-258.
40 Peter L. Benson and Carolyn H. Elkin, Effective Christian Education: A Summary Report on Faith, Loyalty, and Congregational Life (Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute, 1990).
Timothy D. Lincoln (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has been library director of the Stitt Library at Austin (TX) Presbyterian Theological Seminary since 1994, where he also teaches ecumenism as a member of the Theological-Historical Department. A minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, he was ordained in 1982 and served Lutheran congregations in Minnesota. He was the ecumenical officer of the Red River Valley Synod of the Lutheran Church in America and, in 1984, was a Lutheran Church in America delegate to the Seventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Budapest. Before coming to Austin Seminary, he was Periodicals Librarian at the former Maryknoll (NY) School of Theology. Since 1995, he has chaired the Ecumenical Ministries Committee of the Southwestern Texas Synod of the E.L.C.A. He holds a B.A. from Concordia College, Moorhead, MN; an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School; and an M.S. (1992) from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science of Simmons College, Boston, MA. He has published articles in Ecumenical Trends, New Theology Review, Judaism, and J.E.S., in addition to articles on librarianship.…
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Publication information: Article title: Mobile Sheep and Stable Shepherds: The Ecumenical Challenge of Porous North American Denominational Boundaries. Contributors: Lincoln, Timothy D. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 35. Issue: 3-4 Publication date: Summer 1998. Page number: 425. © 1998 Journal of Ecumenical Studies. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.