Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Christology in the Reformed-Orthodox Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Christology in the Reformed-Orthodox Dialogue

Article excerpt

The Eastern Orthodox churches have been actively involved in the ecumenical movement since it began in the early twentieth century. It was the Patriarch of Constantinople who, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, published encyclicals urging Orthodox Christians everywhere to begin dialoguing with other Christians.' One branch of Protestant Christianity with which the Orthodox churches have been officially dialoguing is the Reformed (including the Presbyterian) churches. This essay offers first a brief introduction to the history of the Reformed churches and their history with the Christian East; second, it analyzes the agreed statement on Christology of formal dialogues between Reformed and Orthodox Christians held in 1998.

History of the Reformed-Orthodox Dialogue

The Reformed churches came into being in the sixteenth century at the time when sweeping Reformation movements were occurring in Western Europe. (2) These churches are distinguished from the Lutheran churches and are commonly described as being Zwinglian or Calvinist. They were formed in an effort to return to a more scripturally based church. They usually affirm the apostolic doctrines and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, though sometimes they disagree among themselves over the use of creeds. Their doctrine includes the sovereignty and authority of God, the lordship of Jesus Christ as the divine Saviour, and the centrality of scripture as the rule of faith and life. ... [M]any theologians of this tradition have also emphasized the total dependence of created humankind upon God, the utter lostness and depravity of sinners, and the consequent need of a saving action by God which by prevenient grace draws the sinner back to a right relationship with the Creator and Redeemer... [and] ... there can emerge a harsh predestinarian view of salvation and damnation. (3)

By no means do all Reformed Christians hold fast to these doctrines. Debates still occur, and ecumenical discussions can "resurrect" such differences.

The Reformed churches have no set way of running and governing each local church. Their polities are an attempt to return to what they understand to be the basic discipline of the early church and, as a result, cover a wide range of practices. Church polity runs three different courses: (1) congregationalism, wherein councils are only advisory and the presence of Christ gives full authority to church meetings; (2) some type of ministerial office of presbyters/elders; and (3) a more elaborate ministry with presbyters/elders, deacons, and (in some Hungarian churches) even bishops.

The Reformed churches have been involved in the ecumenical movement from its earliest beginnings. In 1970, Presbyterian and Congregational churches sought union and formed the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), which currently represents 175 churches with approximately 70,000,000 members in eighty-four countries. It is this representative body of the Reformed churches with which Orthodox Christians have been in formal dialogue.

The history of dialogue between Protestants and Orthodox Christians reaches as far back as the beginnings of the Reformation. One of the earliest known dialogues began in 1573 and ended in 1581. (4) An exchange of letters occurred between Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias II and Lutheran scholars from the University of Tubingen. The exchange of letters ended in 1581, with no ecumenical fruition.

The second, perhaps more infamous, encounter between Orthodox and Protestants was the incident with Kyrill (or Cyril) Loukaris, (5) who was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in 1620. He had previous contact with Reformed theologians when he was Patriarch of Alexandria. In his political battles with Western Europe (mainly Roman Catholic) and the Ottoman Empire, he sought to ally himself and Eastern Orthodoxy with the Reformed churches. Patriarch Kyrill sent his religious "ambassador," Metrophanes Kritopoulos, "to explore the possibility of a closer connection with the churches of the Reformation. …

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