Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Mutual Accountability and the Quest for Unity

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Mutual Accountability and the Quest for Unity

Article excerpt

The notion of mutual accountability lies at the heart of Christian revelation. Mutual accountability is one way of expressing the interdependence of all human persons with one another. From a deeper theological perspective one could draw on the concept of the perichoresis (mutual indwelling) of the persons of the Holy Trinity as a way of understanding the true nature of the church and ultimately human society itself. From the Orthodox perspective, the difficulty with the phrase "mutual accountability" comes when it is viewed not as an aspect of the relations between persons that bind them to one another in a community of love, but as a philosophy of coexistence involving negotiations among autonomous individuals, a kind of social contract. While secular theories of how human society came into being and are sustained vary along a continuum ranging from radical individualism bordering on anarchy to radical collectivism suppressing all individuality, for Christians community and communitarian theories must be rooted in the self-revelation of God as a tri-personal (tri-hypostatic) reality.

To set the question of mutual accountability and its implications for the ecumenical movement in the starkest terms, it seems to me that from the outset the vision of the ecumenical movement has been the realization of a restored communion of love among Christian churches presently divided. This is the very essence of the church as una sancta. However, the ecumenical movement has, more often than not, employed the methodology -- one might even say the politics -- of negotiation to achieve this end. I believe that the current dilemma within the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches is rooted in this methodological approach of negotiation and majority rule, instead of consensus, which is the hallmark of a communion approach. I would add here, parenthetically, that there is also a similar distinction to be made between negotiation and dialogue. Ironically, the decision taken by the Orthodox churches in Sofia in 1981 to refrain from the practice of submitting minority reports to WCC documents has perhaps contributed to the problem.

The intention behind the Sofia decision was to move the ecumenical dialogue to a higher stage. There is a strong impulse within Orthodoxy for harmony and consensus. Max Weber noted that for Eastern Christians every disunity is seen as a failure of love, not an organizational or constitutional defect. The conciliar ecclesiological model, the lack of a strong central leader and the reliance on a bottom-up as over against a topdown structure for the church are all manifestations of the central principle that unity can only be based in love. Other organizational models and principles are seen by the Orthodox as accommodations to sin. So despite the fact that more often than not the Orthodox churches honour this impulse of unity-through-love in the breach rather than the practice, the truth of the ideal remains as a non-negotiable principle. It is rooted in the self-revelation of God as a triadic reality.

The practical experience of the Sofia decision has been mixed. Again, the rationale behind that decision was the belief that if we -- the partners in the ecumenical dialogue -- could come to common wording we would grow in common belief. Even more, it was felt that the process itself would bring about unity because it would be a dialogue conducted in love. The deep personal relationships that had developed over the preceding decades reinforced this belief. The Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry (BEM) process -- even more than the document itself -- was positive proof that ecumenical dialogue could succeed in restoring trust. In areas of social action, the emergence of a solid theological underpinning to programmes concerned with the environment encouraged the Orthodox to judge that the ecumenical movement was finally beginning to bridge the artificial gap that had been created between Faith and Order and Life and Work. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.