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Do Catholics practice open communion? In the past, I would’ve answered this with a simple: No. And perhaps on the local level for many Protestants this is the case. However, John Armstrong of ACT3 (author of Your Church is Too Small who also recently had an unprecedented ecumenical dialogue with the Archbishop of Chicago which can now be viewed here) has recently written two posts that make the picture more complicated.
He points to the example of Frère Roger of the Taizé Community, a Protestant until the day of his death who was nevertheless communed by the highest authorities in the Catholic Church for a long time. I have taken a few excerpts from these posts to give a summary. The first excerpt comes from his post entitled: “Chicago Taizé: An Event You Should Know About.”
The Taizé Community was begun after World War II by a young Reformed minister by the name of Frère Roger, or Brother Roger as we know his name in English. Roger Louis Schütz-Marsauche (1915-2005) was the ninth and youngest child of Karl Ulrich Schütz, a Reformed pastor from Bachs in the Swiss Lowlands. His mother was Amélie Henriette, a French Protestant from Burgundy (France).
From 1937 to 1940, Roger studied Reformed theology in Strasbourg and Lausanne. He was a leader in the Swiss Student Christian Movement, part of the World Student Christian Federation.
… Today the community has become one of the world’s most important sites of Christian pilgrimage. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work. Through the community’s ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation. Some of you know about Taizé because of hymns and simple songs that you use in worship or you have attended a unique Taizé service.
In his following post, “The Life and Witness of Brother Roger: An Icon of Love and Unity,” Armstrong points out something that both surprised and delighted me when I first discovered it.
I wrote in my book, Your Church Is Too Small, of Cardinal Ratzinger serving the Eucharist to Brother Roger at the funeral Mass of John Paul II. I have had a number of responses to this statement, many claiming that Cardinal Ratzinger was “caught off guard” when Brother Roger was wheeled forward to the altar areaafter the service had already begun. With him very near the bishops there was a sense that they had to serve him the Eucharist rather than create offense. I have asked members of the Taizé community about the facts of this case and I am persuaded that I now know the truth.
The answer as follows. Brother Roger went to Rome for the funeral but did not plan to go when the day of the service came because he had arisen that morning so weak and tired. He was even late in arriving. Because he was so widely known and loved he was wheeled forward to a place where the cardinals were near to the altar. When the time came to distribute the sacred meal it is true that there was little choice but to serve Brother Roger. But what those who insist that a Protestant minister could not be communed fail to realize is that this was gladly done because it had been done for many yearsbefore this Mass seen by millions of viewers the world over. Brother Roger did not force anyone’s hand in the matter. He did not create a problem. He was placed there, by Catholic leaders, out of love. He would not have been there in the first place had others not have taken him there. But the simple fact is that he acknowledged the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, remained a Protestant minister his entire life and was routinely communed by Catholic priests, including the last two Popes.
In an unusual way Brother Roger was an icon and Taizé remains an iconic community of love and unity. This is one of the many reasons I encourage you to learn more about this remarkable mission. It is also why I encourage you, if you are between 18-35 years of age, to attend the Memorial Day Taizé conference at DePaul University.
Yes. You heard it right. The Archibishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, will be speaking at Wheaton College next month in an ecumenical dialogue. Although Wheaton is not sponsoring the event, they have graciously allowed ACT3 (who is sponsoring the event) to gather at the Edman Chapel for this land-breaking event.
My friend John Armstrong (president of ACT3) who recently published a book on Christian unity (Your Church is Too Small) is continuing his conversation with the archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George. The only difference is, now the conversation is going public and will be taking place in a public format at Wheaton College on March 26th, 7:00pm at the Edman Chapel.
If I were in Chicago, I would be nowhere else. But since I’m not, I will be viewing the event live from home via the internet by going to WETN, since they are vodcasting it live.
UPDATE: You can now view the dialogue at ACT3.
John H. Armstrong has launched a new website for his life-wrought book, Your Church Is Too Small, and you can actually read the forward (written by J.I. Packer) at this website. NOTE: This book is going to be huge in its impact; I have blogged about this book before.
Scot McKnight has already blogged once about this book at Jesus Creed. He ends with a question addressed to John.
On this new website, you can 1) get an overview of the book and read endorsements, 2) pre-order the book, 3) follow the new blog, 4) sign up for a FREE (yeah … that’s right) Conference around the book’s ideas.
Here is some of J.I. Packer’s forward:
My friend John Armstrong is a church leader who has traveled the distance from the separatist, sectarian fixity of fundamentalism to embrace the kingdom-centered vision of the church and the call issued by a number of Bible-based theologians and missiologists during the past half century.
What vision is this? It is the one that views the visible church as a single worldwide, Spirit-sustained community within which ongoing doctrinal and denominational divisions, though important, are secondary rather than primary. In this vision, the primary thing is the missional-ecumenical vocation and trajectory crystallized for us by our Lord Jesus Christ in his teaching and prayer and illustrated in a normative way by the Acts narrative and much of the reasoning of the apostolic letters.
Evangelicals have always urged that the church of God is already one in Christ but have typically related this fact only to the invisible church (that is, the church as God alone sees it). All too often, they have settled for division in the visible church (the church on earth, as we see it) as at least tolerable and at best healthy. The vision Armstrong offers, however, perceives by exegesis that the unity of Christians, which Jesus prayed that the world might see, is neither unanimity nor uniformity nor union (as he neatly puts it) but loving cooperation in life and mission, starting from wherever we are at the moment and fertilized and energized by the creedal and devotional wisdom of the past. Thus the internal unity of togetherness in Christ may become a credibility factor in the church’s outreach, just as Jesus in John 17 prayed that it would.
Embracing this vision will mean that our ongoing inter- and intra-church debates will look, and feel, less like trench warfare, in which both sides are firmly dug in to defend the territory that each sees as its heritage, and more like emigrants’ discussions on shipboard that are colored by the awareness that soon they will be confronted by new tasks in an environment not identical with what they knew before. There they will all need to pull together in every way they can. The church in every generation voyages through historical developments and cultural changes, against the background of which new angles emerge on old debates and truths may need to be reformulated in order to remain truly the same as they were. Not to recognize this is a defect of vision on our part.
You can read the rest of the forward here: yourchurchistoosmall.com.
The long awaited book will arrive in stores April 2010.
When you hear a title like Your Church is too Small, it might sound like the latest book on church growth. But this would be far from the truth. John H. Armstrong’s forthcoming book is not so much about increasing membership in your local church (although his concern is ultimately for missions). It’s really more about increasing your church’s conception of membership in the catholic church (catholic with a lowercase “c”).
Armstrong exposes a weak spot in the church’s doctrinal fidelity to this creed: the unity of the catholic church. Do you remember the Apostles Creed? The one used by Protestant churches all over the world? The fullest creed we know of produced by the early churches planted by the Apostles before the imperial councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon?
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and life everlasting.
NOTICE: The catholic church is “the” catholic church. It is singular.
So many protestant churches read this creed in their churches, but how much of this has just become thoughtless routine? Why does the teaching about “the holy catholic church” come after the article on the Holy Spirit instead of the article about Jesus? What is the catholic church? What did the early churches believe was included in this notion of a “catholic” church?
How often do ministers teach their people the notion of the catholic church? In my many years as a member of many different churches, I’ve never once heard this notion taught, much less have I been taught how this doctrine informs local church ministry. The only time I’ve ever heard reference to it in any church is when the Protestant pastor wants to clarify that their church isn’t Roman Catholic. They tend to reduce their exposition on this phrase “catholic church” down to a mere clarification that they are protestant, not Roman Catholic.
But is that it? Augustine’s polemical arguments against the Donatists leaned heavily on his belief in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. Why?
This is a great part of what John H. Armstrong’s book is about. The church. The catholic church. The catholic church is so much bigger than your local church or even your denomination. This belief is important and should effect how God’s people work together in a secular age when the unity of all Christians is vital to the continuation of the Christian mission. Could Southern Baptists (or any other denomination) have such a huge impact on world missions without the unity and cooperation of their local churches? Of courses not. It’s their unity that enables them to fund such huge missionary projects. Unity, then, is vital for missions.
But Does the catholic church act more like a family or a dysfunctional family? Dr. Armstrong is not just concerned about ecumenical discussion (although he is actually a leader in many ecumenical dialogues). He is not just concerned about unity in belief (although this is important to him). Rather, he is more ultimately concerned with unity in mission.
I have been awaiting the release of this book for a long time. Although Armstrong has written many books, I believe this one is his manifesto. His life’s work of blood, sweat and tears for the sake of the Christian mission is bound up in this book. Your Church is Too Small also will tell his story, a story worth hearing (or in the case of his book, reading).
Dinner, Discourse, and Dialogue
John H. Armstrong
About John H. Armstrong
John. H. Armstrong’s forthcoming book Your Church is Too Small sets the stage for a new discussion among Christians about the possibility of all gospel believing churches being more united in their witness and mission for the sake of the gospel. Come hear him speak about the sectarian ideology that prevents Christians from having a more united witness and common mission for the sake of the Christian gospel.
Former pastor and church planter, well known Christian author, conference speaker, and graduate professor at Wheaton College Gradate School, John H. Armstrong is now founder and president of ACT 3, a ministry for the advancement of the Christian Tradition in the third millennium.
We will be meeting in the college room (4th Floor) of the Sanctuary Building. There will be a $5 cover charge for food, desert, and coffee.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions e-mail email@example.com or call 502.727.0995.