Monday, May 19, 2014

A Request For Honesty

Zenit has an interview up with Dr. Dale Coulter, a theology professor at Regents University on the subject of ecumenism. I'd like to hit a couple of high points.

ZENIT: Could you further explain how you view this exchange of gifts, practically speaking? What do you understand by the 'gift of the sacramental dimension' for Pentecostals? And how do you think Catholics should receive the 'gift of the charismatic?"

Dr. Coulter: Ecumenism begins to work when each side re-discovers something about itself or discovers an implication of its theology. Ecumenism can never succeed if one side is just trying to make the other into a clone as it were...

Here we have an admission that the ecumenical movement is an insult to truth. What the good doctor is saying here is that everybody needs to admit that they don't really know the truth. All we have are fragmented pieces. If someone had the truth, then (a) they would be obligated to convert the other and (b) the other would be obligated to convert. After all, what would making the other "a clone" be? It would be conversion.

Successful ecumenism happens through relationships that are established at the local level, which then generate friendships as well as through dialogues that occur at the formal and informal levels.

Indeed, ecumenism has nothing to do with truth. It's about relationships and dialogue. Talking about stuff. Not about arriving at the truth.

ZENIT: What do you think is the value of the Pastors, Leaders, Clergy Summit or an event like it?

Dr. Coulter: The Clergy Summit offers an on the ground ecumenism that helps push Catholics and Pentecostals toward the goals of mutual understanding and common mission. There remains a lot of misinformation and stereotypes on the part of both sides...

Those narratives are still alive and well in some parts of the Pentecostal movement and we need to deal with them. By older narratives I mean things like individual Catholics are going to heaven, but the Catholic Church is teaching a false theology of salvation. Even worse is the idea that the Catholic Church is somehow complicit in the spirit of the antichrist.

Here's the thing, Dr. Coulter. If we are to take each other seriously, there really isn't a middle ground on this. By any Protestant standard, including Pentecostalism, the Catholic Church teaches a false theology of salvation. There is no way around this issue unless we are to engage in complete intellectual dishonesty and outright hypocrisy. Moreover, for the Church to make the claims that She does, if those claims are false, it is absolutely proper to say that Catholicism is allied with Satan. Once you take what's true and false out of the equation, though, it's easy to make the kind of vapid claims that there it's somehow ok to be Catholic while being utterly wrong about the most important questions facing humanity. You know, like how to avoid going to hell and stuff.

ZENIT: Do you see any particular opportunities or challenges when it comes to ecumenism in the United States?

Dr. Coulter: The challenges are...

2. Moving beyond the fear of proselytism, namely, that ecumenism means we lose our members to one another. If someone is nominal in any ecclesial tradition, then we’ve lost them already and we should not be upset if they return to faith through another form of Christianity. The charismatic Catholic theologian Ralph Del Colle (d. 2012) is an excellent example. Ralph was baptized Catholic but fell away from the church. He came back to faith through the charismatic movement and then his own journey led him ultimately back to the Catholic Church. We should not worry about “converts” to Catholicism or Protestantism as though it means a loss.

In other words, it really doesn't matter what anybody believes, which is the same thing as saying the truth doesn't matter. I guess the formula is sola sincerity now. I wonder what God was talking about when He said that His people are destroyed by lack of knowledge.

3. Getting denominational officials in Protestant churches to see ecumenism as a necessary part of advancing the kingdom of God and thus part of the mission of the churches

Translation: Watering down the truth is what God wants. Holy smokes, I can't believe this guy actually said that all the stuff he's saying is "a necessary part of advancing the kingdom of God." Here's a brief thought exercise. Is there anywhere in the Scriptures or in the days of the early Church where we can point to an ecumenical perspective that remotely resembles what we read in this interview?

ZENIT: Some see the issues surrounding religious freedom, both at home and globally, as key elements in progress toward unity. What's your outlook on that?

Dr. Coulter: ... Likewise sexual freedom can become sexual libertinism and lead to a contraceptive mentality in which individuals sever the links between the sexual act and the procreation of children. This was the concern of John Paul II. Pentecostals would approach this issue through the orders of creation whereas Catholics would talk about natural law. While Pentecostals would not go so far as to see artificial contraception as immoral, they would certainly agree about the problems surrounding a contraceptive mentality.

Yeah, but is it a sin? That's the question here. Sin has implications for salvation, but we probably shouldn't talk about that because then somebody might have to say that someone else is wrong.

Frankly, this whole interview is one of the most uncharitable things I've ever read and is borderline blasphemy. To be unconcerned with another's conversion means being unconcerned with their salvation. Not caring about another's salvation is monstrous.

Not once in the entire interview was the word "truth" used, probably because it would destroy the entire contents of the discussion. And what does it say about a spiritual movement that neglects something so basic as truth? Would we say it is of God?

The only way to make this idea work is to subscribe to some kind of universalism, which brings us back to why Ralph Martin is so important.

And I remind everyone that Dr. Martin is one of the godfathers of the charismatic movement in Catholicism. Only Nixon could go to China.

Can't we just have a little honesty? I have many Protestant friends, relatives, and co-workers. Many are Pentecostals or at least charismatic in their beliefs. They know my views. I know theirs. We don't hate each other. We disagree and do so respectfully. We can ask and answer each others' questions with snark or polemic. Why can't theologians do the same? Are people so childish that they can't have frank conversation anymore?

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