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This paper was presented at the 2005 Interchurch Families International Conference in Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

“Interchurch Families - Their Ecumenical Significance and Challenge for the Churches"

A Five year Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Uniting Church, held in Brisbane. 
Co-chairs Archbishop John Bathersby, bishop of the Brisbane Archdiocese, and 
Professor Rev Dr James Haire, now President of the National Council of Churches in Australia. 
Endorsed in 2001 by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Australian Synod of the Uniting Church.

11th International Conference
Newcastle, NSW, Australia
18-21 August 2005

Rev Dr Chris Budden

Some questions/ issues raised in this dialogue which challenge us

Introduction

First, let me say how much I appreciate the Dialogue document, and Elizabeth’s account of that document. The movement in ecumenical relationships which are reflected in that Dialogue are truly monumental.

If the rest of what I say seems critical, it needs to be seen against that sense of appreciation. I simply want to push us to ask the remaining hard questions.

I enter this conversation as both a pastor deeply concerned for the people in both our churches who bear the burden of our divisions, and as a contextual theologian who seeks to understand the saving necessity and promise of Jesus Christ for our day.

Contextual theology assumes that how we respond to the question of who Jesus is, and how we understand the soteriological [saving] necessity of Jesus, is shaped by a dialogue between the particular experiences and context in which human beings live, and the Tradition of the church. That is, it seeks to take seriously, as a dialogue partner in faith, particular people and not simply a generic humanity. It assumes that people in different places bring different issues to their conversation with God, and will read the tradition from a different perspective.

The context we are dealing with is the actual experience of Christian people seeking to live out the shared life of marriage and family, and how they express their following of Jesus Christ within two traditions of discipleship, two understandings of Church, that have been shaped by different experiences of history.

We need to hear about your experience as a genuine source for theology, and with an open-ness to the possibility that your experience is a source of our knowledge of God. In this is not simply problem or opportunity, but real challenge.

At its heart the issue is: how do people relate their discipleship and their vocation as family, when their church’s still are not able to fully accept the claims of discipleship of the other faith community?

Issues

It seems to me that the conversation is not helped if it is implicitly assumed that the Roman Catholic position is the base line position, and others of us must defend our divergence from that position, as if the issue was not we get to a new position but how people adopt the one position. Indeed, when I read Dialogue reports, I sometimes feel that people in my own church assume that, and then do not defend properly either the way questions should be posed or the answers given.

Nor is it helped if there is an assumption that the Protestant position that allows baptized people to share the Eucharist is somehow less thoughtful and conscious in its position than one that excludes people from sharing together. The different positions seem to me to revolve around different answers to the following questions:

As we seek to respond to those broad questions, there are some issues that need further conversation, and I believe that Interchurch families can assist these conversations to occur. Your presence among us forces us to answer these questions.

Some questions to ponder

For the UCA, baptism is the act of initiation, and confirmation the promise to be a full and active member of the church. The Report says that in the Roman Catholic church, confirmation is a seen as a sacrament of initiation which is completed in admission to the eucharist. What does baptism mean if it is not an act of initiation, and where is its ecclesial dimension? What happens when baptism is separated from the act of initiation? If it is an act of initiation, why cannot all baptized persons go to a RC eucharist (even if RCs cannot come to a UCA eucharist because of issues about the validity of the eucharist and the Minister).

There would be a great deal of benefit in further discussion on this crucial issue of baptism, confirmation, initiation and the eucharist.

FOR REFLECTION:
How do these issues arise for you in your lives and experience?

Rev Dr Chris Budden
August 2005

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