Interchurch Families :
an indispensable microcosm in the macrocosm of the church(es)?

Extract of Ten Arguments For and Against Supporting a Pastoral Ministry to Interchurch Families
Paper of Rev Jean-Baptiste Lipp 

10th and last reason for not supporting a ministry to interchurch families / from interchurch families.

It would be an illusion to think that interchurch families could be an ecumenical motor. To develop the question I will use two metaphors: the body, which is ill, and the parents, who divorced. What can “the cell” do to promote the unity of a “body” which is supposedly ill? Also, just as children should not carry the weight of their parents’ divorce, it is not the task of interchurch families, suffering from the division of their churches, to be charged with a fundamentally impossible mission, I mean “the reunification of the parental couple”. Ecumenism is too serious a matter, institutionally and theologically, to be left to mere lay people.

Interchurch families have no original contribution to make to the ecumenical movement! Their life, love, faith, experiences, etc…, should be considered as a private thing. Their experiences are interesting, maybe, but have to remain in the area of practical theology and not in the area of dogmatic theology, and even not in the area of ecclesiology. I think, we had a good example this morning of the limitations of the problematic (and the problem of the limitations), with the contribution of Professor Stephanie Klein (and the question asked by Professor Michael Fahey).

I would like to suggest a diagram to explain the two different points of view of a “high ecclesiology” (Catholic and Orthodox churches) and a “low ecclesiology” (Protestant churches).

“High ecclesiology”:

Dogmatic theology


Practical Theology

“Low ecclesiology”:

Dogmatic theology

Practical theology

According to the pattern of the “high ecclesiology”, ecclesiology should not be changed because of us, interchurch families. Ecclesiology should keep her place as servant of dogmatic theology and avoid any contamination from domestic churches. Ecclesiology – and even ecumenism – should be separated from practical theology. It would be an illusion to think that interchurch families could bring any contribution to the ecumenical movement. There is no link between the microcosm of our families and the macrocosm of the churches! Now “respondeo”, I will give my answer to my own doubts…  

10th and last reason for supporting a ministry to interfaith families / from interfaith families.

« Acting as if» is not, in the long run, worthy of a Gospel which calls us to truth, light and testimony. And this Gospel also calls for new conversions, new deaths and new resurrections. There is a truth which will soon be inescapable to the eye – but which many eyes are still voluntarily closed to: growing interfaith mixity in our populations must, sooner or later, have implications for the theology of each individual church, and particularly its ecclesiology. This thesis is defended, among others, by Father René Beaupère, a pioneer in our francophone ministry to “foyers mixtes”. Our churches act “as if” their tissues were homogeneous, which they are less and less (this is obvious in reading statistics!). 

The Catholic Church tends to view mixed marriages as problematic, without having many more solutions to offer in the name of a strong and self-satisfied ecclesiology (particularly in the area of Eucharistic sharing), while the Reformed churches tend to view the problem as no longer existing, in the name of a weak but also self-satisfied ecclesiology. The catholic (or orthodox) “high ecclesiology” stresses the “not yet” of Christian unity. The protestant “low ecclesiology” stresses the “already” of Christian unity. However the situation has become increasingly unbearable for interchurch families: they are conscious of their identity as ecumenical “little churches”, or “domestic churches” (according to the patristic expression), yet they lack complete recognition of their full ecclesiality by some (Catholic or Orthodox churches), while others (Protestant churches) trivialize the pertinence of an ecclesiological debate.

Although the Eucharistic question is not an issue for Protestants but remains one for Catholics and Orthodox, Protestants cannot say it is not their problem. Some of us may remember of the celebration given by the Arge Oekumene of Austria (Association of Austrian interchurch families) at the 2nd Ecumenical European Gathering at Graz. At the end of the prayer - in the tradition of the famous prophetic acts in the Old Testament - a table was sawed in two parts. This symbolic action was unbearable for every participant! After the service, one part was sent to the Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, and the other part to the protestant Bishop, both with the same message: “Wir bitten um Reparatur!”, which means : “We want the table to be repared”.  The protestant answer was: “It is not our problem!”. The Catholic Church did not answer…

As long as the issue is problematic for one party, as such, it involves the other. When a parental couple has separated, no dispute is the responsibility of one member only. Both churches together should then seize the opportunity of conversion and renew their efforts to address the BEM issue and pending questions.

So I conclude. Interchurch families and their associations will never be more than secondary characters or mere extras, in the great and long drama of the ecumenical movement, but they do have a role to play, and it is - no more and no less – the size of life!

Presented by Rev Jean-Baptiste Lipp at the conference on "The Household of God and the Local Household", Catholic University of Leuven, 10-13 March 2010.  Used with permission.

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