Come, Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity provides something not often seen in the polemics of our day: a call for Christian unity even over those things which are of most import. Here, the issue of the sacraments is evaluated regarding what they may have to do with Christian unity. A number of from scholars in various denominations (from what I can tell, included are Roman Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran writers, though there may have been more represented) present essays reflecting on ecumenism and the sacraments.
Topics in these various essays go across a wide range. Whether it is ecumenism presented through the arts or the notion of closed communion in some Baptist churches (something I didn’t realize existed anywhere in the Baptist tradition), any reader will find something of interest to them related to the Sacraments.
I found a few essays of particular interest. First, “A Way Forward: A Catholic-Anabaptist Ecclesiology” by D. Stephen Long caught my eye simply for the title. Few theological systems could be more at odds than that of the Roman Catholic and that of the Anabaptist. In the essay, we find a few broad steps that can be taken to see some areas of agreement between these divergent strands of theology. Second, “Visual Ecumenism: The Coy Communion of Art” by Matthew J. Milliner invites readers to see the Lutheran view of Law-Gospel distinction in other denominational perspectives as well. Multiple essays that focused more exclusively on ecumenism as a possibility were quite interesting. I already mentioned in passing Marc Cortez’s “Who Invited the Baptist?” for its introducing me to the idea that some Baptists practice closed communion. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why a Baptist would do so, but had I not read this book I’m not sure when I would have been exposed to this differing and unexpected practice in the Baptist community.
As a Lutheran in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a body that practices open communion while also affirming baptismal regeneration and Christ’s “real presence” in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, I found a number of points of agreement and disagreement here. That is, of course, exactly what this collection of essays (originally lectures) is all about: finding those points of division and seeking to heal–or at least address–them. It’s a fascinating work.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, addressing the World Alliance, an ecumenical group, on the situation of the world in 1932, the cusp of the rise of Nazi Germany (a rise which would lead to his own execution) asked “Why is the… Church of Christ, as it appears in the World Alliance, afraid?” In response, he uttered these powerful words to the whole Christian church:
Because it [the church] knows there is a commandment to peace, and yet with the clear vision that is given to the church, sees the reality that is full of hate, enmity, violence. It is as if all the powers on earth had conspired together against peace, as if money, the economy, the drive to power, even the love of one’s fatherland have been dragged into the service of hate…
How could it be anything but blasphemous mindlessness, if we were to declare ‘No more war!’ and think with that, and a new organization–even a Christian one–we could exorcise the devil? Such organizations are nothing, no more than a house of cards that the whirlwind blows away… Even our well-meaning good will amounts to nothing…
Christ must be present among us in preaching and sacrament, the Crucified One who made peace between God and humankind. The Crucified One is our peace. (DBW 11, 354-355, cited in Schlingensiepen, cited below)
Let us not be motivated by fear, money, the economy, drive to power, or patriotism. Let us not utter the blasphemy that if we humans could just do it all, we would be saved. Be not afraid, church of Christ. The Crucified One is present among us.
Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: Continuum, 2010).
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