14 October 2014

The New Basis for Ecumenicalism

When you venture back into the 19th century you'll find an ever present fear among Protestants... Roman Catholicism.
Little did they realize the pope's political power would soon end. The Unification of Italy was a disaster for the papacy. The popes would strike back at Enlightenment Republicanism and Nationalism by claiming Papal Infallibility even as their lands were about to be taken from them. The Papal States, the kingdom in central Italy ruled for centuries by the popes was no more. And the dream of a Holy Roman Empire, a united Catholic Christendom had already been consigned to the dustbin of history.
The popes were politically broken and the Roman Catholic religion began to shift, and move away from many of its historic positions regarding society and politics. This trend would culminate in the work of Vatican II a couple of generations later.
Many are afraid of the present pope. I hear many Dispensationalists and Evangelicals expressing fear that Francis is the Antichrist, the one that will unite the religions of the world.
Of course this assumes the Dispensational mindset which is not granted and I think must be rejected if we are to follow Scripture. It also assumes a particularly American perspective on politics and sociology but that's for another discussion.
All of this said, there is a new ecumenicalism afoot. Actually there are several but the movement that's most striking in the United States and in a growing segment of the world is rallying around political action. Political Theology is the basis of the new ecumenical movement.
For these people this pope is a tremendous disappointment. They appreciate the fact that he's reinvigourating Rome and healing some of the wounds inflicted by the pedophilia and homosexuality scandals so prevalent among their clergy. Nevertheless in terms of politics he represents a force that many conservative Catholics and Protestants are against.
The genius of the new ecumenicalism is of course the now deceased Chuck Colson. He built on and in some ways hijacked the teachings and legacy of Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer.
Though the Reformed are often on the fringes of the movement, they are in many ways and perhaps unwittingly its intellectual inspiration.
Kuyper's terms and turns of phrase are now freely employed in Evangelical circles, though few understand their theological origin. And Colson capitalized on Schaeffer's culture war legacy by recasting/stealing his famous book title and putting his own broad ecumenical spin on it. Well it wasn't actually Colson, it was Nancy Pearcy. He didn't really write most of his books but they reflect his ideas... his recast Dominionism inherited from the Reformed tradition. Pearcy to my astonishment claims unfamiliarity with this school of thought. Does she really not know? Or, as some have suggested is it just considered orthodoxy at this point? To many it's not something you put  under a label, it's simply (to them) historic and Biblical Christianity.
How has Colson tied this all together and created a new form ecumenicalism?
Basically if you're on board with the Christian political project then no matter what your doctrine... you are a Christian.
'Christian' is divorced from Biblical theology in Colson's new paradigm. It's defined in terms of culture. Anyone who stands for the Western tradition is basically a Christian. If there is a theology, it's really more a sociological outlook or set of political theories.
It's actually very reminiscent of Liberal Theology's Social Gospel.
Perhaps re-cast in a Reactionary rather than a Progressivist mold?
Protestant, Catholic, Liberal, Cultist, Unorthodox... it doesn't matter as long as you sign on to the socio-political project. If you're willing to fight the Culture War then you are reckoned a member of Christ's Body.
He had to employ some astounding mental gymnastics and leaps of logic to tie together people like Kuyper, Chesterton, Aquinas, Bonhoeffer, Hugo, Lewis, Calvin and Dickens.
But he did it and now his followers do the same. The only reason it works is because they're banking on the fact that their audience is pretty ignorant. In many cases the people their promoting weren't really Christians at all. It's only by using their modified and thus watered down definition that they can put it all together.
I can never say it too many times. The Constantinian Shift redefined terms like Christian and Church. Rather than being defined Biblically and theologically, they came to possess sociological definitions and categories, something wholly foreign to Scripture.
Everyone always assumed the dangers of ecumenicalism flowed from Rome and its Big Tent catholicity or from Liberalism's lowest common denominator approach to theology.
And yet Colson managed to use politics as the new Catholicity and has brought together diverse groups of people to wage the Culture War.
He recognized this in the 1980s and launched his project in 1994 with Evangelicals and Catholics Together or ECT. As I said in a previous post I think the crowning victory for him was the Evangelical endorsement of Rick Santorum in the 2012 presidential race. Colson died just after Santorum finally backed out of the race but the fact that the endorsement happened at all was a victory for him. The Evangelical backing of Santorum indicated the massive shift brought about by the birth of the Christian Right had not only changed politics after the 1970s, but had fundamentally changed the nature of the American Protestantism itself.
While I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Colson was a Jesuit agent, his vision actually transcended Rome. He was happy enough to refer to the pope as 'His Holiness', but didn't seem to envision everyone coming under the papal umbrella or a Protestant one for that matter. His vision was of a political bloc based on trans-denominational Ecumenicalism. I think he envisioned an Ecumenical Magisterium. He must be acknowledged as a visionary that wanted to see a new type of Church built atop a renewed Christendom.
Even those who opposed ECT on the grounds that it was wrong to ally with Rome, nevertheless have still largely bought into the vision of the project. In the end they share the same political vision, they're just uncomfortable establishing any kind of formal relationship with the Papacy.
Little do they realize a redefined Church means a redefined gospel to go with it.
If there is to be an Antichrist par excellence, a supreme manifestation of the Man of Sin before the Second Coming of Christ, and if indeed the hour is drawing near, then it would seem that Colson did much to lay the foundations for this final and perhaps greatest apostasy of all.