Hope in the gloom

November 28, 2011

One of the signs of hope in a rather gloomy Europe is a growing grass-roots ecumenism of the heart. Never in the last millennium has there been so much positive interaction among Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox believers in Europe.

The European landscape has been shaped since 1054 by the Great Schism between the Greek and Latin churches. This faultline split the peninsular from the Ukraine through to Bosnia in the south. The recent Balkan wars were fought across this faultline. And its no accident that the First World War was triggered on this line by an assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital.
A second major divide called the Reformation, this time north-south, hugely influenced social, political and economic developments over the past five centuries in western Europe.
These rifts were caused by disagreements among those professing Jesus as Lord. They cannot be healed by the EU, NATO or the UN. Such healing requires forgiveness and reconciliation among God’s people.
The east-west schism was occasioned by an argument about the Holy Spirit: was the Spirit sent by the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son? The insertion by Rome of an extra word (filioque – ‘from the son’) into the Nicene Creed on this theological point, without consultating the Eastern church leaders whose predecessors really drafted the creed, caused both sides to excommunicate each other–a situation only resolved in recent years.
The pope himself, on his recent visit to Luther’s monastery in Erfurt, spoke of the mistake the Roman church made at the time of the Reformation of focusing on differences rather than commonalities. That’s quite a statement!
Common witness
Discovering what we have in common is what Together for Europe is all about. Earlier this month in Rome, I joined other representatives of some 60 movements, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and interdenominational on a journey together to deepen relational ties as members of One Body. We unite under the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of the Word of God, agreeing to disagree on secondary issues. 
On one point we do agree: Europe needs a witness of the unity of God’s people. The gospel has played a central role in shaping Europe’s past. Christian values of equality, solidarity, freedom and peace are essential for Europe’s future.
We discussed plans for a large gathering in Brussels next May 12 to bring believers from various walks of life together to declare support for a united yet diverse Europe. The Brussels event will be linked by satellite tv and internet to other events around the continent (see photo).

Andrea Riccardi, founder and leader of the St Egidio movement engaging 50,000 members worldwide in reconciliation and projects among the poor, shared a prophetic call for an ailing Europe to ‘stand up!’, as Jesus commanded the dead Lazarus. The following week, after Berlusconi was ushered out the back door of the president’s palace, the new Italian premier Mario Monti asked Andrea to join his cabinet!
Shared responsibility
This weekend I joined another ecumencial gathering, this time in Poland. The 250 lay leaders met as the European Network of Communities, representing some 80,000 members. Communities are a phenomenon not so familiar to Protestants. These are modern day ‘tertiaries’ like the Franciscan lay order. They live, witness and work together and network with like-minded communities, often to protect themselves from overcontrolling bishops. These movements, or ‘charismas’ in Catholic terminology, are seen by some in the Vatican as the real hope for the church’s future.
This year’s event marked a new phase of recognition that Europe’s future is far too important to be left to politicians alone. While communities can be as self-preoccupied as some local churches, a new outward-looking attitude was evident as people came to see that tomorrow’s Europe is the responsibility of us all.
Perhaps we are beginning to see a stirring of awareness of the potential of the body of Christ across this continent. No other network, institution or organisation is so wide-spread or well-placed to restore the values of equality, solidarity, freedom and peace to Europe. For with difficult days ahead, a commitment to the welfare of the whole will be essential. We have the human resources and the facilities. Will we have the vision and will power?
Till next week,
  Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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