Timothy LeCroy has written about ecumenism and the Eucharist here, and a couple of things come to mind. Please keep in mind that I write with the porridge of my Scots Calvinist heritage sticking to my ribs, so to speak, and while this does not blow up the ecumenical venture, it does make it more of an adventure. I will return to that anon, as we old-timey writers sometimes say.
LeCroy begins with an cheery assumption that I really think needs to be examined more carefully than it usually is.
“To me, without table fellowship all our other ecumenical dialogue is just talk. Jesus gave us a clear command to be one, and that unity is expressed most fully in the unity of the Lord’s Table. Eucharistic unity must be the foundational basis for any ecumenical program or effort.”
This is absolutely true. Jesus gave us a clear command to be one. But the hinge upon which all turns is this question — who are the “us” in that sentence?
Jesus gives us His express desire that we cultivate unity. “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11). And this same Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms to assiduously pursue disunity. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matt. 7:15–16).
There is a fundamental question here and it needs to be asked and answered by clear-eyed people. Lenin, for all his evil, was not a vague man, and knew how to ask the right questions. “Who? Whom?” Anyone who urges us on in our ecumenical duty has an absolute responsibility to state clearly the criteria he believes we should use to identify whether we are in a John 17 situation or a Matthew 7 situation. The difficulty is that whenever I have been on the receiving end of ecumenical exhortations, this almost never happens. And in using that word exhortation, I am reminded of Bierce’s definition, which is, in religious affairs, to put the conscience of another upon a spit, and roast it to a nut brown discomfort.
The question cannot be answered without getting into the marks of a church — or conversely, the marks of a false teacher. The job of a shepherd is not to “gather” quadrupeds, sheep and wolves together. He cannot simply say that Jesus told us to “gather.” Yes, He did, but Jesus also used the kind of direct objects that mattered, and that could be identified.
“I do agree that eucharistic practice is a huge hurdle. We can say that we have (basically) the same liturgy and the same (or close to the same) beliefs about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but we cannot deny that the differences in praxis between Protestants and Roman Catholics are very significant.”
Now in order to say that we have the same or close to the same beliefs about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is to say one of three things. We must either say that our fathers in the faith at the time of the Reformation were fools, of the sort who tendentiously and tediously strain at gnats, or we must say that Rome has changed her position since that time, or we must say that we have. Because I don’t think any one of those options is tenable, I believe we are driven back to deny the truth of the initial statement. We don’t believe the same or basically the same thing about Christ’s presence in the sacrament. Sorry to break it to everybody, but we kind of no way don’t.
One last thing. My problem in responding to ecumenical exhortations is not the charity of the goal, but the wooliness of the premises. If you want to build a true granite block ecumenical building — as every goodhearted Protestant should — you are going to need better footings for a heavy building like that than wadded-up cotton-batting bromides.
In my experience, true Christian friendship is far likelier to occur between decided Roman Catholics and decided Protestants than it is when nice guys in each tradition start to exhibit the fact that they don’t really understand or hold to the tradition they are in. In real ecumenical work, such wooliness just gets in the way.