Ecumenical and interfaith ideas
"The truth is the centre of all religion," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. Here, you'll find ideas that honor that center, the "circle of faith" of which we're all a part. We hope they are helpful as you listen and contribute to the healing dialogue going on between faiths worldwide.
Christian Science in the Christian Community
By Susie Jostyn
As an Ecumenical Associate for The Mother Church, I ask myself what I’m called to do in concert with fellow Christians. As a Christian Scientist, whenever I’m confronted with any question or problem, I prefer to begin with prayer. As a result, I’ve sought out and created opportunities to pray with others. The following situation is one that has brought me as close as I’ve ever felt to Jesus’ prayer for his followers, “that they may be one...” (John 17:11).
Over this past summer, I worked with the Dean and Spiritual Life officer at my seminary—Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH)—to set up a community prayer group. Since the beginning of school, I’ve been hosting a modest group of people who gather once a week for an hour to pray about a variety of issues. The majority of meetings are ecumenical, considering that most students at BUSTH are Christian, but occasionally there are students of other faiths.
At theology school and in our individual churches, my seminary colleagues and I are confronted by a long list of issues that deserve our attention. Each of us has a heart to help others, but there are only so many circumstances into which we can throw our hands-on efforts. That doesn’t mean we have to abandon caring about and/or participating in the resolution of problems beyond our reach. Sincere prayer—no matter how brief—can make a difference in any scenario. Plus, prayer is not limited by time or space, since God, the great giver, hearer, and answerer of prayer is limitless. We can pray on our own, but amplified commitment and results may be found when praying together with others.
The focus of the BUSTH prayer group is to recognize the power of prayer, and to affirm that God is bigger than any problem we might face. I’m personally working to see the presence, power, and activity of Christ within various communities. Others might describe their approach in another way. Regardless of perspective, all are welcome. Each week, we address five different communities: church, BU/BUSTH, Boston/MA, the United States, and the world. In advance, volunteers agree to lead prayer on behalf of one of those communities, and identify issues therein that are close to their hearts.
As each meeting starts, we agree to set aside theological and/or political debates. Then, we give five minutes to consider the power of prayer. For the rest of the meeting, each volunteer leads a short segment. They take a minute to explain the issue we’ll be praying about, provide approximately two minutes of audible prayer (reading from Scripture, playing a song, spontaneously offering whatever thoughts may inspire the group, etc.), and then the group unites in two minutes of silent prayer.
At the first meeting, we prayed for the refugees of the world, not just from Syria, but in our own communities as well. On behalf of the US, we prayed to love every single politician and voter (regardless of whether we can see the good in them), and to support each citizen as they seek to find inspiration and clarity. On behalf of Boston, we prayed that the community remain unified, filled with trust, courageous, and persistent as people work to improve policing practices. On behalf of students at BU, we prayed in support of an improved educational process and the limitless abilities of students. And, on behalf of our churches, we prayed for greater vision in fostering church inclusiveness. Someone also spoke spontaneously to bring our prayer full circle, affirming God’s ability to provide church and/or family homes to all of God’s children. We closed with a recognition of God’s presence and the power of prayer.
I was deeply moved by the meeting, and the impact grew on me throughout the day. I could feel the great love, care, and depth of desire that each person expressed. I went away more prayerful on the issues raised, and revisited them that evening. As I touched base with participants afterward, they too were grateful for what felt like a sacred time of prayer and fellowship. Each person who has signed up for subsequent meetings has been thankful for the opportunity, and we’re covering a wide range of additional topics. We all look forward to and appreciate the motivation, insights, and inspiration that flow.
By Madelon Maupin
Role models come in all shapes and sizes, including the ecumenical ones.
The story begins on a warm day when my husband, who was stand-up paddle-boarding, saw a woman waving from the shore for permission to take his picture. As he paddled in, she clicked and a conversation began that continues to this day.
Cora (not her real name) is from China and was touring America, which brought her to our shoreline that afternoon. With a childlike heart, she was eager to understand this phenomenon she hadn’t yet seen but enthusiastically agreed to try when my husband offered, Despite her distinctly un-paddleboard clothing in long skirt and boots, up she went and a smiling Cora confirms she didn’t fall in the bay!
As my husband regaled me with the tale that night, I thought Cora might like to attend a talk our church was sponsoring on Christianity and its Science the next day. After an email from ‘my coach’, as she now refers to him, inviting her, she came and learned more how she is a child of God and the living Christ that continues to heal and redeem. When asked her response she replied that she is a new Christian and profoundly shared, ‘My soul is washed clean’.
Since that eventful weekend, Cora has returned to her country and we continue to be in contact. Meanwhile, Cora’s childlike willingness to not only try a new sport but try a new way of thinking, continues to inspire me.
Luke’s Gospel portrays a vivid example of Christ Jesus’ love for little children and the spiritual role models they can be for adults.
Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it (Luke 18:17,17, New Living Translation).
I understand more now about the childlike openness, receptivity, readiness and eagerness adults can display because of Cora, as she is my role-model for entering ecumenical conversations. Am I inclined to engage in something new, possibly initially uncomfortable, uncharted?
This happened when meeting a Catholic Sister who serves in the same ecumenical group. At first we seemed to have little in common but as our monthly meetings progressed, her childlike spirit came through in buoyancy and appreciation of others. She and I volunteered to share note-taking responsibility for these often demanding discussions and quietly and steadily became each other’s advocates in ensuring our various points were heard.
I began to see and deeply appreciate her commitment to helping those less fortunate, to dedicating her young life to her religious calling and taking a stand for Christianity in a largely secular Southern California world. A genuine friendship of mutual respect and support has emerged that enriches my life, helping me understand more of Christ Jesus’ prayer, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21, NKJV).
Whether it’s learning from a new Christian in a communist country the courage to go forward, wisely, and continue to learn of Christ, or the example of a young nun dedicating her life to Christ in a secular culture, these Christians provide living examples for how my own Christian journey can be infused with childlike receptivity to the new and all that God has in store for each of us. Happy paddling!
Have you found role-models that speak to you? We’d love to hear about them and hope you’ll share with our Circle of Faith growing community. And please share this post with others who are interested in growing their ecumenical understanding so we can learn from each other.
By Susan Humble
My previous blog (8/4/16) focused on the important topic of Christology—the study of Jesus Christ in answering the questions, “who and what is Jesus as the Christ?” I recently read a book entitled, When Jesus Became God, by Richard E. Rubenstein, that further elucidates this question of Jesus’ identity. In this book he presents a historical perspective on how the bishops of the early Christian church debated and decided on the christological question of Jesus’ identity in relationship to God—specifically, is Jesus God?
This is an important ecumenical question that we are often asked today. A brief exploration of its contentious background can be helpful in thinking about the question, Do we believe Jesus is God? The full explanation of the two primary positions taken in answering this question is too long to cover here, so I would recommend reading Rubenstein’s book.
In 325 CE, Emperor Constantine convened a council of bishops, since called the Council of Nicaea. The purpose was to come to an agreement on the question, is Jesus God? Constantine’s act was politically motivated—an attempt to unify his Empire, which had been divided by the conflict between the teachings of Athanasius of Alexander and a priest named Arius.
Very briefly, Athanasius represented the position that Jesus Christ, being fully divine, was created from the same essence, substance, and nature as God. He viewed God as eternal, omnipotent, perfect, and superior to humans. Therefore, the only way in which God could save humanity from sin and death was by descending into Jesus, who would fulfill God’s earthly mission, suffer through the crucifixion, die, and then be resurrected. It was inconceivable to Athanasius that someone less than God could save humanity, and as Rubenstein describes, “out of his [God’s] infinite love for us, he became the man who took the burden of our sins as his own…” (p.9).
Arius took the counter-position that the Son as the divine Word (Logos) was not created from the same, essence, substance, or nature as God. Therefore, the Son was neither eternal nor equal to the Father. The Son was incarnated in the flesh as the highest of all creatures, adopted as God’s Son, but he was not God. God sacrificed his Son to redeem humanity from sin, raised him from the dead, and granted him divine status. It was inconceivable to Arius and his followers that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all good Creator could experience suffering on the cross and die as a human being.
The attending 250 bishops at the Council of Nicaea debated, negotiated, and voted on which of the two positions they supported. The majority voted for Athanasius’ position, along with the wording of the Nicene Creed, a profession of faith widely used in Christian liturgy today. The creed was later revised in the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. Here is a link to the creed: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/nicene.htm
There are two key points to consider. 1) Emperor Constantine’s political motivations were clear: he needed this controversy decided in order to keep peace and civil order in his Empire that was being divided on this question of Jesus’ divinity. Rome was in decline and he needed a “god” to save the Empire. 2) The church’s “official” statement of Jesus’ divinity came through human negotiation and the vote of 250 bishops.
Is Jesus God? The Bible is not direct or specific in providing an answer. You might look for verses that support both views and see how you would sort these out when talking with a friend. The value of being familiar with the early debates on this question lies in the background on how people of different denominations answer that question for themselves. So, how would you answer the question, and why? And how can you infuse your daily Christian practice with the spirit of your concept of Jesus?
By Shirley Paulson
It is refreshing to hear the call to pray for the earth, rather than to argue over political positions about the how we got where we are. European Christians have called on Christians of all traditions and continents to pray together on behalf of the earth. On September 1st, churches worldwide will come together to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. From then until October 4th, churches will observe ‘the Season of Creation’, which will culminate with a day of celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
This is a subject close to the hearts of Christian Scientists, and it is good to engage with other Christians in a non-partisan and non-denominational, but truly Christian way of praying for healing. The world has seen an increased concern and care for the world since the introduction of Christian Science, and now we have tools with which to pray about these issues. Each denomination is needed, because each has a particular gift in their understanding of God’s creation and love of the earth. Genesis 1 tells us that God saw that the whole creation was good, and that as inhabitants of this creation, we are called upon to love it and nurture it too.
Praying for the earth is not ‘too material’ for Christian Scientists, because as Mary Baker Eddy affirms, the “sweet sounds and glories of earth and sky, assuming manifold forms and colors” … “are real, but not as matter. …When we change the nature of beauty and goodness from Mind to matter, the beauty is marred…” (Rudimental Divine Science, p.6). We are encouraged to participate in protecting the beauty of earth from being ‘marred’ in any form.
It is significant that the idea for this worldwide prayer originated in 1989 with the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, who proclaimed September 1 – the beginning of the Orthodox church year – to commemorate how God created the world. October 4 is significant for Catholics and other Western traditions as a commemoration of Francis of Assisi, celebrated as the author of the Canticle of the Creatures. (A ‘canticle’ is a hymn typically with biblical text, and ‘creatures’ refers to what God created.) The proposal to celebrate these five weeks in between came from the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu in 2007, and the next year, the World Council of Churches (WCC) invited churches to observe this period through prayer and actions.
Such a rich ecumenical gathering of Christians with a wide variety of theological views on the meaning of earth, creation, stewardship of the earth, climate, the value of animals, plants, and water guides us away from doctrinal disputes and brings us together with a common purpose to be the children of God and to discover together our God-given relationship with the whole creation.
An ecumenical website has been developed as a hub for compiling resources and information: http://seasonofcreation.org. It features four one and a half minute video clips from a wide variety of Christian leaders, including Pope Francis, Archbishop Tutu, His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew (the ‘Green’ Patriarch), and Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of WCC. All of these global Christian leaders are encouraging Christians everywhere to pray and care for creation.
It starts today, and on the website, you can find a number of ways in which you can participate – whether you are from Europe or any continent in the world. Our Facebook page is a good place to gather our prayers. Let us know what you’re thinking and whether you participate more visibly in your community somewhere.
How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?
The Committee for Ecumenical Affairs works under the auspices of the Committee on Publication, and is engaged in ‘correcting in a Christian manner’ the misconceptions of Christian Science, particularly within the Christian community. Ecumenical team activities include writing pieces that appear on christianscience.com and articles for The Christian Science Journal and Christian Science Sentinel, and participating in ecumenical conferences, meetings, and organizations such as the National Council of Churches.
What is ecumenism?
Ecumenism is a worldwide movement among Christians to promote unity between Christian churches or denominations (or ‘communions’) in response to Jesus’ prayer that we be one (John 17:21). It recognizes the body of Christ in its entirety, learning to understand the ways, values, and communications styles of our fellow Christians. Ecumenical dialogue is vibrant and respectful, welcoming the gifts of others, while maintaining the integrity and purpose of each Christian faith tradition.
Why should Christian Scientists participate?
The ongoing dialogue with Christian leaders, clergy, and religion educators allows everyone to grasp better the idea exactly why Christian Science is Christian.
All churches and denominations are concerned with maintaining the purity of their ideas and practice of religion, and the ecumenical dialogue respects that integrity in others. It is with a spirit of humility that Christians value one another's faith and service to the common cause of Christianity. As we learn from others, we often find ourselves learning to appreciate and articulate better our own denominational roots. We have the opportunity to cultivate bonds of love and dispel misunderstandings. Ecumenism is one of many ways to practice active Christianity.
One of the most compelling reasons Christian Scientists have become ecumenically involved is that other Christians have been asking for us to participate in the greater dialogue and especially to explain and share our unique gifts more widely.
Talking to other Christians about Christian Science
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to successful ecumenical engagement can be the language we use. Every church or denomination has its own jargon, which can be baffling or unwittingly offensive to others. Without understanding the language, culture, and history of others, we often find ourselves trying to share our most precious ideas only to discover they mean something entirely different to our listeners. With love for others, we make the effort to learn their Christian ‘language’ in order to communicate the greatest depth of thought. Just as we maintain our own culture and identity when we learn a foreign language, we also maintain the identity of Christian Science while we learn the Christian practices and theology of others.
Prayer and insights about ecumenical engagement
- Getting our assumptions right in interfaith work by Brian Talcott
- Opening closed doors by Maryl Walters
- Invitation to worship by Kristin Jamerson
- What Christian Scientists Believe (Video) by Madelon Maupin, Brian Talcott, Eric Nelson
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (who first invited the Christian Science Church to engage in the ecumenical movement, 2008)
Video: Mary Baker Eddy — A Heart in Protest
Responding to common questions
Ecumenical activities for you!
Michael Kinnamon talks about the meaning of ecumenical dialogue (YouTube video)
Discussion with Michael Kinnamon about Christian Science in ecumenical dialogue (in The Christian Science Journal)