Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“How They Love One Another” first appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of Touchstone.
How They Love One Another
Occasionally I am out of town on week ends and have the opportunity to visit other churches. On one recent trip I heard an Orthodox priest give a homily on “Why Protestantism is Wrong.” Although the homily did not have that title per se, that seemed to be the heart of his message. Such homilies, I fear, are not uncommon in the Orthodox Church. In part they arise from an inferiority complex. The Orthodox know they are “behind in the polls,” and they know who their competition is.
I have never heard a Protestant sermon on why Orthodoxy is wrong. Protestants just don’t think about the Orthodox because they are considered to be insignificant (if they are considered at all). I have, however, heard Baptist preachers speak on “Why Catholicism is Wrong.” I believe that it is because I have only infrequently worshipped in Catholic churches that I have yet to hear a Catholic priest give a homily attacking one of the other two groups.
As a member of the Orthodox Church, I think there is a great deal to be said for Orthodoxy. I don’t think, however, that the Church is best served by attacking the followers of the bishop of Rome or of the Reformers. Jesus stayed awake the night before he died praying that we would be one and that we would love one another. Setting the case of heresy aside, we need to begin by loving one another, speaking kindly to and about one another. We can and should staunchly defend our perspectives on doctrinal differences, but we must do that with a heart of love and a desire for unity. We cannot begin by condemning each other to eternal damnation.
I have met too many good Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox and read of too many saints from all three traditions to believe that salvation is limited to only one of them. This is a core belief of this journal.
How are we to love one another even if we have doctrinal differences? How can we be united if we are out of communion with each other? I have three suggestions. First, we must begin by acknowledging the greatness of what our brothers have—e.g., the zeal for the Scriptures found among the evangelicals, the rich tradition of the Anglicans, the moral courage of the pope in the face of a secular and hostile world, and the deep respect for worship of the Orthodox.
Second, we must be careful never to criticize a position we do not understand. For example, I often have heard individuals criticize the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility without any understanding of what ex cathedra means. But far worse, I have heard others condemn it in a slanderous way who knew full well what it meant but wished to make a sweeping generalization to a naive audience.
Third, we must learn to pray with and for one another. Perhaps not together on Sunday morning, but at other times. Ask yourself when the last time was that you prayed with someone outside your church. Or even with someone inside your church apart from during a worship service. How can we truly love one another if we can’t come to our Lord together in prayer? How can we fulfill Christ’s dying wish if we don’t earnestly desire it ourselves? We have much to learn from each other. We have much to learn about loving each other.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
“How They Love One Another” first appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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