No Better Words
Strictly speaking, “ecumenical” and “orthodox” are properties peculiar to Christ’s one, true Church, so their employment to describe a journal of discussion is admittedly unusual and solicits comment.
Touchstone was begun by a very serious group of independent evangelical Protestants who “grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” Their hearts were pricked by two points in particular: their own canonical separation from other Christians and the alarming disintegration of doctrine among American Christians generally. The first point urged an attention to ecumenism, while the second prompted a solicitude for orthodoxy. As “A Journal of Ecumenical Orthodoxy,” the new publication would address both concerns.
During the ensuing years, nearly all of the original people in the Touchstone enterprise have joined either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Indeed, the journal has since been obliged to take special care that the evangelical Protestant perspective would still be represented in its pages. So, with the Touchstone founders finally pursuing different ecclesiological paths, while new people were joining the enterprise with distinctive ideas of their own, the result has been somewhat less agreement among us about the meaning of “ecumenical orthodoxy” than there was when we started.
I take the expression in an eschatological sense, to indicate both a project and a promise. First, our project is ecumenical. Since, in my own pastoral experience, this adjective has often signified only a heroic dedication to chummy muddle-headedness, I tend to be a tad less than enthusiastic when I use it. Still, we do not seem to have another word to describe what all of us want: the reunion of all Christians in the single Church, a unity of doctrine, sacraments, and the canonical structure handed down by the Apostles.
Second, our promise is orthodoxy. The reunion of Christians, the project that we strive to serve, must take place, not on the basis of some lowest common denominator or “core doctrines,” but on the basis of the fullness of the truth in Christ. Those in Christ Jesus must eventually be of one mind as well as one heart; that is, we must think the same thoughts. Holy Scripture itself will not allow us to settle for less. Doctrinal disagreement among Christians is never a desirable thing in itself. Thus, I feel no enthusiasm for the suggestion that “what unites us is far greater than what divides us.” Although I can imagine Arius saying something of that sort to Athanasius, I cannot imagine the reverse. Athanasius knew that truth is indivisible; there is no such thing as a small heresy. I am persuaded that if two Christians disagree on a point of dogma, at least one of them is wrong—that at least one of them does not yet have the “mind of Christ” or “savor the right things” (recta sapere, as the old Leonine prayer says)—and it is the serious task of loving Christians to pronounce this hard saying to one another.
A journal, however, is not a church. A church can claim ecumenicity as a trait; a journal can only strive for it as a goal. A church can claim orthodoxy as a fact; a journal can only seek it in hope. So, in this very confused world, fiercely overrun by the unleashed forces of Assyria, where men “look into the earth and behold trouble and darkness,” and where the churches themselves are largely infested with “wizards that peep and mutter,” Touchstone may find its task of ecumenical orthodoxy indicated in yet another verse from the eighth chapter of Isaiah: “I will wait upon the Lord that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.”
—Patrick Henry Reardon
Reprinted from Touchstone, Winter 1994.
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“No Better Words” first appeared in the Fall 1997 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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