Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adventures in Ecumenism (II) - Inter-Church vs. Inter-Religious Dialogue

One of the most engaging panels at the recent ecumenical gathering at Oberlin dealt with religious pluralism. During the Q&A session, it became clear that there was some confusion and concern over the place of inter-religious dialogue within the church's ecumenical task. During and after this discussion, a number of alternatives presented themselves concerning the relation between inter-church dialogue and inter-religious dialogue.

(1) Inter-Church Dialogue, Good; Inter-Religious Dialogue, Bad. Some expressed concern that we would even speak of inter-religious dialogue at all. The purpose of ecumenism is to unite the churches for common witness and mission. This witness and mission is directed to the world, which includes other religions. Dialogue undermines this witness, and so should be avoided.

(2) From Narrower to Wider Ecumenism. Others indicated that the call to embrace the whole household (oikomene) of God cannot stop with other Christians but must press on to all people. And so inter-religious dialogue is the logical extention of inter-church dialogue. The difference between the two dialogues is primarily quantitative: more are included in the later.

(3) Distinct Tasks Differentiated by Distinct Goals. One participant suggested that both forms of dialogue are appropriate and share certain formal similarities, but at bottom the two can be differentiated by their goals. The goal of inter-church dialogue is full communion, whereas the goal of inter-religious dialogue is mutual understanding and cooperation. Perhaps the goals of each task could be construed differently than this, but you get the idea of how the two could be differentiated with rejecting one or conflating both.

Any thoughts?
Are there some fundamental options I have neglected to mention?
Are you inclined toward any of these ways of thinking? Why?
Do you have any additional thoughts about the relation of these dialogues?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

In the Wesleyan denomination, is the dialogue between the "covenant member" and the "community member" a inter-religious one or an inter-church one????(For it seems that "the Law" is The issue of distinction, i.e. the Discipline).
Paul spoke to the Church as a diverse population, whereas, the conversation amongst some conservative evangelicals is "heritage" (social constructionism), which ironically, leads to cultural relativism (cultural "traditions"and their transmission in parenting). It is the nurture "model", whereas the "nature" model (biological construction) is as God designed the individual (unique) and humanity (universal).
The question of cooperation and goal is one of commonality, which I don't believe we can "specify" unless there has been mutuality in dialogue about the specific "goal".
The Jew/Gentile question is a "focus" here, as it pertains to the "law"...and the uniqueness of the Jewish nation in the "son of God"...but was it unique? or was it one form among many that represents ONE purpose, but not all of the purposes of God?

vanilla said...

My inclination is to the first of your options.
2 Cor 6:14 - 17 seems to me to bear on this issue. And Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Jn 14:6. This is a hard saying of our Lord, but it is the gospel we must teach. Our commission is to preach the gospel, not to "dialogue" with unbelievers.

Keith Drury said...

I lean to your third option. Certainly I can talk with a Muslim or a Buddhist but the goal (for me) is different in that conversation than when I talk with a Presbyterian or Catholic. The option of "I refuse to even talk with them" does not even appear on my radar screen I guess.