Dr. Robert LaRochelle: An Ecumenical Center: What Protestants and Catholics Share In Common

One of the main points I attempt to make in my recent book Crossing the Street  is a simple one: In spite of a turbulent and tumultuous history, Roman Catholics and Protestants share a common core of Christian faith. This core is something that must be affirmed and built upon. Recognition of this core, I would argue, has significant implications for how we do Christian Education, Youth Ministry and for the ways in which we approach both worship and sacramental sharing.

Having said this, we must also acknowledge that this ecumenical center is not readily embraced by significant populations within each tradition. Those who freely and gladly acknowledge themselves as 'traditionalist' Roman Catholics have great difficulty acknowledging that Protestant faith can ever really match the 'fullness of faith' that constitutes Catholicism. These Catholics place a great emphasis on the church's teaching authority and, in particular, the doctrinal declarations promulgated by the Pope. The 'evangelical' wing within Protestantism   i.e. those Protestants who emphasize Biblical authority ( including those fundamentalists who go even further!) has tended to espouse positions on both moral and scientific issues which run counter to much of mainstream thought within mainline churches and culture. Interestingly enough, there are points of connection between these two conservative approaches which have become evident in political alliances over the past several decades, including but not limited to the emergence of the Moral Majority and the recent 2012 Rick Santorum Presidential campaign.

However, the most current available data that I cite in my book demonstrates that there is no discernible difference in either beliefs or behavior among the majority of contemporary American Catholics and Protestants. While there ARE differences which might cause them to land on one or the other side of the street in terms of a church of choice, the reality is that there is significant COMMON GROUND that forms the basis of a real Christian ecumenism that can be put into practice both within congregations and peoples' homes as well as in the broader contexts in which we live.

This common ground includes the following:

  1. A shared faith in God and in the activity of God in the areas of creation, redemption and sanctification.

  2. A common faith in the Risen Jesus

  3. A sense that the presence of faith does not preclude the worth and importance of human reason.

  4. A  recognition that faith and science are not incompatible.

  5. The importance of prayer in our personal lives.

  6. The significance found in ritualizing life moments.

  7. The necessity of putting faith in practice through works of service and acts of justice.

  8. The importance of human relationships and committed love.

  9. The centrality of conscience in making moral decisions.

10.  The value to be found in the act of shared Communion.

In listing these points of connection, I am not claiming that there are no differences between Catholics and Protestants in these matters. I am claiming instead that there may very well be a range of differences in interpretation even WITHIN each tradition itself. In other words, not all Catholics view Communion ,a s example, precisely the same way.  Yet in spite of these interpretive differences, believers can find a common ground around that with which they can be in agreement. More importantly, those points of agreement can serve as spiritual nurture and sustenance as they face the nuances and complexities of their lives.

It is my hope that this discussion of COMMON GROUND can serve as impetus for action in local congregations and between and among Protestant and Catholic churches in local communities and neighborhoods. It is my conviction that we need to rekindle the ecumenical movement with deliberate, intentional and passionate commitment as we seek ways to work, study and pray together.

In my book, I elaborate on these matters and, as part of this dialogue, I encourage you to post some comments and questions here, in this space.

Crossing the Street ( Energion 2012) is available at www.energionpubs.com and www.amazon.com