Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Report on the Fourth Annual Florovsky-Newman Week

I did not attend every session of this Academic Conference, but I did attend the Wednesday night banquet, the Thursday and Friday academic paper sessions (presenting on Thursday), and the Thursday night plenary session (meaning I missed two plenary sessions). Members--that is, supporters--of the Eighth Day Institute receive documentation of the conference after it is held, so I'll be able to catch up on what I missed (the content of it, not the experience of it).

This is an academic conference--the plenary speakers are members of the academia (university professors) and several of the presenters on Thursday and Friday mornings are doctoral and undergraduate students--but there were a couple of pastors presenting too. I may have been the only "independent scholar"! The presentations explored different Christians' beliefs about Baptism, the Fathers of the Church on Baptism, and certain crises and difficulties some groups faced when determining their beliefs about Baptism, including the founders/fathers of the Baptist churches in the 17th century and the Quakers--and St. Augustine urging the Donatists to come home!

The purpose of the Florovsky-Newman week is really to "air our differences": we don't condemn or proselytize each other, nor do we collaborate on any joint statement. We don't have the authority to do so on behalf of our churches and communities. The description for the week from our website summarizes our efforts, although I don't think we really overcame "our different views of baptism":

Heeding Fr. Florovsky's advice, rather than simply overlooking differences, this conference seeks to overcome the different views of baptism. And we do so by returning to the common Tradition, by learning to read the Fathers as living masters, rather than as historical documents. Our hope is for you to deepen your understanding of baptism by examining it from our respective traditions as Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians. Join us for this unique event as we dive into the Church Fathers in order to explore, challenge, and encourage one another to better love God and neighbor.

The main takeaways I had from the conference:

1) The search for a "pure Church" is dangerous. Jesus did not found His Church for the perfect, but for sinners--He said He did not come to call the Righteous. His purpose for the Church is to save sinners, forgive them of their sins, sanctify them, and prepare them for Heaven. If only pure, perfect Christians can be members of the Church, there would be no Church. 

Young John Henry Newman learned that after he became a minister of the Church of England, while a Deacon serving in a parish. One of his first Oxford mentors, Dr. Edward Hawkins, convinced him that he shouldn't divide up the parishioners of St. Clement's into the saved and the unsaved (influenced by Calvinist Predestination), seeking to lead the Church of the Elect, but to be a pastor of the Church of the Baptized. The Donatists, John Smyth of the early Baptist movement, some of the Quakers, etc., have sought this pure Church, rejecting those who didn't conform to their versions of the perfect Christian disciple and ultimately ended up with a Christian community far, far from what they'd sought at the beginning or one that had divided itself so far from the rest of the followers of Jesus that it could hardly participate or evangelize the world!

2) The issue of the source of mediated authority in Christian communities in our lives--since we know that the Holy Trinity is the ultimate authority for all things in the Heavens and on the earth--is the basis of our disagreements. 

Is it the Bible? is it the Church AND the Bible? what is the role of Tradition? who decides what the Tradition or the Bible says? The Pope and the Bishops? the Ecumenical Councils and/or the Fathers of the Church? the individual believer?

I trust the latter least.

3) Getting together in peace and amity is the only way to discuss these issues: radio and television live discussions (questions and answers; explanations and clarifications) may be a close second, but only this kind of meeting, with people meeting each other will bear any fruit.  Facebook and Twitter comments avail nothing.

We don't just agree to disagree but we do agree to treat each other with respect, without anger, bitterness, or hatred. There's no condemnation, but there is still sorrow that we are so divided. As Shakespeare's Prince Escalus of Verona says at the end of Romeo and Juliet, all are punish'd:

I am already looking forward to next year's topic and event, God willing!

Image credit (public domain): the Baptism of Jesus by Aert de Gelder, a Dutch painter, c.1710.

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