88. Ecumenism: What can we do?
88. Ecumenism: What can we do?

88. Ecumenism: What can we do?

Last week’s post argued that we must follow Christ’s example by ditching the overemphasis on our apostolicity and superiority to improve our current ecumenical efforts. Today’s post focuses on the scope of ecumenism, which obviously goes beyond doctrinal matters. To further help us freely engage with separated brethren, we must realise that various factors influence and, sometimes, continue to determine people’s religious affiliation.

The first is family values. The mainline non-Catholic denominations are centuries old. While the people who actually left the Catholic Church did so centuries ago, the current generation remains in those Churches because of family. Although many Pentecostals left the Catholic Church recently, we now have a second generation who were born Pentecostals. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism affirms

“Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3).

Just as we bombard our children that being and remaining a Catholic is the ultimate, other Christian denominations and religions do the same to their children. Each religion or Christian denomination argues that it holds the truth. Hence, it is not always simple and easy to make a switch.

The second is the continuous value. As I argued in the past, religion has moved from obligation to consumption. In other words, people no longer attend church because God commanded it (obligation) but because they have a particular need to fulfil (consumption). They do not feel obliged to keep belonging to a religious organisation or participating in its activities if they no longer fulfil their needs (obligation). Therefore, while people are groomed in a particular faith from infancy, they continue as adults because they find value in that religious denomination.

Moreover, an increasing number have left the Catholic Church because we, the clergy, abused or failed to give them value, even through the sacraments.

The third is identity and national pride. Religion is an intrinsic part of individual and national cultural identity. We have various national Churches, such as the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, Lutheranism, and the Russian Orthodox. Hence, expecting people to change their religion or Christian denomination is similar to wanting them to reject their identity.

 St Cyprian of Carthage first argued that there is no salvation outside the Church (Salus extra ecclesiam non est) in the third century AD.[1] Although this teaching, which has developed through history (now commonly worded as extra Ecclesiam nulla salus), remains valid, the Catholic Church recognises that non-Catholics can gain salvation. The Second Vatican Council says, “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (Lumen Gentium, 16).

Hence, we may need to be contextual when we argue that our separated brethren should know better and convert to Catholicism.

With a more fraternal disposition, it is easier for us to engage them. In his congratulatory message to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the 30th anniversary of this election, Pope Francis said: “Patriarch Bartholomew and I are united by a shared awareness of our joint pastoral responsibility towards the urgent challenges that the entire human family must face today”[2].

While we will not change our doctrines, we can explore means to make it easier for non-Catholic Christians to become Catholics. Baptism makes one a Catholic, and while the Catholic Church recognises the validity of the baptisms of mainline denominations such as Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, it does not do so for Pentecostal Churches. It appears there is a blanket rejection of their baptism in the Church in Nigeria. The criteria for valid baptism are the minister (any person can validly and licitly baptise another person in the case of necessity – Canon 861), the subject (a human person who has not been previously baptised validly), true water (Canon 849), indication of the unity of the Godhead, and reference to the Trinity[3].

Canon 869 states,

Ҥ1. If there is a doubt whether a person has been baptised or whether baptism was conferred validly and the doubt remains after a serious investigation, baptism is to be conferred conditionally.

§2. Those baptised in a non-Catholic ecclesial community must not be baptised conditionally unless, after an examination of the matter and the form of the words used in the conferral of baptism and a consideration of the intention of the baptised adult and the minister of the baptism, a serious reason exists to doubt the validity of the baptism.

§3. If in the cases mentioned in §§1 and 2 the conferral or validity of the baptism remains doubtful, baptism is not to be conferred until after the doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is explained to the person to be baptised, if an adult, and the reasons of the doubtful validity of the baptism are explained to the person or, in the case of an infant, to the parents.”

Given the complexity of Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria, a case-by-case consideration is opportune to avoid conferring an invalid baptism (a second baptism on an already baptised person is invalid) and wasting everybody’s time in the process.

 Second, Christians in Nigeria have never been united as the 2023 Presidential Elections necessitated. Political parties’ choice of candidates and the clear campaign against voting a Christian showed that the election was a battle for the soul of Christianity in Nigeria. Yet, the scope of ecumenism goes beyond doctrine and politics. We can work together towards holistic salvation of the human person in line with Christ’s salvific mission of life in abundance (John 10:10). We ought to get involved because there is gross incompetence, disinterest, or even absence of the government in many essential areas in Nigeria. 

The Church’s social doctrine serves as a theological foundation. Themes in the Church’s social teaching are life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, care for God’s creation. We are already involved in many areas. Hence, this post is to dispose us more towards ecumenical initiatives.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


[1] St. Cyprian of Carthage, “Epistle LXXII. To Jubaianus, Concerning the Baptism of Heretics”, Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. Alexander Roberts – James Donaldson – A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), Ante-Nicene Fathers, Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing, 1886, Vol. 5, n.21. Available at URL: <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050672.htm> (accessed 23/02/2023).

[2] Pope Francis, Video Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 30th anniversary of the election of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 10 February 2022, available at URL: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2022/documents/20220210-videomessaggio-30bartolomeo.html (accessed 23/02/2023).

[3] B.F. Pighin, Diritto Sacramentale Canonico, Venezia: Marcianum Press, 2016, 102-103.

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