“An Ecumenical Spirit”
Mark 14:22-25 Romans 14:1-6 Galatians 1:6-9
Rev. Paul E. Capetz
Christ Church by the Sea (United Methodist), Newport Beach
John Wesley, to whom we owe our Methodist heritage, once wrote an important sermon entitled “A Catholic Spirit.” Here the word “catholic” is to be understood as “universal” or “allembracing,” spelled with a lower-case “c”; Wesley is not talking about Roman Catholicism. I remember how as a boy I was puzzled by the phrase in the Apostles Creed that we used to cite in church each Sunday: “I believe in the holy catholic church.” Then it was explained to me that “catholic” in this sense means “the universal Christian church,” not the Roman Catholic Church. Wesley’s sermon is about the relation of Christians to one another. He prefaces his sermon by insisting that we Christians are to love all our fellow human beings, including non-Christians. The commandment “love thy neighbor as thyself” refers to all human beings, not merely other Christians. Yet Wesley goes on to note that in addition to the commandment that we are to love all other human beings, the New Testament calls us to a special love for our fellow Christians. This is what his sermon is about. By a catholic spirit, then, he means our love for all our fellow Christians, of whatever church and of any denomination. I am calling it an “ecumenical” spirit.
What prompts Wesley to write a sermon on this topic? He explains that in fact Christians don’t always love one another. Then he cites many instances of controversies that have deeply divided Christians from one another. These controversies are of two kinds, having to do with belief and action. Sometimes Christians have disagreed vehemently with one another over what we Christians are to believe. Not all Christians teach the same doctrines or agree on theology. These differences lead to differences in practice or action. Some Christians baptize infants while others do not. Some churches ordain women while others do not. The list could go on and on. Hence, Wesley’s sermon addresses the question how we can love those other Christians who don’t agree with us theologically or ethically or whose practice of worship differs from ours.