One Quaker's Response to the Pope

Paul Anderson of Evangelical Friends International, Northwest Yearly Meeting, and George Fox University has shared with me his long contribution to the discussion of Petrine Ministry: A Working Paper, distributed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to encourage responses to Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint. Paul Anderson’s response, learned and thoughtful, appeals to me as capturing the essential Quaker message with a minimum of Quaker text or jargon. It is not an easy read, and not likely to fall into the path of Friends General Conference Friends, but will repay richly a careful reading by Friends everywhere. Here I give a summary of the main points of the paper, followed by some afterthoughts that reach to other issues.

Paul Anderson’s paper, "Petrine Ministry and Christocracy," published in January 2005 in One in Christ, a Catholic ecumenical journal, and available online at /petrine.pdf, is divided into seven sections: two introductory, four addressing the main points of the working paper, and a final one presenting concluding remarks. His concern, identical to that of the Pope and the Pontifical Council, is how to reconcile the primacy of Peter among the apostles with the call to all of us to be ministers, and the prayer of Jesus for unity among his followers (John 17—in Latin "ut unum sint") with the plethora of churches and sects. I have retained only a few of the numerous Scriptural citations.

In the first section, Paul Anderson establishes both his scholarly credentials and the basis for a Quaker response to the Pope. The theological terminology, though challenging even for academic Friends, is an important credential for scholarly consideration. Furthermore, certain distinctions are vital for articulating a Quaker perspective. One such distinction is between the structural and charismatic aspects of leadership. Paul Anderson insists that true leadership comes from Christ, and that charisma—arising from direct acquaintance with Christ, such as George Fox experienced—and structure— as in the apostolic succession—are complementary: "Charisma and structure go hand in hand in the New Testament, and the Petrine [relating to Peter] and Johannine [relating to John] models of Christocracy [the leadership of Christ himself] should not be seen as one being apostolic and the other not. . . . What is valuable is holding these models together in tension —in dialectical relationship—whereby structure stabilizes charisma and charisma enlivens structure." Friends who carefully consider this rather subtle and difficult point, taking the cited passages from Matthew and John into account, will see that the complementarity of these two models provides the emphasis necessary to bring the experience of the inward Christ into our lives, thereby bringing life and light into the structures in which we participate, rather than undermining or opposing them.

The second introductory section addresses the problem of Christian unity in general, relying heavily on distinguishing the "visible church or churches" and the "invisible and authentic Church of Jesus Christ." Again, there is tension. Paul Anderson reviews ways in which the organization and the structure of visible churches constitute obstacles to unity—organizationally, theologically, morally, proclamationally, and sacramentally. Part of the problem is that any criterion for membership or inclusion simultaneously serves as a criterion for exclusion, thus excluding some members of Christ’s authentic flock: "Jesus acknowledges the diversity-and-unity of his flock. . . . There are some members of Jesus’ flock who are not currently found within our visible boundaries of the organized Church, and yet they attend the authentic voice of Jesus." The character of unity among authentic Christians is neither doctrine nor sacrament but love; the love of God, which, shared by believers, is the Holy Spirit: "Jesus’ prayer for oneness among his followers thus transcends the bounds of space and time. It challenges the boundaries we place on faith and practice, even for good reasons, and it raises up the center of discipleship, which is ever a spiritual and relational reality." Paul Anderson brings the Quaker essentials to bear on the problem of clarifying Christian identity by distinguishing between defining the boundaries and raising up the center. Friends will profit greatly from giving prayerful consideration to where and how we can raise up the center rather than fortify the boundaries of our faith community.

The first of the working paper’s four topics concerns pastoral aspects of episcopal service, the Pope being the Bishop of Rome and first among bishops. As the encyclical puts it, "The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the college of all the Pastors consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that through the efforts of the Pastors the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches." Paul Anderson broadens the perspective. All authority, he says, comes from responsibility, and the first responsibility of a pastor is to care for the lambs and feed the sheep, love again being the foremost requirement. As for ministry: "The primary calling of all Christian leadership is not to be heard or seen but to insure that the voice and leadings of Christ are heard and discerned in the world . . . to help people listen to and hear the voice of Christ, often made manifest in silence." And, "Ultimately there is no authority except truth. . . . Nothing shows the failure of the truth-seeking venture more clearly than resorting to force or coercion when it comes to truth adherence. . . . Those who organize the truth-seeking ventures of the Church should make room for the multiplicity of perspectives that reflect the larger quests for truth in the world. If Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John. 14:6), approximating the truth approximates Christ, and vice versa." Again, this somewhat difficult wording repays slow and careful meditation.

Further, Paul Anderson writes, "The reason Jesus’ followers do not fight is that his Kingdom is one of truth, and this reign cannot be furthered by coercive or violent means. . . . The challenge, therefore, of episcopal ministry is to connect the authority of responsibility with the authority of truth."

The second topic is ecumenical responsibility, which concerns both the Church- dividing issues of theology, morality, and organization, and the gathering in of scattered members of the fold. Here Paul Anderson emphasizes raising up the center rather than defining boundaries, and he reminds readers that a true spiritual community is possible through, and only through, attentiveness to the living Christ within each person, so that "full communion is possible whenever believers open themselves to the spiritually abiding presence of Christ in the midst of a gathered meeting."

The third topic covers ways of exercising primacy, a special issue for the Pope but relevant for any pastor. Initially, it seems that the most important requirement is to include others within the circle, but an open invitation leads to the same difficulty where any criterion of inclusion becomes a criterion for exclusion. Outward measures won’t do—"Jesus declared that the measure by which his disciples would be known visibly in the world is the love they have for one another" (John 13:35). And as Paul Anderson suggests, "Perhaps the outward and visible unity should be left undefined in terms of its criteria for inclusion, and the invitation should simply be extended to all who are receptive to the grace of Christ and the empowerment of his Spirit." Paul Anderson does not spell out the deeper implications of this suggestion; but if love for one another is the measure of the grace of Christ and of empowerment by his Spirit, there should be no reason not to extend the invitation in loving fellowship to pagans, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims, as well as to professing Christians. When George Fox urged us to let our lives speak, he meant it as an alternative to speaking only through professions of faith. Paul Anderson quietly echoes this cornerstone of traditional Quakerism.

Continuing on the topic, Paul Anderson stresses the transforming love of Christ with four specific tenets for Christ-like primacy: relying on stewardship rather than position, service rather than privilege, responsibility rather than authority, and love rather than power. Paul Anderson urges the Pontifical Council to re-conceive primacy along these lines, so that the Bishop of Rome may better respond to the new ecumenical opportunities of the 21st century.

The fourth topic of the working paper is an open ecumenical invitation for change, in which the Pope says that the task is more than he can accomplish alone. Indeed, as Paul Anderson points out, no one group can claim sole access to the will of Christ, nor can a single individual claim to speak for any group. Leadership therefore depends on listening, paying special attention to how others are discerning the leadings of Christ. The open ecumenical invitation requires a fresh consideration of the Catholic Vocation, the universal calling, based on a "transformative ecumenical conversation." Maintaining current church boundaries needs to be combined with innovative, imaginative outreach in order to respond to Jesus’ prayer that his diverse followers be one.

The seventh and final section of Paul Anderson’s paper summarizes this vision of a new understanding of the Catholic Vocation. His approach is radical, dynamic, inclusive, and functional, an approach in which Christian communions "find ways to celebrate the validity of other ones without compromising their own callings and convictions. . . . If that happens, not only will the body of Christ become more harmonious and complementary, but most importantly, connectedness to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ himself, will have been more firmly established."

There are three matters touching upon unity that strike me as especially urgent for Friends. Understandably, they remain unaddressed in a paper to the Pontifical Council, and Paul Anderson could very well agree to them, or say them himself, in some other context.

One has to do primarily with Islam, but also other religions. The history of Christianity is bloody, not only with internal conflicts but also with crusades against those conceived as heretics or infidels. The history is enough to incline me to deny my Christianity, despite affirming my companionship with and discipleship to Jesus. I know that it is not the aim of the Pope or the Pontifical Council to confront Islam or Judaism; but political leaders often have used religious unity for such purposes, and safeguards are not visible in the context of this effort to promote Christian unity. Convincing others to acknowledge what we call the seed Christ, or the Spirit of Jesus, while they remain embraced in a non-Christian sect—that is, working toward a non-confrontational unity that will include non-Christians—is compatible with the thrust of Paul Anderson’s message, though it is also more radical than the matters about which he is concerned in his paper.

The second has to do with the matter of politics, which thrives on disunity. In The Concept of the Political, one of the most powerful essays of the last century, Carl Schmitt points out that the dominant form of politics begins with an arbitrary distinction between friends and foes, where a foe is conceived not merely as an adversary but as someone with whom it is impossible to live in unity. Hence war is a regular and proper part of politics. The demonization of enemies, the humiliation of captives and criminals, the treatment of criticism as betrayal, and the vitriolic trashing of political opponents are all familiar phenomena that seem to confirm Schmitt’s characterization of politics. Even athletics now seems driven by partisan divisiveness. Is it realistic to speak about unity without addressing such powerful sources of disunity? How are we to bring our powerful sense of the unity inherent in love and truth to bear on the unrepentant divisiveness of politics and politicians?

The third matter, which arises in part from the second, has to do with living in a morass of idolatry and blasphemy. I think of blasphemy as denying or ridiculing what is holy, either explicitly or implicitly. Our current governmental practices and political rhetoric, supported by the mass media, are riddled with blasphemy, particularly at all those points where they presuppose certain people understand nothing but force and thus are not fit for dialogue or civil society. Such thinking underlies much of foreign policy and what is called "criminal justice." I think of idolatry as putting false gods in place of the true God, by whatever name. Since God is our refuge and strength (Ps. 46:1), any policy or practice that entrusts refuge and strength to ungodly powers is idolatrous. Prisons, gated communities, and the Pentagon seem to me among the most arrogant instances of contemporary idolatry. Blasphemy and idolatry work against unity, as does partisan politics, and I wonder whether the visible churches are not often too enmeshed in contemporary media-driven concerns to be free of their divisive workings.

Newton Garver

Newton Garver, a member of Buffalo (N.Y.) Meeting, is emeritus professor of Philosophy at SUNY/Buffalo.