BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. -- Ecumenical dialogue between Baptists and other Christian traditions
clarifies Baptist distinctives rather than dilutes them, says a Gardner-Webb University professor who participated in recent preliminary conversations between Baptists and Orthodox Christians.
“The purpose of ecumenical discussions is not to water down core Baptist doctrines, or to sacrifice congregational autonomy,” said Steven Harmon, adjunct instructor of Christian theology at the Baptist-affiliated school in Boiling Springs, N.C., in a university press statement. “Rather, ecumenists strive to clearly understand what other traditions believe on their own terms, rather than relying our own caricatured images of them. That also involves more clearly understanding those doctrines and practices that make us different, even as we search for the convergences that will help us establish unity.”
Harmon was part of a three-person team representing the Baptist World Alliance which held exploratory talks in Crete Oct. 30-Nov. 2 with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople -- widely regarded as the spiritual head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians -- that could lead to formal dialogue between Baptists and Orthodox Christians internationally.
Harmon said the Baptist delegation drafted a concise statement of Baptist identity, including essential theological beliefs and a brief narrative of Baptist history, to be included in an official recommendation by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Orthodox Churches to participate in formal dialogue.
Participants left the meeting with the understanding that the Ecumenical Patriarch would examine the proposal developed at the Crete meeting and determine whether to remit it to Orthodox Churches with a view to securing their participation in the formal dialogue, he added. A decision is expected by March 2012.