There is a language barrier in Christianity, and it has always existed. An anthropologist, I am not, so I will not attempt to explicate all of the legitimate reasons cultural and language barriers exist. However, all of those innnocuous reasons seem to reveal the insidious nature of division in the Church. In my estimation, the theological language barrier exists in the Church, because exclusion exists in the Church. Call it what you want, but when a Protestant refuses to allow a Catholic to explain their position in their own terms (…or a Catholic an Orthodox, or and Orthodox a Protestant, etc., et al), because the Protestant some how already knows the answer, then such interaction is no longer about mutual understanding, constructive criticism, or even healthy disagreement – it is about exclusion. What place has exclusion in the body of Christ? If there is no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, no master or slave in the body of Christ, how can there be actual division?
Which is an important point, I think. If the Church is Christ’s, and he transforms us into a unified body, then there can be no actual division in the actual Church – it is a spiritual law. So, our problem becomes even more exclusive in nature. If there is division, it is either only perceived division or those groups that are divided are not the actual Church. I suppose the larger issue then becomes clear, if Christ is Lord of the Church (read here, “if Christ is your Lord”), then it will conform to his image and his purpose; she is (gasp) predestined to it. So, by allowing exclusion to take place through the vagueness that occurs in interdisciplinary theological discourse, we are flaunting our unwillingness to conform – we are resisting his Lordship. Consequently, the Spiritual reality is that Christ’s Church is unified, but we seem to be slow on the uptake.
How, precisely, does this reduce to an issue with language? Perhaps, an example will be useful. In a sacramental sense, the Eucharist, Baptism, Marriage, et al are seen as conduits of grace in the lives of Christians. Ask a Catholic to explain this, and she will most likely give you a rendition of the RC’s teaching that Christ’s work on the cross requires a response in faith from human beings, so that the efficacy of grace can be experienced. Ask a Protestant to explain this, and he will most likely give you a rendition of the Protestant assertion that an attempt to participate in God’s work of grace actually removes its efficacy; and an attempt to do so constitutes a theological system by which humanity saves itself through empty rituals of righteousness. If you ever want to be “that guy” at a party just bring this issue up, then sit back and enjoy the show. Wherein lies the real issue? Is it really a difference between soteriological systems? Has one side so grossly misunderstood the clear message of the Gospel? Has anyone on either side bothered to ask what the other means when they use the term “Grace”? This is just one example, and it may be a poor one at that.
Are there other issues hindering the work of ecumenism? Absolutely. However, I have been left puzzling for the last several years whether any of those would be as prominent, if we would lay down our weapons and work toward a common vocabulary. Let’s be honest, here – the Orthodox are not going to accept openly homosexual priests any time soon, the Catholics are not going to ordain women any time soon, the Protestants are not going to participate in the Sacraments any time soon. However, how much closer would we be, if each acknowledged the legitimacy of the others’ Christian walk? Are the various Christian sects even able to recognize the doctrinal orthodoxy inherent in the others, or has the vocabulary become too much of a barrier? I recognize that this may only be loosley associated with exclusion as a concept, but language is the origin of behavior. If I reject certain theological language as being heretical, I cannot disassociate that language from the person sitting in the pew. If I do not prefer the language that they use to express their faith, then how will I be able to live out unity with their Christian witness? If I think you teach heresy, by proxy, you are a heretic. The logic is simple, but few are willing to openly acknowledge it.