The news is abuzz about this historic meeting, as it should be. But let's not start picking out curtains any time soon. One of the strange tendencies we Christians have is perpetually seeing the best in things, no matter what the evidence.
I don't mean we shouldn't hope. Of course we should hope. And I don't mean we shouldn't be glad about this first step. But let's not go giddy . I've talked to enough Orthodox Christians now to realize that full reconciliation between East and West won't happen until Catholics do something about the whole Papal Infallibility thing. That's the crux.
There are other issues and disputes of course. And it will be interesting to see how they are resolved. Caution, however, is needed. The world is changing, and we're starting to come to a point, even in the pre-Protestant traditions, where some may not want to change these unchangeable doctrines, but will move to make them less relevant in the name of getting along and coexisting.
That happened in Evangelical Protestantism in the 90s and early 00s. One of the things that helped me, and especially my wife, became Catholic was the era of Warren. Rick Warren that is. Long before he made millions with his book The Purpose Driven Life, he was sending shock waves through ministry circles with a little book titled The Purpose Driven Church. The theme of his first book was that no matter what your tradition, no matter what your doctrines, no matter what your liturgy, if you followed a certain set of principles for marketing and promoting your ministry, you could have tens of thousands in your church.
It was playing off of the Seeker Sensitive phenomenon that was pushed to the max by Willow Creek in Chicago in the late 70s. That church famously grew by going around and asking people what they did and didn't like about church. They compiled the answers, and built their church around the majority answers. And they built it to the tune of thousands and thousands of members in only a few years.
Warren did the same, but with more sophistication and a broader willingness to set aside doctrinal and ecclesiastical teachings. You could be high or low liturgy, Calvinist or Arminian, Free Baptist or High Episcopalian. It just didn't matter. What mattered was following his strategies and his ideas based on marketing and promoting a business and you could have a huge, dynamic church. In Protestant circles, by the early 00s, ministers were splitting between those who accepted this idea that Baptism was merely something with which we could agree to disagree, and those who still felt those issues - doctrine, teaching, theology, ethics - were unchangeable and the foundations upon which a church should be built, no matter what the numbers.
So as the Pope and the Patriarch meet, I hope it signals a news beginning. I hope it is the first of many steps that will bring East and West back together. But I don't want it to be by setting aside doctrines that are essential, and have always been taught as essential, just for the sake of 'Can't we all coexist?' Find ways to work together, find ways to accommodate. Heck, be willing to actually change. But don't keep them as an essential doctrinal on one hand, and then set them on the shelf as no big deal just to avoid conflict on the other hand. That ends up making them nothing more than our happy opinions. The tendency in Evangelical Protestantism to follow that path has led to the modern Evangelical churches that are rooted on nothing historically and stand for nothing other than fun youth groups and happy praise music and feeling good about being swell people. Catholics and Orthodox should aim higher.