George Hunsinger’s Proposal for Ending the Reformation and Reunifying the Church

George Hunsinger's Proposal for Ending the Reformation and Reunifying the Church

In the conclusion of George Hunsinger, "The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast", he provides a proposal for reuniting the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that has been splintered by the Protestant Reformation into over 30,000 denominations [1]. The book largely addresses concerns in the Reformed Church tradition, and doesn't provide solutions for every Protestant denomination (especially Pentecostal churches), however it does provide a promising proposal, if followed, that would allow for significant reunification of the majority of protestant churches with higher sacramental churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican communions. 

Hunsinger's proposal addressed three specific challenges to unifying these divided church traditions: 1) the real presence of body of Jesus in the bread of the Lord's Supper, 2) the role of sacrifice in the lord's supper, and 3) the rejoining of church governments into one episcopacy. The conclusion contains an outline for each section of Hunsinger's proposal, and includes additional answers to specific objections that may be raised to his proposal. I've simplified the main points in each of these three sections in the following three sections respectively.

Eucharist and ministry

Hunsinger explains that only churches with an historic episcopate church government have maintained visible unity, and all others have experience significant fracturing. Hunsinger writes, "It is astonishing to realize that there are currently 746 different Reformed churches worldwide. Visible unity cannot be said to have been well maintained in churches lacking the historic episcopate." [2] So Hunsinger believes that reunification of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church requires episcopal government to maintain unity, and this may require a new form of episcopal government that has not previously existed in church history. The general idea, is that all churches would conform to a three-tiered government, consisting of a bishop, priest and deacon. For instance, in the Reformed Church, the moderator of the general assembly would become a functional bishop, and the ruling elders would become deacons, and then this bishop would respect and honor the bishop of Rome (that is the Pope), in the same way as the Eastern Orthodox patriarchal bishops honor the pope, as a first among equals. Additionally, the sacraments (such as chrismation), would be accommodated to the sacrament of baptism. 

Here is a summary of the seven primary points Hunsigner provides in proposal's section on "eucharist and ministry" [3]:

(1) "that the Reformed churches accept episcopal ordination"

(2) "that the episcopacy be reconfigured along lines of collegiality, jurisdiction, and governance that correspond more nearly with current Eastern Orthodox than Roman Catholic understandings"

(3) "that the primacy of the bishop of Rome, . . .  be welcomed with gladness by all Christian traditions and individuals."

(4) "that the high sacramental churches find a theologically principled way of giving their blessing to the ministerial office as it now exists in the churches of the Reformation"

(5) "that baptism be seen as the center out of which to think about ordination, so that ordination becomes a further specification, for a particular ministry, of the charism received in baptism."

(6) "that it be affirmed . . . that all particular forms of ministry, whether ordained or not, are seen as particular modes of participating in the one, yet highly ramified, ministry of Christ."

(7) "that in a divided church all traditions acknowledge that none can be without non-trivial defect regarding apostolic succession . . . to subject themselves . . . under the sovereignty of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit" 

The bread that we break

Secondly, Hunsinger proposes that the Eastern Orthodox concept of transelementation be adopted for understanding the real presence of the body of Jesus in the Lord Supper. Transelementation is somewhat analogous to transubstantiation, in that the bread is the real body of Jesus (as in transubstantiation) but it also remains to be bread, in a similar way that Jesus has two natures (fully human and fully divine). In the Reformed tradition, there have been many theologians (including John Calvin) who affirmed that the Lord's Supper was more than remembrance, so transelementation would mean that the Lord's Supper is also to be understood as Jesus' physical body. 

Hunsinger provides these three primarily points in "the bread that we break" [4]:

(1) "that the consecrated bread has become the body of Christ and the consecrated cup the blood of Christ."

(2) "that the Reformed follow Vermigli, Bucer, and Cranmer (and possibly Calvin) insofar as they affirmed the eucharistic views on real presence"

Further more that (a) "the relationship between Christ’s life-giving flesh and the consecrated elements as one of mutual indwelling (koinonia)"; and (b) "The technical name for this position is transelementation (metastoicheiosis)"; and (c) "involves the elevation and objective conversion of the elements through their mystical union with Christ’s flesh in the power of the Holy Spirit, but not a destruction of their “substance” so that only their “accidents” (or species) would remain."

(3) "that the signs truly become the reality they signify without ceasing to be signs, that the signs thus effectually mediate what they are and are what they mediate, since as bread and wine they are at the same time Christ’s body and blood."

The sacrifice we offer

The third section, is a new understanding of sacrifice, that affirms that the eucharist is not a repetition of sacrifice of Jesus and that it doesn't produce merits. However, the Lord's Super would be affirmed as a sacrifice, that is united with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. 

Hunsinger provides the following four points in the proposal's section on "the sacrifice we offer" [5]:

(1) "Eucharistic sacrifice would be affirmed, while the central concern of the Reformation was upheld." And, "in no sense be a meritorious work attributable to the priesthood or the church."

(2) "that the consecrated elements of bread and wine be seen . . . as the means by which church is incorporated into Christ’s offering of himself in eternal intercession on behalf of the faithful and the world."

(3) "that the eucharistic sacrifice be seen not only in its abiding distinction from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (the dimension of depth), but also in its inseparable unity with it."

Further more it is: (a) "a secondary and dependent form of the once-for-all sacrifice on the cross"; and (b) "actualization of that sacrifice in a sacramental mode"; and (c) "neither a repetition of nor a supplement to that sacrifice"; and (d) "communal participation in what is being remembered"; and (e) "not just as a memorial (anamnesis) of a past event, but at the same time as a real anticipation (prolepsis) of the promised future."

(4) "that the eucharistic sacrifice not be cut off from its essence as the paschal mystery and therefore from its role as the fulfillment of Passover in and through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. . . .  that it thus be seen not only in terms of participation but also in terms of substitution"

Conclusion

The Protestant Reformation has fractured the one holy catholic apostolic church like a tempered windshield in a car accident, leaving a myriad shards of glass on the pavement. 500 years have passed since the Reformation's conception, and the 30,000+ protestant denominations are increasing at an alarming rate, leaving little hope that the church will be reunified within the lifetime of even our great-grand children. It is difficult to see how Jesus' prayer that "they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:21) may be answered, such that the Church would be reunified. However, not all hope is lost for reunifying the one holy catholic church after all, because there is "a time to break down, and a time to build up" (Ecc 3:3). The Protestant Reformation was a time of breaking down, but a future of building up maybe closer than anyone realizes. We've already seen agreements such as the Joint Declaration (JDDJ) this year, that may foreshadow an unexpected moment when dividing walls suddenly fall.

George Hunsinger's proposal in The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast gives us a vision of hope, allowing us to see how the Church may be visibly reunified into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church once again. I highly recommend this book, and believe it provides us an achievable goal for finally ending the Protestant Reformation. 

Sources:

1. Atlas of World Christianity (2010) lists 38,000 protestant denominations in 4,000,000 independent congregations. The World Christian Encyclopedia, edited David Barrett lists 33,000 protestant denominations. Both sources are from protestant researches, and these numbers are cited by other protestant historians such as Mark A. Noll's Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction (p. 9)

2. Hunsinger, George. The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast (Current Issues in Theology). New York: Cambridge UP, 2008. pp. 207-208. Print. 

2. Ibid. pp. 321-322

3. Ibid. pp. 315-316.

4. Ibid. pp. 317-318

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  1. Under Hunsinger’s program, would divorced and remarried Protestants be allowed to partake of the Eucharist in Roman Catholic churches without meeting the conditions of Roman Catholic canon law requiring annulment of prior marriages first? Or would they be excluded, until the conditions were met? If the answer is that they would be excluded, then it seems to me that the Reformation is not and should not be over.

    • Very good question. I did not think to discuss it in my book. Of course all such questions would need to be negotated by Christians of good will as representatives of the various commuions and ecclesial communities. I agree, however, that divorced and remarried Protestants (or Catholics, too for that matter!) ought not necessarily to be excluded from the Eucharist and that “annulment” of prior marriages ought not to be required. My view is not unlike that of many Catholic priests today who operate unofficially on much this very basis in practice. There are indications that even Pope Francis, perhas the most merciful Pope since John xxiii, would not disagree, though he is being severely kicked for it. P.S. Thank you to the author of the original post for this fine summary the positions taken in my book. I would note, however, that I to not wish to “end” the Reformation but in a sense continue it. Semper Reformanda!

      • Thank you for your reply, Professor Hunsinger. I myself am a former Roman Catholic and current Protestant, who is married to a wife previously divorced, so it is a matter of personal importance to me. As you know, many divorced and remarried Roman Catholics leave the RC Church, or remain alienated and out of full communion in it, because of dissatisfaction with its teaching on this matter. I can’t imagine the many divorced and remarried Protestants willingly submitting to Roman Catholic canons on this issue in order to be in full communion with the RC Church. Reunification is not only dependent on Protestant willingness to end the Reformation, but also on Catholics surrendering their exclusionary practices with regard to participation in the Eucharist, and not just in the matter of divorce and remarriage.

        • I don’t know what stance the Eastern Orthodox communions take on this question. It is possible that they are less rigid than the official Roman position. If so, it would be another area where Protestats and the Orthodox would form a common front. Perhaps the Eastern Rite Catholics also take a more compassionate and evangelical stance. That would be even more promising, I should think. A survey of the official posiitons across the communions and ecclesial communities might turn up some hopeful results. The stronger the anti-Roman coalition on this front, the better. Legalism in our churches, whether official or unofficial, needs to be ousted root and branch, for the sake of Christ!

      • Dr. Hunsinger, thank you for writing such a wonderful book, it truly is a gift. I appreciate all your work, and I’m flattered by your comment. -Wyatt


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