Bishop Tony Palmer–the friend of Pope Francis who died last week in a motorcycle crash–was representative of a new movement in non Catholic Christian circles called the “convergence church movement”. What is “convergence church” and why does it matter?
The convergence movement must be distinguished from two other similar sounding Protestant church movements. “Convergence Christianity” is a term for a new development among non-denominational American community churches. “Convergence Christianity” is a non-dogmatic, non-fundamentalist, non-morally judgmental, ecologically aware form of Evangelical Protestantism. United Church of Christ pastor Eric Elnes describes Convergence Christianity here. Some of it’s non-tenets are:
They are letting go of the notion that their particular faith is the only legitimate one on the planet. They are embracing an understanding that God is greater than our imagination can comprehend (or fence in), and thus they are open to the possibility that God may speak within and across all faith traditions.
They are letting go of literal and inerrant interpretations of their sacred texts while celebrating the unique treasures that their texts contain. They are embracing a more ancient, prayerful, non-literal approach to these same texts, and finding new insights and resources as they do so.
They are letting go of the notion that people of faith are called to dominate nature. They are embracing a more organic and reverent understanding of human relationship with the earth.
They are letting go of empty worship conventions and an overemphasis on doctrines as tools of division and exclusion. They are embracing more diverse, creative, engaging approaches, often making strong use of the arts.
The convergence movement must also be distinguished from the “Emerging Church Movement”. This is described as:
…a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants are described as Protestant, post-Protestant, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post-conservative, anabaptist, adventist,reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic. Emerging churches can be found throughout the globe, predominantly in North America,Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditionalChristian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.
More about emerging church here.
Tony Palmer’s convergence movement on the other hand is
The convergence movement refers to a move among evangelical and charismatic churches in the United States to blend charismatic worship with liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer and other liturgical sources. The Convergence Movement was inspired by the spiritual pilgrimages of modern Evangelical writers like Thomas Howard, Robert E. Webber, Peter E. Gillquist and the ancient Christian writers and their communities. These men, along with theologians, scripture scholars, and pastors in a number of traditions, were calling Christians back to their roots in the primitive church.
More about the convergence movement here
Put simply, the convergence movement is a network of groups made up of Evangelicals who have felt the need to root their faith in the historic creeds, the teachings of the apostolic fathers, apostolic succession, liturgical worship and Eastern Orthodox/Catholic spirituality. These groups retain their independence while drawing on the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic traditions in their worship, governance, doctrine and spirituality.
The strength of the convergence movement is that it is enthusiastic, doctrinally orthodox and genuinely interested in a convergence of Evangelicalism with Catholic Christianity.
The problem is that the different denominational groupings remain fissiparous themselves. Like all Protestant groups they have authority issues. Because they have no agreed central authority they drift into sectarianism.
The problem reminds me of Cardinal Newman’s teaching…and here is something dense to chew over: He says that for Christianity to be dogmatic it must have an infallible interpreter. Otherwise it will drift into latitudinarianism or sectarianism. The latitudinarian will sacrifice doctrinal unity for unity of form and the sectarian will sacrifice unity of form for doctrinal unity. Only in the Catholic Church therefore can one have unity of doctrine and unity of form.
The different groups within the convergence movement will ultimately end up in the sectarian error. They will have unity of doctrine but no unity of form. If they do effect some kind of formal convergence then they will end up in the latitudinarian error by which they will sacrifice unity of doctrine for unity of form.
Or….and here is an exciting possibility…they will find their way to the Anglican Ordinariate–a structure which will allow them a certain amount of independence, will value their Evangelical tradition and their desire to embrace the historic church AND bring them into full communion with the Holy See.