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David Alexander 1

Wider Ecumenism and the Roman Catholic Church in Asia:
A Critique of the 1999Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia Based on
S. Wesley Ariarajah's Understandings of oikos and ecclesia.

David Alexander, M.A, Ed.M.* Tainan Theological College & Seminary

This paper will first establish the framework and some particulars of what
Ariarajah means by “wider ecumenism” (specifically, how he defines oikos and
ecclesia) and then look for the frameworks and particulars of ecumenism as defined
in Ecclesia in Asia. Points of convergence and divergence will be noted and
theological reflections from the spirit of the ecumenical movement and the living
context of Taiwan will be offered.
Introduction

During a seminar held at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey in the 1980’s, Dr. S.

Wesley Ariarajah, a Sri Lankan Methodist, posed a question on the nature of

ecumenism to W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft, who had been instrumental in the Ecumenical

movement for decades. Ariarajah noted that the institutionalized ecumenical

movement had begun with church-centered initiatives in Europe, but asked whether,

as the world has changed, the time had not come for Christians to look to a “wider

ecumenism that would more truly represent the whole inhabited earth?”1 The response

he received, based on Visser ‘t Hooft’s own belief that the oikos needs to be visibly

unified in Christ, led eventually to Ariarajah’s own departure from the ecumenical

paradigm characterized as Christocentric Universalism

The Vatican II decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, begins by stating,

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the

1
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Wider Ecumenism: A Threat or a Promise?” Ecumenical Review, Vol 50 1998 p
321.
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Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.”2

To facilitate the relationships of Roman Catholics in Asia with other Christians as

well as with people of other faiths, the Federation of Asian Bishops Councils (FABC)

established an office of ecumenical and inter-religious affairs in the early 1970’s, but

the focus of the office’s work was on the inter-religious aspect rather than on the

ecumenical one.3

The Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for Asia took place from 18 April to 14

May 1998 at the Vatican. On November 6 of 1999 Pope John Paul II issued an

apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Asia, “to convey the wealth of that great spiritual

event of communion and episcopal collegiality.”4 Given the Asian Bishops’ extensive

experience of participation in inter-religious affairs, one seeks to ascertain if they

were able to insert into the document they wrote for the Pope’s approbation and

signature material that would reflect an Asian Roman Catholic perspective towards

“wider ecumenism”.

The Person and Work of S. Wesley Ariarajah
Ariarajah was born and grew up as a Christian in Sri Lanka. When he was five

years old his family moved to the town of Kankesanthurai where they were

2
Unitatis Redintegratio www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-
ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html , Introduction, Section 1, Accessed 29 August
2006
3
Virginia Fabella, MM. “The Roman Catholic Church in the Asian Ecumenical Movement” in Ninan
Koshy, A History fo the Ecumenical Movement in Asia, Vol II (Hong Kong: WSCF, AP YMCA’s and
CCA, 2004) p. 118.
4
John Paul II Ecclesia in Asia, section 4
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surrounded by Hindu homes and households. He played, prayed and went to school

with the Hindu children in his neighborhood.5 Under the influence and guidance of D.

T. Niles, who was the pastor of his church and principal of his boarding school,

Ariarajah was brought to confirmation and opted to study for the ministry.6 But he did

not forget his Hindu neighbours and friends. He undertook in-depth studies of both

Hinduism and Buddhism and became interested in interfaith dialogue.7 For a time he

served as a pastor in the Methodist Church in Kandy, Sri Lanka.8 He eventually came

into the dialogue programme of the World Council of Churches, where he took over

the position of director of the sub-unit on Dialogue with people of other faiths.9 He

rose in the WCC hierarchy to the position of Deputy General Secretary and after 16

years left Geneva for North America. He currently serves as professor of ecumenical

theology at Drew University School of Theology in Madison, USA.

For Ariarajah the call to wider ecumenism is: “a call to discernment. It is an

attempt to make more sense than before of the conviction we hold that the Spirit of

God is active in the world. It is an attempt to give more meaning than before to our

belief that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who

dwell in it’.”10

5
S. Wesey Ariarajah, Not Without My Neighbour (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1999)pp 1-2.
6
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Time of Fullness and Life for All”, The D. T. Niles Lecture, CCA General
Assembly, June 2000.
7
Not Without My Neighbour p. 5
8
S. Wesley Ariarajah, The Bible And People Of Other Faiths (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1985) p.
1
9
Not without my Neighbour, p. 6
10
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Wider Ecumenism: A Threat or a Promise?” Ecumenical Review, Vol 50. 1998.
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The Oikos of S. Wesley Ariarajah
It is common knowledge that the word ‘ecumenical’ comes from the Greek word

oikoumene, which meant, ‘the whole inhabited earth.’ In fact, the word was used by

the Roman Empire to denote the geographical extent of its rule, and in the context of

its power and might it was able to declare the area it controlled as the ‘whole

inhabited earth’; whatever that was not under its control did not exist!11 Ariarajah

attributes to Wilfred Cantwell Smith the comment that the word ‘ecumenical’ has

unfortunately “been appropriated to designate rather an internal development within

the on-going church” and an argument that if the word ‘ecumenical’ is about the

“whole inhabited earth,” it should indeed deal with the plurality of the world as such,

including its religious plurality.12

Ariarajah names and dismisses three distinct “fear-based” resistances to “wider

ecumenism”: 1) the fear that an emphasis on wider ecumenism would undercut, and

eventually replace, the need for Christian ecumenism; 2) the fear that arises from the

feeling that wider ecumenism is a tacit admission that “all religions are the same,” and

that “it does not matter whether one is a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or a Muslim;” and

3) the experience of threat that comes from those concerned with the mission of the

church which is based on dividing the world into those who are ‘saved’ and those who

are ‘in need of salvation.’ Other religious traditions are not seen as adequate paths to

pp. 327-8.
11
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Wider Ecumenism” CURRENT DIALOGUE Issue 47, June 2006
12
Ibid.
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salvation, so all need to hear the Gospel and respond to the challenge to become part

of the ‘saved’ community.13

His oikos is a future one, of which he dreams and for which he yearns. It is a

world in which all religious communities contribute to the well-being of all; a world

where religions become not yet another force of fragmentation but a source of

healing; a world were religions, in all their diversity, work towards creating a human

family that has at last learned to live in peace and harmony.14

The Ecclesia of S. Wesley Ariarajah
Many an Evangelical Christian is careful never to use the word “religion” when

speaking or writing about Christianity, because “religions” are seen as human

inventions. These people are sincere in their belief that Christianity is a “faith”, a gift

of God, and therefore distinct from “religions”. Though Ariarajah, on the one hand,

has no problem with the use of the word “religion” when writing about Christians and

Christianity, yet, on the other hand, he is particularly careful in using the word

“church”. His ecclesia is but a small material and functional manifestation of the

presence of Christian religion within people who identify themselves as Christians.

“The churches in Asia,” he wrote, “have been grudging in their love of their

neighbours. In the interest of increasing our own numbers we have not been

13
Ibid.
14
Ibid.
David Alexander 6

forthcoming in speaking about this free, out flowing, unconditional love that is at the

heart of the Gospel and the center of Jesus’ own mission.15

He writes of the church in terms of its functions, acknowledging that,”… the

church excels in humanitarian work, it has done little or nothing to help the Christians

have an informed understanding of what their neighbors believe, and why. It has taken

no initiatives to help Christians understand how to relate to those who had heard the

Gospel, but have chosen to remain Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. Nor has the church

taken any steps to encourage the Christians to engage together with persons of other

faiths in the struggles for justice, reconciliation and peace.”16

He berates the church for its narrow focus. “The problem here for me was that

plurality made no difference to the church. It lives in a make-believe world of its own;

that it is the group that has all the answers to the questions of life; that it has only one

primary mandate, namely, to preach the Gospel, and that one day ‘every knee shall

bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’.”17

Ariarajah does not deny his deep and loving connection to the local church.

Relating a story of inviting a Hindu, whom he had met in a temple in Jaffna, to hear

him preach, he identifies the location as “my church at Moor Road”.18 But in the

15
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Time of Fullness and Life for All”, The D. T. Niles Lecture, CCA General
Assembly, June 2000.
16
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “What Difference does Religious Plurality Make?” Current Dialogue 34, July
2000
17
Ibid.
18
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Dialogue and Spirituality: Can We Pray Together?” Monastic Interreligious
Dialogues, Bulletin 73, October 2004 http://monasticdialog.com/a.php?id=404 accessed 30 August
2006.
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chapter on Christianity and People of Other Religious Traditions, published as part of

Volume 2 of A History of the Ecumenical Movement in Asia,19 one searches for a

positive use of the word “church” almost in vain.

In the context of discussing Roman Catholic in contrast to Protestant theological

approaches to other religions, he mentions ecclesiology within an entry on Interfaith

Dialogue in the 2002 edition of the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement. “There

were in fact significant differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics in their

general theological orientation towards other religions. The Protestant missions

tended to place enormous emphasis on Christology and on the need to respond to the

message of the gospel as a way to salvation…. Roman Catholic theology placed

greater emphasis on ecclesiology. Salvation is a free gift of God offered in Christ to

one who has faith in Christ. This faith is expressed by being baptized and becoming

part of the church, which was instituted by Christ to carry on his saving work. Within

the overall concept of the church as the sign and sacrament of the saving work of

Christ available to all humankind… , Salvation offered in Christ is mysteriously

available to all who seek to fulfill the will of God; it is possible to be incorporated

into the sacrament of the paschal mystery, the church, by intention.”20

The survey, limited as it is, seems to point to Ariarajah’s lack of an articulated

19
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “ Christianity and People of Other Religious Traditions” in Ninan Koshy, A
History of the Ecumenical Movement in Asia, Vol II (Hong Kong: WSCF, AP YMCA’s and CCA, 2004)
pp. 139-165.
20
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Dialogue, Interfaith” in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, revised
edition (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002)
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ecclesiology. From his writings one would never conclude that he is other than a

Christian, or that he is uncomfortable with and among Christians. He has an oikos

which includes all of life, all of creation! He sees God throughout all that has been

created, and acknowledges the presence of God in and through the religious

manifestations of humankind, including, in the case of Christians, the church. But it

seems that he is comfortable to have Christians without churches.

This may have some basis in his Asian identity, where the “hallmark of Asian

ecumenism was the emphasis on people.”21 The regional ecumenical organization

bears that out in its name, Christian Conference of Asia (and earlier, East Asian

Christian Conference) rather than Conference of Asian Churches or something of that

sort.22

Ecclesia in Asia--Introduction
The Synod of Bishops, Special Assembly for Asia took place in Rome from April

19 to May 14, 1998 with some 260 participants. The apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in

Asia was published as final document of the Synod by Pope John Paul II in New

Delhi on November 6, 1999.23

21
Ninan Koshy, A History of the Ecumenical Movement in Asia Vol 1, Hong Kong, Christian
Conference of Asia, 2004, p328
22
Other regional ecumenical organizations are: The All Africa Council of Churches, The Caribbean
Council of Churches, The European Council of Churches, The Latin American Council of Churches,
The Middle East Council of Churches, and The Pacific Council of Churches.
23
Franz-Josef Eilers, svd “ Social Communication in Ecclesia in Asia and recent FABC Documents”
www.fabc.org/offices/osc/docs/pdf/SCinEA.pdf accessed 5 September 2006) p. 1
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Ecclesia in Asia is typical of theological documents published over the signature

of John Paul II. It is long, insists frequently on complete orthodoxy, quotes abundantly

from John Paul’s earlier writings, and ends emotionally (in this case, with a prayer to

Mary). One question that arises, particularly for Asian readers, is: “Has the

Exhortation said anything new and important for the Churches of Asia that either had

not been said before by these Churches themselves or could not have been said except

thanks to the work of the Synod itself?” At least one commentator responds to both

parts of the question with the answer, “no”. He says that almost the entire document

could have been produced “prior to and apart from the Synod,” and adds that such

material as was unique to the Asian context had “already been said, powerfully and in

great detail, by the various documents of the FABC.”24

Roman Catholic ecclesiology presents a problem. Because of the hierarchical

nature of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope can speak both TO and FOR the

entire church. Without their having signed the documents themselves, the local

bishops, pastors, ministers and laypeople are “assumed” to be willing to bring their

thoughts and practice into line with the assertions of documents such as Ecclesia in

Asia. The critique below is of 1) the contents of the document and 2) the one over

whose signature it was issued. However, if we are to ascertain what the opinions and

24
Peter C. Phan “Ecclesia In Asia: Challenges For Asian Christianity”
my.acu.edu.au/download.cfm/9C1A038A-5D61-4DD2-802B5B99A2222589 accessed 5 September
2006)
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practices of Roman Catholics in Asia and the bishops who care for them actually may

be, Ecclesia in Asia itself may NOT be an adequate reflection, and the statements of

the FABC may be more indicative.

The Ecclesia of Ecclesia in Asia
In an above section, this writer speculated that Ariarajah was more comfortable

in his oikos than in the ecclesia. Ariarajah himself had noted that Protestants in

mission were, on a whole, Christologically oriented, calling people to respond to the

message of the Gospel regarding the salvation made available in Christ. He contrasted

this with Roman Catholics who were more “ecclesiologic” in orientation. The

salvation came in Christ, who calls for a faith response, but the nature of that response

is more than to believe, it is to be baptized and become part of the church.25 His

contention that Roman Catholic mission is centered on ecclesia is well borne out in

Ecclesia in Asia, which seems to indicate that its drafters and the Pope who signed it

were more comfortable within their ecclesia than in the oikos.

But what is that church? {Note, numbers in parentheses”( )” hereinafter refer to

the section of Ecclesia in Asia in which the reference can be found.} The church is a

sacrament: of salvation (24); of the inner union of the human person with God (24)

and of the unity of the human race (24 & 29). She has both “universal” and “local”

manifestations, but as important as the local (or “contextual”, or “particular”) might

25
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Dialogue, Interfaith” in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, revised
edition (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002)
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be, they must all give way before the “universal”. (see 2, and 44, and particularly 22,

25, 26 and 28). Universality is also one aspect of papal authority (25). And that

authority, inherent in the See of Peter (8 & 28) and especially in the Successor of

Peter (3, 24, 25, & 43) is central to what it means to be the church. The reminder

regarding papal authority was seen to be so important that it was repeated three times

in section 25 on “Communion within the Church” and no less than twice in section 43

which deals with the pastoral role bishops as witnesses to the gospel. (In this section,

the heretofore designated “Successor of Peter” also describes himself as “Head of the

Episcopal College.”) Throughout the document, Jesus Christ is identified as the

Saviour several times, but the signator, Pope John Paul II, seems never to allow the

readers to forget whose church this is, it is HIS (the pope’s) church.

The Church is described as “being” the following things: active (1); worldwide

(1); new, ancient and apostolic (3); contextual in expression (5); challenged by its

social and political context (7, 8, 9); preserved in union, empowered, endowed with

gifts and shaped by the Holy Spirit (17); aflame with missionary zeal (19); internally

renewed by cultures (21); the visible plan of God’s love for humanity (24); a pilgrim

people (24); diverse but unified in the papacy and its bishops (25 & 26); a community

of love and service (34); involved in care of the sick, education and work for

international peace, justice and reconciliation(36, 37 &38); missionary (42) and open
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to participation of the Laity (45).

The actions of the Church include: dialogue with other religions (6, 29 & 31);

proclamation of Jesus Christ (10); sharing of the gift of salvation (20); respecting of

other religions (20); renewing other cultures from within (21); maintaining of

traditions (22); praying (23); maintaining relations with other religions and other

churches (24); involvement in ecumenical dialogue (24 & 30); reaching out to women

and men without distinction (32); service to the poor (32); promotion of the

development of human dignity and integrity (33); showing preferential love to the

poor (34); and insisting on globalization without marginalization (39).

Fr. Emilio Lim, drawing lessons from Ecclesia in Asia, says that three necessities

for being the church in Asia are clear. 1) The Church will have to be present in people,

not only through its visible structures, but more so by engaging the Asian people in

their own ground. 2) The Church in Asia is missionary, not in the sense of

triumphalistic proclamation, but to discover its identity in “loving service”. 3) We

need a Church in communion. This means both communion with Jesus and the Father

in the Spirit, and communion with our neighbors. A simple test for communion is to

ask: “Do the people feel at home in the Church?”26

The danger in saying so much is that none of it will be accomplished because

there is so much else to do. Any one believer, any member of the clergy, any parish,

Ecclesia In Asia – An Insider’s View ◎Fr. Emilio Lim, SVD
26

www.catholic.org.tw/amrsmw/OS/2003473/2.htm accessed 5 September 2006
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any diocese, or any ecclesial community can seize on a handful of descriptions or

actions to the exclusion or even to the contradiction of any or all others and claim to

have the marks of what is true about it.

The oikos of Ecclesia in Asia
Here there is little to say. In contrast to its references to the ecclesia, which are

many, the oikos is almost unheard of in Ecclesia in Asia. Hints of the extent or

boundaries can be found, though, where the word “ecumenical” is used. These

indicate that the oikos of the Roman Catholic Church in Asia is inhabited only by

those who identify themselves as Christians. “Ecumenical” refers to a type of

relations or dialogue between Christians and churches. All similar actions and

relations with persons and communities identified as other religions are characterized

as “inter-religious”. This is abundantly clear in sections 24, 27 and 29, where within

one sentence, or in neighboring sentences, ecumenical dialogue or relations is

contrasted with inter-religious dialogue, and is abundantly clear where section 30,

subtitled “Ecumenical Dialogue” is followed immediately by section 31, entitled

“Inter-religious Dialogue.

Points of Divergence and Convergence Between Ariarajah and Ecclesia in Asia

Ariarajah is so committed to inter-religious dialogue that he upholds “Christians”

and “religions” without giving much acknowledgement at all to “churches”. The

direction of his force is centrifugal, sending people out from their provincialities to an
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inclusive oneness. If the Roman Catholic Church is reflected in the verbiage of

Ecclesia in Asia, it is so focused on its structures and hierarchy that its direction of its

force is centripetal, seeking to draw all people unto itself and under the authority of

the Successor of Peter, within the sacrament of which the power of the Holy Spirit

bonds believers into union with Jesus Christ the Saviour.

On the topic of inter-religious dialogue, however, Pope John Paul II and S.

Wesley Ariarajah appear to sing from the same page of the same hymnal. The

Apostolic Exhortation, in section 3, recognizes that “dialogue is a characteristic mode

of the Church’s life in Asia.” Ariarajah has said much the same thing, “We are longing

for a world in which all religious communities would contribute to the well-being of

all, a world where religions become not yet another force of fragmentation but a

source of healing, a world were religions, in all their diversity, would work towards

creating a human family that has at last learned to live in peace and harmony”27

In section 29, Pope John Paul II said that dialogue is “an essential part of the

Church’s mission because it has its origin in the Father’s loving dialogue of salvation

with humanity through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit”. Human dialogue,

especially inter-religious, requires charity, honesty and sincerity, openness, respect for

others, a sure and firm knowledge of one’s own beliefs and convictions, a willingness

to listen, and humility.28

27
S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Wider Ecumenism” CURRENT DIALOGUE Issue 47, June 2006
28
Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. “Symposium On “Evangelization In The Light Of
David Alexander 15

As insistent on having his own way as the Successor of Peter may have been, in

the sixth chapter of Ecclesia in Asia he visualized the church as reaching out to

women and men without distinction, “striving to build with them a civilisation of

love, founded upon the universal values of peace, justice, solidarity and freedom.”29

Although, from the perspective of this faith, the Pope naturally sees these values as

finding their fulfillment in Christ, there is no hint or suggestion that such

collaboration is to aim at or be dependent upon conversion to the Christian faith.30

Theological Reflections From The Spirit of the Ecumenical Movement
It is of the spirit of ecumenism to be concerned about all that belongs to God and

belongs together. In terms of institutional ecumenism (as expressed through the

World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian

Unity, world confessional bodies and regional ecumenical organizations) the spirit of

ecumenism is oft-times more centered on some version of Christology or

Ecclesiology. Each “position” studied in this paper (“wider ecumenism” advocated by

Ariarajah and the “ecclesiology” of Ecclesia in Asia) strains the fundamental spirit of

ecumenism in a different direction.

Ariarajah, though himself a faithful Christian, almost dispenses with the need for

Ecclesia In Asia” www.fabc.org/offices/oe/docs/doc5.doc accessed 5 September 2006
29
Ecclesia in Asia, section 32.
30
J. Saldhana, SJ. “Negative Reactions”, Mission Outlook, January 2002
www.missionsocieties.org.uk/MOUT/02Jan/MOUT_jan02_EcclesiaInAsia.htm accessed 5 September
2006
David Alexander 16

a specific “Christ center” within his oikos. While this might be seen as “creation

centered”, or “God centered”, it is a step, or perhaps several steps, beyond where the

modern ecumenical movement began in 1910, or even where it has been at many

observation points along the route of its pilgrimage. Jane Dempsey Douglass

describes the ecumenical journey as having a set goal, but within which there is no

provision for pilgrims to choose their companions.

The challenge of the ecumenical movement, then, must be to
enter into a persistent, loving, patient, and honest engagement
with all those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and
administer the sacraments, seeking visible unity. We are not at
liberty to select only those partners with whom we are
comfortable and with whom we find greatest agreement. Rather,
we are called to the ecumenical engagement with all those
companions in our pilgrimage whom God has called to
accompany us.31
Ecclesia in Asia moves in the opposite direction of Ariarajah, rather than seeking

to expand the understanding of the oikos to the limits of all that belongs to the Creator

(The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein) this

apostolic exhortation NARROWS understandings and hardens boundaries for Roman

Catholic Christians. Being published in November of 1999, it preceded by only a few

months the promulgation of the papal declaration Dominus Iesus wherein it is stated

that the church of Jesus Christ is “fully” realised only in the Catholic Church.32 This

statement logically implies that outside the Catholic Church there is no full realisation

31
Jane Dempsey Douglass, “A Reformed Perspective on the Ecumenical Movement”
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=421 accessed 11 September 2006
32
Dominus Iesus Sections 16 & 17
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of the church of Jesus Christ but merely an imperfect realisation. This is not to say

that outside the Catholic Church there is an ecclesial vacuum.33 There may not be

“the” church, but there is church reality.34

As thankful as this writer is that in Dominus Iesus the Congregation for the

Doctrine of the Faith and Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) granted

an imperfect realization of the church of Jesus Christ to such ecclesial communities as

those within which he holds an affiliation, he feels that those communities have been

presented not with an invitation to come to an ecumenical table so much as ordered

into a banquet hall by the servants’ entrance where they will be permitted to observe

their elders and betters enjoying the meal set before THEM.

Ariarajah may be open to ecumenical critique because he proposes opening the

banquet hall, and sharing the food on the tables, with persons for whom some feel it

was not prepared, but should we not rather be judged for inviting too many people to

the banquet than for refusing to share with others, and for rejecting what they

themselves might have brought to the party?

33
Ut Unum Sint Section 13
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-
unum-sint_en.html Accessed 11 September 2006
34
Kaspar, Walter. Present Situation and Future of the Ecumenical Movement
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/card-kasper-
docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20011117_kasper-prolusio_en.html Accessed 11 September 2006
David Alexander 18

Theological Reflections from the Living Context of Taiwan
If, indeed, as Dr. Ariarajah and the Bible remind us, “The earth is the Lord’s and

all that is in it, the world and all that dwell therein,” then, whether the United Nations

as an organization or the several nations of the world as separate entities recognize the

national identity of Taiwan or not, “Taiwan is the Lord’s and all that is in it, these

islands and all who dwell hereon!”

Two recent “happenings” in Taiwan’s news can be seen through this

oikos/ecclesia lens as presented by Ariarajah on one side and Ecclesia in Asia on the

other.

1) President Chen Must Step Down! As a movement purporting to bring grassroots

pressure on President Chen to step down from his office because of corruption among

his associates and family members gathered force in August of 2006, different

religious leaders spoke up. Cardinal Archbishop Paul Shan, from the Roman Catholic

Church, offered to get involved as a mediator between the chairman of one political

party and the President. But he restricted his role to that of a mediating a dialogue,

and gave no indication of his personal inclinations. "Political matters should be left to

political figures," he said. The cardinal’s arena for action is clearly bounded, as are
35

the bounds of the church in Ecclesia in Asia and Dominus Iesus.

Contrast this with the position taken in a Pastoral Letter issued over the

Cardinal offers his services as DPP-KMT go-between
35

www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/08/25/2003324723
David Alexander 19

signatures of the Moderator and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in

Taiwan (PCT) on 24th August, 2006. In that letter church concern for “current Taiwan

social movements and conflicts in this land” is clearly stated and a call to “all

believers and the entire society” is issued.36 In this document, the church speaks TO

the oikos, “all believers and the entire society” and ON matters which can clearly be

seen as political. It seems that the bounds of the PCT, in this matter at least, are

congruent with those of Dr. Ariarajah.

2) Taiwan Loses Another International Ally. Early in August, 2006, the nation of

Chad established diplomatic relations with China and Taiwan’s government

subsequently cut ties. This leaves Taiwan with only 24 nations around the world that

formally recognize its independent sovereignty.37 Successive governments in Taiwan’s

post WWII history have placed a great deal of emphasis on the number of “diplomatic

allies” which the nation has, and all have engaged in “checkbook diplomacy” as a

method of maintaining relationships with poor (and often corrupt) regimes in far

corners of the world. For 14 years running, Taiwan’s government and several NGO’s

have also poured money and effort into getting this nation recognized by the United

Nations. The 2006 campaign focused on the issue of Human Rights.38

36
Pastoral Letter of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan www.pct.org.tw/news_pct.htm?
strBlockID=B00006&strContentID=C2006082300001&strDESC=Y
37
Foreign ministry severs diplomatic ties with Chad
www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2006/08/06/2003321974
38
New UN bid to highlight human rights
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2006/08/29/2003325318
David Alexander 20

The narrowness of Taiwan’s oikos can be compared to that which Pope John Paul

II delineates in Ecclesia in Asia. As the Roman Catholic Church needs to broaden its

understanding of Church beyond that which shows fealty and obedience to “the

Successor of Peter in hierarchical communion”, so too must Taiwan broaden its

understanding of what it means to have international relations beyond the narrow

confines of exchange of ambassadors and membership in the United Nations and its

constituent organizations.

The oikos defined by Ariarajah involves all of creation, and includes relations

between people within the arenas of their social, cultural and religious identities.

Ariarajah breaks the bounds of confession and creed in order that people might

interact with people. The “international” that Taiwan needs similarly must break the

bounds of nation-state and international organization and participate in people to

people relations in the arenas of economics, education, culture and compassion.

Globalization threatens the sovereignty of nation-states. It has broken down the

capacity of nations to protect their own citizens from overseas economic exploitation.

Can Taiwan’s government and people, through the extension of trade preferences and

economic relationships, make use of this opening to create a place in the hearts of

PEOPLE for Taiwan? Natural disasters befall nations around the world from time to

time. Can Taiwan’s government and people not exploit the opportunity presented by
David Alexander 21

these happenings to come to the aid of PEOPLE without having to go through formal

diplomatic channels, and thereby create a place in their hearts for this nation and its

people?

It requires a more open concept of what Taiwan is about. Even as the church

needs to be more open as to what it is about, breaking its walls of ecclesiology and

tradition to become open to all that God has created, so also must Taiwan as a nation

break the walls of what it is about, transcending the limitations of nationhood, to

assert its identity in the world.

Conclusions
Being “ecumenical” is about something much wider than one group of

Christians, organized into an ecclesial community, having relationships with any other

group or many other groups of Christians similarly organized. The oikos is a

household of life, of creation! The word ‘ecumenical’ must be retrieved, rescued from

its entrapment in the “ecumenical movement” (especially the institutionalized aspects

of that movement) and set free to include all that is on earth, for it is all the Lord’s.

Being “ecumenical” is about something much wider than religion. The oikos has

many aspects that are not easily classified as “religious.” Taiwan’s “international

orphan” status could use a good dose of ecumenicity. The concepts of Dr. Ariarajah

that have emerged from dialogue of Christians with people of other religions might

find useful application in the reality of Taiwan’s government and people in relation
David Alexander 22

with peoples, nations and governments which have no formal or institutional

diplomatic connection to this land.

++++++++++++

* The author holds the M.A. in Theology degree from New Brunswick Theological
Seminary in the USA and the Ed. M. degree from Rutgers University, also in the
USA. He serves Tainan Theological College & Seminary as the International
Students’ Advisor.

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