Ecumenical theology at the service of ecumenical formation and learning

Ecumenical theology can speak to the life of churches through ecumenical formation and learning. This aspect is closely' connected to the strategic importance of theological education and is therefore crucial for the development of church leadership with competencies to engage in both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Ecumenical learning too is not simply about including aspects of ecumenical discourse in the curriculum or even offering a designated course on ecumenism, as useful as that may be.83 It is teaching and learning that facilitates the discovery of catholicity.This is only possible where teaching and learning practices facilitate critical ecumenical consciousness. Nevertheless, ecumenical learning must of necessity' be at the heart of the praxis of local churches. In this regard, ventures such as the recent AACC’s focus on ecumenical formation, symbolized by the holding of a theological institute of young theologians alongside and in between its Assemblies, is significant for the ecumenical formation and the preparation of the next generation of African church leaders and theologians.

Ecumenical theology as a practice of listening: African ecumenical ecclesiology

Elsewhere, I have argued that African ecclesiologies tend to emphasize aspects of the social responsibility of the church rather than ecclesiological questions on the nature of the church. This illustrates that the social context has been decisive for ecclesiology. Most African ecclesiologies foreground relationality and communality.84 Thus, a variety of models for the church have been developed, most notably the models of the church as a family and ancestral ecclesiologies.8’ These ecclesiologies stress various notions of sharing, solidarity, community, interdependence, and relationality. These ecclesiologies have ecumenical significance despite their limitations. Such ecclesiologies could do well to highlight how relationality and solidarity relate to diversity and equality. Elochukwu Uzukwu’s Listening Church attempts to do exactly that. Commenting on Uzukwu’s listening church model, Elias Bongmba argues that African churches must “build intersubjective bonds by recovering the art and practice of listening.”

Given that listening establishes the basis of dialogue, Uzukwu’s model has ecumenical significance. Thus, doing theology ecumenically invites African theologians and churches to a recovery of the art of listening. Listening is indispensable to developing an ecumenical attitude of openness and warmth to otherness. Uzukwu further envisions the listening church to be “a credible agent of social transformation.”86 This, however, begs further reflection on the distinctive contribution of the church in social transformation. Is the church simply another civil society organization?

Ecumenical theology as a soteriological discourse

Amongst others, Jesse Mugambi remains optimistic about the role of African churches in social transformation.8' However, as I have argued elsewhere, Katongole (2011) argued that Mugambi’s critical questions opened a new line of inquiry for the church, but “Mugambi himself moved too quickly into the default mode of offering suggestions of what the church should do to assist in reconstruction.”88 Katongole locates the distinctive and decisive role of Christianity in a new “Christian social hermeneutics.” Accordingly, he opines the view of the church as a “uniquely suited community for the task of the social re-imagination of Africa” based on what he describes as the church’s “unique story and calling.”

Similarly, the Congolese theologian Ka Mana locates the church as the site where God’s people are “mobilized for new activities and new strategies for social change and for building a new society.”8“ I argue that these nuanced reflections on the role of the church in social transformation can be seen as a soteriological discourse. This is best illustrated in the reflections of Ka Mana on the problem of salvation in Africa. Ka Mana recognizes for instance that in African Pentecostalism, there is an emphasis on deliverance and exorcism, concepts which are also interpreted in socio-political terms to refer to oppressive structures and various forms of exploitation.

On the other hand, African theologies have been concerned with liberation and therefore, with salvation.9 In this regard, Ka Mana’s argument for the reconciliation of the academic theologies of African Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, and the popular practical theologies of Pentecostalism, has ecumenical significance not least because of the implied need to take seriously both the spiritualistic and materialist dimensions of salvation.91 This suggests the need for a holistic conceptualization of salvation. However, as David Ngong has shown, African soteriological discourse should not neglect the eschatological dimension.92 It is in this vein that the comparative character of ecumenical theology in Africa, as outlined above, becomes crucial.

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