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Catholic Spirit as Seeking the "Common Good" in Myanmar

A Myanmar Reading of John Wesley’s Concept of Catholic Spirit

Master's Thesis 2016 65 Pages

Theology - Systematic Theology

Excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS

DEDICATION

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER ONE: BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS OF THE SERMON
1.1. The Challenges of the Catholic Spirit in 1740s
1.2. Analysis of the Sermon and Concept of the Catholic Spirit

CHAPTER TWO: THE CONCEPT OF COMMON GOOD
2.1. The Concept in Catholic Social Teaching
2.2. Relationship between the Common Good and the Catholic Spirit

CHAPTER THREE: THEOLOGICAL METHODOLOGY
3.1. Pluralistic Method
3.2. Catholic Method

CHAPTER FOUR: CATHOLIC SPIRIT AS SEEKING CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY
4.1. Case Study on Conflict within the Methodist Tradition in Myanmar
4.2. Towards Chin Christian Solidarity
4.2.1. Agreeing to Disagree
4.2.2. Love for God and Neighbour
4.2.3. Human Dignity
4.2.4. Engagement in the Wider Society

CHAPTER FIVE: CATHOLIC SPIRIT AS SEEKING THE COMMON GOOD IN MYANMAR
5.1. Engagement in Socio-Political Sphere
5.2. Types of Christian Involvement in Socio-Political Sphere
5.2.1. Catholic View of Society
5.2.2. Social Actions in ‘World Parish’
5.2.3. Secular Vocations
5.2.4. Opposition to the Government

CONCLUSION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

DEDICATION

To my Parents

TAWK THANG & SAWI ZING

The Hands of God that Hold and Help me through all the Challenges of Life

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

My gratitude goes:

To God, who has sustained me through my MA course; for His grace, always sufficient and strong enough for me to face the challenges of life.

To the Scholarship and Leadership Training (SALT) Programme of the Methodist Church in Britain and to the Global Christianity Program of the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education for all their financial and practical helps and support.

To the Principal and all the tutors of the Queens Foundation who have equipped me with ecumenical theological knowledge and especially to my supervisor, Rev. Dr. Jane Craske, Director of Methodist Formation, without whose support and significant suggestion this research will not be able to come to the accomplishment.

To Nick Townsend, Academic Consultant for the global students, for his kind and patient reading and insightful comments on all my essays and this dissertation.

To all the staff of Tahan Institute of Theology for their good will to me and my study.

To my parents for their prayer and all the pains they have gone through for the sake of my passion for education since from my early age through to this day.

To my brothers and sister who have supported me in my educational journey in all the ways they can.

To my wife, Lalthianghlimi@Ma Chit, for her unfaltering love and support and for her courage to go through the long hard days alone at home during my study away in the UK.

ABSTRACT

This research is about the relationship between the catholic spirit and the common good and how the love for God and neighbours, the core of catholic spirit, becomes the key to seeking the common good of society in Myanmar. It is based on John Wesley’s sermon on catholic spirit in the 18th century. It analyses the background and the concept of ‘catholic spirit’ and then links the concept with the common good idea in the modern Catholic Social Teaching. The catholic theological method is used, instead of the pluralistic method or traditional fundamental method, as it is an inclusive way of doing theology by acknowledging the work of God both within and without the church while being faithful to a particular denomination and the core of Christian belief. It suggests two implications: catholic spirit as seeking Christian solidarity and as seeking the common good, suggesting how the Chin Christian churches should take challenging steps towards solidarity among themselves and how to seek the common good of the wider society in Myanmar. The churches are expected and challenged to be more united as the beloved children of God and thus to engage more in the socio-political sphere of Myanmar. The research argues that catholic spirit with the universal love of God at its bottom-line is the driving force that enables the believers to love and serve all humans for the common good of human society regardless of differences in opinion, denomination, religion or race.

INTRODUCTION

Background and Purpose: This research has come out of the researcher’s Chin Christian community background in Myanmar, where there is a problem of sectarianism and exclusive ministry. Denominationalism results in division and rivalry in the Chin Christian community in Tahan, a part of a small town called Kalaymyo, my native town. According to statistics in 2014, there are 73644 adults[1] and about 61 churches and about 44 denominations[2] in Tahan.

The denominations in my Chin community do not think much about the society outside the church. They are content with the church programs within the church. They tend to practice Christian faith only within the religious, more strictly denominational, boundary without trying to engage in the society at large. They try to protect and promote one’s own beliefs and practices at the expense of loving service to all human beings. This mind of sectarianism cannot seek the common good of the society but always seeks one's own selfish and exclusive gain.

Here, there are two important challenges to these churches: one is to show a better organic unity within their Christian community, and the other is to engage more in the society outside their own denominational boundaries. In this situation, I believe that the sermon of John Wesley on 'Catholic Spirit' has something to say. The ‘Catholic Spirit’ calls for 'a catholic or universal love', and is also 'a call to wider Christian fellowship' that can love and embrace even enemies. Traditionally, the phrase ‘catholic spirit’ is understood as a spirit of Christian unity. However, this research goes beyond this traditional understanding and answers the questions: Is catholic spirit only a spirit of unity or more than that? What can the 'Catholic Spirit' offer to the human society divided by ideological walls, like the Chin Christian community in Myanmar?

Therefore, the aim and purpose of this research is to help people and organisations, especially my own church and society, which are too strictly bound by sectarian ideologies, liberate themselves to seek the common good and engage in service of love to the whole of human society. With that purpose this dissertation re-reads the sermon of John Wesley on ‘Catholic Spirit’ critically and to apply its relevance to the Chin Christian community and the society at large in Myanmar.

Methodology: In order to bring out the relevance of the ‘Catholic Spirit’ for the modern society in Myanmar, the previous books and essays on the sermon and the concept of catholic spirit are reviewed and critiqued and the concept of catholic spirit is linked with the common good idea in the modern Catholic Social Teaching. Instead of the traditional theological method which is an exclusive either-or method used by the Chin Christians and the pluralistic method which treats catholic spirit as a theology of religions, the catholic theological method which is an inclusive both-and method is applied as a theological reflection method in this research. The research attempts to implement the relevance of the sermon in the light of the catholic method to the Chin Christian community and the wider human society in Myanmar today.

Concerning the key terms ‘Catholic/catholic,’ the term ‘catholic’ (with a small ‘c’) is used with its general meaning to mean the vital characteristic of the church as embracing all people of God from different times and different places regardless of nation, race, or religion. But the term ‘Catholic’ (with a capital ‘C’) is used to refer to the Roman Catholic Church.

Scope and Limitation: The research covers the background of John Wesley’s sermon on catholic spirit and a critical re-interpretation of the concept of catholic spirit beyond the traditional understanding in the light of the concept of the common good. The research limits its focus on the concept of the common good within the modern Catholic Social Teaching despite its long and rich tradition.

Structure: Chapter one looks at the background of the sermon ‘Catholic Spirit’ and its challenges in the 18th century Britain, and also reviews some scholars’ works on the sermon and their understanding of the concept.

Chapter two deals with the concept of the common good in the Catholic Social Teaching and how the two concepts, catholic spirit and common good, are connected.

Chapter three is about theological methods. It critiques the catholic spirit as a method of religious pluralism, and suggests approaching the catholic spirit with the catholic theological method which better serves in terms of seeking the common good in John Wesley’s evangelical Christ-centred faith.

Chapter Four is on the catholic spirit as a spirit of unity that works out in service of love within the Christian community. This chapter discusses how catholic spirit is a challenge to the Chin Christian community in Myanmar, where the fellow Christians have difficulty serving one another and working together as the children of God.

Chapter Five delineates what catholic spirit has to contribute to the wider society outside the Church in seeking the common good through the service of universal love by the empowerment of catholic spirit. This chapter argues that the catholic spirit is not only about Christian unity but also Christian engagement in society at large for the common good.

By doing this research the researcher has a great expectation of unity through service of love towards one another regardless of doctrinal opinions and tribal identity, especially unity among the different Methodist denominations in Myanmar. But this expectation does not necessarily mean that the significance of the research has something to do with the writer’s own context only, rather the universal love, which is the essence of catholic spirit, has relevance to every human society that has been suffering the evils of ideologies.

CHAPTER ONE: BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS OF THE SERMON

John Wesley delivered his sermon on the Catholic Spirit in Newcastle in 1749. The final parting of Wesley from the Moravians who had earlier influence in his faith and life happened in 1740. In the same year the rift between Wesley’s Methodism and his friend and co-worker Whitefield’s Calvinism became more and more obvious, and the close and cooperative relationship between the two Evangelical revival leaders almost reached a breaking point.[3] Moreover, there was also a debate concerning the relationship between Methodism, Anglican Church, and Roman Catholicism. In such a situation of threat and challenge of divisions, John Wesley attempted to maintain the unity among the Evangelical members. This is the period that made John Wesley write and preach on the Catholic Spirit. Therefore, the first part of this chapter deals with the story of the challenges John Wesley faced in the Evangelical community especially in the decade (1740s) of the 18th century in order that the sermon can be fairly treated in the light of its own context. The second part analyses the sermon and the concept of catholic spirit in the works of the scholars.

1.1. The Challenges of the Catholic Spirit in 1740s

There are four major theological controversies that play a significant role in shaping Wesley’s concept of catholic spirit. Firstly, there was a severe dispute with the Moravians over the nature of sanctity and justification. The Moravians had an intimate relationship with Wesley and their emphasis on the availability and necessity of assurance of salvation had a great influence on John Wesley’s spiritual development and some of the institutions of early Methodism.

In June 1738, not long after Aldersgate experience, Wesley went to Germany where he encountered among the Moravians the view that no one should receive the Lord’s Supper until she/he had the full assurance of faith. There was a severe debate on this matter in 1739 and 1740. As the Moravians of the Society led by Phillip Henry Molther argued for practicing ‘stillness’ and persecuted those who were using the sacraments, Wesley replied by asserting the inwardness of religion mediated through means. Wesley’s points in the controversy were that a person needs only seeking faith to use the sacrament, that she/he should seek faith through the means, and that there are means of grace through which God gives grace to unbelievers.[4] Thus the separation was unavoidable and Wesley started his Foundery society in June 1740 after he was no longer allowed to preach in the Fetter Lane room, the Moravians’ chapel.

Secondly, there were also passionate debates with those Methodists who owed more to Calvinism in their understanding of God’s relationship with humanity. The chief leader was George Whitefield, and in 1740 Wesley was forced to separate from him on doctrinal grounds, taking his stand on universal grace and the freedom of the human will in his sermon on “Free Grace” preached in August, 1740.[5] In this polemical sermon Wesley clearly rejected double predestination, asserting at the same time the Arminian view of the absolute necessity of grace and the role, too, of human free will.[6]

Kenneth J. Collins observes, through John Wesley’s journal on April 25, 1739 in which John Wesley writes that he preached to above two thousand at Baptist Mills on the topic “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again unto fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father,” that at the very outset of the Evangelical Revival in Britain, Wesley preached freedom from the bondage or dominion of sin as part of the good news of the gospel. Whitefield, however, disagreed with Wesley on this issue as he held to more pessimistic notions.[7]

Thirdly, there was Anglican opposition. As Methodism grew and spread throughout England during 1740s, several Anglican clergy, some in high office, became bitterly opposed to Methodism in general and to John Wesley in particular. For example, William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester, complained that Wesley was an enthusiast and fanatic, who was driving the common people mad. Warburton considered enthusiasm to be a particular danger. Amidst this opposition he preached on ‘Scriptural Christianity’ at St. Mary’s of Oxford University to the censure of his own Anglican Church and that became the end of his preaching career at Oxford.[8] However, Wesley insisted on being an Anglican and remained an Anglican throughout his life despite the opposition.

Fourthly, there also was a Roman Catholic challenge to the catholic spirit of John Wesley. In striving to keep within the boundaries of the Church of England, the Wesleyan movement perpetuated a breach with both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. But, unusually for Church of England clergymen in their time, John and Charles Wesley were among the first to begin to breakdown these walls of separation.[9]

Interestingly, Wesley was accused of being a papist, probably for his emphasis on action or work while he was a severe critic of Popery. As Cracknell and White rightly observe, sometimes the Methodists looked like Roman Catholics to the Protestants and sometimes they looked like Protestants to the Roman Catholics. For instance, Charles Wesley reported of his experience in Cork in 1748, “The Presbyterians say that I am a Presbyterian; the church-goers that I am a minister of theirs; and the Catholics that they are sure I am a good Catholic in my heart.” But this does not necessarily mean that all of their ecumenical attempts with Roman Catholics were happy ones; on several occasions hostile Catholic priests stirred mobs up against them.[10]

Against this background of different challenges in the 1740s, Wesley wrote his influential works: the Letter to a Roman Catholic and the sermon on the Catholic Spirit, both of these emphasizing the need to focus on the essentials of the Gospel and to be more tolerant of diversity in matters of opinion, and two other related sermons on the Nature of Enthusiasm and A Caution against Bigotry. These three sermons have been part of the Wesleyan Doctrinal Standards ever since and inspired generations of Methodist people in the ecumenical movement.[11]

1.2. Analysis of the Sermon and Concept of the Catholic Spirit

The sermon of ‘Catholic Spirit’ is mainly based on 2 Kings 10:15 which has the context of violence and murder. However, John Wesley does not take the context of the text and the mixed characteristic of Jehu into serious consideration. To take the context of the text into detail consideration will take another research as it is a part of the Deuteronomistic History where the theme of ‘killing (herem) in the name of God’ is a right thing to do for the people of God, which is hard to be justified from the perspective of the people of God in the present age. Therefore, it may not be wise to blame Wesley for this when his serious attention is to the contemporary context of his hearers.

Wesley simply takes the words of Jehu as they go in the text, and acknowledges that he does not mind what Jehu exactly meant by asking, ‘Is thine heart right as my heart is with thy heart?’ John Wesley just wants to suggest what it should mean when one Christian says these words to another.[12] In spite of his loose connection to the context of the text, Wesley should be given credit to preach a challenging and constructive sermon not only for his time but also the present age by basing on the text that “comes from a very obscure part of the Old Testament and is not part of a kind of daily bread.”[13]

The sermon can be divided into four parts. Firstly, the introduction starts by mentioning the love for God and human beings, especially for the people who love God, as the essence of Christian life. This part argues that everybody agrees to love one another but does not practice it in reality. The major hindrances for this are ‘Christians cannot all think alike’ and ‘they cannot all act alike.’ But the differences in opinions and modes of worship should not prevent unity ‘in love and good works.’

Secondly, based on Jehu’s example the sermon deals with the question of ‘thinking alike.’ John Wesley makes no inquiry about the opinions or modes of worship. He argues that difference in opinion is an unavoidable consequence of human weakness and limited knowledge and “that several men will be of several minds, in religion as well as in common life.”[14] Therefore, a wise man will allow others to think freely as he/she wants to do. God gives no right to any human “to lord it over the conscience of his brethren.”[15] John Wesley recognises the place of our birth as a main factor in fixing our Church to which we belong. That is the reason he does not want to impose his mode of worship on any other. The only question he asks is, “Is thine heart right as my heart is with thy heart?”[16]

Thirdly, Wesley turns to the second part of the text ‘Give me your hand.’ He does not insist on agreement in opinions and modes of worship. He asks his fellow Christians to let all the smaller points of opinions and structures or organisation patterns stand aside but to love God and all mankind. The only thing he demands is mutual love and to show this love by praying, encouraging, and helping other fellow Christians. Thus this love is love in sincere actions and words.

Finally, Wesley concludes the sermon by discussing the concept of catholic spirit. He first defines what catholic spirit is not: (1) an indifference to all opinions, rather giving every opinion equal weight is a curse, (2) an indifference to the variety of ways of worship or outward rituals, but it values a particular form, or (3) an indifference to all congregations, but it is loyal to one particular congregation as his or her spiritual home. The spiritual home becomes “a secure base for loving outreach to all around them, neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. This love is a catholic or universal love; and catholic love is a catholic spirit.”[17] The sermon is summarised – “life lived in this catholic spirit is a royal path of a universal love.”[18]

Wesley makes it clear that catholic spirit is not “speculative latitudinarianism” or “an indifference to all opinions.”[19] Such an attitude, he said, would be the “spawn of hell, not the spring of heaven.”[20] On the contrary, as Cracknell and White rightly argue, in Wesley’s view the Christian had to be “united in the tenderest and closest ties to one particular congregation.” Only with this foundation would it be possible to build bridges of understanding and embrace with strong and cordial affection neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies.[21]

Thomas C. Oden rightly points out the major thesis of catholic spirit as the fact that “human barriers are overcome by the love of God and humanity, which reaches beyond human antipathies and cultural differences.”[22]

There are lots of essays and books on catholic spirit with almost all of them approaching the catholic spirit in terms of seeking Christian unity. In order to highlight how other scholars have dealt with the catholic spirit, I will mention two books and two essays that have the terms ‘catholic spirit’ as the title and engage more deeply and particularly with the concept than the rest.

The first one is a book ‘ In Search of the Catholic Spirit: Methodists and Roman Catholics in Dialogue ’ (2004) by David M. Chapman. Examining the relationship between John Wesley and Roman Catholicism drawing on Wesley’s writings, Chapman admits that ‘Methodists have generally accepted Wesley was to some extent anti-Catholic’[23] and Wesley had an ambivalent attitude to Roman Catholicism. However, he argues that to understand Wesley’s complex reaction to Roman Catholicism it is essential to locate his theology in the intellectual, historical and political context of the eighteenth century[24] and that Wesley must be credited with a vision that transcended the eighteenth century gulf between Roman Catholics and Protestants even if he failed to live up to his own ideal.[25]

Chapman understands catholic spirit as ‘a form of theological pluralism that occupies a middle position between extreme dogmatism and doctrinal indifferentism’[26] and I think this is a fair approach to the ‘Catholic Spirit’ in its own context. He rightly claims that the catholic spirit, by changing the nature of the encounter between separated Christians from confrontation to mutual respect, provides a framework in which Christians can work together to resolve their doctrinal differences.[27] Here, it is clear that catholic spirit is understood as a theological framework to resolve doctrinal differences and so seek Christian unity.

Chapman’s aim in writing this book is also to find a way to a visible unity between the British Methodist and Roman Catholics. He sketches “the historical and theological contours of controversy and dialogue between Methodists and Roman Catholics from Wesley’s earliest letter on ‘popery’, written in about 1735, to the present day.”[28] The final goal of the dialogue in the catholic spirit between ‘Roman Catholics and Methodists Catholics,’ as the writer puts it, is ‘to be visibly united within the Holy Catholic Church.’[29] Therefore, ‘Catholic Spirit’ here is understood as the spirit of seeking organic unity within the Christian community.

The second one is a book entitled ‘ Catholic Spirit: Wesley, Whitefield, and the Quest for Evangelical Unity in Eighteenth-Century British Methodism’ (2008) by James L. Schwenk. Wesley and Whitefield seemed to have an irreconcilable relationship in terms of theological differences. But Schwenk explores in this book the common grounds between these two leaders and argues that they were successful in promoting ‘the catholic spirit or the spirit of cooperation’ in the Evangelical revival of the 18th Century both in England and N. America. Schwenk views the reunion between Wesley and Whitefield as “a paradigm for evangelical ecumenicity beginning with eighteenth-century Methodism and continuing into the Church in the twenty-first century.”[30]

Schwenk traces the writings and activities of Whitefield and Wesley on how they both sought catholic spirit in their own time. This book is written from a perspective of historical evaluation on catholic spirit. The main content of the book, therefore, is a description of how Whitefield and Wesley tried to maintain catholic spirit in spite of their opposite standings in terms of theological opinion, especially on free grace and election. Talking about Wesley’s catholic spirit, Schwenk mentions that Wesley advocated a catholic spirit, evidenced in evangelical ecumenicity that extended not only to George Whitefield, but to all in the Calvinist camp as well.[31] Thus, it is obvious that Schwenk also considers ‘catholic spirit’ solely in terms of Evangelical Christian unity.

The third one is an essay “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit” (2002) by Herbert B. McGonigle. In this essay McGonigle depicts Wesley’s catholic spirit through tracing Wesley’s writings and attempts for the unity of the Evangelical communities in the eighteenth century. This essay looks at ‘what Wesley meant by the catholic spirit and how he practiced that spirit in half a century of preaching, writing and setting up the Methodist Societies.’[32]

McGonigle presents catholic spirit as a ‘warning against the sectarian spirit that divides the people of God and prevents Christians from understanding that God is present and working in fellowships and parties and denominations other than their own’[33] while it is not ‘indifference to plausible heresies’[34] by drawing on Wesley’s two sermons written in the same period, A Caution against Bigotry and Catholic Spirit.

In order to illustrate John Wesley’s commitment to catholic spirit, McGonigle first points out the organisation of Methodist Societies (1739) for which ‘Wesley imposed no doctrinal or theological test on those joining the societies – Calvinists or Catholics, Presbyterians or Moravians, Quakers of dissenters of any colours,’[35] and also how Wesley worked hard to bring out unity among the divided groups in the evangelical community. Secondly, he points out the Christian Library, a huge literary resource where Wesley collected and edited the extracts from the ‘Apostolic Fathers, continental authors, Anglican and Puritan writers and some anonymous devotional writings.’[36] In Christian Library, Wesley put his catholic spirit into practice by including the writings of the people whose doctrines are not all acceptable to him. His only criterion is whether ‘the writer exalted Christ’ or ‘promoted practical holiness.’[37] Thirdly, he points out Wesley’s ‘ A Letter to a Roman Catholic’ (1749) as an illustration of Wesley’s catholic spirit. Wesley’s ‘attitude to Roman Catholics was one of good will and concern for their bodies and souls’ and so this letter is an irenic one in spite of Wesley’s open declaration ‘that he detested and abhorred the fundamental doctrines of the Church of Rome.’[38] Finally, he points out Wesley’s hope for a practical working unity among England’s evangelical clergy by writing a letter to almost fifty of the leading evangelical clergy in the Church of England in which he pleaded for ‘a coming together of all those who are fellow labourers in His gospel.’[39] To Wesley’s sadness, most of the clergy did not even reply this letter.

In the light of the above four illustrations of Wesley’s commitment to catholic spirit, it can be clearly observed that McGonigle’s approach to catholic spirit is of Christian ecumenical attitude.

The fourth one is an essay “The Catholic Spirit: The Need of Our Time” (1988) by Ralph Waller. Waller analyzes the catholic spirit in terms of ‘a need for free and open dialogue between the different schools of Christian thought.’ He discusses Wesley’s ‘four insights which together make a major contribution to a theological understanding of the catholic church: 1) the idea of doctrinal development, 2) the church centred on Christ, 3) the church as a community, and 4) the diversity of the catholic church.’[40]

By the former two ideas of doctrinal development and of the church centred on Christ, Waller points out an important character of catholic spirit, i.e., ‘openness of doctrine and the church as a living community to growth, change, and development.’ His argument that follows summarises the whole point of the first two insights:

“At the heart of catholicity lies no dogmatic system, but spiritual affections towards God and towards humanity. This is the key principle for a truly catholic church: a union of holiness and love, founded on and inspired by Jesus Christ.”[41]

By the latter two ideas of the Christian community and its diversities, Waller points out that Wesley’s catholic spirit views the Christian church as ‘an inclusive society’ which attracts a wide variety of opinion and in which people of diverse views ‘can live in harmony and sympathy with one another.’[42]

By these four insights, Waller approaches catholic spirit in terms of Christian unity in diverse doctrinal opinions. However, he importantly takes a step further in his conclusion. He argues in the conclusion that a true catholic spirit cannot be retained in the confines of the church and even the values like ‘learning, refinement, enlightened views, a liberal spirit, and love are of little purpose if they do not spread beyond their own circle and flow out into the world, blessing the whole family of humanity.’[43]

Though Waller’s essay was written in the late 20th century, it is more contemporary to the 21st century churches in terms of its significant step further than the more recent books and essays on catholic spirit in developing the concept of catholic spirit as the call and challenge to the church to ‘reach out to the wider world beyond the boundaries of the Christian church.’

Therefore, it can fairly be concluded that the ‘catholic spirit’ is traditionally considered the spirit of unity in the Christian community. The first two books have ‘Catholic Spirit’ as their title, but they are not particular works on the sermon Catholic Spirit itself. However, their understanding of the concept of catholic spirit as Christian unity or ecumenical spirit can clearly be observed. The third essay, like many others essays on the sermon not discussed here, also delineates the concept of catholic spirit as Christian unity. Among many writers and interpreters on this sermon, only Ralph Waller is the one who paves the way to approach the catholic spirit as seeking the common good of the human society as a whole.

Then what is meant by the ‘common good’ in this research? To answer this, the concept of the common good is taken as the next step.

CHAPTER TWO: THE CONCEPT OF COMMON GOOD

The concept of common good is of theological interest beyond the borders of the Catholic Church. However, the present research limits its focus on the concept of common good in the Catholic Social Teaching as ‘the concept has always had a central place in Catholic social thought’[44] and also for the sake of manageability in the time and the word limitation of the research. Therefore, this chapter discusses the concept of common good in Catholic Social Teaching and how it is connected with Wesley’s concept of the catholic spirit.

2.1. The Concept in Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic Social Teaching may be simply defined as the Roman Catholic Church’s ‘developed body of teaching on social, economic, political, and cultural matters.’[45] Modern Catholic social teaching arose as a response to 19th century social problems.

Dennis P. McCann defines Catholic Social Teaching as “the body of official church teaching on political, economic, and social questions that has been regarded as an identifiable tradition since the papacy of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). Besides the so-called ‘social encyclicals’ issued by Leo and his successors up through Pope John Paul II, the tradition also includes the major statements issued by various national and regional Episcopal conferences.”[46] J. Milburn Thompson rightly observes that most of the major documents of Catholic social teaching have focussed on issues of economic justice, issues of politics, including human rights and war and peace and in some time later environmental issues.[47]

The 19th century industrial economy produced astonishing wealth, but poverty of the workers got worse, with long hours of work but low wages and exploited children and women workers. In the words of Thompson, the late nineteenth century machines and their owners ‘were transforming human beings into cogs and commodities.’[48] And this is the background when the modern Catholic Social Teaching began as Pope Leo XIII addressed this historical turning point in his encyclical The Condition of Labor (Rerum Novarum) in 1891, in which he spoke out against the inhuman conditions of the working people in industrial societies. Most scholars date modern Catholic social teaching from this document because of the importance of the moral principles on the economy enunciated in the encyclical and because of the influence it has had.[49]

Thus, Catholic Social Teaching is the response of the Catholic Church to ‘the changing social and economic challenges of the modern world with a wide variety of official teaching, beginning with the encyclical letter of Pope Leo XIII, On the Condition of Labour (Rerum Novarum, 1891) and continuing through the pontificate of Pope John Paul II (1978-2005)’[50] and also of Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013).

According to David Konstant, the aim of Catholic Social Teaching is ‘to bring about a good and fair society, for the benefit of everyone. Most people feel that society ought to be organised in such a way as to improve the lot of all its members. This is what social teaching calls the idea of the common good.’[51] This implies that the common good is the central concept of the Catholic Social Teaching and also that it is ‘the goal and purpose of society and the state and an abiding concern of the church.’[52]

To consider the concept of the common good, the statement of the Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on the concept is worth quoting at length here:

“The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.’...A society that wishes and intends to remain at the service of the human being at every level is a society that has the common good – the good of all people and of the whole person – as its primary goal. The human person cannot find fulfilment in himself, that is, apart from the fact that he exists ‘with’ others and ‘for’ others.”[53]

According to Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the permanent principles which constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching are ‘the principles of the dignity of human person, the common good, the subsidiarity, and solidarity.’[54] The principle of the common good is considered as the trunk and the other three principles as the branches. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also agrees with this idea when they sum up the Church’s social teaching ‘as the obligation of every individual to contribute to the (common) good of society, in the interest of justice and in pursuit of the option for the poor’ and claims that ‘this is the context most likely to foster human fulfilment for everyone, where each individual can enjoy the benefit of living in an orderly, prosperous and healthy society. A society with insufficient regard for the common good would be unpleasant and dangerous to live in, as well as unjust to those it excluded.’[55]

David Hollenbach presents a clear and accessible interpretation of the common good:

“Humans were created by God not for life in isolation but for the formation of social unity. The communitarian character of human existence means that the good of each person is bound up with the good of the community. Thus the obligations of justice and love will only be fulfilled when each person contributes to the common good in accord with his or her abilities and in light of the needs of others. The common good is a social reality in which all persons should share through their participation in it.”[56]

With a critical look into the long development of the concept of the common good in the Catholic social teaching, McCann suggests the “synonyms” of the concept as ‘social justice, human rights, integral human development, the common welfare, public good, and, most recently, a preferential love (or option) for the poor.’[57] He also argues that in the light of these synonyms the Catholic social teaching’s substantive understanding of the common good is warranted by a theological horizon based on a biblically oriented understanding of human dignity and social solidarity.[58]

Therefore, the common good cannot be achieved without promoting human dignity, subsidiarity, and solidarity. These three principles of the Catholic social teaching are the mainstays of the common good of society. As for human dignity, the Catholic social teaching has the human person as its focal point. It has a biblically oriented understanding by arguing that Scripture tells us that every human being is made in the image of God and He became a human in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christ challenges us to see his presence in our neighbour especially lacking what is essential to human flourishing. In meeting our neighbour’s needs, we are serving Christ. Thus Catholic social teaching believes that each person has a basic dignity that comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment, not from race or gender, age or economic status.[59]

Clifford Longley argues that the principles of the common good and human dignity necessarily lead to the other two principles of subsidiarity and solidarity; he calls them ‘a pair of concepts which need to be observed in any social, political or economic system if it is to be stable and sustainable.’[60] Theodore Herr plainly presents the principle of subsidiarity as one of the most important structural principles of free social communities that respect human dignity and as the classical heart of Catholic social teaching. The word derives from the Latin ‘subsidium’ which means giving support and assistance. The principle of subsidiarity demands that tasks should be delegated and private initiative be encouraged and supported. Subsidiarity ensures that higher authority only takes on tasks of seeking the common good which cannot be satisfactorily carried out at a lower level.[61] This principle supports bottom-up forms of social development in seeking the common good by ‘pushing against centralization and collectivism as it is based on a truth about human nature in human society: that is individuals, small units, families, local societies, have a natural inclination towards self-determination and therefore to a degree of self-government.’[62] In brief, subsidiarity supports the freedom of the grassroots at the bottom level to have self-determination and make a decision for the common good of their local society.

The principle of solidarity ensures that all humanity – every man, woman, and child – is understood to be one family under God. Human dignity is the foundation of all rights, privileges and responsibilities. The core of solidarity is the recognition that we are all one in being children of God. No one’s fulfilment and salvation can be completely isolated from any other in the web of existence. Each depends ultimately on solidarity in the fulfilment and salvation of all.[63] Pope John Paul II says that solidarity (commitment to community) is “undoubtedly a Christian virtue...a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”.[64] This principle of solidarity clearly states that each and every person is responsible for the common good of society as human beings are connected and dependent on one another.

The concept of the common good in Catholic social teaching is summarised well by DeBerri and Hug as follows: ‘Catholic social thought emphasises and insists upon the participations of each and every person in the common good. It stands in challenging contrast to many contemporary cultures’ heightened individualism. Catholic social thought’s vision of promoting the common good involves working on developing in society all those conditions of social living through which each and every person can be enabled to achieve their authentic human development more fully.’[65]

2.2. Relationship between the Common Good and the Catholic Spirit

Although John Wesley’s catholic spirit does not directly discuss the issues of economy or politics, it can be boldly claimed that the catholic spirit in its bottom line is the universal love that enforces social actions for the common good of society. Though there is almost a half and a century gap between the time Wesley preached on the catholic spirit (1749) and the time Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical on The Condition of Labour (1891) which is dated as the beginning of the modern Catholic social teaching, the Catholic social teaching and John Wesley’s catholic spirit share the same core intention, that is, to take social action in seeking the common good of society where human dignity and rights are exploited and the poor workers are excluded from the wealth of the society.

Nigel Scotland rightly observes concerning Wesley’s experiential religion that ‘Wesley’s Arminian gospel, in which the invitation to follow Christ was open to all, counteracted the fatalism of the age. No other form of Christianity was going to touch the poor, the majority of whom were unable to read or write, let alone understand a lengthy sermon or appreciate the liturgy. The witness of the Spirit of God implanted love and hope in the hearts of the ordinary people whom Wesley encountered in the streets, at pitheads, or outside the factory gates.’[66] Therefore, Wesley’s gospel and mission from the beginning has grown out of his catholic spirit which is the seed of seeking the common good in his life and thought.

The fundamental core of Wesley’s catholic spirit, as it has been observed, is love for God and for one’s neighbours. This love is the driving energy of catholic spirit that is willing to serve both neighbours and enemies alike. Without this spirit there cannot be a truly effective way of seeking the common good. The Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace also agrees with this fact when they claim that ‘it is from the wellspring of love that the values of truth, freedom and justice are born and grow.’[67]

By emphasizing love for God first, Wesley puts God as the first common good and thus avoids the trap of putting the common good of the ‘earthly city’ in the centre. Wesley’s catholic spirit puts God in the centre while it encourages and seeks the common good of human society. His concept of catholic love does not commit making the fellow human beings gods or the ultimate good. In this case, Wesley goes with the idea of Augustine on the common good. In Augustine’s idea, ‘the full common good exists only in the communion of all persons with God and with each other in God.’ For him, ‘human beings are destined to a good that is beyond both civil society and the state. Both civil society and the state have an obligation to respect this transcendence of the human person by respecting human rights.’[68]

Love for both God and neighbours is the foundation on which the principles of human dignity and solidarity are based. Wesley asks Christians to love all people regardless of different relationship, race or religion, by asking: ‘Do you love your enemies (cf.Lk.6:27)? Do you love even the enemies of God? Could you wish yourself temporarily accursed (cf. Rom. 9:3) for their sake? And do you show this by ‘blessing them that curse you and praying for those that despitefully use you and persecute you’ (cf.Mt. 5:45)? While you have time, as you have opportunity, do you in fact ‘do good to all men’ (Gal.6:10), neighbours or strangers, friends or enemies, good or bad? Do you do them all the good you can, endeavouring to supply all their wants, assisting them both in body and soul to the uttermost of your power?’[69] These questions are the powerful statements, in a simple way to the 18th century ordinary people, of the principles of human dignity and solidarity regardless of sex, relationship, race, and religion. Love for neighbours or strangers, friends or enemies, good or bad alike results in respect for all human dignity and it is the foundation for solidarity in the human community. And Wesley believes that this love for all humans comes true when we love God ‘with all our heart, and with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength’ (Lk. 10:27) and ‘seek all our happiness in him alone.’[70]

Human freedom and the principle of subsidiarity can also be found in Wesley’s catholic spirit when he protects the freedom of a person’s opinion and mode of worship. He argues that ‘no man can choose for or prescribe to another, but everyone must follow the dictates of his own conscience. He must be fully persuaded in his own mind, and then act according to the best light he has. Nor has any creature power to constrain another to walk by his own rule. God has given no right to any of the children of men thus to lord it over the conscience of his brethren. But every man must judge for himself, as every man must give an account of himself to God.’[71] This argument is again a simple and easy way, to understand for the plain people of his time, of discussing the principle of human freedom and subsidiarity in the organisation or society.

In the light of the above arguments, it is clear that although Wesley does not give any specific description of the term ‘common good’ in his sermon on the ‘catholic spirit,’ he does lay foundation and provide values and principles for the common good as it is understood not only in the modern Catholic social teaching but also in the thoughts of other theologians and ordinary Christians. The catholic spirit in its bottom line is the foundation for the concept of common good in terms of its support for human freedom, subsidiarity, solidarity, and love in words and actions. Therefore, the words of Kamran Mofid, Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, are applicable here to explain the idea and principle of the common good both in the modern Catholic social teaching and Wesley’s catholic spirit as applied in this dissertation:

“The principle of the common good reminds us that we are all responsible for each other – we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers – and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realise their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well-being of the whole human family”.[72]

To put it simply, the common good in this research means a value and action that goes beyond narrow self-interest and ego, but is supportive to the well-being of the whole society out of love for God and universal love for all human beings.

CHAPTER THREE: THEOLOGICAL METHODOLOGY

There are two possible theological methods to apply in the research of catholic spirit: pluralistic method and catholic method. This chapter discusses both and delineates the reasons and the benefits of choosing the catholic method in this research instead of pluralistic method.

3.1. Pluralistic Method

It is tempting to suggest that John Wesley had the voice of a religious pluralist in his own days because of his catholic spirit in terms of its openness to differences. In regard to a congregation or a particular manner of worship, Wesley boldly argues in catholic spirit that ‘no one can be obliged by any power on earth but that of his own conscience to prefer a certain congregation to another, or a particular manner of worship because it is commonly supposed that the place of our birth fixes the church to which we belong.’ If the “Church” to which we belong is understood in the context of the present pluralistic society, the religion to which we belong now is also conditioned by our birth. This can raise a question if it is right to deny or condemn someone for his/her religion to which s/he belongs by birth, not by choice.

A widely respected Methodist theologian, John B. Cobb Jr., has made an impressive attempt to connect Wesley’s openness to differences with religious pluralism. While admitting “Wesley’s few words on other religious traditions do not constitute a ‘theology of religions’ for today,”[73] he points out some possible Wesleyan positions in this religiously pluralistic context and also breaks himself away from Wesley’s approach by taking further steps in suggesting ‘a Wesleyan theology of religion appropriate for our time.’[74]

Drawing on the other writings and sermons of Wesley, Cobb argues that Wesley “encouraged a spirit of appreciation and cooperation in relation to persons in other communities. He was, therefore, pluralistic not only in his openness to diversities of opinions within the Methodist movement, but also in acknowledging that God worked in other contexts as well, and that this work, too, is to be affirmed and celebrated.”[75] He continues his argument saying that Wesley “did not limit God’s working in the world to overcome the power of evil to Christians. God may use others. Christians should be open to seeing that and where this occurs. And when it does happen, Christians are to affirm and support it.”[76]

John B. Cobb treats the connection between John Wesley’s openness to differences and religious pluralism impressively and suggests his own approach that is a break from the traditional Wesleyan approach. This is a substantive contribution to Wesleyan theology. However, there is a trap in this approach that Wesley would be made lose Jesus Christ in his openness to other religions. That would be against Wesley’s real position. In the case of the particular concept of catholic spirit it is difficult to approach it from a religious pluralistic view because of Wesley’s faithfulness to a particular congregation and faith, the Church of England and Christianity and his Christ-centred theology. There should be an alternative approach to catholic spirit and this is what this research is working on.

In the light of the sermon ‘Catholic Spirit’ an attempt to make John Wesley and his thoughts relevant to the present situation by labelling him a religious pluralist cannot be legitimised because his catholic spirit is centred on Jesus Christ. This can be seen in the questions he asks before he gives his hand. Robert Ewbank summarises the points of Wesley’s questions before giving hand that “one must have his heart right with God, believe in Christ, have his life of faith filled with love, do the will of God, serve God, love his neighbour, and show his love by works.”[77] Thus, being centred on Jesus Christ and faithful to Christianity is not a hindrance to being effective and relevant to the society today. In fact, the faith in and love for God is the strong base home to reach out to the people in words and deeds of love.

In their book ‘ Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today ’ (2009), Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder applies three types of theology called Types A, B, and C.[78] Type A theology is high and exclusive in Christology, spiritual in salvation, institutional model in ecclesiology, and futurist and individual in eschatology. Type B theology is high/low and inclusive/modified pluralist in Christology, holistic in salvation, mystical communion and sacrament in ecclesiology, and realised and individual in eschatology. Type C theology is low and inclusive/pluralist in Christology, holistic in salvation, herald/servant in ecclesiology, and inaugurated and historical in eschatology. Interestingly, Bevans and Schroeder put John Wesley in both of the two contrary categories of Type A and C theologies. This implies that John Wesley can be understood as inclusive and holistic in his Christology and soteriology in terms of his openness to differences; at the same time, he is also exclusive and Christ-centred in his Christology and soteriology in terms of being biblical and faithful to the tradition of the church. This paradox can be seen in the concept of Wesley’s catholic spirit.

By being open to differences, Wesley does not yield to a relativist pluralistic idea. His openness is only to plurality of theological variation in one religion, i.e., Christianity. As Ewbank argues, Wesley does not believe that the basic Christian doctrines are to be sacrificed, or sold for the pottage of an exaggerated show of brotherliness. There are doctrines of the utmost importance that must be presupposed and accepted before the opinions can be discussed.[79] In a similar way to Ewbank, Tyson also argues that the catholic spirit is not an indifference to the hallmark doctrines and practices of scriptural Christianity. It is not squeamishness about theological precision. It is not a kind of theological wishy-washiness. Rather, it is an open-minded and charitable attitude of Christian love with which one regards other Christians and their perspective theologies.[80]

Wesley’s catholic spirit does not necessarily forbid him disagreeing with or attacking the opinions and practices of others which, he finds, are against the essential teachings of the Bible. For instance, Wesley wrote his irenic letter to Roman Catholics written in 1949 which was an unusual affection to them in his own days, but that does not forbid him drawing an analogy between the Roman Catholic pope and “the son of perdition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 “as he has caused the death of numberless multitude, both of his opposers and followers, destroyed innumerable souls, and will himself perish everlastingly.”[81] Therefore, catholic spirit is not an indifference to any opinion or religion but is rather faithful to the Bible and a particular congregation while being dynamic in the service of love to people of any opinions and congregations, even the enemy of God.

For Wesley, Christians do not necessarily abandon Jesus to seek the common good, rather to love Jesus and our neighbours cannot be separated and that is rather the starting point of seeking the common good. However, that does not exclude the heathens or other faith people from seeking the common good, but rather includes them by recognising God’s work with each and every person in the world both through the prevenient grace and humanly unexpected ways. In other words, Wesley’s catholic spirit counteracts the clashes of ideologies and traditions in the modern world and moves forward to seek the common good of the 21st century society beyond its ideological divisions and conflicts.

Therefore, catholic spirit should not be deemed as a relativist pluralistic approach to different faiths but as a catholic approach to the society, which supports a strong and committed motive to seek the common good of all human society in a universal love while being faithfully attached to a particular faith, congregation, and tradition, i.e., Christianity. In other words, it seems to be fairer to treat catholic spirit as a theology of engagement for seeking the common good of society rather than a theology of religions, in the light of its own context and challenges in the 18th century as discussed in chapter one.

3.2. Catholic Method

In his book An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2011) Stephen B. Bevans discusses three kinds of theological methods: Classical and Contemporary methods, Contextual methods, and Catholic method. I take up the catholic method as the methodological tool for this research. Here the term 'catholic' does not necessarily mean the Roman Catholic Church, but rather is used with a small letter 'c,' which 'means to be radically open to all truth and value'. Bevans says,

“When we speak about 'catholic method', of course, we intend to understand the word as beginning with a lower-case 'c'. Other Christians also share the distinct 'catholic' viewpoint, and so can both consciously and unconsciously do theology out of 'catholic method' as well...Catholicism is all-embracing, as inclusive as Jesus himself. The opposite of 'catholic' is not really 'Protestant'; it is rather a sectarianism or fundamentalism that insists on only one way to think of being Christian or doing theology”.[82]

Bevans continues arguing that Catholicism believes in wideness of God’s mercy because God’s presence and grace are found not only inside the church but outside as well. He also delineates three basic differences between Catholicism and fundamentalism which profoundly affect doing theology in either Catholic or catholic method:

“First, while fundamentalists believe in a demanding, rigid God, Catholics insist on believing in a God who, while utterly mysterious, has revealed the divine fullness in the ordinary life and brutal death of the carpenter of Nazareth. The closeness and the ordinariness of God’s grace, then, are a basic theme of Catholic theologizing. Second, though human existence is shot through with sinfulness, we are at our core basically good, basically holy – as is our world, and as is all of creation. Human experience, therefore, is a worthy source of theological truth, when put into dialogue with the church’s rich and long tradition. Third, the church, while not the exclusive place where God’s grace is revealed, is nevertheless a privileged place, and so theology needs to be deeply ecclesial. Tradition matters, magisterium matters, theological debate matters.”[83]

In the light of Bevan’s comparison between Catholicism and fundamentalism, we can see the three significant characters of the catholic method. First, the basic theme of catholic theologizing is the wideness of God’s mercy and grace. This theme challenges the exclusive claim of the traditional fundamentalist theologizing that tries to confine God’s grace in the small group of people having the same opinion only. Second, catholic methodology is doing theology from below because it has a positive attitude to human history as a worthy resource of theologizing, and this is also a common characteristic of contextual methodologies of doing theology today. Third, the catholic methodology is faithful to the church and tradition as a source of theologizing while it recognises the presence and work of God’s grace outside the church. In my judgment, these three characteristics of the catholic methodology resonate the thought and approach of John Wesley in terms of doing theology as his sermon ‘Catholic Spirit’ implies. This is the main reason I have chosen the catholic methodology in doing this research.

Another reason for adopting the catholic method is it challenges the way of doing theology by the Chin Christians in Myanmar. Chin Christians are most influenced by the itinerant evangelists or theologians who use, as I call it, ‘the anti/pro or either/or approach’ to do theology. This is sort of a way of fundamentalism that labels others who have a different view from theirs as anti-group or enemies. This anti/pro or either/or approach of doing theology results in division and conflict between groups that have different opinions. One group claims to have the right belief and knowledge, and labels the other group as ignorant to the truth. Worse than that, the different groups consider each other as rivals or anti-groups. This results in conflict and they do not think about seeking the common good for the whole society. This is the second reason why I have chosen catholic methodology in this research in terms of the meaning of the root-word catholic to replace the fundamentalist approach that causes division and ideology-bound groups among the Chin Christian community in Myanmar.

The third reason for my choosing the catholic method is that it is open to the challenges from society outside while being faithful to the church and her tradition. The Chin Christians in Myanmar tend to be faithful to their church tradition very often at the expense of mission or service of love for people outside the church. In other words, they put ‘ism’ before the ‘ists,’ i.e., people. The catholic methodology makes a space for ‘mission’ (action and service) while not excluding ‘ism’ (doctrine and tradition). Therefore, the catholic methodology can help them realise that they can engage in the service of love towards people outside the church while being faithful to the church and tradition. In fact, the faith and practice within the church must be the source and driving factor for the believers to work hard in seeking the common good of the society at large. The catholic methodology does not show favour to one at the exclusion of the other. Rather, it is an inclusive way of doing theology covering both the church and the society as the workplace of God. This is the core ‘spirit’ of John Wesley’s catholic spirit too.

In choosing this methodology, there are also some advantages of using it. First, it is a method that breaks the wall of ‘either-or’ method. The ‘either-or’ method has been traditionally used, as mentioned earlier, by the Chin Christians in doing Protestant theology. It promotes the division by saying that either this is right or that is wrong: ‘If I am right, you are wrong’. In John Wesley’s time people tended to approve one and condemn the other in their theological claim and concept. Therefore, they thought that they could not accept the preaching of both John Wesley and George Whitefield at the same time. But John Wesley did not like such an exclusive mindset that he tried to break the ‘either-or’ wall by his warm friendship with some Calvinistic preachers and also by his preaching that results in ‘Catholic Spirit’.

Secondly, the catholic method allows us to grasp sacred and secular ideas in a holistic view, and that consequently makes a way for the church to engage in the socio-political challenges. John Wesley’s sermon on ‘Catholic Spirit’ has been traditionally understood and interpreted in terms of seeking Christian unity in the evangelical communities of the 18th century and has been applied to the contemporary society in that way as it has been discussed in chapter one.

However, a critical study of the sermon with the catholic methodology takes us beyond this understanding while accepting this as a right and relevant approach to the sermon, and helps us grasp a more holistic meaning of the sermon not only as seeking Christian unity but also as seeking the common good for the wider society as a whole.

In conclusion, the pluralistic method tends to seek unity among different religions often at the expense of the core beliefs of Christianity but the catholic method seeks unity of humanity and the common good of the whole human society while being centred on the core values and teachings of Christianity. Therefore, by using the catholic methodology of theological reflection instead of pluralist approach, I attempt to explore the richness of the 18th century sermon of John Wesley on ‘Catholic Spirit’ and its relevance to the present situation of the Chin Christians in Myanmar which needs ‘catholic spirit’ in terms of seeking both the Christian solidarity and the common good for the whole society, to which the next chapters turn now.

CHAPTER FOUR: CATHOLIC SPIRIT AS SEEKING CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY

It has been observed that the sermon ‘catholic spirit’ in its original context is a call for Christian unity, and importantly that it is also seeking the common good of society in the light of the catholic theological method. This chapter deals with catholic spirit as seeking Christian unity, especially in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition in Myanmar. Chapter five then examines catholic spirit as seeking the common good of society.

As mentioned in the introduction, the Chin community of Tahan-Kalaymyo in Myanmar are divided into many different denominations and denominationalism is strong in their midst. To highlight this context better, I will make a case study on the conflict within the Upper Myanmar Methodist Church which I know well as I am a member of it, and state what catholic spirit as seeking Christian solidarity can offer to that particular context and also to the wider Chin Christian community.

4.1. Case Study on Conflict within the Methodist Tradition in Myanmar

There was a conflict in 1996, which resulted in the break-up of the church. The conflict started from the Vengpui Methodist Society. There were two groups in Vengpui, one following the Thutak (Truth) Revival and the other opposed to the revival. The Thutak group started worship service separately on April 16, 1996, calling themselves the Wesley Society.[84]

The synod of Tahan District (1996) did not approve of this, and this resulted in the break-up of the church in different places in the following years and violent attacks in some societies. The Thutak group became a different denomination called the Wesleyan Church of Myanmar in 1996.

That some Wesleyan churches claimed the ownership of the church buildings made the conflict worse and violent. For example, Satawm Wesleyan members claimed that the church building was theirs as they were more in number, so the Methodists had to worship in the circuit headquarters as the Wesleyans occupied the church. Some Methodist members had to stay in the circuit headquarters to protect the minister’s family from a violent attack on March 28, 1997 (Good Friday) as the Wesleyans stoned the quarters during worship.[85]

The conference emergency meeting (January 15, 1997) of the Upper Myanmar Methodist Church forbade working together with the Wesleyans at any level (Resolution 8 & 9).[86] As a consequence, a Methodist Minister in my own village denied giving benediction in a funeral service of a Wesleyan member.

There were four main factors at play in the conflict. Firstly, there were doctrinal disputes (on free will and perseverance) as the consequence of the Thutak revival. Sermons from the pulpits reflected the conflict, which was the main factor in the conflict.

Secondly, there was a tribal rivalry as most of the Wesleyan members were from the Hualngo tribe. Almost all the ministers who left the Methodist church were from the Hualngo tribe and the Thutak revival was started by a Hualngo evangelist. People from the outside of the Methodist church also considered this conflict as a tribal conflict.

Thirdly, there was a leadership failure in terms of policy and teaching. The Methodist leaders exercised a very exclusive system insisting uniformity in theological ideas and worship style at the expense of variety. The influence of the itinerant evangelists was so bigger than the ordained ministers on the church members that the ministers forbade their members to listen to the sermons of the evangelists. This forbidding method did not succeed.

Finally, a power struggle or inter-personal hatred among the ministers played a big role in this conflict. According to Rev James Ngunhleia, the present conference president, the two main leaders (ministers) of the conflicting groups in those days were like enemies; if they had been good friends, the church would not probably have split up in two.[87]

The Upper Myanmar Methodist Conference has not revoked the resolution (1997) not to work together with the Wesleyan Church. In consequence, there is some hesitancy, especially among the Methodist ministers and leaders, to work in cooperation with the Wesleyans for the common good of the community and of the villages where the two denominations live together. For example, the Methodist minister in my native village was rebuked by the district chairman for he was reported to have visited the village children camping and prayed for them, led by a Wesleyan evangelist. The sectarian view or bigotry is such a strong force that even the denominations having the same origin and tradition cannot hold hands in ministry.[88] This sectarianism is still a significant hindrance in seeking the common good of the community.

Having those causing factors and consequences in mind, some possible responses to the conflict in the light of catholic spirit will be suggested. Three responses to the conflict in order to build solidarity again in the Wesleyan/Methodist community in Myanmar are as follow:

The first one is openness to differences. Frost and Hirsch present three social-set theories in their book The Shaping of Things to Come. The first one is called 'the bounded or closed set', which is analogous to a fenced farm, being hard at the edges but soft at the centre. Most institutionalized denominations are included here. They lose their attractiveness. The second one is called 'the fuzzy set', which has no strong ideological centre or boundary, and is soft both at the centre and the boundary. The church that has this set does not last long. The third one is called 'the centred set', which can be described as a ranch that has a wellspring at its centre, having a very strong ideology or culture at the centre but no boundaries.[89] The Upper Myanmar Methodist Church is practising the closed set by trying to confine the members in certain uniformity in ideas and practice. This closed system easily results in some conflict. Therefore, it will be wise to practise the centred set, a kind of open system, which allows and tolerates differences in ideas and practice but is strong in the core beliefs of the church. This is what Wesley means by catholic spirit. By being open to differences, it is less likely to cause some conflict in terms of theological ideas and practices. It is arguable that the conflict in 1996 would not have been so serious to the point of the break-up of the church if the leaders then had used the centred set theory.

The second one is to revitalise the common ground between the Wesleyans and the Methodists as a Wesleyan community. What is necessary is just to realise again and revitalise the common ground between them.

In order to revitalise their spirit of their common origin or ground, it will be helpful to hold a theological conference as a catalyst event where the leaders and theologians from the two denominations participate and freely talk in discussion of the Wesleyan theology and have a meal together on a shared table. The conference can be more attractive and open if the leaders and theologians from the Evangelical Methodist Church and the Nazarene Church of Myanmar are invited and included. This kind of meeting can rebuild friendship and recognition among the leaders from the Methodist tradition and that will result in solidarity.

Thirdly, there is a need to engage together in the common good of the wider society. Sometimes people need a common ‘enemy’ to be united despite different ideas and identities. Being wrapped up within the church or denominational boundary makes the churches tend to step into conflict among them. Therefore, the Wesleyans and the Methodists must engage in a common challenge beyond their denominational boundaries. There is an important question and challenge that the two denominations have to deal with: Can they work together for the common good of the wider society where they are living together as families, friends and neighbours?

It would be helpful if the Wesleyans and the Methodists, who both claim to be the true followers of John Wesley, remember that John Wesley is the champion of the ‘Catholic Spirit’ who invites people who have different or opposite ideas or practices to work together in the service of God and of one’s fellow human beings with universal love.

4.2. Towards Chin Christian Solidarity

In the light of the above case study and the concept of catholic spirit, the following four suggestions are made as steps to Chin Christian solidarity in Myanmar.

4.2.1. Agreeing to Disagree

Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard rightly argue that “agreeing to disagree” is not a postmodern, relativist invention, but has a long Christian heritage especially in the eighteenth century evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley. Whitefield and Wesley disagreed over important doctrinal issues, chiefly concerning the sovereignty and grace of God, and sometimes they fell out with each other. But both of them clung to each other till death with their catholic spirit. They lived with the motto: ‘we think and let think’ and modelled: “unity in essentials and ‘good disagreement’ on non-essentials.”[90]

In his sermon “Catholic Spirit,” Wesley attempts to give some basics that the Christian must believe in order to be Christian. Colin William has gathered these important, essential or central concepts of the Christian as follow: “A review of Wesley’s writings indicates that the essential doctrines on which the insisted included original sin, the deity of Christ, the atonement, justification by faith alone, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity.”[91] To this list, a critical study of catholic spirit will add ‘catholic love’ that is love for God and neighbours. Catholic spirit is open to different opinions as long as it does not affect our salvation by the gracious work of Christ through faith that results in loving services for others.

In Wesley’s view, the major hindrance for being open to difference or agreeing to disagree is ‘bigotry,’ which he defines as “too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party, opinion, Church, and religion” resulting in forbidding ‘anyone who casts out devils (casting out devils as the work of God) because of difference in all these particulars.’[92] This sectarian ideology is the enemy of solidarity for the Chin Christian community in Myanmar.

The Chin Christians are keen on uniformity in opinion and practice in their respective denominations. This easily results in conflict and division and it becomes a barrier for their solidarity. Therefore, catholic spirit as openness to differences is the need of the Chin Christians in order to be a united community of God’s children.

In this context John Wesley’s catholic spirit challenges the Chin Christians to go beyond their ideological and tribal boundaries with a special love for their fellow Christians as ‘brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow citizens of the New Jerusalem.’ Catholic spirit suggests the way to be open to other people having differences from us is love. Here is challenge for Chin Christians: how can they love God and all human beings as God requires of them while they cannot even love their own fellow brothers and sisters from the same tradition and community? This takes us to the next step.

4.2.2. Love for God and Neighbour

Collins defines John Wesley’s teaching of the new birth as ‘the freedom to love God and neighbour.’[93] He makes an important point in presenting the two expressions of saving faith: ‘freedom from the power of sin marked by the obedience of faith that earnestly keeps the commandments of God and thereby avoids wilful sin’ and ‘freedom to love God and neighbour.’[94] He also rightly argues that in John Wesley’s practical theology the end or goal of religion is not saving faith but love, saying that ‘Wesley exclaims that love is the greatest of all as a mark of a child of God. Saving faith ever points beyond itself to the love of God and neighbour. That is, faith is both instrumental to love and is ever active in love. Indeed, the expression “faith working by love” is one of Wesley’s favourites and reveals that it is a lively, not a dead or nominal, faith that is associated with saving grace.’[95] This argument rings true with the concept of catholic spirit which has love for God and all humankind as the bottom line.

It is reasonable that John Wesley demands from his ‘brother’ a special love ‘in a higher degree than his love for the bulk of humankind.’[96] John Wesley is well aware that common good cannot be sought beyond our own community while neglecting one’s own neighbours. To love one’s close relations in a higher degree is a practical realisation of solidarity in the community. If each and every one cares about one’s own family and nearer community, the common good of the wider society can be realised step by step.

As the true followers of Jesus Christ, the Chin Christians in Myanmar have to convey the value of Christ to the whole nation. In order to fulfil their task as the followers of Christ, they must not only preach the good news of Jesus Christ but also make their life-news good. John Dawson’s words are worth remembering when he says, “Ultimately, the world will ‘see’ Jesus when a united church carries the ministry of reconciliation beyond its own walls”[97] Without being first united and reconciled themselves, they cannot carry the good news of love and reconciliation to the society outside the church.

4.2.3. Human Dignity

One principle of the common good in catholic social teaching is an important step to solidarity: human dignity in the image of God. Recognising human dignity as the image of God always puts person before doctrinal opinion. Not Luther, Wesley, or Calvin but Christ the crucified must be seen in every person we encounter. There cannot be solidarity where human dignity and equality as God’s image bearer whom God loves equally is not recognised.

Roger Walton, the Conference president of the British Methodist Church, rightly argues that in Wesleyan thought human dignity lies in the image of God and in the love of God. He says, “John Wesley encouraged us to give all we can, to all the people we can, as long as we can. And that middle line, ‘to all the people we can,’ is a way of expressing a very deep Methodist conviction; that everybody is included in God’s purposes; everyone is included in God’s love. For us I think it is important to recognise that every person we meet is made in the image of God and is held in the love of God.”[98]

Therefore, doing theology with catholic spirit challenges the ideologies and practices that diminish the human person for the sake of one’s own belief and tradition. Earl D.C. Brewer and Mance C. Jackson summarise well how Wesley’s catholic spirit challenges ‘evil isms’ for the sake of common good as follow: ‘Each human social group – small or large, long-lasting or short-lived – exists for some purpose. Each may produce good for its members and harm for outsiders. Some hurt members as well as outsiders. Those of us who espouse and experience the Christian faith join with Jesus, early Christians, and Wesley in trying to turn groups producing evil upside down into groups producing good. In the Wesleyan tradition we try to move from evil isms (e.g. racism, sexism, ageism, classism, religionism, and nationalism) towards social holiness in human relationships.’[99]

Having the human person and dignity in his mind, Wesley concludes catholic spirit with the conviction that a person with catholic spirit has “an unspeakable tenderness for their persons, and longs for their welfare.”[100] If we have catholic spirit, we cannot neglect the human dignity and welfare in favour of our own doctrine, belief, and tradition. It is a challenge to the Chin Christian community in Myanmar not to lose the human person in elevation of their own particular group and tradition.

4.2.4. Engagement in the Wider Society

The Chin Christian denominations need to have a common challenge in which they all work together. When the denominations practice their faith and spirituality only in the confines of their denominational or Christian boundaries, they tend to create rivalries and tensions among themselves as their differences and priorities easily happen to clash. However, it is likely that they will come together in solidarity if they face a common challenge. In fact, the common challenge or purpose they have in their calling as the people of God is to engage in the socio-political concerns of their society to build peace and justice. In other words, this is called seeking the common good of the human society.

The Chin Christian denominations tended to avoid engaging in the task of seeking the common good of the society in fear of the military dictatorship. With the present political changes in Myanmar, the value of the presence of the Chin Christian churches will be measured in their achievement in engagement with the task of seeking the common good. In fact, it cannot be denied that seeking the common good is an essential step towards solidarity because neglecting the common good is a ‘good’ cause of disunity and conflict. This theme of seeking common good is the main content of chapter five.

At this point, it can be concluded that catholic spirit as openness to differences, love for God and neighbours, and recognition of human dignity based on God’s love for all people regardless of their differences in opinions, denominations, ideologies, doctrines, and practices, and engagement in the wider society is the key to unity and solidarity for the Chin Christians in Myanmar.

CHAPTER FIVE: CATHOLIC SPIRIT AS SEEKING THE COMMON GOOD IN MYANMAR

As the Catholic Social Teaching goes, the main task of the government is seeking the common good as ‘the common good is the reason that the political authority exists.’[101] Engaging in the task of the government or the socio-political sphere of the society is a vital part of Christian call in terms of seeking the common good. This is the call to the Myanmar churches of catholic spirit which made John Wesley and the Methodists go beyond the boundaries of the institutional church and engage in the task of seeking the common good of the 18th century British society. This final chapter explores why the Chin Christians do not engage in socio-political sphere of Myanmar and how they should engage in the future for the common good of their society and of the whole nation as well.

5.1. Engagement in Socio-Political Sphere

Christians in Myanmar as a whole have tended to stay aloof from the socio-political sphere of the nation while the Buddhist monks have been relatively active in the political challenges of the military junta. Myanmar Christians are generally silent and submissive. Myanmar churches do not seem to show concern about how the structure and system of the government work as long as they can manage regular worships and functions within the boundaries of their denominations.

As the denominations from the Wesleyan traditions, the Methodist churches in Myanmar do not have any voice or action in the political sphere. What they do is social service or pastoral care through some amount of relief money and services. It is essential that Myanmar churches, especially the Chin Christians within the Wesleyan tradition, take a move from social service to social action for justice and peace in the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society of Myanmar.

There are two major reasons for the Chin Christians’ not engaging in the socio-political sphere. The first one is the dualistic view of society. The people in my context have a dualistic worldview, believing that the church premise is holy and the society outside the church is profane. This dualistic view of society makes people tend to avoid engaging in the socio-political activities and so the church in Myanmar fails its prophetic role. Therefore, the Chin Christian churches are challenged by the catholic spirit to find a way to have an effective presence in their society. The churches in Myanmar must recognise the secular field as the valid field of mission where the Holy Spirit is working for the salvation of the holistic life of people. The church’s mission with catholic spirit is supposed to work not in an either-or way but in both the Christian community and the wider community outside as God’s universal love works in both places.

The other reason for not engaging in the socio-political activities is fear. As the Chin Christians are a real minority in terms of population, they are in favour of taking the safe side in their existence under the military junta. In illustration, Christians in Myanmar did not march in Yangon in September 2007 (Saffron Revolution)[102] in solidarity with Buddhist monks mainly for the sake of the church survival. I was there in Yangon doing my M.Div course at Myanmar Institute of Theology. The principal and the lecturers warned the students not to join the march in response to the students’ request to join it. Therefore, the institute was temporarily closed as the students were sent home.[103] Thus, the Christian churches and institutions have fear of not surviving as a minor religion and Myanmar Christians are taught and told to keep silent in the cases of socio-political concern.

However, it is hopeful that there will be more chances for the minority traditions to participate in social actions as the political changes happen in Myanmar. It must be realised that worship and fellowship with people of the same opinion and tradition only within the church walls is not enough for seeking the common good. The churches are summoned by the God of catholic love into the world society. Catholic spirit calls Christians to work for the common good with the universal love that reaches out both to the church and the society, both to God and neighbour, body and soul, as well as to friends and foes.

The Chin churches must realise their call for solidarity with the poor and oppressed people among whom are their own members. Solidarity with the poor and marginalised in the country takes courage and suffering. Being a minority cannot justify their being undutiful to God’s calling to seek the common good. Paul Wesley Chilcote indicates well how Jesus lived out God’s solidarity with the poor sinners by ‘immersing himself in the hurting places of humanity, seeking out those who were least and last, and taking all the brokenness and fullness of life with all its joys and triumphs and also with all its pain and defeat.’[104] He argues that ‘the loving disciples do not remain aloof from life; are not disengaged or protected from the brutal realities of this life; can never be uninterested in the plight of the poor, the weak and the broken; rather invest themselves in the lives of broken and wounded people and are willing to get their hands dirty in the service of others in God’s world, as Jesus did.’[105] The people of God shaped by catholic spirit and love are committed ‘to get their hands dirty in the service of others’ regardless of their opinion, mode of worship, colour, sex, tribe or race in the world of God outside their religious boundaries.

Brewer and Jackson rightly argue that ‘the struggle of transformed Methodists and other Christians, as well as other religious faiths, is toward the transformation of political, economic, and social structures and cultural entrapments so that all children of God may be free and share with equity and abundance in the resources for personal, physical, social, and spiritual development.’[106]

They continue delineating the nature of John Wesley’s ministry whose focus was clearly on transformation of persons by going beyond the religious customs of his church by preaching in the fields. While the working and living conditions were horrible with no laws protecting children and women or no standards for working hours, wages, or conditions and drunkenness, thievery, smuggling, and other such sins were common, those who heard and responded to Wesley were introduced to social and spiritual disciplines in the Methodist classes and societies. Thus, it is history that many of the early Methodists became leaders in the new labour movement, in political activities, and in other ways to improve societal conditions.[107] This is how the catholic spirit worked through the Methodist movement in the 18th century Britain.

Then how should the Chin Christians also involve in the social, economic, and political sphere to seek the common good in Myanmar today?

5.2. Types of Christian Involvement in Socio-Political Sphere

5.2.1. Catholic View of Society

In order to engage in the socio-political sphere for the common good, the Chin Christians need to change their dualistic view of society into catholic view of society. This change will alter the way they involve in the mission of God. It is a prerequisite to have a catholic view of society which recognises the work of God outside the denominational boundaries in the wider society to have an effective Christian presence and involvement in seeking the common good.

Richard Andrew rightly observes that Methodism has a particular kind of ‘catholic sensibility’ which is connected to its historical emergence as an enterprise of mission within the universal church and its identity is linked to enabling the whole church to fulfil its ‘catholic’ vocation in relation to the rest of humanity.[108] He argues that the Methodist ‘catholic’ sensibility is thoroughly informed by the sense of the universal outreach of divine love. Considering the world as ‘our parish,’ “it is essential to see that Methodism’s understanding of its special vocation and mission is implicitly linked to its understanding of ‘catholicity.’ Though it is only one of the institutions that make up a society and numbers amongst its adherents only a minority of the world’s population, the self-understanding of Methodism is intimately connected to the faithfulness that it embodies in its mission to the whole humanity.”[109] This clearly shows the nature of the catholic view of mission which drove the Methodist movement in the 18th century.

John Vincent’s statement on ‘Methodist theology today’ also resonates well with the core concept of catholic spirit when he argues that the ‘Great Doctrines’ of Methodism, namely justification, assurance, sanctification, and perfection, are not the central core of theology but only the methods and disciplines of how the central core has been experienced as working out in the experimental lives of Wesley and his followers. That central core is Grace, the love of God revealed in Jesus. He says that ‘the one continuing element that cannot be watered-down in Theology of Methodism is the heart of God as Love and that self-same love was the love that had to be extended to all humanity, because it was essentially based on God’s undistinguishing regard over all the human race, and which already moved secretly in the hearts and minds of those who were strangers to it – by prevenient grace.’[110]

Richard Andrew also rightly observes the relationship between catholic spirit and love of God and neighbour. He mentions that “in their sermons and in their hymns the brothers Wesley consistently pointed to the love of God and the love of neighbour – what Jesus termed the greatest commandment – as the foundation of Christian faith”, and “felt that all of life should be governed by Christian love for God and for neighbour; this love (agape) they termed ‘the catholic spirit.’ It is ‘catholic’ in the sense of being universal, a love that embraces all of humanity because of the love that God has shown and bestowed upon us in Jesus Christ...The Wesleys were willing to see the fellow Christians not primarily as competitors, but as co-workers in the common cause of God.”[111]

Thus, the catholic spirit, having the Gracious Love of God that extends to all humanity at its core, must be the powerful force to move the Chin Christians in their Christian call and task to seek the common good in Myanmar. This catholic spirit breaks the dividing wall between the so-called sacred and secular societies and so claims the whole world as ‘our parish’ where we are sent to love and live for others regardless of their difference in “opinions or modes of worship.” This is the force that made the Methodist Society a dynamic movement, not just a static institution in the 18th century. That is why John Stott boldly argues that the 18th century ‘Evangelical revival should not be thought of only in terms of the preaching of the gospel and the converting of sinners to Christ; it also led to widespread philanthropy, and profoundly affected society on both sides of the Atlantic, and that the gospel John Wesley preached inspired people to take up social causes in the name of Christ for which historians have attributed to Wesley’s influence than to any other fact that Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like that in France.’[112]

This original ethos and motive of seeking the common good in the 18th century is rooted in the catholic spirit indispensably linked to love for God and neighbour and is still the need and challenge to the Chin Christians in the 21st century Myanmar. This catholic view of the whole human society as the workplace of God is the starting point for seeking the common good of society.

5.2.2. Social Actions in ‘World Parish’

John Wesley’s ‘world parish’ concept must not be understood just in terms of being geographically worldwide; but more importantly, as Tyson rightly argues, it is ‘a worldly Christianity which emphasises an approach to Christianity that seeks to make a real difference in the lives of people who live in the real world, and thus makes early Methodist principles committed their adherents to the performance of “works of piety” (spiritual disciplines) as well as “works of mercy” (humanitarian service).’[113]

Though Tyson here uses the phrase ‘works of mercy’ to mean humanitarian service, it must not be considered in terms of only relief and kind help. John Wesley did not do such service only but he did take action in every level of society for the welfare of the common people. Tyson elsewhere argues that a “worldly Christianity” advocated and lived out by the Wesley brothers was vitally concerned with the spiritual and physical well-being of people and “caused the early Methodists to adopt a life of radical Christian stewardship, which took expression in a simple lifestyle, temperance, concern for the poor, and pursuit of social equality and economic justice.”[114]

Nigel Scotland also argues that Wesley made the cause of the poor his own; he sought to apply the Christian faith to every level of society, and he was concerned about the increased population in the new towns, unemployment, taxation, the national debt, East India Stock, luxury, dress, intemperance, smuggling enclosures, and slavery.[115]

Here it will be helpful to quote the Grand Rapids report “Evangelism and Social Responsibility” to distinguish between social service and social action, which is quoted by John Stott who recognises Wesley as “both a preacher of the gospel and a prophet of social righteousness”:[116]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Bevans and Schroeder observe that John Wesley was very outspoken against the social sins of slavery, illiteracy and poverty, and he did not separate evangelism and social action.[117] In the same voice with Bevans and Schroeder, Stott also argues that ‘the genuine Christian social concern will embrace both social service and social action, and so if we truly love our neighbours, and want to serve them, our service may oblige us to take (or solicit) political action on their behalf.’[118] This is the same calling and challenge of catholic spirit for the Christian community in Myanmar.

5.2.3. Secular Vocations

As a minority in Myanmar the Chin Christian community hardly have influence in the life of society. However, they are supposed to make their presence meaningful for the welfare of the society. The Chin Christians, with the influence of dualistic view of society, generally believe that they have no share in the ministry of God outside the church. This belief makes their faith a private thing and so they lose their influence in the society outside. This must be challenged and changed with a catholic view of secular occupation that will help them work together with God both ‘within and without’ the church boundaries for the common good of the society.

This calls for participation of lay Christians in God’s work through their daily activities in their secular occupations. Norman Thomas is right when he says that in the present situation of the world, “the Gospel can be most effectively spread by the unobtrusive spiritual activity and imperceptible religious influence exercised by lay Christians in their daily life and work, rather than by paid preachers and elaborate evangelistic organisations.”[119]

The lay people are the majority who “are in the very heart of the secular world and are open to all its corrupting influences.”[120] These people should be helped to use their occupations as the means of seeking the common good in terms of living integrity, justice, and holiness in their performance. It is a vital responsibility of the church to teach and equip her members to be the actors in the public sphere for the common good.

The Chin churches should have a group or department, e.g., Social Front, which does research on public and political theology in order to improve the relationship between the church and state. As a minority the churches or their social departments, to be more effective and influential in the society, should also find a way to work together with the civil societies, interest groups, NGOs, and importantly other faiths in the need of some social activities for the welfare of the life of people in the society at large. They must also encourage and endorse bringing up more Chin Christian politicians who can work for the common good at national level. Christians are not called to be just bystanders but to be active players in the ‘world parish’ of God for its common good.

5.2.4. Opposition to the Government

Tom Wright, a leading British New Testament scholar, resonates with the core and call of catholic spirit to the 21st century churches when he argues that “one of the church’s primary roles is to bear witness to the sovereign rule of Jesus, holding the world to account.”[121] He indicates the role of the church as ‘opposition’ to the government as follow:

“Those who follow Jesus have the task, front and centre within their vocation, of being the real ‘opposition’. This doesn’t mean that they must actually ‘oppose’ everything that the government tries to do. They must weigh it, sift it, hold it to account, affirm what can be affirmed, point out things that are lacking or not quite in focus, critique what needs critiquing, and denounce, on occasion, what needs denouncing.”[122]

Wright also indicates the reputation of the Christian bishops in the wider world in the early centuries of church history for being the champions of the poor, arguing that “they spoke up for their rights; they spoke out against those who would abuse and ill-treat them...That role continues to this day. And it goes much wider.”[123] This task takes courage and possible suffering in many cases. But the churches must not avoid it for fear.

The present model of Myanmar churches is to please the government to avoid clashes with those in power. The Christian churches and the leaders have stayed silent in the quest of justice in the society. Therefore, the role of the church as opposition to the government is the urgent and challenging call of the catholic spirit for the Chin Christians in the task of seeking the common good in the present Myanmar.

Thus, it is the calling of catholic spirit to the Chin churches to seek the common good to have a catholic view of society that recognises the work of God within and without the church and so engage in the socio-political sphere through involvement in social actions, secular vocations, and opposition to the government for the sake of human flourishing in Myanmar.

CONCLUSION

In the light of the analysis of the background and the concept of the sermon ‘Catholic Spirit,’ it has been observed that the distinctiveness of Wesley’s Methodist movement is not its opinion or practice, but is its catholic spirit which distinguishes them “by their fervor in loving God and neighbour.”[124] While the Anglican Church was obsessed with itself and content within its church boundaries, John Wesley made the Gospel (God) the common good by claiming the world as his parish and reaching out to the working people in the margins outside the institutional church.

In the light of the common good idea in Catholic Social Teaching and its relationship with catholic spirit, it has been argued that catholic spirit is the force that makes the church a movement, not just an institution, in seeking the common good by reaching out to the marginalised out there in the wider society.

It is also argued that catholic spirit is not a religious pluralistic theology though it is very tempting to be treated so because of its openness to differences, but it is, at its best, theologically pluralistic in terms of its openness to different doctrinal opinions and modes of worship in the 18th century Evangelical community. The catholic spirit is better to be treated with a catholic theological method which affirms the work of God both in the Christian community and the secular society outside. Drawing on the catholic method, the research has attempted to help God’s people to work for the common good of society while being faithful to Jesus Christ as Saviour and their identity as Christians being driven by their love for God and neighbours.

In the light of the catholic theological reflection method it has been observed that the 18th century sermon on catholic spirit by John Wesley has a double relevance in terms of seeking Christian solidarity and the common good in the present Myanmar. The catholic spirit as seeking Christian unity is a challenging issue for the Chin Christian churches in Myanmar, who are bound with their denominational and exclusive ideologies and so cannot work together in God’s ministry. They have to be united first in special love for their fellow Christians so that they can be called the children of God who loves all His children equally.

The Chin Christians are also challenged by the catholic spirit to seek the common good by engaging in the socio-political sphere of Myanmar. In fact, catholic spirit is not a choice either church or society, but both church and society; not either spirit or body, but both spirit and body; not either friends or foes, but both friends and foes. By engaging their faith in the public square only the minority Christians can make their presence effective in seeking the common good in Myanmar.

Thus, catholic spirit is a good resource for ecumenical theology and transformative practice to seek the welfare and flourishing of the whole human society in Myanmar. Time and place may change but the driving concern and the calling of John Wesley’s sermon on ‘Catholic Spirit’ as seeking the common good in the public square with love for God and neighbours is still the same and relevant to the present society.

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[1] Bawlliana, “Tahan Chanchin” in H.Ngurnghaka (ed.), Tahan Kohhran Tangrual (1974-2014) Ruby Jubilee Souvenir (Tahan: T.K.T., 2015), p. 27. (This is a 40th anniversary souvenir book of Tahan Churches Alliance, written in Chin-Mizo dialect.)

[2] H.Ngurnghaka, “Tahan Kohhran Chanchin” in Tahan Kohhran Tangrual (1974-2014) Ruby Jubilee Souvenir, p.36.

[3] John Pudney, John Wesley and His World (Norwich: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 71-72.

[4] Gwang Seok Oh, John Wesley’s Ecclesiology: A Study in its Sources and Development, (Plymouth: The Scarecrow Press, 2008), p.174.

[5] Kenneth Cracknell and Susan J. White, An Introduction to World Methodism (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 2005) , p.21.

[6] John Munsey Turner, John Wesley: The Evangelical Revival and the Rise of Methodism in England (Peterborough: Epworth Press, 2002), p.31.

[7] Kenneth J. Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), p. 103.

[8] Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey, p. 123-128.

[9] Cracknell and White, An Introduction to World Methodism, p.247 .

[10] Cracknell and White, An Introduction to World Methodism,p. 247.

[11] Cracknell and White, An Introduction to World Methodism,p.250.

[12] The present research also treats the sermon to some extent in terms of what it should mean and suggest to the Methodists and other Christians by the catholic spirit in the 21st century.

[13] Robert Gribben, “Catholic Spirit” in Angela Shier-Jones and Kimberly D. Reisman (eds), 44 Sermons to Serve the Present Age (Peterborough: Epworth, 2007), p. 209.

[14] John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit” in Albert C. Outler (ed), John Wesley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), p.94.

[15] Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”, p.96.

[16] Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”, p.97.

[17] John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasio ns, translated into modern English by James D. Holway (Ilkeston: Moorley’s Print and Publishing, 1987), p. 400.

[18] Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasio ns, p.400.

[19] John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit,” p. 101.

[20] John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit,” p. 102.

[21] Cracknell and White, An Introduction to World Methodism, p.250.

[22] Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), p. 91.

[23] David M. Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit: Methodists and Roman Catholics in Dialogue (Werrington: Epworth Press, 2004), p.10.

[24] Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit, p.12.

[25] Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit, p.33.

[26] Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit, p.34.

[27] Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit, p.35.

[28] Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit, p. 2.

[29] Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit, p. 5.

[30] James L. Schwenk, Catholic Spirit: Wesley, Whitefield, and the Quest for Evangelical Unity in Eighteenth-Century British Methodism (Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc., 2008), p. 48.

[31] Schwenk, Catholic Spirit: Wesley, Whitefield, and the Quest for Evangelical Unity in Eighteenth-Century British Methodism, p.119.

[32] Herbert B. McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit” in Anthony R. Cross (ed), Ecumenism and History: Studies in Honour of John H.Y. Briggs (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2002), p. 50.

[33] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit”, p. 50.

[34] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit”, p. 54.

[35] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit, p. 54.

[36] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit”, p. 62.

[37] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit”, p. 64.

[38] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit”, p. 66.

[39] McGonigle, “John Wesley – Exemplar of Catholic Spirit”, p. 66.

[40] Ralph Waller, “The Catholic Spirit: The Need of Our Time” in Ivor H. Jones and Kenneth B. Wilson (eds), Freedom and Grace (London: Epworth Press, 1988), p.147-8.

[41] Waller, “The Catholic Spirit: The Need of Our Time”, p.151.

[42] Waller, “The Catholic Spirit: The Need of Our Time”, p.155.

[43] Waller, “The Catholic Spirit: The Need of Our Time”, p.156.

[44] Patrick Riordan, A Grammar of the Common Good: Speaking of Globalisation (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008), p. 2.

[45] Edward P. DeBerri and James E. Hug, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret, 4th Edition (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2003), p.3.

[46] Dennis P.McCann, “The Common Good in Catholic Social Teaching: A Case Study in Modernisation” in Patrick D. Miller and Dennis P. McCann (eds), In Search of the Common Good (London: T & T Clark, 2005), p. 121.

[47] J. Milburn Thompson, Introducing Catholic Social Thought (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012), p. 8.

[48] Thompson, Introducing Catholic Social Thought, p.5.

[49] Thompson, Introducing Catholic Social Thought, p.5.

[50] John R. Donahue, “The Bible and Catholic Social Teaching: Will this Engagement Lead to Marriage?” in Kenneth R. Himes and others (eds), Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2005), p. 9.

[51] Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching (London: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 1996), p.2.

[52] Thompson, Introducing Catholic Social Thought, p.59.

[53] Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (London: Burns & Oates, 2004), p. 83.

[54] Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, p. 81.

[55] Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching, p.18.

[56] David Hollenbach, “Common Good” in Judith A. Dwyer (ed), The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought (Collegeville: The Liturgy Press, 1994), p.192.

[57] Dennis P.McCann, “The Common Good in Catholic Social Teaching: A Case Study in Modernisation”, p. 146.

[58] Dennis P.McCann, “The Common Good in Catholic Social Teaching: A Case Study in Modernisation”, p. 146.

[59] Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching, p.6.

[60] Clifford Longley, “Market Economics, Catholic Social Teaching and the Common Good” in Nicholas Sagovsky and Peter McGrail (eds), Together for the Common Good: Towards a National Conversation (London: SCM Press, 2015), pp.191.

[61] Theodore Herr, Catholic Social Teaching: A Textbook of Christian Insights (London: New City, 1991), p.64-65.

[62] Longley, “Market Economics, Catholic Social Teaching and the Common Good” , pp.191-2.

[63] DeBerri and Hug, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret, 4th Edition, p.31.

[64] Hollenbach, “Common Good”, p. 193.

[65] DeBerri and Hug, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret, 4th Edition, p. 23.

[66] Nigel Scotland, Christianity Outside the Box: Learning from Those Who Rocked the Boat (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2012), p. 176.

[67] Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, p.105.

[68] Hollenbach, “Common Good”, p.195.

[69] Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”, pp.98-9.

[70] Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”, p.98.

[71] Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”, p.96.

[72] Kamran Mofid, “The Value of Values to build a World for the Common Good” in Interreligious Insight: A Journal of Dialogue and Engagement, edited by Alan Race and others, Volume 13, Number 1, June 2015,p.58.

[73] John B. Cobb, Jr., Grace & Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p.150.

[74] Cobb, Jr., Grace & Responsibility, p. 153.

[75] Cobb, Jr., Grace & Responsibility, p. 145.

[76] Cobb, Jr., Grace & Responsibility, p. 147.

[77] J. Robert Ewbank, John Wesley, Natural Man, and the “Isms,” (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2009), p. 71.

[78] Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2009), p.37, 199.

[79] Ewbank, John Wesley, Natural Man, and the “Isms,” p. 71.

[80] John R. Tyson, The Way of the Wesleys: A Short Introduction (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), p. 176.

[81] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (London: Epworth Press, 1976), p. 766.

[82] Stephen B. Bevans, An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (New York: Orbis Books, 2011), pp.189-192.

[83] Bevans, An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective, p.202.

[84] F. Lalrammawia, Methodist Kohhran Harsatna Tawh Chanchin (Tahan: Synod Publication, 2015), p. 2.

[85] P C. Lalrammuana, His Personal file and diary (The photocopies sent by himself to me on 23 February 2016). He is a Satawm Methodist member who experienced and witnessed the conflict in Satawm, and he is now an office clerk of Tahan Institute of Theology.

[86] Rev. Lawmsanga, the Chairman of Tahan District, sent me the photocopy of the Conference Minutes on 23 February, 2016.

[87] He told me when I met him on 23 Feb 2016 in Derby during his visit to England.

[88] Here, a challenging question arises to me: what would the conflicts between denominations or Christian groups look like if we were powerful majority in terms of population in Myanmar? It could be like the ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland!

[89] Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), pp. 206-7.

[90] Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard, “Disagreeing with Grace” in Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard (eds), Good Disagreement: Grace and Truth in a Divided Church (Oxford: Lion Books, 2015), p. 10.

[91] Colin Williams, John Wesley’s Theology Today (London: Epworth Press, 1960), pp.16-17.

[92] Albert C. Outler (ed), The Works of John Wesley, Volume 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), p. 76. Parentheses are mine.

[93] Kenneth J. Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), p. 226.

[94] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley, p. 226.

[95] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley, p. 226

[96] Outler (ed), The Works of John Wesley, Volume 2, p.90.

[97] John Dawson, “Hatred’s End: A Christian Proposal to Peace-Making in a New Century” in Helmick, Raymond G. and Petersen, Rodney L. (eds), Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation (London: Templeton Foundation Press, 2001), p. 235.

[98] Roger Walton, Finding Refuge in Jordan (Methodist Recorder, July 1, 2016), p. 7.

[99] Earl D.C. Brewer and Mance C. Jackson, Jr., Wesleyan Transformations: A Study in World Methodism and World Issues (Atlanta: The ITC Press, 1988), p. 35.

[100] Outler(ed), The Works of John Wesley, Volume 2, p. 95.

[101] Catholic Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, p. 85.

[102] The term “Saffron Revolution” derives from the colour of the robes worn by monks in Burma, demonstrating the important role the monks played in the protest. In August 2007 a massive increase in fuel prices sparked initial protests, which were joined later that month by thousands of Buddhist monks, and gained the support of Burmese citizens throughout the country. Political activists, students, monks, and ordinary citizens appeared willing to take great risks to demand change from the military regime. Their peaceful protests were met with a brutal crackdown as monasteries were raided, many killed and thousands arrested. Available from http://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/saffron-revolution.html (accessed on July 7, 2016).

[103] Here it does not necessarily mean that I blame the principal and the lecturers. I understand their concern and worry about the safety of their students and of the institution. But I just want to highlight how Christian institutions avoid engagement in socio-political sphere.

[104] Paul Wesley Chilcote, Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision: An Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p.108.

[105] Chilcote, Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision, p.108.

[106] Brewer and Jackson, Jr., Wesleyan Transformations: A Study in World Methodism and World Issues, p. 28.

[107] Brewer and Jackson, Jr., Wesleyan Transformations: A Study in World Methodism and World Issues, p. 28.

[108] Richard Andrew, “An Impoverished Catholicity: Theological Considerations for a Methodist Future” in Jane Craske and Clive Marsh (eds), Methodism and the Future: Facing the Challenge (London: The Editors and Contributors, 1999), p. 19.

[109] Andrew, “An Impoverished Catholicity”, p. 21.

[110] John J. Vincent, Methodism Unbound: Christ and Methodism for the Twenty first Century (Aberystwyth: Church in the Market Place Publication, 2015), p.38.

[111] Tyson, The Way of the Wesleys: A Short Introduction, p. 175.

[112] John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p.25.

[113] Tyson, The Way of the Wesleys: A Short Introduction, p. 160.

[114] Tyson, The Way of the Wesleys: A Short Introduction, p. 173.

[115] Scotland, Christianity Outside the Box: Learning from Those Who Rocked the Boat, p. 176.

[116] Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th Edition, p.26.

[117] Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today, p.209.

[118] Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th Edition, p.36.

[119] Norman E. Thomas, Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995), p.246.

[120] Thomas, Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, p.247.

[121] Tom Wright, God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today (London: SPCK, 2016), p. 163.

[122] Wright, God in Public, p. 163.

[123] Wright, God in Public, p. 163.

[124] Ronald H. Stone, John Wesley’s Life and Ethics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), p.96.

Details

Pages
65
Year
2016
ISBN (Book)
9783668382268
File size
818 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v351501
Institution / College
Newman University – The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education
Grade
2.1
Tags
common good john wesley catholic spirit Catholic social teaching Myanmar Tahan the Upper Myanmar Methodist Church Myanmar Christians catholic methodology

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Title: Catholic Spirit as Seeking the "Common Good" in Myanmar