Tim, the minister of the free Evangelical church in the other half of the village, wanted to come and see me as a result of a discussion which had come up in the local Churches Together group which includes most of the Christian congregations in the Hornington area, though Tim's church isn't one of them. So yesterday he did, and we had coffee and discussed each other's religious histories and the ways our churches work (or don't).
But the meat of our debate was soteriology - how God saves us. Coming from where he does on the Christian spectrum, Tim feels it's very clear. "Look at Acts 2", he said, "Peter preaches about Jesus and the people are 'cut to the heart' and ask what they should do, and he says, 'Repent and be baptised'". From Tim's perspective, the New Testament gives an absolutely clear-cut picture of how salvation works and what human beings have to do to gain access to the grace of God. It means - as he eventually admitted - a person agreeing to what is basically a definite credal statement including the concept of Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, as well as other basics of 'the faith'. I think it's less clear, that the workings of salvation as the scriptures present them are more diffuse, less formulaic. I see it more as a disposition of the heart including our response to Jesus the person when we encounter him (not what we consciously think about his position in the cosmos) and whether we're prepared to admit our fallibility and our need of him.
We weren't going to agree but I think this is the most ecumenical thing I've done in eight years as an ordained person, actually engaging with somebody from a different Christian tradition and exchanging ideas. Too often ecumenical endeavour on the ground doesn't deal with ideas or things that might stir up disagreements, but has drifted into simply repeating an annual round of lowest-common-denominator events that nobody really questions. This, on the other hand, is surely what ecumenism is about.