Speaking amongst other Voices

The Reformed tradition seems to always be multi-voiced. The idea of mono-vocal or multi-voiced discourses comes from the work of Mikhail Bakhtin a Russian philosopher, better known for his work on Carnival. Multi-voiced discourses are where even if only one person is speaking you can hear echoes of previous utterances by other people. Sometimes this make a cohesive voice, like a large choir all singing the melody, and sometimes they produce a polyphone of harmonising and clashing themes. The Reformed tradition appears to be one of the later.

This leads to always having a “yes but” stance which is uncomfortable. In part I think this discomfort may explain some of the Reformed tendency to splinter into smaller groups Scottish Presbyterians clearly who have this propensity, but Congregationalism just tended to do it more often with smaller numbers. Thus divisions do not appear denominational level. The aim of division was to reduce the divergent voices and thus make a more comfortable position.

This ignores the flip side, which is actually older, the tendency to seek merger and unity. If there is a single action that creates the Reformed tradition then it is the signing of the Tigurinus Consensus in 1548 between John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger,Huldrych Zwingli’s successor in Zurich. The first cross tradition merger was between Cavlinist and Zwinglites which created the tradition.  Now the theologies of the Calvin and Zwingli are different, but there was enough common ground that they were able to acknowledge each other as part of the Church merger creates multivoicedness.

Thus Ecumenics is not a twentieth century phenomena, but finds its echoes in leaders with a Reformed heritage of such as George Macleod, Brother Roger of Taize and Tullio Vinnay (founder of Agape a centre for reconciliation in the Italian Alps) . What was new in Twentieth century was people looking beyond the wider Reformed tradition.

So if we were not splitting apart then we were coming together! There are lots of people who through time have spoken from what they perceive as a Reformed position. Some have wished to take the high ground “only if you believe this are you properly Reformed”, others have wished rather to build on common ground just as John Calvin did. The challenge is to find ways of speaking within the multitude of voices.

It may appeal to be silent, but a choir where everyone is silent is not singing in harmony, nor is it really a performance of a choir piece if only the soloist sing. So we need to find ways of speaking about what we believe. However if we are to create harmony and not discord we also need to learn to listen to other people, not necessarily to sing their tune, but see if we can’t adjust ours so that it compliments rather than clashes.

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