Over the last few months, I have defended ecclesial pluralism a couple of times in my interactions with Catholic apologist Trent Horn. I have made my case by way of a straightforward argument that appeals to God’s work in the life of two individuals, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. In this article, I will unpack that argument more fully.
First, let’s begin with a minimal definition of what I mean by ecclesial pluralism:
Ecclesial Pluralism: the view that God calls particular Christians to fulfill their life of discipleship within distinct Christian ecclesial communions.
Thus, according to ecclesial pluralism, it is false to think that God calls everyone to be Catholic or Baptist, Methodist or Orthodox. Instead, God calls different people to participate in different ecclesial communions.
Note that I am not claiming here that God calls every individual to a specific communion. Ecclesial pluralism is indifferent toward that question. All that ecclesial pluralism claims is that some people (i.e. at least two) are called to pursue their life of Christian discipleship in different communions.
And here’s the argument with respect to two particular individuals:
- If two Christians have been called to live out their Christian lives in distinct ecclesial communions then ecclesial pluralism is true.
- Billy Graham and Mother Teresa have been called to live out their Christian lives in distinct ecclesial communions.
- Therefore, ecclesial pluralism is true.
The argument is valid and the first premise is true. But what about the second premise? Why think that is true? Here’s my underlying reasoning in support of that premise. I believe that when an individual lives a stellar Christian life that impacts millions of others positively, and they do so from within a particular ecclesial community, then all other things being equal, we have good reason to conclude that that individual was called to live out their Christian life from within that ecclesial community. This intuition is strengthened further when we have reason to think that counterfactually an individual would not have had a commensurate impact had they not been a member of that ecclesial community.
Both Billy Graham and Mother Teresa lived stellar Christian lives that impacted millions of others positively and each did so from within a particular ecclesial community (Baptist; Catholic). Consequently, we have good reason to conclude that both Billy Graham and Mother Teresa were called to live out their Christian lives from within those specific communities.
What is more, it seems very implausible that Graham would’ve had the same impact as a Catholic or that Mother Teresa would’ve had the same impact as a Baptist. This provides further support for the intuition that each was called to follow Christ from within their respective ecclesial communions. That, in turn, supports premise 2. Thus, the argument provides a good reason to think that ecclesial pluralism is true.