Catholic theologian Rick Gaillardetz looks at the CDF statement on the church in the latest America. He throws out this hypothetical as “a thought experiment”:
Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine a neighborhood with two churches: Grace Lutheran and St. Bernadette Catholic parish. According to the council’s teaching, the Lutheran congregation would be lacking some specific “means of sanctification and truth” available, in principle, to St. Bernadette’s. Presumably, they do not have access to a universal ministry of unity (the papacy), the sacrament of reconciliation or the full reality of the Eucharist. Yet Grace Lutheran Church might be fostering a community that emphasizes Christian fellowship, hospitality and the dignity of one’s baptismal calling. Church leaders might stress the necessity of being biblically literate and living with fidelity and passion, a biblical vision of discipleship.
On the other hand, St. Bernadette’s might be a community where Christian hospitality is almost completely absent and genuine fellowship minimal, a community in which baptism is simply a christening ritual performed on infants, where the Scriptures are poorly proclaimed and the homilies are filled with arcane, pious references and silly jokes but say little about the concrete demands of discipleship in daily life. In this scenario we must grant the possibility that Grace Lutheran Church, although technically lacking ecclesial “fullness,” might in fact be fostering a form of Christian communal life that more effectively brings them into communion with Christ than does St. Bernadette’s.