Reformed Bishops and Catholic Elders by Eugene P. Heideman
(Eerdmans, 1970, 267 pages)
This book is something of a relic from the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century. The ecumenical possibilities looked particularly bright in the years shortly following the Second Vatican Council, and Heideman gives expression to the high hopes of the era: “Our title represents neither ecumenical dream nor eclectic heresy. It is intended to call attention to the sober realities of the life and being of the church in the kingdom of God… The possibility that this earth may one day see reformed bishops and catholic elders must now be reckoned with” (7). For Heideman, in 1970, the prospect of reunion between Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church appeared to be a realistic possibility for the immediate future. This didn’t happen, of course, and the prospects for such a reunion today do not appear anywhere on the horizon for even the most optimistic of ecumenists.
Despite the fact that it is so evidently a product of its time, Heideman’s book is valuable as more than simply an artifact from a previous era. His discussion of the history and the roles of bishops and elders in various traditions is thorough and insightful. His proposals for church reunion, though no longer applicable in all their specifics, still contain plenty of good suggestions and challenges for the contemporary church. Heideman’s life and his ministry in the Reformed Church in America and the Church of South India were defined by the type of ecumenism that he advocates in Reformed Bishops and Catholic Elders. The book remains a creative, informed, and generous contribution to the ecumenical dialogue.