Ecumenism is a word that has great value if it is properly used. It is, at least in terms of recent church history, a new word used for a very old idea. It arose in the context of early 20th century missionary conferences. The idea was to heal the divisions in the church for the sake of mission. The common concern was that denominational differences should not hinder the mission of Christ and that John 17 become a reality in the life of those who labored for the kingdom in non-Christian lands. As the liberal social agenda came to the fore and dominated this movement the word then began to loose its original meaning. This is why evangelicals ran away from it.
I am an active ecumenist, but in the older sense. I am also an ecumenist in the new sense, the sense that believes it is right to bring about the coalescing of the members of various Christian churches, East and West, for the sake of Christ’s mission. I believe a healthy ecumenism will stand openly for doctrinal, moral and devotional orthodoxy, not for liberal denials of Christ and the gospel. Because we share a common commitment to the kerygma, and to one another, this should be pursued. Through honest doctrinal debate we can reach a deeper level of understanding and real unity, not organizational oneness. This must be pursued in the context of moral and devotional Christianity or it will utterly fail. This is what I am promoting by using the acronym ACT 3: Advancing the Christian Tradition in the Third Millennium.
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I find those distinctions very heartening, and have myself experienced much of the same move away from a narrow focus on my own Reformed tradition, to a deep and edifying appreciation of all the faithful but flawed manifestations of the Christian faith!
I was listening to a message from Tim Keller a few days ago when he said that perhaps the reason that evangelicals had, in some sense, abandoned the cities, was that we didn’t really love people enough, particularly those who are different from us.
Your post about ecumenism, and the connection to John 17, was a poignant reminder that we are called to love others in our Christian family, no matter our doctrinal differences. I am not saying we should not contend for these doctrines, but the world has a right to witness our love and unity in the midst of our lives.
Verse 21 of John 17 looms powerfully in my mind:
21That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me. (Amplified)
I’m no scholar but it seems as though our witness will be diminished if the world does not see our unity, a unity born of our common salvation and expressed in love.
John, thanks again for a thought provoking post.