Ecumenism is a word that has great value but has lost much of its meaning due to the frequent misuse of the term over the course of the past eighty years or so. In the late 19th and early 20th century
the term arose in a missionary context, where Christians shared a common concern not to promote denominational distinctions so much as the gospel of Christ. As the liberal social agenda was joined to this movement the word began to loose its original meaning. Thus left-leaning pietism joined with a left-learning political and social agenda came to define liberalism by the 1960s. This kind of emphasis is what most conservative Christians think of when they hear the term “ecumenism” today. I find this response very sad since this is neither the true history of the ecumenical movement nor the meaning of the term itself. The movement owes much to Puritans like Richard Baxter than to more radical modern liberals.
Thus I am quite willing to suffer misunderstanding and openly admit that I am an ecumenist, in the older sense, so that the truth of this movement can be regained in a time when the enemies of the Christian faith are not fellow confessional and orthodox Christian believers and churches. This means I am willing to advance the ideas of a person like C. S. Lewis on this same point when he spoke of “mere Christianity.”
At the end of the day I am an ecumenist in a new sense. I believe in seeking to bring about a coalescing of all Christians in all churches, East and West, who stand openly for doctrinal, moral and devotional orthodoxy.
It is our shared commitment to the kerygma, to Jesus Christ and him crucified, and to truths like the Trinity and the authority of Scripture that should unite us. And it is through honest doctrinal debate that we reach greater maturity. By such maturity, in the context of a moral and devotional Christianity that is rooted in the classical Christian tradition, we actually find our core of confessed and lived Christian faith.
It is this that I promote by the mission purpose and the acronym: ACT 3, i.e., Advancing the Christian Tradition in the Third Millennium. This is also why I refer to myself as a “catholic” Christian; i.e., a Christian who believes in the whole Church throughout the whole earth. Ecumenism recognizes this reality and seeks to express it in practical and godly ways.
Should we labor for one visible united institutional organization called the Church? Yes and no. No serious ecumenist I know really believes this is on the horizon, though some conservatives fear this is the goal, seeing the very mention of this as being connected to
the coming anti-Christ in the final stage of history. On one level I am open to what God does to draw us together more and more in visible union but on another I do not see this as necessary or even desirable, at least not presently. What we should be doing right now is praying and practicing John 17:20-24. We should be making every effort to promote unity among all Christians and thus learning how we can grow in love one for another. I think we have no choice in this matter if we are to remain faithful to Christ himself. This is the heart and soul of my ecumenism. If this is offensive to some then I will gladly bear the offense believing that what I pursue, albeit imperfectly and too timidly, is the unity of the Church in the faith once for all given to those who are in Christ Jesus.
I see two major affirmations here: (1) We must confess the historic Christian faith, all of it. This means that we do not pit truth in one area against truth in another area. (2) That faith we confess leads us to pursue unity since historic and ancient faith requires us to confess our faith in the Holy Spirit and his ministry in bringing about “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”