I planned on writing a more theological blog post this week, talking about verses that demand answers that had been “glossed over” when I was a Protestant. But because I’m a master procrastinator, I didn’t leave time for myself to meticulously gather all of them (downside of not having a photographic memory.) To give you a taste though, I had never even heard James 2:24 mentioned in any context before this year. So that’s a teaser for next week.
But this week I have to talk about something more close to the heart: Ecumenism. First a definition. Ecumenical: involving people from different kinds of Christian churches. Ecumenism, then, is the ideology of working towards a unity in Christian churches.
To flush out the idea a little more, this ideal stems from (in a verse) the High Priestly Prayer in John 17: 20-23,
20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
We are supposed to be one in Christ to the extent that we are as unified as the Son is to the Father. THAT’S INSANE!! Can we even begin to imagine what that would look like? Now some might try to say this is trying to reflect on the unity are those who are saved will experience once in heaven. But I would stop them right there and point them to the end of verse 21 where we can clearly see that this unity has to do with our witness to the present world. That being said, I find it hard to believe that a prayer of Christ’s could fail and in a world that where the church is so split up, this passage (and others) should remind us of the importance of the unity of believers.
(For the purposes of this blog, I will be addressing the divisions of Protestantism and Catholicism, disregarding the Orthodox tradition of Christianity. I do this simply because I am more aquainted with these two traditions than the later.)
Unfortunately, there’s been two downsides to this ideal. The first is that in efforts to solve the dividing points, there is the concern that convictions will be compromised in order for reconcilliation. This cannot happen. The truth will always be more important that unity. The cheapening of our convictions cannot be the source of our unity.
The other downside that I have seen merely in conversation with others is that a lot of Christians are content to live in separation. Unity has no value to them and any effort we make would be wasted. The heavenly unity of believers is all they care about. Or in some cases I’ve experienced, reconciling with other churches would violate 2 John 9-11 which states:
9 Anyone who is so “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; 11 for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.
Unity cannot happen, in this case, because we don’t want it.
These two downsides carry two extremes:
1-Prizing unity above all else, even convictions of truth
2-Not prizing unity at all
Neither of these attitudes are condoned in John 17, because as 22-23 states,
And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
We are called to unity in Christ, not unity in unity. If someone does remain in the teaching of Christ, he cannot be unified with others in Christ. And so John and 2 John pair together.
However concerning the second downfall, a closer reading of 2 John is neccesary. Indeed the disassciation form false teaching is absolutely neccessary. However this action of disunity assumes a knowledge of the teaching and what it is and if indeed it is contrary to the teaching of Christ. Too often I find people not even willing to listen to others’ teaching based on their preconceived notion of what it is (lol me a little over a year ago) and thus disassociate from them prematurely. This is not what is condoned by 2 John and indeed is quite near the definition of bigotry.
Thus ecumenisim must be centered around unity in Christ. Indeed with divisions so stark and polarizing, only through Him could such healing be acheived.
…Now I haven’t really said much positively about ecumenism or how to get there. To do so would take much more space than I have left to write in. But to name at least something, a united Church would show God to the world. Christ’s body is not supposed to be a hacked up amputee. Again back to the High Priestly Prayer, the effect of unity is quite plainly spelled out:
21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
If for nothing else we should be unified in Christ for the purpose of helping the world to believe in the sending of Christ from the Father.
Once discovering that I am an audible learner, I took to podcasts. One of perhaps my favorite lectures of all time is one by my favorite author, Peter Kreeft. Only this last spring did I realize that not only did he have a nearly identical testimony to mine, but that he was Catholic. I looked up his podcasts and he had one on ecumenism (which I will attach below) and it is a beautiful masterpiece of an argument. To give you a taste of his attiude, here is one of his quotes,
“And so Catholics need to be better Protestants to be better Catholics.”
With that, I hope you enjoy…
*This post was approved by an Anglican