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You Are Here: Theology > Mission, Ecumenism, Two Anniversaries, and Big Big Lies

Mission, Ecumenism, Two Anniversaries, and Big Big Lies

Since this year is the 500th anniver­sary of Luther’s jour­ney to Rome, we’re fol­low­ing his trail and walk­ing to Rome our­selves and blog­ging about Luther. But another anniver­sary this year is what made us real­ize that this needed to be an ecu­meni­cal project with a big­ger focus than Luther him­self. This year is the 100th anniver­sary of the ecu­meni­cal move­ment, which started at the Edin­burgh Mis­sion­ary Con­fer­ence in 1910.

That’s right: ecu­menism is the child of mis­sion. The neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence of export­ing old quar­rels and com­pet­ing in new lands for mem­bers drove Chris­tians to reassess their rela­tion­ships to one another. So what does it mean that the ecu­meni­cal move­ment arose dur­ing the same cen­tury with the great­est mis­sion­ary push in all of church his­tory? What is the core insight that they share even as these move­ments have in many respects gone their sep­a­rate ways?

My guess is this: both the mis­sion move­ment and the ecu­meni­cal move­ment came about because the church could no longer go on telling lies about itself.

In the domain of mis­sion, the church too com­fort­ably equated Chris­tian­ity with Euro­pean and Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion. It mis­took right wor­ship for its own his­toric pat­terns. It feared and attacked syn­cretism with reli­gions and ide­olo­gies around the world but failed to rec­og­nize how much it was doing the same back at home. It thought ter­ri­tory and liv­ing faith were the same thing.

In the domain of ecu­menism, the churches defended their own his­tory and iden­tity by mak­ing the worst pos­si­ble pre­sen­ta­tion of other churches’ his­tory and iden­tity. The churches attacked each other and yet needed each other to strengthen their own sense of supe­ri­or­ity. The churches had to ignore the real faith, the real wis­dom, the real saints, and the real virtues of each other, or else their own claim to be the true church would fail.

After so many cen­turies of liv­ing off these lies, the churches just couldn’t sus­tain it any­more. The truth pressed too hard up against them and they had to face real­ity. What they thought was church needed to come under seri­ous examination.

That’s what both mis­sion and ecu­menism force every church and every Chris­t­ian to do: to reex­am­ine, with a repen­tant heart, what it means to be a church and to be a Chris­t­ian. Noth­ing but the sharpest and clear­est truth will do. Noth­ing but the great­est and most gen­er­ous love will do. Only through the long pil­grim­age in love and toward truth can we become more gen­uinely the church that Christ desires to be one, just as he and the Father are one.

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5 Responses to Mission, Ecumenism, Two Anniversaries, and Big Big Lies

    Steve Godsall-Myers says:

    Greet­ings from Harleysville, PA. Last time we talked (with Sarah) it was in Wit­ten­berg. Glad to know your are on this jour­ney. I will be ‘trav­el­ing’ with you and hope to get my Con­fir­ma­tion class to join later this Sep­tem­ber. will you be mak­ing any Mennonite-Anabaptist con­nec­tions. We will be deep­en­ing our ecu­meni­cla rela­tion­ships in our area dis­cussing the LWF Stuttgart actions with our Men­non­ite neigh­bors here in PA. God be with you. Steve Godsall-Myers

    Mark Muenchow says:

    Satan must love it when Chris­t­ian churches treat each other like the enemy and think we are in com­pe­ti­tion with each other. We need to remem­ber who truly is our spir­i­tual foe!

    Freida Sullivan says:

    I am pray­ing for suc­cess of your mis­sion. I am going to be re-examining by own walk as a Lutheran and get­ting
    rein­tro­duces to Luther. God bless you both. Freida

    One of the 17th cen­tury Jesuits doing mis­sion­ary work in North Amer­ica, in the Lake Huron region, felt it nec­es­sary to remind his fel­low mis­sion­ar­ies as well as the read­ers back home that not every cul­tural dif­fer­ence was the work of the devil. He didn’t write it in quite those words, of course, and he didn’t write it in Eng­lish. I think it’s some­where in the Jesuit Relations.

    Dunno what he would have said about any Luther­ans who might have tried to encroach on their territory.

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