Mission, Ecumenism, Two Anniversaries, and Big Big Lies

Posted on Posted in Theology

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.

5 thoughts on “Mission, Ecumenism, Two Anniversaries, and Big Big Lies

  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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

  4. 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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