Over the years, the ecumenical movement has gotten wider and wider in its scope. Some would say the movement to end division has itself become divided. This is probably the result of the churches realizing just how much is involved in being the body of Christ in the world.
How could church not include pursuing questions of divine truth through theological dialogue? How could church not include feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and liberating the captives? How could church not include confronting the powers and principalities? How could church not include bringing the good news to all nations and people? How could church not include embodying a loving fellowship without divisions? How could church not include worshipping the Holy Trinity with every part of our being? These are all essential to being the church; they are also impossible for every Christian and every church and every church organization to do equally well at every moment.
It’s pretty ironic, given the almost uncontrollable hugeness of the ecumenical enterprise, that again and again people widely assume its one and only goal is to create a single enormous bureaucratic church structure with every Christian on the planet under its control. Even if this notion isn’t expressed in such conspiracy-theory terms, somehow that’s the underlying fear and suspicion.
It’s true that ecumenism’s first and last concern is the unity of the church. But what exactly is meant by that little word “unity” can fill—and has filled—volumes. There is no unity where the concept of “unity” is concerned. But the very effort to find a universal concept of unity has played a big part in getting the churches to understand each other as well as the nature of the church itself. Over the next few days I’ll talk about some of these concepts.