Ecumenism refers to efforts by Christians of different Church traditions to develop closer relationships and better understandings. The term is also often used to refer to efforts towards the visible and organic unity of different Christian denominations in some form.
The adjective ecumenical can also be applied to any interdenominational initiative that encourages greater cooperation among Christians and their churches, whether or not the specific aim of that effort is full, visible unity.
The terms ecumenism and ecumenical come from the Greekοἰκουμένη (oikoumene), which means "the whole inhabited world", and was historically used with specific reference to the Roman Empire. The ecumenical vision comprises both the search for the visible unity of the Church (Ephesians 4:3) and the "whole inhabited earth" (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all Christians.
In Christianity the qualification ecumenical is originally (and still) used in terms such as "ecumenical council" and "Ecumenical Patriarch" in the meaning of pertaining to the totality of the larger Church (such as the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church) rather than being restricted to one of its constituent local churches or dioceses. Used in this original sense, the term carries no connotation of re-uniting the historically separated Christian denominations, but presumes a unity of local congregations in a worldwide communion.
Purpose and goal of ecumenism
Historically, the word was originally used in the context of large ecumenical councils that were organized under the auspices of Roman Emperors to clarify matters of Christian theology and doctrine. These "Ecumenical Councils" brought together bishops from around the inhabited world (such as, οἰκουμένη) as they knew it at the time. There were a total of seven ecumenical councils accepted by both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism held before the Great Schism. Thus, the modern meaning of the world ecumenical and ecumenism derives from this pre-modern sense of Christian unity, and the impulse to recreate this unity again.
There are a variety of different expectations of what that Christian unity looks like, how it is brought about, what ecumenical methods ought to be engaged, and what both short- and long-term objectives of the ecumenical movement should be. Ecumenism and nondenominational or postdenominational movements are not necessarily the same thing.
Historic divisions in Christianity
Christian denominations today
If ecumenism is the quest for Christian unity, it must be understood what the divisions are which must be overcome.
Christianity has not been a monolithic faith since the first century or Apostolic Age, if ever, and today there exist a large variety of groups that share a common history and tradition within and without mainstream Christianity. Christianity is the largest religion in the world (making up approximately one-third of the population) and the various divisions have commonalities and differences in tradition, theology, church government, doctrine, and language.
The world's 2.2 billion Christians are visibly divided into different communions or denominations, groupings of Christians and their churches that are in full communion with one another, but to some degree exclusive of other Christians.
The exact number of these denominations is disputed, based on differing definitions used. The largest number often quoted is "approximately 45,000" from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The World Christian Encyclopedia lists "approximately 33,000" in 2001. Yet, at the same time, the World Council of Churches counts only 348 member churches, representing more than half a billion members. This, with the Catholic Church's 1.25 billion Christians indicates that 349 churches/denominations already account for nearly 80% of the world's Christian population.
One problem with the larger numbers is that single denominations can be counted multiple times. For example, the Catholic Church is a single church, or communion, comprising 24 distinct self-governingparticular churches in full communion with the bishop of Rome (the largest being the Latin Church, commonly called "Roman Catholic"). Further, the Catholic Church presence in each country is counted as a different denomination—though this is in no way an ecclesiologically accurate definition. This can result in the one Catholic Church being counted as 242 distinct denominations, as in the World Christian Encyclopedia.
Additionally, single nondenominational congregations or megachurches without denominational affiliation are effectively counted each as its own denomination, resulting in cases where entire "denominations" may account for only a handful of people. Other denominations may be very small remnants of once larger churches. The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (Shakers) have only two full members, for example, yet are a distinct denomination.
Most current divisions are the result of historical schisms—a break in the full communion between previously united Churches, bishops, or communities. Some historical schisms proved temporary and were eventually healed, others have hardened into the denominations of today. However individual denominations are counted, it is generally acknowledged that they fall into the following major "families" of churches:
In the United States, the Historic Racial/Ethnic churches are sometimes counted as a distinct family of churches, though they may otherwise fit into any one of the previous categories.
Some of these families are in themselves a single communion, such as the Catholic Church. Other families are a very general movement with no universal governing authority. Mainline Protestantism, for example, includes such diverse groups as Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Evangelicals, Holiness churches, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Presbyterians, Reformed. Many of these have, as a result of ecumenical dialogue, established full or partial communion agreements.
Moreover, the classic distinction between Pentecostals and Charismatics is that the former are entire denominations (such as the Assembly of God) or include most nondenominational churches, whereas the latter are Spirit-filled Christians in already existing Catholic or mainline Protestant churches. Moreover, some Evangelical churches are also Pentecostal, though certainly not all. So there is some overlap.
Ancient apostolic churches
Further information: Christology § Post-Apostolic controversies
The oldest lasting schism in Christianity resulted from fifth-century disagreements on Christology, heightened by philosophical, linguistic, cultural, and political differences.
The first significant, lasting split in historic Christianity came from the Church of the East, consisting largely of Eastern Syriac churches outside the Roman Empire, who left full communion after 431 in response to misunderstandings and personality conflicts at the Council of Ephesus. After fifteen centuries of estrangement, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church entered into an ecumenical dialogue in the 1980s, resulting in agreement on the very issue that split them asunder, in the 1994 Common Christological Declaration, which identifies the origin of the schism as largely linguistic, due to problems of translating very delicate and precise terminology from Latin to Aramaic and vice versa.
As part of the ongoing Christological controversy, following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the next large split came with the Syriac and Coptic churches dividing themselves. The churches dissented from Chalcedon becoming today's Oriental Orthodox Churches. These also include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in India. In modern times, there have also been moves towards healing this division, with common Christological statements being made between Pope John Paul II and Syriac patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, as well as between representatives of both Oriental Orthodoxy and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Further information: East–West Schism
Although the Christian world as a whole did not experience any major church divisions for centuries afterward, the Eastern, predominantly Greek-speaking and Western, predominantly Latin-speaking cultural divisions drifted toward division and isolation culminating in the mutual excommunication of Patriarch of ConstantinopleMichael I Cerularius and the legate of then-deceased Pope of RomeLeo IX in 1054, in what is known as the Great Schism. The canonical separation was sealed by the Latin sacking of Constantinople (1204) during the Fourth Crusade and through the poor reception of the Council of Florence (1449) among the Orthodox Eastern Churches.
The political and theological reasons for the schism are complex and multifaceted. Aside from the natural rivalry between the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire and the Franco-LatinHoly Roman Empire, one major controversy was the inclusion and acceptance in the West in general - and in the diocese of Rome in particular - of the Filioque clause ("and the Son") into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which the East viewed as a violation of ecclesiastical procedure at best, an abuse of papal authority as only an Ecumenical Council could amend what had been defined by a previous council, and a heresy at worst, inasfar as the Filioque implies that the essential divinity of the Holy Spirit is derived not from the Father alone as arche (singular head and source), but from the perichoretic union between the Father and the Son. That the hypostasis or persona of the Spirit either is or is produced by the mutual, preeternal love between God and His Word is an explanation which Eastern Christian detractors have alleged is rooted in the medieval Augustinian appropriation of PlotinianNeoplatonism. (See Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate)
Both West and East agreed that the patriarch of Rome was owed a "primacy of honour" by the other patriarchs (those of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem), but the West also contended that this primacy extended to jurisdiction, a position rejected by the Eastern patriarchs. Various attempts at dialogue between the two groups would occur, but it was only in the 1960s, under Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, that significant steps began to be made to mend the relationship between the two. In 1965, the excommunications were 'committed to oblivion'.
The resulting division remains, however, giving us the "Catholic Church" and the "Orthodox Church", both of which are globally distributed bodies and no longer restricted geographically or culturally to the "West" or "East", respectively. (There exists both Eastern Rite Roman Catholicism and Western Rite Orthodoxy, for example.) There is an ongoing and fruitful Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.
Western schisms and reformations
Main articles: Protestant Reformation and Catholic Reformation
In Western Christianity, there were a handful of geographically isolated movements that preceded in the spirit of the Protestant Reformation. The Cathars were a very strong movement in medieval southwestern France, but did not survive into modern times. In northern Italy and southeastern France, Peter Waldo founded the Waldensians in the 12th century, which remains the largest non-Catholic church in Italy and is in full communion with the Italian Methodist Church. In Bohemia, a movement in the early 15th century by Jan Hus called the Hussites called for reform of Catholic teaching and still exists to this day, known as the Moravian Church. Though generally counted among Protestant churches, groups such as the Waldensians and Moravians pre-exist Protestantism proper.
The Protestant Reformation began, symbolically, with the posting of Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses" in Saxony on October 31, 1517, written as a set of grievances to reform the Western Church. Luther's writings, combined with the work of Swiss theologian Huldrych Zwingli and French theologian and politician John Calvin, sought to reform existing problems in doctrine and practice. Due to the reactions of ecclesiastical office holders at the time of the reformers, the Roman Catholic Church separated from them, instigating a rift in Western Christianity. This schism gives us the Mainline Protestant Churches, including especially the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.
In England, Henry VIII of England declared himself to be supreme head of the Church of England with the Act of Supremacy in 1531, repressing both Lutheran reformers and those loyal to the pope. Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the English Reformation in a form compromising between the Calvinists and Lutherans. This schism brings us today's Anglican Communion.
The Radical Reformation, also mid-sixteenth century, moved beyond both Anglican and Protestant reformations, emphasizing the invisible, spiritual reality of the Church, apart from any visible ecclesial manifestation. A significant group of Radical reformers were the Anabaptists, people such as Menno Simmons and Jakob Ammann, whose movements resulted in today's communities of Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, and Brethren churches, and to some extent, the Bruderhof Communities.
Further reform movements within Anglicanism during the 16th through 18th centuries, with influence from the Radical Reformation, produced the Puritans and Separatists, giving us today's Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, and eventually Unitarian Universalism.
The Wesleyan and Methodist churches grew out of a revival within Anglicanism, especially in England and the American colonies, under the leadership of the brothers John Wesley and Charles Wesley, both priests in the Church of England. This movement also produced the Holiness movement churches.
The Old Catholic Church split from the Catholic Church in the 1870s because of the promulgation of the dogma of Papal Infallibility as promoted by the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870. The term "Old Catholic" was first used in 1853 to describe the members of the See of Utrecht who were not under Papal authority. The Old Catholic movement grew in America but has not maintained ties with Utrecht, although talks are under way between some independent Old Catholic bishops and Utrecht.
The Evangelical movement takes form as the result of spiritual renewal efforts in the anglophone world in the 18th century. According to religion scholar, social activist, and politician Randall Balmer, Evangelicalism resulted "from the confluence of Pietism, Presbyterianism, and the vestiges of Puritanism. Evangelicalism picked up the peculiar characteristics from each strain – warmhearted spirituality from the Pietists (for instance), doctrinal precisionism from the Presbyterians, and individualistic introspection from the Puritans". Historian Mark Noll adds to this list High Church Anglicanism, which contributed to Evangelicalism a legacy of "rigorous spirituality and innovative organization".
Pentecostalism is likewise born out of this context, and traditionally traces its origins to the 1 January 1901 outpouring of the spirit in Topeka, Kansas, at the Bethel Bible School. Subsequent charismatic revivals in Wales in 1904 and the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 are held as the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement. For a Spirit-believing Christian, it is not coincidence that these started just a few hours after Pope Leo XIII lead a prayer Veni Spiritus Sanctus during his urbi et orbi message, consecrating the 20th century to the Holy Spirit and through this prayer to the reunion of Christianity.
Modern ecumenical movement
One understanding of the ecumenical movement is that it came from the Roman Catholic Church's attempts to reconcile with Christians who had become separated over theological issues. Others see the 1910 World Missionary Conference as the birthplace of the ecumenical movement. Others yet point to the 1920 encyclical of the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople "To the Churches of Christ Everywhere" that suggested a "fellowship of churches" similar to the League of Nations.
Nathan Söderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala, the head of the Lutheran church in Sweden, is known as the architect of the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century. During the First World War, he called on all Christian leaders to work for peace and justice. His leadership of the Christian "Life and Work" movement in the 1920s has led him to be recognised as one of the principal founders of the ecumenical movement. His was instrumental in chairing the World Conference of Life and Work in Stockholm, Sweden in 1925. At the Stockholm Conference in 1925, the culminating event in Söderblom's ecumenical work, the Anglican, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians were all present and participating, with the exception of the Catholic Church, much regretted absence. He was a close friend of the English ecumenist George Bell. In 1930 was one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, for the:Cooperation between Christian Church Communities Brings Peace and the first clergyman to receive this prize.
After World War I, which had brought much devastation to many people, the church became a source of hope to those in need. In 1948 the first meeting of the World Council of Churches took place. Despite the fact that the meeting had been postponed due to World War II, the council took place in Amsterdam with the theme of "Man’s Disorder and God’s Design". The focus of the church and the council following the gathering was on the damage created by the Second World War. The council and the movement went forward to continue the efforts of unifying the church globally around the idea of helping all those in need, whether it be a physical, emotional, or spiritual need. The movement led to an understanding amongst the churches that, despite difference, they could join together to be an element of great change in the world. To be an agent of hope and peace amongst the chaos and destruction that humans seem to create. More importantly the council and the movement lead to not only ecumenism but to the forming of councils amongst the denominations that connected churches across continental lines.
Today, the World Council of Churches sees its role as sharing "the legacy of the one ecumenical movement and the responsibility to keep it alive" and acting "as a trustee for the inner coherence of the movement".
Three approaches to Christian unity
For some Protestants, spiritual unity, and often unity on the church's teachings on central issues, suffices. According to Lutheran theologian Edmund Schlink, most important in Christian ecumenism is that people focus primarily on Christ, not on separate church organizations. In Schlink's book Ökumenische Dogmatik (1983), he says Christians who see the risen Christ at work in the lives of various Christians or in diverse churches realize that the unity of Christ's church has never been lost, but has instead been distorted and obscured by different historical experiences and by spiritual myopia.
Both are overcome in renewed faith in Christ. Included in that is responding to his admonition (John 17; Philippians 2) to be one in him and love one another as a witness to the world. The result of mutual recognition would be a discernible worldwide fellowship, organized in a historically new way.
For a significant part of the Christian world, one of the highest goals to be sought is the reconciliation of the various denominations by overcoming the historical divisions within Christianity. Even where there is broad agreement upon this goal, approaches to ecumenism vary. Generally, Protestants see fulfillment of the goal of ecumenism as consisting in general agreements on teachings about central issues of faith, with mutual pastoral accountability between the diverse churches regarding the teachings of salvation.
For Catholics and Orthodox on the other hand, the true unity of Christendom is treated in accordance with their more sacramental understanding of the Body of Christ; this ecclesiastical matter for them is closely linked to key theological issues (e.g. regarding the Eucharist and the historical Episcopate), and requires full dogmatic assent to the pastoral authority of the Church for full communion to be considered viable and valid. Thus, there are different answers even to the question of the church, which finally is the goal of the ecumenist movement itself. However, the desire of unity is expressed by many denominations, generally that all who profess faith in Christ in sincerity, would be more fully cooperative and supportive of one another.
For the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the process of approaching one another is formally split in two successive stages: the "dialogue of love" and the "dialogue of truth". To the former belong the mutual revocation in 1965 of the anathemas of 1054 (see below Contemporary developments), returning the relics of Sabbas the Sanctified (a common saint) to Mar Saba in the same year, and the first visit of a Pope to an Orthodox country in a millennium (PopeJohn Paul II accepting the invitation of the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Teoctist, in 1999), among others. The later one, involving effective theological engagement on matters of dogma, is only just commencing.
Christian ecumenism can be described in terms of the three largest divisions of Christianity: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. While this underemphasizes the complexity of these divisions, it is a useful model.
Main article: Catholic Church and ecumenism
The Catholic Church has always considered it a duty of the highest rank to seek full unity with estranged communions of fellow-Christians and, at the same time, to reject what it sees as a false union that would mean being unfaithful to or glossing over the teaching of sacred scripture and tradition.
Before the Second Vatican Council, the main stress was laid on this second aspect, as exemplified in canon 1258 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law:
- It is illicit for the faithful to assist at or participate in any way in non-Catholic religious functions.
- For a serious reason requiring, in case of doubt, the Bishop's approval, passive or merely material presence at non-Catholic funerals, weddings and similar occasions because of holding a civil office or as a courtesy can be tolerated, provided there is no danger of perversion or scandal.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law has no corresponding canon. It absolutely forbids Catholic priests to concelebrate the Eucharist with members of communities which are not in full communion (canon 908), but allows, in certain circumstances and under certain conditions, other sharing in the sacraments. The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 102 states: "Christians may be encouraged to share in spiritual activities and resources, i.e., to share that spiritual heritage they have in common in a manner and to a degree appropriate to their present divided state."
Pope John XXIII, who convoked the council that brought this change of emphasis about, said that the council's aim was to seek renewal of the church itself, which would serve, for those separated from the See of Rome, as a "gentle invitation to seek and find that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed so ardently to his heavenly Father".
Some elements of the Catholic perspective on ecumenism are illustrated in the following quotations from the council's decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio of 21 November 1964, and Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Ut Unum Sint of 25 May 1995.
Every renewal of the Church is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this is the basis of the movement toward unity … There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble. gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. … The words of St. John hold good about sins against unity: "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us". So we humbly beg pardon of God and of our separated brethren, just as we forgive them that trespass against us.
Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. Consequently, the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord's disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the truth and by a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, are called to re-examine together their painful past and the hurt which that past regrettably continues to provoke even today.
In ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a "hierarchy" of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth?...Even so, doctrine needs to be presented in a way that makes it understandable to those for whom God himself intends it.
When the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.
While some Eastern Orthodox churches commonly baptize converts from the Catholic Church, thereby refusing to recognize the baptism that the converts have previously received, the Catholic Church has always accepted the validity of all the sacraments administered by the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.
The Catholic Church likewise has very seldom applied the terms "heterodox" or "heretic" to the Eastern Orthodox churches or its members, though there are clear differences in doctrine, notably about the authority of the Pope, Purgatory, and the filioque clause. More often, the term "separated" or "schismatic" has been applied to the state of the Eastern Orthodox churches.
The Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches are two distinct bodies of local churches. The churches within each body share full communion, although there is not official communion between the two bodies. Both consider themselves to be the original church, from which the West was divided in the 5th and 11th centuries, respectively (after the 3rd and 7th Ecumenical councils).
Many theologians of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxies engage in theological dialogue with each other and with some of the Western churches, though short of full communion. The Eastern Orthodox have participated in the ecumenical movement, with students active in the World Student Christian Federation since the late 19th century. Most Eastern Orthodox and all Oriental Orthodox churches are members of the World Council of Churches. Kallistos of Diokleia, a bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Church has stated that ecumenism "is important for Orthodoxy: it has helped to force the various Orthodox Churches out of their comparative isolation, making them meet one another and enter into a living contact with non-Orthodox Christians."
Historically, the relationship between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion has been congenial, with the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1922 recognising Anglican orders as valid. He wrote: "That the orthodox theologians who have scientifically examined the question have almost unanimously come to the same conclusions and have declared themselves as accepting the validity of Anglican Orders." Moreover, some Eastern Orthodox bishops have assisted in the ordination of Anglican bishops; for example, in 1870, the Most Reverend Alexander Lycurgus, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Syra and Tinos, was one of the bishops who consecrated Henry MacKenzie as the Suffragan Bishop of Nottingham.[self-published source] From 1910–1911, the era before World War I, Raphael of Brooklyn, an Eastern Orthodox bishop, "sanctioned an interchange of ministrations with the Episcopalians in places where members of one or the other communion are without clergy of their own." Bishop Raphael stated that in places "where there is no resident Orthodox Priest", an Anglican (Episcopalian) priest could administer Marriage, Holy Baptism, and the Blessed Sacrament to an Orthodox layperson. In 1912, however, Bishop Raphael ended the intercommunion after becoming uncomfortable with the fact that the Anglican Communion contained different churchmanships within Her, e.g. High Church, Evangelical, etc. However, after World War I, the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius was organized in 1927, which much like the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association worked on ecumenism between the two Churches; both of these organisations continue their task today.
In accordance with the Soviet anti-religious legislation under the state atheism of the Soviet Union, several Russian Orthodox churches and seminaries were closed. With ecumenical aid from Methodists in the United States two Russian Orthodox seminaries were reopened, and hierarchs of the Orthodox Church thankfully made the following statement: "The services rendered by the American Methodists and other Christian friends will go down in history of the Orthodox Church as one of its brightest pages in that dark and trying time of the church. Our Church will never forget the Samaritan service which your whole Church unselfishly rendered us. May this be the beginning of closer friendship for our churches and nations."
Anglicanism and Protestantism
Main article: Anglican Communion and ecumenism
The members of the Anglican Communion have generally embraced the Ecumenical Movement, actively participating in such organizations as the World Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Most provinces holding membership in the Anglican Communion have special departments devoted to ecumenical relations; however, the influence of Liberal Christianity has in recent years caused tension within the communion, causing some to question the direction ecumenism has taken them.
Each member church of the Anglican Communion makes its own decisions with regard to intercommunion. The 1958 Lambeth Conference recommended "that where between two Churches not of the same denominational or confessional family, there is unrestricted communio in sacris, including mutual recognition and acceptance of ministries, the appropriate term to use is 'full communion', and that where varying degrees of relation other than 'full communion' are established by agreement between two such churches the appropriate term is 'intercommunion'."
Full communion has been established between Provinces of the Anglican Communion and these Churches:
Full communion has been established between the Anglican Churches of Europe (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar in Europe) and the Lutheran Churches of Northern Europe (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania, Great Britain and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad) with the Porvoo Communion.
The Episcopal Church is currently engaged in dialogue with the following religious bodies:
Worldwide, an estimated forty million Anglicans belong to churches that do not participate in the Anglican Communion, a particular organization limited to one province per country. In these Anglican churches, there is strong opposition to the ecumenical movement and to membership in such bodies as the World and National Councils of Churches. Most of these churches are associated with the Continuing Anglican movement or the movement for Anglican realignment. While ecumenicalism in general is opposed, certain Anglican church bodies that are not members of the Anglican Communion—the Free Church of England and the Church of England in South Africa, for example—have fostered close and cooperative relations with other evangelical (if non-Anglican) churches, on an individual basis.
Nicolaus Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf, (1700–1760) the renewer of the Unitas Fratrum / Moravian Church in the 18th century, was the first person to use the word "ecumenical" in this sense. His pioneering efforts to unite all Christians, regardless of denominational labels, into a "Church of God in the Spirit"—notably among German immigrants in Pennsylvania—were misunderstood by his contemporaries and 200 years before the world was ready for them.
The contemporary ecumenical movement for Protestants is often said to have started with the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. However this conference would not have been possible without the pioneering ecumenical work of the Christian youth movements: the Young Men's Christian Association (founded 1844), the Young Women's Christian Association (founded 1855), the World Student Christian Federation (founded 1895), and the Federal Council of Churches (founded 1908), predecessor to today's National Council of Churches USA.
Led by Methodist layman John R. Mott (former YMCA staff and in 1910 the General Secretary of WSCF), the World Mission conference marked the largest Protestant gathering to that time, with the express purposes of working across denominational lines for the sake of world missions. After the First World War further developments were the "Faith and Order" movement led by Charles Henry Brent, and the "Life and Work" movement led by Nathan Soderblom. In the 1930s, the tradition of an annual World Communion Sunday to celebrate ecumenical ties was established in the Presbyterian Church and was subsequently adopted by several other denominations.
Eventually, formal organizations were formed, including the World Council of Churches in 1948, the National Council of Churches in the United States in 1950, the Churches Uniting in Christ in 2002, and the Covenant Christian Coalition in 2015. Aside from the Covenant Christian Coalition, these groups are moderate to liberal, theologically speaking, as Protestants are generally more liberal and less traditional than Anglicans, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics.
Protestants are now involved in a variety of ecumenical groups, working in some cases toward organic denominational unity and in other cases for cooperative purposes alone. Because of the wide spectrum of Protestant denominations and perspectives, full cooperation has been difficult at times. Edmund Schlink's Ökumenische Dogmatik (1983, 1997) proposes a way through these problems to mutual recognition and renewed church unity.
In 1999, the representatives of Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, resolving the conflict over the nature of Justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation, although some conservative Lutherans did not agree to this resolution. On July 18, 2006, delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously to adopt the Joint Declaration.
The mutual anathemas (excommunications) of 1054, marking the Great Schism between Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) branches of Christianity, a process spanning several centuries, were revoked in 1965 by Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Roman Catholic Church does not regard Orthodox Christians as excommunicated, since they personally have no responsibility for the separation of their churches. In fact, Catholic rules admit the Orthodox to communion and the other sacraments in situations where the individuals are in danger of death or no Orthodox churches exist to serve the needs of their faithful. However, Orthodox churches still generally regard Roman Catholics as excluded from the sacraments and some may even not regard Catholic sacraments such as baptism and ordination as valid.
In November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Istanbul at the invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and participated in the feast day services of St. Andrew the First Apostle, the patron saint of the Church of Constantinople. The Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope Benedict had another historic meeting in Ravenna, Italy in 2007. The Declaration of Ravenna marked a significant rapprochement between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox positions. The declaration recognized the bishop of Rome as the Protos, or first among equals of the Patriarchs. This acceptance and the entire agreement was hotly contested by the Russian Orthodox Church. The signing of the declaration highlighted the pre-existing tensions between the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Moscow Patriarchate. Besides their theological concerns, the Russian Orthodox have continuing concerns over the question of the Eastern Catholic Churches that operate in what they regard as Orthodox territory. This question has been exacerbated by disputes over churches and other property that the Communist authorities once assigned to the Orthodox Church but whose restoration these Churches have obtained from the present authorities.
A major obstacle to improved relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches has been the insertion of the Latin term filioque into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in the 8th and 11th centuries. This obstacle has now been effectively resolved. The Roman Catholic Church now recognizes that the Creed, as confessed at the First Council of Constantinople, did not add "and the Son", when it spoke of the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father. When quoting the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, as in the 6 August 2000 document Dominus Iesus, it does not include filioque. It views as complementary the Eastern-tradition expression "who proceeds from the Father" (profession of which it sees as affirming that he comes from the Father through the Son) and the Western-tradition expression "who proceeds from the Father and the Son", with the Eastern tradition expressing firstly the Father's character as first origin of the Spirit, and the Western tradition giving expression firstly to the consubstantial communion between Father and Son; and it believes that, provided this legitimate complementarity does not become rigid, it does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.
THE Uniting Church in Australia is a denomination born of ecumenical engagement between the Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians.
The authors of the UCA’s founding document, the Basis of Union, clearly expected more denominations to enter the Uniting fold – as evidenced by the name ‘Uniting’ rather than ‘United’, the name adopted by other merged churches throughout the world.
Yet today it would appear the UCA is less effectively engaged with other denominations than at the time of formation.
According to the Oxford dictionary, ‘ecumenism’ is “the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian churches”.
Ecumenism remains alive at the grassroots level in Australia, with several co-operating congregations and inter-church activities undertaken throughout the nation. But there appears to be significantly less ecumenical engagement at a higher organisational level; certainly not at the level envisaged when the UCA was established.
Former assembly president, and active ecumenist, Rev Dr D’Arcy Wood, accepts that it could be argued that the Uniting Church has not fulfilled the ecumenical charter imagined by its founding fathers.
“Three times within the 18 paragraphs of the Basis of Union it is clearly indicated that the Uniting Church would seek a wider union than just the three denominations. It (the joining of three) was not envisaged as the end but rather a stage in the process,” he said.
“The Joint Commission on Church Union had delegates from the three joining denominations and observers from the Anglican and Churches of Christ who attended and contributed.
“It was the sign of an open-ended process and the hope was that while they (the Anglicans and Churches of Christ) were not able to commit at that point in time… it was certainly envisaged others would join within 10 years and certainly within 20.’’
Does this mean the UCA has failed, or is falling short, in terms of its ecumenical endeavours?
Rev Dr Sandy Yule was secretary of the assembly’s Christian Unity Working Group between 2004 and 2012. He stressed that the ‘corporate mergers’ model– or other denominations joining the Uniting Church – should not be seen as the determinerofecumenical success.
“In fact, the UCA understands ecumenism as seeking and living out the faith of the church with others,” he said.
The Church maintains dialogue with the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and The Salvation Army. This has led to some important ecumenical work such as the recently released Weaving a New Cloth report (received by both the Anglican General Synod in 2014 and the UCA Assembly in 2015), which provides a blueprint for future Anglican and UCA ecumenical co-operations at congregational level.
A working group with members from both churches produced Weaving a New Cloth. However, with the completion of this document there is no longer a national Anglican-UCA dialogue at a national level.
Meanwhile, a joint report on holiness and social justice undertaken with The Salvation Army is close to completion.
Dr Wood said it was important to acknowledge that the ecumenical movement worldwide had slowed significantly over the last five decades, which needed to be considered when assessing the UCA’s ecumenical record.
“The ecumenical atmosphere of 50 years ago would have led to an expectation that more uniting was possible and the UCA could have entered into serious negotiations with other denominations,” he said.
He said the framers of the Basis of Union probably overestimated their chances but were in the midst of an enthusiastic ecumenical atmosphere, where the tide of ecumenism was flowing strongly.
“Over the last two decades, while there has been (ecumenical) activity, it does not seem that an unstoppable tide is coming,” he said.
Dr Yule’s view is that to truly understand the UCA, it needs to be recognised that the Basis of Union was crafted as a response to the question: “What is the faith of the church?”
“This is not a question that we can answer and move on,” Dr Yule said.
“We need to keep asking this question in each new context of our collective life.
“In so far as we are falling away from ecumenism as a church, it is because we have lost hold of this question and the resulting attention to what the Spirit of God might reveal to us.”
His experience was that while important dialogue has been established, some denominations are far cooler towards engaging with the UCA. This coolness relates to the internal priorities and perceptions of those churches as much as it does to the public stance and internal practices of the UCA.
Dr Wood said, generally, people outside the UCA saw it as being more liberal – or left wing – because of its commitment to a broad range of social justice questions.
So was that an inhibitor to closer ecumenical relationships?
“Quite possibly,” Dr Wood said. “That is the point where discussions become somewhat more difficult, because the Uniting Church is more in the habit of entertaining new theological ideas.
“Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union talks of engaging with contemporary thought so we see this engagement as a matter of principle.”
Dr Yule also said he felt there had been a temptation within some sections of the Uniting Church towards triumphalism – that is ‘our way is the best way’ – and to sometimes adopt political positions ahead of respectful listening to other Christians.
Assembly president Stuart McMillan offered a more positive assessment of ecumenism in the life of the Church today.
He said the UCA’s maturity as a church, and its openness to others, meant it was acting more ecumenically now than at formation, albeit in a less formal and structured manner but in a way which followed “where the Holy Spirit is leading us”.
“The way I see it our unity with other churches is abiding and grows deeper,’’ he said.
“The more that God opens our eyes to the world around us, the greater our aspiration becomes to be truly a fellowship of reconciliation, the body of Christ in the world.
“I’ve seen first-hand, and been deeply inspired by, the faithful work of our church partners across the Asia-Pacific, and in places like China and Lebanon where the Holy Spirit is doing amazing things.”
Mr McMillan argued it was the Church’s identity and practice as a post-denominational church committed to ecumenism which made such relationships possible.
“At the assembly level, ecumenism is woven through pretty much everything we do,” he said.
“It’s almost overwhelming and I wish we could convey the scale and scope of our work better. We have a lot to learn and to share with other churches and we are constantly collaborating.
“With Congress, we’re exploring approaches to Indigenous justice and sovereignty with First Nations members of the United Church of Canada.
“We’re active members and participants in the formal ecumenical councils – the World Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and others.
“Our longstanding relationships with ecumenical partners through formal dialogues like the Lutheran/UCA dialogue and indeed less formal dialogues will always be a part of our work.”
Maureen Postma is the former chair of the assembly’s National Christian Unity Working Group.
She said the growing movement of receptive ecumenism – a Catholic construct which broadly encourages Christians to ask what their denomination can learn from engagement with others rather than what other traditions needed to learn from them – appeared to be passing the Uniting Church by.
“The question is, do we think there is anything we can learn from other churches?I am not getting a sense that (UCA) people necessarily think there is anything we can learn from other churches,” she said.
Murrumbeena Uniting Church youth and young adults’ pastor Kelly Skilton has been the driving force behind the rapidly growing ecumenical movement for young people called the Sonder Collective.
Ms Skilton said the collective placed importance on learning about the traditions and theology of all participating denominations, something she felt from her experience did not always happen within the Uniting Church.
“If it has not got a dove on it sometimes we don’t do it,” she said.
“I feel we just don’t make the effort to learn about the whole Body of Christ. But everyone is our brother and sister in Christ… not only those who wear the same clothes.
“When we talk about the one Catholic and Apostolic Church there is nothing separating us (from other denominations) in that.
“Being ecumenical means that we should stop doing things just as the Uniting Church and seek to do more things with other churches.” Dr Yule said, on a positive note, the UCA had made ‘a good fist’ of forging together three distinct cultures, with the lead of the Holy Spirit.
“The UCA way of responding to this vision of unity of Church as being an organic union is a good one,” he said.
He said that over its life the UCA had made very positive contributions towards multilateral ecumenism.
Dr Yule argued that the adoption of the Uniting Church’s consensus decision-making model by both the WCC and the WCRC was a prime example of it sharing practices with the worldwide body of Christ.
He said the UCA had been “as good as any Church in Australia” in providing money, energy and people to local and international ecumenical bodies and organisations.
The most significant progress for organised ecumenism in Australia in the last 30 years has been the expansion of the previous Australian Council of Churches to form the National Council of Churches in Australia in 1994. This allowed the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church to join.
The actual commitment required of each member church (based on what they have explicitly accepted) can be found in the National Council of Churches document, Australian Churches Covenanting Together. This was first adopted in 2004 and amended in 2012.
It is a seminal document given the commitment by all NCCA member churches to common prayer, interceding and caring for each other, exploring Christian convictions and current applications and “to explore such further steps as will be necessary to make more clearly visible the unity of all Christians in Australia”.
Only some churches have committed to support initiatives for sharing physical resources, explore issues and strategies for ministry, hold the sacraments in common and continue to work towards mutually recognised ordained ministry. The UCA remains the only church committed to all these additional areas.
The General Secretary of the Victorian Council of Churches, Rev Ian Smith, said from his experience the UCA has gone a long way to embody the principle of open and honest engagement with fellow travellers, not only on issues of faith but also social justice, equity and treatment of refugees.
While Mr Smith acknowledged some in the Christian community regard the UCA as lacking in spiritual depth, he was of the view the church was focused on living out the text of the Bible rather than simply “circling the wagons and working out how to survive”.
But, Rev Peter Weeks – the chair of the synod’s Ecumenical Relations Committee (ERC) – said he became frustrated that while ecumenism was part of the UCA’s DNA he did not believe it was always being pursued with the appropriate amount of vigour.
“In a lot of cases on our side we are more concerned with doing our own thing. It is supposed to be part of our being but we don’t seem to be pursuing it terribly strongly,” he said.
However, he was also quick to point out that the UCA was not alone in being less willing to engage at an ecumenical level.
“In a lot of cases I think that is across the board,” he said.
“We (all churches) seem to be going back into more of a silo mentality.
“Part of it might be that, as churches, we are struggling more (for numbers). Rather than seeing that as an opportunity to work together we are doing our own thing and building our own activities.
“From what used to be quite strong enthusiasm for the sharing of ideas, we have now become more involved in just our own issues.”
Mrs Postma agreed that the ecumenical movement today was very different to that operating when the UCA was formed.
“Now, each church is looking at its own missional strategies and it is at that point when ecumenism falls away,” she said.
She welcomed the fact that theSynod of Victoria and Tasmania retained an ERC, stating that the UCA was one of few churches which had working groups in each state seeking to engage in ecumenical activities.
She said such imprimatur is important if local communities are to remain engaged.
“While there are people in local contexts committed to working ecumenically within their own community, they very much need support from the structures of their own church to know that their endeavours were supported and valued.
“Activities at the local level will be known to be valued when supported by presbytery, acknowledged at synod and part of the vision of the assembly.”
Mrs Postma expressed concern that recent staff changes at assembly level meant she was not sure if anyone had explicit responsibility for encouraging ecumenical work, as occurred under Dr Yule and Dr Chris Walker, who recently retired as the national consultant for Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship.
It was also a concern expressed by several members who attended last month’s
Christian Unity Working Group national conference in Melbourne.
Mr McMillan said a commitment to engage constructively with ecumenical partners was a key part of the Assembly Strategic Plan 2017-2020.
He said the strong relationships the Christian Unity Working Group had built through longstanding dialogue would be well supported within existing assembly personnel and resources.
However, it remains unclear as to how that will occur.
Dr Yule conceded that the UCA was in danger of losing its focus on ecumenism.
“This slippage can be addressed in part by ensuring that our young leaders are properly supported in ecumenical formation, through, for example, participation in programs sponsored globally by the World Council of Churches , such as those at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, and in our own region, such as the Youth in Asia Training for Religious Amity (YATRA) program,” he said.
“But these programs are not without significant cost and intentional action is needed.”
He also stressed the importance of not seeing ecumenism as a project but rather a gift of the Spirit.
“This is what God wants us to do and goes back to the original question of how we live out the faith of the Church.”
A belief that true ecumenism erupts from grass roots initiatives, coupled with the intervention of the Holy Spirit, certainly fits the experiences of the Sonder Collective, which started with little fanfare in Melbourne’s south-east. A germ of an idea and a willingness to take a risk have led to a multi-denominational youth and young peoples’ church network across Victoria.
It began in rather unexceptional circumstances when Murrumbeena Uniting Church youth and young adults pastor Kelly Skilton looked around her Church a couple of years ago and noticed a small handful of young people and young adults worshipping among the congregation.
Ms Skilton knew small groups of young people and young adults were also meeting in nearby Baptist, Uniting, Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic and Church of Christ congregations. Individually, the groups had few members but, when amalgamated, they represented a solid number of youth and young adults keen to learn more about God.
Ms Skilton created an environment where all the young people could meet regularly to worship, encourage each other and learn about the different denominational teachings and traditions.
What seemed like a simple idea has evolved to the point where the collective not only operates at Murrumbeena, but also in Brighton, led by Alex Bolitho, from St Joan of Arc Catholic Parish.
The Sonder Yonder group draws young adults from churches across four denominations. It has also been established at Shepparton, led by Uniting Church couple Cam and Jen Shields, and covers many locations throughout rural Victoria.
Today more than 80 young people representing a broad range of denominations meet regularly as part of the whole collective and Ms Skilton is not finished there.
Discussions have already begun to take the ecumenical initiative to Tasmania.
Ms Skilton said that while Murrumbeena Uniting – located about 17km south-east of Melbourne – provides funds for the venture, it does not ‘own’ the initiative, preferring it to be seen as a truly ecumenical activity.
“I am proud of how my church looked at the work being done and decided that if it was good for our young people to be involved then it was good for all young people (regardless of their denominational affiliation),” she said.
“About 15 to 20 years ago, Murrumbeena Uniting came from an amalgamation of four churches, so that nature of being merged and becomingone is not obscure.”
“When it came to bringing a group of young people from different denominations together it was not seen as strange.
“Our church is beautiful because it is focused on the Spirit and when the Spirit moves, it moves.”
Ms Skilton said the collective operated with three broad objectives – uplifting each attendee’s home church, uniting together and praising God.
“While each region might run the group a little differently they are the general themes common across the group,” she said.
The neutral name has no affiliations with any particular denomination and was chosen to build on the ecumenical nature of the initiative.
In fact, the name draws its inspiration from a word created by US graphic designer, filmmaker and would-be poet John Koenig. He was inspired to create the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, to contain all the words he needed for his poetry, including emotions that had never been linguistically described.
Koenig describes ‘sonder’ as “the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness – an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
Ms Skilton said the definition was apt for the way the collective’s members sought to engage with each other.
The initiative is successful in encouraging a growing number of young people in their faith because of the buy-in received from supporting churches.
She said it was not designed to present an opportunity for ‘sheep stealing’.
“We all love our home church and all want to stay in our own community, but the love of Christ binds us together and that allows us to have conversations and learn from each other,” she said
“During the day we might play in the same paddock but at night everyone goes home to their own church.”
More information on the collective can be found at facebook.com/sondercollective