Fostering ecumenical movement
We ought to admit, without humiliation but with optimism, that Christianity is divided into hundreds
of denominations. We name the major doctrinal families: Assyrian Church of the East, Oriental
Orthodox Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Churches,
Lutheran Churches, Anglican Churches, Presbyterian Churches, Congregationalist Churches, United
Churches, Anabaptist Churches, Baptist Churches, Society of Friends, The Moravian Churches,
Methodist Churches, Restorationist Churches, Dispensationist Churches, Adventist Churches, Holiness
Churches, and Pentecostal Churches. These Churches are present in our families, towns, cities,
countries and continents; many of them operate side by side that we do not need sunlight to identify
them or a satellite to observe their phenomena. They come to us and we go to them. Many are known
and many others are still unknown to some people. However, we need to enter into a different way of
thinking that would allow us to state that all these denominations complete each other. This
complementarity we advocate might be both theological and sociological. Ecumenism, quid?
In the Gospel of Saint John, chapter 17, verse 21, we read: “May they all be one. Father, may they be
one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”
This short sentence of Jesus, says it all, defines what we call “Ecumenism”, directs our thoughts,
constructs the way towards this movement; strengthens all our efforts to unite all Christians and carries
overtones of sympathy towards separated brethren.1 It-it not the definition that Vatican II Council gives
to this virtuous word “Ecumenism”, for what it asserts, flows from the Scripture quoted above.
Ecumenism here is defined as “the restoration of unity among Christians”2. Indeed, this restoration was
a great concern of Vatican II Council; it is the concern of the entire Church; it should be the desire if
not the prayer of all Christians. There is great emphasis in the church today on uniting Christians of all
denominations and beliefs. The message is that Christians can work together and in unity though they
are different. However, there is a huge effort to be made for the translation of this noble message; that
effort is commonly referred to as "ecumenism," which is defined as "the organized attempt to bring
about the cooperation and unity of all believers in Christ."3 3.
We know that all Christians have one and only one Founder, Jesus-Christ. We know that Christians
profess to be the followers of the Lord Jesus and strive to do his will but they differ in mind and go their
different ways, as if Christ himself were divided.4 This worry brings out both the urgency and the
necessity of the restoration of unity among Christians. Failure to act in this way would result on many
terrible theological as well as sociological consequences: this would mean that Christians follow and
worship different Christ(s); that the message of Christ is not yet understood; that whoever is not a
member of my denomination is not with me; that Christ’s truth cannot be found in other
denominations; that the marriage between two people of different denominations is not commendable.
These few explosive implications among others can be drawn not necessarily from our separated
denominations but from our divided hearts; the hearts that are far from Christ’ intention and mission.
1 Cf. Leeming B. On Ecumenical Movement in New Catholic Encyclopedia
, vol.5 (London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967). 2 Vatican II Council. The decree on Ecumenism
, no.1. 3 http://www.jeremiahproject.com/culture/natureofman.html
Ecumenism, which is described as a quest for the Unity of all Christians, is an urgent endeavor
because it is a task of the moment. Perhaps there was a time for intensifying differences in theology,
liturgy and enlarging separation between Christian Churches or denominations for some reasons, known
or unknown to us, volatile or reasons based on materialistic benefits or sometimes reasons that work
for the expansion of Ecclesial Communities; now it is time to evaluate our history with charismatic eyes
and realize that we have made serious mistakes. If it is human to make mistakes, it is devilish to
persevere in our mistakes. We therefore need to correct them. These corrections might come
through our joint efforts towards Ecumenical movement. With new ideas, which are in favor of
scientific encounters and debates, I believe, this time, more than any other, is favorable and encouraging.
Vatican II Council states:
“The Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of his grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times
he has begun to bestow more generously upon divided Christians remorse over their divisions and longing for unity.
Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from
day to day a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among Christians.”5 5.
Do we know that more or less fifty years have passed since this initiative started in a very serious
note? Remember that the World Council of Churches was already put in place in 1948; the Vatican II
Decree on Ecumenism was published in 1964. Should we still wait for another fifty years in order to
collaborate with this work of the Holy Spirit? It seems to me that the Church of the future and the
future of the Church will be a Church seriously involved in ecumenical movement. It is what many
theologians identify as “dialogue ad intra
”. There should be a dialogue within the Church and among
I know that significant initiatives have been taken by those Christian Communities in order to foster
this great fact of our time; some have showed great commitment to it. Conferences and seminars are
organized; ecumenical centers and schools have been built; exchanges of ideas and evolution of
mentalities are taken place. But how many Christians in the world generally and in Africa in particular
have changed their attitude in such a way that their acts and actions are now affected and influenced by
the desire to promote this unity? Ecumenism must first and foremost be an attitude that someone
adopts before he expresses it into discernible activity. Ecumenism should be first considered as a call to
conversion, to openness, to love other Christians and their Churches, to a commitment to the
Christian, to spiritual renewal.6 7.
Having affirmed the urgency of the movement, we can now look at its necessity. Ecumenism is a
necessary, for without it, our hearts will still be divided though we are Christians; the Gospel will still be
foreign to us, the role of the Church will still be minimal; differences and diversities will still be sources
of disunity and hatred; African solidarity and sharing will still be undermined in our land; above all
dialogue between Christians and non-Christians will be more and more complicated. In Edinburgh, at
the Faith and Order Assembly, the Protestant theologians prayed in this way:
We humbly acknowledge that our divisions are contrary to the will of Christ, and we pray God in his mercy to shorten the
days of our separation and to guide us by his Holy Spirit into the fullest unity.”7
8. In other words, the unity we long for is a necessary one, because it is essential if we want to remain
one with Christ and one with one another. Our divisions are contrary to the will of Christ and to the
truth of Christianity. The necessity we are highlighting originates right from the very nature of Christ.
Since All Christians belong to Christ explicitly, there is no reason that we should be divided. It is,
therefore, necessary that we work for both theological and sociological unity of all Christians.
6 Jeffrey Gross et alii, Introduction to Ecumenism
(New York: Paulist Press, 1988), p. 2. 7 William J. Whalen. Separated Brethren. A survey of non-Catholic Christian Denominations in the United States
(New York: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1964), p.237.
Ecumenism is a movement because it is a developing process; it is an ecumenical movement because
its developing course of action leads towards an interchurch relations and attitudes. In the expression
“Ecumenical movement”, the adjective “Ecumenical” is in fact the essential concept, for it defines the
nature of the enterprise in which we are, while the term “movement” describes its situation. This
shows that the situation of this search for Unity is still in motion and, therefore, unstable. Vatican II puts
it in this way:
The term “ecumenical movement” indicates the initiatives and activities encouraged and organized, according to the various
needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity.8
We all are invited to foster its principles and promote the initiatives undertaken by many Christians.
Nevertheless, the consoling word is that it has begun. 10.
A genuine promotion of this unity among Christians begins by acquiring genuine knowledge of the
others. Knowledge of us and of the others is a major requirement for a successful and effective
advancement of what has been put in place. There is nothing solid and essential in this project than to
know first our own doctrines and then the doctrines and the laws of the others. Hans Kung wrote:
Do we really know the others? If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we do not. But we have begun to
know them, and that is already a great step forward. It implies at least that we are interested in getting to know them. And
yet, this was not always so. For many centuries we have no desire to know them or if we did, it was only a desire to know
them from the worst side so that we could at once defeat and dispose of them with theological arguments. Today we are
interested in getting to know them because they, too, are Christians and Christian Churches, in a genuine and often better
sense. And should we not be concerned with knowing our own brethren? For they are our brethren, even though they
differ from us in many ways. Diversity is often more fruitful than unity in mediocrity. We should be particularly concerned
about this because, for all their weaknesses and the one-sidedness from which they, too, obviously suffer, there are many
things they do better as Christians than we. We notice this as soon as we begin to know them.9 11.
To get to know the others means to learn from them, and as we learn from them, we make
ourselves better known to them. We are always transformed as we transform others. Hence, the first
priority is given to ecumenical formation10, which creates a space for understanding and sincere
interaction. Certainly, information as well as formation are two vital components of a systematic
construction but information about the other does not suffice to talk about them with confidence and
authority. So we need to be formed in this respect, especially by studying, familiarizing with their
sources, being aware of their principles.
Sources and Principles 12.
Promotion of the unity of all Christians will be successful if it follows some important principles
underlined in the Bible and in various canonical documents of all the denominations. The Catholic
Church highlights some. 1. We should know that the Son of Man was sent to the entire human race
that he might renew it and unite it. “There is one ecumenical movement and one call of Christ, which
Catholics share equally with other Christians. Though we acknowledge the important elements of the
Church in other communities, One true Church subsists in the Catholic Church”11 2. The Lord Jesus
sent the Holy Spirit to gather together all people of the New Covenant. 3. The apostle Peter, after his
confession of faith, was mandated to shepherd the Church in perfect unity. 4. The Catholic Church
accepts the faithful in the separated communities with respect and affection as brothers. 5. The
ecumenical movement in the Catholic Church strives to overcome obstacles such as doctrinal and
structural differences. 6. Growth in holiness, in closeness to Christ, should bring us closer to one
8 Vatican II Council, Decree on Ecumenism
, no.2. 9 Hans Kung. Preface on Do we know the others
no.14 (New York: Paulist Press, 1966), p. 1. 10 Johannes Sang-Tai Shim, The Ecumenical situation of the Asian and Korean Church in Chakana
3, Intercultural forum of theology and philosophy (Aachen: Missio, 2005), p. 97. 11 Jeffrey Gross et alii, op.cit
., p. 36.
another. 7. Positive attitude towards other Christian denominations is a required factor; it helps to
overcome our divisions. 13.
In his Encyclical letter “Ut Unum Sint
” (1995), Pope John Paul II says: “Christian unity is not just some
sort of appendix which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic
part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does.”(no. 20) 14.
However, many of these principles do not belong to the Catholic Church exclusively, for they are
found in other Communities. Indeed, in the Church Pocket Book and Diary 2006 we find the Vision and
the Mission of the Anglican Church in Kenya. Here it is said:
Our vision is to have a strengthened Anglican Church built on the foundation of the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ with the
ability to equip all God’s people to face the challenges of the New Millennium. Our mission is to bring all people into a living
relationship with God through Jesus Christ; through preaching, teaching, healing and social transformation and enabling them
to grow in faith and live life in its fullness. 15.
Talking about Ecumenism, the Protestant theologian Karl Barth, called his fellow Protestants to a
spirit of self-examination or self-criticism and consequently undermined any form of apologetic conduct.
In fact, “it was his hope this kind of self-examination will lead the Christian Churches, at the hour
decided by the Spirit, to meet one another at the point of their origin in Christ.”12 16.
Moreover, without discussing the nature, the mission and the works of the World Council of
Churches, which is one of those resourceful and vibrant organizations for Christian unity, it is perhaps
important to look at one of its basic assumptions. The World Council of Churches believes that the
Church of Christ is more inclusive than one’s own Church. Four lessons might be learnt from this
statement: the first is that all Christian Churches are altogether parts of the Church of Christ and all
Churches have their identify within the universal Church. Second, Parts are not bigger than a whole.
Three, the whole is more than each part. Four, All Churches should embrace, without complexity
whatsoever, the domain of complementarity whereby their shortcomings would be fulfilled and their
weaknesses built up. This complementarity, which is both theological and sociological, acknowledges
differences as well as values in each Church. 17.
It seems to me that all these principles are substantially positive; provided that they promote
Christian unity; they can be applied in various ways in different Churches. However, they should not be
altered or distorted. The decree on Ecumenism, for instance, invites the Catholic Bishops everywhere
to apply their diligence and prudence as they go on promoting the unity of all Christians.(no.4) If there
is time for everything, let us note that there is no time for doing evil. As ecumenism is concerned, the
right to insult others, the freedom to utter offensive or tasteless words, are highly harmful.
There are large areas in which Christians can act in union and communion to maintain Christian
values and move forward vital initiatives for the promotion of this unity. Here are the commonest and
most accessible: joint prayer meetings, formal and informal conversations with Christians of other
denominations, joint Bible translations, collaboration for social common works, scholarly exchanges,
exchanges of teachers in various Christian colleges and institutions.13 19.
Let our joint prayer meetings begin with an interior conversion and self-denial based on the Word
of God, continue with authentic preaching and end with the Lord’s Prayer; our formal and informal
conversations ought to be free from suspicion and any form of complexity -inferiority or superiority-
12Boniface A, Willems, Karl Barth’s contribution to the Ecumenical Movement in Concilium
no.14 (New York: Paulist Press, 1966), p. 47 13 Cf. Johannes Sang-Tai Shim, op. .cit
., p. 101.
since we discourse with our brothers not with our enemies. Joint Bible translations and scholarly
exchanges should be led by the love of science and wisdom; collaboration for social works should aim at
looking what is holy, good and right; exchanges of teachers in Christian colleges and institutions should
be based on the criteria of competence and performance. 20.
Religious Studies departments in our universities play a vital role in this process and could be more
resourceful since they cover a large range of Christian studies. Courses like Church History, Biblical
Studies, Ecumenism, Christology and Ecclesiology should be not only compulsory but also taught
academically and with high degree of objectivity.
Ecumenism is God’s call; it is Christ’s initiative; it is therefore divine and not man-made enterprise.
It requires first and foremost union with Christ.
-Ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit; it requires more grace than our zeal.
-Ecumenism is one of the expressions of Christian vocation; it is not exclusive to a category of
Christians. So all Christians are invited to take part, love it, preach it and work for it.
-Ecumenism goes with some principles and guidelines that ought to be studied attentively for its
-Ecumenism is a movement or an ongoing and transforming process that needs to be maintained and
-Ecumenism finds some obstacles that need to be studied and deepened with carefulness and patience.
-Ecumenism goes beyond comparison of differences.
-Ecumenism is essential to the very identity of the Christian and cannot be seen as a minor part of
-Ecumenical movement is essentially a spiritual one, a call to increased holiness, zeal, and union with
Christ, into which all intellectual and administrative must be integrated. The basis of the movement is
the clear will of Christ that all his followers should be united.15
14 Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, no. 15 Cf. Leeming B. On Ecumenical Movement in New Catholic Encyclopedia
, vol.5 (London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967).
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