1. 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? 2. 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.html4. 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 Christians. 6. 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.
5 ibid. 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.
9. 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 in Concilium 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. Projects 18. 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. Summary 21.-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 effectiveness. -Ecumenism is a movement or an ongoing and transforming process that needs to be maintained and improved. -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 Church life.14 -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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