ECUMENISM: THERE IS A GOOD SORT AND A BAD SORT
A Newer Evangelical 'Ecumenism' Gives Hope for the Future!
But We Must Ditch That Word...
t one time I spoke without hesitation: the ecumenical movement was a bad thing. Why? Because it was a movement from liberalish Anglicans who wanted to be reunited (despite their liberalism) with the Church of Rome. They wanted to be accepted again 'back into the old fold' with Roman Catholicism. They were open to the pope and to his college of cardinals and looked for a route back into papal churchianity which might still allow their priests to continue to marry and to not entirely abandon the old Church of England ways, nevertheless, they wanted - and many of these people still do - a route back to papal approval and acceptance; yes, to be part of the Church of Rome.
Origen (182-254 AD)
Origen was easily in the 'top ten' of the finest Christian theologians and teachers who have ever lived. Some of his writings are absorbing and fascinating and he was not afraid of speculation on theological points. He was possibly fortunate to live at a time before the strict constraints of denominationalism. As long as there was a full support of the great creeds, variety and variation of opinion was allowed for within the early church but heretics were quickly noted. This was a different approach to the later denominationalism which would seek to bar honest believers over even slight differences within teaching in areas where the Bible does not clearly legislate.
An example of an early heretic was Arius who denied the full divinity of Christ. Arius was separated from the body of Christ and Arianism became the first heresy. Today this heresy may be found within the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
However these people seemed unconcerned about the major issues which had caused separation, they were happy to abandon Martin Luther and to look upon him as a heretic. A group of these people were largely behind the whole 'New Perspective on Paul' movement and were happy to look at even abandoning Paul the Apostle (since a large section of Paul's New Testament teaching hardly seems supportive of Roman Catholic theology but seems a 'natural bedfellow' of Protestantism). I was disgusted with these people and with this movement (and still am), because they were - and are - apparently unconcerned about Christ and seeking the closest possible representation of His teachings, their pro-Romanism was, in my opinion, giving them a spiritual and doctrinal myopia. "Unity" was - and is - important to them but it was a flawed and compromised 'unity' in my opinion, less based on the Holy Spirit and on New Testament doctrine but strongly based on unity with Catholicism. It was emotion-driven. I have not changed my opinion on these people even one iota!
A Newer Ecumenism?
However, there is now a newer sort of ecumenism and I hope we can all ditch that dreadful word for it, maybe something like 'Christian true believer acceptance' would be better. It looks for unity among Christians based on acceptance of 'The Apostles' Creed,' true biblical Faith and a rejection of liberalism. This seems to be a definite new movement which many are noting. The early church, after all, were united under 'The Apostles' Creed' and allowed differences within peripheral areas as long as the major Christian teachings were embraced. Only when something came along which was clearly outside of clear Christian teaching (Arianism was one of the earliest examples, Gnosticism another) was there opposition and such extra-biblical teachings were never allowed to be part of Christianity but were separated from it. Very sensible in my opinion.
Beyond adherence to the great creeds, especially the Apostles' Creed, it is unhealthy to look for reasons for separation but, lamentably, denominationalism has done just that. For example, the differences between Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists were never sufficient reason for total separation, that is, a separation in which in which people attending these groups in any small town never spoke to each other for years and years! Now, I am happy to say, these people are tending to speak to each other again, they are uniting under true Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; this is thousands of miles from the older pro-Roman ecumenism, and is to be warmly welcomed. There is no spirit of compromise behind it, it is faith-affirming. Certainly the variety and variation of thought allowed for within early Christianity is encouraging. Have you ever read Origen? He wrote some amazing things, much of it speculative but was accepted and is now regarded as one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time.
Interestingly, a higher place for Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also accepted from the Council of Chalcedon onwards for some groups of believers who felt that the place of the mother of our Lord was rather important and symbolic; a more important place, though below the level of the Holy Trinity, of course. That in itself was considered no reason for separation. Only much, much later when the Church of Rome started to claim a divine mandate of Christian leadership, political authority and introduced certain unbiblical teachings did separation become inevitable.
I think that my recent article When Will We Ever Break Out of Our Christian 'Blobs'? was looking at just this area. It was a plea to avoid unnecessary division. Yes, I also think that we can learn from each other in various ways but that should never lead to compromise over established biblical doctrine.
Robin A. Brace. November 21st, 2014.