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The night before he died, our Lord Jesus prayed for the unity of those who followed him as a sign of the truth of his mission (Jn 17.21,23). This was not to be a superficial unity, but one as deep as exists between the persons of the Trinity themselves. Many Christians experience this unity in the fellowship they find when they meet each other but, if it is to demonstrate Christ’s authenticity to the world, that unity needs to be seen by those outside the fold.

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Such unity goes far deeper than ecumenism in the Church’s structures, but if it is to accomplish its Christ-intended purpose those structures must reflect it in an ecumenical way, otherwise they will obscure it and prevent the world seeing and believing. I believe it is no coincidence that the eighteenth century Enlightenment (which in setting up the ideal of pluralism also had the effect of marginalising individual convictions and thus religion in general) emerged after the conflicts which followed the Reformation. It is largely because Christians are not seen to agree in public that the world does not accept what we say.

But there is more, for our Lord’s prayer was not just a vague aspiration. Jesus promised us that a prayer in his name will be answered (Jn 16.23). Yet we give the impression in our apparent disunity that his own prayer has been ineffective. In doing so we also imply either that the Father has not sent his Son or that Christ’s words on prayer, among other things, are not to be trusted. So, we deny the very nature of our Lord and his mission on earth. In effect, disunity would deny the very Gospel we otherwise proclaim.

And again, how can we claim with St Paul that Christ’s work on earth, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eternal reign have reconciled us to God and given us “the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor 5.18) if we remain unreconciled to each other, at least at the public level which matters so much for the proclamation of that reconciling Gospel?

The very word ecumenism is controversial to some, who fear its users seek to find agreement by compromising the truth. Unity, they say, must be in the truth. Of course, but from the argument above it should be equally obvious that unity is integral to the truth. Neither can exist without the other. Ecumenism and evangelism belong together. Indeed, ecumenism is a prerequisite for true evangelism because unity is an essential component of the Gospel. Without ecumenism there can be no true evangelism, for without unity there can be no true Gospel.

The problem was encapsulated by my own conversion, because it was two Baptists who challenged me as to whether I knew the Lord. I had been baptised into the Church of England as a baby, and therefore could be claimed as a Christian in name, and was seeking to live as such, but had never understood the need to offer myself to God for a life of service in Christ. Initially I rejected their approaches on the basis they were members of a different church with different beliefs, and it was only when they gave me a booklet to explain their faith which I recognised as an Anglican publication that I realised my mistake. Their faith was one with at least some Anglicans on the issue concerned, but I, blinded by the labels, had not seen that.

Because so much is at stake the task is urgent, but the urgency is not apparent from the response of the Church in general. Progress has been lamentably slow and has often concentrated on what we agree already. Perhaps Church leaders are naturally too polite to raise contentious arguments. Perhaps, they have felt a firm basis of respect based on common belief was needed before such issues could be pursued without causing offence. Perhaps a tentative initial exploration was necessary to establish the key issues, but should it have taken 90 years to get this far? Whatever the reason, the urgency of the task demands more progress, more debate, more involvement by more Christians to produce the ideas which will overcome the obstacles and even define the goals.

That is what this site is for. Please read it, use it, and make it a powerhouse of truth which will build up Christ’s Church.

Ken Petrie
Editor.


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