The Ecumenical Movement (Part 1)
We may hear the term “ecumenical” but not know what it really means. Informally, it refers to an “agree to disagree” mentality among various factions of denominational Christendom. Formally, it is a movement that took shape during the 20th century in which denominations made concerted strides to cooperate in spite of fundamental differences of doctrine, worship, organizational structure and other features that make each denomination unique.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church on ecumenism:
A movement in the church toward the recovery of the unity of all believers in Christ, transcending differences of creed, ritual and polity [a term for church government]. The aspiration for unity can be traced from [New Testament] times ... but it has never been so potent as in the present [20th] century. ...
The modern ecumenical movement may be dated from the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910, though this itself owed much to earlier movements which prepared the way. They included the evangelical revivals of the 18th and 19th [centuries], which crossed national and denominational frontiers, the great missionary expansion of the 19th [century], with its emphasis on interdenominational cooperation, the work of the Bible societies, which drew on the resources of all churches, and the student Christian movement, which was interdenominational ... and worldwide in scope.
The Edinburgh Conference of 1910 led immediately to the establishment of the International Missionary Council; its impetus was behind the creation in 1925 of the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work, which was concerned with the application of Christianity to social, economic and political life, and in 1927 of the first World Conference on Faith and Order at Lausanne. ... The second meetings of these two bodies were held in 1937 at Edinburgh and Oxford respectively, and it was agreed that they should be fused into a World Council of Churches (p. 443).
What the article is describing is man’s attempt to undo the mess he made when he first decided to abandon scriptural authority. The only way for a manmade denomination to exist is to establish one outside the bounds of the scriptures. Ecumenism is an attempt at “unity” by human councils and conferences, which create more manmade organizations to try and blend together manmade religious organizations unknown to the Bible.
The words of Jesus come to mind: “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Matt. 15:13). He referred to the Pharisees, a faction of Judaism unauthorized by the Law of Moses. Jesus continued, “Let them alone; they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (15:14). So it is when men play fast and loose with the scriptures and then try to smooth it over with some artificial “Let’s pretend our differences don’t really matter!”
Also noteworthy is the weak attempt to tie the ecumenical movement with the Bible (i.e., “the aspiration for unity can be traced from New Testament times”). Let us be clear: There is no parallel between unity among Christians in the first century and this ecumenical charade. First, there were no denominations in the first century to unify. Followers of Jesus were simply known as saints or brethren or Christians or, collectively, the Way or the church. There were no Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians or other “types” of Christians. Such designations did not come along for another 1,600 years. Doesn’t that tell us something?
“The church” (universal) was not comprised of disparate religious bodies but of individual saints. Those saints then associated in local congregations that devoted themselves to “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42; I Cor. 4:17; 7:17; I John 1:1-4). Copious warnings are given against departing from the “one gospel”: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
The root of modern denominations is found in I Tim. 6:3-5: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine ... according to holiness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling ... useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth.”
The path to unity is not so difficult: Burn the “books of magic” (Acts 19:19) -- i.e., manmade religious authority -- and go back to the simple gospel of Christ. However, we shan’t hold our breath until that happens.