What is Ecumenism?

Ecumenism is an interdenominational initiative, which calls for a Christian unity or a single church. Ecumenism aims to achieve a much better cooperation among the various Christian sects, and seeks to organize Christians all over the world as one people with a common belief in the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Ecumenism aims to establish a visible unity in one faith, which is expressed in worship, with a strong faith in the life of Christ.

The basic philosophy of Ecumenism is that there should be one single Church for Christians of all denominations and sects, whether Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Lutheran or Methodist. Ecumenism is defined by a common organizing principle, which is different from Nondenominational Christianity, in this respect.

In The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell defines Ecumenism as “The organized attempt to bring about the cooperation and unity among Christians.” An example of ecumenism on a national level is the document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”, which was published in 1994, and was endorsed by important representatives of Evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism.

The History of Ecumenism

The origin of Ecumenism is said to be in the Roman Catholic Church’s historic attempts made to deal with the differences with various Christian sects over theological issues. The birth of modern Ecumenism is linked to the 1910 World Missionary Conference, while there are others who credit 1920 encyclical “To the Churches of Christ Everywhere,” of the Father of the Ecumenical Movement, Germanos of Constantinople that spoke of a “fellowship of churches” much the same as the League of Nations.

The real growth in the Ecumenical Movement happened following the World War I, as people across Europe were in desperate need of a spiritual solace, following the large scale devastation of that period. It was in 1948 that the World Council of Churches was formed.

The philosophy of Ecumenism has since taken forward internationally by the World Council of Churches, which is a global inter-church organization. The members of the World Council of Churches include a majority of the mainstream Protestant Christian churches as well as almost all the Eastern Orthodox Churches – only the Roman Catholic Church is not represented.

The World Council of Churches aims to develop “the legacy of the one ecumenical movement and the responsibility to keep it alive,” while “acting as a trustee for the inner coherence of the movement”. According to a mission statement put out by them, “The World Council of Churches is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ.”

How Ecumenism is different from the Interfaith Movement

Ecumenism is different in principle from the interfaith movement. This is because; Ecumenism is largely a movement within the Christian faith, which aims at “the recovery in thought, in action, and in organization, of the true unity between the Church’s mission to the world (its apostolate) and the Church’s obligation to be one”. So, in principle, Ecumenism is about fostering the unity of all Christian denominations, with a solid foundation in Christianity, and not finding a common ground among all religions.

The interfaith movement or interfaith pluralism aims for mutual understanding, respect, tolerance and cooperation among all the world religions. An interfaith dialogue respects the diversity of faiths and does not aim for a single unified religion – it only strives to make all religious denominations more tolerant of each other, reconcile their differences and to promote excellent relations between all faiths and their representatives.

The Symbol of Ecumenism

One of the most noticeable symbols of Ecumenism is the widespread use of the Christian flag; which, according to the proponents of Ecumenism represents all Christendom. The Christian flag has a white field, and a red Latin cross, within a blue canton.

Who Opposes Ecumenism?

The United Methodist Church opposes Ecumenism as “not grounded in the doctrines of the Church.” The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has prohibited its clergy from worshiping with other Christian faiths, declaring, “Church fellowship or merger between church bodies in doctrinal disagreement with one another is not in keeping with what the Bible teaches about church fellowship.” There are many Orthodox Christians who are against any interfaith dialog; even that which is within the various sects belonging to Christianity, believing it would dilute Orthodoxy.