Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ecumenism - necessary?

Ecumenism, the idea or uniting the whole Christian Church, might not be necessary or at least not the only way to go. Some thinkers regard it as an ideal to work towards.
Others are utterly determined never to let it happen. It may not actually be a good idea, given the limitations of human creatures.
The Bible talks about the unity of the believers. That's a good idea in itself. But it can only happen when there is real unity of belief, not by forcing agreement on some of the members of a church just for the sake of having one big group, instead of several smaller ones.
When I was new to Christianity the question bothered me a bit. Aren't the Christians supposed to be united. But a wise preacher put it this way: when there are several churches, you have to keep going back to the Bible to see what it actually says. In my case I needed to sort out the issue of baptism by immersion: was that what God actually called on His followers to do? Going over the question by looking at what is actually in the Scriptures meant that I gained a better insight than I had before. The different positions taken by different denominations mean that if you want to know about them, you check out what's actually written in the Book. It made sense to me then and it still does. When there was just one huge Christian church, it was possible for that church to tell its humble members, 'just do as you're told. Leave the thinking to the ones in charge'. In fact there was a time when ordinary people were not allowed to read the Bible themselves. Only the ordained priests were considered capable of understanding it properly. The result was that some serious errors or even deliberate malpractice crept into the picture. One particular Catholic monk saw the problem, blew the whistle on it and started the Reformation. Now the Bible is available in each person's own language, you can see for yourself and not have to rely on someone else to tell you.
It may be that different doctrines answer different needs, so long as they don't actually conflict with the Word. Some Christians I know find it important to be baptised by immersion. Others do not. Some like the formality used by the Anglican or Episcopal church. Others prefer not to have set prayers used in the service. Some prefer to kneel in prayer, others to stand. Some churches sing hymns, others only psalms. As far as I can see, none of those things conflict with worshipping in truth. They're just different forms of spiritual expression. God made us all individuals, and there can be different ways of doing what is still the right thing with the right outcome.
So we might not need one all-in super church. In fact we might be better off without one. Inter-church fellowship is important, but we can be friends without having to be housemates. I'll happily listen to anyone else's take on this. After all, we can all learn from each other.


Marshall Art said...

Should the differences between the denominations be only polity or ritual, I'd say that a coming together would be a good thing. But unfortunately, there are too many who have rewritten Scripture to accomodate their earthly desires, that frankly, I'm glad not to yoke myself with them.

I belong to a denomination called the "United Church of Christ". (There is also the "Church of Christ", but they're different) I have great objections to their beliefs, but within this denomination, each congregation is autonomous and not required to abide UCC directives or resolutions. We own our building and the land upon which it sits. We do our own searches for pastors and hire them on our own. As such, it would be a relatively simple thing to break away from the UCC. It is my hope that we do so at some point.

The UCC, in marketing itself, proudly boasts of being the first denomination to ordain an openly homosexual man. I don't know if that means first in our country or the world. Doesn't matter. It's not a feather in their cap as much as a stain on their collective souls.

The point is that they have strayed too far from traditional Christian teaching that they are getting close to being something other than Christian, even if they insist on retaining the name.

There is no way that there will be such a coming together as you describe with such disparities of belief. Each denomination would have to compromise, with the far ends of the spectrum giving up the most of their beliefs and traditions. More appropriate would be to separate the wheat from the chaff, separating the righteous from the heretical. Of course the heretical would still call themselves Christians. Look at how far off the beaten path Shelby Spong has travelled. He is no Christian, yet he clings to the name.

Of course, in the end, Scripture tells us that just what Christ will do, but in the meantime, we are not to yoke ourselves to those who have rebelled.

I like the concept, but it's only on the level of fantasy.

Andrew Clarke said...

I'm interested that you mention John Shelby Spong. I agree - he's become a false Christian, even a wolf in sheep's guise if he denies certain critical Christian teachings and claims to be a benevolent teacher revealing things. And the wheat does have to be separeted from the chaff. Or the sheep from the goats. There are times when the real believers have to walk away from the deceivers. And if people have rewritten Scripture they've brought a curse on themselves. We've all heard this: Christianity presented as a code for living without its claims being literally true. And it could have the effect of separating people from their Saviour if they fell for it. I just prayed that you will see your church turn back in the direction that God guides. Best wishes.

Andrew Clarke said...

I had a second thought. You mention people straying so far from Christian that they become other than Christian. Would the Jehovah's Witnesse be a case in point? They teach that Jesus was created by God, which seems closer to Islam than Christianity.

Farrah said...

I think you make an excellent point. Most people and churches try to put God in a box. They have a long list of rules they follow, many of which they try to force on everyone else. Jesus may put laws on individuals for their own sakes and because of their own weaknesses. That doesn't mean those should be preached from the pulpit.

For example, we don't watch any TV, because I have a terrible weakness for it. It is very difficut for me to refrain from judging others who do watch it. And yet, I have a friend who has little interest in it. I could hardly get her to sit still long enough to even watch a movie through. I know TV will never be a problem for her, so there would be no need to tell her it's wrong to have it. Jesus told ME not to have it.

Not only do all these churches preach doctrines of men for truth, but they judge everyone accordingly. I left a very legalistic church and have been reluctant to find a new one. I just can't stand all the rules. I am searching for fellowship, not a pastor to become my lord. I am seeking love and friendship from other believers, not someone to place a yoke around my neck.

Luke said...

Monolythic identity is a myth. We will never be one "whole" under "one system" as the views of the system and contingents inherent in systems inextreably cause an "in" group and an "out" group. However, in Christ there is no in or out, “Because all of you are one in the Messiah Jesus, a person is no longer a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a male or a female.” (Galatians 3:28)

so somethings to ponder: We are not innocent, not born in a garden, we do not seek unitary identity. We seek to coexist in the tension of our beliefs and to learn to love one another and allow ourselves to be mutually enriched.

this is what it means to be a UCC.. @ Marshall Art "The point is that they have strayed too far from traditional Christian teaching"

what, the tradition of inclusion and radical acceptance of what the world calls "sinners"? i'd say the UCC is the only true Christian church out there right now, but of course, i'm bias.