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Ecumenicalism: The 'Urge
 to Merge' within Christianity

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bullet "Disunity distorts truth, wastes resources, hinders witness, impoverishes worship and discredits the gospel." Statement by an anonymous Irish Methodist; quoted by the Most Reverend George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury at ecumenical vespers, 2000-MAY-17.


The term "ecumenical" comes from the Greek word "oikoumene" which refers to "the entire inhabited world." In English, it refers to cooperation among the various faith groups within a single religion -- typically Christianity.

Current trends:

The current status of Christianity is one of great disunity. There are on the order of 1,500 Christian organizations in North America alone. Each follows a unique blend of beliefs and practices. Many, perhaps most, believe that they and they alone represent the true church.  There are many processes at work here:
bullet When church schism occurs, or a sect breaks away from an established denomination, the two groups tend to evolve on different paths. The gap tends to grow with time. The chances of an eventual merger are steadily reduced. The schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is one example of this; that between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion is another.
bullet However, when a split was caused by differences in belief on a moral topic -- rather than over internal theological conflicts -- then the chance of an eventual merger is good. The 19th century split of many U.S. national churches into pro-slavery and anti-slavery denominations before the civil war is an example of this process. With the exception of the Southern Baptist Convention, pro-slavery denominations eventually rejoined with their Northern counterparts. The possible future split within some mainline Christian denominations over equal rights for gays and lesbians may well be a cause of future church schism which will eventually be healed when an eventual consensus is reached on the nature of homosexuality.
bullet There is evidence of increased integration of, and cooperation between, some Christian denominations. These include:
bullet Attempts to merge and/or improve communication and cooperation among various like-minded denominations. "Clergy and parishioners easily move across denominational lines." 1
bullet Continued engagement in ecumenical dialog to heal ancient divisions. 
bullet Some conservative Christian faith groups, which share very little theologically, are joining together to pursue joint programs of social action. e.g. reducing women's access to abortion, preventing access to euthanasia, limiting or reducing the rights of gays and lesbians, opposing same-sex marriage, limiting the rights of transgender persons and transsexuals, etc.
bullet Inter-faith marriages have become more numerous. This has placed increasing pressure on various denominations to cooperate. The couples themselves have demonstrated how persons of different faiths can find ways of working together, in love. They are an example to the larger communities.

This cooperation will probably increase over time, driven in part by a desire to oppose the growing secular influences on society. Even as the percentage of American adults who identify themselves as Christians is steadily dropping, the percentage who are not affiliated with a religion increases.

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Topics covered in this section:

bullet Overview:
bullet Past history and current status of divisions within Christianity
bullet Activities by Protestant denominations:
bullet Full communion achieved among Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ
bullet Full communion achieved between Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church
bullet Talks between the Roman Catholic church and:
bullet Anglicans
bullet Eastern Orthodoxy
bullet Evangelical Protestants
bullet "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT)
bullet Lutherans
bullet Mennonites
bullet National and international "umbrella" associations:
bullet National Christian associations in the U.S.
bullet International Christian associations Part 1   Part 2
bullet National Council of Churches (NCC) ecumenical activities
bullet Joint membership permitted by NAE and NCC
bullet Canadian Christian military chaplains cooperate
bullet Other developments:
bullet News of recent ecumenical developments

Related essay in this web site:


Schismatic movements within Christianity

References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Charles Austin, "Christian Church continues unity drumbeat," The Bergen Record, at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest review and update: 2010-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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