Ecumenicalism: The 'Urge
to Merge' within Christianity
"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.
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:
||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. |
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
||There is evidence of increased integration
of, and cooperation between, some Christian denominations. These include: |
Attempts to merge and/or improve communication and cooperation among various like-minded
denominations. "Clergy and parishioners easily move across
denominational lines." 1
||Continued engagement in ecumenical dialog to heal ancient divisions.
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
gays and lesbians, opposing same-sex
marriage, limiting the rights of transgender persons and transsexuals, etc.
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
Topics covered in this section:
||Activities by Protestant denominations: |
||Talks between the Roman Catholic church and:
||National and international "umbrella" associations:
||Other developments: |
Related essay in this web site:
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
Charles Austin, "Christian Church continues unity drumbeat," The
Bergen Record, at: http://www.bergen.com
Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest review and update: 2010-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson