Ecumenism, the art of unity between Christian churches, has been around for a long time. The National Council of Churches was founded in 1950. However, ecumenism really took off with the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1960's. I was a toddler when the Council took place (1962-65). All I know of it is what I have read in books and learned from others.
In his memoir, Reflections Over the Long Haul, Robert McAfee Brown wrote about the Council from a Protestant perspective. A primary purpose of the Pope's call for the Council was "an increasing recognition that (a) Christians should not be divided, (b) that even though divided they should not be fighting one another, and (c) an admission that both sides have lived sinfully self-enclosed lives and that they must engage in dialogue." (p. 202)
My take-away from the event, Brown's synopsis of its purpose, and ecumenical efforts since then is two-fold: 1) We are all one body in Christ Jesus. 2) That divisions and disagreements are a part of who we are as human beings.
The Apostle Paul described the Church as one body with many parts.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12
Ecumenism is the Church attempting to be one body, even though we are made up of many differing parts. It matters that we make this effort, because it is what Christ wants of us. Walking away, turning away, ignoring, and particularly dismissing one another is not an option if we are to be the true Body of Christ. Ecumenism will be important as long as we hold to differing ways of interpreting Bible and theology, and living out differing expressions of Christian identity.
The Kentucky Council of Churches, and other ecumenical groups, invite Christians to live as one body as we function as different parts. I offer a few suggestions for what Christians can do to make this a reality:
1. Seek opportunities for ecumenical and interfaith dialogues. Many communities offer such events and activities. If you cannot find a conversation in your area, start one.
2. Work together with other denominations and religions on common issues and mission projects. Faith communities that unite have strength and influence that a lone church or individual does not. Join together to make your community better.
3. Learn about other denominations and faith groups. Take a class, or read many of the resources that are available. Visit places of worship different from your own.
4. Discuss disagreements with love, patience, integrity, and civility. We will not always agree on everything. Even people in the same church have differing views. We can learn from one another, and the Spirit will work in conversations that are open, honest, and grace-filled.
5. Be open to the Spirit's movement in ecumenical and interfaith situations. Pray for guidance and an openness to God's leading.
6. Stay present. Even when you want to walk away, or you think the dialogue will never bear fruit, persevere with patience and determination. The results can be transformative when we are willing to stay at the table and show hospitality to each other.
7. Join an ecumenical organization in your area. Most states have a Council of Churches, or similar organizations. Many towns and cities have ecumenical and interfaith groups. These groups are excellent resources for engaging and learning. Donate to your state's Council so that this important ecumenical work can continue.
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