Thursday, January 19, 2006

That They May Be One

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began yesterday. For anyone unfamiliar with the event, you may want to check out something about it on the web. I found a pretty good explanation and history of it here:

http://www.geii.org/background/bh-eng.index.htm

Pope Benedict spoke of the importance of Christian unity in his audience address yesterday. He concluded with greetings to the audience in different languages. In English, he said:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a time when all the Lord's followers are asked to reflect on the tragedy of their divisions and to pray with the Lord "that all might be one… that the world may believe" (cf. John 17:21).

Prayer for Christian unity is the "heart of the ecumenical movement" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8), and is closely linked to conversion of heart and the pursuit of holiness in obedience to God's will. As believers draw closer to the Triune God, they will draw closer to one another and work more readily for the restoration of full communion.

The common prayer of Christians is a powerful means of imploring the grace of unity, since our Lord himself has promised that "if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:19-20).

With gratitude to God for the significant ecumenical progress already made, let us look with hope to the future, and continue our prayers for the unity of all Christians, recognizing that ultimately it is God's gracious gift.

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience, and in particular to the groups from Sweden, South Korea and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.”

The short statement is packed with ideas that seem worth reflecting on. But it’s the first paragraph that struck me most. Who can disagree that the magnitude and fervor of division within Christianity is anything but a tragedy, especially in light of Christ’s prayer? Beyond that, Christian unity seems to be an integral part of our mission to evangelize (“that the world may believe”). Division in the church is a scandal to non-believers, and an impediment to effective evangelization. Most serious Christians have likely experienced this in some way.

Every Christian, I hope, will take this week of prayer seriously. The solution isn’t easy or quick, but it begins with our recognizing the problem, and praying sincerely for the light and the grace to help us to move toward the peace and unity Christ wanted for his church.
Comments:
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Dan,

This is good stuff. Thanks for putting it up. My hackles raised at the use of "ecumenism," but the basic theory is sound.

And you need to enable the password protection for your comments, so you don't get ones like the above.
 
Why would i want to keep out comments like the one above? See, the nice man thinks I'm inquisitive, and wants to share with me.

Why does the use of the word "ecuminism" raise your hackles?
 
"Ecumenism" has been used not only of bringing together various Christian denominations, but also to include non-Christian heresies (i.e.: Mormonism, Jehova's Witnesses, the UU church, etc.), and even explicitly non-Christian faiths (I've heard it used to describe settling or ignoring differences between Christianity and Hinduism, for example). Wikipedia defines it in part thusly: "In its broadest meaning therefore, ecumenism is the religious initiative towards world-wide unity."

In the wrong hands, "ecumenism" suggests a "you're okay, we're okay" approach to theology, letting anyone believe what they want and just whitewashing over it, concentrating on vague feel-good principles (that old saw about how all religions "basically say the same thing") and ignoring basic theological differences.

Interestingly, Wikipedia has a separate definition for "Christian Ecumenism," which begins so: "Christian ecumenism is the promotion of unity or cooperation between distinct religious groups or denominations of the Christian religion, more or less broadly defined." This, on the whole, sounds good to me (just depends on how broad "broadly" really is...).
 
Interestingly, I read an article a few days back that said that the Catholic Church uses the term "ecumenism" exclusively to refer to the dialogue between Christians of different denominations. The term "inter-faith dialogue" is used to refer to discussions and relations between Christian and non-Christian groups. So that's where I, or most knowlegeable catholics came from when we saw the term "ecumenism."

I have heard the term used in the way that you describe it, though. There's a misconception that ecumenism means we should simply accept that everyone has their own beliefs, we shouldn't question them, and such. In that sense the word bugs me too.
 
Hey--congratulations, Dan, on going an entire year without posting. That's the record for our group, I think, and makes my couple month hiatus look like nothing. Hooray for grading on a curve!
 
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