There is a problem with ecumenical movements these days. I’ve commented before on my issues with both the CBMW and the CBE. One of the major differences between the two is if you’ll note, the CBMW is compiled of Presbyterians and Baptists while the CBE has no exclusive church collection but instead simply promotes churches that have accepted their positions and opinions on women in ministry.
While it is good to come to terms on issues such as these, the reality is that there is a lot more that separates churches. I question the motives of ecumenical movements. Of course, these days, it seems that ecumenical movements are primarily effected by the Evangelical movement. For Evangelicals, there is less doctrines that bind Christians together. For instance, one Evangelical pastor I’ve known has stated to me that the Trinity is what ultimately binds all Christians together.
As NEO commented to me the other day in regards to some of these ecumenical movements like the World Council of Churches is that “it simply by trying to represent everyone ends up representing no one”. This, I foresee, is going to be a big issue regarding unity for all Christians in the future. For instance, I would not be able to receive the eucharist in either a Catholic Church or an Orthodox Church. Modern Evangelicals today freak out over the issue of closed communion. Isn’t that exclusive? Well, for Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the sacraments are more than just symbolic, they actually confer a deifying grace on the recipient. When it is said that such deifying grace is not in actuality conferred on the recipient of the sacrament, the recipient brings destruction upon himself.
While it is great to come up with a way to identifying basic, fundamental, Christian belief, lots of Christians have different ideas of what that entails. One thing is that Westboro Baptist Church accepts the Trinity. Would any of us say they are actually genuine Christians? They are filled with hatred and God is love so no, we would not say they are Christians to any degree. For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, mere belief is not enough for someone to be a Christian, one must also accept the grace of baptism in order to be incorporated into the divine family.
Of course, the Trinity is a major Christian doctrine but there are certainly other major Christian doctrines as well. The incarnation was yet another major Christian doctrine. Ecumenical movements largely leave out the importance of soteriology when it comes to unifying Christians. For Catholic and Orthodox Christians, participating in the deifying grace conferred by the sacraments is a major part of soteriology. For Evangelicals, it is simply between you and God–your relationship with God. (Is your relationship with God a bit rough? Yes? Then you are probably headed for Hell. Is your relationship with God good? Yes? Then you are doing fine, keep up the good work.) But for Evangelicals, it doesn’t matter what sacraments you partake in, as long as you believe in God and are doing good works, you will be saved. For the Catholic and the Orthodox Christians, without these sacraments, you are unable to earn your salvation. Hence, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian would be hesitant to label a member of the Salvation Army or a Quaker a Christian as neither of these two groups practice baptism.
Another question I have is where we would put snake-handlers in Christianity. Would these people be Christians? They consider themselves part of the Pentecostal movement but they are also a bit extreme. They certainly believe in the Trinity so they are united to us, right?
In saying ecumenical movements can be problematic, I am not saying ecumenical discussion is bad. Figuring out where we differ and where we are the same is important. But too often, we try to emphasize only where we are the same for fear that we will create further divides. I think we should focus on where we are also different before we figure out how to re-unite again.
Of course, it is possible I’ve misrepresented Evangelical views on salvation. They frequently misrepresent Catholic and Orthodox views. The difference between misrepresenting Evangelicals and misrepresenting Catholic and Orthodox Christians in my opinion though is this–the misrepresentation of Evangelicals has largely been wrought by the diversity of the Evangelical movement itself. The misrepresentation of Orthodox and Catholic Christians though must certainly stop. Unlike Evangelicals, the Orthodox and the Catholics have drawn out statements of beliefs in the councils they have accepted. Thus, if one says that “Orthodox Christians believe…” one must refer to the liturgy and councils of the Orthodox Church itself. If one says that “Catholics believe…” one must refer to the liturgy, the councils, and the catechism of the Catholic Church itself. Neither adding more nor less to either. If one says “Evangelicals believe…” there is nothing to refer to and so misrepresentation is always bound to happen when presenting Evangelicals. I sincerely try my best to accurately represent Evangelicals and so apologies to any Evangelical Christian who feels I have misrepresented what Evangelicals believe in this article.