As we approached the Third Millennium, we heard clergy from all Christian faiths calling for a greater discovery of both our similarities and differences.
Many years ago, Vatican II said that it was important for Christians of all denominations and traditions to reach out to one another with respect and openness. But in the real world, are all those nice words and ideas falling on deaf ears or are people taking them to heart and attempting to make them a reality?
The opposite of ecumenism is narcissism, a turning in on oneself. If a person calls themselves a Christian but refuses to give that title to someone else who wants to use it, are they asserting that Jesus only died for a few?
Very sadly, Christ's body is still not one. We are exposed to many interpretations of the one true God. There is a Billy Graham god, a Mother Angelica god, an Oral Roberts god, a Jerry Falwell god and a thousand other gods. Unfortunately, many people are willing to embrace the concept of ecumenism as long as everyone else accepts their interpretation of God.
Then there are the labels to identify Christians. Pentecostal, evangelical, orthodox, Baptist, charismatic, apostolic, Catholic and many, many others. Do these words create understanding and unity or divisiveness and confusion.
Many fear that the goal of ecumenism is to make everyone the same. In scripture, Galatians differed from Corinthians who differed from the Romans but they still seemed to have at least one thing in common. A faith that interpreted life through the unique person of Jesus Christ. If God inspired such diversity and unity in the Bible, why couldn't God do likewise in todays church.
I believe that dialogue among various Christian traditions will be an important part of the Third Millennium church. The fruit that this dialogue bears will be slow at first as we attempt to establish areas of commonality and points of difference.
Our goals must be to learn, grow and act. All participants must approach ecumenical dialogue with honesty and trust without prejudgement. This takes place only between equals trying to experience the others tradition from within.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, evangelization is not the same as proselytizing. Deliberate proselytizing is dishonest, damaging and contrary to ecumenical dialogue.
Ecumenism might be like the following analogy. Try to imagine the largest, brightest, most brilliantly cut diamond in the world. As times passes, people from all over come to appreciate its beauty. Some see the diamond in the morning, some at midday, some at dusk, some on sunny days and some when it rains. Some people are hungry when they see the diamond while others are full. Some people are poor and others are rich. Many are young while others are middle age or old.
At some point all of them return home to describe the diamond to their friends in their own language and in their own way. Then those friends tell others about the diamond and so on. Years later those friends of friends of the people who saw the diamond get together. They try to learn more about the beauty of the diamond from one another.
In this analogy truth is absolute. There was and is only one diamond. But truth is also relational, for different people perceived and described the diamond differently.
Ecumenism: Who Cares? I Do!
Glenn Harmon © 2002