For some, the title of this post will be a head-scratcher. What is ecumenism? What does it mean to be ecumenical? For some, the title of this post might require a trigger warning. For some, there is a growing suspicion in your mind that this might be a mid-week post that you can skip. Please don’t skip this post!
Two Dangers – At least!
Ecumenism is a term that usually describes some form of cooperation between religious sects or denominations that disagree or are different in some substantive way. Within Christian churches, there is sometimes a recurring cycle. In each generation, there are some who become weary of those whose passion for doctrine causes infighting with others who should be allies. These individuals tend to want to minimize differences and gloss over errors. Then, sometimes, the next generation sees the lack of confessional fortitude in their forebearers and leans back toward a passion for doctrine.
One generation may be passionate about doctrine. This is a good thing. However, it seems inevitable that some individuals will give in to the temptation to go beyond disagreement with others and give in to a contemptuous spirit towards those with whom they disagree. We human beings are sinners, and there will always be those who fall into error on one side of the road or the other. The error that is a temptation for those who are passionate about doctrine is not their passion for doctrine. The natural temptation for those passionate about doctrine is to correct others with impatience and disdain, murdering their character when they won’t agree with us. Therefore, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy on how we ought to correct others. “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2)
In the next generation, these attacks on the character of those with whom our forebearers disagree will sound hollow. Why are we denigrating these people? We are almost completely alike. What I want to point out is that the reaction is not about doctrinal disagreement. The reaction is about the rejection and demonization of the people with whom we disagree. In this generation, there is often an organic initiative to connect with other faith traditions and find common ground. Within the Christian Church, this looks like Christians from Roman Catholic backgrounds getting together with Christians from Baptist backgrounds and Christians with Lutheran backgrounds, and on and on. The nature of these associations can be anything from just getting to know one another to working together on some community project or another.
In this context, the temptation is different. The temptation is to look back at the previous generation and blame their passion for doctrine. Suddenly, doctrine becomes a bad word, and “simple faith” becomes the word of the day. The only problem with this is that a church whose battle cry is “doctrine divides” will soon find itself without any foundation for believing anything that is different from the culture around it. Eventually, the church will no longer stand as an embassy of the Kingdom of God on earth. Instead, it will merely reflect the world that it is supposed to change.
What Should We Think Of Ecumenism Then?
This kind of Ecumenism is indeed a church killer. If we reject our confession of faith in the interest of cooperation with others, then we lose our saltiness in the world. We no longer preserve our world, but instead, we become part of the decay. If this is the last word on Ecumenism, then we should be done with it and keep to ourselves. However, remember from the discussion above that the problem with passion for doctrine is not passion for doctrine but sinful human pride. The problem with cooperation is not cooperation but sinful human compromise. Let us not reject passion for doctrine. Let us reject sinful human pride. Let us not reject cooperation. Let us reject sinful human compromise.
What is needed is a passion for doctrine that is matched by a passion for patience and love in disagreement. What is needed is cooperation in every way possible that is matched by a patient and loving rejection of anything that would require compromise. In order to accomplish this, we should cooperate with as many other churches as we can with prudence and wisdom. Would pastors of The Road share a teaching platform with a Roman Catholic bishop where there was an implication of shared doctrinal teaching? No. We are convinced by the Bible that salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, that our authority is Scripture alone, and that everything is for the glory of God alone. On the other hand, would pastors of The Road share a teaching platform with a Presbyterian minister with whom we disagree on the right practice of baptism? Yes.
Christians must use prudence to determine which doctrinal differences are of first-tier importance where we must maintain a distinction between Christian and non-Christian teaching, which doctrinal differences are of second-tier importance where we are free to disagree as Christians but may be hindered in our worship if we serve in the same local expression of the Body of Christ, and which doctrinal differences are of third-tier importance where we must insist on maintaining unity across disagreement even within the same local church.
Let’s Be Confessional And Cooperative.
As confessional Christians, we maintain that the nature of biblical truth requires that we confess our settled interpretational stances even on disagreed-upon topics for the whole world to hear. We do not think that we are right about everything, but we don’t know where we are wrong. Therefore, we must take a stand on truth and be correctable by the Word of God. We should seek to avoid both errors, sinful human pride, and sinful human compromise.
In the spirit of prudent cooperation, The Road prays for other churches. We do not put a doctrinal limit on which churches we will pray for. If there is a church in our circles that teaches doctrinal error, we can gladly pray that God will bless that church through biblical revival and reformation. If there is a church in our circles with whom we agree on almost everything, we can gladly pray that God will bless that church through biblical revival and reformation.
In that same spirit of prudent cooperation, The Road coordinates with other local churches for certain cooperative events like the Back-To-School Prayer Night that will happen this coming Monday. I cannot personally vouch for the doctrine of all the churches that may participate in this event. However, we believe that wisdom, in this case, is that we can pray for our local schools with other believers even if we don’t agree on all points of doctrine. This is not a time when our participation implies full agreement.
Therefore, I want to encourage everyone who is part of The Road Church, whether you are a regular attender or a covenant member, to schedule time to pray for the teachers and students at our local schools this Monday evening. Also, if you can make it work, I want to encourage you to join me as I physically gather with other churches in prayer for the teachers and students at our local schools.
See you Sunday!
In Christ Alone,