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Ecumenical Movement.

1. The Ecumenical Movement, a major 20th c. ecclesiastical development, is a many-sided effort to overcome existing divisions in the ch. and to manifest the unity of the ch. as the body of Christ. It finds its text in Jesus' prayer: “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee.” (Jn 17:21)

2. Though the term “Ecumenical Movement” is applied to a 20th c. development, the phenomenon that it describes has always been present in the ch. Even before Christians were separated into major denominational families the ch. put forth considerable effort to maintain unity in the face of heresy and schism; unity was a primary purpose of the early ecumenical councils (see Councils and Synods, 4). After the ch. split into E and W (see Schism, 6) there were several unsuccessful attempts at reunion, culminating at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, 1438–39 (see Basel, Council of).

3. At the time of the Reformation and afterward numerous efforts to overcome resulting fragmentation of the ch. were gen. unsuccessful in healing the breach bet. RCs, Luths., Ref., and Anglicans. In 19th-c. Protestantism there were several major unitive efforts: the Prussian* Union of 1817 and other instances of Luth.-Ref. union; Angl. efforts to est. intercommunion with other chs.; voluntary movements that united Christians of all denominations increasingly interested in the miss., educ., and moral concerns of the ch.; the Evangelical* Alliance, an assoc. of individuals committed to basic ev. theol. and opposition to RCm; the formation of world fellowships.

4. In the 20th c., concern for ch. unity developed into a full-fledged, comprehensive movement that affected all chs., including those that remained outside ecumenical organizations (e.g., the RC Ch., LCMS, S Baps.). The Ecumenical Movement is composed of many movements, including efforts to unite Christians for miss. work, Christian service, and theol. discussions. It tries to bring Christians of separate denominations together in councils, agencies, and federations and achieve organic union both bet. chs. of the same denomination and bet. those of different denominations. The movement reaches also beyond ecumenical organizations into theol. dialog and other exchanges bet. local groups of Christians.

5. Impetus for the modern Ecumenical Movement can be traced to the 1910 World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh. The Ecumenical Movement arose from the miss. movement; the church's concern for miss. has nurtured the concern for unity. The Edinburgh conf. was a consultative assem. that brought together delegates of miss. socs. at work in non-Christian lands. It was the result of a demonstrated need for cooperation in carrying out the church's miss.; from it flowed 3 main streams of ecumenical activity: cooperation in missions, discussions of faith and order, and a common concern to apply the Christian faith to practical problems.

6. From a continuation committee est. by the 1910 conf. the Internat.* Missionary Council emerged 1921 under leadership of John Raleigh Mott (1865–1955), chm. of the 1910 conf. and a dominant figure in the Ecumenical Movement in its 1st decades. Composed of official representatives of miss. associations, the Internat. Miss. Council served as an agency for coordination and cooperation on miss. fields, for study of common miss. problems, and for counsel to missionaries and miss. chs. It sponsored several miss. conferences and was integrated with the WCC 1961 as its Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

7. Episc. miss.-bp. Charles Henry Brent (1862–1929) came away from the 1910 Edinburgh conf. convinced that it was time for chs. to take up issues of faith and order in an attempt to resolve differences. Under his leadership the Prot. Episc. Ch. in the US extended an invitation to all chs. of the world to join in sponsoring a World Conference on Faith and Order. WW I and post-war problems delayed the conf., held 1927 at Lausanne. It brought together official representatives of all major denominations except RC, to discuss uniting and dividing issues for the 1st time.

8. The success of the Lausanne Conf. initiated the Faith and Order Movement, which tries to bring official ch. representatives together for systematic theol. discussion. Other world confs. on Faith and Order: Edinburgh 1937, Lund 1952, Montreal 1963. The Faith and Order Movement was absorbed by the WCC 1948. Faith and Order confs. demonstrated both how much unity in faith exists and how great the difficulty is in resolving differences in faith and order.

9. The 1910 Edinburgh conf. showed that cooperation bet. Christians is possible despite division. Some held that chs. should cooperate in areas other than miss. In 1914 threat of major war led to formation of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship Through the Churches. At the close of WW I this organization led the way in bringing ch. representatives together for consideration of other internat. and soc. problems. A conference on Life and Work was held 1920 Geneva. Under leadership of Luth. Abp. N. Söderblom* of Uppsala, a Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work was held in Stockholm 1925 to encourage Christian cooperation in treating soc. ills. Under the assumption that Christians could and should cooperate in works of love and service despite differences in faith, the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work was organized a few yrs. later (name adopted 1930) to strengthen the fellowship of chs. in the application of Christian ethics to modern soc. problems. A 2d Conf. on Life and Work was held at Oxford 1937 to deal with ch-state problems.

10. It soon became evident that the Faith and Order and the Life and Work movements needed to be more closely related. Leadership in both was often the same; theol. differences often were at the root of differences in how to deal with soc. and internat. problems. Therefore the 1937 Faith and Order and Life and Work confs. recommended formation of a World* Council of Churches incorporating the activity of both movements. Delayed by WW II, the WCC came into being 1948 at Amsterdam with a membership of 147 Prot., Episc., Luth., and E Orthodox chs.

11. The WCC works through an Assem. consisting of official representatives of mem. chs. The Assem. meets ca. every 6 yrs. Assemblies since Amsterdam: Evanston, Illinois, 1954; New Delhi 1961; Uppsala, Sweden, 1968. Between assemblies WCC affairs are handled by a Central Committee of ca. 100. The WCC has 3 commissions: The Commission on Faith and Order, which holds confs, for theol. discussion; The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, which continues in a new form the work of the Life and Work movement; The Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, which incorporates the concerns and activity of the former Internat. Miss. Council.

12. The Ecumenical Movement is broader and more diverse than the WCC It includes less official — but influential — internat. and interdenominational organizations, e.g., the Young* Men's Christian Association and the Young* Women's Christian Association, the Student* Christian Movement, and the World* Council of Christian Education and Sunday School Association. As counterpart of efforts to unite Christians in world organizations, local and nat. councils of chs. have been formed. The NCC was organized 1950, incorporating the Federal* Council of the Churches of Christ in America and other agencies of cooperation (see Union Movements, 13).

13. A major phase of the Ecumenical Movement is the effort to bring about organic union of separated chs. Too many mergers have taken place since 1910 to mention in detail. Merger efforts in gen. have been successful in bringing together separate chs. within a denominational family. The est. and the United Free ch. of Scot. merged 1929; the major Meth. chs. of the US united 1939; several mergers produced The American* Lutheran Church 1960 and the Lutheran* Church in America 1962.

14. Some important mergers have crossed denominational lines. In 1925 the United ch. of Can. resulted from mergers of 40 bodies after 19 acts of union (see Canada, C). In 1947 the Church* of South India was formed out of Angl., Meth., Presb., Cong., and Ev. components, a notable union because of its disposition of the episcopacy question. In Ger. in 1948 Luth., Ref., and union chs. est. a fed., the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD Ev. ch. in Ger.), which does not, however, include intercommunion (see Union Movements, 8–9). In the US a Consultation on Church Union has brought representatives of major Prot. chs. together to consider organic union.

15. For decades the RC Ch. remained aloof from the Ecumenical Movement. It declined an invitation to take part in the Lausanne Conf. on Faith and Order; in 1928 Pius XI (see Popes, 32) stated in effect in the encyclical Mortalium Animos that the one way to unity was through return to the RC Ch.; RCs were forbidden to attend the Amsterdam Assem. of the WCC 1948.

16. Vatican* Council II produced a major change in attitude toward the Ecumenical Movement among RCs John XXIII (see Popes, 34) stated that Christian unity was one of the major aims of the Council and invited other chs. to send official observers, calling non-RC Christians “separated brothers.” Official RC observers attended the 1961 WCC Assem. at New Delhi. The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, est. 1960, became an instrument for directing ecumenical discussion. As a result of the action of pope and council, RCs everywhere entered the Ecumenical Movement. Though the RC Ch. has not become part of any major ecumenical organizations, it has developed an approach to dialog with the WCC and the Lutheran* World Federation and engages in considerable dialog on a local level.

17. Involvement of the RC Ch. in the Ecumenical Movement has important implications for the future of the movement. RC participation raises new problems and new possibilities as chs. continue efforts for unity.

A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517–1948, ed. R. Rouse and S. C. Neill (Philadelphia, 1954); N. Goodall, The Ecumenical Movement (London, 1961); S. McC. Cavert, On the Road to Christian Unity (New York, 1961); W. R. Hogg, Ecumenical Foundations: A History of the International Missionary Council And Its Nineteenth-Century Background (New York, 1952) and One World, One Mission (New York, 1960); J. T. McNeill, Unitive Protestantism, rev. ed. (Richmond, Virginia, 1964). JHT

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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