The seeds of ecumenism were sown after the famous World Missionary Conference, 1910 at Edinburg. But it consisted of only Protestant mission groups. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches were not part of it. In 1948 the first conference of the World Council of Churches was met at Amsterdam, Netherlands with participation of Orthodox Churches, but Roman Catholics abstained from it. It was only after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Roman Catholic Church started sending observers to the WCC. Pope John XXIII, declared as a saint of Roman Catholic Church, took courage to call the non-Roman Catholic Christians as "separated brethren". On my visit to Vatican I spent a few minutes in front of the tomb of St. Pope John 23rd, I felt like the spirit of that saint engulfing me. Such great saints are the assets for the Kingdom of God who could really perceive the will of God. Ecumenism has climbed a much higher pedestal these days bringing understanding between Churches.
Even now Ecumenism is a discussion activity among the top ranks. It has not yet permeated into grassroots level. The common people elect their leaders to take part in union negotiations and unity programs. The leaders are so enthusiastic about those meetings. They waste a lot of money of such organizations like WCC and National Council of Churches all over the world. However, their hands are tied up in propagating the mission of ecumenism to the common people. Because official position of many member Churches is anti-ecumenical, these representatives can hardly bring the message of unity and ways of cooperation to the common people. The common man has no idea on what is happening at the top! Unless true work is done at the grass root level, ecumenism will remain as a dream for ever.
SOME RELEVANT FACTORS:
Faith and Order:
The famous quotation known in the ecumenical circles is, "Faith divides but work unites". It is known to all that there is difference in matters of faith. It is interesting to note that these differences are not on the fundamentals of Christian faith. The faith in Holy Trinity, the Incarnation and salvific act of Jesus Christ, the work of Holy Spirit in the Church are not contested because almost all Christians have these fundamentals. May be the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witness and some other splinter groups may have slight variation. Even then the revelation of God in Christ is not denied by anyone. Even if there is common agreement on the fundamentals, many mainland Churches have established doctrines like Intercession of Saints, Auricular Confession, Prayer for the departed, Episcopal authority and so on as fundamentals. It is in the line of these doctrines that the ecumenical dialogs are concentrated. And for that reason alone agreement on those things will never happen. Unless those non-fundamentals are set aside a proper unity will not be achieved. The Church leaders must understand that the primarily every Christian should believe in Holy Trinity, the person of Christ and the work of Holy Spirit and great their activity around that faith. Unfortunately, the mainland Churches will not concede on many of the doctrinal positions as they are tied to their temporal priorities! The attitude of Pope John 23rd will help us to re-evaluate our stand in the Churches as a member and define our relationship to other Christians as "separated brethren" and so our mission as a Christian will not change.
Life and Work:
Life and Work department of WCC concentrated on the response to human needs around the world. Here cooperation was much easier to join hands and solve human issues like social justice, food, shelter, clothes, health and so on. This became a huge initiative in the ecumenical circle. "Love your neighbor like yourself" was understood well in this area of the ecumenical work. Because there were no much doctrinal issues involved, the cooperation in this area was much easier. That is a great consolation. However, doing a few charity works is not the goal of a Christian community. It is far beyond that. We need very powerful love of Christ in is us to join hands more deeply in the local areas to prove to the other people that we are united because we are Christians. If we are joined together poverty can be eradicated from the world.
Understanding Priorites in the Ecumenism:
On the website of the WCC we see this statement, "It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed to his followers, 'so that the world may believe.' [St. John 17:21]" The WCC visualizes the noblest level of understanding among Christians on earth. When Jesus prayed for unity, it was not simply the unity among the disciples, but the entire world. The very fact of incarnation was aimed at uniting the world to one family. The unfulfilled dream with Jewish community as God's 'own' people was to be realized in the Christian community. Indeed, the Christian community showed signs of that initially. As we see the Acts of the Apostles [Act. 2:44-45, 4:32] there was one mind, one faith and everything pooled and lived as one community. The Bible says that there was none who was in poverty. If the entire world was converted to this kind of Christianity, the entire world would have succeeded in eradicating poverty in the world. But this vision was lost in the 4th century itself and there is no hope now with present state of affairs to revive the Church to that status.
The Identy Question:
Today the vision of the Church leadership is not to unite the Christian world but to keep each one's identity and independence protecting its own riches. Many leaders are afraid that by an open arms ideology many Churches would lose its membership and consequently income. Many are afraid that their power and authority will be lost. The present-day Church does not have Christ centered vision inspired by the Holy Spirit where each one can understand other's language! Survival in the worldly way is the primary goal. This is against the prayer of Christ for the unity of the followers. Hence the present world cannot accept the ideals of Christ because those ideals are only seen in action by His followers rather they are only in books. The new generation's attraction to independent congregations all over the world is an indication that people are frustrated with the frame work, mission and goal of the mainland Churches. It is very clear to us all that each Church or denomination is concentrating on its own infra structure within which the mission of Christ is meager. The bulk of money spent in understanding the mission and attempting to bring together all Christian forces and bring Christ to the people? The unity alone will be a great witness to those who live around us as we read in St. John's Gospel 13:35. "By this all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another".
Unless there is a rethinking among the leaders to bring the unity awareness to the common people, ecumenism will also stay in the books, not in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. Jesus said, "Truly, truly I tell you unless the grain of the wheat falls in the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (St. John 12:24) The false identity that each denomination claims has to die and the identity in Christ should resurrect in order to make ecumenism a life style than a concept. We should read the writing on the wall as seen in several countries where from Christianity was wiped away. They had built huge edifices and amassed wealth but all those were taken away, Churches became museums, people were threatened or attracted to leave their faith and there was no faith in the people to hold on Christ. Secularism has become the norm of the time now and no one is attracted to Christ seeing the wrong witness of Christians. A divine alternative is not sought by people.
It is urgent that we Christians loose our worldly identity and acquire Christian identity that we can save not only the people but the entire earth from destruction. Unless we are united we cannot change the world from destruction. All wars, competition on trade and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction will end if we are united to spread the love of Christ to the world. Also, in our unity our voice will be heard loudly. The common man is looking forward to a practical way of witnessing Christ than a philosophical or theological assertion declares by the leaders. There should be encouragement from the leadership to engage the common people in all kinds of ecumenical initiatives to foster closer relationship with one another than highlighting difference and crate rift among Christians. What is our goal is life? Do we want unity or hatred? I hope that the common people will think loudly to build our relationship with one another in the Spirit of Christ so that ecumenism will become a reality than a dream.