Ecumenism and Jesus Christ

G’day faithful readers.

Well, last night I filled out the feedback form for the first half of this conference, and they seem to have read it. My central concern was, and remains the central problem I see with the ecumenical movement. The problem, however, engenders multiple responses from followers of Jesus Christ.

In the first place, the problem. The ecumenical movement is an attempt to bring together the many disparate belief structures that all call themselves Christian, and provide a forum where they can discuss their differences. As I found out at yesterday’s session, however, most involved in the ecumenical movement fail to see eangelical perspectives generally, and definitely do not see the minority positions in evangelicalism. Many assume that the issues we discuss are at least based on a similar paradigm of belief, which they clearly are not.

I see all people as naturally in rebellion to God, constantly seeking a spirituality that can fulfill the hole in our own souls left by that rebellion with whatever we can. While we have in our hearts the imprint of God, we most often seek to go against that. Jesus came and lived a sinless life, taking the punishment I so richly deserve for MY sin, and leaving me standing in His righteousness instead,

Many people who self-identify as Christian simply do not believe this. In large measure they seem to see the problem as one of education, believing that if we see the right things, we will naturally choose to do the right. They deny that we are blind, and willfully sinful unless God somehow opens our eyes. They claim that all humans are created God’s children, while I would say that those who are in Christ are adopted as God’s children. These differing views of the human condition, of the pervasiveness of sin, and of the central role of Jesus Christ all make dialogue very difficult between what are termed (for lack of better terms) liberal and conservative members of the earthly institutions we call Church. I think that the planners of the conference I am now attending have forgotten how difficult that is (if indeed some ever knew). That lack of understanding of the depth of the disagreement means that some, like the learned keynote lecturer of last evening, begin to make statements based on assumptions that may not be held by those in their presence. Indeed, some would even say that people like me are the oppressor, and must change my ways.

But what is a believer in Jesus Christ to do? As I attend this conference, and engage in dialogue, some may come to believe that I affirm the Christianity of those who accept Jesus as a prophet, or a minor part of Christianity, or a major part that is present in other religions through their central figures. I don’t believe that, and indeed, I believe that an ecumenical conference like this one is already an inter-faith dialogue. I simply do not affirm that all those present here are Christian, and while I do not openly tell them to repent and believe the Gospel in so many words, that is what I believe in many cases. There seem to be two religions (at least) at play here. One is Christianity, where I am saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and the mercy God purchased for me in Christ. The other is a slightly baptized belief in salvation by works, of justice by the work of humanity, this latter religion is not Christian, regardless of the fact that many who believe it self identify as Christian.

So do I continue to apparently reaffirm the delusion that this false religion is Christianity? Well, there’s another thing to consider.

The people who believe these things are people created in the image of God, and to be frank, I love them. I believe that the wrath of God continues on those who do not accept the Jesus of scripture, so that means that they will perish in their own sin. Unless they turn to Jesus, these people with whom I laugh and speak and discuss will die. And how will they hear unless someone preaches?

Of course, there is the problem that it is the fees my school pays to send me here that leads to the speakers that seem to deny Christ, and focus on derivative parts of the Gospel to the point that they ignore the central point of the Gospel (God). Do I support that evil for the sake of being here to preach truth to those around me? All the while, unsure of how they would take it if they read this blog entry that denies that some of them are Christian. Does this somehow go against the minimum level of respect for ecumenism?

At the basis, I guess my question is simple. Is ecumenism the willingness to talk between different groups who claim the name “Christian”, and share and learn from one another, hopefully thus bringing us all closer to God, or is ecumenism the meeting between people who are willing to see each other as already unified in Christ, whether we claim Him as Lord or not?

The latter is, to me a lie, while the former is an opening to preach the Gospel.

Any thoughts?

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.