Romans 10:9-13 NIV If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Whenever Christians gather for a prayer breakfast, a vigil, or a joint celebration, they are being ecumenical. Ecumenism means that Christians of all types are part of the great company of faith.
Ecumenism is different from interfaith relationships. The two are completely different. Ecumenism is about valuing the denominational differences within the boundaries of Christianity, say between Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches. Interfaith, on the other hand, involves conversations with faiths outside of Christianity.
According to a poll conducted by Gordon Conwell University in Essex, MA, in 2013 there was roughly 43,000 Christian denominations throughout the world. That estimate was projected to grow by 55,000 by 2025. If this is true, there are close to 100,000 Christian denominations today. This doesn't include the thousands of non-denomational churches and groups.
Each denomination and group contain some unique characteristics. To be ecumenical means that we value such differences. To be ecumenical means that the differences between Christian denominations strengthen the Church’s witness throughout the world.
Having said this, how is being ecumenical related to Christ’s desire of unity among all believers.
John 17:11 NIV I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Or Paul’s desire to “allow no divisions among you”
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NIV I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
If unity is the call of Christ, how do we reconcile this with all differences that exist between all the denominations within the church today? How do Christians know if a difference in belief or practice disrupts the unity of the church, or if it is to be valued and accepted?
Ecumenical Difference Does Not Mean Division
Paul painted a picture of the Body of Christ, the Church, operating like that of a human body with each part being important in the way that the body functions and thrives. The differences between the members of Christ’s body support and enhance the Church’s common life and witness.
1 Corinthians 12:12-21 NIV Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
While Christians are called to be united, we are not called to all be the same. We all have different temperaments, styles, and preferences. This means that people will naturally congregate for worship with others who have the same preferences and style of worship. For example, some Christians choose to worship through traditional music, robed choirs, and formal liturgies. Others prefer a more contemporary style with drums and guitars. No one style is right and the other wrong, it simply highlights various ways of worshiping the same Jesus Christ.
Being ecumenical is to recognize the fundamental unity which binds each denomination together and, that is worship of Jesus Christ. Being ecumenical is to celebrate the various ways that all Christian denominations engage in one unifying activity, the activity of exalting the name of Jesus.
Unity in Christ is stronger than any human-based difference. To be ecumenical is to be radically centered on Jesus.
Galatians 3:26-29 NIV So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Unity in the church is not realized through any human structure, style, or standard. It doesn’t matter if we all worship in the same way as long as we worship the Triune God. It doesn’t matter if someone is Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, non-denomination or whatever. The center of faith remains the same, and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what binds all Christians together.
Ecumenical People Still Discern
Do Christians blindly accept any doctrine, idea, or practice? Do ecumenical people simply accept one another without godly discernment? Absolutely Not! Being ecumenical is not contrary to diligent thought or discernment about the faith. “Ecumenical” does not mean “relative.”
Ecumenism takes the gospel seriously. Ecumenical theology, therefore, does not dismiss the foundational truths of the faith. In fact, it upholds them, promotes them, and stands upon them. We are reminded throughout scripture to be aware of false teachers and false teaching.
Matthew 7:15-20 NIV “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
1 John 4:1-3 NIV Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
Be warned that not every group, denomination, or church gathering that claims to be preaching and following the gospel is doing so. Some of these people blatantly reject essential doctrines of the Christian faith. If, for example, a denomination or group does not accept the Trinity, then that denomination or church is not Christian. This is both a theological fact, as well a historical one.
The church is built on the revelation that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any denomination or “church” that denies the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is fundamentally directly opposed to the gospel. To suggest that Jesus is “a lesser god” or “a first creation”, “just a story”, or not God is simply not in line with biblical or historical Christian teaching.
To be a Christian you must be ecumenical. Otherwise, we would be suggesting that our own personal brand of faith is the exclusive way to be a Christian. We would require that others must pray like us, worship like us, think like us, and serve like us. But if we are all the same there is, as Paul writes no body at all.
1 Corinthians 12:14, 20 NIV Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
Being ecumenical means that we take the doctrines of our faith very seriously. It means we work with one another to strengthen our witness, and to glorify Jesus in this world.
When you get to heaven, God isn’t going to ask about your church denomination. He’s more likely to ask, “What did you do with what I gave you?
Mark 16:15 NCV Jesus said to his followers, “Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone.