Friday, May 23, 2014

How we like to see ourselves. . .

Have you noticed that some of those church bodies most committed to ecumenical engagement are also bleeding off members like nobody's business?  I would point to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which has a grand ecumenical vision which basically says not only will we talk to anybody but we will agree that none of our disagreements are in the way of inter-communion.  Yet the ELCA has dropped by double digits over its brief life of 25 or so years.  Internal conflict, divergent opinions, and a lack of concern for those who disagree with their progressive stance have left it the shell of what it once was.  Interestingly they show no sign of holding back the ecumenical engagement despite two major schisms (NALC and LCMC).

Or take a look at the World Communion of Reformed Churches.  The Presbyterian Church USA is experiencing its fourth split in the past 75 years and is a shell of its former self.  Perhaps it can be said that they find it easier to agree with others than with themselves?!?

The ecumenical vision of the 1960s-1980s has largely evaporated and seems a somewhat spent force, its institutions in retreat and its accomplishments marred by conflict and "downsizing".  It is the mythology that minimizing disagreements is the path to honest unity that has suffered the most.  To be sure, it does not lack in vocal and substantial support from those who find division a greater scandal than heresy or apostasy, but the mythology has been exposed enough to cause serious Christian folk to question the grand plan.

In the face of image branding and the transformation of the church into a consumer driven entity, the Gospel and all its articles have seemingly been driven off center stage.  These ecumenically oriented Protestant entities seem determined to compete for the same declining market share and demographic.  Though all of these groups are involved in what they define as outreach or evangelistic efforts, those end up being largely media campaigns that seem to argue more against dogma than for conversion.  Take for example the Methodist's "open door, open hearts, open minds" campaign or the ELCA's "God's work, our hands" or "There's a place for you here."  How does the PCUSA's slogan "The Presbyterian Church -- Here and Now!" win folks over?  No, we have made doctrine into a bad word, attempted to offer versions of ourselves to appeal to every personal taste and preference, and mined the vast expanse of marketing choices only to find this segment of Christianity still in decline.

It makes you wonder how different the American church scene might be if every denomination poured all of this energy and money into searching the Scriptures to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified?  Or how things might look if they cared as much about truth that endures forever as they did competing for market share and the almighty dollar? 

I belong to a church body not known for its pursuit of the grand ecumenical vision.  Some complain that we are thoroughly insular in our relationships with other Christians.  We have not exactly fared great with our own fornication with generic evangelicalism either.  But I cannot help but wonder if those who make fun of us are really pursuing the grand plan of Jesus (John 17 not withstanding).  I lament the weak and fragile unity promoted in the name of Christ and I long for real engagement on the basis of God's Word and true evangelical and catholic tradition that have surrounded that Word from the get go.  I certainly wish my church body would do more of this honest ecumenism but, all in all, if I had to choose I would choose disengagement over the engagement of the liberal Christian bodies.  Truth to be told, I would be happy if we simply got all our own people on the same page.


Anonymous said...

Somebody said long ago, "when you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything."

The ecumenical spirit is evidently based on standing for nothing, absolutely nothing, other than reaching out. There is no doubt that we need to reach out, but we need to hold on to what we have, unless, of course, that happens to be nothing solid at all.

These ecumenical structures are built upon sand.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Paul said...

Grace Under Pressure: The Way of Meekness in Ecumenical Relations, by Martin Franzmann and F. Dean Lueking, opened my eyes to what Biblical ecumenism really is and how it applies to the Church at all levels - from local congregation to separated communions. Can't guarantee that it can be found for the $1.95 price on the back cover of my copy, but it is a little gem from the CPH vaults.