from the Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey
Ecumenism is an attempt to develop relationships among the various Christian churches. This undertaking is open-ended and its long-term goal is ideally the unification on earth of the universal Church, which is the body of Christ. Attempts to determine the character of this unity, how it will be formed, its limitations, principles and common beliefs, are proceeding at both international and local levels through various events and dialogues, with the participation of all Christian denominations and churches. That is why ecumenism is best seen as a “movement” toward harmony among churches rather than as an ideology with clearly defined boundaries and objectives.
In the past century, especially in the last half of the twentieth century, this movement has made great progress. Clergy who thought of themselves as rivals and enemies in the past have now come to a point of openness where they can pray together. However, it has not yet reached the level of all believers meeting together under a single homogenous umbrella of faith, coming together as one church with organic and administrative unity.
As dialogue advances, it is evident that such an ideal will be realized at the second coming of Christ. Until that time, churches demonstrating their good intentions for such unity and actively participating in dialogue for unity are an evidence of the Christian faith. For this unity is the greatest desire of our Lord Jesus Christ for those who follow Him.
A revival of faith for unity
In this connection, emphasizing the universality and the unity of Christ’s Church is a revival of faith and a new advance for every Christian. Throughout the ages, true Christians have been troubled and pained by the divided condition of the Church. Indeed, we are all sadly aware that something is missing from our life of faith and that something of Christ’s fullness is diminished.
It is the will of God that first the believers and then the whole of humankind may be delivered from division and be united as a harmonious whole. So this is the most fundamental call for us as Christians and as churches. It is for this purpose that God sent His only Son into the world, so that through His death and resurrection a new Spirit of unity would be given to humankind.
A relationship of love and unity in Christ
On the Day of Pentecost, the spirit of love, which is the cement for this kind of unity, began to be poured out on the world and to be active in the world. In His prayer to His Heavenly Father on the eve of the day when he offered His life on the cross as a ransom, the Lord Jesus asked that all of His disciples and all His followers that believed in Him would be “one” in a relationship of love (John 17). For this reason, then, every Christian should show a positive attitude toward the peace, harmony and fellowship that will move churches toward unity and should support this movement with active participation and prayer.
We already can taste and experience spiritual unity
One dimension of our effort for unity is also eschatological; that is to say, it is a foreshadowing of and preparation for the perfect order that awaits us in heaven. Those worthy to sit at the feast of paradise, which our Heavenly Father has prepared for His own children, will attain a fellowship of perfect unity and love. We all desire to sit at that table. So, it is only natural that, while we are still in this world, we should move in that direction, opening our sails to perfect unity and love. As a symbol of ecumenism, the sailboat that will carry us into the harbor is our Lord Jesus Christ’s one and only universal, holy Church founded by the apostles. His universal Church is like a big tree that has taken root, branched out and sprouted in all nations of the world. We are like branches that appear separated from that magnificent tree; yet, through such ecumenical relations, we have become increasingly aware of our unity and roots in the Lord; furthermore, we are already tasting and experiencing spiritual unity, even if only to a limited extent.
We should not regard these efforts toward Christian unity as a luxury or excess. This unity should form an inseparable part of every Christian’s spiritual life. The difficulties we experience and the delay in our efforts toward unity should not discourage us or shake our faith in the ecumenical movement. No matter how impossible reaching perfect unity in this world may seem, our focus should always remain on that goal. It is not we, but the Lord who will accomplish it; and He will accomplish it in His time and in His way. We should also never forget that the future of our earth depends on how well the human race manages to live in peace. Establishment of Christian unity and fellowship could become an example to the whole world. The way our unity, love and fellowship solves issues of separation and division could present a striking example for all of humanity.
Pray for the love and peace of the Holy Spirit
Every Christian who prays, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 0), should know well that the desire of God, who is love, is a world and humanity where peace and fellowship reign. As fellow churches, we beseech the Lord for the spiritual sickness that continually produces war and violence, which we cannot solve on our own. Taking refuge in His great power to perform miracles, we appeal to his eternal mercy on this wounded and broken world for peace and fellowship. May the heavenly Lord open the gates of his mercy and nurture all human hearts with the love and peace of the Holy Spirit! Only then will peace on earth blossom for all people and all nations!
A Final Word
The most important condition for unity and peace is to maintain an attitude that prioritizes principles that unite rather than divide us. One of the most effective ways to move toward unity is to determine, express and declare our mutual beliefs in Christ. With this small book, we have aimed to do just this.
Without hesitation, we see every church and believer who approves of the fundamental principles and doctrines of faith in this book, as fellow-heirs of salvation in Jesus Christ, considering them as our “brothers” and “sisters.” Although the common foundation of faith expressed in this book may not yet be enough for the perfect and ideal Christian unity (namely, communion), they nevertheless constitute a serious step forward that should not be minimized in any way. The historical texture and ecumenical richness of Istanbul has made such an enterprise possible. Therefore, we ask God to bless this sincere effort as we dedicate this book, with the participation and approval of our city’s principle churches, to the unity of all believers, with the hope that it will prove a source of inspiration for all those who read it.
This article is excerpted from Christianity: Fundamental Teachings, pages 91-95, copyright © The Joint Commission of the Churches in Turkey. Book is available from Amazon.com.
See related topics from the Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey
- The Holy Spirit Completes the Work of Christ
- Christianity: Fundamental Teachings
- Christian Witness: Growing in Unity
Top image credit: Composite illustration of Cross and dramatic sky from Bigstock.com, © by rolffimages, stock ID: 16038023, with quote from Matthew 6:10 added.
Arch priest Father Drtad Uzunyan, is the vice president of the Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey. He is a member of the religious council of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey and Executive officer for inter church relations. He also serves on the CHARIS “Christian Unity Commission” (CUC) for the purpose of promoting and working for unity of the body of Christ, as expressed in the prayer of Jesus Christ (John 17,21).