A Spiritual Perspective on Ecumenical Cooperation
- We were created by the Lord for the Lord.
- We will spend eternity in heaven.
- Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox will be in heaven.
- Our lives on earth should prepare us for heaven.
- Therefore, ecumenical prayer, service, and cooperation prepare us for heaven.
The logic above can easily be dismissed as the simplistic exercise of the mind of an engineer. Certainly the logic is incomplete. There are other important reasons for ecumenical cooperation. When all of the dust settles and all of the protests have been presented, it remains an outrageous scandal that many Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox still avoid each other like the plague. It is a scandal to the Gospel and an insult to Jesus’ prayer for unity. Even in settings that hope to be or claim to be ecumenical, there is often a smugness that blocks Christian brotherhood. “Are you saved?” or “How can you be in that church and be saved?” are questions that sometimes surface in ecumenical settings.
The Gift of Ecumenism Begins with Pentecost
The first experience of Pentecost was that of Jews from many places and of many languages who were surprised to hear their native language being spoken (Acts 2:8). Then, at the house of Cornelius, another Pentecost happens as the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). The Jewish believers were “amazed” (vs. 45). Peter, recognizing the Holy Spirit in them, ordered them to be baptized (vs. 48).
Finally, in Acts 15, we have some Jews teaching, “You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised…” (Acts 15:1 Today’s English Version). Another “ecumenical” crisis threatening the work of the gospel; another distinctive taking center stage; another competing viewpoint being presented as essential; another “ecumenical” challenge. Fortunately the early church dealt with its Jewish/Gentile challenges, although it had some setbacks.
Call to Ecumenical Cooperation and Life Together in Sword of the Spirit
In the Sword of the Spirit, we believe in the need for ecumenical cooperation in support of the Gospel and as an expression of the intrinsic unity that is the work of the Holy Spirit. We believe this word of ecumenical cooperation is a part of the modern Pentecost that we see sweeping the globe. We are privileged to be a part of this grass-roots ecumenical movement that has emerged in the last few decades after hundreds of years of Christian division.
Some of our communities are ecumenical in membership and by design. Some of our communities are denominational in membership and by design. All of our communities are ecumenical in ethos, and our regional and international events can be quite a blend of denominational expressions from around the world.
We believe that the ecumenical reality is an element of the nature of the modern Christian church and that ecumenical cooperation is being restored by the Holy Spirit in our time.
Some Statements on Ecumenical Cooperation from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical Leaders
Joint Statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together on The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium: Conclusion
“We do know that his promise is sure, that we are enlisted for the duration, and that we are in this together. We do know that we must affirm and hope and search and contend and witness together, for we belong not to ourselves but to him who purchased us by the blood of the cross. We do know that this is a time of opportunity – and, if of opportunity, then of responsibility – for Evangelicals and Catholics to be Christians together in a way that helps prepare the world for the coming of him to whom belongs the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.” [see full text]
Address by Pope Francis at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, June 21 2018
After so many years of ecumenical commitment, on this seventieth anniversary of the World Council, let us ask the Spirit to strengthen our steps. All too easily we halt before our continuing differences; all too often we are blocked from the outset by a certain weariness and lack of enthusiasm. Our differences must not be excuses. Even now we can walk in the Spirit: we can pray, evangelize and serve together. This is possible and it is pleasing to God! Walking, praying and working together: this is the great path that we are called to follow.
And this path has a clear aim, that of unity. The opposite path, that of division, leads to conflict and breakup. The Lord bids us set out ever anew on the path of communion that leads to peace. Our lack of unity is in fact “openly contrary to the will of Christ, but is also a scandal to the world and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1). The Lord asks us for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity.
Dear brothers and sisters, I have desired to come here, a pilgrim in quest of unity and peace. I thank God because here I have found you, brothers and sisters already making this same journey. For us as Christians, walking together is not a ploy to strengthen our own positions, but an act of obedience to the Lord and love for our world. Let us ask the Father to help us walk together all the more resolutely in the ways of the Spirit. May the Cross guide our steps, because there, in Jesus, the walls of separation have already been torn down and all enmity overcome (cf. Ephesians 2:14). In him, we will come to see that, for all our failings, nothing will ever separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8:35-39). [full text]
Address by Archbishop Welby at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, February 2018
One of the great gifts of the ecumenical movement is that it has allowed Christians from different denominations, who might once have kept separate from one another, to get to know one another. There were times before, say, the 1960s, when people of one denomination might never have entered the church building of another. Indeed many may have feared to go in either for fear of either being turfed out or, worse, contaminated by the place itself. Then something changed. Christians found common cause in all sorts of forums – political life; spirituality and prayer; community service; education; children’s work…
In the early days of his pontificate, which started two days before I took up my present office, Pope Francis made several public statements in which he used the metaphor of the sheep, the shepherd and the sheepfold. I had cause to look at these statements again last year when I was invited to write a reflection on them for a collection of reflections on the words of Pope Francis.
The most famous of these statements was when he exhorted the clergy, the pastors, to have the ‘smell of the sheep’, so close were they to their people, the flock. But in other statements he spoke of the sheepfold as being like the Church. His interesting take on this is that as well as the traditional understanding of the absolute need to go out and seek the lost to bring them back into the safety of the sheepfold, he saw that it was possible for the sheepfold to be as a frontier, a barrier – not only keeping out the wolves but also other sheep.
The state of the Church today is such that in many places – particularly in Europe – we can see ninety-nine outside the fold and only one inside. It’s almost true in England: 1.7 percent of the population attend the Church of England.
The task is great. It is appropriate, right and imperative that the churches work together to seek out the lost wherever they may be. To find that when we bring them into the safety of the fold should be one fold, not many – and that the flock is one flock, with one shepherd, the Good Shepherd himself, who prays that we may be one. [see full text]
Joint Declaration by Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (25 May, 2014)
Like our venerable predecessors Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras who met here in Jerusalem fifty years ago, we too, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, were determined to meet in the Holy Land “where our common Redeemer, Christ our Lord, lived, taught, died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, whence he sent the Holy Spirit on the infant Church”…
Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity. We call to mind with profound gratitude the steps that the Lord has already enabled us to undertake. The embrace exchanged between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras here in Jerusalem, after many centuries of silence, paved the way for a momentous gesture, the removal from the memory and from the midst of the Church of the acts of mutual excommunication in 1054. This was followed by an exchange of visits between the respective Sees of Rome and Constantinople, by regular correspondence and, later, by the decision announced by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dimitrios, of blessed memory both, to initiate a theological dialogue of truth between Catholics and Orthodox.
Over these years, God, the source of all peace and love, has taught us to regard one another as members of the same Christian family, under one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and to love one another, so that we may confess our faith in the same Gospel of Christ, as received by the Apostles and expressed and transmitted to us by the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers. While fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion, today we confirm our commitment to continue walking together towards the unity for which Christ our Lord prayed to the Father so “that all may be one” (John 17:21). [source]
Pope Benedict XVI January 25, 2007
“Ecumenism is a deep dialogical experience; it is listening and talking to one another, knowing each better. It is a task that everyone can accomplish, especially in terms of spiritual ecumenism based on prayer and sharing that are now possible between Christians. I hope that the yearning for unity, translated into prayer and fraternal collaboration to alleviate man’s suffering, can spread more and more at the parish level as well as in Church movements and religious institutions.”
Ut Unum Sint [That All Be Made One] an encyclical letter by Pope John Paul II
Chapter 1: The Catholic Church’s Commitment to Ecumenism
Section 20: “Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of appendix which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does.”
“What unites is much greater than what divides us.” Pope John Paul XXIII
“When brothers and sisters who are not in perfect communion with one another come together to pray, the Second Vatican Council defines their prayer as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement.”
Section 22: “If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them.”
Section 40: “Relations between Christians are not aimed merely at mutual knowledge, common prayer and dialogue. They presuppose, and from now on, call for every possible form of practical cooperation at all levels: pastoral, cultural and social, as well as that of witnessing to the gospel message.
This cooperation based on our common faith is not only filled with fraternal communion, but is a manifestation of Christ himself.
In the eyes of the world, cooperation among Christians becomes a form of common Christian witness and a means of evangelization which benefits all involved.” [full text]
John Paul II January 22, 2003
“In fact, the present division constitutes a ‘scandal’ for the world and ‘harm’ for the preaching of the Gospel.”
“The Catholic Church is “irrevocably” committed to the ecumenical way and the full unity of Christians.”2
“This commitment is decisive for two fundamental reasons: on the one hand, unity expresses fidelity to the Gospel; on the other, as the Lord himself has indicated, it is a condition in order that all will believe that He is the one sent by the Father.”
Common Declaration of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope John Paul II
4. “In this perspective we urge our faithful, Catholics and Orthodox, to reinforce the spirit of brotherhood which stems from the one Baptism and from participation in the sacramental life. In the course of history and in the more recent past, there have been attacks and acts of oppression on both sides. As we prepare, on this occasion, to ask the Lord for his great mercy, we invite all to forgive one another and to express a firm will that a new relationship of brotherhood and active collaboration will be established.
Such a spirit should encourage both Catholics and Orthodox, especially in the cultural, spiritual, pastoral, educational and social fields, avoiding any temptation to undue zeal for their own community to the disadvantage of the other. May the good of Christ’s Church always prevail! Mutual support and the exchange of gifts can only make pastoral activity itself more effective and our witness to the Gospel we desire to proclaim more transparent.”
5. “We maintain that a more active and concerted collaboration will also facilitate the Church’s influence in promoting peace and justice in situations of political or ethnic conflict. The Christian faith has unprecedented possibilities for solving humanity’s tensions and enmity.”
This article is adapted from Essays on Christian Community, © Copyright 2010 by Bob Tedesco
Top image is a montage of Cross in Sunset with a quote from John 17:21: Image of cross is from Bigstock.com, © by Virrage Images, stock photo ID 50160386.
Bob Tedesco is the founder of the People of God, a Sword of the Spirit community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA where he served as Senior Coordinator for 26 years. He has been involved in lay ministry for over forty-five years, and has served as Regional President of the North American region in the Sword of the Spirit.