Movement for Christian Unity Reaches ‘Ecumenical Crossroads’

 — Jan. 17, 198717 janv. 1987

by George W. Cornell

Working for Christian unity has become thoroughly institutionalized, a part of the organizational machinery of virtually every major church body and of liaison units among them.

But as the special week, Jan. 18-25, approaches when Christians around the world pray, as Jesus did, “that they may all be one … so that the world may believe,” the goal is seen as elusive and perhaps fading.

Some say the effort has sagged at a critical impasse.

“We are at an ecumenical crossroads,” says the Rev. William T. Rusch, ecumenical director for the Lutheran Church in America.

“Today churches are being asked if they want to continue just to speak about unity or if they want to do something about the actual possibility.”

The doctrinal dialogues continue among denominational theological teams, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, and the “convergence” agreements proliferate, but without steps implementing them.

What’s needed, says the veteran United Methodist ecumenist, the Rev. Albert C. Outler, is some sort of intercommunion “that could authenticate the oneness in Christ that so many feel is now so near and yet still so far.

“There is a tragic irony here. Having come so far, what seems still lacking is the will to venture those crucial steps that still lie beyond.”

His comments, and those of others, came in the January issue of Ecumenical Trends, published by Catholicism’s Graymoor Ecumenical Institute of Garrison, N.Y.

The institute, with the doctrinal commission of the Protestant-Orthodox World Council of Churches, coordinates the week of prayers for unity.

“Reconciled to God in Christ” is the theme for the week taken from Second Corinthians 5:17-20, to be used in thousands of church services, many of them on an ecumenical basis.

As a step toward reconciliation, the most urgent need is for shared Holy Communion, say several theologians.

Most Protestant denominations allow inter-Communion, but not Roman Catholicism in ordinary circumstances, although Catholic-Lutheran and Catholic-Anglican (Episcopal) dialogue teams have reached doctrinal accords about it.

The most far-reaching theological consensus, the 1982 “Baptism, Eucharist {Communion} and Ministry” document by Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars, is now under consideration by worldwide Christianity.

Responses from all its major branches still were accumulating at World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva, with the start of 1987 set as the deadline for denominational reactions. It likely will be months before the material is collated and analyzed.

Some divided families of Christians now are coming together, such as the recent Presbyterian merger and the Lutheran merger.

But reconnecting separate families remains mostly unaccomplished, although various efforts for it continue, including the Consultation on Church Union involving 10 denominations, now acting on a 1984 “consensus” document.

Two denominations, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the International Council of Community Church, have approved it, with the others expected to act on it over the next three years.

Meanwhile, many covenants of cooperation are developing among local congregations of different traditions-Lutheran, Episcopal and Roman Catholic.

Down at these grass-roots levels, apart from the top institutional bureaucracy, Outler says Christians of different denominations increasingly study, pray and act together as “members of one another” in Christ.

Posted: Jan. 17, 1987 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Christian unity, Consultation on Church Union, dialogue
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Christian unity, Consultation on Church Union, dialogue

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