What’s the Point of Ecumenism?

Of course we may not see the reunion of Protestants with the Catholic Church in any formal, visible way in our lifetime. However, who knows what seeds may be planted by our patient, continued outreach and making provision for them? Who knows what may transpire in ten, twenty, fifty or 500 years? We pursue unity in Christ’s body because we must do this. Who knows what the future holds? It may be that in due time the Protestant denominations will simply wither and die. Certainly that is the current trajectory. It could be that the Anglican Ordinariate–so simple and small in its conception by Benedict XVI –could flourish and become the new Anglican Church–in communion with Rome. Who knows but the Ordinariate may provide a model for all sorts of new ecumenical moves toward unity and welcome into the Catholic fold.

The fact is, we don’t know the future, but we know what we should do now. So even when we feel apathetic or even antipathetic toward our fellow Christians, it is our duty to gather up our courage and ask for the gift of charity and extend the hand. Will they reject it in ignorance and arrogance? Probably so, but still we reach out.

There is another reason why we should persevere with ecumenism: We might learn something. There is nothing worse for the religiously inclined than the hunker down in their bunker, adopt the siege mentality and start calling all the enemies names. Talking to the “other side” and listening to them, trying to get into their shoes and to see things from their perspective—that’s a healthy and mature thing to do. It takes guts, but it is always enriching even if it is maddening. Our own faith is stretched and becomes greater when we drop the stereotypes, open our hearts and minds a little and lay down our self righteous, know it all attitude. Ecumenism helps with that.

We should always remember that the separated brethren are separated, but they are also brethren. What about that prodigal son story? I worry that when I am negative about ecumenism I’m becoming just a bit too much like that sour, self righteous and angry older brother. Remember him? Remember the one who stayed at home in his father’s house and did everything right? Then when the brother came home he did not rejoice, but was angry and jealous. When I am down on ecumenism and find it all too much of a pointless chore maybe I’m too much like him and I should stop and pinch myself and look in the mirror.

Finally, they are my brothers and I had better reach out to them because maybe, just maybe I’ll need them even though I think I never will. I always remember the story of Richard Wurmbrand–the Assembly of God pastor who was imprisoned and tortured for his faith along with many other Christians in Communist Romania. In his book Tortured for Christ he recounts that in prison there were no Eastern Orthodox priests. There were no Catholic priests. There were no Lutheran priests. Instead there were only brothers. Brothers in arms.

In times of persecution we see who the real Christians are, and if there are storm clouds on the horizon, and if we have to wade through some deep waters maybe I’ll find that I have to carry my brother.

Or maybe he’ll be carrying me.


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