Evangelism And Ecumenism
Frequently, there has been a deep division between those who are committed to 'evangelical' concerns and those who are committed to 'ecumenical' concerns. This is a sad situation especially when we look at this particular tension in modern theology in the light of the Gospel. In John 17:2, we read of Jesus' prayer for the Church - "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." In the light of Jesus' prayer, we must acknowledge honestly that the division of the Church is a spiritual catastrophe for the watching world. We must not become so accustomed to disunity that we become immune to the words of warning in Jesus' prayer. The contemporary must penitently acknowledge "that the endless division of the Church gives the world cause for joy and derision, a reason for its unbelief" (Berkouwer).
In the face of its mission, the Church must acknowledge guilt for the world's unbelief. We must, however, reject the idea of 'unity at any price.' We must not be gullibly taken in by a 'lowest common denominator' type of ecumenism which pays little attention to truth. We must heed the warning of Hans Kung - "A Church which abandons truth abandons itself." We must have realsim about the ecumenical enterprise. We must, however, be quite clear about this - realism is not fatalism. Realism will keep us from acting in a misguided way, but it will not rob us of a true concern for Christian unity. Realism means recognizing that, if ecumenism is to have any relevance to our world, it must be grounded in the Gospel. Realism means that we must not be so closed that we are unwilling to move forward with the Gospel into new situations of life. Realism also means that we must not be so open that we lose sight of the Gospel, and then have no Gospel to bring to the world. Evangelism will lead us beyond our own group, our own denomination. Will ecumenism lead us to seek to win men and women for Christ? - This is the question which realism forces to ask. As we reflect on Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21), our concern must be for world evangelism, and not simply for the kind of ecumenism which may turn out to be more of a hindrance to world evangelism rather than a compelling impetus to evangelize the world.