At the risk of being excessively negative, I shall try to show why orthodoxy finds it difficult to cooperate with the National and World Councils of Churches. The ethos of orthodoxy is seldom sympathetically understood. Critics tend to judge it by its worst, rather than by its best, elements.
Were I to name the criterion that inspires the best elements in orthodoxy, it would be the following: The visible unity of Christendom is an ideal which simultaneously inspires and judges the real. Just as we strive for sinless perfection, though we shall never reach it, so we strive for the equally valid, though equally elusive, ideal of visible unity. If a person imagines that the ideal can be realized in history, he betrays his own want of education. Either the terms of the ideal are underestimated or the possibilities of the real are overestimated. Since original sin tinctures the entire human enterprise, man’s quest for unity is never a purely virtuous undertaking. Organizational security is partly a status symbol of pride and an outlet for will to power.
I am not saying that orthodoxy succeeds in applying its own principles. I only say that, in its finest moments, it evaluates the possibilities of Christian unity by what theologians call the “polar method.” The ideal and the real must be kept in delicate balance.
While orthodoxy may err in its conviction—and I want to stress this possibility—it nevertheless believes that the ecumenical movement is plying a course which overlooks the effect of original sin or collective human efforts. And this oversight traces back to a rather loose handling of the Word of God. Let me establish this by reviewing the kind of argument that appeals to the orthodox mind.
Christian unity is deceptively ...1
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