The search for an outward, visible unity of God’s people is nothing new. Recent endeavors like the World Council of Churches actually result from a long history of efforts by Christians to get together. The nineteenth century had many movements with ecumenical dimensions. In 1838, for example, Samuel Schmucker, a Lutheran, proposed a plan to unite Protestant churches on a federated basis. Implemented by Philip Schaff, the eminent church historian, Schmucker’s idea eventuated in establishing national federations of churches. Organizations like the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, the Evangelical Alliance, the YMCA and YWCA, as well as the rise of interdenominational foreign mission boards, of interdenominational theological seminaries and of ecumenical missionary conferences as at Toronto (and at Edinburgh in 1910) were other indications of activity and concern beyond sectarian limits. It should be quite obvious, then, that the present ecumenical thrust in America and around the world is only continuing an attitude and perspective that reaches back more than a century.
In dealing with ecumenicity our concern here is limited to the visible church. We do not include the invisible church with its broader fellowship of saints already departed and of those saints yet to come. In their expositions men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wycliffe have clearly defined the biblical concept of the invisible church; its unity is indivisible because its membership is a united fellowship that centers in the living Christ, the head of the church. The unity of this invisible church in heaven should find its logical projection in the visible church on earth. Instead the visible church displays discord, schism and division. ...1
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