Only a few years ago the words ecumenical and ecumenism meant nothing to the average laymen. They were just so much Greek, in the real sense of the word.

But now we are confronted with these words in sermons, in literature, and in church courts. It is therefore important to know what they mean, what they imply, and how they are used today.

Ecumenical means worldwide or universal, and, in relation to the Church, implies the oneness of Christians in the faith and all which flows therefrom.

Ecumenicity is not a religion. Rather it is a fruit or manifestation of Christianity. It is a spiritual reality separate and distinct from organizations or the manipulations of men. It is Christian unity which crosses all social, racial, denominational, or national barriers.

All of this being true, why are there those in the Church who have real misgivings about what is now known as the “ecumenical movement”? If true ecumenicity has existed since the beginning of the Christian church, should it not be fostered?

In order to clarify the matter it is necessary to define terms. I believe that the ecumenical movement is something separate from ecumenicity, just as the “fundamentalist movement” is separate from historic evangelical Christianity, or fundamentalism.

The ecumenical movement, as it now exists, is a relatively new phenomenon. With the Reformation there came into being a number of denominations, most of them established by men convinced of the importance of some particular doctrine or teaching of Scripture. The force was centrifugal—away from centralization—often independent, and sometimes divisive in effect.

However, in recent years the pervading force has been centripetal, towards cooperation, union, and unified action.

Unquestionably the pendulum of divisions swung too far, although there is too much evidence of the blessings of God on separate denominational activities for us to deplore the major divisions.

Nevertheless, a movement designed to draw Christians closer together and to present a more united front to the world should be questioned only where there is evidence that it is a movement implying more than appears on the surface.

There are two basic questions; these require clear answers. The first of these is whether the ecumenical movement sacrifices essential Christian doctrines on the altar of expedience, for the sake of organizational unity. The second has to do with the leadership of the movement.

From the standpoint of Christian doctrine the ecumenical movement refuses to make doctrinal deliverances, insisting these are the province of the constituent groups. The approved doctrinal statement of the World Council, interpreted at its highest level, still leaves room for dangerous heresies and has inexcusable omissions. For the sake of an outward facade of unity this movement has shown a lamentable willingness to emphasize organizational structure and a united witness, without a corresponding spiritual unity or a definition of what the content of the Christian faith really is.

Despite their weaknesses, the fact remains that the convictions characteristic of early denominational leadership, and loyalty to those convictions, are not in any impressive measure a characteristic of many who lead the ecumenical movement. A great number of these men are professional churchmen who apparently look with complacency on those who frankly question or reject the clear statements and doctrines taught in the Scriptures.

Considering itself as riding the wave of the future, the ecumenical movement seems oblivious to the fact that doctrinal laxity may dash it on the rocks of God’s judgment.

But there is a true ecumenicity (distinguished from the ecumenical movement, as such, and the spirit of ecumenicity abroad in the world) which began in the early Church, has continued throughout the centuries, and is growing today.

This ecumenicity is spiritual in nature, catholic in faith and practice. It is that unity of the spirit which springs eternal in the hearts of those who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, a faith which unites believers even when they are separated by man-made barriers or secondary considerations.

These ecumenicals are, many of them, working loyally within denominational bounds. Others work in smaller, often interdenominational or non-denominational groups. These look for and accept Christian faith wherever it is found. They rejoice in the truth and are anxious to share in a witness to the saving power and work of Christ.

Strange to say—and possibly it is very revealing—the ecumenical movement often seems to deny its own nature in its attitude toward these true ecumenicals. We know of many instances where some in the ecumenical movement have been very unecumenical in attitude and action to those who for conscience’s sake have remained outside the orbit of the movement’s influence and ecclesiastical power.

Like the “fundamentalist movement,” which is far removed from true fundamentalism, the ecumenical movement is far removed from—and actually often hostile to—true ecumenicals.

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The “fundamentalist movement” is distinguished from historic evangelical Christianity by its lack of Christian love. Contending for the faith becomes contentiousness, even to the point of impatience, unkindness, jealousy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, irritability, resentfulness, rejoicing in wrong, tale-bearing, and believing, distorting, and passing on everything evil about a Christian brother. Some seem in danger of pulling up wheat in their zeal to destroy the tares.

The true ecumenical is at the same time a true fundamentalist. Loyal to his church, he believes that her mission is spiritual and her message of vital importance. For that reason he is far more concerned about the content of the Christian faith than about the organizational structure of the Church. So long as organization does not affect the message, he will go along with the organization. But when the content of the message is made secondary, he looks with genuine distrust on those who make it so.

We believe there is a true and straight road which the Christian should walk, one on which he rejects some trends of the ecumenical movement and also of the fundamentalist movement while at the same time bearing a clear testimony to the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has changed his own life and is capable of changing the lives of all who will believe.

This walk must be dominated by a sound faith, clear convictions, and Christian love with humility.

We believe that the future of the great Church Universal rests in the hands of those who so walk.

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