The late Archbishop William Temple described the church unity movement as the twentieth century’s most significant development. Conversations have advanced so swiftly that many ecclesiastical leaders now speak of “the ecumenical age.”
Yet the fact cannot be gainsaid that the Christian world remains woefully divided. The ecumenical movement, crystallized in the National Council and World Council of Churches, has achieved spectacular growth; it has stimulated the rise of competitive structures and given ecumenical impetus as well to Roman Catholicism and even to non-Christian faiths. Ecumenism seems prone to become a monolithic movement with new centers of ecclesiastical power and vast potential for propaganda.
There are some signs, however, that ecumenical momentum is slowing, and that new stresses and strains are developing. The ability of ecumenical leaders to command the attention of mass communications media—television, radio, and the press—has created apprehension that a select group of influential leaders is able almost automatically to translate its own desires into history. But the stalemate of the Blake-Pike plan, the comparative ineffectualness of the Montreal Faith and Order Conference, and the limited achievement of Vatican Council II contribute to a more sober view.
The fact remains that basic divisions vex Christendom. Although the ecumenical vision has been most ardently promoted by American Protestants, taken as a whole they seem distrustful of the implications of this vision. What the substance of unity is and what forms it ought to take are still subjects of lively debate. Divergent theories of Christian unity are reflected by the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the ...1
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