Ecumenicity is not a dirty word. Jesus Christ said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love.…” Love is wonderful to have; but when it is narrowed down to the love of one Christian for another Christian, then we have reality. John said, “We know that we have passed from life unto death, because we love.…” Whom? “The brethren”! I have lived long enough to know that the hardest people to love are the brethren. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” Ecumenicity! Where does it start? In my humble opinion it starts within this fellowship that you and I have espoused, namely, the American Baptist family. The Southern Baptists can’t get along with anyone except themselves. The American Baptists can get along with everyone except themselves. Is this true?

I am in active contact with the presidents of the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the North American Baptist General Conference. I am more interested in Baptist ecumenicity than I am in another form. I don’t care how ecumenical we say we are as American Baptists, or how much we point to our affiliation and activity in the conciliar movements, if we fail to see that we have far more in common with our Baptist family than with any other Christian body. What is the meaning, validity, relevance, and dynamic of fellowship with non-Baptists?

I not only believe in Baptist ecumenicity, that is, in cooperating, understanding, and communicating as Baptists, but I believe in Baptist unity.

We must go on. If you are going to project your imperfection and join an imperfect church called the local Baptist church, and if you are going to project the imperfection of your local church into what is known as a denomination, such as the American Baptist Convention, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t continue to project this imperfection and cooperate with others who are not Baptists. That accounts for the National Council of Churches. Sure, it is imperfect. You can pick it to pieces so that there is nothing left. A blood-washed hand reaches out in the increasing darkness and impersonality of the space-age, and a voice calls, “Is there another hand in all of God’s world that is also washed in the blood of Christ? If so, will you join with me and let us try somehow to do together—to the glory of God and for the redemption of lost men and women and boys and girls—what we cannot do alone?” That is all that interdenominational ecumenicity is. It involves a lot of honesty and trust. The relationship is imperfect. The net result is imperfect. But all is based upon the perfection of Jesus Christ, our only hope.

Will you go with me one step more in Christian understanding? In Israel on a Sunday morning eight other American Baptist pastors and I were walking on the beach outside Haifa trying to find some place where we could worship. As we moved south, we came to a monastery that proved to be the traditional site of Peter’s siesta on the roof of Simon the tanner’s house. It was here that Peter was straightened out about who was to get the Gospel and who wasn’t. A little Italian priest who murdered the King’s English received us warmly. As we spent an hour there, our hearts were warmed. We sensed that here was a brother in Christ. When we were ready to leave, someone suggested we have a word of prayer together. When we finished, the monk grabbed the arm of the one nearest to him and said, “I will see you at Jesus’ feet.” What do you think that did for a fellow who was brought up in Boston, where every cop on the corner was a red-faced Irishman, a Roman Catholic, and where everything wrong in City Hall, in the State House, was because of those Roman Catholics?

My heart was melted, so much so that when Monsignor Tobin of Portland asked me to come over and explain to them what Baptists were all about, I accepted the invitation. He sits on the Vatican Council. When I got to All Saints Church I talked for forty-five minutes, at the end of which the audience plied me with questions for another forty-five minutes. During the latter period I referred to myself in Pope John’s terminology as being a separated brother. Monsignor Tobin said, “No, no, you are not a separated brother. You are not even a Protestant. You are my brother in Christ.” I remember that when he wrote to invite me he signed the letter, “Yours in Christ”—just as a Bible-thumping Baptist would. What are you going to do with a guy like that?

In U. S. Nexus and World Report came word from Boston that Cardinal Cushing urged Catholics of Boston to attend the Graham evangelistic campaign there, saying, “They have everything to gain. The hand of God must be upon him. I have never known of a religious crusade that was more effective than Dr. Graham’s. I have never heard any criticism of anything he has ever said from any Catholic source. I only wish we had half a dozen men of his sort to go forth to preach the Gospel of Christ Crucified.”

Now, we can say it is about time they are reforming their church and straightening up and flying right because they have been wrong all along. But wait a minute! Can we Baptists, can we American Baptists, equal in renewal, in updating, in shaking off some shackles of the past, what the Roman Catholics are doing? Just think of the dramatic change in putting the Mass in the vernacular so that it can be understood, or including in one of their hymnbooks Martin Luther’s Reformation hymn!

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Let’s keep open those windows that were thrown open by little Pope John, the peasant. He kept his feet right in the earth; and when that earth began to tremble because of the marching of Communist hordes and the exploding of A-bombs and H-bombs, he knew it was time to issue a call to all the people of God. What will it take for us as Bible-believing Baptists to have that same sensitivity, to feel we should get together as Baptists and as Protestants, and to believe in the sincerity of anyone who claims the name of Christ?—DR. J. LESTER HARNISH, president, American Baptist Convention.

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