Does the uneasy relationship between evangelicals and ecumenists presage a split?

In plotting the future of Protestantism, some churchmen increasingly focus on the uneasy relation between “the ecumenicals and the evangelicals.” Ecumenical and denominational leaders, religion editors, and even some students of religious journalism ask: Will the gap between conservatives and inclusivists be bridged or broadened? Is a split inevitable between evangelicals and ecumenists? In ecumenical dialogue—whether sponsored by Geneva or by Rome—why do evangelicals always seem to be on the outer edge? Do conservatives have any basis for feeling that ecumenists solicit their participation only on a “divide-and-conquer” basis? Why has ecumenism failed to produce or even promote real rapport with evangelicals? Is a tragic major breach inevitable in the very century when many churchmen are working intensely for the unification of Christendom, and when the Christian religion is already disadvantaged by embarrassing divisions?

Few evangelicals speak of ecclesiastical trends as historically inevitable, though some churchmen on both the far left and the far right seem to view them in that way. Conservatives may underestimate socio-historical processes, but they contemplate the must of history rather in a context of God’s sovereign purpose and of man’s responsible decision. (“Thus it must be fulfilled.…” “Ye must be born again.…”) They question ecclesiastical deference to the supposed “inevitabilities” of social revolution and expanding government controls, which the churches are now asked to welcome, no less than the ecumenical leadership’s “certainty” of a coming great world church.

As evangelicals see it, a deterministic approach to religious events ...

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