Professional churchmen who labor to devise denominational superstructures begin to seem like children building sand castles on the shore. Incoming waves may soon sweep away their elaborate creations. The tide of ecumenical good will is pounding on our accustomed patterns with a power of more than human devising. It is prompting Christians in communities all across the country to exchange visits and work together on local projects without waiting for draftsmen to shape some gigantic merger. As one executive lamented, “COCU [the Consultation on Church Union] has come ten years too late.”
The dream of Christian unity was spontaneous, reflecting the God-centeredness of religious experience and the claims of our one Lord. The more than thirty-year span of my own ministry goes back to the Oxford Conference of 1937. I recall the thrill that came to me as a young pastor preaching on the testimony of the delegates: “Our unity in Christ is not a theme for aspiration; it is an experienced fact.” Being claimed by the oneness of God’s people in Christ gave power to my ministry. We sought to build bridges, and to work with our brothers regardless of labels.
When in the late forties we constructed a chapel window series on the seasons of the Christian year, we even selected Worldwide Communion Sunday for the chancel. The reconciliation of races, nations, and creeds in Christ is the supreme evidence of the victory of the Cross over the world. Because God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, Christians can hold the world together.
But in this same period I saw the vision of unity give way to schemes for greater ecclesiastical kingdoms. The executives of official Protestantism liked to look inward at their structures. I am tempted ...1
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