We hear a great deal today about ecumenism—a coming together to unite Christendom—but on what grounds are we to unite?
Some people are prepared to unite on any grounds, preferring unity to truth and thus avoiding a painful but honest separation. Conversely, we find others who seek unity only in terms of their own denominational exactitude; the problem with this approach is not so much exclusivism or sectarian triumphalism, but its lack of realism.
Catholics are never going to give up their love for the mother of Jesus and the saints because of Protestant sensitivities. Evangelicals are never going to give up their commitment to the “born again” experience in order to satisfy the more sacramental and developmental approach of Catholics.
Calvinists will not abandon providence and grace to Arminian insistence on faith and human will. Presbyterians will refuse to accept an episcopal church, and congregationalists will reject any hierarchical control. Will independent charismatic groups abandon their apostles and prophets? Will Christian Brethren at last legitimate “holy orders” and start ordaining ministers? Can Salvationists dip their flag, put away their uniforms, and leave behind their generals and citadels?
And can Eastern Orthodox churches forgive the Latin West and allow that they were mistaken when they rejected the bishop of Rome in the eleventh century or were wrong to insist on sticking with the original Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381?
If we believe that these things will happen, then we believe in fantasies, not realities. To think that we can turn the hurdy-gurdy of Christendom into a harmonic institution all playing the same tune is surely no more than a pipe dream.1