Since the founding of World Council of Churches and the closing of Second Vatican Council to this day we've seen openness from church leaders to re-examine what divides us and what we believe in common. Progress toward theological and ecclesial unity might still be far ahead but we've noticed from past decades: how Chalcedonians (Eastern Orthodox) and non-Chalcedonians (Oriental Orthodox) made a significant progress affirming our common Cyrilline Christology in Orthodox Joint Commission; the mutual lifting of anathemas by Pope Bl. Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in 1965; the reconciliatory affirmation of devotion to Christotokos by St. John Paul II and Catholicos Mar Dinkha IV in 1994. In 2017 both Catholic and Protestants will commemorate 500 years of Reformation, which will mark a process of healing from conflict to communion. A house divided can't stand. Is there a future for ecumenism? What we can hope for from it and what hinder us for achieving Christian unity in John 17?

The twentieth century was heralded by the appearance of the so called ‘ecumenical movement’, the original aim of which was the restoration of the unity lost among Christians. This movement became one of the most important phenomena in the history of Christianity in the twentieth century. The Church has always been aware that indifference to the issue of Christian unity or its rejection is a sin against the will of God. As far back as the fourth century St. Basil the Great said: ‘Those who labour in truth and sincerity for the Lord must endeavour to bring to unity those who have in many ways been divided among themselves’. From the moment when divisions appeared in the Christian world, efforts have been made to restore and strengthen unity. However, it is only in the twentieth century that the search for Christian unity has acquired a systematic approach and has been structured in the form of a number of organizations within the framework of which dialogue between various Christian confessions was developed on a constant and regular basis.


Scripture is the common foundation which unites all Christian confessions, including Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. We may take substantially different approaches in interpreting Scripture, but we have one Bible....

Lecture by the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk at the Universities of Winchester (5 February 2015) and Cambridge (6 February 2015).

  • 2
    In spite of your assertions to the contrary, this is opinion-based. It's site policy that denominational scoping happens in the question, not the answers. – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Mar 8 '15 at 5:56
  • 1
    The question is asking about a future of ecumenism from each particular church stand point not personal opinions. As Affable Geek famously said, 'Ideally, when you are voting, you are saying "This answer is informative and reflective of the tradition for which it claims to speak." Downvotes mean "this misrepresents the tradition" not "I don't like it."' If this question is considered opinion based then what type of question is not opinion based? Any question on this site is opinion based. There is a big difference between good informational question with opinion based. – Adithia Kusno Mar 8 '15 at 6:03
  • 2
    Read the meta post that I linked. The main problem with the question is that it's too broad. You're looking for an answer from every denomination. Pick one. But depending on the denomination, you may not be able to get an objective answer; I doubt any Baptist denomination has a position on this, for example. – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Mar 8 '15 at 6:06
  • 1
    I'm doubtful about this question being salvageable, unless you scope it to one denomination. But if you do that, it doesn't sound like it'd be very useful to you. If you don't, I don't know any other way to make it acceptable to this site's format. – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Mar 9 '15 at 4:50
  • 1
    @curiousdannii "Some Christians think ecumenism has a future, others don't"... that's a good start for an answer to these questions. It's an objective fact, plain to see. The OP just needs us to explain who thinks what, and why. That would be fitting for a site called "Christianity.SE", and a pretty useful answer. We can't handle the Truth... but I think we should try to handle the truth. – Pedro Pablo Mar 10 '15 at 12:16

There will likely be as many different answers to your question as there are denominations.

From an Evangelical perspective, I'd venture a guess that ecumenism is a "hard sell" in many Evangelical denominations of whatever stripe. (I would not even dare to give you a list of Evangelical denominations!) I happen to be a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C & MA) Denomination, a worldwide movement which is obviously “missions minded”! The denomination was founded by a Canadian preacher, theologian, and author, A. B. Simpson (1848 – 1919).

Thirty years after the founder of the C & MA went to be with his Lord, an ecumenical organization called the "The World Council of Churches" (WCC) made some headway in the 1950s (and beyond) in uniting some denominations, particularly the more "liberal" churches. These churches, by and large, emphasized the "social gospel" and de-emphasized "the gospel, period"!

Back then (in the 1950s), believers in "the gospel, period" would not say their gospel was a "holistic gospel," but in retrospect that's really what it was. To these folks, the gospel of Jesus Christ addressed the whole person: spirit, soul, and body. They considered the "social gospel" a truncated gospel, and from an Evangelical perspective they were right.

From their perspective the "liberal, social-gospel types" overemphasized the social aspects of the gospel and deemphasized what to them was the all-important spiritual aspect of the gospel, particularly the new birth which Jesus taught (John 3:1 ff.). Generally speaking, then, the "gospel, period" folks were correct. The WCC, well-meaning though it may have been, did tend to emphasize what might fairly be called "justice issues" but shied away from the kerygma of the first-century church. You might say the WCC didn't want to seem preachy, and in James-like fashion came down on the side of works, rather than grace. (James, I realize, was not an "either/or man" regarding faith and works; he was, rather, a "both/and man" who wedded faith and works in, well, a holistic package. Here is James’s “take” on faith and works:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:17-18 NASB Updated, my italics).

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the Roman Catholic Church took a less-than-active role in the efforts of the WCC. Representatives of the RCC would attend meetings only as observers, not as participants.

Reformation 21, an evangelical parachurch ministry with roots in the Christian Reformed Faith, published an article recently titled “Encouraging Sign of Ecumenism in the 21st Century, “ by Mark McDowell (March 2015). Here are a couple paragraphs from that article:

Twenty-one years ago to the month [i.e., March 1 1994], a group of ecumenically-minded Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, led by Richard John Neuhaus and Chuck Colson, gathered together and issued the statement: 'Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (ECT)'. It first appeared in New York on Tuesday, March 29th, 1994 and a few months later was published in First Things. While many applauded and welcomed the document at its launch, it was also met with intense controversy and a great deal of suspicion. To this day some would argue that not much has changed.

ECT was crafted with the purpose of finding some agreement on the core tenets of Christian teaching. From this standpoint, it urges Evangelicals and Protestants to act together, as far as 'divergent convictions allow' (JI Packer), on matters of cultural and moral concern. 'Co-belligerence' at the grassroots level is at the heart of ECT's mission, prodding both communities to collaborate together against the corrosive effects of Western secularism. One of the recent products of its labours is the statement on marriage found in the recent edition of First Things.

For many years there has been a natural antipathy between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. The primary “sticking point” seems to have been the differing perspectives on the role the Scriptures should play in the life of their respective churches. Ever since Reformation times, an era in which Protestants objected to certain excesses of the RCC (e.g., indulgences), the “mantra” of many Protestants regarding ultimate authority has been “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture only). On the other hand, a radically divergent mantra for the RCC regarding ultimate authority (for which I have a neologism) has been “Sola Ecclesia.” (Church only). (I apologize for my conflation of Latin and Greek!)

While I am not speaking for my denomination, I surmise that the “ultimate authority issue” is a big pill for both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics to swallow. I would like to think that in matters which are important to both camps (e.g., missions and a kerygma-based evangelism), we could somehow and in some way simply agree to disagree agreeably regarding ultimate authority and forge ahead with tasks we both can be wholly committed to. That, however, may be wishful thinking on my part. To this day, many Protestant denominations (not my C & MA, I’m glad to say) are convinced the RCC will figure prominently in the Apocalypse, and not on the side of the good guys! And I’ll leave it at that!

| improve this answer | |
  • This is a respectable answer. I do agree that there are many answers as many theological strains. We can see a lot progress that have been made between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant since Second Vatican. The material sufficiency of Scripture for example have been addressed by Fr. Yves Congar with affirmative. Even justification by faith alone have been confirmed by both Fr. Hans Kung and Emiritus Pope Benedict XVI. I do personally believes Pope Francis might revoke excommunication of Luther. We can learn from Formula of Union in 433 which reconciled one nature vs two natures Christology. – Adithia Kusno Mar 9 '15 at 4:22
  • "justification by faith alone have been confirmed by both Fr. Hans Kung and Emiritus Pope Benedict XVI"‽ Do you have a source for that? That's heresy according to the Roman Catholic Church. – Geremia Mar 9 '15 at 10:37
  • @Geremia it's on Hans Kung's dissertation, Doctrine of Justification. Benedict XVI spoke about it in one of his sermon. Karl Rahner and Von Balthasar also defend sola fide. There has been much confusion regarding Trent's anathemas on sola fide. Worth to notice that St. Bellarmine in his confrontation with Luther quoted 8 Latin Fathers regarding sola fide. Catholic and Protestant don't contradict they use different terminology. Remember Ephesian one nature vs Chalcedon two natures? postbarthian.com/2014/12/05/… – Adithia Kusno Mar 9 '15 at 17:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.