Malankara World

Ecumenism in a Different Perspective

by Rev. Fr. KK John, Philadelphia

“How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”  Ps 133:1.

WCC Purpose Statement says, “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” (2) “To call one another to the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and in common life in Christ and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.”

“Handbook of Churches and Councils,” 2006, p 3.

“Historically, the origin of modern ecumenical movement can be traced back to the world missionary conference in Edinburgh in 1910… At the founding assembly of the WCC in 1948 a brief basis was accepted, stating the ground on which the churches were able to join and stay together in WCC,” page 3. “In 1930s the leaders of Faith and Order and Life and Work together developed a plan to form a world body of Christian unity,” page 4. Present generation, many if not all, is led to think that ecumenism is an invention of the 20th century. The fact is that neither the stiff-necks that create divisions nor the efforts to quell the differences to bring back the lost unity is nothing new; both are as old as mankind.

Ecumenism, in my view, although impractical, it seems in the face of too complex and conflicting interests, is a step forward to bring back the original created order. A peripheral view of the creation account evidences that God conceived total unity and harmony among all created beings. God created grass, herbs, trees that yield seeds and fruits, living creatures that move in the sea, the birds that fly in the air, the beasts, cattle and creepers that move on the earth, Gen 1:11-25, in a countless manner so as to fill the habitat, but He created man and woman single. The multiplicity of all other living beings and singleness of human being and conferring on man the charge of ruling over all creations implies the ecumenical perspective of the Creator. God caused Adam to name the beasts and the fowls exercising his authority over all creations. God shared His own faculty of creation giving man the responsibility to procreate and replenish the earth. But man was not given charge over his own kind. God’s intention was that man should not subdue, enslave or exploit another human being because every human being is created in the image of God and hence equal. Man was not authorized to disturb the created order, thus pointing to a global harmony. However, as a result of the fall, man lost sight of the harmony; gave himself to envy, deceit, murder, dissension, etc in the first generation itself. Every dissension/division attracts God’s wrath, Luke 17:1. Man’s efforts to appease and reconcile with God was the first step in the direction of ecumenism, which also began right from the beginning of human history.

God’s idea of global harmony is not limited to Christianity or humanity but spans out to the entire creation, though man fails to comprehend it. God chose and raised Abraham as a nation saying, “In thee all the families of the earth be blessed,” Gen 12:3. Abraham’s descendants, Jewish nation failed to live up-to and fulfill God’s expectation, erroneously conceived that they only were God’s chosen ones. This made them proud and arrogant, treating all others as untouchables and outcasts. Therefore God spoke through Prophet Isaiah about the global harmony or the ideal experience of paradise by a future king (Jesus Christ) who shall rule righteously, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the viper’s den,” Is 11:6-8. Concerning the single source of created things, St John says, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,” John 1:3. St Paul explicates the hope that, “He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-in Him,” Eph 1:10. This in turn bestows heavy responsibility upon Christians to work toward the fulfillment of universal harmony.

Ecumenical pursuit is confined to neither Christianity nor humanity alone, rather, the whole human race must experience oneness with other creations and live like one family sinking the man-made differences in the name of race, religion, color, national origin, etc; ending the war culture, exploitation of the weak, destruction, polluting the environment and meddling with ecosystem. As the Hindu sages said, “Loka samastha sukhino bhavanthu,” let the whole world be well and at peace, must be the basic motto of ecumenism. Indeed, it is a utopian perception!

Christians consider themselves as descendants of Abraham by faith or “New Israel,” Rom 11:16-24. Thus the promise of God, Gen 12:3, rests upon Christians. In other words, Christians are called to be a blessing to all families of the earth. But alas! How they could fulfill this vocation? They live totally oblivious of the call; nurturing fundamentalists, fanatics, parochial minded and subservient to power-monger-leaders. There were serious schisms and divisions in the early church, which the apostles strongly rebuked, “I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it,” 1 Cor 11:18. People like Diotrephes rejected Apostles, 3 John 9. Following the period of apostolic oversight, still severe problems surfaced in the church; concerning Incarnation and Deity of Christ: Gnosticism, Docetism, Phantom theory, Arianism, Nestorianism, and so on. Monarchs took lead to end the disputes by convening bishops (synods) for the sake of political stability. But most synods caused more divisions than unity, torture, suppression, condemnations, excommunications, counter-excommunications, imprisonment, murder, etc followed. Christians persecuting Christians outnumber the persecutions by all time non-Christian rulers.

Behind every schism or division there is an individual obsessed with pride, arrogance, selfishness, self-justification, lust for power and lack of Christian virtues such as love, forgiveness, patience and the apostolic call for unity.

St Paul professes seven-fold unity of the Church (Eph 4: 4-6):

(1) One Body

(2) One Spirit

(3) One Hope of Calling

(4) One Lord

(5) One Faith

(6) One Baptism

(7) One God and Father of all.

These are the basis of ecumenism and whoever works against these is the enemy of the Gospel.

Three major divisions of the ancient Church are,

(1) “Oriental Orthodox Church” acknowledging only three universal synods (Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus),

(2) “Eastern Orthodox Church” believing in seven synods and

(3) “Roman Catholic Church” having more than 24 synods.

Later synods declared that the Decrees of Nicea and Constantinople are unalterable. But the fact is, no one obeys the Nicene Decrees, except for self- convenience. A positive church unity demands that all parties must go back to the original position before the first split (Chalcedone AD 451), either shedding or others accepting the doctrinal additions after the first three synods. But the problem does not end there.

Protestantism in the sixteenth Century is a turning point in the history of Christendom. The Body of Christ has ever-since continue to be tortured, broken and mutilated by self-serving, recalcitrant, petty leaders, who teach their own theories by twisting Scriptures. We have in the market more than 500 versions, opposed to one another, but we call them, “Holy Bible.” How an adulterated version can be called “Holy!” The Inspired Word of God is no more sacrosanct because of the deliberate translation errors. Almost everyday brings the sad news of split, violence and litigation in Christendom as byproducts of new theories and sprouting mushroom groups calling themselves church. Christians are too quick to divide and too reluctant to shed ego and unite. “Free for all” dilemma is Christian specialty, not existing in any other religion. Every division inevitably attracts hatred, rivalry, violence and bloodshed against brethren. The curse of the Christendom is that throughout the course of history the church leadership brutally butchered millions of dissenting faithful. On the one side while a few well-meaning souls try hard to end the division, on the other side, parochial, fanatic and egoist leaders shamelessly invent new interpretations, strife and divisions. The sad truth is, many who occupy leadership positions in the ecumenical movement (WCC) thoroughly failed to maintain unity and peace within their home church. The perennial in-fights and rivalries within the Protestants are no secret, let alone the disunity of doctrines and practices. Most of their teachings are revival of early heresies, which the universal councils had condemned. Note that after the establishment of WCC numerous schisms came into being costing internal peace in the churches championed by the very WCC members. So, the genuine faithful doubt basing on which version of “bible” or “group,” ecumenism will become a reality, if at all it does. Do the ecumenical leaders assume that doctrines and practices of all groups or churches are true and correct? There can be only one truth, not many.

How true Christians can ignore or remain passive when the present generation faces peculiar moral challenges as never before? “Faith and Order Study Document, 2005” Christian Perspectives of Theological Anthropology, of WCC, Geneva, discusses many current issues that challenge ecumenical movement; “Violence, Poverty, HIV/AIDS, Disability, Diversity, Human Dignity, Developments in Genetics, Embryo-Stem Cells, Cloning, Suffering, Gender Identity, Radical Nature of Sin” and so on. Unfortunately the document does not mention a word about the US born, most vicious and unnatural “Alternate life style,” “Same-sex marriage,” “Gay Priests and Bishops,” “Transgender” etc, which the ‘Holy Bible’ call, “Abomination,” which is greatest stumbling block for unity. Could WCC bravely declare, “sin is sin, we have no compromise with sin”? Will the church leaders first establish peace within their own church and then think of universal ecumenism or else how great a hypocrisy? How unity is possible without shedding ego, pride, lust of power, immoral life style and keeping one’s own house in order? Will the leaders impartially study the unadulterated version of the Word of God, shun spurious versions, enter into frank and unbiased dialogue, say bye to “holier than thou attitude” and accept “the only truth,” then and then only ecumenism will be a reality.

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