What is it?
It means church unity. It is a broad word that can be a specific as cooperation between denominations or as wide as unity of all faiths into one religion. For this blog post it will not refer to the unity of all religions but the unity of Christianity.
Why is it important?
The church in the New Testament is talked about as something whole made up of many different parts. From the very beginning the church suffered from factions and splitting, something Paul was very adamant in combating. Unity brings authority, it cultivates self sacrifice and accountability, it provides world wide fellowship and love of our brothers and sisters. It is important to face the world and our enemies with a united front.
Most importantly, we stand as one before Christ, as His bride and His body. In Hosea, Israel is described as a wife who is repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, with her husband showing her repeated grace. I believe this metaphor extends to the church as well. While it is important to pursue Truth and to stand for righteousness, we must also be willing to show one another, especially our brothers, grace just as Christ is showing us as a body grace.
1 Corinthians 12
Galatians 3:27, 29
What are the arguments/reservations against it?
Many people are apprehensive of any ecumenical movement. Mostly this comes from the fear that in order to achieve unity, strong doctrinal standards must be laid aside. Truth must be compromised and watered down. This is a valid concern, but in the very least it shouldn’t stop us from trying to find a way to bridge gaps instead of creating them.
2 Cor. 6:14-15
A historical rivalry, feud, or grudge (which is at best immature)
The notion that unity ultimately means a path towards the antichrist (which is at best stupid)
How has it been approached historically?
Historically unity has been approached two ways. The first was to hold ecumenical councils in which representatives from the entire known church would come together to work out a particular issue, decide on how it was to be looked at, and declare anyone who held the opposing view to be heretical, or outside of the Christian church. This worked for small disagreements or when the issue seemed pretty clear. In fact this is how we came to our current understanding of the Trinity. But it couldn’t deal with the growing differences between the east and west. Later it wouldn’t work with the protestant reform. In fact, it ended up creating a much wider gap.
The second way it has been approached is trying to find a common ground theologically. This has been done in the past century to varying effects, the most significant moment being Vatican 2. While this method is much better than the first (in how the current church body exists) it is either very limited in how much unity it can reach or how many different denominations it can affect. For example, the Anglican and the Catholic church can achieve a fair amount of unity but when Pentecostals are added in there is very little everyone can agree on theologically.
Why hasn’t this worked?
In my own opinion, it hasn’t worked because most ecumenical movements have focused on theological doctrine which is the very thing that is strengthened by individual interpretation and tradition. In other words, theology is what divides, it is its nature to place boundaries on interpretation and declare singular authority. Theology will never unite. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means that it shouldn’t be used as a uniting method.
What are other options?
Besides Theology there should be much more that defines a church. Things like how fellowship is done, how service is done, and the fact that we are all baptized in Christ’s name. My thesis project for my masters dealt with the unified service efforts of the different campus ministries at UTA. At the very least there should be acknowledgement of a larger body.
What is the ultimate goal?
The end product, as I see it, would be a single body by the acknowledgement and fellowship with one another, with a diverse set of theology just as every church rests in a different community with different traditions and cultures. In my mind there doesn’t need to be an ultimate authority over everybody, as long as individual congregations have some denominational authority and accountability over them. I would trust the Sovereignty of God to hold His church together in the name of His Son through His Spirit. But then again I am already trusting that is happening. I just wish we acted like it more.