Join None of Them, for They Are All Wrong – Mormon Ecumenism?
I am currently at an ecumenical formation seminar at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland. This was the first day of the three and a half day course, and I thought that I would share my thoughts on what has been discussed in our classes today and will try to do so every day of the course – for those of you who are interested. I think that from a LDS point of view, we seldom – if ever – have engaged on a serious level with the ecumenical movement, and my being here is a fantastic opportunity for LDS readers of the site to get an inside account on a movement we most often look at from the outside.
What do we mean by Ecumenical and Ecumenism?
Simon Oxley explains in his introduction of an article with the working title above that ‘for some, ecumenism is a threat to or denial of true Christian faith. It may be seen as a (communist, Roman Catholic, masonic or similar) plot to create one global church structure against people’s will. Many Christians throughout the world are not involved ecumenically for reasons of antagonism, lack of interest or irrelevance. In fact, the ecumenical movement has engaged very little with the fastest growing sectors of the church – evangelical and pentecostal churches and indigenous churches.
From an LDS point of view, I think that our lack of engagement in the movement is primarily doctrinal: being a Restoration Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes it is actually and exclusively representing the Kingdom of God on Earth. Everyone know the words of the two personages of the divinity speaking to Joseph Smith telling him to join “none of them”:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
The origin of the English word ecumenical is the ancient Greek oikoumene. The root of this word is oikos, a house, and its original meaning relates to those who live together in a household. By a process of extension it came to refer to the whole inhabited earth. The New Testament uses the word oikoumene in the sense of the whole inhabited earth, in several places.
And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world (oikoumene), as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
The word ecumenical acquired its ecclesiastical connotations through the name being applied to the early councils of the Church from the Council of Nicea in 325 – which epitomizes the ‘apostasy’ or the falling away in Mormon doctrine and teachings. The term ecumenical was applied because they brought together representatives of Christian communities from around the then known world. A council called by the Roman emperor was de facto an authoritative body. The word ecumenical when applied to Nicea and subsequent councils became associated with that which is authoritative and valid throughout the whole church.
The developing meaning in the modern ecumenical movement
The unity of the church has always been a primary factor in ecumenism. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me”.
Throughout the world ecumenical has been used to designate the efforts of Christians to seek and promote unity but these efforts are not an end in themselves. The aim of Christian union is that the world may believe. Ecumenical comprises therefore both the missionary movement and the movement for unity of the churches. It is interesting that Joseph Smith’s motivation to find the ‘one and true’ Church led to the Restoration.
But the ecumenical movement is in fact a direct response from the many christian churches to finding a solution to the confusion and the cacophony that characterized the times in which Joseph Smith lived and that was also characteristic of the multiplicity of churches and of the strained relations between them. The ecumenical movement is meant to act as a unifying effort from the parts of the many Christian churches in the world to come together and provide a unity of witness to the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the New Testament.
The All Africa Conference of Churches has this description of the rationale of ecumenism:
The primary underlying theological principle of ecumenism is that the entire human race bears the same origin and we are children of the same parent-God, who at the end of time will be drawn into union with God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To pray and address God: “Our Father” has a great ecumenical significance, an ecumenical significance beyond the unity of the denominations of the Christian Church to that of the unity of humankind. The word oikoumene is related to another Greek word ‘oikos’, which means household. Under the Father/Parent, we are one family belonging to his household. Therefore no one should be classified a foreigner because we are children of the same Parent/God.
This sounds very much like Restored Gospel to me Does that mean that the ecumenical movement represents an attempt to re-emphasize what gathers, what centers, what lifts up, what strengthens, what unites? Are the churches on their way to “draw near to God with their hearts, as well as with their lips, and teach the doctrines of God rather than the commandments of men, and acknowledge the power of godliness, and be able to address the common challenges we face as a global family?”
One of the presenters today explained however that the ecumenical movement is having to respond to ‘developmental shifts’ occurring in our faith communities and for which the World Council of Churches may not be properly equipped to address:
1. from doctrinal discussions across churches to ethical discussions within churches
2. from inter-christian dialogue with other christian churches to interfaith dialogue with other faith traditions
3. from a loose ecumenical movement and fellowship of churches to institutionalism and the ‘competition’ between old and new ecumenical bodies
Other challenges are: over-stretching diversity (is the movement becoming so diverse, that it becomes difficult to manage), suspicion in the global South to more structures and international institutions (don’t expect those who have led us into this mess, to be the ones to lead us out of it), addressing women’s ordination and human sexuality within the broader movement (individual rights pinned against communitarian ideals), to what extent is the World Council of Churches and member churches participating in the denouncing practice of prophecy in challenging unjust structures, etc…
One of my reflections is perhaps that the ‘specialised ministries’, the development and aid organizations funding many of the program activities of the World Council of Churches, have had to water down and secularize their messages in order to secure government funding for their development projects. In the process, they have lost their very understanding of change, the faith approach of change theories: conversion! It does not mean ‘conversion’ in the old style, that is from one religion to another religion or from one culture to another culture, but rather from one understanding of the world to another understanding of it that will change your behavior and your outlook on things. An environmentally conscious way for example, or a non-materialistic way, a vegan way, a nonviolent way, etc.
As Latter-day Saints, we are asked to invite all to ‘come unto Christ’, but by coming unto Christ we see things the way He sees them, we reach a divine level of perspective where we love our neighbors because we are all brothers and sisters, we respect and value God’s creation because we have become co-creators with God, we are one because in Him we become one. Now, I think it is time for us to embrace Truth wherever it is preached and practiced, and to be honest – there is a lot of Truth in the ecumenical ideals.