{25}     Ecumenism & new theologies

ERA 7 << Modern Church (3): Ecumenism & Adaptations (AD 1900–2000) >> SESSION 4

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 36

25.1  Development of Ecumenism

        25.1.1  Underlying factors

·         Originated with missions: Because of cooperation in missionary activities, there were movements seeking further collaboration among various churches by the end of 19th-c.

·         Charismatic movement: Beginning in the late 1950s, the charismatic movement spread within mainline denominations and the Catholic Church. The similarity in its emphasis facilitated the rise of ecumenism.

        25.1.2  Quest for unity

·         Faith and Order Conference [1927]: to work towards the reunion of divided denominations.

·         Life and Work Conference [1925]: concerned with the relation of Christian faith to social, political, and economic questions.

        25.1.3  World Council of Churches (WCC)

·         Formation in Amsterdam [1948]—The first assembly of the WCC met with 150 churches from 44 countries.

·         Support for socialist agenda: WCC has turned liberal, making salvation earthly and physical (peace and justice) rather than spiritual. It sacrificed theology for union based on the lowest common denominator and support left leaning policies. Evangelization gives way to radical political and social revolution.

        25.1.4  Global Missions

·         “Three selves”: The purpose of missions has always to found indigenous and mature churches in various parts of the world. Among Protestants, the goal has often been expressed in terms of the “three selves”: self-government, self-support, and self-propagation.

·         Indigenization or contextualization: The objective is to build a native church that fits well into the indigenous culture, not an imported westernized Christianity with western-style practices.

25.2  Organizational Cooperation & Amalgamation

·         25.2.1—25.2.6  Interdenominational cooperation, Non-denominational cooperation, Organic reunion: National Intraconfessional, Organic reunion: National Interconfessional, Ecclesiastical confederations: National interconfessional, Ecclesiastical confederations: International intraconfessional

        25.2.7  Ecclesiastical confederations: International interconfessional

·         World Council of Churches (WCC)—the largest ecumenical organization in the world

·         International Congress on World Evangelization [1974]—Lausanne MovementThis is the response of conservative Christians to the WCC. It aims to “unite all evangelicals in the common task of the total evangelization of the world.” The Lausanne Covenant [1974] emphasizes loyalty to the inspired Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and practice, and that social concern and action are a relevant part of the gospel.

·         Chinese Congress on World Evangelization (CCOWE) [1976]—This organization operates under the Lausanne Movement and tries to coordinate evangelizing effort among Chinese Christians.

25.3  Internal Upheaval

        25.3.1  New directions

·         Recent disputes: Contemporary theological disputes centred around the nature of the church, Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, the role of the Holy Spirit in the church, and eschatology.

        25.3.2  Liberation Theology

·         Origin: In Latin America, the people suffer not just from underdevelopment but from oppression by oppressive regimes (dictators) or oppressive capitalism (wealthy landowners and business entrepreneurs). Some pastors believed that salvation is social, economic, and political liberation from all forms of oppression.

·         Errors: They emphasized the liberator Christ but not the revealed Word of God. Spiritual salvation is ignored. Hope is not for eternal life, but the worldly hope of helping to shape the future. It is a deviated gospel.

        25.3.3  Different perspectives of churches

·         Perspective of the North: the great issue is the East-West confrontation between capitalism and democracy (West) and communism and totalitarianism (East)

·         Perspective of the South: the main issue is the distribution of wealth within the nations and internationally

        25.3.4  Recent divisions due to disagreements

·         Future divisions: The problem of ordination of homosexuals as pastors has plagued many mainline denominations, including the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans and the Methodists. The underlying reason for the divisions is actually not sexual morality but the authority of the Bible.

25.4  Resurgence of Evangelicalism

        25.4.1  Characteristics of Evangelicalism

·         Definition: Evangelicals are those who hold to the historic doctrines of Christian faith, including the Bible as God’s Word, the deity of Christ, and salvation by faith and not works. They believe strongly in evangelism.

        25.4.2  Increase in the number of Evangelicals

·         Decreasing attendance: There has been a clear downward trend in attendance in liberal mainline churches.

·         Increasing attendance: There has been an increasing trend in attendance in evangelical churches.

        25.4.3  New directions in Evangelicalism

·         Televangelismreaching multi-million audience, tainted by moral lapses of televangelists in the 1980s

·         Social involvement: Liberal evangelicals stress the defense of social and economic rights of the poor and the oppressed, protection of the environment but subscribe to moral relativism. Conseervatives affirm both social assistance and social action and emphasize on moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

        25.4.4  Evangelical para-church organizations

·         Para-church organizations: These organizations are outside churches; they offer a variety of services or ministries, such as Campus Crusade, World Vision, Gideons, Wycliffe Translators.

        25.4.5  Diversity of evangelicals

·         4 groups: Evangelical separatists, conservative evangelicals, neo-evangelicals, liberal evangelicals.

        25.4.6  Evangelical Theologians

·         Helmut Thielicke (1908–1986)—German Lutheran: relating the gospel to the contemporary world

·         Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984)—American Presbyterian: influential in apologetics

·         John Stott (1921–2011)—English Anglican: holding expertise in many different fields

·         Donald Bloesch (1928– 2010)—American Lutheran/Presbyterian: stressing ecumenical cooperation

·         Thomas Oden (1931–  )—American Methodist: stressing theology from the ancient church.


[1] treasure our heritage

Both evangelism and social concern are important elements of the gospel.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

God raised up evangelicals to recognize the fallacy of the WCC. Classic ecumenism of spiritual unity and cooperation is practiced.

[3] avoid past errors

Decline and breakdown of mainline churches is mainly caused by compromising or abandoning the Word of God.

[4] apply our knowledge

We should use modern technology to extend the kingdom of God as much as we can, such as television and internet.

[5] follow past saints

Para-church organizations work for the advance of the universal church, not just for self-interest.