Today we see an admirable, huge amount of efforts invested in the promotion of both co-operation and unity among Christians. In order to bring these efforts to fruition there is need to reshape our approach to the whole issue of ecumenism both in our mentality and action. There should be balance between doctrinal discussions and daily life. Besides false, popular ideas to correct ecumenism should not be left to specialists alone.
One of them is the mentality to consider ecumenism as an affair for theologians, those who are involved in discussions on doctrinal differences. Yes, this is an aspect of ecumenism since it’s one form of co-operation through common study, by which we try to resolve disagreements on doctrine. But ecumenism is not inter-denominational discussions that specialists treat. It’s a Christian way of life.
Others would consider ecumenism as a ground too dangerous to be left to the ordinary faithful. Thus we leave it to the intellectuals who know the difference between “procession” and “emanation” or “generation”…. The ordinary faithful are removed from the frontline and are caged behind the screen so that they are not misled by error. And so, specialists get to work. They discuss, reach an agreement and produce a common document. A toast is proposed, they are happy to see how churches are progressing towards unity. What next?
One would expect that once Church leaders endorse such agreement, their hearts burning for that grace for possible unity, would hurry to translate it in the pastoral life of a parish so that it can bear the fruit of unity. But to bring the content of the document to the grassroots there is hesitation. It goes very slow, if at all any attempt is made. “Learned” people can access the document and know things have changed while the ordinary faithful are left in the usual polemics of the past. People are deprived of that possibility for a new way of thinking and acting. Thus, in practice the division remains as ever.
Yes, a lot is being done at the intellectual level, but there is very little sensitisation among the ordinary faithful. That’s why it may not be their fault if they think ecumenism is not their business.
Somebody may object: in fact, there is a lot of co-operation going on. Churches come together for Palm Sunday Procession or at funerals. What other form of ecumenism do you want? Good observation! These things are happening.
In fact, this brings us just to another extreme to avoid. Ecumenical dialogue in daily life may be the quickest way of living out Christian unity that may happen by exploiting any form of incidental co-operation among members of the different denominations. It’s good in itself, but can deceive. Some People can even look down upon theological discussions as nothing, and waste of time. This is not healthy either.
Co-operation among people from different denominations may be mistaken for ecumenism even when the people themselves have no notion whatsoever what Christian unity is all about. Solidarity with others would be just a normal way of living for many cultures in Africa. Indeed, while this can be a good vehicle for ecumenical purposes, it may be an illusion to name any such fortuitous solidarity among people of different denominations as ecumenism. The manifestation remains ecumenical in colour but may not have any link to it at all.
And so, those otherwise ecumenically disposed people have unfortunately no ecumenical foundation or objectives on which to operate. Such solidarity, good as it may be, risks remaining static and possibly loosing the opportunity of advancing to certain specific goals that people who explicitly engage in ecumenism may have. They may solely settle on the simple humanitarian co-operation. I have a feeling ecumenism aims at something more than just that. It’s here theology comes in to help; not only in illuminating our faith as a coherence whole but also in shaping and proposing a spirituality, a way of living that faith.
Ecumenism is a significant aspect of Christian spirituality, genuinely evangelical. It’s not for few specialists neither is it an option for few interested people. It’s a way of life after the very heart of Jesus himself, thus, a way of life for every Christian. That’s why there is need to strike a balance between doctrine and life. What we believe is to be lived out, and what live should be inspired by our belief. This shows the importance of taking care of the two aspects of ecumenism, neglecting neither.
Members of the church at all levels, each according to one’s way of life and possibilities, can fruitfully involve themselves in ecumenism since the conversion of heart to which it beckons us is a matter for everybody. It’s a response to Christ himself who wills that his disciples be one. This change of heart will involve repenting for the times we have been mean and acted uncharitably toward others, pointing accusing fingers on them as responsible for division. It is our sin of pride. We are in need of forgiveness.
Since Ecumenism is not basically an affair for institutions or specialists but a way of life for every Christian, this demands that any ecumenical achievement on the top level be brought down to the daily life of the faithful.