A Starting Point for Practical Ecumenism

In response to my long essay about the similarity, or lack thereof, between the earliest Christians and various denominations today, one commentator, Anna, offered insights which can jump-start practical ecumenical discussion among Christians.  In her first comment, she opened the door to a principled ecumenism with a rejection of the extremes, both of judgmental conservatism and of mindless liberalism:

But I would like to suggest that there is a middle ground in between “you’re going to hell” and “all paths are equal”. The middle route says, “Yes, it does matter; but you’re not screwed if you get it wrong.”

She then established the value of ecumenical contact among Christians by pointing out how great it would be if we all took upon ourselves what each denomination does well:

What I’m trying to lead up to with all this is that I think many of the things that people believe make their denomination the real Church are, in fact, things that should be universal or nearly so. We would all be better off if all Christians held the Baptist’s devotion to the Bible, the Pentecostal’s practice of the Spirit’s charisms, the Lutheran’s doctrine that we can’t earn our salvation, and the Catholic’s submission to apostolic authority*.

In a second comment she recognized (as many pundits of ecumenism do not, including all too often the post author) that not all Christians will agree with her estimation of the strong points of each denomination, so it is worthwhile discussing the matter to improve our grasp of the situation:

As an additional note, I would say that it is worth arguing—in a charitable manner—about which parts each denomination is getting right.

And finally, she offered a practical response to benefit from rival claims of Christians belonging to different denominations to be the “True Church.”  All too often, such claims rankle outsiders because they seem to invalidate our own Christian experience, but Anna has a better response than dismissal or responding in anger:

I think that many people, when they say that their church is the “real Church”, actually mean “you should have what I have”. Instead of dismissing the term as divisive or short-sighted (which it can be), it’s more productive to ask… what is it you think your church has, that mine doesn’t, and which would benefit me?

And that, I think, is spiritual wisdom from which we can all benefit, turning even mutually exclusive claims to unique truth into opportunities for spiritual growth.

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