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Ecumenism: Facts and Illusions
by Kurt E. Marquart

The words "ecumenical" and "ecumenism" come from a Greek word meaning "the whole inhabitable world." The "Ecumenical Movement" means to unite into one worldwide church all the scattered bits and pieces of Christendom. In itself, that is a noble aim. Everything depends on understanding the problem of Christian unity and division realistically. Otherwise, we are likely to apply Band-Aids to cancers, and actually make matters worse.

The Lord makes His church ONE not in just any way, but only in the TRUTH (St. John 8:31-32; 17:14-17). Without real unity in the One Lord, the One Faith, and the One Baptism (Eph 4: 5), mere outward togetherness is a sham. This is why our Augsburg Confession demands for the "true unity of the church" nothing more and nothing less than "that the Gospel be preached unanimously in its pure understanding, and the Sacraments be administered in accord with God’s Word." It is not necessary that human customs and traditions be everywhere alike. And, of course, there are believers, dear children of God, in all churches, who retain enough of the Gospel to make possible the creation of faith.

The three basic confessions or versions of Christianity are the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox, the Lutheran, and the Calvinist (Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.). The differences among these are not minor matters but go to the heart of the Gospel. Did Christ earn for us the free gift of eternal life, as the Bible teaches, or only the opportunity to earn this life by doing good works with His help, as Rome says? An honest reading of Romans and Galatians will leave us in no doubt about the answer. Again, does Holy Baptism give life and salvation, as Christ and His Apostles teach (St. John 3:5, Tit. 3:5, I Peter 3:21), or is it only a symbol of our obedience, as the Baptists say? And does the Lord really give us His holy body and blood to eat in His Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, or is all this only picture and symbol? There is no generic "Gospel," which might overlook or bypass such questions. Any honest confession of faith must "come clean" on matters so clearly taught in God’s Word (Gal. 1:6-8).

The modern "Ecumenical Movement" —despite some promising beginnings a hundred years ago—has largely given up on the issue of truth. It concentrates on getting everyone together outwardly, under compromise formulas like the recent "Lutheran"/Vatican joint statement on justification. During a major seminar on Christian-Muslim relations conducted recently at a "Lutheran" seminary, one person raised the issue of Christian evangelism among Muslims. He was told that this was "fascism"! And the Southern Baptists were accused of promoting "ancient hatreds" by proposing to do mission work among non-Christians. This intolerant secular "tolerance," with its fear and contempt for the whole idea of truth, has had its impact also in the churches. And since the bureaucracies and seminaries of the "main-line" churches have given up the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, they, of course, have no grounds for any firm convictions about anything.

Genuine ecumenism must go another way. It must walk by faith, not by sight. That means being guided by the truth of God and not by outward numbers or prestige. Whatever is not built on the one foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20) is to that extent not the church of Christ, but a counterfeit. There cannot be real peace between the Cross of Christ and the wisdom of this world (I Cor. 1 and 2). As Christians we are called to be friendly and peaceable among people of all kinds—and to love even our enemies. But we cannot go along with a deceitful outward show of church union and communion when there is no agreement in the life-giving doctrine of Christ and His Apostles, on which everything depends (St. John 6:63; Acts 2:42; I Tim. 4:16). The true ecumenical task is to raise everywhere—humbly but with conviction—the banner of Christ’s truth and doctrine, and not to budge from it. Such faithfulness God will bless—and is blessing throughout the world today. From Siberia and Kazakhstan to Haiti, from Sudan to Kenya and South Africa, from Europe and Canada to South America and Australia, everywhere the sheep of Christ hunger for the pure Bread of Life and rejoice in it. Thanks be to God!

The Rev. Kurt E. Marquart is an Associate Professor in the Pastoral Ministry and Missions Department at Concordia Theological Seminary.

Bible References

John 8: 31-32
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

John 17: 14-17
14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Ephesians 4: 5
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

John 3: 5
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Titus 3: 5
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

1 Peter 3: 21
and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Galatians 1: 6-8
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

Ephesians 2: 20
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

1 Corinthians 1, 2
Chapter 1 **
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-- 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas "; still another, "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. 26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Chapter 2**
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. 6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" -- 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

John 6: 63
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

Acts 2: 42
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

1 Timothy 4: 16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

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