Attempts at oneness often result in ecumenism.
What is ecumenism? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, ecumenism is a “movement or tendency toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.” Merriam-Webster defines ecumenism as “ecumenical principles and practices especially as shown among religious groups (such as Christian denominations).”
Ecumenism is an attempt to bring unity and oneness, typically within Christianity. Ecumenical discussions are had with the hopes of resulting in oneness despite differences. Thus, ecumenical movements are formed. Popular ecumenical efforts have been made between Catholics and Protestants, for example.
The end goal of ecumenism is to establish a visible oneness. After all, Jesus prayed that His members would provide a visible oneness. That is why some of you may be surprised to find that I am not in favor of ecumenism.
‘Wait, Chuck. What? All this talk about oneness and now you say that you’re not in favor of ecumenism?’
Yea, pretty much.
I appreciate the intent to establish oneness, but ecumenism does not result in genuine oneness.
ECUMENISM IS BASED ON LABELS
The basis of ecumenism is determining which groups to include or exclude in our oneness. That’s where the ecumenical debates rage: ‘Should we or should we not include (this group) or (that group)?’
It’s likely that most Protestants would include most other Protestant denominations. For example, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians would largely be fully accepting of each other as being one in Christ, though there may be certain individuals of any category who would take issue.
Certain Baptists, for example, might debate ‘should we or shouldn’t we include Pentecostals?’ Premillennials might debate ‘should we or shouldn’t we include preterists?’ Calvinists might debate ‘should we or shouldn’t we include Arminians?’ The vice versa may also apply in each example.
Ecumenism is based on labels. Ecumenical debates are about which denominations or groups or categories to include or exclude.
Ecumenism serves as an umbrella. Which categories are we willing to include under our umbrella? How far should we or shouldn’t we stretch the umbrella?
Line up all the denominations, categories, groups, labels you can think of. How far should we stretch the umbrella and say that we still have oneness in Christ? That’s the approach of ecumenical efforts.
Do we or don’t we include Catholics? Do we or don’t we include Jehovah’s Witness? Or Mormons?
Ecumenical efforts seek to line up all these categories and then determine which groups to include under the umbrella of ecumenism. ‘These are the people with whom we have oneness in Christ. These are the people with whom we cannot have oneness.’ It’s all based on groups and labels.
Genuine oneness in Christ is not based on which groups or denominations or labels to include or exclude. Genuine oneness in Christ is based on Christ!
ONENESS IS BASED ON CHRIST
Our oneness in Christ is not based on groups or affiliations. Being part of a certain denomination does not make a person one with Christ. Only by being united with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection can a person be one with Christ. Only the blood of Jesus can atone for a person, and each person will have to answer to God. The blood of Jesus does not cover people category by category; it covers people individual by individual who are newly created in Christ.
It’s not like the Lord accepts people based on what denomination they were affiliated with. ‘Well, I was a Baptist my whole life, so I’m good, right?’ Or ‘See, Lord, my name is here on the Presbyterian membership roll, so I’m in, right?’
Jesus doesn’t welcome into the kingdom of God those who are members of this category or that category, but excludes some other category. People don’t enter the kingdom of God based on their label. People can only enter the kingdom of God through Jesus. And that is something that happens individual by individual.
Those who have been brought into oneness with Christ have been made the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). They have been born anew (John 3:7). They have been spiritually raised from the dead and walk newly in resurrection life (Rom. 6:4).
Just because a person is a Methodist, Lutheran, or Charismatic does not determine whether they are or are not the new creation in Christ. A person who has come to the Lord and lives a new, revived life is a person who has been made alive (regenerated) in Christ. Only those who are regenerated in Christ are one with Him; and it is only those who are regenerated in Christ with whom we genuinely have oneness. Our oneness in Christ is not dependent on any human categories or organizations, but based solely on the regenerating work of Christ.
That’s why ecumenism will only ever fail. It seeks to include or exclude based on category. Genuine oneness in Christ will include all who have been newly created in Him.
Let’s say I meet with a member of any Protestant congregation and find that we don’t truly have Christ in common. I am not one in Christ with that person. They might know all the right things to say and look the part, perhaps even having been a church-goer their whole life. But if we don’t share in common resurrection life in Christ, then it’s because we don’t actually have Christ in common.
Ecumenism tells me I’m one with that person because they are a member of a certain acceptable denomination that fits under the umbrella. The Spirit of Christ tells me that I’m not one with that person unless they have been newly-created in Him.
There are congregations that are almost entirely filled with people who are not the new creation in Christ. They gather together as a social club, or perhaps because they share in common certain political activism.
There are other congregations that might consist 50% of regenerate members. Even the very best of congregations may still have at least 10%, 20%, or 30% of its members not truly regenerated in Christ. In any type of gathering, there is always the risk and probability that there are some who gather together who don’t really know the Lord. We only have genuine oneness with those who do really know the Lord.
ONENESS IS SUBVERSIVE
Whereas ecumenism functions like an umbrella, genuine oneness is subversive to the whole system. Genuine oneness is not a categorical determination. Genuine oneness is based on lives that have been given over to Christ, which is an individual by individual diagnostic.
Whereas ecumenism covers denominations and labels, oneness is subversive to the labels and plucks individuals out from their specific human-devised category and into Christ.
Authentic oneness is subversive to the man-made system of denominations and church organizations. Genuine oneness is blind to the labels and it focuses on the individual. After all, that’s what Jesus did with the woman at the well; He didn’t look at her and think “Samaritan,” He looked at her and recognized an individual He could (and did) minister to.
It’s not enough that someone says they are a member of Denomination X or Congregation Y. Being a member of a certain denomination or congregation does not enter a person into the kingdom of God. It’s also possible that someone could say they are a member of Denomination X or Congregation Y and my regrettable reflex reaction might be ‘eeww. You should probably do something about that.’
How about this? How about I/we sit down and talk to the person like they are a human being…instead of categorizing them according to a label.
If you meet with someone and you talk to them about the Lord and are getting no reciprocation of the things of Christ, it’s quite possible you don’t have Christ in common. If you meet with someone and you talk about the Lord and have great mutual fellowship in Christ, then it really doesn’t matter what denominational or congregational name they bear. You’re one in Christ! But we’ll never know either way if we only go according to man-made labels and our preconceived notions about those labels.
Oneness is subversive of labels:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV)
All labels are torn down in Christ. Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female; each of these are labels, and they are all torn down in Christ. “You are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Labels of denominations and congregations cause us to bear a name of an entity other than the name of Jesus.
WHAT NAME DO YOU BEAR?
Do you bear the name of your congregation? Do you take it with you wherever you go, proudly proclaiming its praises?
Are you so enthralled by the doctrinal teaching and theology of your denomination that you’ll claim your allegiance to it? If that theology is challenged, do you defend its name?
Or do you bear the name of Jesus, taking His name with you wherever you go, proudly proclaiming Him? Are you so enthralled with Jesus and His teachings that you’ll defend His name?
It matters what name we bear because it showcases our identity. Is your identity found in Jesus? Then live in a way so as to bear His name. Is your identity found in your congregation? Or denomination? Then that’s the name you’ll bear, and the result will be divisive with others who bear a different name.
For many years I bore the name of Reformed Baptist. That was my camp of Christianity. It’s neither the name of a congregation nor a denomination, but a label I associated myself with theologically. It was my identity as a believer.
If you ask me today to provide a detailed account of my beliefs, you would still find in my essay elements that would be described as reformed and/or baptistic. My beliefs in those areas haven’t significantly changed. But my recognition of my true identity has changed.
I’m no longer interested to bear the name Reformed Baptist. My identity is in the Lord Jesus. If I were to find my identity to be within the scope of my reformed baptistic beliefs, I would be immediately distinguishing myself from believers who think differently. I’ve just created a line of division between myself and those who are not reformed nor baptistic. I’ve just put myself in a camp to distinguish myself from other Christian camps. I confess that I did this for many, many years.
How many camps are there in the kingdom of God? One! Just one.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10, emphasis mine)
There is one camp in Christ. We are all in one name: the name of Jesus.
The Corinthian believers created multiple camps. Each camp bore its own name.
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12)
One camp bore the name of Paul, another camp the name of Apollos. Yet another camp bore the name of Peter. And even those who bore the name of Christ apparently did so in an arrogant manner. Paul’s response: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13)
Is Christ divided? Note that Paul doesn’t ask whether the church is supposed to be divided; he asked if Christ is to be divided! And the resounding answer is NO; because all who are in Christ are one in Him.
If we bear any name other than the name of Jesus, are we unintentionally attempting to divide Christ? If we proudly bear the name of any camp other than the singular camp of Christ, we are doing a disservice to our great and mighty King, His kingdom, and the testimony of His kingdom which should be displayed via our oneness.
What name do you bear? Your identity depends entirely upon it.
There are truly only two identities in the world: those who are in Adam, and those who are in Jesus. We are all naturally born into the identity of Adam; we are born into his name. We can only be supernaturally reborn into the identity of Jesus. If we’ve been reborn, we’ve been reborn into His name.
Ecumenism divides camp from camp, and then tries to figure out how to patch it all back together into one. Genuine oneness in Christ comes from bearing the name of Jesus and finding our identity entirely and solely in Him.
Jesus intended for us to be kept in the Father’s name, which would result in our oneness:
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. … Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. … I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:6, 11b-12a, 26)
Attempts at ecumenism is not the answer to generating oneness. Removing all labels to find our identity in Christ, and Christ alone, will allow us to realize the oneness that all true believers already have in Christ.
Only in the name of Jesus.