What Is Ecumenism?

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In the Spiritual Sword, July, 1988, Thomas Warren was concerned about the Ecumenical Movement’s influences on the churches of Christ.  What is the Ecumenical Movement?  Why should we be concerned?
A Definition of Ecumenism
The word “ecumenical” is derived from the Greek word oikoumene which means “the whole inhabited world.”  The word was historically used of the Roman Empire.  The ecumenical vision comprises both the search for the visible unity of the Church (Eph. 4:3) and the “whole inhabited earth” (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all Christians.  The word “Christian” is used in a very broad sense of anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is different from the Scriptural use of the word.  The name Christian is always used as a noun in the New Testament.  The word describes a person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26).  It denotes a person who is redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:28) and a person who will suffer persecution for righteousness sake (I Peter 4:16).  A Christian is a person who has obeyed the Gospel (Rom. 10:16-17).  Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, obeys the Lord (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46).
Ecumenism refers to initiatives aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation.  The word is used primarily by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian churches who may be separated by doctrine, history and practice, but who seek to work together despite these differences.  These churches consider themselves to be in fellowship with each other as long as faith in Jesus Christ is expressed.  This distinguishes Ecumenism from interfaith pluralism that embraces all religions and approves of all religions as different pathways to God.
The Ecumenical Movement was initiated among Protestant denominations with the attempt to unify diverse religious bodies.  The World Council of Churches met for the first time in 1948.  The Council took place in Amsterdam.  The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The WCC brings together 349 churches, denominations, and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians (broad sense of the term Christian).  These churches include most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.
Fundamental Errors of Ecumenism
First, Ecumenists practice “unity in diversity.”  They claim to be united in Christ even though they do not believe the same doctrines, have the same history, or practice the same things (practice is driven by doctrine).  One of the main problems is the basic understanding of what is required in obeying the Gospel.  Many Ecumenists believe that one is saved by grace alone through faith alone.  Consequently, they do not teach that baptism into Christ is essential for salvation.  Jesus taught, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-20).  Jesus taught that baptism is essential for salvation because of the design of baptism.  In baptism, a person dies to sin, is buried in water, and raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).  When one is immersed into Christ, his/her sins are washed away (forgiven) (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16).  Most individuals in the Ecumenical Movement do not believe this truth.  The reality emerges that two different “gospels” are proclaimed which of course is an impossibility because there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8-9).
Second, Ecumenists affirm that one church is just as good as another, but this doctrine contradicts the teaching of the apostle Paul that there is one body (Eph. 4:4).  The one body is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).  Jesus built only one church (Matt. 16:18).  He is the head of the body (Eph. 5:23).  He is the savior of the body (Eph. 5:23).  Jesus saves those individuals who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).  He adds these individuals to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).  Modern denominations exist without biblical authority.  They arose as a result of the Reformation Movement and are now 500 years old or less.  The church of the New Testament was begun in the city of Jerusalem in the year 30 A.D.  just ten days after the ascension of Jesus into heaven (Acts 1 and 2).  Anyone can become a part of the New Testament church by obeying the one, true, Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16).
The Ecumenical Movement obscures two important truths concerning the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the true church of Jesus Christ.  On these two grounds, it must be rejected.

A House Divided

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February 14, 1860, Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to O. P. Hall, J. R. Fullenwider, and U. F. Correll.  In it, he clarified some of the things he had said.  He wrote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government can not endure permanently, half salve, and half free” (Wit & Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln by Jack Lang, p. 75).
Lincoln quoted from the book of Matthew chapter twelve verses 22-30.  In these passages, Jesus addressed a false accusation made about Him by the Pharisees. Lincoln knew that division destroys and conquers.
The Miracle.
Jesus performed a wonderful miracle.  He healed a man possessed with a devil.  The effects of this demon possession was that the man could not see nor could he speak.  Jesus healed the man completely and instantaneously.  The man could both see and speak.  The miracle amazed those who saw it and they said of Jesus, “is not this the son of David?”  The miracle had its designed effect.  It produced faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
The Accusation
The Pharisees, a religious sect among the Jews, attributed Jesus’ power to Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.  Later, Jesus referred to him as Satan.  This was a false accusation that was designed to smear Jesus’ work and reputation.  The unbelief of the Pharisees motivated them to make this statement and Jesus shows that it is an irrational comment.  All unbelief is irrational!
They could not deny the miracle.  They could only denounce the Messiah.
The Reply
Jesus knew their thoughts and their words.  He states, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (v. 25).
If you divide, you can conquer or destroy.  This underscores the power of division.
The Applications
First, Jesus applies this principle to Satan’s kingdom.  If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?  The logic is impeccable.  If Jesus is a servant of Satan and He cast out a devil, then Satan is working to destroy himself! Who could believe it?  But, Jesus is a servant of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit He cast out the devil.  Therefore, the kingdom of God is breaking forth at that time and conquering the kingdom of Satan.
Second, Jesus makes an application to His redemptive work (v. 29).  Jesus would enter the strong man’s house and spoil his goods.  Satan’s power is limited and it is overcome by the power of Christ.  Satan’s power is limited by Jesus’ authority.  Satan’s power is limited by the atoning power of the blood of Christ. Satan’s power is limited by the truth.
Third, Jesus makes application to each person.  “He that is not with me is against me.”  Every person must become one with Christ (reconciliation that results in spiritual union with Christ).  Every person who follows Jesus must remain one with each other (spiritual union with Christ results in spiritual fellowship with one another).  We must abide in the doctrine of Christ in order to have spiritual freedom (John 8:31-32).  We must abide in the doctrine of Christ in order to have fellowship with God (II John 7-11).  If we transgress (teach doctrines contrary to the doctrine of Christ or support those who do), then we lose both spiritual freedom (once again enslaved in Satan’s lies) and fellowship with God.  We lose our reward.
Christians must constitute a house united in Christ and upon the doctrine of Christ.  Our strength comes from the Lord (Eph. 6:10).  Our strength comes from unity.  From this position of strength, we will be victorious.

Some Thoughts on Unity

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Home of Alexander Campbell, Bethany, WV

Home of Alexander Campbell, Bethany, WV

This photo is a recent picture of the home of Alexander Campbell.  Alexander and his father Thomas were leaders in the Restoration Movement.  The Restoration Movement was the largest religious movement in American history.  Thomas Campbell wrote the Declaration and Address, an important document in Restoration history.  In this document, Thomas Campbell demonstrates a passion for unity and a passion for truth.  You cannot have unity without truth!  Let me share a few quotes from this historical document.  In proposition one, Campbell wrote, “The Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians” (Declaration and Address, Hester pub., 23).  Campbell was opposed to division.  He wrote in proposition ten, “That division among the Christians is a horrid evil fraught with many evils.  It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself.  It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command.  It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them.  In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work” (Declaration and Address, Hester pub., 26).  Finally, Campbell pleaded that to achieve unity, “nothing out to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God.  Nor ought anything to be admitted, as of Divine obligation, in their Church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament Church; either in express terms or by approved precedent” (Proposition no. 3, Declaration and Address, Hester pub., 23, 24).  The New Testament is normative for God’s church.  Campbell called the New Testament “a perfect model…for the worship, discipline, and government of the Christian Church.” Campbell’s most famous quotation was made during the meeting when the Declaration and Address was adopted, “Let us  speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.”
     This year is the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Declaration and Address.  It was adopted on September 7, 1809 by the Christian Association in Washington, PA.  This would be a good time to renew the important study of the subject of unity as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles in the New Testament.