August 2010: Ecumenism

While you may be well over Christians of a certain age banging on about U2, a new publication in that genre still warrants your attention.

Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity by Steven R. Harmon (Cascade Books) begins with reference to U2: “We’re one, but we’re not the same” from the song “One” (Achtung Baby).

Ecumenism, says Harmon, is not a relativistic pan-religious pluralism and the healthiest approaches to ecumenism — the quest for specifically Christian unity — do not minimise the significant differences of faith and practice that exist between churches.

Harmon uses U2 and their music to make the case that, inasmuch as seeking the unity of the body of Christ is an inescapable obligation of Christian discipleship, ecumenism means (ahem) you, too.

He acknowledges that today there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged about the future of ecumenism. Like the “broken bottles round the children’s feet/bodies strewn across a dead-end street” in “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, the tragic evidence of our lack of Christian unity can cause us to lose heart and resign ourselves to our continued conflict and division.

But there are also grounds for optimism and Harmon is encouraged to propose ten ecumenical practices: pray for the unity of the church; pray for the unity of the church in the company of other Christians with whom you have serious disagreements; commit yourself to the life of a particular church, wartsand all; embrace a particular denominational tradition; learn all you can about the “Great Tradition” to which all denominational traditions are heirs; learn all you can about other denominational traditions; adopt another denominational tradition as a second tradition; join other Christians in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed; join other Christians in serving as advocates for social justice and environmental responsibility; and, in connection with all the above: search the scriptures — devotionally, in the context of corporate worship, and with study groups in your own congregation, but also withChristians from other traditions.

Harmon refrains from making any specific proposals for ecumenical progress, save one: that the future of Christian unity “depends in part on your personal commitment to embark on that quest as a matter of being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ”.

Unity is God’s gift, he says. It leaves us, or more accurately we leave it, if we don’t care for it. With Harmon, I pray that each of you who read his book and this edition of Insights will offer your own distinctive gifts in the service of the unity of the church, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Stephen Webb




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