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One encounters often today books which deal with the subject of ecumenism. Most of these appear to support the idea from one or more points of view. It is an interesting contrast to read books which present rather the objections to present-day ecumenism. Such a book came to the Standard Bearer recently for review and was referred to the present writer. The book is entitled, “The Ecumenical Mirage.” The author is the Rev. C.S. Lowell, editor of Church and State, and Methodist minister. The book is published by Baker Book House at Grand Rapids and sells for $4.95. It is a book I can recommend—particularly since it contains many arguments against today’s ecumenical spirit with which we would heartily agree. For the benefit of our readers, I would like to point out and quote some of the pertinent arguments found in the book. 

THE FACT OF ECUMENISM 

One common denominator among ecumenists is the fact that present denominations are scorned as rather outdated. These, say the ecumenist, no longer serve the functions of proper churches. The author quotes from Dr. G.L. Hunt, a Presbyterian minister who serves as executive secretary for COCU:

“Denominations,” he said, “are only a sociological structure to preserve the competitive principle.” He felt that the denominational pattern was inadequate because “today we must come to grips with the power structures of our society.” In a day of sociological giants, the church must become one, too, if it is to make its impact. So ecumenists think of Christian unity in terms of merger upon merger, culminating finally in that ultimate ideal—union with Rome (pg. 19)

The Rev, Lowell further shows how that the ecumenist is ready to present his “bridges” which will span the gulf of denominational differences. Quoting from Bishop Corson of the Methodist Church, he writes:

“Education, knowledge, understanding which leads to clarification, will prove a strong two-way bridge to a true unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ,” he said. Then he explained how this could work: “Differences sometimes resolve themselves in understanding, and while doctrines cannot be compromised, their meaning is clarified by interpretation.” Theologians took this to suggest that such apparently impassable barriers as papal infallibility and the immaculate conception and bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary could be resolved or at least eased with some give-and-take in theological discussions. (p. 15)

It is the conclusion of this author that the ecumenists have in mind merger finally with the Roman Catholic Church itself. Such an idea seemed beyond the scope of possibility only ten years ago—yet today the thought is repeated constantly. Says the author:

Professional ecumenists think of Christian unity as a steady progression of church mergers culminating in a union with the Church of Rome. Time after time I have heard them conclude their discussion of the ecumenical movement with some such statement as “And I do not bar reunion with the Roman Catholic Church,” or, “We must envisage as our ultimate goal reunion with Rome.” (p. 18)

Several interesting conclusions are made concerning this ecumenical movement, conclusions which are very pertinent and with which we would heartily agree:

In Scotland, Professor R.A. Finlayson told the Presbyterian General Assembly there (June 1966). . . . “We cannot regard the present ecumenical movement as a distinctively Christian movement at all. It is a political-ecclesiastical movement making a strong bid for political power and willing to jettison its faith and all Christianity in the attempt.” (p. 20) 

While the rolling wave of the moment may be no more than one of vague togetherness, the leaders who ride it are merger-happy men. They would like to ride it all the way. They want this wave to roll to a structural unity in which all churches would merge into one under a single ecclesiastical tent. (p. 25)

ECUMENICAL ASSUMPTION 

Rev. Lowell reminds his readers of the assumption which is made by the ecumenist: organic union is in itself good; organic division is necessarily bad; total merger of all churches is the highest good. Together with this assumption is the notion that the calling of the church is no longer simply to preach Christ crucified. In fact, there is no room for such a gospel today:

The connectional managers of the Protestant denominations are under constant pressure to come up with new gimmicks. The gospel is never enough. They feel they must compete with the thousand and one forms of excited appeal which dim their way in upon their constituency. They must whip them up, keeping both clergy and laity on the move and justifying their own position. (p. 29)

The author of the book evaluates the assumption of the ecumenist as follows:

Many Christians today, their denominational leaders among them, have no real hope for the future. The gospel they know does not provide it. For all their nominal professions of faith, they are quite as the pagans. For them there is only darkness ahead. Animals fearful of a gathering storm huddle together in a cave. In the group there is a sense of safety. In some such manner the large belongingness of ecumenism is helpful. Men feel that they are joined with something that is very big, something that must be very strong. Thus ecumenism becomes a palliative for those who fear, a substitute for faith. (p. 35)

A QUESTION OF STERILITY OR PROLIFERATION AND HEALTH

It is the contention of the author that ecumenism promotes a certain spiritual sterility within such denominations which have followed that path towards ever wider mergers. He points to many instances which reveal that mergers do not in reality promote the cause of missions nor do they promote spiritual and numerical growth within the denomination. One apparently convincing argument of the ecumenist is that unity of denominations would result in unified and thorough mission endeavor. The argument runs as follows:

The scatter-gun approach to the non-Christian world has lacked system and thoroughness. And, what is far more serious, the non-Christian is undoubtedly confused by the multiple and diverse appeals reaching him from various Christian bodies, none of which may know very much about what the others are doing. This is even worse when the appeals are competitive. (p. 52-53)

The author points out, however, that ecumenism has not solved that problem which it claims is inherent in denominationalism and its mission work. The result of ecumenism is first, a loss of missionary zeal and concern; secondly, to a large extent a loss of the only message the missionary can bring: the gospel. Ecumenism tends to destroy the very idea of mission work. And the author’s conclusion is surely true. 

Rev. Lowell quotes membership figures of churches which are “ecumenical” and compares these with “non-ecumenical” churches. The “ecumenical” churches show an overall decline in membership. The conclusion must be that where the gospel is no more preached, there is no further reason for the existence of the “church.” The author insists:

Ecumenism is not a kindling, creative movement among Protestants. It appears to be more like a death march. As distinctives recede and convictions decline, ecumenists have little or nothing to cling to except each other. (p. 61)

On the other hand, Lowell points convincingly to the fact that the divisions of denominations have a useful purpose. He states:

Unity has never been a stimulating condition for the church of Jesus Christ. As long as the formal challenge of paganism remained in the West, the church maintained its vitality in mighty missionary thrusts. Mere paganism provided the challenge to keep the church alert and on the move. Then there was the challenge of the great heresies which had to be met. The movement led by Arius in the fourth and fifth centuries rocked and stirred the church just as the stagnation of unity was nicely settling in. It created currents and stirred tides that are still felt fifteen hundred years later. The movement of Arius was a nuisance to the Roman Emperor and the bishops of the church, but the church’s tradition and teaching would have been poorer without it. (p. 66) 

Uncritical ecumenism provides no comparable challenge to change. The art of being like everybody else may be comforting but it is not stimulating or creative. History teaches that reforms come about only under challenge and only when the challengers are firm to the point of proliferation away from the group to be reformed. This is why division has been good for the church. A church incapable of proliferation is dead. (p. 83)

It is a small measure of assurance that there are others within other denominations who recognize the evils in ecumenism as practiced today. May they continue to sound the necessary warning. We must not, however, deceive ourselves into thinking that perhaps this ecumenism will be stopped. From this point, it would appear that this present trend towards oneness represents nothing less than that which leads to the establishment of the antichristian church of the last days. God grant us grace to remain faithful now—and in that day.