Relationships with other denominations
This page is a basic introduction to ecumenism. If you are
interested in how to be involved in ecumenical work, go to the How to Get
What is ecumenism?
Definition of Ecumenism
The word 'ecumenical', or if you prefer the original Greek
'oikoumene', is derived from a root word meaning to 'inhabit'. So,
it literally means the 'inhabited earth' or 'the whole world'.
The logo from an LEP in Melksham including
Methodist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, URC, Independent
The World Council of Churches
in 1951 defined ecumenical in the light of the original
Greek, 'to describe everything that relates to the whole task of
the whole church to bring the Gospel to the whole world. It
therefore covers … both unity and mission in the context of the
'Oikoumene' is a relational dynamic concept which extends beyond
the fellowship of Christians and churches to the human community
within the whole of creation.
(Extracted from Dictionary of the Ecumenical
Movement, 2002, page 840.)
Brief history of the ecumenical movement in Britain
A well-known prayer speaks of "the great dangers we are in by
our unhappy divisions".
And we have been travelling a path towards greater unity for
a hundred years or more.
But, with every step forward towards one fully visible united
Church, we seem to take at least half a step back.
Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 set the pace.
Randall Davidson issued his 'An appeal to all Christian
people' (Resolution 9 at the 1920 Lambeth Conference) ten years
From a Methodist Church of Scotland LEP on
And it's surprising how close Churches came to saying
These days what the Archbishop proposed sounds awfully like a
takeover bid by the Church of England!
After the Second World War, the larger
Churches, except the Roman Catholic Church, covenanted together to
form the World Council of
Yes, they actually used the word 'covenant'!
And the path to unity was seen in terms of mergers.
Think of the United Churches in South India,
North India, Canada,
And in this country the United Reformed
But by the 1980s, an Anglican-Methodist unity scheme and an
English Covenant had both failed.
A break-through came at
Swanwick in 1990, when our Churches committed themselves as
Churches Together -
And the Roman
Catholics joined the pilgrimage.
But the unity represented by 'Churches Together' now
sometimes looks more like a cartel - a trading arrangement which
participants stick to only while it suits them!
More than fifteen years on, the problem is no longer hostility
but inattention. Most of the time we manage to behave as though
other churches aren't there!
(The above is an extract from the Living
God's Covenant roadshow slide presentation.)
Unity in Mission
The relationship between ecumenism and mission was cemented
during its earliest days at the
World Missionary Conference, held in Edinburgh in 1910. It has
been described as the culmination of nineteenth-century Protestant
Christian missions and the formal beginning of the modern Christian
ecumenical movement. Those who have a forensic interest can find
all the extensive
conference papers online.
Over the last 100 years an ecumenical movement has grown up with
a number of parallel interests. These include the search for full
visible unity through structural unity and ecumenical collaboration
Unity in mission is essential to the success of mission for a
variety of reasons. The prospect of churches competing is not
edifying and creates an immediate impression of a divided church.
More positively churches from several traditions collaborating will
bring a very wide range of perspectives, specialisms and insights
to the table; the pooling of resources may be mutually
advantageous. The prospects for mutual sharing of mission are in
need of much more exploration.
The centenary of Edinburgh 1910 was marked by a series of events
2010. Their website describes the events that took
place during 2010 and it is possible to download the conference
The scope of ecumenism
Organisations which assist churches in their ecumenical journeys
are called ecumenical instruments. In Britain there are 3 national
instruments for England, Scotland and Wales. These support local
churches through instruments such as Local
Ecumenical Partnerships or
Churches Together Groups. In England, County
or Intermediate Bodies provide further support for local
ecumenical work. Paid officers for these intermediate bodies are
usually known as County Ecumenical Officers (CEOs) or County
Ecumenical Development officers (CEDOs). In England, Scotland and
Wales there are also Denominational Ecumenical Officers (DEOs);
Methodists call theirs District Ecumenical Officers.
With the instruments for Ireland, the four
nations are linked, through Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Ecumenical relationships are also important for the British
Methodist Church in Europe and Worldwide.
Major approaches to ecumenism
(A meeting of Methodist, Baptist and URC Ecumenical Officers in
2007 made the following notes about major approaches to
Our ecumenical vision is the goal to which we aspire and not how
we organise ourselves on the way to realise that goal
We listed the following ecumenical visions:
- Full, visible unity - all parts of the Church become
- Visible unity - some parts, not all become one
- Model of Return - returning to what some regard as the Mother
Church. This was felt to be a Western and not a global
- Organic unity - shared life within the organism of church - an
example would be the URC
- Reconciled diversity - parts remain separate but recognise each
other. A vision that needs further exploration to tease out what it
means - is it a justification for our disunity?
- Agreements such as the Lambeth Quadrilateral where we recognise
common elements to the Church. These include:
- expression of faith in Scripture in the historic
- baptism - we note that Baptists and other baptistic traditions
(including many Pentecostals) cannot speak of a common
- Ministry and oversight
- All in each place - vision of working towards having a single
community of Christians in each place
- Dialogue - expressing & realising unity through bi-lateral
and other conversations and agreements. We note that this could be
described as process rather than vision. Such agreements can be
stepping stones to realising a fuller vision
- Spiritual or invisible unity - we are one in Christ now, but
the visible church does not yet express it. Can be described as the
gift of Christ to the Church or as what we are being called
- Recognising marks of the Church in each other - seeking to
discern Christ in each other
- Kingdom unity - Unity focused not on bringing churches
together, but looking for signs of the Kingdom amongst us.
Discerning where God's purposes are being met and joining together
in witness, prayer or service. More practical vision of sharing
together in God's work.
- Receptive Ecumenism - is where churches identify the problems
they are facing and explore the practices of other traditions to
find approaches to tackling their own problems.
The Methodist Churches' Ecumenical Vision.
|The inspiration of all inter-church
sharing is found in the koinonia fellowship that binds the persons
of the Trinity and the kenosis, self-emptying of Jesus in his
incarnation, ministry and passion. The gospel is not our private
property. We serve a crucified and risen Lord who is a universal
Saviour. Our concern must be to develop a deeper faith that fuels a
wider love - expressed in the everyday life of individual
believers, local churches and the world for which Christ
Together Locally: A Handbook for Local Churches Seeking to Work
Together, by Jenny Carpenter, CTE, 2002.)
The Review of Ecumenical
Relationships Final Report to Council carried out during the
year 2007 - 2008 suggested an ecumenical vision for the Methodist
Church. Methodist Council asked for more work to be done on this
vision and so Conference in July 2009 approved Our Ecumenical
Calling: Making a Difference Together in the Twenty First
Century as the Methodist Church's Ecumenical Vision.
In this statement the Methodist Church commits itself to
worshiping, learning and working with other Christians wherever and
Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships, said,
"This is about sharing the Christian gospel together with partner
Churches to make a difference in the 21st century and expressing
our identity as Methodists in new ways."
The vision statement includes a commitment to pray, worship and
work with people from other Churches regularly. It also affirms the
Church's dedication to learning with other Christians about our
common faith and heritage in order to support mutual growth.
Some theological texts important to Methodists in Ecumenical
'Although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may
prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in
affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May
we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without
all doubt, we may.' (From
The Forty Four Sermons by John Wesley, Epworth 1944,
The Canberra Assembly of the WCC in 1991 enumerated the marks of
full visible unity:
- 'The common confession of the apostolic faith
- A common sacramental life entered by the one baptism and
celebrated together in one Eucharistic fellowship
- A common life in which members and ministries are mutually
recognised and reconciled
- And a common mission witnessing to the gospel of God's grace to
all people and serving the whole of creation.'
From a Methodist URC LEP in the Falsgrave
area of Scarborough. Millennium fundraising paid for this window
and a substantial donation to the Leprosy Mission.
The Canberra statement went on to say 'the goal of the search
for full communion is realised when all the churches are able to
recognise in one another the one, holy catholic and apostolic
church in its fullness'. The statement went on to address
diversity, stating 'diversities which are rooted in theological
traditions, various cultural, ethnic or historical contexts are
integral to the nature of communion. Diversity is illegitimate
when, for instance, it makes impossible the common confession of
Jesus Christ as God and Saviour, the same yesterday, today and
forever. In communion diversities are brought together in harmony
as gifts of the Holy Spirit, contributing to the richness and
fullness of the Church of God.'
The divine gift of 'koinonia' is both a gift and a calling. The
dynamic activity of God drawing us into communion also entails the
calling of Christians and Christian communities to manifest
'koinonia' as a sign and foretaste of God's intention for
Towards Koinonia in Faith, Life and Witness, WCC Commission on
Faith and Order, 1993, pp8-9).