Concerning Ecumenism and the Post-War Consensus


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The book I recently read and reviewed in our last episode - ‘Finding the Right Hills to Die On’ by Gavin Ortlund - has a certain ‘How To Guide to Ecumenism’ feel to it throughout.

As I think about ecumenism, an awareness dawns on me how much of it has marked my own Christian life as a 35-year-old American.

My father was raised Mennonite, my mother attended Pensacola Christian and Bob Jones University. They both met at Cedarville University.

In high school, my part-time job was at the Highland County Family YMCA in Hillsboro, Ohio. I also attended the ‘One Way’ non-denominational Bible Study. What's more, First Baptist Church of Hillsboro, Ohio - where Lauren and I met, and she grew up, held joint-services with many of the other churches in town, irrespective of denomination, for Christmas Eve every year.

Before moving back to Montana in 2012, I occasionally listened to K-Love for years. But come to think of it, pretty much any Contemporary Christian Music is like this. Stripped of most lyrical particulars which might aggravate doctrinal differences between denominations, the mass market appeal is also a kind of ecumenism.

After we left FBC, Lauren and I attended Good News Gathering in Hillsboro, Ohio. Though affiliated with Willow Creek on some level, the church nevertheless emphasized sticking to the gospel and being seeker-friendly.

I also participated in Kairos Prison Ministry in Southern Ohio once. The volunteers - clergy and laymen - hailed from diverse denominations. The point was to focus on the gospel, and primarily to make converts among residents of correctional institutes and prisons so as to make them Christians without stressing a certain tradition or confusing anyone with in-depth theology and doctrinal concerns.

When we moved to Eastern Montana, we attended CMA churches in Glendive, Savage, and Sidney. At the root, the CMA sets aside many historical denominational distinctions in favor of the making disciples of all nations, preaching the gospel all over the world.

Besides this, I have encountered more and more in recent years the increasing influence of The Gospel Coalition seemingly everywhere online, with it seeming to be the preferred resource for weblink shares from pastor friends and family members of mine all over the U.S.

Yet all of this brings me to a question that came up in reading Gavin Ortlund's 'Finding the Right Hills to Die On' this past week, and in reading so much on theology and church history the past year.

The more I study both Church History as well as Modern History, the more unusual, superficial, and disproportionate the ideal of Unity as it’s been presented seems in comparison to the level of depth to discussion and debate which seems to have marked the faith and practice of the Church the past two millennia.

All over the U.S., the more in-depth the study and subsequent discussion, the harder the pushback seems to be to embrace a kind of latent liberalism which is called humility and peace in the interest of the core gospel message.

And yet the more peace and unity with liberalism is stressed, on liberalism’s terms, the less recognizable many examples and ideals of the Bible and the historic Reformation feel. Is this just my imagination, or is there a history to the past century of what we call ecumenical that can explain what forces and influences gave rise to this emphasis today on setting aside disagreements as often as possible in favor of ready agreement and a forgoing of more rigorous researching?

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