- Ecumenical movement
- The Ecumenical movement emerged early in the 20th century in an attempt to reverse the splintering of Protestantism into so many competing denominations. It has been a major force in Protestant church life ever since.Protestantism began as a set of national churches representing Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican approaches to the christian faith, plus some smaller bodies that emerged from the Radical Reformation. The 17th-century Puritans added Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians to the denominational mix in England, and later centuries saw the rise of Methodists, Adven-tists, various Brethren groups, Holiness churches, and several European Free Churches. Splintering of denominations occurred at an ever-increasing rate as religious liberty became a reality in Europe and North America.As Protestantism spread globally in the 18th century, the denominational differences were carried to the mission field, where such differences seemed irrelevant, giving rise to calls for unity in the late 19th century. Various 19th-century revi-talization movements had already denounced denominationalism, but their naive programs only resulted in still more new denominations.A first step toward unity was taken in 1846 with the formation in Europe of the World Evangelical Alliance. The alliance tried to unite individuals (as opposed to delegates from church bodies) around a core of Protestant beliefs, but the refusal of American attendees to allow a resolution barring slaveholders effectively blocked the formation of a single international body. The alliance became a loose fellowship of national organizations in England, Canada,Sweden,India and Turkey; it held several international conferences on missionary concerns.Denominational leaders also launched efforts to create fellowship structures within denominational families. Reformed and Presbyterian leaders organized the Alliance of Reformed churches in 1875, and the Methodists held the first Ecumenical Methodist Conference in 1881. Baptists held their first international gathering in London in 1905; Lutherans did the same in 1923. These initial efforts led to the present-day World Alliance of Reformed Churches,World Methodist Coun-cil,Baptist World Alliance, and Lutheran World Federation, and similar bodies in other denominations.The Federal Council of Churches was organized in the United States in 1908, when the United States had some 300 different Christian denominations, the largest number of any country. As the century progressed, other Western countries formed similar councils, and missionary councils were organized in countries around the world.Many contemporary historians date the modern Ecumenical movement to the 1910 Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. The conference became a potent force in spreading the ecumenical ideal in the English-speaking world, at the time the backbone of the global missionary effort. The work at Edinburgh bore fruit with the formation of the Life and Work movement, which concentrated on the church's interaction with society, and the Faith and Order movement, which dealt with doctrine and church structure. The Life and Work movement held its first conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1925; it brought European church leaders outside the United Kingdom into prominent leadership roles, and it included Eastern Orthodox churches in the dialogue. Two years later, when the Faith and Order conference met in Lausanne, Switzerland, 108 church bodies were represented. Also emerging from Edinburgh was the International Missionary Council in 1921.During the same era, the FundamentalistModernist controversy in the United States, focusing upon biblical criticism, social ministries, and theological dissent, tended to work against unity. A number of denominations split, especially the Baptists and Presbyterians, and the more conservative denominations tended to reject cooperation with the more liberal ones that happened to dominate the ecumenical scene.The World Council of Churches (WCC) was formed after World War ii, encompassing the Faith and Order and Life and Work movements and eventually including the international Missionary Council. It would soon grow to include most of the larger denominations in most countries of the world and take its place beside the Roman Catholic Church as an important voice of the Christian community.The WCC wielded significant power in the international Protestant community. it played an important role in the transformation of missions into autonomous churches, but its primary effect was to encourage the merger of like-minded churches. Protestant mergers were already occurring; notable milestones were the formation of the United Church of Canada and the Church of South india. The merger forced on Protestant churches in Japan as World War ii approached helped churches discover the many elements they had in common.in the second half of the 20th century, numerous mergers occurred. A few managed to overcome denominational family lines, prominent being the United Church of Zambia (1965), the Church of North India (1970), the Church of Pakistan (1970), the Uniting Church in Australia (1977), and the United Protestant Church of Belgium (1978). More typical were the mergers that reunited churches within a single denominational family, such as the United Methodist Church (1968), the United Reformed Church of the United Kingdom (1972), and the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa (1994). By the 1980s, the goal of creating one united Protestant church was largely abandoned. instead, the movement shifted energies toward improving relationships among denominations.The two movements that emerged from the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the United States - conservative Evangelicalism and conservative separatist Fundamentalism - both saw the value of cooperative ecumenical action and organization. The Fundamentalists organized first, creating the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC) in 1941 to oppose the Federal Council of Churches. Under the guidance of its energetic leader, Presbyterian minister Carl Mcln-tire (1906-2003), the ACCC took the lead in creating the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC).American Evengelicals organized the National Association of Evengelicals (NAE) in 1942. it upheld conservative theological standards, but was willing to cooperate with Evangelicals who remained within the larger liberal denominations. In 1951, following the merger of the remnant of the American branch of the old Evengelical Alliance into the new National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., NAE leaders called a meeting in Europe that established the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF). Though much smaller than the WCC, the WEF, now known as the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), has created a global alternative to the WCC. in several countries, Evangelicalism has become the dominant segment of the Protestant community.Pentecostalism has always presented itself as a unifying movement with an emphasis on basic Protestant doctrines and the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal leaders, however, found their message unacceptable to the older churches and were pushed into founding their own denominational bodies. Pentecostals were accepted into the NAE and later into the WEA.As the Charismatic movement spread among older churches in the 1970s, several Pentecostal leaders, most prominently South African David du Plessis, began a long dialogue with the World Council of Churches. Simultaneously, ecumenical relationships were growing between Pentecostal churches. These efforts have led to regular World Pentecostal Conferences; as the new century began, the World Pentecostal Fellowship was formed.Ecumenism has succeeded in raising the level of cordiality among the larger Protestant communities and among Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and (since Vatican II) Roman Catholic churches. That cordiality finds expression in the WCC, its regional and national affiliate councils, and numerous local councils. It has significantly reduced the amount of polemics among Christian communities and created structures in which differences can be discussed. Those churches that do not feel able to cooperate with the WCC and its allies have been able to unite with the ICCC and the WEA and their cooperating regional and national organizations. In those denominational families that have split, a set of parallel denominational associations have arisen. For example, Lutherans who reject the Lutheran World Federation may join the International Lutheran Council and those from the Reformed tradition who reject the World Alliance of Reformed Churches may associate with the International Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches or the Reformed Ecumenical Council.Further reading:■ Michael Kinnamon and Brian Cope, eds., The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1997)■ Nicholas Lossky, et al., eds., Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Publications/Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1991)■ J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 7th ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 2002)■ Ans J. Van der Bent, ed. Handbook Member Churches World Council of Churches (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1985)■ Yearbook (Geneva: World Council of Churches, issued annually).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.