There doesn’t seem to be any sign that ecumenism will recover from its doldrums, particularly as interfaith relations and a concern for coexistence now outweigh the drive for church unity among most denominations.
In an article in Ecumenical Trends magazine (June), Lutheran ecumenist William G. Rusch offers the above prognosis on ecumenism, noting that a long term decline of energy and interest in Christian unity among most churches continues. The older goal of unity and “communion” between different churches built on a common consensus theology can be found in Pope John Paul II’s statement Ut Unum Sint. But increasingly, such groups as the World Council of Churches and other churches see ecumenism mainly as cooperation on common goals, according to Rusch.
Another concern that will detract from the interest in church unity is the pressing matter of interfaith cooperation and dialogue (particularly after Sept. 11). Because so many issues dividing the churches “appear to be insoluble in the short term…probably new and major theological breakthroughs will not occur soon,” Rusch adds. As church leaderships continue to be preoccupied with denominational survival, and many clergy focus on parish survival, ecumenism will “be perceived as an elective.”
Rusch sees a model of ecumenism in the Lutheran/Catholic joint agreement on justification by faith issued in 1999, where the method used to achieve the agreement sought new language (avoiding age-old condemnations between the churches) to clear up and transcend historic misunderstandings. The “hard slogging of committed and qualified theologians necessary for such work will not be popular in today’s church environment, concludes Rusch.
(Ecumenical Trends, P.O. Box 306, Garrison, NY 10524-0306)