Protestant Perspective: Practicing Ecumenism

by Mark Hertenstein


The most common method of ecumenical work is to dialogue. These meetings and discussions take on doctrinal and theological issues. Some touch on practice, but mostly in the sense of differences in the theology that undergirds practices of a particular Christian group. The aim of such meetings, and the larger movement of ecumenism, is to try to rectify and clarify theological positions so that Churches will be able to worship together, recognize each other’s sacraments, and so forth.

There are times, however, that I wonder if the way we have gone about ecumenism is perhaps starting at the wrong place, or at the very least that we are short-changing practicing ecumenism. I think that there should be more importance placed upon mutual worship and participation. Prayer services often accompany large or important meetings, and those are fine and beneficial. But there is something to be said for the ability to participate in liturgy/worship/Mass together, as much as possible. That means we cannot, at the moment, take communion together. Many other things are possible though.


An example would illustrate the point I am trying to make. At La Sagrada Familia I had a fantastic opportunity to do one of the Scripture readings and part of the prayers of the faithful in English.


No one asked whether I was Catholic. No one should have, because ultimately that did not matter for such participation. We hold those things in common, regardless of any historical or ideological division that may exist. We have the same Scripture, we proclaim the same Word of God, we pray to the same Trinitarian God in the name of the same Jesus Christ. In some cases, such as Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans, we have roughly the same liturgy and manner of worship.


There should be no reason why we don’t frequently participate in the common practice of the Christian faith to the fullest extent possible, much less even occasionally. Christian truth is not just a mental concept, but a truth that is lived and is inseparable from practice and reality. Truth is concrete in every sense in the Christian worldview. The truth is not simply a metaphysical idea to which we arrive by logic; it is also confirmed and experienced in its practice. Christian doctrine is true, but it is rather pointless if it is not practiced by those of us who adhere to it. Perhaps, with regards to ecumenism, the proper starting point actually is kneeling together, reading and receiving the Word together, and praying together.


When we pray, we pray that God will do something, but it is through us that God brings our prayers to fulfillment. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” we are certainly praying that God will bring about the realization of His Kingdom. This is not done apart from us, but rather with us as an integral part. We are praying that His Kingdom and His will can be realized through us.


Similarly, when we pray with Christ that we may all be one, we are praying that the Church will be brought to the fullness of unity. But it is in a specific way, that is, through us, that this will to unity will happen.


The problem with ecumenism today is not that it dialogues – that is necessary still. The problem is that there is not nearly the proper amount of joint worship or participation that could and should be done. The point is that all of that dialogue and agreement will truly mean nothing if it does not correlate with Christian practice. All the ecumenism in the churches spread throughout the world will mean nothing if they do not cooperate and join together as much as possible, and practice the unity that they at least have spoken or written together, the unity that has defined the universal Christian tradition for millennia, and the unity of all in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.


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