As long-time readers of this blog are all-too-aware, Ecumenism/Christian Unity is a topic near-and-dear to my heart. I'm not referring to the "old" ecumenism that compromised the essentials of the Christian faith, but to the "new ecumenism" as proported by leaders such as John H. Armstrong and his Act 3 Ministries and many others, both Protestant and Catholic, who focus on the commonalities within the different modes of Christian faith and worship. They desire to do what in evangelical circles is called "majoring on the majors." By focusing on our common Christian beliefs (as expressed in the Nicene Creed), not allowing our more minor doctrinal differences to divide us, we as Christians can work together in many areas: global and local poverty and homelessness, global and local literacy, protection of all stages of life, stewardship of the environment, and, most importantly, sharing the Gospel of God's love and peace with a pain-filled world. By joining together as fellow believers in Christ Jesus, we can more effectively battle the forces of evil in our world rather than allowing petty bickering to separate and thus overcome us.
This past week's focus on Christian Unity afforded me the opportunity to pray more passionately for the unity of God's children throughout the world. In addition to allowing us to battle more effectively against our common Enemy, Christian Unity also provides the world with a glimpse into the love of Christ Jesus as we treat one another with respect and love, loving one another as Christ commanded us.
So this week's message from Pope Benedict XVI resonated with me. I am reprinting the article in its entirety from American Catholic which reposted it from the Catholic News Service:
ROME (CNS)—Divided Christians can and must be united in meeting the modern challenges of secularization, threats to human life, environmental destruction, war and injustice, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"It is precisely the desire to proclaim Christ to others and bring the world his message of reconciliation that makes one experience the contradiction of Christian divisions," the pope said Jan. 25 as he closed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Leaders of Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant communities in Rome joined the pope for the annual prayer service at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, offering prayers and proclaiming the readings.
The Week of Prayer 2010 focused on the common Christian vocation to witness to Christ in the world.
When the modern ecumenical movement was launched, the pope said, it started with a conference of missionaries from different denominations who gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910 to reflect on ways to promote Christian unity in order to preach the Gospel more effectively.
The obvious question, he said, was: "How, in fact, can unbelievers accept the proclamation of the Gospel if Christians, while all referring to the same Christ, are in disagreement among themselves?"
Unity is "a particularly important condition for greater credibility and effectiveness," the pope said.
Unfortunately, Christians still are divided on important issues of dogma, doctrine and church discipline, which must be overcome through prayer and theological dialogue, he said.
At the same time, the pope said, Christians already can proclaim together "the fatherhood of God, Christ's victory over sin and death through his cross and resurrection (and) trust in the transforming action of the Spirit."
"While we are on the path toward full communion, we are called to offer a common witness in the face of the increasingly complex challenges of our time, such as secularization and indifference, relativism and hedonism, delicate ethical themes regarding the beginning and end of life, the limits of science and technology and dialogue with other religious traditions," he said.
The pope told the Christian leaders that they also must work more closely on "safeguarding creation, the promotion of the common good and peace, the defense of the centrality of the human person (and) the commitment to defeating the miseries of our time, such as hunger, poverty, illiteracy and the unequal distribution of goods."
Pope Benedict said working for Christian unity is not a specialty to which a few individuals or a few churches are called, but rather it is part of fulfilling Christ's will for all those who follow him.
Unity is something for which all Christians must work and pray, he said.
So we join in praying Christ's prayer for the church to be "one" in John 17: 20-26 (English Standard Version):
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.