Today is my last day at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting in Atlanta. I plan to make my purchases from the various book sellers this morning, having already reconnoitered the exhibits and mapped out my plan of attack.

One thing that has struck me is that there are a number of new books discussing ecumenism and Christian unity from host of different perspectives. On the one hand this shouldn’t be surprising. The unity of the church is a constant theme, one that is confessed in the Nicene Creed (“We believe…in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”).

But for a period of time it seemed that ecumenism was in decline. After all, it used to be its own area of theological specialization; there have been (and still are some) professors of ecumenics. On the broader level one thing that breathed life into the ecumenical movement in the last half-century was the founding of what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (I had the pleasure of meeting the pope’s representative, Fr. Gregory Fairbanks, at the WCRC Uniting General Council earlier this year in Grand Rapids).

An ENI story notes a recent address from Pope Benedict XVI regarding ecumenism: “Today, some people believe that this journey has lost its impetus, especially in the West,” the Vatican Information Service quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying. “Thus do we see the urgent need to revive ecumenical interest and give a fresh incisiveness to dialogue.”

Now this story is in the context of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican dialogue. But “new energy” needs to be found in the mainline ecumenical movement as well. I outline some of the reasons for the decline of groups like the WCC, LWF, and WCRC in my book, Ecumenical Babel. And as the Vatican celebrates fifty years of institutional ecumenical efforts, we have seen a corresponding decline in vigor in the mainline Protestant groups. Some evidence of this is the consistent outreach and emphasis on engaging “evangelicals” from the WCC, whose new president expressed such sentiments at both the WCRC Uniting General Council and the recently concluded Cape Town 2010 meeting of the Lausanne Movement.

So says Mark Tooley of IRD. “Sadly, over the last 50 years, it (the ecumenical movement) has faded into the sidelines and is now largely ignored,” he said. In the 1980s Ernest Lefever, founder of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, observed that “the ecumenical movement’s social witness has become obsolescent, marginal, irrelevant, or worse.”

I outline some of the things needed to reinvigorate the mainline ecumenical movement in my book. I outline correctives on three main levels: the ecclesiastical, the social ethical, and the economic. But I conclude too that

Without pursuing correctives along these general lines, the answer to Gustafson’s challenging question, “Who listens to the moral teachings of Protestant churches?” will continue to be indeterminate, and deservedly so. Without doing the hard work of serious ethical deliberation that engages a variety of conflicting perspectives, the ecumenical movement has little claim to possess authentic moral authority in the public square or among the churches.

After the break you can read the full ENI story on the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican secretariat (now council) for promoting Christian unity.

At 50th anniversary of Vatican ecumenism, new energy ‘needed’
By Luigi Sandri

Rome, 18 November (ENInews)–Ecumenism, which seeks global church unity, is in need of new energy, top Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican leaders have said at commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of a Vatican group to help bring about Christian unity.

On 5 June 1960, the day of Pentecost, as part of preparations for the 1962 to 1965 second Vatican council, Pope John XXIII established a secretariat for promoting Christian unity. In 1988, John Paul II changed the name to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

“Today, some people believe that this journey has lost its impetus, especially in the West,” the Vatican Information Service quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying. “Thus do we see the urgent need to revive ecumenical interest and give a fresh incisiveness to dialogue.”

He also said, “The Catholic Church passionately continues her dialogue with the Orthodox Churches and the Ancient Eastern Churches, with which bonds of the ‘closest intimacy’ exist, seriously and rigorously seeking to develop our shared theological, liturgical and spiritual heritage, and to face the elements that still divide us.”

Benedict added, “With the Orthodox we have reached a crucial point of confrontation and reflection: the role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church. The ecclesiological question is also at the heart of dialogue with the Ancient Eastern Churches: despite many centuries of misunderstanding and remoteness we have joyfully noted that we have preserved a precious shared heritage.”

The former president of the body, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and the current office holder, Archbishop Kurt Koch of Switzerland, led a ceremony on 17 November in the Vatican to commemorate the founding of the unity secretariat.

Over many years, the secretariat and pontifical council have coordinated their church’s ecumenical relations both through multilateral and bilateral contacts and discussions with many churches and Christian communities, including the World Council of Churches, a grouping that includes more than 500 million Anglicans, Orthodox and Protestants.

Koch said the true aim of ecumenism is to find a, “new rush” for Christian witness and to sustain dialogue, “in spite of difficulties and breaks”.

Representatives of many Christian churches attended the 50th anniversary event in Rome. The Orthodox Metropolitan of Pergamo, Ioannis (Zizioulas), of the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, told the gathering he was committed to ecumenism in order to deepen the notion of the, “Church as communion at the local and universal level”.

Still, he added that the search for Christian unity cannot, “forget differences on the vision of the Petrine primacy”. This was a reference to the differences that exist between Catholic and Orthodox Christians on the understanding of the role of the bishop of Rome, as the Pope is also known. The Catholic Church sees the apostle Peter as the first bishop of Rome.

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who also attended the event, said that ecumenical relationships must be strengthened by, “the new challenges for unity coming from inside the Christian community, and from outside it”.

According to some church observers, Williams has been troubled because some Anglican bishops have recently announced they will became Catholics due to their opposition to the acceptance of women bishops and the ordination of homosexuals by some parts of the Anglican Communion.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Williams said his reaction to the resignations was, “one of regret but respect”. He explained that two of those who had said they would become Catholics were his assistant bishops but there had been no row, “We have talked about it. We have worked through it and parted with prayers and blessings, so there is no ill feeling there.”

The archbishop told Vatican Radio, “There are still a great many Anglicans in the Church of England who would call themselves traditionalists, and who have no intention of jumping ship.” Still, he acknowledged that these people, “are in considerable confusion and distress, wondering what the Church of England can do for them”.

:: Pope’s full statement ::