Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 10 - The Ecumenical Movement (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-010 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: I have a question that I know is directly related to events among Christians in the 20th century. Would you please describe for us the ecumenical movement. What is the historical basis for this movement? >> DR. LAWRENCE REST: Well, David, you've asked a short question with a long answer, I think. We'll see how brief we can make it, but it may take us a bit to work through the entire point. Because, as with all things historical, it's difficult to identify the beginning point and the end point. We historians call that periodization. And the question is: when does the modern ecumenical movement really get going. Is it a 20th century phenomenon? Or does it have roots in the church�s earlier history? I�d venture to say that we can see the roots of the modern ecumenical movement certainly as early as 1846 and maybe even a little bit earlier. And in this respect, strangely enough, one of the people who leads the charge toward the ecumenical movement is an American Lutheran, an American Lutheran professor, pastor, and teacher by the name of Samuel Simon Schmucker. Samuel Simon Schmucker was born in 1799, died in 1873. He spent the larger part of his life and ministry in the state of Pennsylvania. And what's especially important for his work as a professor at the first fully functioning Lutheran seminary in America at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He started there in 1826. He retired from the seminary in 1864. In the midst of his work as a professor, he strove for the reunification of all Christians. He was convinced that the church had come to a point where it needed to strip away the older, necessary doctrines and simply emphasize the fundamentals, as he called them. He wasn't a fundamentalist; this was before their time. But he wanted to emphasize those points which were necessary to salvation and upon which all Protestant Christians could agree. He first proposed these in a book, published in 1838 and then reissued in 1839, which we know by the title "The Fraternal Appeal to the American Churches." And what he did in this particular volume was to outline the theological points of agreement that all Protestants shared and then to encourage Protestants to reunite with one another to undo the breaks that resulted from the Reformation period into one truly united evangelical Protestant church. To help accomplish this, he actually drafted a revision of the Apostles� Creed and provided an entirely new document that he called �The Apostolic Protestant Confession.� Here's how he proceeded in this particular document, David. He would take statements from the historic Protestant confessions, for example, from the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, from the 39 Articles of the Episcopal Church, from the Methodist confessions, from even Baptist confessions, and he would make a statement from these documents regarding, for example, the Bible being God's word, the work of Christ, things like that, basic teachings. And he would affirm those statements, these theses, if you will, with the statement from the confessions. And the idea was for him to use statements from the Lutherans, followed by statements from Baptists, statements from Anglicans, statements from Methodists, statements from Presbyterians and show that, in fact, all of these groups already agreed on these particular points. So he worked through scripture as one point with statements from all the communions. Then he'd move on to the next point and have statements from all the communions. And the thrust being, look at what we share in common already. Let us use this as the basis for our ongoing relationships. The response to his efforts in this respect was not too positive, shall we say. Rather, there were those who said what you've done is simply create a new confession, something different, something that hasn't been seen before. So he regrouped, and in the mid 1840's began to propose a new approach to ecumenical dialogue between the churches. And in this respect, he took a bit of a different tact saying, what we need to do is simply to impose, if you will, the various Protestant confessions one on top of the other, Augsburg, Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Moravian, and so forth. And he said what you find when you lay all of these on top of one another is a significant amount of agreement. Those agreements, those points of agreement are fundamental. Those points of agreement are scriptural. The points of disagreement, where a particular entity has its own distinctive document, Schmucker went on to say are secondary. And those aren't necessarily supported by scripture. Now, within that context, the hope that he had would be that the churches would then work to correct the points where they were distinctive and simply emphasize the points that were shared. This became the basis for an approach to ecumenism that was literally very powerful in the formation of the first significant body in the modern ecumenical movement: namely, the Evangelical Alliance, evangelical because it was to embrace all Protestant churches. Roman Catholics were excluded. Though within the Evangelical Alliance which met first in 1846 in London, Schmucker said we have the necessary and requisite basis for Church union and fellowship between the churches. If you will, it is something of the lowest common denominator approach to Church union to find those points on which we are agreed and do not become instant on the points in which we are not. That opens up the way to ongoing discussions between Christians over the course of the 19th century. The controversy regarding fundamentalism and modernism about which we spoke challenges the ecumenical movement profoundly. But as things push forward into the 20th century, there is increasingly a desire on the part of the churches to express their unity, not only within the denominations, for example, there are numerous Lutheran mergers during the early 20th century, but also beyond the boundaries of the denominations. That is movement towards organic unity and fellowship between the various traditions of Christendom. In this respect, the Lutherans take a significant lead. As Lutherans struggled with these issues, they approach other Christians throughout the churches and strive to provide a forum and a platform for shared work and life together The faith and Order movement, the Life and Work movement all come together and ultimately much of the work being done, the spade work, the groundwork being done by Lutherans and ultimately coming together in 1948 in the so-called World Council of Churches. Previous to its formation, Lutherans had themselves formed what was called the Lutheran World Federation first meeting in 1947. Lutherans paved the way in many respects for the formation of the World Council of Churches by their own efforts at approaching one another and providing a basis for union. However, even with the formation of the World Council of Churches, there were many who did not participate. The Eastern Orthodox Church, for example, for many years remained aloof from the WCC, as we call it, stating that it was a rival, if you will, simply by departing from the tradition of the church and not recognizing the right teaching and practice of Eastern Orthodoxy. In our own case, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we've not participated in the World Council of Churches stating that previous to there being such an organization, such an expression of church fellowship, there should be complete agreement in doctrine and practice. Hence, we have not participated either in the WCC or even in the Lutheran World Federation. Nevertheless, the impetus towards union and ecumenical discussions remains at the forefront. Several years ago on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, we did have a discussion between Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Represented were the Vatican, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. While the gathering was one of respect and mutual respect and concern, it did, once again, show that there are significant, one might even say fundamental, differences in regard to the nature and character of scripture, the work of Christ, and the mission of the church. We pray constantly for the unity of the church. We appreciate the efforts of others to seek out that unity. At the same time, we remain convinced, and I personally remain convinced, that the only way towards true Christian union is an unqualified acceptance of what God has said in his word. And we pray with the gift of his Spirit as the word is proclaimed, he will draw us all together into one. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****