Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 53 - Other Ecumenical Church Bodies (Video)

No. 53. >> Are there any other churches that would fall under the heading of ecumenical? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: There are a number of other churches, Nick, that really do fall under this particular heading. Perhaps the most important of them all is the United Church of Christ. Now, that's not the Church of Christ about which we were just speaking. The United Church of Christ was a result of a series of merger movements over the course of the 20th Century. And the UCC, I don't think it's too much to say, really exemplifies what the Modern Ecumenical Movement was all about. There's a sense of reconciled diversity within the UCC that allows for the presence of a variety of emphases, a variety of theological traditions and even some expressions that I personally find rather problematic. For example, acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is challenged by some within the UCC. But that is not seen as divisive to fellowship. And I find that to be, frankly, very problematic. But that being the case, what is it? What is the UCC? Well, it brings together a number of these traditions that we've discussed over the course of this class so far. The UCC, when it was formed, brought together the congregational churches, the congregational Christian churches. That was one group from within the Restorationist tradition that had come out from the Disciples. It also brought together the old Evangelical and the old German Reformed churches, as well. So a number of these groups that we saw in our demographics earlier on from Gaustad like the German Reformed, like the Congregational Church, finally found their home in the unified church body called the United Church of Christ. Now, how do you do that? How do you bring together such a variety of perspectives? How do you take something like say the Congregational Church which had roots in such a vigorous and strong Calvinism, a double predestinarian Calvinism. And we had that together with a more modestly Calvinistic group like the German Reformed whose interests and whose emphasis, though within the broad Reformed tradition, were still decidedly different. At least in terms of their thrust. How did that happen? Well, what we see with the UCC I think is a classic example of the Americanization of a variety of church bodies. The early Puritans thought like Puritans and Englishmen. And what they tried to recreate here on the American scene was church life in England purified and put right. However, over time they found themselves hard pressed to maintain the zeal of the founders. In fact, even by the second generation they were struggling to bring folks into church membership. And as the 1700s and 1800s went on, we saw just how the Congregational Church suffered under the emergence of Arminianism. One point we didn't make earlier was that the Congregational tradition also suffered from the emergence of higher criticism. There were those who applied higher critical principles to the Scripture and asked questions about the reasonability of doctrines like the Trinity. The reasonability of the idea of two natures, divine and human, united in one Christ. These sorts of challenges to historic Trinitarian doctrine led to the emergence from within the Congregational tradition of groups like the Unitarians. When it came to other themes like Calvinism's hard lined double predestinarianism, we see other groups emerging rejecting that particular theme. For example, the Universalists, who teach not that some are elect and some are reprobate but that all, in fact, are saved. It might be that you have to go through a period of purgation following death before you're prepared to see the face of God. But nonetheless, in the end, every knee would bow and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So congregationalism had its sharper points rounded off, if you will, by the American religious scene over the course of more than 100 years. The German Reformed Americanized, as well. By the 1840s they had imbibed the revivalistic perspective. And despite the efforts of some more traditionalist professors and pastors, John Nevin, Philip Schaff, for example, had largely given itself over to the American religious scene by the late 1800s. The Evangelical Church, the ***unarta, the Union Church, had been born out of the union of the Reformed and Lutherans in Germany in 1817 and had simply transferred that perspective to the American scene in the 1830s and '40s. And so it was poised well and prepared perfectly to embrace the ecumenical posture of the 20th Century. What you see there is the transformation of decidedly confessional groups over a long period of time to the point where their material principle for all intents and purposes becomes ecumenical. That is embracing general in scope reductionistic doctrinally. But above all, committed to being welcoming at every point. The criticism, of course, was if you'll stand for just about anything, then what do you stand for at all? And that criticism has continued to be raised. But others would say: Without ecumenical conversation, without that kind of engagement, then there is no point in dismissing the likes of these folks. Rather, they must be engaged at a meaningful level. The upshot of it all is it shows the dynamic character of Christianity in America. And the dynamic experience of the church bodies that find themselves in this particular setting. No church body is immune to change. No church body will go through its existence without facing the unique pressures, tensions that American Christianity and the American religious scene generally offers. But we can look at those either as negative things or as opportunities, once again, to confess Christ. And I hope what you're beginning to pull out of all of this, Nick, is the sense of the great opportunities that God places before us as Lutheran Christians to confess the unchanging Gospel. What a great privilege and joy that is. Isn't that right?