Why unity matters
God's love is for the 'whole inhabited earth' (oikoumene), not just our familiar bit of it. Ecumenism is the whole Church offering the whole Gospel to the whole earth -
• in fulfilment of Christ’s prayer, on the night before his crucifixion
• according to the pattern of the early Christians who shared a common life
• making real the renewal and reconciliation which is God’s gift through Jesus
• acting as those who belong to one another as part of Christ’s body
For more about why Churches Together in England believes in unity across the whole Christian community, see here
The Prayer of Jesus – “May they be one”
“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17. 21-23
The witness of the early Church – to share the common life
“They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, to break bread, and to pray. All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common…And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2. 24-44, 47
Christ is all and in all
“You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” Colossians 3. 9-11
One body – the Body of Christ
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4. 3-6
The Church has the essentially organic unity of a body (1 Corinthians 12.12) or a plant (John 15.5) rather than merely the political unity of an organisation. There are varieties of gifts, services and activities but the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.4-6) - and different people using different gifts together strengthens the whole Church (1 Corinthians 14.4; Ephesians 4.16).
Being ecumenical means looking up to see the big picture: what God is doing through the whole Church in the whole world. It means engaging with others in ways that bring in the Kingdom of God, where God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. It means holding our remaining differences in conversation rather than conflict, engaging in dialogue rather than denouncing each other.
Unity is not singing in unison and losing our distinctiveness:
Unity is singing in harmony, each person and tradition enriching the others.
Churches Together respects the distinctiveness of the “Churches”, but looks to a time when they will be “Together”.
Let Love’s unconquerable might
Your scattered companies unite
In service to the Lord of light:
So shall God’s will on earth be done,
New lamps be lit, new tasks begun,
And the whole Church at last be one: Alleluia. G K A Bell (1883-1958)