I write this on the Feast of the Epiphany, which is the celebration of the birth of Christ “epiphanied” –manifested – to the Gentiles. One of the themes of this celebration could be stated as “bringing in the outsiders.” Over the centuries prior to Christ’s birthGod had spoken to the descendants of Sarah and Abraham in many ways, through prophets, judges, priests, and monarchs. Sometimes the message was directed to outsiders, such as the message given to Jonah for the people of Nineveh. But often the message was to the people of Israel. That was clearly necessary as we Christians understand it. God was preparing this set-apart people to receive the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” as the prophet Simeon foretold.
When we think about ecumenism it might be helpful to consider all Christians as outsiders who have been led by the Spirit to Christ to adoption as children of God. The Church of Jesus Christ belongs to Christ. It is “our” Church only in the sense that we are members of it. It is not “our” Church in the sense of ownership.
The call of the Holy Spirit leading to Christ may come in many ways. The famous Gentiles from the East were led by astrology – hardly an “orthodox” theology. We certainly believe that the Holy Spirit leads people into a deeper understanding about Jesus, the Triune God, and our relationship with God and with others. But the historical evidence is that the Spirit leads people to Christ by many paths.
What are your experiences with ecumenism? What have you found helpful as you discuss differences among Christians? How do you preach and teach about ecumenism? This Journal is about conversation. Let’s converse.