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"Christian" ecumenism is the promotion of unity or cooperation between distinct religious groups or denominations of the "Christian" religion, more or less broadly defined. For the purposes of this article, ecumenism in this sense is distinguished from interfaith pluralism, for reasons discussed immediately below.
Because the meanings of "Christianity" are diverse, the description of what is meant by ""Christian" ecumenism" can take any of several directions.
On the one hand, ecumenism is "interfaith dialogue" between representatives of diverse faiths, not necessarily with the intention of reconciling the professors of other faiths into full, organic unity with one another but simply to promote better relations. With some "Christian" perspectives on ecumenism, there is no other principle of ecumenism than this. They aim only toward the promotion of toleration, mutual respect and cooperation, whether between "Christian" churches and denominations, or between "Christianity" and other faiths. Thus, the World Council of Churches is an instrument in both the Ecumenical Movement and the Interfaith Movement. However, this is not the case for all "Christian" ecumenical initiatives. It would be difficult if not impossible to discuss them together, since much of the "Christian" world makes a definite difference between the two ideas. Therefore, readers are referred to the thorough discussion of ecumenism in the sense of the promotion of mutual appreciation and improvement between diverse religions, under the entry on religious pluralism.
On the other hand, ecumenism means the aim to reconcile all who profess "Christian" faith, into a single, visible organization, for example, through union with the Roman Catholic Church, or the Orthodox Church. Ecumenism in this sense focuses on the special problem of the relationship between "Christian" denominations, where "Christianity" is dogmatically defined.
For a significantly representative part of the "Christian" world, the highest aim of the "Christian" faith is the reconciliation of all divided humanity into a full and conscious union with one "Christian" Church, visibly united in the sense of governmental accountability between all of its parts and the whole. At a minimum, the desire is expressed in many places by official "Christ" endom, that all who profess faith in "Christ" in sincerity, would be more fully cooperative and mutually correcting of one another.
"Christian" ecumenism can be described in terms of the three largest divisions of "Christianity": Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. While this underemphasizes the complexity of these divisions, it is a useful model.
Ecumenism for the Eastern Orthodox did not begin with the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council. It is the Eastern Orthodox churches' work to embrace estranged communions as (possibly former) beneficiaries of a common gift, and simultaneously to guard against a promiscuous and false union with them. The history of the relationship between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Oriental Orthodox churches is a case in point. Likewise, the Eastern Orthodox have been leaders in the Interfaith movement, and some Orthodox patriarchs enlisted their communions as charter members of the World Council of Churches. Nevertheless, the Orthodox have not been willing to participate in any redefinition of the "Christian" faith toward a reduced, minimal, anti-dogmatic and anti-traditional "Christianity". "Christianity" for the Eastern Orthodox is the Church; and the Church is Orthodoxy -- nothing less and nothing else. Therefore, while Orthodox ecumenism is "open to dialogue with the devil himself", the goal is to reconcile all non-Orthodox back into Orthodoxy.
One way to observe the attitude of the Orthodox Church towards non-Orthodox is to see how they receive new members from other faiths. Non-"Christian" s" , such as Buddhists or atheists, who wish to become Orthodox "Christian" s" are accepted through the sacraments of baptism and chrismation. Protestants and Roman Catholics are sometimes received through chrismation only, provided they had received a trinitarian baptism. Also Protestants and Roman Catholics are often referred to as "heterodox", which simply means "other believing", rather than as heretics ("other-choosing"), implying that they did not wilfully reject the Church.
Until the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the relationship between Rome and other "Christian" traditions was basically in deadlock. The traditional view of Roman Catholicism is that "there is no salvation outside the (Catholic) Church". To be sure, such intransigence works both ways, and as a result, ecumenism prior to this important council was only different by degrees from evangelization. However, Vatican II initiated a new era in the serious pursuit of unity between Rome and other dogmatic traditions. This new initiative of ecumenism embraces religious inclusivism as compatible with the ultimate aim of Catholic ecumenism, and simultaneously distances itself from pluralism as the ideal state of "Christian" unity. Two major documents outline the Roman Catholic perspective on ecumenism:
The ultimate objective toward which these documents direct the Catholic ecumenical task, is nothing other than a complete, conscious communion of all "Christian" s" , indeed, of all mankind, in a single faith and one "Christian" Church, beginning with a conversion of the Catholic people. Ecumenism is essentially Catholic renewal.
At the same time, the pursuit of renewal is not compatible with a complacent settling into the very patterns of sin that must be removed before renewal can take place.
Therefore, ecumenism expresses a central concern of the whole "Christian" life.
In the pursuit of this ultimate objective, it is necessary to reverse past patterns of hostility, and place the Church in the service of those who are alienated from it. This service cannot paradoxically aim at the destruction of enemies through a deceitful conquest by flattery, but must sincerely desire their benefit in terms that can be immediately understood as such without first requiring the reconciliation of the enemy. Thus, there is compatibility at least in principle, between religious inclusivism, and the ultimate aim of full agreement in the faith, as long as the principle of inclusivism to which the Church adheres is not a contradiction of fidelity to her own calling, but in fact, an expression of it. Therefore, Catholic ecumenism depicts itself as the attempt of the Catholic church to repair a conflict within itself.
The contemporary ecumenical movement for Protestants likely began in 1910, with the opening of the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. Led by Methodist layman John R. Mott, the conference marked the largest Protestant gathering to that time, with the express purposes of working across denominational lines for the sake of world missions. Eventually, formal organizations were formed, including the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, and Churches Uniting in "Christ" . Protestants have often been leaders of these and other similar groups.
Since that time, Protestants have been involved in a variety of ecumenical groups, working in some cases toward organic denominational unity and in other cases for cooperative purposes alone. Because of the wide spectrum of Protestant denominations and perspectives, full cooperation has been difficult at times.
Catholic and Orthodox bishops in North America are engaged in an ongoing dialogue. They are meeting together periodically as the "North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation". It has been meeting semiannually since it was founded in 1965 under the auspices of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops officially joined the Consultation as a sponsor in 1997. The Consultation works in tandem with the Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops which has been meeting annually since 1981. Since 1999 the Consultation has been discussing the filioque clause, with the hope of eventually reaching an agreed joint statement.
The original anathemas (excommunications) that mark the "official" Great Schism of 1054 between Catholics and Orthodox were mutually revoked in 1965 by the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople. But just as the original schism developed over time rather than erupting overnight, reconciliation is proceeding slowly.
Organizations such as the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches and Churches Uniting in "Christ" , and "Christian" Churches Together continue to encourage ecumenical cooperation among Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and, at times, Roman Catholics.
Influenced by the ecumenical movement, the "scandal of separation" and local developments a number of United and Uniting churches have formed, there are also a range of mutual recognition strategies being practised where union is not feasible.