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Definition  Broadly, activities that strive toward a worldwide spiritual unity and/or cooperation between those who hold diverse religious beliefs. Narrowly defined, ecumenism relates to the activities seeking to bring unity to the Protestant denominations, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Ecumenists may have differing goals. For some, ecumenism merely represents the promotion of understanding and toleration of diverse religious systems. For others, ecumenism is seen as the vehicle for bringing about visible Christian unity of doctrine. For Roman Catholicism the ultimate goal of this unity would be submission to the one true Church under the Pope. Ecumenical activity was greatly increased during the 20th century. In its formal setting, national and international associations were formed to promote ecumenism. The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948, and includes Orthodox and Protestant Churches. While not an official member, the Roman Catholic Church works closely with the WCC. Official discussions and declarations have been promulgated, such as discussions between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1999, the document “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” was published that confirmed agreement on the church-dividing doctrine concerning how a person gets to heaven. This was accomplished by focusing on areas of agreement, minimizing areas of disagreement, and carefully crafting the document so that both parties could read into the document their own beliefs. Less formal but more influential ecumenical discussions resulted in the publication of the ECT documents which promote Christian understanding, cooperation and unity between evangelicals and Catholics.

Discussion: The Scriptures warn of a false unity that is based on human wisdom rather than the truth of God’s word. God repeatedly chastized the nation of Israel for the tendency to syncretize her beliefs with those of the surrounding nations. Paul warned that Christians should not compromise by becoming “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-18). True unity already exists among those who hold to the cardinal truths of the Bible concerning justification and the authority of Scripture. The ecumenical compromise of crucial dogma ultimately leads to division, not unity.

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