ecumenical movement

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ecumenical movement

(ĕk'yo͞omĕn`ĭkəl, ĕk'yə–), name given to the movement aimed at the unification of the Protestant churches of the world and ultimately of all Christians.

During and after the Reformation Protestantism separated into numerous independent sects. An early attempt to reverse this tendency was the Evangelical Alliance founded in England in 1846; an American branch was formed by Philip Schaff in 1867. Other organizations that crossed denominational barriers were the Young Men's Christian Association (1844), the Young Women's Christian Association (1884), and the Christian Endeavor Society (1881). In 1908 the Federal Council of Churches of Christ, composed of the larger Protestant denominations in the United States, was organized and strove to represent Protestant opinion on religious and social questions. The movement known as Church Reunion in Great Britain and as Christian Unity (1910) in the United States was active in seeking a creed and polity behind which all Christians could unite.

On an international scale the ecumenical movement really began with the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910. This led to the establishment (1921) of the International Missionary Council, which fostered cooperation in mission activity and among the younger churches. Other landmarks in the development of the movement were the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work (Stockholm, 1925), inspired by Nathan SöderblomSöderblom, Nathan
, 1866–1931, Swedish churchman, primate of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, archbishop of Uppsala. He was professor of the history of religion and from 1914 to 1931 vice chancellor at the Univ. of Uppsala.
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 of Sweden; the World Conference on Faith and Order (Lausanne, 1927); and the first assembly of the World Council of ChurchesWorld Council of Churches,
an international, interdenominational organization of most major Protestant, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Christian churches; founded in Amsterdam in 1948, its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.
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 (Amsterdam, 1948). The World Council, bringing together Protestant, Orthodox Eastern (including the Russian Orthodox Church), and Old Catholic bodies, is now the chief instrument of ecumenicity; in 1961 it united with the International Missionary Council.

Progress has also been made in mergers between individual churches; notable examples include the Church of South India (see South India, Church ofSouth India, Church of,
Indian Protestant church, formed in 1947 by the merger of Anglican dioceses in India, Myanmar, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka); the Methodist Church of South India; and the South India United Church, which itself was formed in 1908 by a union of
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), established in 1947, the first union between episcopal and nonepiscopal churches, and in the United States, where there have been many mergers, the United Church of ChristUnited Church of Christ,
American Protestant denomination formed in 1957 by a merger of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (see Congregationalism) and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
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. A proposal was made in 1960 to bring together the American Methodist, Episcopal, United Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ denominations; this led to the establishment (1962) of the Consultation on Church Union, whose discussions continued into the 1970s. A proposed merger between the English Methodists and the Church of England was rejected by the Methodists in 1969. The Anglicans did, however, reach several doctrinal accords with the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1970s. Several American Lutheran churchs united to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, which agreed in 1997 on a full communion (an arrangement by which churches fully accept each other's members and sacraments) with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America. The Lutheran group reached a similar agreement with the Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church in 1999. Under the terms of the full communion, the churches involved can hold joint worship services, exchange clergy members, and collaborate on social service projects.

The Vatican did not give formal recognition to the existence of the ecumenical movement until 1960, when it established the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Protestant and Orthodox Eastern observers were invited to the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), and the Decree on Ecumenism (1964) promulgated by that council encouraged new dialogues with Protestant and Orthodox churches. In 1969, Pope Paul VI visited the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva; the Catholic Church now sends observers to the World Council and is a full member of some of its committees. In 1995, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Roman Catholic commitment to Christian ecumenism; in 1999, he became the first pope to visit Orthodox nations. Catholics and Lutherans signed a joint declaration in 1999 on the doctrine of justification that resolved some of the issues that led to the Reformation in 1517.


See B. Leeming, The Churches and the Church (1960); N. Goodall, The Ecumenical Movement (3d ed. 1966); J. Desseaux, Twenty Centuries of Ecumenicism (1984); R. S. Bilheimer, Breakthrough: The Emergence of the Ecumenical Tradition (1989).

Ecumenical Movement


a movement of Christian churches to eliminate the division between them and unite church forces on an international scale. It originated on the initiative of Protestant churches of the USA and Western Europe in the early 20th century (specifically, at the first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910); it received definitive establishment with the organization at an assembly of churches in Amsterdam in 1948 of the World Council of Churches, the body that unites and coordinates the activities of church organizations participating in the movement.

The formal goal of the ecumenical movement is the achievement of religious unity among Christians; in practice the movement is directed at surmounting the profound crisis in Christianity and at strengthening Christianity’s position in the modern world. Originally, the Protestant religious organizations of the capitalist countries held total control over the movement, which functioned as an instrument of political reaction and undisguised anticommunism. However, the proimperialistic orientation and the particularly Protestant character of the theological positions advocated condemned the ecumenical movement to sociopolitical and religious self-isolation. Since the late 1950’s there has been a change from flagrant anticommunism to a more realistic policy.

Between 1961 and 1965 the World Council of Churches was joined by the Orthodox and various other churches of almost all the socialist countries, including the USSR, and many church organizations of the developing countries. The broadening of the social membership and denominational affiliation of the movement’s participants has furthered the consolidation of church forces. At the same time it has led to pointed discussions of political and social problems—the participation of the organizations of the ecumenical movement in the peace movement, the possibility and forms of dialogue between Christians and Marxists, and the evaluation and interpretation of social revolutions—as well as problems of a religious and organizational nature, such as the attitude toward the process of religious secularization, church reform, religious tolerance, and the degree of Christian integration within the World Council of Churches. In spite of its renunciation of any apologetics of capitalism—a stance characteristic of the modern ecumenical movement—the movement remains an instrument of bourgeois politics because of the predominance within it of religious organizations of the capitalist countries. Its fundamental theological doctrines are permeated by a spirit of Protestantism; the Protestant churches maintain absolute hegemony in the movement. The Catholic Church remains outside the ecumenical movement, although it consults with it. In 1980, about 300 churches from more than 100 countries participated in the movement as members of the World Council of Churches. The council has held five general assemblies, the last of which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1975.


Gordienko, N. S. Sovremennyi ekumenizm. Moscow, 1972. (Contains bibliography.)
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