By Robert C. Welch
“I have traveled over the nation and somewhat over the world and have visited many churches, but I want to know whether or not you are ecumenical.”
That is a hard question to answer with just a yes or no. Too many things are involved and too many ideas exist as to what the word means. Perhaps you need to explain just what you mean.
“First, then, let me ask if you belong to a world wide organization or denomination.”
There are churches of Christ like this congregation scattered over the nation and over the world. But they are not part of denomination or organization. Each congregation is complete and autonomous. No function of worship, work or government, depends upon, or is connected with, another congregation. If you ask about my personal relationship, I belong to Christ, as do all others who have been born again; thus all of us are subjects of his kingdom, or members of his body, making up his ecclesid or church. In this last sense I am ecumenical or universal. But if you refer to the congregation or church wherein I worship and work, it is not ecumenical; that is, it is not a part of a denominational organization.
“Do you not think that all the churches and all those who believe in Christ are in the one church universal?”
That is the thinking of most of those who belong to Protestant denominations. But it is not a biblical concept. Roman Catholics have traditionally held that they are the universal or ecumenical church. In recent years they are not so strongly stressing that, but are yielding to the usual denominational idea. The fact is the Bible teaches that not all who say they believe in Christ are actually acceptable to him. In that great sermon on the mount he said: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). So the field of your ecumenism. is narrowed. Only those who are staying within the word (versus iniquity) in what they do make up the Lord’s people.
“But you did not deal with my question about all denominations making up the whole of the church. Is not each denomination a part of the world wide or ecumenical church?”
That is not the way it is presented in the Bible. Jesus gave a parable of the vine and its branches for the disciples, and our, benefit. In its application he says, “I am the vine” (John 15:5). Then he says to those disciples, “Ye are the branches” (v. 5). Lest they and people today think that because the plural is used this includes the denominations he goes on to specify what the branch is: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). The branches are not denominations. The branches are disciples. They are to abide in Christ; not to be in a denomination which in turn is in him. The Bible says nothing about denominations. They are the product of man’s doctrine, one of those works which the Lord condemns in Matthew 7:21-23, the passage we cited earlier.
“I have been reading where some churches of Christ and some Christian Churches have been getting together to study about having unity; are you not even that ecumenical?”
There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that two or more churches are to have unity unless they are to become one congregation. As has already been said, one congregation has no organic or organizational connection with any other. This notion of ecumenicity is the denominational concept of a federation of churches, and has no basis in Bible teaching.
As a Christian, I may go about among other Christians and churches of Christ, having fellowship or partnership with them in worship and work. There is nothing said in the Bible, however, which gives me the right to make any arrangements for some connection between the congregation of which I am a member and some other congregation, because no such organic connection is provided.
– Reprinted from the Northern Kentucky Light
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 13, p. 389
July 7, 1988