Positive Speech: The Language of Ecumenism

By Steven Wallace

Many people are enamored with positive speech and preaching that is only positive. Because of the nature of the latter, it offends almost no one. In fact, most people enjoy it. Positive preaching’s general acceptability can be seen in that one could take many positive sermons and preach them with little or no alteration at different denominations. In fact, it is my conviction that positive speech blurs the differences that exist between people with different beliefs and those in different religions. As our title states, it is the language of ecumenism.

Some Consequences in the Churchof “Emphasizing the Positive”

What will happen if churches of Christ use “the language of ecumenism”? We offer the following suggestions:

1. Error will not be rebuked (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:1-4). If we concentrate only on the “positive aspects” of erring brethren, we will not rebuke their error as the Bible teaches.

What Is Ecumenism?

Ecumenism is defined as “the principles or practice of promoting cooperation or better understanding among differing religions” (Webster). An example of ecumenism is a base chapel. Baptists, Christian Scientists, Methodists, Catholics, Mormons and other denominations often “cooperate” (above definition) in common efforts in base chapels and work as a team. This is ecumenism.

2. Our sole standard of conduct will cease to be the New Testament (Heb. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). If we tailor our teaching to accommodate erring brethren, what we teach and practice will be influenced by men rather than by the Bible alone. The pleas to go back to the Bible and “speak as the oracles of God” will thus be compromised (1 Pet. 4:11).

3. Unworthy examples will be commended (Gal. 2:11-14; 2 Jn. 9-11). If we, through our “positive approach,” fellowship those whom we should with-stand, we will be upholding them (cf. 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:6; Rev. 2:14-16).

The Language Of Ecumenism

How do people who accept ecumenism justify trying to get those of other religions to unite with them in working towards a common goal? They have often argued for such cooperation by emphasizing the “things that we agree on” and ignored real differences that exist. Though Baptists believe in baptism by immersion and Catholics say that sprinkling is baptism, they can cooperate by emphasizing their “common ground.” In spite of the fact that the various religions of our world are divided by their very names and practices, they can work together if they minimize such differences and maximize points of agreement. This shows us that positive speech is the oil for ecumenical machinery. If, by contrast, such religions discussed the things about which they disagreed they would be “talking negative.”

4. An environment will be created wherein it is impossible to discuss religious differences (Acts 1 5:1 ff,17:11-12). In order for conversion from sin to righteousness to take place one must of necessity learn of his error and repent of it (Acts 8:18-22; Jas. 5:19-20). Negative teaching is needed to convict one of his sins.

5. The door will be opened to further compromise (Gal. 5:9; 2 Tim. 3:13). Who can predict the further errors that brethren might embrace through the “positive approach”? After all, ecumenism is the way to “cooperation . . . among differing religious faiths” (Webster).

Some New Testament Christians have been known to use the “positive speech approach” to unite with other baptized believers in spite of such differences as the use of instrumental music in worship, unauthorized use of church funds, modernism, errors on divorce and remarriage, etc. Such unity in diversity is aided by brethren who “keep things positive” and stress “the things that we agree on.”


The kind of positive speech we have described herein will bring about unity-in-diversity similar to that found in the modern ecumenical movements in the denominational world. The “keep it positive approach” leads away from unity in the Truth and towards unity with error. This is the essence of ecumenism.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 6, p. 18
March 17, 1994