By John Amoda
THE Vanguard Newspapers a few weeks ago carried a story about a specific effort to promote unity among Christians on the basis of the Lord’s prayer of John 17- the theme of which prayer is that all His disciples may be one.
This initiative reported to be justified by divine injunction delivered through an angel places the movement for unity on a sacred platform. Although quite different from secularly inspired national security promotion of amity among religious organisations, this movement is not new. It is a renewal of efforts to promote friendship among God- inspired faiths worldwide.
It is born out of the rejection of intolerance and denigration of faiths differing from the privileged, especially those of European Christian faiths. These are initiatives to promote respect among Western and Eastern faiths, Muslim and Christian faiths; and between sects and denominations of Christian faiths; persistent and urgent as these movements are, it is important to engage the goals of such movements from the viewpoint of the gospel messages of each faith.
It is from so doing that we have come to make a distinction between ecumenical and unification initiatives. Though similar in goals, they are different in their logic. This distinction is clearer when we consider the dictionary definition of the concepts.
Ecumenical and Ecumenism: Ecumenical initiatives have as their aim the furthering of cooperation, especially among Christian churches. Ecumenism are the principles or practice of promoting better understanding among different religious faiths.
Ecumenical leaders therefore seek not the unification of different religious faiths under one leadership but friendship among differing religious faiths. The aim of these leaders is to foster acceptance of differences which were once denigrated or demonized. Ecumenical temperaments are promotive of tolerance of differences within the framework of friendly agreement to disagree on matters of worship.
Unity or Unification Initiatives: On the other hand they have as their objective a purpose different from the ecumenical. They are intended to forge a merger among different organisations and leaderships into one organisation with a common leadership.
To unite these different organisations is to cause them to become incorporated into one association. Unification initiatives is thus to make one institution out many diverse institutions (E Pluribus Unum), thus to achieve oneness in purpose, leadership and procedures.
Thus explained, it is clear that what ecumenists intend is not unification but harmonisation of differences to produce thereby a co-existence among organisations that could otherwise exists as antagonists. Harmony is to effect a fitting together, such that there is amity and agreement in the coexistence of distinctly differing institutions.
Given these two constructs, it is clear that for Jews and Christians alike, ecumenism is not commanded by the God of their Holy Texts. As summarised by Moses in the 28th Chapter of Deuteronomy, there was to be no deviation, no deletion from what is commanded and proclaimed by God.
“Thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” (Deuteronomy 28:14).
The same strict obedience preached by God through Moses to Israel is what God required of Joshua, Moses’ successor.
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.’’
The Lord Jesus saw Himself similarly bound to discharge God’s will.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”(Matthew 5:17-18).
In the Lord’s Great Commission to His Eleven Disciples (Matt. 28:18-19), He commanded them to teach and observe all he had taught and commanded them to observe.
“Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world. Amen.”
The Lord Jesus left no room for theological elaborations on what He taught and commanded. He declared His authority as the final authority on what His God and His Father, who is our God and Father, wills for mankind until His Second Coming.