Evangelicalism and Ecumenism in the Post-modern Era

God favors order and harmony

Although post-modernism has discovered interesting modes of understanding the self and enhanced the method of introspection, it has inadvertently shifted the former modernist emphasis on objective, absoluteness of concepts and values, including religious code of ethics to subjectively based, pluralistic and humanly inclusive relativism.

Moral relativism is hazardous to Christianity in that its excessive promotion of individual values and subjective beliefs leads the churches and followers astray from a binding, uniform identity under one Father and one Christ. It is however conducive in engendering diversity and endorsing interpersonal reverence by acknowledging cultural differences of a nation or a community, and individual characters, which nevertheless harmonize in splendid interdependence designed by the Creator.

The influence of post-modernism in the contemporary Christianity is undeniable; as we continue to grow in a dynamic society of bourgeoning eclectic ideologies and perspectives, it is necessary to enforce priority and fashion an order on the multitude of developing ideas. We can rationalize this by reminding ourselves that Christians must be a well-defined and self-defined community, and naturally be distinguished from the secular public; the growth of Christian community must be stimulated under the governing parameters set forth by the earliest commands of God including the Ten Commandments, the Book of Laws and the Laws of Christ.

If not, the purpose and the reason for the existence of a Christian entity are rendered useless.

So, what is in the priority of Christians? Our first priority and the most essential element that drives the life of Christianity is the Word of God. The Word of God is infallible, and it is revealed to man only by His grace. It is the Word that reigns eternally and remains perpetually unchanged.

We can now explore evangelicalism and ecumenism in the clear context of post-modernism. Martin Luther during the Reformation period adapted the term “evangelical” to articulate his disparate movement. According to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, in the contemporary language, evangelicalism is “to see all Christians who affirm a few key doctrines and practical emphases. British historian David Bebbington approaches evangelicalism from this direction and notes four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”

Subsequently, ecumenism is loosely used by many nations whose mission is to strive for unification of the Protestant churches of the world and ultimately of all Christians.

Naturally evangelical groups tend to be more exclusive compared to the openness of ecumenical groups who support unity. Both institutions in Protestant churches are complementary; if not interdependent. In the midst of conflicts between evangelical leaders and ecumenical leaders; the relationship between two bodies unfortunately remain misunderstood. The idea that evangelicalism and ecumenism are contradictory or impossible to co-exist is flawed. Indeed, both are mutually exclusive because the former codifies the doctrinaire aspect of divine commandments; whereas the latter seeks to resolve interpersonal differences and revere diversity.

Extreme evangelicals jeopardize their influence on the society if exclusivity reaches its peak and begins to discriminate the creations of God as ones who have received predestined salvation and ones who have not. Such archaic Calvinist theory of predestination raises a numerous issues of grave concern. It attempts to:

1. Obscure the grace of God and consequently the major teachings of apostle Paul;
2. Undermine the necessary fulfillment of sanctification;
3. Effectively emasculate the authority of the commandments and reverence for the Word of God;
4. Cause moral hazard.

Radical evangelicals who tirelessly berate the activities of their brethren on the basis of scriptural perfection and fail to impose the equally critical standard upon themselves do not advocate the voice of God but only reiterate the ugliness of hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

Likewise, unconventionally ecumenical and liberally minded groups are faced with an identity crisis. An infatuation with interfaith dialogues, openness theology, social reformation through political lobbying and religious pluralism institutionalize Christianity as one of many ways to attain salvation and furthermore, secularize the followers of Christ.

Such ‘liberated’ form of interpretation of the Scriptures is a deviance from the norm; and uniting under such relativistic worldview of the Gospel is no unity at all. For unity is driven solely by the truth of God, not by the tolerance of man.

A new study made by Southern Illinois University professor Darren E. Sherkat showed differing patterns of growth and decline in the current day American Church, in accordance to whom the individual denominations ‘cater’ to and where the focus of the messages are.

Sherkat’s observation is consistent to the National Council of Churches’ 2003 Yearbook of Christian Churches’ finding that similar patterns of membership losses were observed for the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ. The United Church of Christ is widely known for its liberal stance on ordaining homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions in its church.

On the other hand, several of the groups that experienced denomination-wide growth in 2003 were the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ – all three of which are known for their evangelical views and strict adherence to biblical inerrancy.

Basic principles of economics dictate that people follow choices, which maximize his or her returns. If members of the church feel what they have gained from situationalized, liberal teachings of the Word is null compared to secular information on Christianity, the congregation loses its most compelling factor that stimulates its congregation.

In viewing evangelicals, ecumenicals and the countless number of diversely varied communities of Christians, which both groups encompass; it is imperative to focus on Biblical priority and authority.

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." [Matthew 22:37-40]

Evangelicalism and ecumenism are two necessities in the construction of the Kingdom of God; evangelicals must not lose sense of ecumenism, ecumenism cannot subsist on its own without stringent adherence to the Scripture.

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