Is Christian Unity Possible?
CHRISTENDOM is a divided house. Its estimated membership of over 1,500 million people is split up into Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and other churches and sects claiming to be Christian. Many sincere people wonder if Christian unity will ever be attained.
Deploring the religious disunity, a document of the Second Vatican Council stated: “All proclaim themselves to be disciples of the Lord, but their convictions clash and their paths diverge, as though Christ Himself were divided (cf. 1 Cor. 1:13). Without doubt, this discord openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature.”
The Catholic Church and Unity
The Catholic Church, which claims about half of the total membership of Christendom, has its own concept of Christian unity. Various “unions of prayer” were formed at the turn of the century. Among these were the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Compassion for the Return of England to the Catholic Faith, the Pious Union of Prayer to Our Lady of Compassion for the Conversion of Heretics, and the Archconfraternity of Prayers and Good Works for the Reunion of the Eastern Schismatics with the Church.
In 1908, on the initiative of an Anglican priest turned Catholic, an annual Catholic prayer week (January 18-25) was organized “for the conversion and return of the separated brethren.” This later became the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with which the WCC (World Council of Churches) has associated itself since the early 1950’s.
The Catholic book The Documents of Vatican II states: “Each year in January, for many decades, Roman Catholics have offered eight days of prayer for Church unity. Until 1959, the general idea behind those days of prayer, January 18-25, was the hope that Protestants would ‘return’ to the one true Church, and that the Orthodox schism would end.”
Did Vatican II fundamentally change the Catholic Church’s view of Christian unity? Pope John’s successor, Paul VI, promulgated the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which says: “This is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.”
So the Catholic Church’s view of Christian unity has not changed fundamentally. The view expressed at Vatican II is, in effect, that whatever good things exist outside the Catholic Church really belong to her and are, therefore, as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church says, “forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”
Qualified to Promote Unity?
What can be said of the Catholic Church’s oft-repeated profession to be “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”? First, the recent schism of traditionalist Catholics under the leadership of Archbishop Lefebvre, not to mention the open rebellion of hundreds of Catholic theologians, gives the lie to the church’s claim to be “one.”*
Second, the record of the Catholic Church, with its anti-Semitism, its torturing of “heretics,” its promotion of “holy wars,” and its involvement in politics and dirty financial scandals, reveals that it is far from holy.
Third, the Church of Rome can hardly justify its claim that it is “catholic,” or “universal,” since it consists of only about half of those claiming to be Christian, or approximately 15 percent of the world population.
Finally, neither the facts of history, the record of the papacy, nor the opulence, the immorality, the political involvement of many Catholic prelates, can justify the church’s claim to be “apostolic.” Obviously, the Catholic Church is in no position to claim to be the rallying point for true Christian unity.
The World Council and Unity
The World Council of Churches includes over 300 Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches that have more than 400 million members in over a hundred countries. The purpose of the council is “to proclaim the essential oneness of the Church of Christ and to keep prominently before the churches the obligation to manifest that unity and its urgency for the work of evangelism.” However, does the WCC offer any more hope for true Christian unity than does the Roman Catholic Church?
On what basis does the WCC hope to unite Christians? An encyclopedia states: “World Council of Churches. . . . The members generally agree that division among Christians is contrary to God’s will and a grave obstacle to the acceptance of Christianity by non-Christians. . . . The conviction has grown that unity must be based upon truth.” So, then, what is considered to be fundamental truth by the over 300 member-churches of the WCC?
In 1948 the original basis for membership in the WCC was considered by some churches as insufficiently Trinitarian. So in 1961 the basis for membership was modified to read: “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”—Italics ours.
That very basis for membership in the WCC is a contradiction in terms. Why? Because the belief in “one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is not “according to the Scriptures.” The Encyclopedia of Religion states: “Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity.” Further, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology explains: “Primitive Christianity did not have an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.” And The New Encyclopædia Britannica declares: “Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord’ (Deut. 6:4).”
Moreover, the WCC has become deeply involved in political struggles. For example, it has provided funds for armed liberation movements. The New Encyclopædia Britannica reveals: “Identifications with various revolutionary movements by WCC groups has occasioned criticism by some constituent churches.” Unchristian involvement in politics cannot bring about true Christian unity, any more than can an unbiblical doctrinal basis.
True Unity Is Possible
Interestingly, the French Encyclopædia Universalis (1989) states that the purpose of ecumenism is “to give back to the divided family of Christians profound and visible unity, in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. . . . Observing how Christians love one another, non-Christians should come to have faith and join the Church, prefiguring the new world in which service, righteousness, and peace will be the governing principles, as foretold and demonstrated by Christ. . . . It is noteworthy that . . . the Epistle to the Hebrews (II, 5) should speak of the ‘oi·kou·meʹne [inhabited earth] to come,’ thus emphasizing that the Christian hope is not for a nonfleshly spiritual world, but for this inhabited world [earth] reconciled with its Creator.”
More and more members of Christendom’s churches are coming to realize that the teachings of their church are not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. They notice with shame that the members of their religion do not love one another. Many of them, however, have found a family of Christians that are profoundly united, and they observe how these really love one another. Yes, they have found true Christian unity and hope among the worldwide family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As a result, millions of former members of Christendom’s churches have come to have hope in God’s united new world, in which service, righteousness, and peace will be the governing principles.
For details, see Awake! dated June 22, 1990, “Why the Divisions in the Catholic Church?”
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Many people have found a global family of Christians who are already united
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This monument at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland, symbolizes their prayers for church unity, as yet unanswered