Ecumenism or Unionism?

Allow me to clarify the dogmatic-confessional problem of the Lutheran Church by noting one of the many ecumenical plans which in our day, especially on the mission field and in the great lands of immigration such as Australia, are supposed to solve the church's problem. The "World Council of Churches" indeed assures us that it does not desire to be a "super church," and that it also refused to be, as Dr. Leiper says, a "marriage beaurue" for churches. Thus in the theses of Toronto regarding the ecclesiological significance of the World Council of Churches, III.2, it states: "The task of the Council is not to facilitate union between churches. Such negotiations can only be carried out by the churches themselves at their own initiative. Its task is to bring the churches into a living perception of each other, and thus to promote study and the discussion of questions of church unification." (Translated from "The Ecumenical Revue" III, No. 1, Oct. 1950, p. 48). This thesis is explained by the following: "By its very existence and activity the Council bears witness to the necessity of a clear manifestation of the unity of the church of Christ. But it remains the right and duty of each individual church on the basis of its ecumenical experience to come to those conclusions which they themselves believe they must come to on the basis of their own convictions. No church, therefore, needs to fear that the Council will necessitate decisions from them regarding unification with other churches" (ibidem). It is stated thereby that the World Council is in fact something like a match-maker, where the partners are brought together and encouraged to express decisions regarding future marital agreements. The ecumenical movement, which a quarter century ago facilitated the encounter of the churches, the new ordering of their mutual relationships and their common consciousness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church as confessed in the Nicaenum, has in large measure thereby become a union movement in which the tragedy of all such union movements is repeated: Instead of reducing the number of churches, the number is increased through the founding of new churches, just as after 1817 in Germany out of the Lutheran and Reformed [Churches] something like five union churches of various confession had been created. And the unification is not unification in faith, but rather unification in doubt, namely the famous "agree[ment] to disagree" [ Sasse's original states this in English. Trans.]. Just what such a church looks like is shown by the plan for a "Reunited Church" of Australia, which on the basis of the Union of South India and the plan for other union churches in the far east has been worked out by the "Commission for Faith and Order" with the "Australian Council of the World Council of Churches" and in fully official manner set before the ecumenical sessions of this year, especially the Faith and Order Conference in Lund, and commended to the churches of Australia.

The "Reunited Church" is to consist of member churches which, to a certain extent, retain their independence, but mutually acknowledge each other's faith and the validity of their respective offices. Each particular church delegates certain powers to the larger church [Gesamtkirche]. This has already been realized in Germany in the EkiD, and this is why the EkiD enjoys such great favor through the ecumenical movement.

From The Deconfessionalization of Lutheranism, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 22, New Year, 1952. Translation by Rev. Matt Harrison, graciously made available to Confessional Lutherans Australia and avilable in full at their website here: http://www.clai.org.au/articles/sasse/deconfes.htm

Compiler's comment: The "Reunited Church" in Australia which Sasse mentions did not eventuate, one of the principal reasons being the then numerically dominant Anglican Church's insistence on a three-fold ordering of ministry. In 1977, however, in frustration with the lack of progress towards external unity, the majority of Australian Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists united and formed the Uniting Church of Australia. A significant number of confessional Presbyterians, and a lesser number of independent-minded evangelical Congregationalists and Methodists, remained out of the union,and have prospered since. Thus it was that the formation of the "Uniting Church" actually led to two or three new denominations dotting the Australian ecclesiatical landscape, depending on whether one counts the Congregationalists as a denomination.

More recently, the same Uniting Church has been plagued by conflict and division between its evangelicals and liberals over the matter of the approval of homosexual relationships. Thus, differences over the authority of scripture and methods of interpretation which were papered over in 1977 in the interests of union have since been revealed in all their starkness. Rather than serving as a light on the hill of unity, as originally envisaged, and drawing others to itself, the Uniting Church now serves as a beacon warning those with eyes to see of the rocks on which the hopes of unionism can be dashed.

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