I often write about interfaith matters, but today I want to narrow that a bit to discuss Christian ecumenical matters because today is the anniversary of the founding of the Federal Council of Churches, which became, in 1950, the National Council of Churches.
Hopes for uniting Protestant churches were high in the early 1900s, though it must be said that in the intervening century the record of cooperation and combination has been terribly uneven. In fact, from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s until today the record reveals much more division than merger.
Many of the reasons for this aren't bad reasons at all. That is, each tradition contains something unique and worth keeping. So each tradition fears loss of something valuable if it were to combine into something larger with another Protestant movement.
But it's also true that many of the reasons for disunity are petty and embarrassing. And the record of disunity, I've always thought, must break the sacred heart of Jesus, who prayed in John 17:23, that his followers "will be made perfectly one," as the Contemporary English Bible translation puts it.
I've long thought that such ecumenical bodies as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches are potentially useful but not terribly effective. And most people in the pews of individual congregations know little or nothing about what such bodies do.
But if such councils can contribute to a spirit of cooperation versus a spirit of competition and circling-the-wagons among Protestant denominations, they'll be worth keeping.
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REASSESSING POPE FRANCIS
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who identifies himself as a Catholic with conservative political leanings, has some interesting thoughts about what such Catholics are to make of Pope Francis and his sharp critique of capitalism. All of this is a reminder that religion is inevitably political in some way because religion, in the end, is about the whole of life, not just some tiny piece of it.