This Reflection is written by Kelvin Moon, a member of Kings Church Eden, in Cumbria. It first appeared in the May 2014 newsletter of Churches Together in Cumbria.
Sitting at my discussion table as a “new church” member amongst those from several of the long established church traditions, my heart was stirred for them in their struggles to pursue ecumenical goals in their various Cumbrian locations. Time and again the hindrance to progress emerged from the incompatible denominational structures and forms within which they were operating. Conversely, their successes invariably arose from small-scale, person-to-person relationships sharing a common calling from the same Father God.
Over the centuries, God, through moves of his Spirit, has brought revelation and restoration to his church across the globe. And each such move has brought an injection of fresh energy, enlightenment and vision for the time. Unfortunately, it seems our human way is to reify these revelations into structures and forms that we then contend to bolster with ever more elaborate and substantial defences.
These defences may well be seen as establishing the kingdom, defending the truth, progressing the work, and protecting the people of God. But, over time, they so easily come round to just the opposite – dividing the kingdom, fragmenting the truth, hindering the work and making fearful the people of God. They produce a kingdom and people that are stationary, like a castle, and not advancing like an army.
God’s Spirit is, at heart, a moving Spirit and, as a body, we need to move with him. We cannot afford to respond to every revelation he brings by turning it into a permanent institution. We no longer need to build a temple, we are the temple. We need to rejoice in the revelation, live in the freedom of it, and look to him, hungry for more, ready to move on as a people.
It is so clearly in the heart of God that his church should be united in Christ. The ecumenical call, at least in essence, is a heart-to-heart call upon each of us as individuals within his universal church – a church of which there is only one head, namely, Christ. It is a call from the head, directly to each individual member.
An ecumenical call, then, is a call that needs specifically not to be heard through the filters of denominational interpretation and implementation. If it were, then it would most likely lead to yet another point of conflict and disagreement. It needs to be a call that transcends denomination – a call that comes from the heart of Christ as head of the church, directly to the heart of each of his individual members.
Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the success of ecumenical initiatives appears to hang upon grass-root movements, personal relationships between church leaders, bottom-up, rather than top down. Isn’t it the institutional structures and forms themselves that have been built to defend identity, difference, separation? It is perhaps not surprising that it is in these that we are finding the greatest difficulty in moving toward ecumenical goals.
But the very clashes we are finding at this level are, in fact, the sounds of true engagement with one another. And, in that context, they are sounds of hope and encouragement. They are the sounds of a groundswell of movement that contrast vividly with the long, long silence of contented resignation. And, they are sounds being accompanied by a mounting chorus of small-scale victories and local stories of fruitful perseverance.
We are on the move, at last! We are picking up the skirts of our highly embellished tabernacles, and advancing through the wilderness ...together!