More than 50 years have passed since William Temple could acclaim ‘this worldwide Christian fellowship, this Ecumenical Movement, as it has been called, as the great new fact of our era’.1 Indeed, the suggestion is often heard that we are now in an ‘ecumenical winter’, that after the apparent gains made by the Second Vatican Council, or the creation of the World Council of Churches (WCC), for example, very little has in fact been achieved. Where once there were worries that the flush of ecumenical enthusiasm might breed a culture of ‘indifferentism’ to ecclesial or doctrinal differences, there is now a sense of indifference about ecumenical projects instead. Nor is it necessarily the case that, what one of the contributors in this book calls, the ‘ecumenical distemper’2 has been generated by a parochial attachment to older theological confessions, as these evolved in times of schism. Rather, it is especially among modern Evangelicals and Liberals that the historical lines of church division are often thought to be of no real significance any longer. R.R. Reno has traced this state of affairs to a debilitation within churches today. ‘To a great extent,’ he writes, ‘the current ecumenical impasse stems from difficulties faced by the churches themselves. Doctrinal aphesia seems widespread. The churches are shaped by a cultural captivity that overrides distinctively Christian commitments, and this has produced a crisis of mission and catechesis.’3 Moreover, the impression is commonplace that the ‘ecumenical movement’ has not achieved the ‘visible unity’ among Christians it once promised. As Ola Tjørhom pointed out during a symposium assessing recent ecumenical proposals, ‘The huge amount of agreement that has been piled up within the dialogues is rarely converted into real communion.’4 This, in spite of the continuing efforts of organizations such as the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology in
1 Quoted in G.K.A. Bell, The Kingship of Christ. The Story of the World Council of Churches (London: Penguin, 1954), p. 18.