WHILE we as a people cannot go along with the basic philosophy of ecumenicity, we certainly can take advantage of the dialog between Roman Catholicism and the separated brethren, or Protestants. It is to a certain extent unfortunate that much of what we read in our journals is somewhat overcritical of the ecumenical movement. That is, we tend to stress what is patently clear: We cannot and will not, by virtue of our distinct and unique doctrines and beliefs, and also the inspired counsel that we have received through the pen of the servant of the Lord, be part of a movement for the unionization of religion. This would effect a breach in the wall of separation between church and state, and the end result would be the ostracism and eventual persecution of dissident minority groups.
In becoming overcritical and judicative, no matter how much in the right we might be, we are not being "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." To begin with, not all the theologians engaging in dialog with Rome are being duped. Many of them are sincerely concerned over the spectacle of disunity in Christendom. They know something is desperately wrong and that modern forms of Christian religion are becoming more and more meaningless and irrelevant in this materialistic age, which has deified science and technology. Some do go off on a tangent and create a new theology of their own, but many are deeply and genuinely concerned and remain somewhat orthodox, honestly seeking an answer. We do wrong if we simply sit in the periphery ridiculing these men who, while they may grope and stumble in ecclesiastical darkness, are nonetheless basically honest, dissatisfied men, seeking for a solution. And, furthermore, do we not teach and preach and write that many leaders of other denominations will in due time find the truth," the genuine article? How will they if the genuine article is way off in a remote and tenebrous corner?
The key word in Roman Catholic circles today is said to be aggiornamento, which is Italian for "updating." While the so-called aggiornamento of the Catholic Church has been, as we all realize full well, no more than superficial, not affecting one iota the fundamental dogmas that are still the heart and center of that politico-religious body, we as a people could derive a few lessons therefrom. May I boldly suggest a Seventh-day Adventist aggiornamento or updating, specifically with regard to our attitude toward the ecumenical movement?
At this point allow me to summarize in a clear fashion what I have attempted to say thus far: While we cannot join the ecumenical movement, let us be sagacious and take advantage of the spirit of confraternity reigning in the religious world today. This we can do safely without sacrificing one grain of precious doctrine or compromising in any way whatsoever.
Perhaps the whole problem with us is that we think too small. We have a small-church complex and tend to think accordingly—in minuscules rather than majuscules. The time has come, and I believe this with all my heart and soul, for us to awaken to the tremendous fact that we are part of a dynamic movement that must attain to gigantic, world-encircling proportions and literally be brought to the attention of all mortals. John's declaration in Revelation 18 that he saw a powerful angel come down from heaven "and the earth was lightened with his glory" was not hyperbolic, inserted in the text for dramatic effect. He was describing a literal, global religious movement which we sincerely believe to be ours and which we know, by the grace and power of God, will grow stupendously and that very soon! What a solemn thought!
How big, then, is your estimation of the church? This is the first and most important step in our suggested Adventist aggiornamento. Let us quit thinking of ourselves in the diminutive and begin thinking in the superlative! A church with an inferiority complex cannot witness effectively. We must jump into the arena of modern theological thought and controversy, and actively and boldly endeavor to spread our views.
Never was there a more propitious time for the dissemination of truth than right now. The Lord is permitting events in the political, social, and religions fields to shape up in such a way that we may stand out distinctly and uniquely before the world. We must take advantage of this opportunity. The time for the big forward thrust and the big breakthrough is now. This may well be the great moment of truth for the world. We must sink the two-edged sword of the Spirit down to the hilt and into the heart of the world. This is no time to dillydally or beat around the bush. We must bring out the best and most effective artillery from our arsenal and use it —judiciously and tactfully, of course, but nevertheless with dispatch.
Rome, regardless of what motive she may have in so doing, is increasingly turning back to the Bible. Even a Roman Catholic-Protestant version of the Bible has been devised. Throughout the world the mass is being celebrated in the vernacular languages rather than in a dead tongue. The emphasis now is not on simply hearing the mass but on having the laymen participate more actively in it. The sermon is becoming increasingly important. In some Catholic circles even Protestant hymns are being sung such as—incredible as it may seem —Luther's "A Mighty Fortress." In short, the Roman Catholic Church has adopted many liturgical features that have been characteristic of Protestantism for centuries. It has also declared itself, publicly at least, in favor of religious liberty for all men. All this has favorable implications for us. No one can deny that it is easier to communicate with a Roman Catholic today than it was several years ago. Even in such places as Colombia and Spain, where the most militant and most rabid form of Catholicism exists, Protestantism has taken a few steps forward because of the ecumenical spirit.
We are a people of the Bible and of prophecy, and in a time when the Holy Scriptures are being lifted up to a higher level, we can point out the precious truths they contain for all men.
Looked at in this light, ecumenicity is not all bad. God can turn it to our advantage. It is up to us to study it objectively and to determine in what way we may prudently use it for the advancement of our cause, which will go forward anyway, with or without a "Super Church." All we stand to lose is our popularity, and this in the long run may prove to be quite salutary in some complacent circles.