The World Council of Churches: The New Ecumenism

As will be clear from the analysis presented in this book, Christianity has its fair share of internal divisions. The separation of the Latin-speaking west from the Greek-speaking east had been under way for some time before the “Great Schism” of 1054 made it official. The sixteenth-century Reformation led to the establishment of a group of Protestant churches – Anabaptist, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed – which disagreed with Rome and (perhaps more importantly) with each other. Protestantism turned out to be a movement with an inherent tendency to fragment. Today, it is estimated that there are at least 20 000 Protestant denominations in the world.


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So could these differences be set aside, allowing the churches to reunite? Or at least achieve better working relationships? These aims underlie the ecumenical movement, which began to develop momentum after the Second World War. The term “ecumenical” comes from the Greek word oikumenē, meaning “the known inhabited world.” Although informal efforts to achieve better relationship between the churches had been under way for some time, the events of the twentieth century gave a new impetus for ecumenism. In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide (5.1.1), a synod of the Orthodox church issued an encyclical in 1920, calling for a “fellowship of churches” similar to the League of Nations.

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