Recently I had a conversation with a friend over an article she found online that described some beliefs C.S. Lewis held that are contrary to standard evangelical beliefs. (The article mentioned that as an Anglican, Lewis believed in purgatory and praying for the dead, among other things. However I should point out that Anglican doctrine does not teach purgatory, so if Lewis did believe in purgatory, it was not due to his Anglican affiliation.) I responded to my friend in a way that might have concerned her, saying that I have long held an ecumenical attitude toward other Christian traditions. She replied:
“I am not concerned that you are interested in ecumenical progress. My bigger concern is the erosion of the foundations of faith that can occur when in pursuit of solidarity. Some things, I feel, are just not negotiable.”
Right-on! Unfortunately ecumenicalism has earned a bad name these days, and justifiably so. Rather than concentrating on the group of Christian traditions that were the focus of its original meaning and usage, the term has come to include Universalism, which promotes the “universal” fatherhood of God and the eventual salvation of all souls regardless of belief system.
That is not what I meant when I used the term ecumenical. Still, so as not to cause any confusion when using a term that has lost its original meaning, I’ve decided to create my own term to describe the promotion of unity among Christian faith traditions: “Christumenical.”
I define Christumenical this way: of or relating to the movement among Christian (Christ-centered) churches and denominations (including Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox) to achieve unity through authentic mutual respect and warmth, following Jesus’ observation in John 13:35 that the world will “know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” The key to this kind of love, I believe, is two-fold:
- accepting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ based on our common beliefs in the essential Christian tenets of faith—that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified as a substitutionary atonement for all humanity, died and was buried, was resurrected from the dead on the third day, and that He is coming again at some point in the future to bring final judgment upon sin and death; and
- maintaining a non-judgmental attitude toward the unknowable issues – matters subject to interpretation where the Bible is not crystal clear – that we tend to disagree on. As early Church father Augustine of Hippo wrote, “…in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
When I read C.S. Lewis (among other non-evangelical Christian writers), I bear in mind that I do not have to believe in everything he believed (purgatory for instance) in order to find valuable Christian insight in the rest of what he wrote. (In fact, while Lewis did not shy away from mentioning his “non-essential” beliefs, he never promoted them.) Additionally, I should not judge Lewis because he believed in purgatory and thus prayed for the dead. Why? Because I do not personally know that purgatory does not exist, and I don’t know of a single person who does. Believing in something, or not believing in something, does not make it so.
What I do know is this—the Bible makes it very clear that the area of judgment belongs to God alone, and I’d best keep my nose out of God’s business. The same can be said about other non-essential issues (outside of the basic tenets of faith). Let’s let God decide, in the long run, what’s important and what’s not, and simply follow Christ’s teaching to His disciples to love one another as Christ loved us.
So here’s my Christumenical word for the day: While many Protestant, Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox practices may look different, even foreign to us who have been worshiping a certain way or with a particular church or denomination for a long time, let’s remember that the core beliefs of these Christ followers are the same as our own. In this age of Christian persecution (a growing problem worldwide, even here in the U.S.), we cannot afford to isolate ourselves from other brothers and sisters in Christ.