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Pentecostalism and Ecumenism: Past, Present, and Future (Part 1 of 5) by Amos Yong

I.   The Biblical Basis of Ecumenism

The English word ‘ecumenism’ is a transliteration of the Greek word oikoumene of which various forms are found fifteen times in the New Testament (Matt. 24:14; Luke 2:1, 4:5, 21:26; Acts 11:28, 17:6, 31, 19:27, 24:5; Rom. 10:18; Heb. 1:6, 2:5; Rev. 3:10, 12:9, 16:14). Derived from oikos—house—and meno—dwelling—it is invariably translated “world” or “whole world,” and signifies the world’s inhabitants. Clearly, oikoumene most often functions as a figure of speech describing a pervasive reality. It is not used in the modern sense of the term as related to the unity of the Church except in a very indirect way when referring to the widespread influence of Christian actions such as preaching the gospel (e.g., Matt. 24:14; Acts 17:6, 24:5; Rom. 10:18). Instances of the term in the New Testament do not therefore advance our understanding of contemporary ecumenism. Its current use derives more so from the etymology of the term—the whole world or the entire household or inhabitants of the world—rather than from the specific ways in which it is used in the New Testament.

Contemporary ecumenism, however, is intimately connected with ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the Church. Here, of course, there is an abundant wealth of biblical material that emphasizes the unity of the body of Christ. In fact, the metaphor of household (oikeios) is applied to the Church as well (Gal. 6:10). In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the household of God (2:19) is composed of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. 2:11-22), is governed by the gospel (oikonomia; 3:2), and is united together ‘in the promise in Christ Jesus’ (3:6). Later on in this same letter, he writes, ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (4:3-6). Clearly, for Paul, the oneness of God extends to the effects of the work of God, the Church, its faith, its baptism, etc.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2001

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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