Please click here if you missed the Introduction, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 or Part 9 of our new Ecumenical Catechism. Part 9 discusses two interpretations of Peter’s Confession of Christ, Mary and the brothers of Jesus, Pentecostalism, Science and the Bible, and has links to the catechisms of various churches and previous articles in the Ecumenical Catechism series.
Part 10 of the Ecumenical Catechism
Some churches emphasize evangelism, while others emphasize social justice. But both flow naturally from true worship of God, which is the “chief end of man: to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
The authors of the 1646 Westminster Catechismhad it right. They might be disappointed in some of today’s thin worship and weak doctrine, but Christ will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Quoted in Doug Wilson’s article “My Sunny Ecumenical Side”, American Presbyterian A.A. Hodge, chair of systematic theology at Princeton Seminary from 1878 to 1886, said this:
“All who are baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, recognizing the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, the incarnation of the Son and his priestly sacrifice, whether they be Greeks, or Arminians, or Romanists (Catholics), or Lutherans, or Calvinists, or the simple souls who do not know what to call themselves, are our brethren. Baptism is our common countersign. It is the common rallying standard at the head of our several columns” (Evangelical Theology, p. 338).
Rupertus Meldenius, who wrote a tract on Christian unity written (circa 1627) during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), said it well: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This quote has been widely used by later writers (also misattributed to St. Augustine – see link to article) and adopted as a motto by the Moravian and Evangelical Presbyterian churches. The principle is applied in many other churches, including mainline Protestant churches.
Hopefully this catechism has contributed in some small way to greater understanding and love among our fellow Christians. One day we will all raise our voices together in praise of Him Who has redeemed us.
Epilogue – Where do we go from here?
After further thought and dialogue and some difficulties getting this published, even from ecumenical websites, I am less optimistic about reunification of Protestant denominations with each other and with the Catholic church than I was a few years ago. Mergers of Protestant denominations are much rarer than church splits. Individual congregations can divide over doctrinal issues, causing breaches in friendships as well as ending ecclesiastical connections.
Real pain is caused by fractured fellowship, especially in a small town. And big cities can actually be small towns in some of the smaller faith communities, which have strong connections with each other.
For some Catholics, the idea of ecumenism tends to be “return to Rome”, while Protestants have good reasons for continuing to disagree with some points of Catholic doctrine. Both groups talk past each other much of the time, sometimes using poor arguments and focusing on things that have already been corrected.
On key doctrines there is perhaps 90% agreement, but the remaining 10% remain significant and perhaps will never be able to be reconciled. There would need to be compromise on points which are hallmarks of the denominations; someone would need to be convinced they were wrong. This can happen with individuals, but for an entire group of people to realize their doctrine is wrong seems very unlikely.
However, there can again be great cooperation between different churches, even across the Protestant / Catholic divide. We find common ground in two basic camps on many issues: pro-life or pro-choice, pro-traditional family or pro-LGBT rights or somewhere in between, helping the poor, etc. People may differ on the best way to alleviate poverty, but the world has come a long way since William Wilberforce awakened England to the plight of the underclass, when it became fashionable to help the poor, instead of believing that they brought it on themselves.
Churches may have different out-workings of their convictions, such as the environment and social issues, but they should be involved in being salt and light in the world. It’s possible to find unity in our diversity, but not have ecclesiastical union. We can understand and respect each other, but not want to join each other’s church for a variety of good reasons. It’s possible to agree to disagree and then work together where there is common ground. Even churches that are diametrically opposed on doctrine and social issues could work together opposing human trafficking or helping those with gambling, alcohol or drug addictions.
This can even be done across faith boundaries (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, etc.) and with people who have no particular faith: the “nones” who are a growing percentage of the population in today’s post-modern world. The Michigan Declaration’s three principles deal with this:
- I will promote a civil public square after the principles in The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity by Os Guinness. His book deals with how liberal seculars and religious conservatives can find a way forward that works for everyone.
- We will work together to rebuild our cities, towns and rural areas for the benefit of all residents, across racial and demographic lines, for the genuine thriving of all who live there.
- We will seek to resolve differences peacefully through dialogue and discussion. We will ask questions to seek to understand the other person’s point of view, following the Stephen Covey principle of Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
We hope to see more of this as Christians join together with other people of good will to make our communities, nations and world a better place to live. Ultimately God is glorified in this, and more and more people will believe in God and come to faith in Christ as His people bear witness to Him in word and deed in this good but fallen world.
Hymns for closing session:
This is the description from hymnary.org:
“After the great “Hall of Faith” passage in Hebrews 11, the writer to the Hebrews calls the saints who are still on earth to emulate those who have gone before: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1, ESV). What were the accomplishments of this “great cloud of witnesses?” They “… conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, … quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness …” (Hebrews 11:33-34, ESV). That sounds rather glamorous! But “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:36-37, ESV). What a contrast!
The stanzas of the hymn “For All the Saints” describe the common life of all the saints: the credit due to Jesus Christ for drawing us all to Him, the strength and guidance we continue to draw from Him, our joint communion in Christ, the continuing struggle against evil, and the coming day when the dead shall rise and we shall all worship together before God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No matter what path each of us travels, we all will enjoy the same glorious eternal life.”
For All the Saints is my favorite hymn, especially this verse:
“And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Discussion questions for closing session:
- Think back to your goals from the opening session. Were those goals accomplished?
- Did your study group draw closer together as a result of the study?
- Do you feel more comfortable discussing religion or politics at your workplace lunch table? Why or why not?
- Do you think there is benefit in adopting secular ideas like those of Stephen Covey? For example, his fifth habit “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Can you agree to disagree without being disagreeable?
- How much do you know about the theological views of other Christians in your group? Are doctrinal issues ever discussed?
- If you are in a workplace study group, how do you interact with those who hold differing views? How does a person’s theology impact your particular line of work?
- As you take prayer requests for members of your study group, remember to pray for leaders in your workplace, other churches, and government leaders of all nations.
Follow the links above to read the history of this hymn, written in English to the tune of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
Other famous hymns by Charles Wesley include O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Jesus, Lover of my Soul, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, and Rejoice the Lord is King.
Here are the words to this well-known hymn, one of the 8,989 hymns written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, the founders of Methodism:
1. “And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
2. ’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
3. He left His Father’s throne above—
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!
4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
5. No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”
Thanks go to Deacon Reggie Bollich of Lafayette, Louisiana who wrote on the Roman Catholic perspective and Phil Vorgias of Troy, Michigan who wrote on the Orthodox view. I also appreciate Theodore Karakostas, author of two books on the Orthodox Church, and many other Christians who read the manuscript and offered suggestions.
Permission is granted to copy this catechism and italicized comments in its entirety for non-commercial purposes. The copyright on the original 1641 catechism has obviously long since expired. Some minor rewording of the 1959 edition cited above was done.
If you have found this ecumenical catechism useful or have suggestions for future revised editions, I would enjoy hearing from you. If there are errors or bad opinions, the responsibility is mine; I would especially like an email in that case.
To the numerous Christians God has placed in my path throughout my life and to our children for teaching us and learning from us: thank you. I’m especially grateful to my wife for her support and encouragement during two life-threatening events: a malignant brain tumor with surgery and treatment in 2004 and the depression that followed. This presentation tells the story.
Most importantly, in the words of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism, I’m comforted that in body and soul, both in life and death, I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully paid for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; He so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; all things must work together for my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live for him.
Soli Deo gloria! (Latin for: To God alone be the glory!)
Copyright 2005, 2017 by Dale Murrish. All rights reserved except as noted above.
Version 3.97, December, 2017
About the authors
Raised in the United Methodist Church, Dale Murrish helped plant Troy, Michigan’s Kensington Community Church in 1990. He was ordained an Orthodox Presbyterian Church deacon in 2001 after a year’s training in the Westminster Catechism and church history. Dale and his wife have two grown children and are members of a Gospel Coalition affiliated church in southeast Michigan.
A lifelong Roman Catholic, Reggie Bollich was ordained a Deacon in 2006. His interests include archaeology (has been on several digs in the Holy Land) and mission work in Thailand, the Middle East and Latin America. He and his wife Dottie lived in the Middle East while he worked for Exxon and now live in Lafayette, LA.
Raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, Philip Vorgias returned to his ethnic roots and joined the Greek Orthodox Church in 1994. He has a passion for archaeology and history as well as advancing the cause of religious freedom for the indigenous Christian communities in the near and middle east. In this last, Phil is active in Political Action Committees promoting human and religious rights for Christians in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and assuring the US Government raises Religious Rights in foreign policy discussions with those nations.
All three authors have engineering as their first vocation, and a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ecumenical movement.
Past Articles in the Ecumenical Catechism Series
A second hymn with its history and a great picture of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse can be found at This is My Father’s World.
A third hymn (He Hideth My Soul in the Cleft of the Rock) is by America’s Hymn Queen, Fanny Crosby.
Part 5 of the Ecumenical Catechism lists the books included in the Bible and Sacraments recognized by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians.
Part 6 of our new Ecumenical Catechism explores the differences in views of the two main Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Part 7 of our new Ecumenical Catechism discusses how Christians live in grateful obedience to God and fight an ongoing battle against the sin that remains in their lives.
October 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Many biographies of Luther and his influence on church history have recently been written. Here is an article reviewing 25 of them.
Part 8 discusses different views of praying to Saints and the Lord’s Prayer, which all Christians agree on.
Part 9 discusses two interpretations of Peter’s Confession of Christ, Mary and the brothers of Jesus, Pentecostalism, Science and the Bible, and has links to the catechisms of various churches.
Please check out The Michigan Declaration and consider signing it.
In previous blog posts, I began telling the story of my brain tumor and the depression which followed it. The second article in the series described my faith in God which sustained me through both trials.
Having recently started a word-by-word translation of Martin Luther’s Bible from German to English, I introduced the project and published Matthew Chapter 1 . Later I wrote commentary on it; my church background and theological training is in my USA Melting Pot bio.
Dale Murrish writes on history, travel, technology, religion and politics for the USA Melting Pot club, LinkedIn, and Troy Patch. You can help this non-profit club by making your Amazon purchases through the link on the left side of their website. You can also see over a dozen ethnic presentations from people with firsthand knowledge under Culture & Country (right hand side), and outdoor presentations (Hobby & Fun), including posts on bicycling, skiing and camping.