Academic journal article
By Gill, Theodore A., Jr.
The Ecumenical Review , Vol. 54, No. 4
Socrates asserted that "the unexamined life is not worth living", yet there is comfort in taking some things for granted. One such comfortable assumption, for many of us, has been the concept of "ecumenical convergence" in the area of worship. When the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church adopted and published a revised Book of Common Worship in 1993, an editorial introduction approached the lyrical in its discernment of recent progress towards Christian unity through liturgical agreement:
During the past thirty years the Christian churches throughout the world have seen a reformation in worship unequalled in any other century. While styles vary between traditions, the shape of the liturgy among the various Christian traditions is witnessing a remarkable convergence. An example of such a convergence is the work of the World Council of Churches in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry and its related documents ... We are beginning to move towards unity at the table, as we are beginning to recognize that in belief and practice there is more that unites us in the eucharist than divides us ... We are learning that unity at font, pulpit and table is the true road to healing the brokenness of Christ's church. (1)
Nor were American Presbyterians alone in their optimism following on the "convergence texts" epitomized in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM).
In the summer of 2002, this assumption of convergence in worship was challenged at a Geneva meeting of the central committee of the World Council of Churches. The report and recommendations of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, (2) reviewing the same thirty years' experience which had warmed the heart of a Presbyterian editor, drew these decidedly divergent conclusions:
Praying together has also revealed many of the challenges along the way towards unity. This is in part because of confessional and cultural backgrounds leading churches to worship in different ways. In addition, common prayer as it has developed in the World Council of Churches has caused difficulties for some churches. Indeed, it is in common prayer that the pain of Christian division is most acutely experienced. (3)
In presentations prior to the central committee meeting, members of the Special Commission asked that the World Council of Churches abstain from using the term "worship" to describe gatherings for prayer conducted at major assemblies or conferences. Some consider "ecumenical worship" an unacceptable description for any form of common prayer now possible under the WCC's auspices. …