Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Relational Ecumenism: How Ecumenism Changed the Mind and Heart of the Dutch Reformed Church

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Relational Ecumenism: How Ecumenism Changed the Mind and Heart of the Dutch Reformed Church

Article excerpt

Relational Ecumenism

The aim of the first section of this article is to paint the background of the notion of relational ecumenism. It presupposes that ecumenism can be understood as concerning the love of the triune God and the way in which denominations embody love in ecclesial and ecumenical structures, and that this particular kind of ecumenism changed the mind and heart of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa, paving the way for deeper ecumenical engagement.

The word "ecumenism" is used with caution, as the meaning of the word is rather elusive. Conradie (1) has identified 23 agendas associated with this concept, and states that the history of the ecumenical movement has proven to be polyphonic. (2) Because of the complexity implied in attempting to bring all 23 agendas into play when describing how ecumenism changed the DRC, though, emphasis is more on the theological nature of the church. Koopman argues that ecumenical endeavours must confess and embody the four central features of the church, namely (1) the catholicity of the church; (2) the unity of the church; (3) the apostolicity of the church; and (4) the holiness of the church. (3)

A theological approach to ecumenism builds on the idea that the church's life is a life in the Trinity and must reflect the relational nature of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity provides a framework to enrich the ecumenical agenda. This doctrine is a practical one that shapes Christian life; it must not be viewed in isolation, but rather as a practical indication of God's life with his people and the way people relate to each other. (4) The idea of relational ecumenicity originates in the doctrine of the Trinity and the relational nature of the Trinity. It points to a relational God: an "open" Trinity in which God's relationality invites creaturely participation. (5) The imago Trinitatis has profound implications for ecclesiology. It explains the relations within the Trinity, the relationships between people, and the relationship between the church and the world. Discovering the community and relationships within the Trinity itself, as well as the community and relationship of the Trinity toward creation, sets a standard of what the church should be.

Ecumenicity thus reflects the understanding of the church--the church as imago Trinitatis. Ecumenicity is a clear and essential expression of the wholeness into which God calls God's people to participate. The church, including the ecumenical expression of church, becomes a reflection of the unity and diversity located within the Trinity. (6) Ecumenism is determined by the love that flows from the Trinity, binding everything together. The imago Trinitatis is expressed in love. Being in relation and calling others to relation is determined by the love flowing from the Trinitarian fountain of love. (7)

Conradie (8) argues that the focus of the gospel is not on the church or the spread of Christianity, but on the triune God's love for the world. Koopman argues further that the four central features of the church (catholicity, unity, apostolicity, and holiness) testify to the embracing and inclusive love of the triune God. (9) A relational approach to ecumenicity reminds us that all the multitude of forms and agendas of unity are the work of humans, living in love and expressing the unity of the Trinity through the grace of the triune God. Ecumenism is about the love of God and the way in which denominations embody love in ecclesial and ecumenical structures.

Relational Ecumenism in Two Recent Ecumenical Documents

This relational approach to ecumenism is evident in two recent ecumenical documents of the World Council of Churches (WCC)--The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCV), and Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes (TTL). (10)

TCV represents a theological agreement on the church and the understanding of the nature of the church itself. …

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