Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Ecumenical Movement in Asia and Emerging Challenges: The Christian Conference of Asia at 60 and Beyond

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Ecumenical Movement in Asia and Emerging Challenges: The Christian Conference of Asia at 60 and Beyond

Article excerpt

It is often said that the ecumenical movement faces a complex situation at all levels--global, regional, and national. (1) Various reasons have been advanced for the apparent decline of the ecumenical movement in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including increasing denominationalism; resistance to the call to wider fellowship; a tendency to affirm particular ecclesiastical and confessional identities; efforts to strengthen one's own institutional and organizational profile; a proliferation of ecumenical organizations and structures; a decrease in membership of mainline Protestant churches in the North; a lack of vision and commitment of leaders to promote ecumenism; and a lack of interest in ecumenical formation among the younger generation. Another reason suggested is a lack of commitment to strengthening ecumenical fellowship at all levels, and negative attitudes or disinterest among the church leaders, nationally, regionally, and globally. As Konrad Raiser, former general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has noted,

In most churches ecumenism no longer seems to have the quality of a
vision which mobilizes people to transcend inherited traditions and to
engage in acts of renewal. The younger generation which, in the early
stages of the ecumenical movement, was its main protagonist is less and
less attracted by the search for visible institutional forms of church
unity and cooperation. While there is a genuine spiritual quest, the
concern for "being church" cannot easily be communicated, particularly
through the secular media. Simultaneously, church leaders defending the
commitment to ecumenical fellowship find themselves confronted with
conservative and fundamentalist positions that identify ecumenism with
tendencies that relativize and weaken the foundations of culture and
religion. For many even the term "ecumenism" provokes suspicion and
rejection. (2)

This "complex situation full of uncertainties," Raiser asserts, is also reflected "in a lack of coherence on the organizational level." (3)

While these trends are a global phenomenon, we should also engage in self-examination of the situation in Asia. The Asian ecumenical movement is not detached from the global ecumenical movement. We have spoken for almost two decades of the changing landscapes of ecumenism, changes in the ecclesial landscape, and so on, but the question is how successful we have been in addressing the emerging challenges in the various contexts. We try to analyze the changing landscapes and often end up with the same results as before, or use exaggerated symbolism and analogies to illustrate ecumenical and ecclesiastical structures. However, as time passes, no effective actions are taken to really understand and respond with an authentic and committed approach to the changes in the ecumenical or ecclesial perspectives. In the Asian context, we can identify various examples of increasing divisiveness that is fragmenting the ethos and values of ecumenism. In other words, what we see today is a more visible expression of the lack of coherence and coordination of the ecumenical movement in Asia or other parts of the world.

Asia's Ecumenical Impulse

The Asian contribution to the ecumenical movement for almost a century has been widely recognized. When we acknowledge contributions of the ecumenical movement --which provided new insights and impetus toward developing theological thinking, missiological and ecclesiological understanding and new directions for socio-political involvement--we must also acknowledge the significant contributions by Asian churches and the Asian ecumenical movement. Asian church leaders have in the past provided outstanding leadership in the global ecumenical movement. In current discussions on the nature of ecumenism and the future of the ecumenical movement, however, Asian contributions have been minimal, or invisible and irrelevant. It is in this context that I am attempting to link this discussion on the current regional and national Asian ecumenical situation with that of the early ecumenical initiatives in Asia and the contributions of Asians to the global ecumenical movement. …

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