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ECUMENISM ĕk’ yōō mĕn’ ĭsm (οἰκουμένη, G3876, lit. inhabited world but occasionally has the meaning of cultured world as in contrast to barbarian societies). A theological term dealing with the unity and universality of the Christian faith and the Christian Church.

The mutual concepts of unity and universality are rooted in OT concepts of the covenant and cult worship but come to fullest expression in the NT doctrine of the Church.

OT concepts of covenant universality and cultic unity.

The “world-theology” of the NT.

Ekklēsia as Church-church.

Ecumenically speaking the Church transcends all historical, institutional and geographical expressions but is, nevertheless, manifested in all local assemblies called into being by the kerygma of Jesus as the Christ. (Cf. Acts 2:14-47.) The pastoral nature of the NT lit. reveals the tension of the churches always being called to be the Church.

Conclusions: unity, universality and institutionalism.

(b) Universality: Christ’s great commission is a call to a worldwide mission—“Go into all the world” (Matt 28:19, 20). The nineteen hundred years of church history is confirmation of the church’s ecumenical mission and its partial fulfillment. Yet even in the 1st cent. Paul expresses his “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named,” and he hoped that before his life was over he might travel as far as Spain—considered then to be one of the utmost western points of the world. (Cf. Rom 15:20, 28.) In Acts 1:8, the Church’s mission is coextensive with the “end of the earth.”

“Having sketched the Heilsgeschichte from Abraham to Christ...the early chapters of Genesis which tell of the Creation and the Fall, the Deluge and the Tower of Babel serve to universalize the historical experience of Israel. The strange history of Israel which culminated in Christ and the rise of the Christian Church as the new Israel has significance for the whole world of men who fell in Adam and are all included in the covenant made with Noah....The Bible, then, gives us the record of God’s ways with a particular community, but the story is set in a universal framework....The biblical history became universal history through the emergence of the Church Catholic and it is still in the Church that history in the fullest sense is made, because it is primarily in the Church that man meets with God and makes the response which God demands. It is within the Church that the Bible is read and the Sacraments administered in the context of an act of worship through which believers are made contemporary with the great creative events of history constituting God’s revelation of His will.” (Norman W. Porteous, “Old Testament Theology,” The Old Testament and Modern Study, ed. by H. H. Rowley [1951], 342, 343.)


J. H. Maude, “Catholicism, Catholicity,” HERE, III (1928), 258-261; O. J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (1949), 183-186; E. Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church (1953); L. Newbigin, The Household of God (1953); J. D. Murch, Co-operation Without Compromise (1956); T. F. Torrance, Conflict and Agreement in the Church, 2 vols. (1959); J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (1962); H. Sasse, “κόσμος, G3180, ” TDNT, III (1965), 868-895; K. L. Schmidt, “ἐκκλησία, G1711, ” TDNT, III (1965), 501-536; B. Vassady, Christ’s Church: Evangelical, Catholic, and Reformed (1965); O. Michel “ἡ οἰκουμένη,” TDNT, V (1967), 157-159.