History of the Ecumenical Movement

History of the Ecumenical Movement

Like all movements, ecumenism had its beginnings and thus it has a history to be studied. History helps us to see the evolution and growth of The ecumenical movement in seeking to recover the apostolic sense of the early church for unity in diversity while it confronts the frustrations, difficulties, and ironies of the modern pluralistic world. It is a lively reassessment of the historical sources and destiny of what followers perceive to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of Jesus Christ.

Course code: HIST201

ECTS Credits: 3

Professor: Dr. Jesmond Micallef


In this course we are going to take a historical look at the origins of the Ecumenical Movement. Like all movement, ecumenism had its beginnings and thus it has a history to be studied. History helps us to see the evolution and growth. It helps us appreciate the difficulties but also the positive sides of the born reality.

Ecumenism finds its origins first in the trans-denominational movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth century that led to the Evangelical movement (although, as noted below, many evangelicals are cool toward the ecumenical movement proper) and most directly in the missionary society movement in the nineteenth century. The close cooperation of many Protestant denominations in mission work compelled their members to consider their differences and work toward some kind of unity. The beginning of the ecumenical movement is normally reckoned with the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland3. Other aspects of the movement soon followed: in 1921, the International Missionary Council was established, followed by the World Conference on Faith and Order in 1927 (focusing on doctrinal differences); these all led to the establishment of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 19484. These international developments were paralleled by national movements in many countries, including the United States, where the National Council of Churches of Christ began in 1950. The constituent members of these bodies have met consistently during their existence, and much discussion and dialogue has taken place regarding areas of agreement and disagreement among the various groups.

While much of the action of ecumenism has taken place within the national and international ecumenical organizations, other efforts have been undertaken on the denominational level. Roman Catholics have engaged in dialogue with any branch of Christendom willing to converse with them; Lutherans and Anglicans, Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox, and many other such groups have engaged in much dialogue. In 1997, the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America established full communion with one another, perhaps one of the greater displays of professed unity within the movement5. The conversations and joint participation in matters of agreement continue to this day.