The True Ecumenism


The True Ecumenism

January 10th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

Ephesians 4:1-6

1/10/71    8:15 a.m.



On the radio you are sharing with us, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, our early service.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The True Ecumenism. Preaching through the Book of Ephesians, we have come to the fourth chapter,


I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

Do it with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love:

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

[Ephesians 4:1-6]


I could have entitled the message The Sevenfold Unity of the Church, but because of the modern drift of theology and especially in these last several years, I have given it that name of A True Ecumenism.  There is a Greek word oikoumene, and it refers to the entire inhabited world.  And on that Greek word oikoumene, they have made an English word, "ecumenical," which refers to the togetherness of all Christianity.  And they shortened it from ecumenicalism to ecumenism.  That is the movement to get all of the denominations and all of the churches together.

Which is very fine, of course, were it not that the men who agitate it and promote it for the most part are men who want us to give up the things in which we believe in order to find some kind of a broad denominator.  This has always been inappropriate and unacceptable to those who have had deep religious convictions.  In history, Antiochus Epiphanes who lived, say 165 BC, had it in his mind that he was going to have one religion in his Syrian empire, and everybody had to conform to that one faith.  It was the worship of Jupiter, Olympus.  Well, in the Syrian empire at that time was Judea, and the story is written in 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Seeking to make all of the Jews conform, there arose a priest, Mattathias who had a son, Judas Maccabeus.  And out of that arose this Feast of Dedication that the Israeli people observe at Christmas time, the Feast of Lights.  And a marvelous story; the nonconformists, and I have often wondered in this program of modern ecumenism what the martyrs would think about it who laid down their lives for tenets of the faith, such as Ignatius, pastor at Antioch; such as, Polycarp, pastor at Ephesus; such as John Bunyan in Bedford Prison, or Roger Williams, escaping from the oppressive religious coercion of the Massachusetts colony and seeking a place to worship God as he felt God ought to be worshiped in Providence and Rhode Island.

Well, does that mean that there is no true ecumenism?  Yes, there is a true one.  And it is written here plainly in the Bible.  And we shall speak of those seven tenets of the true ecumenism.  There is one body, there is one Spirit, there is one hope, there is one Lord, there is one faith, there is one baptism, and there is one God and Father of all.  First:  there is one body, the body of Christ.  There is one church.  Most of the times in the New Testament the word ekklesia, church, refers to a local congregation; the churches of Galatia, the churches – plural – of Macedonia, the churches of Judea.  But the word "church" in the Bible is also used in its generic sense to refer to the great broad idea of it; such as we say, "the church."  Such as we say, "the state."  Such as we say, "the home."  Such as we say, "the school." 

An example of that use of the church is in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews where the author refers to the general assembly and church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, the church, the body of Christ [Hebrews 12:23].  Now, that congregation of the Lord is obedient to the will of Christ and finds its life in the will of God.  The author is God Himself.  The head is Jesus the Savior.  The Spirit in it is the Holy Ghost.  The great golden country toward which its travelers are moving is heaven.  And its rule and instruction for faith and practice is the Holy Bible.  And the unity of that church is not in us.  It is found in the being and unity of Almighty God.  And the gold chains that bind us together are held in the hands of the Lord Himself.  And you will feel that unity of the body of Christ wherever you are in the world with people who love God – – if you do.

In 1947 I went through Germany, which was soon after the ravages of the Second World War, and the cities and the land were still in ruins; went back again in 1950 and again in 1955.  When I first went there, we went to a service of our little Baptist congregation in Munich.  Their church had been bombed out and destroyed.  They were meeting in – – looked like a dungeon to me, it was so damp and so dark, no light except a lamp.  And the refugees were there, and the service had to be translated into three languages.  When I went back the second time, they had built a church house.  And that was the first time – – having observed the Lord’s Supper that morning – – that was the first time I saw a congregation after the Lord’s Supper join hands and sing “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”  That’s when I brought it back to our church and it became a habit with us.

The pastor was crippled.  He had been a soldier in the war and had been grievously wounded.  And the people, the spirit of the people moved my heart, as they sang:


We share our mutual woes,

Our mutual burdens bear,

And often for each other flows

The sympathizing tear.

["Blest Be the Tie That Binds"; John Fawcett]


As I sat in the congregation and joined hands with those defeated and beaten Germans, I felt the unity, the true unity of the body of Christ, the golden chains that bind us to one another and to God. 

There is one body; there is one Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit of Christ.  Without Him, we are as helpless as a corpse is to live.  But with Him, we have power to the subverting of kingdoms and to the overthrowing of the powers of darkness.  There is one Spirit, and our life, and our living, and all that we seek to do is in the moving presence of the Holy Spirit of God.  I can go into a church and feel His absence.  I can also go into a church when He is present, and I feel His moving, God-blessed, benedictory love.  There is one Spirit.   As Ezekiel, standing before the valley of dry bones prayed for the wind, the breath, the Spirit of God, and they stood up and lived [Ezekiel 37].  As in the Synoptic Gospels, the church organized with a discipline, commission, with its ordinances, with the congregation, but first, there must be Pentecost; God must breathe upon it.  So in the household of the faith, God’s Spirit, the one Spirit must be present.  He must guide us and lead us.  One other way to tell His presence is whether the people are scattered like a covey of birds, and they’re all going that many directions.  When we pray and seek God’s face, we’re all doing the same thing with one accord, giving our lives to the will of God.  There is one body.  There is one Spirit.

There is one hope.  One hope and that hope is bound up in our Lord Jesus; our inheritance, our hope for the world to come, our heaven, all of it is in the Lord.  One of the sweetest passages I know of is in the sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews; we’ve come to Jesus for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope before us:


Which hope we have sure and steadfast, and an anchor for the soul, and entereth in within, on the inside of the veil, beyond the veil;  Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

[Hebrews 6:19]


Where is our hope?  It’s in Jesus, and He is inside the veil; there, seeing to it that our inheritance shall surely be ours, that we shall not fail, making intercession for us, pleading our cause, our great Advocate; our hope is inside the vail.  But again, is He never coming out?  Will we never see Him?  That’s why the apostle Paul will write in Titus, "The blessed hope" [Titus 2:13].  What is the blessed hope?  The blessed hope is the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  If He stays in the veil forever, we are still lost and undone.  We die and are buried, and the world continues in its darkness.  But if He comes out of the Holy of Holies, then we shall see the consummation of the age.  We shall see all the wrongs righted, and we shall see Satan finally defeated, and death the last enemy destroyed, and our bodies raised, and all of us changed and raptured unto God in the heaven [1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-58].

I have a little question I ask our children.  You know, I give them this little book when they come down and say, "I’ve accepted the Lord as my Savior. I want to be a member of the church."  I give them that little book, and they study it, and then they’re brought to me.  Every child that is baptized is brought to me first.  One of the questions in that book – – and the last one on what it means to take the Lord’s Supper – – one of the questions is this: what does that mean when it says "till He come?"


For as oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup,

ye do show the Lord’s death, achris hou elthe,  till He come.

[1 Corinthians 11:26]


And I ask the child always, "What does that mean?"  And they never fail to answer, "That means that Jesus is coming again."  And I said unto the child, "Do you believe that?  Do you believe that you will see Jesus someday?"  And without fail, the child that is born again will always answer, "I do."  This is our hope inside the veil, that someday, coming out before His people, visible, open, personal, and in glory descending; the coming Lord Jesus. 

One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord; oh, we know His name.  We’ve been introduced to Him; one Lord, our blessed Savior, the precious Jesus.  He purchased us with His own blood! [Acts 20:28].  He reigns over our assembly, and we’re looking forward to that day when He shall translate us out of this body of corruption into the likeness of His own glorious life, without sin or fault or blemish [Philippians 3:21].  He is our Lord, not by suffrage, not by the vote of the people, but by the will and declaration of God.  As Paul would say in the letter to the Philippians:


Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven, in earth, and in the netherworld; and that every tongue should confess He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[Philippians 2:9-11]


There is one Lord, and He is all in all to us.  If the church could be likened to a household, we’d say He is the master.  If the church could be likened to a school, we’d say He is the teacher.  If the church could be likened to a host, we’d say He is the captain.  If the church could be likened to a bride, we’d say He is the bridegroom.  He is our all in all; and He brooks – – nor do we – – none other.  There is one Lord.

In the days of the Roman Empire, if you’ve studied that history, one of the strange things that will come to your mind is, how is it that the Roman Empire persecuted the Christians?  There never was a more liberally, religiously orientated, government than the Romans.  Wherever they conquered a people, they let them choose their own religion.  In fact, they built – – Agrippa did it, a friend of Julius Caesar, in about 46 BC – – he built the Pantheon, the "all god" temple in Rome.  It’s the most perfectly preserved temple of antiquity.  You can go see it today just as it was when Agrippa built it in 46 BC.  It’s a magnificent thing.

And it was a reflection of the spirit of the Roman government.  They never coerced anybody in religion.  When they conquered a country and that country had a god, they brought that god and put it in the Pantheon for everybody to worship.  Yet, they persecuted the Christians unto death!  Why?  That would be a legitimate question, wouldn’t it?  Why?  Well, the answer was because the Christian refused!  When the Roman Caesar said, "We’ve got a niche here for Cybele; and we have a niche here for Artemis; and we have a niche here for Juno, and here’s a niche for Jupiter.  Well, here is a niche for Jesus!"  And the Christians said, "Not so!  We don’t put Jesus with any other god or in anybody’s pantheon; He is Lord and Lord alone!"  There is one Lord, there is one Savior!  There is one Mediator, and His name is the Lord Jesus. 

One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith!  One faith by which we are saved and in which we find our life and being, and that binds us forever together: one faith. Nor is that faith fantasy or religious foolishness; there is a body of truth that we accept, and that is our faith!  It’s no different with us than it is with any other objective truth.  There is a body of facts in chemistry.  And that’s what it is to be a chemist, to know them, to practice them, and to follow those laws.  There is a body of facts in physics, in astronomy, in medicine, and all of the branches of science.  But once in a while, there will be a professor of biology, or a professor of chemistry, or a professor of physics, and he’ll tell his students, "Why, there’s no such thing as God!  And there’s no such thing as objective truth and faith and religion; it’s a mental aberration.  It’s a psychological illusion, and it belongs to the world of fairy tale and myth and legend."

And the students sometimes believe him.  But there is in us something other than chemicals and physics.  There is in us something over and beyond the physical, the anatomical.  And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul, a quickened spirit [Genesis 2:7].  And that is the ministry of the Word of God.  And these spiritual facts, this objective truth I hold in my hand is as true to my life and being as the study of the facts of chemistry, and medicine, or physics, or anatomy, or any other thing that concerns me.  There is one faith, and that is bound up and revealed and described in the Word of God.

I’m not a foolish fanatic going out here speaking about God, and speaking about the faith, speaking about religion.  I have in my hand the revealed self-disclosure of Jesus!  And I’m no more a fanatic loving God and finding the repercussions of it in my soul than if I were to go out here and announce after long years of study in a doctoral program, "I am a chemist," or "I am a medical doctor," or "I am a physicist."  There is one faith, this blessed revelation of God. 

There is one baptism, one baptism.  The meaning of baptism lies in the idea of it; I can illustrate it and so we don’t have to speak so long.  The meaning of a wheel lies in the idea of it, a round circular roll.  You couldn’t have it square; the idea is the round circular rim that rolls.  That’s the idea, say, of a ball.  You couldn’t have a flat ball; the ball is the idea, the round ball.  It’s like a column; it would be morally incorrect to make a column crooked.  The idea of a column is something – however it may be embellished – that stands up straight, holding.  So the meaning of baptism lies in its idea.

The committee from the Sanhedrin came down to the Jordan River where John was preaching and said, "Where did you get this idea?  It’s an innovation.  We never saw it before."  The Jews had many washings and ablutions, but they always washed themselves; they bathed themselves.  They baptized themselves, their feet, their hands, their pots and pans, and the first time the world ever saw one man take another man and baptize him, wash him, was when John did it.  And they called him Ioannes Baptistés, "John, the one who baptizes."  And they said, "Where did you get that ordinance?"

And John said, "I got it from God in heaven, He that sent me to baptize" [John 1:33].  And the meaning of it lies in the idea that is we are buried, we are buried with Christ and dead to the world, dead to sin, and we are raised with Christ in the likeness of His glorious resurrection to walk in the new life that God hath given to those who place their trust in Jesus.

One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all; we are not polytheists!  We are monotheists.  We are not tri-theists, we are not even dualists – we don’t believe in two gods, or three gods, or a multiplicity of gods – we believe in one God, the true God of heaven who reveals Himself incarnate in Jesus.

In the Old Testament we called Him the great "I Am," Jehovah [Exodus 3:14].  In the New Testament, after He assumed the form of flesh and blood, we call Him Jesus.  And in the world that is to come, we shall look upon Him as our reigning Lord and coming King.  He invites us, He speaks to us, He lives in our hearts, and we can respond to Him.  That’s the way God makes us, in His image [Genesis 1:27].  And when a man speaks the truth of the Lord, there is something on the inside of a man’s heart that will vibrate like that girl plucking the strings of that harp.  You just will.  God made you that way.

In a moment we sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord, to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, to answer any call the Spirit would press to your heart, would you come this morning?  In the throng in that balcony, down one of these stairwells, into the aisle on this lower floor and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor."  A couple you, a family, the whole family you, or just you, make that decision now for the Lord, and in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming.  "Here I am preacher.  I’m coming today.  I’m doing it now."  God bless you as you come, while we stand and sing.