In this excerpt from Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church, Tom Oden writes wisely (and passionately) about the right and wrong ways to pursue ecclesiastical unity. Evangelicals who still call the mainline their home will know exactly what he is talking about.
Oldline ecumenical debate and planning are prone to misfire through a fundamental misunderstanding of the relation of unity and truth: They do no seek unity based on truth.
Four modern ecumenical arguments in particular misfire, as shown by David Mills. They even make Christian disunity more likely. These four following arguments have prevailed in liberal ecumenism, each unintentionally eliciting disunity. Each is a mistake “if-then” correlation:
1. If we can just get together on some common ethical standards, then we will therefore achieve the unity of believers.
2. If we could have the same open ecumenical feelings or experiences, then we would feel our unity.
3. If we could just be open to dialogue, then we would grow toward unity.
4. If we merge the separate institutions based on different memories created by the Spirit, then we would experience our unity through an institution, and thus we now must renew our commitment to the institutional vestiges of ecumenism.
All these attempts are alike in one way: they put unity ahead of truth. They squander the truth to achieve a superficial unity. All are mistaken. All spawn disillusionment with efforts at Christian unity. Together they have resulted in the ecumenical turbulence that now buffets us.
All misfire for the same reason: they base unity on something other than the truth, by avoiding the only basis from which Christian unity can emerge—that is the revealed Word whose hearing is enabled by the Holy Spirit and received through faith. (111)