This article touches on the retrospective and prospect of church unity and co-operation among Christians in Nigeria. Attempt to deal with this issue will lead us to raise the following questions:

Why are the Christians divided, is Jesus Christ who established the church divided? Why are there so many Christian denominations? Can there be unity among Christians?

Many have offered possible answers to these questions but none has fully satisfied my quest, hence, I decided to write a paper and did not hesitate to choose the topic that has bothered everyone for so long a time; that I could make a reasonable contribution. It is clear that Jesus Christ wills his church to be one, They may all be one; even as thou, Father are in me, and thee, they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me.

Diversity is just as essential as unity to the well-being of the Christian church. A truly Christian unity can never be a tightly-knit affair. It must have room not just for the preservation but for the rich heritage of different Christian faiths. The eschatological church will manifest more clearly visible unity to the people of God and it will be a new creation. What Nigeria therefore needs which l believe is not just an organic unity of the church though it is not bad in itself but it is what some people now call ‘spiritual ecumenism’.

In this type of ecumenism, the holy spirit is allowed to work fully among the churches. Leaders get converted into the idea that membership into one body of Christ transcends all denominational living and people will come to grasp fully with what is meant by oneness in Christ. They come together to co-operate fully for the needs of the oppressed people of the world and the church naturally will have a new dimension. This then referred to spiritual ecumenism.

Definition and Historical Background of Ecumenical Movement

The word ecumenism is derived from the Greek word ‘Oikoumene’ which means the inhabited world’.Oilcumene is in turn derived from the Greek word ‘Oikeo’ meaning’ dwell’. The word is used for the entire universe. (Matthew 24:14, Luke 4:5) Early Christian writers, Polycarp, and Irenaeus used it as “about the whole of the church”.In this sense, the councils that represented the whole church were called ecumenical(Since Nice 325 AD). Only in this century, the word was used more and more for the work among divided Christians for unity.

Ecumenism, therefore, is the promotion of the re-union among all Christians under one single church. The New Testament writings report certain divisions which could be found in the following passages in the Bible.

We can read 1 Cor. 11:17-18 ‘But in the following instructions,1 do not commend you because when you come together, it is not for the better but for the worse. First, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it”. We can also find it in Galatians 1:6-9,1 Jn.2:18f.

In the first centuries, Gnosticism, Montanism, Arianism, Donatism, Pelagianism, and other heresies threatened the faith and unity of the church. In 431 (after the council of Ephesus) Nestorians separated themselves from the church.

In 451, (after the council of Chalcedon) the Monophysites broke away from the church.1054 witnessed mutual excommunication of the papal legates and the patriarch of Constantinople led to schism and separation of the ‘Eastern’ – By zantine orthodox church from the ‘Western’ Latin’ Roman church.

The Beginning of the Ecumenical Movement

As previously expressed, aspiration for unity has been traced from the New Testament periods. It led to the establishment of the International Missionary Council its impetus was behind the creation in 1925 of the Universal Christian Conference on “Life and Work’ and of the first world conference on” Faith and Order” which met in Lausanne in 1927. These two bodies were fused in the World Council of Churches.

The initiative for the movement between1910-1927 came mainly from within Western Orthodox and so-called younger churches of Asia and Africa were taking an important part. Until the early 1960s Ro-man Catholic participation was expressed only through interested individuals. A change in atmosphere was reflected in the Second Vatican Council Decree on Ecumenism (1964)which referred to members of other communions as ‘separated Brethrea’ rather than outside the church. Meanwhile, regional and national councils of churches have been formed in most parts of the world and now include Roman Catholic representatives.

The Basic Principle of Ecumenism

  • Jesus Christ founded the church and it was his prayer that all may be one.
  • The Bible is the basic study of unity because all Christians pray, talk, and work together.
  • All Christian communities have common features.
  • God alone can bring about full unity and this is possible through prayer.
  • All who are baptized are incorporated into Jesus Christ and are in true communion with one church founded by Christ.
  • Full unity among Christians is compatible with diversity of liturgy, diverse persecution of theological truths, and different modes of garment.
  • Hope for success in the ecumenical movement is found in God.
  • The Episcopate though not shared by all communion must be seen as an obstacle to unity and they hope that it will prove to be in the future the best instrument for maintaining unity.

Such visible unity will involve the wholehearted acceptance of the holy scripture the Nicene Creed and the Apostle Creed as a baptismal confession of belief, the sacrament of baptism and holy communion and a recognized ministry.

Ecumenical Dialogue-A Method of Unity

Dialogue is a common conversation and effort of two or more persons or groups to seek the truth together. It is necessary at all levels of human life and for ecumenism, it is of paramount importance. Each party must learn to listen and to reply, to seek to understand and to be understood, to give and to receive, to be ready to clarify ideas, and to advance in unison toward greater. Community of outlook action and life. Members should be ready to give common witness to the mission of the church and to seek together the response that the Lord expects from us.

Conditions necessary for Ecumenical dialogue

Christians who are engaged in dialogue must observe very seriously the following conditions if they are to achieve any success in bringing members together.

  • They should recognise honestly the existing differences and inequality
  • Participants must see themselves as equals
  • They should recognise honestly the existing differences and inequality
  • They should also recognize one another as existing in Christ and all that they have in common as the work of God.
  • Ability and competence are required.
  • Members should be well-informed about theological and spiritual matters.
  • Pay attention to the difficulty of speaking the same Language. influence by different traditions and thought forms.

Conclusion

In other words. true ecumenism in Nigeria can only be a reality when the churches allow the Holy Spirit to work fully among them and so the leaders get converted to the idea that membership into one body of Christ transcends all denominational leanings. When one is a converted Christian, he first thinks of himself as a Christian before he thinks of himself as either a Catholic or a Presbyterian. This naturally will be the lot of Christians in Nigeria when the Holy Spirit is given full vent to operate among them. Then Christians will learn to think more of spiritual ecumenism, and oneness in Christ and then come together to co-operate fully for the needs of the oppressed people of the world and the church will naturally have a new dimension. You can continue the article here.