The ecumenical movement of the past 100 years has been wildly successful in eliminating old tensions and rivalries, but such pervasive success been can foster complacency, even in a time when a skeptical world needs to see more signs of God-given unity in action.
That combination of joy and concern is a central motivator for the Rev. Callan Slipper, a Church of England priest and author of Five Steps to Living Christian Unity, due in September from New City Press.
“We are currently the victims of our past success,” Slipper tells TLC. “The new vision I would advocate is one where we see one another as truly belonging to one another.”
Slipper, 58, devotes his life to this vision. He lives with four other priests (three Roman Catholic and one Anglican) in a community of the Focolare Movement, an international project to foster Christian unity, and works as ecumenical facilitator for Churches Together in Hertfordshire.
In his five steps, Slipper urges Christians to ponder why the quest for visible unity is urgent and to press beyond common assumptions and practices.
At stake, at least in part, is whether non-believers will see something in Christian relationships that reveals a different, higher way of working and being together. Too often, Slipper argues, they do not see robust love or collaboration among a cross-section of Christians. Therefore they are not convinced there’s anything transformative or divine in the Christian life.
“Our words are not backed up with facts,” Slipper says. “We are not so much describing things that we know about at firsthand as trying to convince people of a set of ideas, a story. It does not surprise me that the parts of the Christian body where there is a sense of a living encounter with Jesus, a life touched by the power of the Spirit, are the ones that are growing the fastest.”
Slipper prescribes a path in which Christians discern the need for visible unity and presume God-given unity as a starting point rather than a distant goal.
“Deliberately choose to love one another,” Slipper writes in Five Steps. “That deliberate choice makes the difference. It brings about a completely new state of affairs. We no longer solve the problems in order to become united, we are united in order to solve the problems.”
Loving one another is both a means and an end in Slipper’s formulation. It involves working humbly across denominational lines in day-to-day mission. It affirms common reliance on the crucified Christ as the bedrock for righteousness and ministry in his name.
The journey together is its own reward, he suggests, because it captures Jesus’ prayer that “That they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (John 17:22-23).
G. Jeffrey MacDonald