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  Ecumenism (from Greek for ‘the inhabited world’ and then ‘the community of those who believe as we do’), is a predominantly Christian, European movement. From the time of the Reformation irenical spirits, such as Erasmus and Leibnitz, lamented the disunity of Christendom. The modern ecumenical movement, however, only began properly in the 19th century, when Evangelical Anglicans, Congregationalists and Baptists began collaborating in Britain and India. Their aims were to create missions, to translate the Bible into Oriental and Continental languages, to fight slavery and illiteracy, the appalling factory conditions of the Industrial Revolution and the ill-treatment of children. This concern with evangelism and social reform continued to bring Christians together throughout the 19th century, most notably in the founding of the Y.M.C.A. (1844) and the Y.W.C.A. (1855), the Evangelical Alliance (1846) and the Student Volunteer Movement (1886). It formed the basis for the International Missionary Council (1910) and the Life and Work Movement (1920), both of which came together in the World Council of Churches (1948).

As its Greek origin suggests, the word ‘ecumenical’ implies something of universal application and comprehensiveness. It is the force that makes things cohere. While there can, therefore, be ‘secular’ ecumenism, Christians assert that it is Christ in whom all things cohere. Christian unity is only the beginning of a wider unity of humankind. Hence current ecumenical concern with issues of justice and peace, ecology and the conservation of the planet. EMJ

Further reading Ruth Rouse and , Stephen Neill (eds.), The History of the Ecumenical Movement 1517-1948; , Ans van der Bent, The Utopia of World Community.



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