October 2009 - Vol. 33

Our Ecumenism Is Extra Nos It's Not an Option

by Dave Hughes

The Sword of the Spirit is an international ecumenical association which comprises more than 65 Christian communities in 24 countries more than 10,000 people who belong to Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions. As Chairman of the Sword of the Spirit Assembly of Ecumenical Communities, Dave Hughes explains what this ecumenical call means for members of the Sword of the Spirit.
Ok, so what’s with the Latin? Extra nos is a Latin term some theologians use to communicate a key concept about the work of salvation. Simply translated it means that our salvation comes from outside ourselves –   extra meaning outside and nos referring to ourselves – our salvation comes from outside ourselves, it is a work that primarily God does, it is extra nos.

Clearly we have a role to play, as well, in the drama of salvation and our different traditions talk about our role versus God’s role in different ways, but a foundational truth we can all agree on: our salvation is a gift from God, a work of grace, in a fundamental way it is extra nos.

Something that primarily God is doing
In a similar way, I believe we need to see our ecumenical life together as something that is extra nos, something that primarily God is doing. This is in marked contrast with the notion that our ecumenism is our idea and initiative, a work that primarily human beings have done, a good idea that we initiate and we maintain.

Not seeing this clearly can lead to an error in thinking. We can say to ourselves: “I am glad I am in an ecumenical community like the Sword of the Spirit, it’s a nice thing to work for Christian unity, not essential but certainly a pleasant and interesting part of our life.” We can see it as a nice added feature but perhaps optional in the larger scheme of things.

But if our ecumenism is really extra nos, if it really is God’s intention and plan and not just a good idea of man, then we need to relate to it quite differently and it should shape the way we think and act.

Embracing our ecumenical call as disciples
Why is this important and what might be different if we see it this way?

First, this understanding should lead us to an attitude of humble acceptance of our ecumenical call. If this is an idea of man, I can pick and choose how I relate to it. If it is a work of God, I must embrace it with humility.  Instead of thinking of our ecumenism as a pleasant, optional feature of our life together, we will begin to see it as a core element of what God is doing. 

This in turn will cause a more sober assessment of the implications of what this means for our life as disciples – if it is true that God is behind this ecumenical business, how then shall I live it out? As this understanding takes root in our hearts, it will bear fruit in our daily efforts to live out our ecumenism thoughtfully and well. We will be diligent to express ecumenical courtesy. We will strive to live in an ecumenically convergent way. We will seek more thoughtfully to understand and support our brothers and sisters from other traditions. We will seek out and welcome into our midst those from other traditions.

Be aligned with the Master's plan
Finally, as we see our ecumenical life as extra nos, this can give us great confidence. Participating in what God is doing always gives confidence. If I have a choice between investing my life in something that God is doing or investing it in the good ideas of man, the choice becomes very simple – I want to be aligned with the Master’s plan. A good disciple does what he sees the Master doing. There is great peace and confidence in this. 

So, a short Latin phrase to capture a significant concept. I believe with all my heart that our ecumenism is neither our idea nor our initiative. It comes from God, it is outside ourselves, it is extra nos. In this we all can find great peace and confidence.
Dave Hughes is Chairman of the Sword of the Spirit's Assembly of Ecumenical Communities and is a coordinator of Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA . Dave and his wife Jane have five children. They are members of Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor.

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