Ecumenical challenges for global mission
by Emily McQuillan '19 M.Div.
What difficulties does fundamentalism present to ecumenical work?
How is fundamentalism expressed in different global contexts? And what role can pastors play in sharing their knowledge and education in ecumenical relationships while maintaining mutual respect? In exploration of these questions and more,
Luther Seminary Professor of Church History Mark Granquist and student Emily Stelling ’19 M.Div. presented at the Institute for Ecumenical Research’s summer seminar held this past July in Strasbourg, France.
Focusing on the topic of fundamentalism as an ecumenical challenge, the 52nd International Ecumenical Seminar brought together Christian leaders from Lutheran and other Protestant churches representing Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.
Ecumenism and mission
As a Luther Seminary student, Stelling completed an internship in Bratislava, Slovakia. She taught at the Evangelical Lyceum and served as a vicar at the Bratislava International Church. Stelling was invited to Strasbourg to discuss the ecumenical context of her ministry, and she says international churches are a fantastic place to garner firsthand experience with ecumenical ministry.
Stelling’s presentation at the summer seminar focused on the role of ecumenism in the unique context of Bratislava International Church. During her internship experience, Stelling found that contemporary Slovak culture reflects both the nation’s rich Lutheran history and the influences of its former Communist government. In the 1990s, Slovakia became the Slovak Republic, and the Lutheran Church in Slovakia asked the ELCA to send missionaries to teach English in reopened Lutheran schools. Ultimately, a full-time pastor moved to the country and the English-speaking Bratislava International Church was created in 1994. Today it is an ecumenical worshipping community with members from a wide variety of nations and denominations.
At Bratislava International Church, Stelling saw how important it is for clergy to be engaged with all types of Christians. Her presentation explored key takeaways and ongoing questions from her experience, including how to discuss differences without becoming defensive and the practice of maintaining deeply rooted faith traditions while keeping an open mind.
History and context of fundamentalism
In his presentation, Granquist offered historical background and explained the importance of distinguishing between conservative expressions of Christianity and fundamentalism, a theological movement that originated in the 20th century.
“Fundamentalism is specifically in the United States and is a limited subsection of conservative Protestantism. Not all conservatives are fundamentalists,” Granquist says. “It’s a label that tends to be thrown about without a lot of precision. Many people see that label as a negative stereotype, so to call somebody who is simply a conservative Christian a fundamentalist might be blocking communication. If you didn’t use the word fundamentalist, there might be more possibility of an ecumenical dialogue.”
Granquist’s presentation examined how fundamentalism operates differently in varying contexts and equipped attendees to better understand the challenges fundamentalism poses to ecumenical work.
Lessons for Christian Public Leaders
For Stelling, the experience helped her discover the value of sharing her knowledge and education with others in her future role as a pastor.
“I learned that teaching theology is such a fundamental aspect to the minister’s role,” she says. “Education is part of the vows we take when we are ordained for a reason— people need direction, and they are desperately looking for it. It is not that we have all the right answers. Rather, it is that we are the ones who are set apart in society to spend our days studying the Word. We educate our parishioners, young and old, because that is what we are called to do. Therefore, we must be educated ourselves.”
Today Stelling is more attuned to the ecumenical task and the importance of living into positive relationships with Christians from a variety of backgrounds through education and fellowship. “I believe that ecumenism is what God is calling us to in this millennium,” she says.
As for Granquist, he came away with a renewed commitment to the importance of educating Christian public leaders on the issues impacting the broader Christian landscape. He says that one connection between his summer seminar experience and his work at Luther is “trying to help people understand the dynamics of what is going on in the larger sphere of religion in America.” This way, he suggests, Christians can see one another with more generosity and ask, “What do these people actually stand for and represent?”
Ultimately, Granquist says, such engagement will lead to greater understanding and unity in the Body of Christ.