In 1908, the Rev. Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, an Episcopal priest and nun, founders of a small Anglican religious community in the Franciscan tradition, in Garrison, N.Y., initiated eight days of prayer for Christian Unity between what were then feast days associated with Saints Peter and Paul. These two leaders and their Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement soon became Roman Catholics, so their week of prayer for Christian Unity was clearly shown in its true light: an attempt at promoting the return of all churches to the Roman fold. According to the New York Times the week of prayer naturally had little appeal to Protestants. That might have been true in 1908, though I doubt it because that very year the American Episcopal Church launched an abortive attempt at church union. That was followed in 1910 by the World Missionary Conference that met in Edinburgh, Scotland and that Conference marked the real beginning of the modern ecumenical movement. What started in Edinburgh in 1910 was consummated in Amsterdam in 1948 with the formation of the World Council of Churches.
The WCC actively pushed the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Together with the Vatican, the WCC produced the prayers to be used in what was sanctimoniously termed the "Octave of Prayer." So all over the world, churches of many different traditions-Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics-observed the same week of prayer and prayed the same prayers, all working toward the same goal.
But the whole thing was a failure from the start. True, there was an imposing array of churches involved in observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity but in reality most ordinary church members could hardly have cared less. So this year, the centenary of the inauguration of the Week of Prayer has come and gone almost without notice.
In a way that is good news-the goal of leading all Protestant denominations back to Rome has come unstuck, at least for the present. But in another way it is not. The Week of Prayer itself is a non-event. It was always the empty dream of professional ecclesiastics and had little interest for the people in the pew. However, its almost total dismissal by the great body of churchgoers results from the success rather than the failure of ecumenism-that ecumenism that has admitted Rome into the Christian fold, and in a position of leadership, so that if anyone dares to quote the old Protestant doctrine of Rome as antichristian he is scorned as an unchristian preacher of hate. Now accepting each other as equally Christian (and thereby denying the essential truths of the gospel, reducing such things as Christ's finished work on the Cross and justification by faith alone to the level of negotiable non-essentials), church people are more interested in their relations with a newly reinvigorated Islam. More and more they want to present a united front to Islam-which is ecumenism, church unity, at work with a vengeance. Since it is a unity that is fundamentally flawed by its departure from basic Bible truth, the front it presents to Islam will be just that, a front-a gutless, powerless religious paper tiger that will find it as easy to make peace with a Christless Islam as it did with an antichristian Romanism.