In all the discussions, such as the ones I’ve participated in on ecumenism, I have a nagging suspicion of these conversations. This is not to say that I do not think that there is a basic rightness to such discussions, only that perhaps they may be missing some glaring missiological facts that could chasten and better inform such discussions, or at least challenge their pretensions.
The key issue I see as a problem in standard ecumenical discussions is the way in which these discussions take place almost totally from within the framework of the global North-West. Most ecumenical dialogues take place within Europe and North America. Whether it is acknowledged or not, it is tacitly believed that the “center” of Christianity from which decisions and initiatives about things like unity could be made is the Northern hemisphere (and, of course principally the West). However, as is becoming more and more clear, the center of Christianity, across denominational lines is moving further and further South. The real center of Christianity is coming to reside in Latin America and Africa. Right now there are nearly twice as many Catholics in Latin America as in Europe, and by 2025 it is projected that there may be close to three times as many! Likewise, the various Free Church congregations (particularly Pentecostalism) are the fastest growing Christian group in the entire world. It is projected that by 2025 these various Free Church neo-apostolic movements will number 581 million members, outnumbering traditional Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy combined, and being nearly half the size of worldwide Catholicism.
Now, certainly these are projections, but to my mind anyone with two eyes can see that, while we may quibble about the details, in the main these projects are not only accurate, but they are happening all around us right now. So, if it is indeed the case that the geographical center of Christian life is relocating to the global South and dying on the vine in the North, what are we to make of the character of our Western ecumenical dialogues? It seems to me that ecumenical discussions in the global North-West take on the character of little more than role-playing games in which the established churches of Europe and America close their eyes to the fact that they are no longer the primary geographic locus of the life of the church. If the established churches in Europe and America continue seeking schemes of unity as if the global South and particularly Free Church communities and Pentecostalism are not really where the action is at, they will simply be playing clerical games which will not have anything to do with the emerging ecclesial reality that will define the third millennium.