This is a bit of a parallel piece to a post on Internetmonk called Conversations in the Great Hall. Let me start with the same quote from C.S. Lewis with which the other article started:
I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions — as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.
It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall, I have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into the room you will find that the long wait has done some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.
In plain language, the question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. This is one of the rules common to the whole house. • C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity
Among many Orthodox, there is a dislike of the word ecumenism. It is a dislike found not only in the USA, but also in Greece, Russia, etc. Many other Orthodox do not mind the term and disagree with their brethren. But, perhaps I can use C.S. Lewis to differentiate between the issues that crop up, perhaps between inappropriate ecumenism and an appropriate gentle love for those who are seeking to follow Christ.
Those who react against inappropriate ecumenism have some very good points. Often ecumenism has meant the watering down of doctrines in order to get along with those of other Christian backgrounds. Or, it has meant not judging doctrines to the point that sound theological debate is not even possible. At times, it has even meant being present in services that deny doctrines that the Orthodox consider to be central and crucial doctrines. In other words, it is one thing to engage someone who calls themselves Christian in sound and respectful theological debate. It is another thing to be forced to silence under the guise of tolerance.
But C.S. Lewis many decades ago showed a respectful way to approach the subject. It is an approach that is clearly not individual, and also clearly points to joining a church. His approach relies strongly on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and, yes, on a belief that all true groups have something of God in them. As Orthodox, we would not buy into the great hall with multiple rooms approach, as we do not agree with all the rooms being part of the same house. At the end, he even says that “if they are wrong they need your prayers all the more.” Mr. Lewis’ approach points us toward loving intercessory prayer rather than to angry spiteful debate. It is not an approach of ecumenism per se, but it is a recognition that our living reality is that people calling themselves Christian are found in divers places and divers times.
Lest any of my Orthodox brethren misunderstand, the issue is not what the Church is here on Earth. Rather, Mr. Lewis was speaking of how God often works with people and how people respond to God. Metropolitan Kallistos comments:
“Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church” (G. Florovsky, “Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church”, in The Church of God, p. 53). Does it therefore follow that anyone who is not visibly within the Church is necessarily damned? Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved. As Augustine wisely remarked: “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!” (Homilies on John, 45, 12) While there is no division between a “visible” and an “invisible Church”, yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say. —Kallistos Ware, titular Metropolitan of Diokleia.
So, there is a difference between ecumenism and gentle love. Ecumenism is all about programs and theological discussion. Gentle love is about recognizing that “we cannot always say” who is a member of the Church and therefore must have a certain sense of openness to the mystery of God’s work among people.