Christian Unity and a Pact of Reconciliation (Peter Ainslie)
The other day, for some reason, I looked up the name Peter Ainslie. Ainslie was a pioneering ecumenical leader of the first third of the twentieth century. He was the founder of what today is known as the Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—I’m a board member. It was launched in 1911, after Ainslie, then President of the 1910 Disciples General Convention proposed the creation of an organization to better articulate the Disciples' message of unity. Ainslie’s name is not well known in Disciples circles today, nor for that matter, in the world at large. I discovered that there isn’t a Wikipedia article on this person who was proclaimed by John R. Mott at the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 one of the Twelve Apostles of the Ecumenical Movement. I wrote a piece and submitted it, and had it rejected. I’ve not given up, but it’s clear that the name Peter Ainslie has been forgotten.
Perhaps one reason for this is that over time Ainslie, who served as pastor of Christian Temple in Baltimore for forty years, gave up on a denominational approach to unity, including formal union. Instead, he decided to pursue a grassroots effort. I must confess I’m sympathetic to this approach. One of the outgrowths of that 1910 event was the launching of a journal, first known as the Christian Union Library and then 1913 it became the Christian Union Quarterly. Ainslie would edit that journal, which became the leading ecumenical journal in the country until he died in 1934.
In the April 1934 issue, which focused its attention on Ainslie’s death and funeral, an essay is included, written by Ainslie. Titled “Experiments Toward Christian Unity,” Ainslie offers his take on a life spent pursuing unity, including in that report his frustrations with the denomination that was committed to unity through absorption. He includes in the essay this “Pact of Reconciliation,” written in 1929 after he decided to embrace a less formal ecumenism. I thought I would share it. It does reveal a Euro-American bias that was common among liberal protestants of the era. The language is not inclusive. But in many ways, this was a radical position, one not embraced even by Disciples who continued to demand baptism by immersion as a prerequisite to membership.
We need not embrace all of Ainslie’s views to appreciate his pioneering efforts.
"We, Christians of various churches, believing that only in a cooperative and united Christendom can the world be Christianized, deplore a divided Christendom as being opposed to the Spirit of Christ and the needs of the world. We, therefore, desire to express our sympathetic interest in and prayerful attitude toward all conferences, small and large, that are looking toward reconciliation of the divided church of Christ.
"We acknowledge the equality of all Christians before God and propose to follow this principle, as far as possible, in all our spiritual fellowships. We will strive to bring the laws and practices of our several communions into conformity with this principle, so that no Christian shall be denied membership in any of our churches, nor the privilege of participation in the observance of the Lord's supper, and that no Christian minister shall be denied the freedom of our pulpits by reason of differences in forms of ordination.
"We pledge, irrespective of denominational barriers, to be brethren one to another in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, whose we are and whom we serve." —Peter Ainslie, “Experiments toward Christian Unity,” Christian Union Quarterly (April 1934): 175-176.
It doesn’t sound as if this effort made a large dent in the denominational Spirit of his day. While denominationalism is less present today, in large part that is because we don’t pay much attention to our roots. In any case, I offer this up as an attempt to bring an important voice for true unity to our attention.