Documentary Series Proposal:

Ecumenism: The History of a Vital Christian Movement of the Spirit
(Working Title)

Log Line

A four-part (4x28) film series on the history and development of the ecumenical movement, and the modern search for deeper visible unity in Christ in North America and beyond.

Summary of Topic

The word ecumenical comes from the Greek oikoumenē, which literally means “the whole inhabited world.” The word was used in the early centuries of the Jesus movement to describe general councils carried out by the leaders of the church. Today the term refers to Christians and churches scattered geographically and denominationally around the world. In particular, it carries the idea of unity between various Christians; e.g. Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

The early church, as can be seen in the New Testament itself, and in the writings of the early church fathers, deplored disunity. Paul’s epistles, for example, are filled with appeals for visible oneness in the churches. As the church developed and spread this emphasis was embraced in a cultural sense but the dynamic of the Spirit's work in unity was lost in the process.

In 1054 the Great Schism, which divided the Eastern and Western Churches resulted in a break that did untold harm to the global church. Then in 1517 the Western Church (Catholic) was divided by the Protestant Reformation. Many of the earliest Protestant Reformers expressed deep concerns about disunity in the church but the results can be seen today; e.g. 35,000-40,000 plus denominations. (It has been said that 2 1/2 new Christian denominations are formed weekly around the world!)

In 1740 in Scotland a Pentecostal movement arose, with North American links that sparked concern for revival and in this movement prayers for the unity of all churches arose.

In 1820 Rev. James Haldane Stewart published, “Hints for the General Union of Christians for the Outpouring of the Spirit.” And in 1840 Rev. Ignatius Stewart, a convert to Roman Catholicism, suggested a “Union of Prayer for Unity.”

In 1867 the First Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops emphasized prayer for unity in the Preamble to its Resolutions. In 1894 Pope Leo XIII urged the practice of a Prayer Octave for Unity in the context of Pentecost. In 2017 Pope Francis has invited the entire world to Rome to celebrate Pentecost and to prayer for a great new outpouring of the Spirit for unity.

In 1908 Paul Watson, a Catholic priest, called for observance of the “Church Unity Octave,” which led to call for a global Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (1935). This week has gained momentum and continues to grow every year around the world.

During World War II the rise of Hitler and Mussolini prompted a deeper concern for unity. The Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked closely with Catholics to stand for the faith against nationalistic “German Christianity.” From the post-war era these movements grew and the World Council of Churches was formed in 1948.

In 1964, in Jerusalem, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, prayed together Jesus’ prayer “that all may be one” (John 17). That same year “The Decree on Ecumenism” was approved at Vatican II.

The subject of ecumenism remains controversial. Difficult questions about maintaining orthodoxy while seeking greater missional unity are not easily answered. However, many Catholics, mainline Protestants, the Orthodox and evangelicals are praying and seeking greater realization of their unity in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

This work of Christian unity is mandated by Christ himself in John 17:21-24.

While we may disagree about how to do this work no follower of Christ can question that our myriad divisions are a scandal to the world and our witness to the gospel of Christ. Unity seems even more essential to the work of the church in the modern world as we see the rise nationalism and various movements that are breaking down the cultural and religious foundations of Christianity. Old ecumenism is alive but often moribund. It focused on issues of “faith and order” within the church and tended to create dialogues (and papers) between formal leaders and their respective churches.

The focus of this series will be primarily on the new ecumenism, a movement of the Spirit that seems more like a river overflowing its banks as Christians pray for a new outpouring of the Spirit that will lead us to bear faithful witness to Christ and the gospel of oneness with the triune God. New ecumenism leads to what we call “missional-ecumenism,” a movement of the Spirit rooted in relational unity that envisions a future which none of us can predict or even presently understand. It has a sense of “openness” to it that inspires dreams and visions. 

In a world that is polarized by a myriad of issues this film series will show why the mission of the church in the 21st century needs this call to unity more than ever.

Development

Further development of this series concept will take place in consultation with Christian History Institute. We will likely hire a solid and trained scriptwriter. We will also think we will need narrators. As a historian and practitioner John Armstrong is consulting and assisting in the writing process. An experienced producer will be attached to the project. John Armstrong, as executive producer, will work with the writers and producers to create a full treatment of the subject for the series. This will include descriptions of characters, story arc, point of view, artistic elements and it will address the central question we must seek to address in the documentary. Among the content and stylistic decisions to be made are; whether the series will be “hosted” by an onscreen presenter or whether an off screen narrator will be employed. A budget will be developed by The Initiative in consultation with Christian History Institute and the producer.

Schedule 2019-20

A concise schedule for pre-production, production and post-production should be finished in 2019. In general, we envision several key leaders in the ecumenical movement, both historians and practitioners, being included in this series. These speakers are numerous but they represent all parts of the church; e.g. evangelical, Pentecostal, Anabaptist, Baptist, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. To do this well we need a very wide array of scholars and speakers. Many have already been filmed and more will be interview in 2019.

B-roll filming has already taken place (in late 2017 and early 2018) in some historic places; e.g. Rome, London, Geneva, Wittenberg, New York, etc. Some of what we need was likely already filmed for the This Changed Everything series on he 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and parts of this material will be repurposed. Archival photos, film footage and artwork are incredibly available for this project.

Our aim would be to complete the series by the end of 2019 and release it in 2020.

Audience

The Initiative, and other ecumenical offices and officers within denominations, will be a major market since there is no film series like this available. Communities, like The Initiative, that exist for unity will also be a wonderful audience. So will academic teachers and schools that major on ecumenism. Other audiences include Christian television outlets, public television programming, Christian and mainstream VOD platforms and DVD sales.

Budget

We have not established a final budget but we believe we will need $200,000 to complete this film series and distribute it. We have received only $70,000 so the project is now waiting for more funding to take the next steps.