About the Author(s)

Ferdinand P. Kruger Email symbol
Unit for Reformational Theology, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa

Barend J. de Klerk symbol
Unit for Reformational Theology, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Kruger, F.P. & De Klerk, B.J., 2023, ‘Liturgy’s outlook on the oikumene exposes distorted attitudes and memories of ecumenism’, Verbum et Ecclesia 44(1), a2927. https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v44i1.2927

Original Research

Liturgy’s outlook on the oikumene exposes distorted attitudes and memories of ecumenism

Ferdinand P. Kruger, Barend J. de Klerk

Received: 26 June 2023; Accepted: 04 Sept. 2023; Published: 20 Nov. 2023

Copyright: © 2023. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This article explored the interplay between ecumenism and people’s distorted attitudes. Viewed from a South African historical perspective, faith communities have endured a robust experience of denominationalism. The authors were thus interested in the influential impact of attitudes and people’s memories in a praxis that recognises the importance of ecumenism but demonstrates limited efforts to promote it. This aspect is evident in the descriptive-empirical section of this research. Ironically, people are firm in their confession, which explicitly embraces ecumenicity. However, distorted attitudes present challenges in the praxis thereof. The authors applied visualisation as part of the research methodology, and executed the research as developing from the description to systemising (exploring practical wisdom and understanding) to strategising (practising strategic, practical theology). The notion of the oikumene pinpoints the kingdom’s interest, but people are focused on liturgical and other differences, which challenges ecumenical relationships. The authors presented the following research questions: How can an elucidation of ecumenical liturgy serve as a means to uncover negative attitudes and bad memories while simultaneously providing building blocks for fostering the realisation of the oikumene? We offer systemising perspectives to denote the importance of crossing borders to promote ecumenical relations and debate the power of liturgy to enhance awareness.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The authors concluded the article by emphasising that liturgical elements should incorporate an outlook on the oikumene. The attitudes of people should be altered, and a liturgical praxeology can play a pivotal role in facilitating this process.

Keywords: liturgy; oikumene; attitudes; memories; ecumenism.


The current research aims to explore liturgy’s unique outlook on the world or oikumene. The authors intend to provide insights on how this outlook will expose a faith community’s attitudes and memories of ecumenism (cf. Raiser 2018:33). Raiser (2018) emphasises that no faith community can remain impartial regarding ecumenism. The only way to appreciate ecumenism is by continuously engaging in the endeavour of interpreting ecumenism as an integral constituent of the oikos, meaning a house or household. The essence of this concept is centred around the idea of dwelling and whether the liturgical awareness of one’s attitudes towards the oikos and memories thereof should be considered significant. Oxley (2010:7) opines that any pervasive discussions on ecumenical relations will remain stagnant unless congregants actively engage with an attitude of openness towards perspectives that may differ from their own (Van der Ham & Van Vliet 2020:344).1

Root (1997:31) intensifies the concern that most theological traditions could, on the one hand, claim that they are ecumenically orientated. However, commitment to obtaining closer relationships receives insufficient attention. Concerning this, De Gruchy and De Gruchy (2005:115) highlight a poignant memory among people in South Africa: the tension between the state and church in the apartheid years, where both parties appealed to the same source to justify their actions – Scripture. Following the emergence of a new dispensation in 1994 for South Africa, it is evident that considerable effort is still needed to make the concept of ‘ecumenical’ vivid in people’s minds. In the words of Theron (2003:17), terminological misunderstandings could be harmful in obtaining the view mentioned earlier. Words like ‘unity’ and ‘ecumenism’ or ‘ecumenism’ and ‘denominationalism’ are often utilised in the same breath but with different meanings, leading to a praxis in which the idea of ecumenicity denotes various churches or denominations functioning independently. Bosch (1992:5) delves deeper into the serious consequences of adopting a narrow, limited ecclesiastical view of the church. Such a restricted view confines the church’s experience of Catholicism to a certain denomination, posing the risk of prioritising self-preservation over the greater interests of the kingdom of God.2

Consequently, when referring to ecumenical liturgy, it starts with an awareness and exposure to the liturgical practices of other denominations without diminishing the value of one’s practices. Ecumenism, or the Greek idea of oikumene, is, after all, concerned with the inhabited world (Schalekamp 2005:155). The concept of oikumene was later used descriptively, indicating the shared faith experience, [oikos], among different denominations. It also denotes an understanding of the community between believers (Plantinga 1999:3). Therefore, Newbigin (1993:133) postulates that if the church seeks to order its life based solely on its own concerns unilaterally, it deviates from its true nature and identity. Hence, Wainwright (1997:44) aptly underlines that it is impossible to deny the importance of worship and liturgy in debating the matter of ecumenism.

The Confession, endorsed by Reformed faith communities, reflects ecumenism. In mentioning the so-called attributa ecclesiae according to the Nicene Creed, namely the unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity, one has to acknowledge that the church is confessionally bounded and simultaneously focused on the world or oikumene (Smit 2006:94). We assume that a demeanour of holding on and concentrating only on the interests of people, a punctilious attitude towards any other viewpoints, and even animosity towards others who do not hold sentiments in conformity to their own could emerge (cf. De Klerk 2013:7). Hervieu-Léger (2000:4) pinpoints the idea that tradition could probably be best described as the official version of a church’s memory (Hervieu-Léger 2000:9). Therefore, Christianity is sometimes described as a memory religion (cf. Vosloo 2017:12).3 The following research question was thus formulated: How can an elucidation of ecumenical liturgy serve as a means to uncover negative attitudes and bad memories while simultaneously providing building blocks for fostering the realisation of the oikumene? This problem is addressed by applying Browning’s (1996:13) research methodology, which envisions the progression of a research activity from description to systemisation (exploring practical wisdom and understanding) and ultimately to strategising (practising strategic, practical theology).

Descriptive-empirical perspectives on an ecumenical outlook on liturgy

This section explores the descriptive-empirical perspectives surrounding an ecumenical outlook on liturgy, which plays a vital role in understanding what is happening in faith communities from a Reformed background in South Africa.4 The 19th and 20th centuries could be best described as the flowering of the movement of ecumenism (Kasamu et al. 2012:47–48). Despite numerous ecumenical conferences being held, the challenge of maintaining the own denomination identity was a challenge.

Descriptive perspectives on memories and the challenging essence of denominational identity and ecumenical engagement

Kasper (2015:152–153) is concerned about what he describes as an ecumenical winter, meaning new causes for division among denominations have recently emerged.5 Rausch (2017:90) observes that the search for denominational identity in a postmodern world has further prevented churches from progressing with ecumenical engagement. Raiser’s (1991:82) intriguing observation of the growing emphasis on collaboration based on shared values rather than visible unity since the 1990s is noteworthy. Leithart (2016:35), on the other hand, makes a very interesting comment, referring to what he called the collapse of denominationalism and the emergence of Protestant Catholicism in the years to come. It is contradictory that while people mention a collapse of denominationalism, faith communities shy away from discourses on unity. Writing from a Reformed background, the authors of this article are interested in the underlying attitudes undermining the idea of ecumenism.

Similarly, Pont (1968:197) highlights the challenge of discussing visible unity among South African churches. Reflecting on history, he notes that after the Great Trek, three distinct republics and three divergent churches among the Afrikaans-speaking people developed within a decade or two in South Africa. The persistent disunity and schism between Afrikaans-speaking churches continue to pose challenges in ecumenical discourses.6 Müller (2006:605) describes it as an ecumenical tragedy, realising that the ecumenical riches have caused disunity instead of fostering a sense of unity. Hence, the interplay between denominationalism and ecumenism remains challenging in faith communities.7 Although denominations’ leadership attempts to discuss ecumenical relations, it is still a valuable question: if denominations share the same underlying liturgical presuppositions and contexts in South Africa,8 why is it less important for many faith communities to pursue the idea of unity in ecumenism?

The authors of this article acknowledge the functioning of memories related to what happened during the unfolding of history.9 Our memories of South African history deal with the embodiment of various Afrikaans-speaking denominations, not even to mention English-speaking denominations but also with the establishment of ethnic denominations (cf. Theron 2003:692).10

Descriptive perspectives on the starting point for ecumenism, namely enhanced attitudes on friendship and koinonia

Rausch’s (2013:400) restorative comment serves as a starting point, highlighting that ecumenism should start with a Biblical injunction to unity and the exposure of friendship in altering attitudes. A planned visit of other denominations by faith communities could become vital in enhancing and establishing ecumenical relations. Consequently, friendship deals with faith communities deliberately seeking new avenues to form new friendships, notwithstanding historical reasons for divisions and denominations. The deeper-lying challenge lies in avoiding the attitudinal terminology of us against the other denominations and establishing a friendship based on our shared identity as brothers and sisters in Christ (Rausch 2013:402). O’Callaghan (2002:37) concurs and underlines the importance of the church rediscovering its nature as a relational and hospitable community, acting on behalf of the world.

The remarks of Beardsall, Budde and McDonald (2019:52) hold significant relevance when discussing the narrative and challenges encountered by a faith community and a local congregation. According to these authors, friendship creates a unique space to experience permeability to each other when encounters with one another and a seeking for opportunities to become friends based on sharing their lives and living spaces becomes evident. They further emphasise that the concept of koinonia ultimately denotes the idea of sharing or participating in something of intrinsic value (Beardsall et al. 2019:53; Martin 1995:12).11

Descriptive perspectives on liturgy and ecumenism dealing with an attitude of doxological unity-in-truth

Van Wyk and De Klerk (2007:3-4) touch on the essential interplay between unity, disunity and faithfulness to calling. This idea necessitates the vital role of discerning in which unity could be found, and disunity could be allowed. Cognisance of the uniqueness of each local church without ignoring the sharing of the same calling with other churches seems to be challenging in approaching the topic of ecumenism. Müller (2006:601–602) makes a significant contribution by highlighting the transformative power of liturgy in changing attitudes and thus emphasises the importance of acknowledging the reality and harm caused by disunity rather than ignoring it.12 Wainwright (1997:38) applies the focus on ecumenism in stating that liturgy could enable faith communities to realise the richness of unity in the living God. Still, this unity should always be based on what he called doxological unity-in-truth. Berger (2018:2) supports this idea and asserts that doxology is both the starting point and end goal in pursuing unity. Wainwright (1997:39) continues to underline that mutual confession of faith is needed for the liturgy to be meaningfully conducted in changing one’s attitudes. Sauca (2022:71) is adamant that theology, and liturgy should never be separated, and the interplay between the two aspects is intertwined in the doxology13 (cf. Wilson 2009:5).14

Empirical perspectives on the influence of attitudes and memories on liturgy’s outlook on ecumenism

Rationale for the empirical research

A literature review on the functioning of a problematic praxeology dealing with liturgy and ecumenism revealed the presence of underlying attitudes rooted in memories. However, the interrelationship between liturgy and a focus on ecumenism raises concerns because memories of the past and the functioning of attitudes, and a praxis without acknowledging respondents’ attitudes should be avoided.15


A qualitative approach was utilised to explore respondents’ underlying understanding and attitudes. Likert scales are a convenient way to measure unobservable constructs and participants’ attitudes (Baumeister, Vohs & Funder 2007:398; Botma et al. 2016:138).16 A Likert scale was thus used, where respondents had to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement based on the statements provided. The questionnaires were distributed to five local congregations from a Reformed tradition in the Potchefstroom area. These included: one congregation from the Dutch Reformed Church, one from the Nether-Dutch Reformed Church of Africa and three from the Reformed Churches in South Africa, selected by purposive sampling to participate in the study.17

Data capturing according to the responses on the Likert scale

The data interpretation was used to make deductions or conclusions based on the respondents’ responses. Only 60% (three of the five congregations) of the respondents completed the questionnaire.18 The sample, representing three denominations within the Reformed tradition, was regarded as a reliable reflection of participants’ attitudes on liturgy and ecumenism in South African society.19 Of the respondents, 45.8% were females, and 54.2% were males. The age distribution of the respondents ranged from 18 years to 80 years. Among them, 12.8% fell within the age group of 20 years to 23 years, and 8.3% belonged to the age group of 48 years to 50 years. The remaining age groups were evenly distributed, accounting for 4.2% of the responses.

Respondents were requested to provide their responses across four interdependent sections, encompassing the formative essence of liturgy and worship; attitudes on ecumenism; attitudes on the functioning of liturgy in ecumenism and memories of the interplay between liturgy and ecumenism. The results of the data capturing, which the Statistical Services did at the North-West University (NWU),20 are presented below:

  • Section 1: The formative essence of liturgy and worship Responses to Statement 1, which deals with ‘worship as an essential aspect of my spiritual growth’, indicate that 12.5% of the respondents partially agreed, while 87% fully agreed. The respondents agreed that worship is formative and should be regarded as essential. In terms of Statement 2, the majority (83.4%) of the respondents agreed that ‘I need other people to grow in my faith life’, 4.2% fully disagreed and 8.3% opted for the neutral option. The results for Statement 3, ‘others are vital for spiritual growth’ reveal that 12.5% of the respondents ‘do not know’ or are ‘neutral’. Regarding Statement 4, namely that ‘differences in liturgical practices, culture and language make it difficult to understand that ecumenical unity, despite differences, is vital’, 16.7% of the participants expressed partial disagreement; 33.3% partially agreed and 25% completely agreed. Moreover, 58.3% agreed that ‘liturgical practices are challenging regarding ecumenism’. Only 12.5% of the respondents indicated that they were neutral. While most respondents agreed that worship is formative, liturgical differences challenge an outlook on ecumenism.
  • Section 2: Memories of participants in the liturgy of ecumenism In section 2, participants were asked to respond to Statement 1: ‘My memories of relations with different denominations (groups) within the Reformed family in South Africa are positive’. The results show that 37.5% of the respondents fully agreed, 33.3% partially agreed, 16.7% remained neutral and 8.3% somewhat disagreed. Furthermore, 70.8% of respondents displayed a positive attitude towards other denominations. The 16.7% component of respondents with a neutral attitude allows one to reflect on this matter, but within a Likert scale, it is not mandatory to provide reasons for this attitude. There is no explanation offered by the 8.3% of respondents who indicated that they do not have positive attitudes towards other denominations. Despite the response to Statement 1, respondents were more reluctant in Statement 2, dealing with ‘I remember all efforts made by my local congregation to promote ecumenism (church unity) over the years’. Half (50%) of the respondents indicated that they could remember efforts being made by their local congregations to promote ecumenism, while 37.5% partially agreed and 8.3% did not recognise any efforts made. Hence, 45.8% of the respondents are somewhat sure of substantial effort or not sure at all. Statement 3 raised the matter, ‘I am convinced that our local Church should do much more to become involved in friendships with other denominations in our city’. The responses to Statements 1 to 3 highlighted that the theoretical foundation underlying ecumenism is not necessarily the challenge, but, according to reactions to Statement 3, the practical application provides difficulties. Thus results for Statement 3 shows 37.5% completely disagreed; 20.8% partially disagreed; 25% were neutral and only 12.5% indicated that their local congregations should do more to promote ecumenism. Based on the responses in this section, most respondents showed that they are not 100% sure whether their local congregations should do more regarding ecumenism. When one analyses this issue, one can only contemplate what the fundamental reasons are for the operation of an attitude that lacks a coherent outlook on ecumenism.
  • Section 3: Influence of liturgy on enhancing ecumenism In section 3, which is related to liturgy and ecumenism, 70.8% of the respondents have a positive attitude regarding Statement 1, ‘I think liturgy should make its participants more aware of ecumenism’. A further 16.7% of the respondents are neutral, while 8.3% completely disagree. In Statement 2, an attitude of ‘ecumenical relationships are important’ was required. In this regard, 87% of the respondents either fully agreed or partially agreed. Strangely, only 50% of the respondents fully agreed with the statement. If liturgy is central in a faith community’s life, the lack of realisation of ecumenism’s importance is concerning. For Statement 3, ‘It is not my task to become friends with members of other denominations due to differences in interpretations’, 58.3% of the respondents either partially agreed, or fully agreed. Half of the respondents have a positive attitude that they should become friends with people from other denominations: 25% were neutral, while 12.8% felt it was not their responsibility. One cannot help but wonder whether the focus on own interests in a local congregation hinders an individual’s commitment to promoting ecumenism through friendships with people from other denominations.
  • Section 4: Influence of liturgical elements in enhancing ecumenism Section 4 considered ‘the interplay between memory and ecumenism’. For Statement 1, ‘according to my understanding, the liturgical elements of blessing and the confession of faith should emphasise unity between churches’, 50% of the respondents fully agreed; 25% partially agreed; 8.4% disagreed and 12.5% underlined the neutral option. Hence, 45.9% of the respondents participating in the liturgy regularly were unsure whether liturgical enactment and elements in the liturgy should focus more on unity between churches. The responses to Statement 2, ‘my attitude on ecumenical relations should change, but I need motivation’, were interesting. Only 25% of respondents partially agreed; 41.7% indicated a neutral attitude and 29.2% underlined that they either completely or partially agreed with the statement. Therefore, 71% of the respondents have either a neutral attitude or feel strongly about them receiving further motivation to change their attitudes towards ecumenism. It is not sure what the reasons are, but it denotes an attitude of neglect regarding an outlook on ecumenism.
Deductions from the data capturing

The following deductions are now offered:

  • Worship and liturgy offer a powerful opportunity to engage in formative activities regarding ecumenism, and respondents agree with this view.
  • Most respondents acknowledge that they need koinonia and other people for spiritual growth. However, respondents seem reluctant to reach out to others because of different liturgical practices.
  • Only 37.5% of the respondents fully agreed that they have positive memories of other denominations, while 33.3% indicated a mixed attitude on this matter and only partially agreed. Concerningly, 16.7% of respondents were neutral. The responses to people’s memories of relationships with other denominations point towards a constructive approach needed to change people’s attitudes towards ecumenism.
  • Furthermore, 45% of the respondents either partially agree or did not remember any substantial efforts being made by their local congregations to promote ecumenism. If liturgy deals with everyday activities, differences in liturgical practices should be carefully addressed in an ecumenical outlook, and exposure to other practices could be seen as a unique starting point.
  • If only 50% of respondents feel that liturgical elements should enhance the realisation of ecumenism, one cannot deny that the essence of liturgical enactment should be revisited. It is also evident that 71% of the respondents do not need further motivation to promote ecumenism, and only 21% agreed that people need encouragement to become involved in this endeavour.

Systemising perspectives on liturgy’s outlook that exposes attitudes and memories

In this section, the authors expound on three important aspects:

  • Delve into the interplay between liturgy and theology, focusing on the notion of life.
  • Provide interdisciplinary perspectives from the viewpoint of social psychology, exploring the rectangular interplay between liturgy, ecumenism and the functioning of attitudes and memory.
  • Present normative perspectives from 1 Corinthians 14.
Systemising perspectives from an ecclesiastical viewpoint on lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi and lex convivendi

Kater (2020:117) stresses an even more nuanced way to interpret the Latin words in the above heading, emphasising that theology and liturgy function in a dialectical interplay or a two-way relationship (cf. Wainwright 1982:94–108). He further makes an interesting comment regarding the interplay between lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi and lex convivendi, (how we pray remains intrinsically connected to how we confess and live, as well as a community). The author’s argument, as mentioned above, accentuates the intimate interplay between dogma, doxa, theology and liturgy. Hence, both theology and liturgy are mutually formative. The [lex orandi] prayer enables participants in the liturgy to understand their beliefs. Prayer and liturgy will always blossom in knowledge about God, therefore the dialogical character of liturgy offers wonderful opportunities to engage in this dynamic.21 Cilliers (2009:513) not only interprets Wainwright’s words but also expands upon this notion by suggesting that theology without worship is akin to scaffolding surrounding nothing, and worship without theology is like a building without a foundation. The authors mentioned above are concerned that theology and liturgy could become alienated. If this alienation is allowed, even creeds could become hardened and lifeless (De Waal 1982:121). The previous section discussed the interconnectivity between faith communities’ rich theological traditions [lex credendi] and liturgy. Therefore, Stott (2007:53) argues the importance of churches in understanding their theology. If churches fail, they could fall into the trap of not grasping their identity or calling. When participants in the liturgy come together in worship to remember poignant aspects, they confess their faith by employing a creed, prayer, hymns or prayers.22

Hence, confession of faith within the liturgy is closely connected to the idea of a corporate act of praise given to God based on what the faith community has learned from the gospel (Fennel 1999:25). This opportunity to confess provides a space in which the faith community could say back to God and participants in the liturgy what they have learned from the gospel and especially about their memories of God Himself. The element of the confession of faith based on the Creed23 offers a poignant opportunity for praise and renewal of humble commitment to the cognisance of who God is, what He does and what He calls forth in people’s lives to be realised. It furthermore provides the opportunity of fostering the vivid remembrance of the unity and ecumenicity of the church (Fennel 1999:26). Liturgical enactment in worship is a prominent mode of transition of the uniqueness of the faith tradition to daily life. If the embodiment of the tradition and the voice of confessions stand central, surely the epitome of ecumenism should also emerge (Daiber 1992:17–19). It means that the presence of ecumenism should become a living reality because this is part and parcel of what a faith community is confessing. If the previous arguments are true, discernment about the communal liturgical heritage, the Catholica, should also be ideal to pursue (Moltmann 1977:342; Wolterstorff 1992:277).

Systemising perspectives from the viewpoint of social psychology on liturgy, ecumenism, the functioning of attitudes and memory

The previous section highlighted the potential danger of people being divided by theological differences or the pitfall of prioritising individual interests. Metz (2007:90) has warned against a dangerous memory of the salvific event in Christ. This deals with the reality described by Denis (2015:7) that when people remember, they select, omit and sometimes invent aspects of past experiences according to what they need and believe in the present moment. When people remember, that is always shaped by what they have heard, seen and read (Todorov 2001:13). Denis (2015:7–9) makes a valuable remark in warning against two dangers that could emerge when it comes to memory. The first aspect deals with the desire to take control of the past and erase all of it. The second, more subtle danger, occurs when people sacralise the events of the past that align with their search for identity while disregarding or suppressing the memories that do not correspond with their view of history.

Thus far, the rectangular functioning of liturgy, ecumenism, attitudes and memory have emerged during this research. Noble (2010:11) embroiders on the complexity of the interplay between liturgy, culture (tradition), attitudes and memories. We should start and acknowledge the complexity of the functioning of attitudes and define them as structures stored in people’s memories (Fiske 2004:216). It becomes even more complex to realise that the cognitive component or beliefs could differ, leading to variable responses from people.24 Prejudices or biases are harmful because people have negative feelings towards people of other denominations. We cannot ignore that prejudices are sometimes deeply embedded in people’s memories (Berg & Theron 2006:174; Bohner 2001:22; Chryssochoou 2004:32; Schneider 2004:40).

As a starting point, it could be stated that although memory cannot be separated from an attitude culture, memories are simultaneously not fully within the culture (Crano & Prislin 2006:350). One could say that memory is established in the proximity of a culture and related attitudes and that it is also passed on through generations within a culture (Noble 2010:12). This is exactly why Crano and Prislin (2006:352) underline that people are more certain of attitudes that they have repeatedly expressed in their conversations, as the repeated expression makes it easier to recall these attitudes from memory. The danger of what is called attitude certainty, in which people believe their attitude is correct, is indeed harmful. The more intense the attitude of certainty becomes, the more resistant they will become when persuasive messages about ecumenical relations are communicated (Petrocelli, Tormala & Rucker 2007:42).25

Morrill (2020:47) and Atkins (2004:13) enable us to understand the importance of remembering and draw a more concrete picture of remembrance as a purposeful event of editing memories. They are adamant that remembrance is how people remember, put things back in their original place or create a living reality based on memories. Hervieu-Léger (2000:4) underlines the importance of (ecumenical) religion, suggesting that it should be seen as a chain of memory or, put differently, as a collective memory. Within this framework, the continuity between past and present emerges.26

To remember, you need other people. In ecumenical relations, this aspect should not be neglected. No one’s memory of the past provides the most accurate version of what happened. Therefore, Ricoeur’s (2004:131) observation is valuable in denoting that collective memory shared between denominations becomes dynamic when close relations between people matter and are cultivated.27 Ricoeur (2004:131) continues by saying that close relationships within ecumenical ties operate with a deeper-lying attitude of regarding other denominations as privileged others. In intimate relations, people tend to approve of what one affirms. Even when they disapprove of one’s actions, they never disapprove of one’s existence (cf. Tracy 1981:234).

Systemising perspectives on 1 Corinthians 14:20–25
Background and misunderstanding of pneumatology in Corinth

Paul learns through a report and letter that divisions among Corinthian members are evident over the self-identified allegiances with certain leaders (Oropeza 2017:9). The church has fallen into arguing, forming cliques within the functioning of the larger congregation, over a combination of issues that even included the varied social status of its members.28 Certain gifts were championed over others, and certain persons displaying those gifts were preferred over others (Garland 2003:13). In the congregation of Corinth, negative attitudes and memories of the past played an important role. How the Apostle Paul addressed those issues in 1 Corinthians 14 (especially vv. 20–25) may shed some light on how to expose negative attitudes and bad memories and offer building blocks in enhancing the realisation of the oikumene.

Paul and the problem-laden praxis of the congregation of the Corinthians

Paul faced a complex and deeply troubled congregation that had disrupted the behaviour of nearly unimaginable proportions manifesting within it. Apparently, at the root of all these concerns was the desire of certain Corinthian Christians to establish their spiritual position. Attitudes and memories played an important role. According to Oropeza (2017:176), Paul elaborated on spiritual gifts, highlighting their importance for the solidarity of members (1 Cor 12) and emphasising their inherent worthlessness without love (1 Cor 13). Now, he proceeds to address their ability to build up members when they assemble.

The carnal Corinthians were more interested in the mysterious than the edifying, and their concern was for the excitement and self-gratification of speaking mysteries in the spirit. Garland (2003:13) underlines that the prominence of the references to the Spirit in this letter suggests that the Corinthians misinterpreted their experience of the Spirit in some way, ‘They may have understood the Spirit to be the inrush of heavenly power into their lives that granted them a new status.’ Garland (2003:14) further accentuates the concern that they became puffed up and arrogant and fancied themselves as spiritual, mature and wise – attitudes that played a negative role. Garland (2003:14) continues that Paul seeks to thwart personal rivalries and squash elitist splinter groups to build a harmonious community, enhancing the realisation of the oikumene.29

Speaking in the gathering of the congregation

According to Oropeza (2017:181), verses 20–25 represent Paul’s conclusive argument to persuade the Corinthians to emphasise prophecy instead of tongues in public worship. He asserts that Paul presented the rationale for their desire for prophecy over tongues, bolstering it with Scripture and two scenarios related to assembling. One scenario portrays a hypothetical situation in which uninterpreted tongues are disadvantageous, while the other illustrates an ideal situation in which prophecy is advantageous. In Paul’s argument, love plays an important role. De Klerk (1987:69) shows that love is the vantage point through which the participant in the congregation’s gathering will always ask: how may my contribution affect the other congregants? Lanier (1991:265) stresses that no gifts, abilities or talents individuals may possess are valuable unless driven by the spirit of unconditional love. Paul calls the Corinthians away from childishness – perhaps a fascination with things that dazzle – to maturity (Soards 1999:292).30 He asserts that failure to recognise that speaking in tongues in public worship without interpretation does not benefit the congregation is a sign of immature thinking.31

In a beautiful parallelism, Paul describes the outcome of speaking in tongues and of prophesying in the gathering of the congregation (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1: Parallelism.

We agree with Garland (2003:645) that the implication is that the Corinthians’ preference for tongues, at the expense of other gifts that use the mind, will result in their church degenerating into an unthinking, incoherent cult that is more interested in entertainment than education. MacArthur (1983:384) aptly argued that an unbeliever who observes such a service thinking would likely perceive it as just another wild and meaningless ritual, resembling those practised in pagan contexts. Outsiders will not be impressed by this spiritual outburst but will conclude that these Christians are starkly mad. Garland (2003:652) denotes that ‘mad’ frequently combines insanity or the mind with raving or wild speech. Uncontrolled ranting was part of some mystery rites. Oropeza (2017:183) suggests that upon hearing the cacophony, unbelievers would remain in their unbelief. They would perceive this as just another pagan cult meeting where everyone is overwhelmed by ecstatic and frenzied experiences, appearing out of their mind.32

De Klerk (1987:73) underlines that, in contrast to the reaction of an outsider hearing strange languages in the gathering of the congregation, Paul shows in an increasing line the elaboration of the prophetic speech of the congregation on the outsider: ‘he will be convinced that he is a sinner, the secrets of his heart will be laid bare, he will fall down and worship: “God is really among you!”’ In that way, the Spirit uses believers in the gathering as instruments to create new life in lifeless hearts. In 1 Corinthians 14:23–25, according to Nagel (2013:46), Paul explains the impact of prophecy, understood as linguistic sound, well-structured and familiar to both believer and unbeliever. Prophecy delivers the greatest good for unbelievers and Christians as it communicates, enlightens and convicts. Taylor (2014:336) adds that the presence of unbelievers in the gathered assembly of believers provides one more reason why prophecy is preferable to uninterpreted tongues. Only prophecy can bring about conviction and conversion, resulting in worshipping the one true God.

Prophecy has the potential to penetrate the innermost sanctum of an unbeliever’s soul with the laser of divine judgement, according to Garland (2003:653). He continues that it presents evidence that causes the individual to be scrutinised, exposed and convicted of sin or the truth. It calls the individual to account. In this case, prophecy must be gospel proclamation. MacArthur (1983:384) states that the convicted person comes to see themselves as they are because the secrets of their heart are disclosed. Their sinful intentions and acts are revealed to them.33 What is exposed are the secrets buried in the hidden recesses of the heart that one hopes no one else will discover. Garland (2003:653) convincingly indicates that prophecy opens and heals these secrets, though it might be painful. It unmasks secrets and reveals the one who loves and accepts them even when fully exposed. They will fall down on their faces as an attitude of worship (Gn 17:3; Rv 7:11) and as an acknowledgement of unworthiness. Garland (2003:651) further maintains that for Christians, converting unbelievers through their prophecy is another sign of God’s presence among them. Prophecy thereby becomes a means of grace. Taylor (2014:246) emphasises that Paul is not saying that the one prophesying knows the secrets of the unbeliever but rather that the unbeliever becomes keenly aware of his alienation from God. Taylor continues that prophecy not only leads to conviction and discernment of matters concerning the heart but also has the potential to transform one’s perspective completely. Instead of proclaiming, ‘You are out of your mind!’ the visitor declares, ‘God is among you!’ – an echo of Isaiah 45.34

According to Taylor (2014:242), prophetic speech characterises the believing church at worship; uninterpreted tongues constitute negative signs generating inappropriate alienation for believers. Garland (2003:654) concludes that prophecy is superior to tongues because it bears fruit in producing illumination, conviction, confession and worship.35 Prophecy as persuasive communication could be seen as an effective way of changing one’s attitudes, inevitably leading to someone falling down in worship. The Corinthians are reminded that everything they do in liturgical enactment should be functional to a deeper-lying attitude of οἰκοδωμεν [upbuilding]. The attitude of realising the importance of oikos and upbuilding through the liturgy is decisive when it comes to ecumenism.36

Strategising perspectives on liturgy’s outlook on the oikumene that exposes attitudes and memories

In this section, the authors intend to provide perspectives emanating from a hermeneutical interaction between sections 2 and 3:

  • Section 2.1 (pp. 7–9) mentioned the interplay between denominationalism and ecumenism. In section 2.4, which dealt with empirical perspectives, the respondents indicated that they need koinonia and other people for spiritual growth. However, the respondents seem reluctant to reach out to others because of different liturgical practices. In section 3.3 (pp. 18–21), which dealt with perspectives from 1 Corinthians 14, it became abundantly clear that people’s attitudes in liturgical enactment matter and participation in the liturgy should have an outlook on ecumenism. The participants’ attitude in the liturgy should be one of upbuilding within the oikos. No faith community should be different from what they do in their liturgy. The various dynamic movements in liturgical elements like confessing, singing and receiving God’s blessing should point towards ecumenical engagement.
  • The idea of painful memories was mentioned. In section 2.4 (pp. 21–23), it became apparent that the responses provided a testament to the fact that people’s memories of their relationships with other denominations highlight the necessity for a transformative and constructive approach to shift people’s attitudes towards ecumenism. Only 45% of the respondents could recall any significant attempts – either partially or not– made by their local congregations to promote ecumenism. Section 3, which focused on the systemising perspective, emphasised that faith communities are involved in a long tradition of religious memory. The functioning of one’s attitudes cannot be separated from their memory. Within a South African society and based on empirical work, a liturgical praxeology could contribute significantly towards a bigger awareness of attitudes that should change to embrace ecumenism. Participation in all elements of the liturgy should enable the listeners to understand their reasonability to revisit their memories and, based on the remembrance of God’s involvement in their lives, edit their memories, but this time, with the liturgy’s poignant message.
  • In section 2.3 (p. 9), the notion of unity in truth was denoted. The feedback from the respondents underlined that differences in liturgical practices should be carefully addressed in an ecumenical outlook, and exposure to other practices could be seen as a unique starting point. The idea of unity in truth and greater exposure to other practices seems vital to promote ecumenism. Section 3.2 (p. 16) revealed that within intimate relations, individuals tend to approve of what one affirms, and even when they disapprove of one’s actions, they never dislike one’s existence. Local congregations must actively seek opportunities to embrace friendships with other denominations and visit them without ignoring what is important to them.


At the beginning of this article, the authors raised the question: How can an elucidation of ecumenical liturgy serve as a means to uncover negative attitudes and bad memories while simultaneously providing building blocks for fostering the realisation of the oikumene? According to descriptive, empirical and systemising perspectives, we have ascertained that negative attitudes and bad memories are not conducive to an ecumenical outlook. The empirical section of this article emphasised the need for motivation for an ecumenical outlook via liturgical enactment. Within a liturgical praxeology dealing with remembrances of the salvific event, participants in the liturgy should be enabled to change their attitudes regarding ecumenicity. Elements in the liturgy, like singing, confessing and receiving God’s blessing, should highlight the importance of liturgy, which should be concretised in everyday life. It plays a significant role in fostering friendships and exposing one to other practices while retaining the value of one’s own interests.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship(s) that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

The authors, F.P.K. and B.J.D-K., contributed equally to this work.

Ethical considerations

An application for full ethical approval was made to the ethics committee of the North-West University and ethics consent was received on 28 February 2023. The ethics approval number is NWU-01101-23-A7.

Funding information

The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the authors’ research funds at the NWU.

Data availability

Derived data supporting the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, F.P.K., on request.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and the product of professional research. It does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated institution, funder, agency, or that of the publisher. The authors are responsible for this article’s results, findings, and content.


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1. However, at the centre of engaging in an attitude of openness lies memories surrounded by different understandings of theology and liturgical practices (Duncan & Egan 2019:1–2; Engelhardt 2007:40; Ratzinger 2006:11).

2. Following this idea, Lathrop’s (2013:50) plea for a liturgical rejoinder could only make sense if one deals with the departing point of unity and the interests of the Kingdom rather than self-preservation.

3. In addition to this idea, Chauvet (1989:14) describes memory as a hermeneutic re-reading of a faith community’s history where tradition and meaning in the present are coming into play. Therefore, according to Alberini (2010:3), people tend to remember facts that hold significance in their lives and the tasks they frequently engage in.

4. A qualitative systematic review brings together research on a topic, in this instance about people’s memories and attitudes on ecumenism. The authors are interested in gathering information about ecumenism. Therefore, the empirical work will employ a qualitative approach, utilising a Likert scale to collect the data. The latter is used to find meanings, opinions or the underlying reasons from its subjects.

5. Some aspects, among others, are biomedical issues, sexuality and the much-debated matter of the ordination of women.

6. Olivier (2011:78) elucidates that memories of the past have cultivated deep-rooted attitudes regarding ecumenism. Vernacular expressions for the various denominations like Gatjieponder, Dopper and Stoepsitter to distinguish between various denominations were often used with a less favourable meaning to it.

7. Tolmay (2014:2) refers to the struggle of mainstream Afrikaans-speaking churches. He discusses the functioning of the Interdenominational Church Council (TKR) and the Conventus of Reformed Churches, in which ecumenical relations are debated. All expectations are that the three denominations will decrease in size as relevant statistical data show that the three are all losing members.

8. Olivier’s (2011:75) words that history can keep people’s ankles in chains, despite their aspirations to run, comes to mind.

9. Van Genderen and Velema (1992:632) accentuate that Christians in South Africa do not often witness unity but most of them paradoxically spoken believe in unity. The unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam of the Nicaean Creed is one of the founding statements for faith communities.

10. Recently, the suspicion that white churches once utilised their place in society and their decisions to serve a political agenda remains a painful memory, not to mention accompanying attitudes (Du Plooy 2005:18–20; Evans 2003:9; Pillay 2018:237).

11. Hendriks’ (2001:37) interpretation of koinonia clarifies that sharing has a widening spiral effect starting with an encounter with God, especially in the liturgy, that necessitates community between people that flows to service (diakonia) in the oikumene. Exposure to friendship with others enhances the idea of persuasive communication.

12. Brueggemann (1988:30) and Thiselton (1992:318), mentioning Ricoeur’s views, concur that liturgy has a creative effect that can contribute to forming a viable lifeworld.

13. The burning question within the current research deals with the true difficulty of an ecumenical liturgy often exposed when faith communities reflect on speaking the truth in love. Uniformity in convictions and liturgical practices seems impossible.

14. The danger of mud-trampling when interpretations of truth are misused to demean other denominations boils down to using truth as a sharp knife; therefore, love should always be the prevailing environment. On the other hand, if working with only love, without applying the truth, all ecumenical attempts will become sponges and ignore the reach of doxological unity-in-truth.

15. Therefore, the empirical research needs to focus on how people think and feel when ecumenical discussions between leaders of denominations are realised but are seemingly irrelevant to them daily.

16. A Likert scale consisting of a list of aspects (ideally 10–20 statements) is selected to measure favourable and unfavourable attitudes. Fiske (2004:218) underlines that the Likert scale is probably the simplest way to determine whether people agree or disagree with statements being made. Even though Likert scales are generally used for quantitative research, they can also be used for qualitative purposes. However, when measuring the outcomes of qualitative research, you cannot use numbers as you can in quantitative research. A Likert scale is a scale from which respondents pick the best option representing their views on a topic. Generally, researchers use this survey scale to gauge people’s attitudes (Batterton & Hale 2017).

17. When employing Likert-type scales, it is essential for researchers to calculate and report the Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for assessing internal consistency reliability (Croasmun & Ostrom 2011:22). This reliability measurement is crucial in determining the extent to which the statements in the Likert scale are internally consistent. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for this study is 0.176, indicating a relatively satisfactory level of response alignment with the questions posed.

18. It is interesting that respondents between 48–80 years agree about the importance of liturgy and worship’s formative functioning. The stronger respondents’ attitudes are on liturgy’s role in ecumenism, the stronger are their attitudes that liturgical elements should cultivate an ecumenical outlook. Furthermore, the data capturing indicates that the more respondents feel that liturgical differences are problematic in engaging with ecumenism, the stronger they feel that they need further motivation. Moreover, it is interesting that the stronger respondents’ attitudes are on the problematic essence of liturgical differences, the less they agree that worship and liturgy enable them to remember about concrete efforts being made by their local congregations to promote ecumenism.

19. Furthermore, 12.5% of the respondents identified themselves as Afrikaners, 20.8% described themselves as South Africans, 4.0% described themselves as Christians and 54.0% described themselves as white Afrikaners. It seems that an attitude dimension in terms of ethnicity could be identified.

20. Ethics clearance was obtained after providing the minimal Sacrosanctum Concilium SC [Constitution on the sacred liturgy] risk level, informed consent letters, permission letters of Church Councils and the Likert scale.

21. One could also say that the above-mentioned interplay concerns the interdependence between theologia and theolatreia (cf. Müller 2006:601).

22. Foucault (1990:11), reflecting on the significance of this acknowledgement, feels obliged to make an interesting comment in describing humans as confessional animals.

23. Theology, liturgy and confession are intertwined. This idea requires a different look at the content of what is being confessed when participants in the liturgy are committing themselves to God while confessing their faith. The mentioned ideas related to the confession of faith recall the interplay between a faith tradition (including Confessions), liturgy and ecumenism.

24. To make it concrete, if the emotional dimension of an attitude’s functioning is considered, the danger of the manifestation of prejudices could emerge in which a group or denomination is disadvantaged without tangible support for the feeling being experienced (Fiske 2004:399). It could also be motivated by referring to memories of the past.

25. Therefore, Prislin and Crano (2008:44) assert that if an attitude deals with an evaluative belief, it has to be the result of previous thoughts and feelings people have about this matter.

26. The tradition of a faith community provides continuity between the past and present (Hervieu-Léger 2000:87). Bergh and Theron (2006:128) take the argument even further and point out that people organise their memories into schemes that provide a coherent image of interaction with people (cf. Eysenck & Keane 2010:401).

27. Pakpahan (2012:16) establishes a connection between recollections, memory and the functioning of attitudes, emphasising the crucial element of acknowledging that for Christianity to remain a vibrant and living reality, it is imperative to recognise that Christians are deeply united not by mere concepts, but by the event and living memory of the Christ event, which revolves around a Person.

28. The desire of certain Christians to establish their spiritual status was seemingly the underlying concern (Soards 1999:6). The prominence of claims to the work of the Spirit suggests that the Corinthians have misinterpreted their experience of the Spirit.

29. According to Soards (1999:285), Paul redirects the energies of the Corinthians. He calls for them to excel in edification – gifts that build up the church – as the genuine manifestation of the Spirit alive and at work among them.

30. Johnson (2004:263) astutely highlights the significance by saying that the child image in 14:20 evokes the natural tendency of children to be self-centred, vain and attention seeking, as well as captivated by outward displays of grandeur.

31. Lanier (1991:265) believes that the Corinthians seem to have been exalting tongues as the sign for believers, a supreme gift around which to rally the true body of Christ.

32. According to Billings (2016:285), the possibility that those present come to a saving faith in and through the church’s liturgy is greatly diminished if the same persons are disempowered. It is enfranchised by an inability to understand and, so, to participate meaningfully in what is taking place, and all but non-existent if the service is conducted unintelligibly. They will leave without hearing the message of God’s redemptive love in Christ (cf. Johnson 2004:263).

33. Soards (1999:294) argues that Paul elaborates the result of this hypothetical turn of events in dramatic, energetic, descriptive phrases and that the unbeliever who is moved by the practice of prophecy among the believers will, firstly, be stripped of all pretence and shame (the secrets of the heart will be laid bare).

34. Garland (2003:653) further explains that Paul proclaims that Christian prophecy causes unbelievers to experience an overwhelming sense that they are in the presence of God. This happens through the instrument of simple people articulating God’s power and love in simple language without pomp and circumstance or spiritual fireworks.

35. Louw and Nida (1993:289–292) denote that the word (ζηλοῡτε - eagerly desire) could be placed underneath the subdomain of attitudes. This concept is utilised to describe one’s attitude when it comes to prophecy: strengthening (οἰκοδωμεν), encouragement (παρακαλἐσιν) and comfort (παραμυθἰαν).

36. The Holy Spirit uses the prophetic testimony of believers to create a new life in dead hearts (De Klerk 1987:73). In elucidating prophecy as one of the most important aspects of ecumenical liturgy, Paul exposed the bad memories of the Corinthians from their pagan background. He showed them their negative attitudes of becoming puffed up and arrogant.

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