Inherent in the existence of so called orthodox theology is the idea of a true church, the one which adheres to orthodox doctrine. Since salvation is connected with this orthodoxy, this true church becomes the conveyor of righteousness to the world because it alone disseminates the true message which is required to bring about that personal salvation.
Obviously the idea of a true church, one which leads one to salvation, implies that there are untrue or false churches which cannot lead to salvation. This, of course, has been the background to most of the history of the institutional church. Arguments rage throughout Christendom to this very day over what is and is not required to achieve a personal salvation and subsequently maintain that status before God. The growth of ecumenicalism has dampened these debates to some extent in our day, but a great many still see their group as the only “real Christians”.
The position and influence of the institutional church within society has always been grounded in this idea that it and it alone was the conveyor of righteousness because it was the sole purveyor of the knowledge required to achieve this right standing before God. If not for the church and its teaching mandate, men would die without hope. Some within orthodoxy might see a possibility that a man could achieve salvation through personal Bible study, but others would reject that and most would see it as very unlikely.
As implied by the existence of ecumenicalism, many within Christendom see an inherent problem with the idea of one true church and its associated claim to being the only conveyor of righteousness. The resultant disunity dismays and confuses the very people the institutional church is trying to teach. Ironically though, if there is no true church, there is no one true process by which one becomes accepted by God and therefore no need to teach such. By extension if there is not a true church and one right way to achieve salvation then man’s participation in his salvation is logically excluded. Thus the ecumenical movement dissolves the very reason why the church has historically existed, that is to convey righteousness through right knowledge and action.
Of course, if our churches and fellowship groups were not preoccupied with converting others to our brand of Christianity, maybe we could focus on positively influencing our society in ways that the old theology of church conveyed righteousness never could.