Does What We Sing Matter to the Faith of the Church?

Since the 1970s we have had a raging debate about singing and music in the church. This debate has often come down to “traditional” music, or (old) hymns, versus “modern,” or popular music. The real truth is that the great influence on church music has been a combination of the charismatic influence, much of which is good in directing our hearts to God in personal praise, and the popular songs of television and pop-culture. This “performance” music is not good, at least in my view. Why?

People do not participate in “praying twice” (St. Augustine) as much as they watch and observe and see a professional production of varying quality. On contrast, pietism went right to the heart of people when they sang their faith. What happens if we cease to express our communion in the common faith in deep and thoughtful ways?

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Liturgy, Music, Personal, Prayer, Protestantism, Renewal, Spirituality | 16 Comments/Likes

Martin Marty on the Roots of Pietism

The famous church historian Martin Marty is part of a new series on pietism. This short clip is well worth watching. Marty “nails it” when it comes to what was lacking in the early Lutheran Reformation and the doctrinal emphasis that followed.

 

Posted in ACT 3, Church History, Protestantism, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 7 Comments/Likes

Are You Ready to Become an Empowered Missional-Ecumenist?

Since 2013, I have trained almost fifty people in how to become bold risk-takers for unity in Christ’s mission. In addition, I have taught about 10-15 graduate students. The number is not large but the impact can be immense if the Holy Spirit uses this experience to ignite a fire in his people. I am persuaded that great things do not generally come in huge events but in small groups.

I hope many who watch this video will consider becoming such a risk-taker for unity. The need is obvious and the time is now.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Theology, Unity of the Church | 13 Comments/Likes

A Week of Major Surprises and a Profound Challenge

Last week became the kind of week that we all think about if, sometimes for only a fleeting moment, if we are honest. Yet we all hope that we will never face a big medical challenge. But one way or the other, unless we die a sudden death, we will all face major medical issues that will challenge us to the core of our being. I faced my first such crisis at age six. I spent two weeks away from home at the Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital. It seems like a blur sixty years later. It was during this time that the presence of God became so real in my life that I shall never forget it after six decades. Now I face a new challenge.

Hospital-Central-DuPage-HospitalThis Thursday, February 11, I will undergo open heart surgery at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield (IL). (CDH is a Northwestern University Hospital.) This news came as a complete surprise to me last Monday, February 1. Once again I am praying that God meets me in a new and deeply personal way. I will prepare for this surgery by beginning Lent on Wednesday, February 10. Then I will undergo the repair of all five heart arteries the next day.

Only one week earlier (January 25) I saw my personal physician for my annual physical. My blood tests and all vital signs were so good that it was a real joy to peacefully drive home that evening. I wrote a Facebook post about how encouraged I was. I also reminded myself in that same post that this could change in a moment, a flash. The same morning that I saw my doctor (January 25) I had my first angina pain. I told my him about this anomaly but my tests all suggested that my heart was fine. We thought I could be dealing with pneumonia again, a trial I have endured three or four times.

In September 2010 I had a nuclear stress test, a procedure lasting about 2 1/2 hours. The results were that I had some minor calcification in one artery but it was considered normal for my age. About two years later I dieted, losing nearly fifty pounds. I radically changed what I ate and paid closer attention to my personal health, believing that God wanted me to do this work for his kingdom. For three years I have averaged between three and four miles of active walking at least six days a week. But it was walking in a nearby mall last week where I first experienced my angina pain. I sat and rested, walked again and then the pain started all over. After three days of trying to walk pain free I quit and told my doctor and my brother Tom, who is also a physician. On Friday I brought the garbage cans up the driveway from the curb and the pain started again. I felt weak, light headed and had some pressure in my upper chest. My brother said, “Go to the ER right now and get checked out.” So on Friday (January 29) I went to the Central DuPage Hospital ER for testing. I was admitted when the enzyme evidence came back along with the EKG. I learned that I had not had a heart attack but I was at risk of one. They admitted me, to my surprise. Further tests followed.

After a long (quite slow) weekend my cardiologist came by for your first visit and we agreed to do an angiogram on Monday (February 1). This test was really painless to be truthful. Going into the test the best guess was that I would need a stent or two in one or two arteries. When they took me back to my room after only thirty-five minutes I knew the worst news was about to come. The doctor came to my room to tell Anita and me that I had all five arteries to my heart blocked from 80-90%. We were utterly stunned, being emotionally and mentally unprepared. How could you be otherwise with my medical history? There is one wildcard, however. Both my mother and father had heart disease and my late mom had open heart surgery for arterial damage at age 86. She died just short of 93. My dad did not die from his heart disease but rather from contracting Hepatitis B while working as a volunteer dentist in a federal prison in Memphis. So when my family medical story is put together I can see that I was genetically at risk. Obviously, I did not think about all this last week so I was shocked.

The severe mercy in all this is that God spared me from a major heart attack. My heart is healthy and my physical condition is very good. My sitting pulse and blood pressure are both great. But the arterial blockage must be opened and the stents cannot do it. This is why on Thursday, February 11, at 8:30 a.m. (CST), I will be under anesthesia for about five hours. Following this I will be in the ICU for three days and then, if I am able, I will go into the excellent cardio section of the hospital for four more days. Finally, if I am well enough, I will come home sometime around Thursday, February 18. Then I will need three to four weeks to rest and recover at home. I can then slowly return to my work and life but the residual pain from opening up my chest will present discomfort for some time. (Thanks to all of you who knew this news already who have some shared great stories of healing and new energy for life post-op.)

I face this trial with profound peace. I am ready to depart but I do not want to leave my family. I also believe I have a God-called ministry that has more open doors than I’ve ever known. I believe that I have been given a gift of overall health to press on in my work for unity. But God is in control. I am in his hands. Have I felt darkness in this ordeal? No, not even once. But I have had a few good cries. I cried not because I asked, “Why me?” I’ve never asked this question, not even once. But rather, I have been overwhelmed by this all coming so quickly and without any warning. I am a weak, mortal and emotional human being, not a Stoic. The thunder of this in my (emotional) heart has awakened me to God and myself in a whole new way. I see this creating great good in my body and soul in the days ahead.

Over the next few weeks I will not be writing articles or blogs. I will only read my correspondence when I am able. (I will not be able to respond to calls and/or texts for more than a month.) For the most part my wonderful son will respond to correspondence for me and write updates. My daughter will help Anita with some daily needs. Anita also has a loving family around us besides our children and grandchildren. For this reason I ask only for your prayers during these coming weeks. We do not need other physical or emotional help right now. ACT3 Network still needs your financial gifts. I cannot do anything about our financial needs for the next two months. Your investments right now will help us continue with the mission and not see it sidetracked while I am resting.

As I mentioned above, future posts about my medical situation will be written by my son until I am able to be back to work. I thank God for everyone who loves me and prays for me. I am especially grateful to our donors. We need you more than ever. ACT3 will still have a wonderful future if God is pleased to provide and bless us.

Posted in ACT 3, Personal | 13 Comments/Likes

The 110th Birthday of One of the Greatest Christians of the Last Century

bdb188d9-723d-438b-99f1-cc9e9d6f603eToday, February 4, is the 110th birthday of the German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I arrived at Wheaton College, as a transfer student in January of 1969, one of the first great joys I experienced was finding the story of Bonhoeffer for the first time. The classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, was my introduction. Later I read his prison papers, a few of his works on ethics and a lot of biography. I did not understand this theology then, and still do not fully understand it now, but I knew greatness and humility when I saw it. Bonhoeffer was truly a great Christian! But here is the point often missed – he was not a “safe” Christian. Anyone who reads him soon realizes that Bonhoeffer was not a typical pastor.

Too few of us have read Bonhoeffer and fewer still have grasped his importance, especially to the modern West. (The popular biography of him a few years ago was helpful in some respects but it also gave some distorted images and caused many to see Bonhoeffer in a politically conservative light, something which is not relevant to his real story.) For starters, Bonhoeffer saw the intensifying persecution of the Jews under the Nazi regime as a deliberate attack on Christ himself. I wonder if we would feel the same way in 2016. Substitute immigrants from the Middle East and ask the question that way. Or ask if we would stand up for Muslims in our present context?

cover225x225Dietrich Bonhoeffer died a martyr because he conspired with a group of Christians to kill Hitler. His co-conspirators were mostly Catholics. The German Lutherans tended to capitulate to Luther’s two kingdom idea and (many) passively accepted Hitler. The Catholics followed Thomas Aquinas and felt that a despot should be removed. Bonhoeffer came to believe a sick man was in charge of a sick nation in a sick world. He felt he had no right to appeal for the renewal of Christian life in Germany if he did not share in the trials of the time with God’s people, both Christians and Jews.

Bonhoeffer was executed only one day before the prison in which he had been kept was liberated by the allies. Only one day. Twenty-four hours was the difference between martyrdom and liberation. But then his martyrdom was his liberation and now from heaven he speaks more powerfully to us at age 100 than he did in his late thirties in 1944.

May we learn to live the costly discipleship of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. May we learn to live well in a dangerous time when our nation is sick and politics offers us no viable answers. Living as exiles is the place to begin. Bonhoeffer understood this and can help us find our way in a dark time.

 

Posted in America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Church Tradition, Current Affairs, Israel, Lordship of Christ, The Church, The Future | 29 Comments/Likes

National Workshop on Christian Unity

The registration for the National Workshop on Christian Unity is now open. The meeting is in Louisville, April 18-21. I hope many friends will join us for this year’s event. Here is the link to register: National Workshop/Network Registration is now OPEN

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

Ecumenism and Interfaith Harmony: What’s the Difference?

31WUBwzsmdL._UX250_We have just come out of the January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and are heading into the February 1-7 Interfaith Harmony Week put in the calendar for annual observance in 2010 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. How are the two different?

The question is real in the minds of many. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I led a five-day retreat at the Providence Spirituality Centre in Kingston, Ontario on the theme of “Together in Christ.” Although the primary focus was on the importance of an increasingly more visible unity among us as Christians, given the tensions in the world today between people of different religions, towards the end I devoted a few of our conference sessions to interreligious relations as well.

In doing so, the questions from participants indicated a fogginess concerning the difference between the goals of work for Christian unity and the goals of interreligious dialogue. Some referred to other denominations of Christian faith as “other religions”.

But Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Evangelicals are not “other religions.” They are simply traditions of faith in the religion called Christianity. Denominational names like Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Pentecostal are all adjectives. The noun is “Christian,” and grammatically the noun is called the substantive in the sentence because that’s where the most substance is. It’s not in the adjective or qualifier.

The substance of our Christian faith is expressed in the Nicene creed and that substance is embraced by every denomination of Christian faith. These different denominations represent the variety of traditions in that one faith, so it is not appropriate to think of them or refer to them as “other religions”. We are all members of the same world religion called Christianity.

But while our unity with one another through our common baptism into the one body of Christ is real, it is also incomplete. In 1991, the Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra, Australia, described the marks of what it called “full communion.”

“The common confession of the apostolic faith; a common sacramental life entered by the one baptism and celebrated together in one eucharistic fellowship; a common life in which members and ministries are mutually recognized; and a common mission witnessing to the gospel of God’s grace to all people and serving the whole of creation.”

It further specified that full communion would be expressed on the local and universal levels of the church through councils and synods. In other words, we would also make important decisions together. These are the goals of the movement called “ecumenical”. The very word comes from the Greek word “oikumene” referring to the whole faith of the church as opposed to that which is partial.

How is this unity different from what we seek with those who genuinely do belong to other religions—Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists? We do seek unity and solidarity with them, but the bar is raised less high. The goals of interreligious or interfaith relations are mutual understanding and respect, with collaboration in meeting the challenges we commonly face in the society and world in which we live.

Analogically, a way of putting that would be that other Christians are members with us of the one body of Christ by virtue of our common baptism. And members of other religions are brothers and sisters in the human family, but not members of the particular body of which we are a member, the body of Christ.

To be sure, there is a level of intimacy and solidarity with all our brothers and sisters, but the intimacy and solidarity we have with other members of our own body is of a special nature and even deeper.

Think of it in terms of the difference between your relationship with your own arm or leg and your relationship with other members of your family. Both are special, no question, but the level of connection you have with the members of your own body is deeper, more personal and more intimate.

And the body that we are—the body of Christ—has been given a special mission in the midst of the human family: to witness to God’s love for all by responding as Jesus did to their concrete social needs by caring for the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead.

Jesus has opened the gates of heaven to all, even to those who do not know him.  And the Holy Spirit is at work at large in the world to turn hearts to God. Those  who make up the body of Christ are called and sent to share the good news of God’s love for all.  To witness to what God has done for us all. And to share God’s call to us all to live as brothers and sisters, members of God’s one human family.

Ecumenism and interfaith harmony are certainly related, but they are distinctive movements, each with its own goals.

Author: Thomas Ryan, CSP, resides in Washington, D.C. and is a very dear friend of mine. We work together in the Gospel Call, a unique four-day mission with churches to spread the flame of missional-ecumenism. You can check out Gospel Call and prayerfully consider inviting us to serve in your city. He is the author of numerous books. His most recent book, Christian Unity: How You Can Make a Difference (Paulist, 2015) is an absolute must for pastors and leaders who want to work at ecumenism at the grassroots level in their communities.

Posted in ACT 3, Interfaith Relations and Dialogue, Islam, The Church, The Future | 9 Comments/Likes

“Black Lives Matter” – Michelle Higgins @ Urbana 2015

Many evangelical and conservative Christians, especially older white Christians of conservative persuasion, are weary of the popular slogan: “Black Lives Matter.” Some are even angry at the actual movement that is associated with this name and believe it is harmful to our culture. I’ve heard various responses regarding this negative view of the slogan and the movement but the most common is that this is a bogus notion because Christians should say, and believe, that: “All Lives Matter.” The truth is, as often is the case, much deeper and more socially and personally nuanced.

It is true that “All Lives Matter.” From conception to the grave life matters. This is, at least for the broad tradition of Christian faith and practice, the truth. This is why I believe the death penalty needs to be abolished. It has become a “cruel and unusual punishment” in its present form. (This assumes it was right in the past and I even question this conclusion on ethical grounds as I understand the New Testament and the teaching of our Lord.) I also believe environmental concerns must become the concern of the church because life matters, all life. Regardless of your political view about this issue surely we can agree that life in this biosphere is precious and we are to “steward” it with love and care; cf. Genesis 1:26. (“Dominion” in the Hebrew of this text does not mean the right to destroy and dominate or trample down the good of this earth, our home and God’s world!)

But here is the rub. “Black Lives Matter” is not about Black being superior to White or any other race or color. It is about valuing the weakest and poorest in our society. It is about true freedom and opportunity to advance and improve your life and to be (and feel) safe in your car and on the streets of our cities. It is about justice and mercy, at least for Christians. I am grateful that Urbana 2015 included an address by Michelle Higgins on this issue. It was given with great power and clarity.

Posted in ACT 3, America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Civil Rights, Culture, Current Affairs, Ethics, Race and Racism | 7 Comments/Likes

ACT3 Network and Social Media

I work regularly with a leadership consultant who is lending help to me so that ACT3 Network can better use the social media. While I continue to major on face-to-face friendships and growing relationships I believe the social media can both supplement and help such friendships I also believe it can establish the basis for such a friendship. The social media is not an elixir for Christian ministry but it is important.

To the end that we better use this media I offer this update so friends can pray for ACT3 as we try to expand our vision of “empowering leaders and church for unity in Christ’s mission.” Pray that each day I respond in true love to those God brings across my path and pray that every post I write is both thoughtful and focused on this mission statement.

Posted in ACT 3, Social Networking, The Church, The Future | 5 Comments/Likes

National Workshop on Christian Unity

Since 1963 the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) has met in a designated city in the United States. It began when a group of Roman Catholics, in the context of Vatican II, met to equip local leadership for the task of ecumenical ministry. In 1969, they invited leaders of other Christian communions to join, and today the national ecumenical officers of the churches continue their oversight of the workshop, which is planned by national and local committees. There are both denominational and ecumenical sessions during the workshop. The NWCU celebrates the spirit of ecumenism by:

  • providing meeting seminars for all who are concerned with the ministry of Christian unity: laity, clergy, ecumenical officers, theologians, staff of ecumenical organizations;
  • stimulating an exchange of ideas and experiences among people concerned with Christian unity and the bodies they represent;
  • being a resource and balance between national planning and local responsibility, general ecumenical discussions and particular interchurch conversations, and regional leadership efforts and local realities,
  • encouraging denominational networks to develop and serve as a framework within which they can interact;
  • celebrating the unity which already exists among Christians and searching for ways to overcome the divisions that remain.

This year the worship meets in Louisville, Kentucky, April 18-21. I became involved in the workshop in 2013, attending the event in Columbus, Ohio. The following year, in Albuquerque in April of 2014, I was asked to present a plenary address on evangelicals and new ecumenism. As a result I was invited by the leadership team to become a member of the national plan committee for the NWCU. I was also tasked with forming a fifth group inside the workshop that is now called Ancient-Future Faith Evangelical Partners. Last year, in Charlotte, this group came to the NWCU for the first time. There were eleven of us. I think most of the people who came last year will return. We hope for at least twenty this year.

Anyone can attend and those who are deeply interested in serious ecumenical teaching, interaction and fellowship should most definitely attend. You will be able to register online soon but if you are interested in knowing more please contact me directly to get information Join our evangelical partners group if you want to learn and become an involved ecumenical leader. I hope younger leaders, and especially students who are becoming engaged in ecumenism, will attend. Please contact me directly via the ACT3 address and/or website. I will be happy to provide information. You can also “search” for this online. I hope all our friends will pray for this year’s workshop. I will co-lead a session with my partner/friend Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP, on “Ecumenism 101: Best Practices.”

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes