A Special Season in the Desert – A Journey into Deeper Ecumenism (4)

Unknown-1While I was composing my first three blogs about my “season” in the desert (Phoenix) I mentioned my encounters with the movements of the Holy Spirit through some of the more miraculous gifting that are rejected by some Protestant conservatives. Ironically I came across this amazing quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas, universally recognized as one of the greatest minds and theologians of the Christian Church. Said Aquinas, in Book 1:

This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness of the signs given in the past; so that it is not necessary that they should be further repeated, since they appear most clearly in their effect. For it would be truly more wonderful than all signs if the world had been led by simple and humble men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions, and to have such high hopes. Yet it is also a fact that, even in our own time, God does not cease to work miracles through His saints for the confirmation of the faith.

It took the Catholic Church a few decades to recognize the charismatic movement officially but the DNA of this acceptance can be seen in a quote like this one from the great doctor of the church. It is really those who reject such gifting and expressions who are hard pressed to deny their active presence in the church, at least in my view.

Peter Poppleton:Joe TosiniOne of the reasons that I went to Phoenix, January 16-20, was to meet my new friend Joseph Tosini (to my right in the photo). Joe was introduced to me by mutual friends in Phoenix but it was the  friendship we share with Jeff Gokee, who is a new member of our ACT3 Board, that led t our meeting. Jeff and I met several years ago (2010) shortly after my book, Your Church Is Too Small, was published. He wrote me and the same day I read his email I called him. A deep bond of friendship has grown between us. We love and trust each other profoundly. I cannot imagine what my life would be without my young friend Jeff.

When Jeff was asked by Joe Tosini about his journey into missional-ecumenism he introduced Joe to me. Joe and Jeff were together and called me to talk. I felt good about the call but had no idea what this would mean. I sensed that God was up to something but it was not clear what at the time. Then, just before Christmas, Joe called me on a Saturday. I’ll never forget the day because I was grocery shopping with Anita in a big-box store near home. Joe said, “John, I was praying for you this morning and I believe the Spirit wants you to come to Phoenix next month and stay with me and my wife so we can get to know one another.” I instantly knew that this was an invitation that God wanted me to accept. Because I had made a decision several years ago to make people a priority over events I had time in my schedule to say that I would come. I got back to Joe and said that the middle of the month would be best. Thus I went to Phoenix to spend five days with Joe and Mary Tosini, my new friends who share deeply with me in the love and fellowship of Christ.

Unknown-2Joe, who authored a wonderful book during his years in pastoral ministry, is a rare leader. We are the same age and we’ve shared many similar experiences. We both were caught up in the Jesus Movement and the revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Joe was saved as a hippie at the University of California (Berkley) and then finished college at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. After a short stint as a youth pastor in the Assemblies of God Joe was led to begin a Friday night Bible study group in Columbia, Missouri. Within weeks students and faculty from the University of Missouri were flocking to Joe’s group and a church was formed. This ministry became a major charismatic church for many years and still exists in Columbia. Joe eventually left that ministry and moved back to New York where he had grown up. He became a businessman, managing some property for his family initially. He is a highly-gifted entrepreneur who eventually developed a company focused on using science to solve problems that alleviate suffering and early death. The scientist who has most impacted Joe’s company was led to Christ by Joe. The investors in the business are all Christians and good friends who share in the vision they have of marketplace and mission.

When Joe was serving in Missouri he met some of the leading pastors and teachers in the global charismatic movement, including more than a few Catholic leaders. He learned, very early on, to embrace missional-ecumenism thus he has been a practitioner for decades. From the center of the marketplace, now through many great friendships, Joe has built a business and a life that touches thousands by focusing on deep friendships with a few. His calling, at least in this particular way, is like my own. Friendships matter more than institutions and programs, which is not to say these are not important. But friendships are the way that I hear God say to me: “seek first his kingdom.”

Jesus expressed very clearly what God taught me:

This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:12-15).

Jesus has called me his “friend.” The most intimate word for relationship that I can think of is “friend.” God has come to us in Jesus Christ to have a relationship with us and to give us a relationship with one another. The word that best describes this relationship is “friend.” If we love we will make real friends and real friends will become the signs and way of the kingdom. Stay close to your true friends, love them and learn to serve them as Jesus did his friends. Spend time with your friends and seek God through them but not by using them but rather by loving and listening. It is here that the kingdom will break into your spirit with power.

So Joe and I wanted to become real friends. That happened in ways I cannot write about but my days in Phoenix was life-transforming. Joe’s friends and my friends will likely become new friends in some way yet to be seen. We will walk together and the power of two and three will be stronger as a result. God will speak to “us” and we will seek to listen to I’m and seek to obey. Scripture counsels us:

There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family (Proverbs 18:24).

As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other’s faces (Proverbs 27:17)

We reached a united decision to select some delegates and send them to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:25).

How will my time in Phoenix mark the future of ACT3 Network? I do not know but I can see some patterns forming. I believe the work of unity in Christ’s mission will spread through such friendships and I believe that network just grew exponentially in Phoenix. Phoenix is a place where God has met me again-and-again. It is funny how this works, but in the dreams and visions that I had for over a decade God said he would meet me in a desert and would raise me up from the desert to show his power and love through my life in a deeper and more profound way. Are you with me my friends? I am now quite sure that he is doing what he said to me he would do twenty years ago. I stand amazed, humbled and quite thrilled to follow his leading in 2015.

On Sunday, January 18, I returned to the City of the Lord and attended the 1:30 p.m. Mass, led by the Bishop Olmsted 1Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted. I met Bishop Olmsted, in April of 2014, over dinner here in Chicago. Let me explain that meeting briefly.

As I’ve indicated I have been to Phoenix many times over the past five years. I had lodged in a downtown guest condominium near Chase Field. Each day I would walk 4-5 miles. I walked early in the morning while the city was quiet and before it would get really, really hot. I walked by St. Mary’s Basilica each morning. I did not know Bishop Olmsted at that time but I prayed for him every day. I prayed for God to pour his blessing upon his servant. I prayed that he would know the grace and power of Christ in leading this growing diocese. Bishop Olmsted came to serve the Diocese of Phoenix eleven years ago following a pretty difficult crisis in the leadership and mission of that diocese. He has been known as a steady, careful and godly leader. I prayed that Bishop Olmsted and I would meet, and by meeting learn to love each other. I also prayed that he would work with some of the young evangelical Protestant leaders of his city. Again, I told no one but Jeff Gokee of these prayers.

In October of 2013 I was invited to share my story of unity with the committee of bishops on ecumenism for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I would speak to the USCCB committee of bishops in April, 2014, right here in Chicago. I learned that Bishop OlmstedBishop Olmsted:John A 3 would be at that meeting as a member of the USCCB committee. I sent him a letter and my book, Your Church Is Too Small. I received a response from his secretary. It was kind but not what I had hoped for at the time. I kept praying and the night that I had dinner with the bishops I prayed that God would put me right beside Bishop Olmsted so we could meet and become friends. God answered my prayer and we talked. His heart had been opened warmly since my letter had been sent and he told me of how he had invited evangelicals leaders to his residence for lunch. He served them and opened his heart to them. They did the same and invited him to a meal with their leaders and he went to this gathering. I have to tell you that I was on a super cloud that evening. God was clearly answering my prayer. (This story has so many back stories in it that I cannot say more here but believe me when I say “God did it all.”)

Bishop Olmsted and I agreed to pray for one another and to meet again. I wrote to his secretary two weeks before this recent visit to Phoenix to seek a meeting. His schedule on Monday-Tuesday was not open to another private meeting. I was disappointed but still felt that we would meet, for reasons I cannot explain rationally. When I got to Joe’s home on Friday he told me that we would go to the Mass on Sunday afternoon and I would have an opportunity to visit with Bishop Olmsted. I could not contain my inner excitement about God’s leading and provision. This bishop that I love so deeply, and pray for regularly, would have a few moments to share with me after all. After a lovely Mass, and a really fine sermon, there was a birthday celebration for Bishop Olmsted. When almost everyone had left the room we finally got to talk in private. These precious minutes are deeply etched into my spirit. I urge you to pray with me for Bishop Olmsted. Here is a man who is filled with deep joy and who shares the spirit and vision of Pope Francis. What God is doing in Phoenix is beyond anything I could have imagined a few years ago. This is the grave of God at work in his beloved leaders and people.

On Monday Joe and I met with three young evangelical leaders in Phoenix and then on Tuesday I visited a seminary dean, a college president and three professors of theology. In every case I saw the same hunger and openness to what the Holy Spirit is doing in opening up unity in Christ’s mission, our ACT3 vision.

If you love me and the ACT3 mission I need your prayer. I also need your support. I need for you to share in this with everyone who prays along with me for a John 17 movement of the Spirit. This is a time when God is healing and reconciling members and leaders in the Body of Christ. I believe some of you have a vital part in this movement of the Spirit. This is especially true if you are a marketplace leader. I now plainly sense that this John 17 movement is going to come from the overflowing hearts of many who are not clergy. Clergy will very likely see what God has done and then be called upon to embrace it and help lead it as servants, not as masters.


Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, The Christian Minister/Ministry, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 6 Comments/Likes

A Special Season in the Desert – A Journey into Deeper Ecumenism (3)

UnknownWhat God gave to me in the late 1990s, and into the early years of this present century, was a settled assurance that he would go with me into a desert. There I would feel abandoned at times but he would always be with me. In the desert he would provide for me, heal me, teach me and prepare me for a very different future. Though I did not know what that future would look like precisely what was revealed to me was that when he placed me in my new role I would have power and true freedom to exalt him openly. I had no idea what this meant in my wildest dreams. I did know, beyond any doubt in my soul, that this new mission was “from the Lord” and that every blessing would be his alone. One year I preached twice all year, at least in Sunday services. When my wife asked me this question, about how many times I had preached in a certain year, I was stunned to answer her since I had not thought about it often. From some very large mega-churches to no preaching at all was a long way down. Yet it seemed as nothing. It was, truthfully, the best thing that ever happened to me. I can now say that I’d rather have him in the desert than thousands of people hearing me preach. I once wondered how I would respond when I could no longer preach. Now I know. This would happened before my sixtieth birthday. And it was a good place to be even though I still love to preach.

It was during this twelve years that I privately began to rethink my willingness to truly listen to God. I realized that I wanted to receive whatever he wanted to say to me through whatever means he chose to employ. I am not irrational nor willing to believe every spirit.  I am not an emotional train wreck either, at least so far as my friends know. Actually, I remain a serious thinker and a wide, voracious reader. But I needed to learn how to test all human words by God’s Word. Prior to this time I rejected all words as bare impressions in the brain unless I saw them in print! I now listen, as never before, to hear the Spirit speak.Unknown-1 I desire, more than anything else, that he empowers me and leads me into the depths of his love. I cry out, “Fill me with your Spirit Lord.” The single most important text in all the Bible (to me personally), besides John 17:21 my personal charism text, is Luke 11:9-12:

And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Again and again I have pointed out to thousands of Christians around the world, through sermons and private counsel, that verse 12 clearly says that the gift the Father gives to those who keep on asking, seeking and knocking is “the Holy Spirit.”

Simple question: Do you ask God for the Holy Spirit or do you simply assume that you have everything that you need already. Do you cultivate an earnest and prayerful heart for God’s greatest gift?

It is said that C. H. Spurgeon never entered the pulpit without praying with each single step that he took, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” I now understand why. Without the Spirit I can do nothing of real consequence. You can know that in your mind but this is not the same as knowing it in your soul and thus deeply desiring this fullness with all your being. He is so glorious. Why do we not desire him above all? Could there be anything more obvious than this when you observe how most Christians go about the duties of their religion day-to-day? We do not hunger and thirst for God. We settle for religion and texts. We study and attend meetings. But we know so very little of his presence. Ask, seek and knock. Never give up!

Would you resolve to “know the Lord” in 2015? Would you also go to the desert he leads you into, if necessary, in order to truly meet him in your life? As the old hymn that I sang as a child says, “Wherever he leads I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, wherever he leads I’ll go.” I want to follow him, wherever he leads.

Posted in ACT 3, Discipleship, Faith, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Prayer, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

A Special Season in the Desert – A Journey Into Deeper Ecumenism (2)

peterpMy Saturday evening story of Christian unity, that I wrote about yesterday, was connected with two ministries I partnered with for several days: CRM and the City of the Lord. The City of the Lord has centers in Tempe (Phoenix), Los Angeles, San Diego and Monterey Bay. My new friend Peter Poppleton leads the City of the Lord community in Tempe. (Photo of Peter at the right.) Their weekly events are characterized by charismatic praise & worship; i.e. by growth in and exercise of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. The word “charism,”as most of you will know, means “gift.” The word “charismatic” signifies the use of a gift or gifts. The services at the City of the Lord often see the conversion of hearts, inner healing, physical healing, and words of prophecy, among other gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts within the community. The traditional seven marks (gifts) of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, knowledge, fortitude, understanding, piety, counsel and fear of the Lord) are actively sought and developed in this community through prayer and instruction. Likewise, other supernatural gifts (charisms) of the Holy Spirit such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and interpretation of tongues are sought and experienced as the Holy Spirit wills. There is no pressure on anyone to “perform” gifts or to demonstrate them. There is complete and joyful freedom to use them within clear and understood guidelines that result in obvious decorum.

IMG_4313While the designation “charismatic” does not formally fit my own ecclesial background, or present form of ministry, I have moved within the power of many of these gifts for over three decades. This movement in my personal life began during the revival of 1970 at Wheaton College. Sadly, some of the excesses of the charismatic movement that I saw in some Protestantism had a negative effect upon me for some years. I knew the gifts were real but I doubted many strange claims. I saw the excess but quite often I missed the blessings I now see so clearly.

robIn Phoenix I saw none of the excesses and all the blessings. Most of what I saw on Saturday and Sunday (January 17-18) was plainly the work of the Holy Spirit. The reason I know this is because what was done was powerfully centered in Jesus, centered in clear gospel proclamation and promoted the common good. It was done with proper care and deep regard for Scripture in every way. There was no confusion or “flesh” in the meetings that I attended. Further, the leaders were men and women of great soundness in mind and spirit. Their desire to see John 17:21 openly experienced was evident thus they do not create division over the gifts or their particular expressions of them.

I noted that I am not a “charismatic” by label but everything about this Catholic renewal movement resonates with me powerfully. I do not embrace these labels easily but I do not run from them when I see God working among his people as I saw at City of the Lord. If these expressions are “charismatic” then please apply the label if you’d like. But I see nothing in the label that explains my life except that I embrace the presence of all the gifts of the Spirit enumerated in the Bible thus I believe in grace gifts in the fullness of the Spirit, thus charisma. (I never could understand how anyone could read the Bible and then believe that these gifts were withdrawn from the church based upon rather strange arguments that are rooted in theory and scant few facts!)

Some years ago God began to “speak” to me in ways that I could not describe heard by reading the Bible (alone) and studying the text alone. These promptings or leadings (words forming in my mind consciously or otherwise) were always tested by the Scripture. I began to write some of them down to see if I thought God was saying something to me after prayer and deeper reflection. In the late 1990s I began to pay special attention to dreams after more study on this particular subject. Then God revealed my own future in ministry to me one evening just before I was to preach at Tenth Presbyterian Church in images-1Philadelphia. (I told no soul until more than a decade later since I wanted to receive what I believed was from God and then see how he worked out what I believed that I saw and heard that memorable evening on the platform of that great church!) This Spirit-led impression (I do not know what else to call it) has been called a vision by some. I do not know precisely what it was. I do know that what I saw flashed before my mind and shocked me. Now more than seventeen years later everything I saw in a matter of seconds that night has come true. I later had several dreams (in my sleep) that filled in some missing parts of my awakening experience at Tenth.

What is the point I am making here? I believe God still speaks in various ways to his people. Many of us do not listen, perhaps out of fear. Others hear but do not handle the message discreetly. But God is not mute. Nor is he limited to my reading and studying the text of the Bible only. (Nothing he says contradicts the doctrine and teaching of the Scriptures.) The Bible is the Supreme Court but this does not limit the means and contexts in which God speaks and leads those who listen and follow. This truth was powerfully reinforced in me in the desert during my days in Tempe.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 7 Comments/Likes

A Special Season in the Desert – A Journey into Deeper Ecumenism (1)

The mission of ACT3 takes me to many cities and communities, to meet with leaders in private as well as large and small groups of earnest Christians from many churches. Some of my most enjoyable work is building relationships with some of the most interesting and mission-focused leaders that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing my life-journey with as partners. Such was the case again because of a visit to the Phoenix area, January 16-21. Over the next few days I plan to share this mission with friends by means of these blogs. I ask you to share in the joy of what Christ is doing and to pray for me as I seek to be faithful to God’s John 17 call upon my life.

On Saturday, January 17, I spoke at a Phoenix-area John 17 Movement meeting hosted by Catholic Renewal Ministries of the Diocese of Phoenix. Catholic Renewal Ministries (CRM) is a ministry organization that provides a variety of services to parishes and prayer groups across the Phoenix diocese, including: seminars, retreats, conferences, healing masses, praise nights and other devotional resources. CRM can best be described as an association of clergy, religious and lay individuals seeking to live in growing awareness and fullness of the gifts, grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and seeking opportunities to use their God-given gifts in the service of others.

CRM comes under the headship of the diocese through a liaison appointed by the Bishop of Phoenix. The current liaison is Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares. imagesBishop Nevares is the CRM Liaison for both the English and Spanish speaking organizations of CRM. CRM is affiliated on the national and international levels with the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services organization (ICCRS).

ICCRS maintains an office in the Vatican that is led by another friend, Matteo Calisi. I’ve not personally met Matteo yet but we have begun to correspond with one another since I returned home from Phoenix. Matteo Calisi Unknown(photo at left) is a man deeply committed to the ecumenical vision of Saint Pope John XXIII. As a man of faith in the power and gifts of the Spirit he prays and seeks the unity of Christians around the world. Matteo lives and works in the Vatican and directly serves Pope Francis and the global Catholic charismatic movement. ICCRS has a national office and regional representatives within the United States via Chariscenter USA, with a National Service Center (NSC) in support of various diocesan CRM organizations across the USA. This Spirit-drenched ministry unites Catholic and non-Catholics in some uniquely powerful ways. Take the time to learn more. Then pray if you are so led.

During the weekend of January 17-18. I was asked to share my unity story at City of the Lord. City of the Lordmenuimage1 is a Catholic, charismatic, lay community whose members are called to a covenant relationship with God and each other. Covenant communities such as City of the Lord are recognized by the Catholic Church as a work of the Holy Spirit and a legitimate expression of renewal. They were welcomed and encouraged by Saint Pope John Paul II and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The City of the Lord initially came into being in response to a great outpouring of grace that occurred in the Catholic Church in the 1960’s. Many deeply earnest and devout Catholics experienced a renewal in the Holy Spirit. They testified to a new awareness of the reality and presence of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and to a release of the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. This movement has grown and the Catholic Church has officially encouraged it, even more so in recent years and especially through the influence of Pope Francis.

Peter Poppleton:Joe TosiniMy visit to the gathering at the City of the Lord (chartered in 1977) was to share my story of John 17:21 unity at a Saturday evening gathering. The service was led by another new friend Peter Poppleton. Peter (on my left in this photo with Joe Tosini on the right)  is a gracious Spirit-filled Catholic leader who serves as president of the City of the Lord. I spoke freely and joyfully to about 150 people that evening and was received with great joy and love. After I spoke to the gathering, of what is called a John 17 Movement, Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares shared. He greatly ministered to my spirit.

After this  service concluded I then had a lovely time over pizza with Bishop Nevares, Peter Poppleton and his wife, Joseph Tosini (my host), Douglas A. Remy, an evangelical Protestant business leader in the Pinnacle Forum in Phoenix, and Gary Kinnaman, another evangelical leader, along with his wife. (I think I did not leave anyone out but if I did please forgive me all of you who are my new friends!) I was particularly intrigued to learn about the Pinnacle Forum, a mission that aims at transforming business leaders in order to transform culture. The vision of Pinnacle Forum greatly encourages me in my own work of missional-ecumenism.

A strong impression has been forming in me in recent months and this impression was deeply enriched by my time in Phoenix. I believe that the unity I pray for will increase powerfully through godly business leaders, both young and old. Without the encumbrances of church institutionalism such men and women wield an amazing influence for change. (I am not putting down clergy. After all, I am an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament myself.) What I am observing is that leaders in the world of business understand the  opportunity for unity in amazing ways and they have the skills to bring about deep change. I am reminded that one of America’s greatest renewals came through businessmen, in the nineteenth century, just prior to the Civil War.

If you are a pastor or priest I encourage you to get to know business leaders and learn how to shepherd their hearts for unity in Christ’s mission. These men and women get this vision very quickly and are clearly poised to make a real difference.

Tomorrow: Part 2


Posted in ACT 3, Business, Discipleship, Evangelism, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

Rev. Ian Simkins on Christian Unity and Why It Maters (2)

Yesterday I published the first of two video interviews ACT3 did with Rev. Ian Simkins about Christian unity and why it matters. This is a wonderful testimony to the power of God in unity and to what this important vision means for the whole church. Ian speaks as a thoughtful Christian minister and as a board member for ACT3 Network.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 7 Comments/Likes

Rev. Ian Simkins on Christian Unity and Why It Matters (1)

ACT3 Network is a mission committed to “empowering leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission.” It is led by a board made up of thirteen people. We are Catholic and Protestant, male and female, minister and non-minister, younger and older. One of our fine young board members is Rev. Ian Simkins, pastor of the non-denominational Poplar Creek Church in Bartlett, Illinois. Our videographer sat down with Ian a few months ago and asked him to talk about unity and his vision of the church as one. You will see and hear this vision of John 17:21 here. This is the first of two videos that he gave to us. I think you will find it deeply encouraging and hopeful. The second video will appear tomorrow.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | Leave a comment

The Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation 2014 (2)

During the days of September 11-13, 2014, twenty-six people from Catholic and evangelical churches gathered to build relationships for the sake of Christ’s mission. Yesterday I shared the first portion of our report. Today I share the second part of our document.


Relationships for the Sake of the Mission

The 2014 Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

Part Two

Nate Bacon suggested the Emmaus Road dialogue as a model of evangelization.  In the context of sharing their pain, disappointment, and devastation the two disciples invited Jesus into their conversation, as did the disciples who Jesus sent out two by two, appearing to the townspeople they encounter as homeless people.  In touching the wounds of humanity, we touch the wounds of Christ.  We say to the poor, “we need you.”  We need the poor; we do evangelization because we need to, in order to encounter Christ.

130829 Father Barron-060 2Fr. Barron had previously suggested another way of viewing the church: “the prolongation of the Incarnation through space and time.”   Many were intrigued by this notion, but Suzanne McDonald explained how, to Reformed ears, it sounds almost idolatrous.  The Incarnation is a phenomenon that cannot be repeated; a more congenial description of the Church, for her, would be “unity in distinction.”

If the goal of our collaboration is to unite in prayer and service, the analogy to the gospels in the early Church works well.  But perhaps our goal is, as Wolfhart Pannenberg describes the church, to tarry through the world under the shadow of darkness and sin, but in the end it will be one.  The “full, visible unity” that we work toward is eschatological.  Before the eschaton, perhaps the “one” consists in collaboration.

That image suggested to Fr. Leo Walsh the model Michael Kinnamon has used: ecumenism moves through stages, from conflict, to coexistence, to cooperation, to communion.  If the eschatological goal is full visible unity, perhaps we can establish an intermediate goal of “fuller” visible unity.

The Spirit seems to be saying that co-existence is not sufficient.  So our charge is to ask, “How do we enter into cooperation and collaboration while acknowledging our differences?”  We have made progress; imperfect but real communion does exist.  Nevertheless, we must not use “eschatological unity” as an excuse for not working toward more and more visible unity.

How do we move toward visible unity?

  • Fr. Don Rooney: “Prayer and charity is the process of ecumenism.  Our work is not to fix the problem, but to leave the door open for the Spirit.  Only the Spirit can solve this problem.  Our job is to get holy together.”
  • David Hickman: “When love has an agenda, it ceases to have power and purpose. Ecumenism needs to have an agenda-less love.”
  • Brett Salkeld: “We’re not here to convert one another.  We’re all here to be converted closer to Christ.  Doctrine will emerge only through the lived experience of Christians.  In that way, service does lead to doctrine.”
  • Jeff Gokee:  “Our common mission, our missional-ecumenism, is to show a generation that came out of a culture of divorce that unity is still possible.”
  • John Armstrong:  “If the term ‘The Body of Christ’ raises problems, because of our divisions, is ‘The Family of God’ a useful way of naming who we are?”
  • Dan Olsen: “’Family’ is a Biblical word.  Christians are in a ‘marriage’ [between Christ and his Church]. We are part of a family that cannot be broken.  Churches are married to each other.  And although churches are separated, they are not divorced.”
  • Fr. Tom Baima:  “Division is the obstacle that prevents evangelization.  We do not have unity in mission, but unity for mission.”
  • Chad Haines: “It’s right for us to feel the ache of division.”
  • Fr. Tom Baima: “The Spirit has made us aware that we are past the first two steps [conflict and co-existence].  Now, we need to incubate how to address the third [cooperation].”
  • Fr. Leo Walsh: “We need to ‘raise the sails’ and let the Spirit take us where the Spirit will.”

As a Lausanne Conversation, how might we “raise the sails”?  Several ideas were proposed—spending more time in prayer and reading scripture together; as we get closer to Christ, we get closer to each other.  In a practical sense, a slightly expanded program of two full days might allow for that, as well as including something service-oriented, such as “field trips.” There is a great need to include more women’s voices in the conversation, perhaps by establishing satellite locations.  It is clear that the present cohort have developed a respect and affection for one another, and want to continue their relationship.  We might move toward greater cooperation in future conversations by organizing the members according to their various competencies—theologians, those in ministry (especially to young adults), ecumenists.

Seasoned ecumenical leader and author Michael Kinnamon’s “series of five steps” can help us imagine where we are today. His “framework,” which became a template for our discussion on the second day of conversation, provides a model for envisioning our current work and our future in ecumenical relationships. Kinnamon proposes the following stages:

  • Competition. A church or faith community sees itself as self-sufficient and in a state of rivalry with other churches and communities.
  • Co-existence. A church, while showing little readiness for positive relations, acknowledges that Christ may be known and followed in other churches and agrees to live alongside others but with little interest in dialogues or structured relationships.
  • Cooperation. A church or faith community recognizes others with sufficient warmth to undertake certain tasks or forms of witness together, to engage with them in real, if limited, partnership.
  • Commitment. The mutual recognition between the churches or faith communities transcends simple cooperation, to such a degree that they affirm the existence of lasting bonds greater than expedient collaboration.
  • Communion. Churches reach a stage where they no longer see themselves as separate entities. Earlier divisions having been reconciled, they now try to act as one in mission and to share “sacred things.” Christians generally speak of communion (the frequently used Greek term is koinonia) only in terms of other churches, not interfaith partners.

Without discussing each of these steps in detail, we generally agreed that Catholics and evangelical Protestants range widely across a spectrum in regards to this framework. Yet we, as Catholics and Evangelicals together, believe that we are now on the doorstep of Ecumenism 2.0 which we see as taking the form of stage three and four in Kinnamon’s model, with growing mutual interest in what this new form of ecumenism could look like in the years ahead. We are realists. We acknowledge the obstacle of some deeply developed doctrinal differences among us, but we also believe that “our unity in diversity” draws us to keep seeking one another in faith, hope, and love.

Participants summed up the entire conversation in words such as these:

  • Humility—we witnessed one another being detached from our own ideas for the sake of unity.
  • Self-effacement:  “Take everything responsibly, nothing seriously.”
  • Appreciating the Eucharist  and acknowledging the presence of Christ in each person.
  • The call to be transformed together by being together.
  • The whole world is like the disciples in the upper room, waiting to find what they would do next.
Posted in ACT 3, Evangelism, Friendship, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

The Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation 2014 (1)

Lausanne-2014-GatheringLast fall the second annual Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation took place at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. Twenty-six people, half of whom were from the Catholic Church and half of whom were from evangelical Protestant communities, joined together for a two-plus day dialogue. The opening evening included a public event that was recorded and can be seen on the ACT3 Network site. The 2013 event is also posted as a video on the same website.

Except for this one public meeting on the opening night the dialogue was intentionally informal and private. One of the greatest takeaways was our friendships and open conversation. We do not seek to solve direct problems (per se) or to write a major ecumenical paper. Our goal was to build trust and ask questions in a conversation of genuine love. We believe this is not the only way to address our present disunity but it is a major way, if not the best and first way. If love unites us in Christ then we must seek to experience this love together. This event allowed this to happen.

Following this gathering we wrote an account of our dialogue. This is not a “formal” ecumenical document approved by any church or agency. It is, I believe, an interesting account of what happened over the course of a few days.

Today I publish the first part of this Lausanne Report 2014. Over the next two days I will publish the entire document and make more comments.

Relationships for the Sake of the Mission

The 2014 Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois

September 11-13, 2014

The dialogue following Dr. Norberto Saracco’s “Pope Francis and the Unity of the Church in Mission” and Fr. Robert Barron’s “Pope Francis and the Evangelicals” suggested an opening opportunity for dialogue.  How can we move from what Fr. Barron called “Ecumenism 1.0,” the openness and mutual esteem that makes the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation possible, to “Ecumenism 2.0,” an open and frank discussion of what we hold in common, and where we differ?

Both ecclesial communities (Catholic and Protestant) share a love for Sacred Scripture, prayer, and service. The various churches bring particular strengths to the Christian mission.  The ecclesial communities that we call “evangelical” have a charism for declaring the joyful good news.  The Catholic Church has a charism for catechesis, formation, and liturgy.  Likewise, each has a hunger for what the other does well—Evangelicals for formation and liturgy; Catholics for presenting the kerygma as joyful good news.

To move forward in ecumenical dialogue, we need to acknowledge and embrace our harsh and sometimes painful shared history.  And such dialogue requires us to know the other persons, know their conversion story so as to enter their inner life, their relationship with God.  As Fr. Don Rooney remarked, “It’s all about relationship. .  . . And that person to whom we are relating is Jesus.”

Many instances of ecumenical dialogue in action emerged during informal conversations. A particular example was an exchange at the end of the first day during which Fr. Tom Baima and Dr. Chad Raith, along with others, began probing each other’s understanding of Eucharist. What emerged was the unexpected and breathtakingly frank acknowledgement that Catholics feel a lack in the full experience of Eucharist due to broken fellowship with Protestant brothers and sisters, and that Catholics indeed recognize some aspects of Eucharist present in Protestant communities.  Some being able to take the Eucharist when others cannot manifests the still-broken fellowship between members of the Catholic Church and their separated fellow Christians. The “sting” that Catholics feel when they take Communion while their brothers and sisters from other communities cannot reflects not a desire that Protestants become Catholics, but pain over the divisions which both communities have allowed to continue. David Hickman remarked afterward, “The grace in which Fr. Baima interacted with Dr. Raith was the height of ecumenism.”

To move toward “Ecumenism 2.0” while keeping faithful to our deeply held doctrinal convictions, Fr. Baima suggested that we look at the experience of the early Christian community, which intentionally did not form a diatessaron, but lived within the difference among the four Gospels. Like them, we can sit with our difference—even for years—and so seek a way to become what in Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis calls “a church of missionary disciples.”

How can such a church proceed?  It was suggested that we revisit Unitatis Redintegratio, which states: “Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant” (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html).  Or, as David Hickman put it, “Collaboration is the new Reformation in the church.”



Posted in ACT 3 | 10 Comments/Likes

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

Philosophers have debated this question for millennia: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Christians have an answer, indeed the only answer that I believe satisfies both the mind and the heart.

the-love-of-god-tara-ellisIn the distant past there was only God. The ineffable and eternal God, existing in the triune fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He was/is a God of eternal love. God is a triune fellowship of selfless, perfect, other-centered love. Further, there is no conscious life outside of God, the Father-Son-Spirit. God alone constitutes the complete whole of reality.

This is what we confess in the Creed and this really is central to Christian faith: “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

But in God there was never anything lacking. The picture is perfect. It is one of a ceaseless peace and joy flowing in love within the circle of the three persons in the divine trinity. God did not, simply put, create everything that is because he lacked anything or needed you or me. He created us out of a desire to love others. This is especially true with regard to beings “made in his image.”

We should not say that God “needed” to create us. This would wrongly imply that God lacked something essential to his being. We can say, reverently and wisely, that he “wanted” (desired) to create us in order to share the love that God had within his own being. One has suggested, rightly I believe, that God’s desire for us actually places a higher value on his love of us than if he somehow needed us.

Can we say that God’s creation of us was inevitable? I think the answer, reverently understood, must be yes. Why? Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Because God is love, and God is creator, then his loving creation was genuinely inevitable because of who he is and how he loves.

The nature of love is to focus on someone outside of myself. God loved perfectly without there being a creation but his desire was to share his trinitarian love so he created a massive universe and placed various objects of his love within that universe. So far as the Scripture reveals God to us God made us, human persons, because of who he is as God. He made us because of his love!

Posted in Biblical Theology, God's Character, Love, Philosophy | 9 Comments/Likes

Suzanne McDonald: A Reformed Theologian On Christian Unity

Dr. Suzanne McDonald is associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Suzanne is a “new” friend and shared powerfully in our Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation last fall. Suzanne is a native of Great Britain and completed her Ph.D. at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She has a keen mind but a very warm and engaging spirit.

On the Western Seminary website Suzaane describes her life and teaching with these very moving words:

“I’m passionate about teaching theology because of the powerful ways that the Holy Spirit has used studying theology to deepen my relationship with the Triune God and transform my life in Christ. I pray that this will be true for every student, too, so that by doing theology together, we may grow in knowledge and love of the Lord, our ability to share that with others, and our desire to reflect more fully in our lives what we learn of God’s promises and purposes for us and all of creation.”


Posted in ACT 3, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 9 Comments/Likes