Can Evangelicals Open Their Hearts to a New Paradigm of Unity?

I get a lot of correspondence these days re: Your Church Is Too Small. I try to answer every letter, email and facebook comment that I can. People often ask, “How is it going? How are people responding to the book so far?”

The response is about 95% positive but I am quite aware that there will be more than a few readers who will oppose the idea that Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox can find much common ground to pursue unity together in anything of consequence. One of my frequent responses is to suggest that the book should be read as “a modest proposal” and not as a blueprint for getting us all together. If you have read the book, or even begun to read it, you know this to be true. I am not proposing a single, unified, compromised church.

ct-lghome I think Mark Galli, writing in the May issue of Christianity Today in “Quick Takes” (page 62), captures the core of the book in less than 75 words. This is what Galli wrote:

“God wants to tear down walls that keep you from other Christians.” That’s the basic premise of this new book from John Armstrong, president of church-renewal ministry ACT 3. He tells his own story of how God grabbed his attention about church unity, as well as the New Testament mandate for it. He reveals signs that a new ecumenical (but not liberal) emphasis is already afoot, and then suggests how to deepen that unity and tie it to the church’s mission.

My biggest concern is not that some will tell people the book is dangerous and promotes a false ecumenism, especially since most such writers hate all forms of ecumenism to begin with. My biggest concern is that many pastors who read it will find every reason under the sun to do absolutely nothing once they have read the book. There are a myriad of ways this might happen but that it will happen saddens me very profoundly. The whole reason for the book is not to make a statement or sell some books. It is to promote a deep commitment to ways in which we can become “answers” to the prayer our Lord prayed in John 17:20-23.

One evangelical pastor, who has also been a leader in higher education as well, wrote me recently and admitted how he is approaching the book. This brother’s honesty is so compelling that I sought his permission to quote from his letter anonymously. Here is what he wrote:

Dear John:

OK, I’ve purchased the book and I’m about 50 pages into it.  So far, so good.  I’m looking forward to more of the account of your own journey and how that, plus your study of the Scriptures, has shaped your view of the “larger church.” I’ve never been a big fan of denominations; I guess I’ve just been too many places and worshiped with too many different groups and people. I will admit, however, that my journey has not taken me very far from the traditional evangelical arena. Right now, however, I’ve begun a friendship with the Rector of a local Episcopalian congregation and find him to be a good brother. I’ve also been having some great conversations with a man who is Greek Orthodox. He wants to introduce me to his priest.  I’m looking forward to that conversation as well.

Ministry overseas has allowed me to see that our missionary zeal not only brought the gospel to some lands, but it also brought sectarianism, isolationism and spiritual arrogance; all under the name of doctrinal purity. It’s all so sad.

The church I am now part of likes to talk about “majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors.” I think that is a somewhat accurate description of their dream but application of that statement continues to be a challenge. Still, I like that we don’t have to fight about “second level matters” and thus we can agree to have our differences, not letting them to become dividing wedges in our fellowship.

All of that to say that I’m doing my best to keep an open mind as I read, not allowing my understanding of some words (ecumenism, catholicity, etc.) to get in the way of my reading and thinking. Thanks for writing this book John. I’m going to guess that, when I’ve finished it, I may want to try to find some time to chat with you a bit about it.

Yes, an invitation to a friendly chat with a respected brother will be a good thing. I will welcome that. And I will do my best to encourage him to ask: “What can I do in my own church and community to build relational unity with other Christians and churches for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom throughout our area?” This is why I wrote the book.

Can evangelical Protestants open their minds to a new paradigm of church unity? Yes, of course they can but it will take the power of the Holy Spirit to open their mind since so many have so much to protect that will have to be changed if they are really serious about missional-ecumenism.

 

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