A Friendship That Teaches Me a Great Deal About Christ, Part 2

People sometimes ask me, “Do you still agree with what you wrote in the two books that you did on Roman Catholicism in the 1990s?” I think this is an excellent, yet provocative, question. I answer that I do believe almost all of what I wrote then, at least in all the major ways. I would write these two books very differently today but the essential content, at least in terms of where I differ with Catholic theology, would remain the same. I hope the way I would say it would be more mature and better stated in ways that are more irenic and helpful to unity

I am a Reformed Church in America minister. I embrace the major confessional tradition of the magisterial Reformers. Some accuse me of lying when I write such things but my accusers did not examine me before my Classis. They have never taken the proper measure of my beliefs in a sympathetic and helpfully critical way.I will say more about this later when I write about fallacies used in debate and argumentation.

What does not seem to add up for all of those who are so nervous about me is that I could have the friends I do, friends such as Nick Morgan in St. Louis. The interesting irony here is that Nick gets the same response I do from some Roman Catholics who wonder about him being so supportive of an evangelical Protestant minister like me.

This is all demonstrated in a moving letter that my good friend Nick Morgan wrote to me just before the beginning of 2009.

Dear John,

I hope you and your family have had an enjoyable and blessed holiday season!  I received my copy of the new Viewpoint newsletter today. It is good to see it back. [Viewpoint is on our Web site and will be mailed to anyone who asks for it.] I really enjoyed your article on "Is There Hope for the Church?" And Anita's piece on "Joy and Kill-joy" was good. Even though you and I represent two different major traditions of Christianity, it still just boggles my mind how often I read something you have written and say to myself, "That really makes sense, I think John's hit the nail on the head again.” Of course, I'm not saying this to inflate your ego, it's just the way I see it. And yet, this realization doesn't make me less Roman Catholic, but rather more. But not in the way that looks for polemics to pit the Roman Catholic Church over and against Protestantism; but rather in a way that continues to deepen my awareness of how much each major Tradition has to teach and learn from each other so that the entire Body of Christ is built up and enriched. Truly no form of visible unity in the whole Body of Christ "catholic" can come without this realization.
 
My greatest frustration in the church is not evangelicals who won't become Roman Catholic, but rather Christians of all stripes who refuse to hear and consider what it is that you, and a small handful of others, have been saying over the past few years.

I will share more of Nick's letter over the course of the next few days but Nick’s comments here sum up my feelings quite well. My greatest frustration is not with Catholics who will not become evangelical Protestants but with Christians who refuse to consider the unity of Christ’s church in any serious and meaningful sense. This is why I spent so much effort writing my forthcoming book, Your Church Is Too Small (April, 2010). And this is why so much is going into the pre-publication work on this new Zondervan book. If I talk about it a great deal please forgive me. It is my passion, my vision. It is my reason for keeping ACT 3 strong in the years ahead, God willing.

I believe that a ministry like ACT 3 needs a big idea if it is to thrive. Mine will be simply and clearly explained in this book. In a word that I coined for the book my vision and prayer is for missional-ecumenism. This ecumenism is not the kind found in the old liberal varieties of ideological compromise, a process built on ideology of the left. And it is not built on the sectarianism of the right, Reformed or fundamentalist. It is a different vision, one I never asked for but one which I now sincerely believe God gave to me back in the 1990s. This dream will not grip everyone, thus it will be rejected, maybe even hated, by some. But I see an army of young visionaries who love the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church who will embrace what I am saying openly. They will begin to move in the very direction I am outlining, or they are already moving this way. I know this is true because I have been living this story for ten-plus years and I am meeting folks every single day who share this passion. 

I did not go looking for this vision of the church. I came to it solely by the grace of God. It came to me, to be very specific, while I was speaking in a large conference in 1997. I was blown away when I heard it and understood it. I asked God, “Why me? Please do not upset my private, personal world like this. I do not really want to reach out to all these other Christians. I do not know them and surely disagree with them on so much.” The Lord never takes our feeble pleas for personal ease and comfort seriously if we really hear him. I now know, more than a decade later, that I was hearing him. If you think I am wrong then please pray for me. In fact, if you think I am right then please pray for me. Either way I need your prayer.

I will share more of Nick Morgan’s letter and story tomorrow but for now let me tell you that this dear brother is a true friend born for adversity. I count him a precious treasure and gladly walk toward the city of God with him as my friend. And I welcome all who want to join Nick and me in this journey, all who share our vision for the extension of Christ’s kingdom in the very unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-24.

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