Fr. René Constanza on Christian Unity, Part 1

Fr. René Constanza is a Paulist priest serving in Austin, Texas. He is also a good friend. Fr. René has participated in all three of our Catholic-Evangelical Conversations in Chicago over the last three years. This young man is a dedicated minister and true servant of Christ who prays for the unity and works with me for this purpose.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Roman Catholicism, The Church, Unity of the Church | 5 Comments/Likes

One of the Most Joyful Weeks in My Remembrance

1024x1024As I sit this evening at my computer I am  amazed. For five days every newscast and commentator has responded the visit of Pope Francis to America with such joy and positive energy. From every perspective, including the most non-religious journalists and broadcasters, people have talked about the pope but in doing so they have talked a great deal about Jesus, the Bible and the joy of the gospel. I have never heard so much public talk about matters of profound truth and faith in my lifetime, except perhaps at the funerals of President Kennedy (1963) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968). We have seen pictures of Pope Francis with prisoners, in a seminary speaking to bishops and students about the two greatest works of a shepherd (prayer and the preaching the gospel), praying at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York with representatives of world religions, speaking before the United Nations, speaking before Congress, meeting with the Speaker of the House, meeting with the President and then this evening leaving our shores after being with the Vice-President on the way to the airport in Philadelphia. Since Tuesday evening, when the pope landed in Washington, the 24/7 news cycle has been about Pope Francis for what seems like 85% of the time. Whether you agree with everything that Pope Francis said or did, or for that matter did not do, you cannot help but pause and honestly say, “The entire tone of events and reporting truly changed for the last five days!” One African-American Protestant commentator on CNN, just this afternoon, referred to past biblical and historical revivals and wondered if we might see another revival in America. I am praying for this revival. I have done so for forty-five years. I believe we need it but I also believe it cannot be a sectarian movement for one group of Christians.

I retire this evening full of joy and hope. I rest with prayers for our nation and hope for our future. This is not because the pope came here but because an amazing man of faith came and left his mark on our society. Lives will be changed. What comes now is to be seen but seed was sown and good was done in the power of Christ. Let the critics have their time (they will take it) but I rejoice. I thank God for my brother, Jorge Bergoglio.

I am persuaded of one central point as the pope returns to Rome tonight. If God mercifully pours out the Holy Spirit in our time it will/must include Catholics as well as Protestants. It will/must include the Orthodox and the Pentecostals, the mainline and the evangelicals. It will go beyond our divisions and bring us to deep and growing unity in Christ. And this revival will allow Christians to converse with people of all faiths without rancor and condemnation but in Christ’s love. After all, the world will know that we are Christians, and that God is love, when we love one another (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 17; 17:21-23).

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Jesus, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Pope Francis, Protestantism, Religion, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, Television, The Church, Unity of the Church | 14 Comments/Likes

Christ Our Peace: The Radical Concept of Christian Unity (Guest Blog)

photo-48For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

What a radical concept Christian unity is! The fact that in Christ, we are one! 

This heavenly reality certainly does not appear to be true when we look around the world. We all come from various backgrounds and cultures, life experiences, and we have our own denominational distinctions. Each person sees the world very differently, and because of this, we are inherently prone to disagree with and distance ourselves from those who are culturally, denominationally, and ethnically distinct from us.

Yes, it is easier to worship with people who look like us, act like us, and have the same theological beliefs as us. But as Christians we are called to go beyond this place of comfort to see and value Christ in our neighbor.

Paul acknowledges the difficulty of extending Christian fellowship by exhorting us to “earnestly endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Greek word here implies a “full effort of the whole man, involving his will, sentiment, reason, strength, and total attitude”(Karl Barth). This striving forward is not simply an outward action of embracing the other, but is first and foremost an inward examination of our hearts.

When you look at your brother or sister, do you see Jesus? What might be hindering your view?

From my experience, one of the chief hindrances to Christian unity is my need to be right. This places walls between me and my brothers and sisters, resulting in a self-righteous attitude. At the end of the day, only God knows those who are His, and so the “right” answer is Jesus’ work and righteousness, extended to all.

During Unite Boston’s 10 Days initiative, we had the opportunity to step outside our comfort zones to get to know our brothers and sisters from various denominations and backgrounds. As we did this, we learned to respect those that disagreed with us. We learned to be confident in the fact that the fellowship of the saints goes beyond a uniform doctrine to involve a unity of Spirit (Eph 4:3) and the inward spiritual rebirth of those who confess faith in Jesus as Lord. We also learned to value the breadth of Christian traditions, rather than promoting a particular expression as having greater spiritual authority over another. Indeed, the deep, difficult work of Christian unity is to respect and honor those with whom we have significant disagreements.

When we step back, we realize that the one and only thing that makes us one is our revelation of Jesus. It is what Jesus did in his incarnation, sacrifice and resurrection that has reconciled us to God and to one another, thus forming an inseverable and eternal peace. It’s as we all gaze at Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross that we are one.
Jesus, we confess our tendency to exclude rather than to include, to judge rather than to honor, and to assert our position rather than to love unconditionally. Lord, have mercy.

Guest Author: Kelly Steinhaus is the Team Leader of Unity Boston and my friend. She is investing her life and labor in building teams of unity in the greater Boston area.

Posted in Missional-Ecumenism, Unity of the Church | 6 Comments/Likes

The Third Annual Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

“From September 1st to the 5th, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein Illinois was the site for the Third Annual Evangelical and Catholic Conversation.  Along with the University, the conversation is sponsored by the Archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and ACT-3, a network of relational partnerships between churches, missions and leaders in missional ecumenism.  Father Thomas A. Baima, Dr. John Armstrong, Dr. Craig Higgins and Pastor Norberto Saracco were the principal organizers.  Participants include Catholics and Evangelicals from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Guatemala, England, South Korea and Argentina.  They discussed Pope Francis’ call for dialogue, fraternity and action which he lays out in Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) and heard two presentations.  Fr. Thomas Baima delivered the keynote address on the biblical basis for a common understanding of the Church.  Dr. Craig Higgins presented a response. Additionally, Dr. John Armstrong and Pastor Norberto Saracco led the group in discussing experiences of positive relations between Evangelicals and Catholics in their various countries.”

“This project is part of a larger effort called “missional ecumenism.”  This effort operates alongside of the official dialogues between churches.  It is also different from the unofficial dialogues between theologians.  Missional Ecumenism is based on the idea that while there are still theological issues between the different churches and ecclesial communities which need to be resolved before full communion is possible, nevertheless, the fraternity we share through faith and baptism is sufficient to allow us to work together at presenting the Gospel to the world around us.”

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Evangelism, Gospel/Good News, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Pope Francis, Roman Catholicism | 5 Comments/Likes

Michael Lindsay: Do We All Have to Agree?

I cannot tell you how impressed I am by the leadership, courage and clarity of President Michael Lindsay of Gordon College. This is, in my view, the kind of leadership we need in Christian higher education. I will be watching and praying for Michael Lindsay with great hope and joy for Christ and his kingdom, which happens to be the motto of my college, Wheaton.

Posted in America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Culture, Politics | 11 Comments/Likes

Why Have Some Political Conservatives So Radically Missed the Pope’s Message?

I confess that when I saw this clip I was stunned. It amazes me what some “talking heads” will say in trying to figure out Pope Francis. This one has to “take the cake.”


Posted in America and Americanism, Roman Catholicism | 2 Comments/Likes

Following the Visit of Pope Francis to America in September

I hope you will begin to pray for the visit of Pope Francis to the United States this September. Here is one way to follow this historic visit.

Posted in Roman Catholicism | 4 Comments/Likes

Cardinal O’Malley’s Magnificent Address on Unity at Gordon College

One of the most remarkable addresses I have watched this year was on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of historic Gordon College (Massachusetts). Gordon College is the flagship evangelical college in New England. Like all such evangelical colleges it is openly growing into deeper relationship with Catholics with each passing year. This lecture marks one of the most wonderful calls to deep, public unity that I have seen within the leadership of our churches in the United States.

Please pray for the visit of Pope Francis in September. On his heart, besides all the public meetings that you will see, is his deep concern for unity with evangelicals. Cardinal O’Malley is one with all of us who are seeking first the kingdom of God. Let us pray and rejoice at such an address and the historic symbolism of where it was given.

I know that I say this often but this is address is worth every minute you can invest in watching it. I know the trend says that very few people will watch such a long speech on their computer. But if you love Christian unity this presentation is a MUST. I cannot express how moved I am by Cardinal O’Malle’s words and humility. This is Christianity at its very best.


Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Poverty, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 18 Comments/Likes

A Reformed Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox Conversation (Video)

This is an “older” video of a dialogue that I did with Fr. Jon Braun, who is an Antiochian Orthodox priest. Fr. Braun was a Campus Crusade for Christ staff leader when I was a college student in 1967-1971. Eventually, along with several of his good friends on Campus Crusade for Christ staff, Fr. Braun entered the Orthodox Church. (He was a Presbyterian before his conversion to Orthodoxy.) We were both invited to share in this conversation together by an Orthodox Church in Bloomington, Indiana. I have never publicly posted this particular video. As you will note, if you follow me online, I was “the old John” in this video. (I was about 50 pounds heavier). I have been asked over the past three years, “Are you sick?” No, I intentionally lost a lot of weight and as a result I look thinner. More importantly, I feel much, much better. I hope you will find this dialogue interesting and helpful. It is the only one I’ve ever done “one-to-one” with an Orthodox priest in a public context.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, The Church, Unity of the Church | 2 Comments/Likes

The Church of Pope Francis: The Dialogue I’ve Being Waiting to See and Hear

With all the views of Pope Francis coming from right-left-and in-between I have wanted to see a god dialogue about the man, his view of important issues and his leadership style. Finally, the Jesuit magazine America has given me what I was searching for online. What is remarkable about this program is who is speaking here. The moderator is Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of TIME. Michael Gerson, next to Nancy in the panel, was a policy advisor to President George W. Bush. He is an evangelical non-Catholic. He is also a Wheaton College graduate. (He makes a joke about Wheaton College which is old but still funny). Michael was a TA to one of my favorite theology professors, Dr. Alan Johnson. Then there is the highly regarded progressive Catholic, retired Northwestern University professor and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Dr. Gary Wills. Wills has written some of the most critical contemporary commentary on the Catholic Church of anyone in American academia. At the end of this panel, on your right, is the editor of America, Fr. Matt Malone, SJ. I would describe this group, if I was forced to used these terms, as a group consisting of a conservative, a moderate and a liberal. Yet all three of these panelists are measured and all three say almost the same thing about Pope Francis. If you care about the church, and here I mean all of it, then you should watch this full program. I hardly ever plead with readers to watch a 60-minute video but in this case I shamelessly beg you to watch it all. Once you begin I believe you will finish it. If you are concerned about the pope’s views on markets and economic freedom then you need to watch. If you are concerned about his views on the environment then you really should watch. If you are concerned about the pope’s moral views you should watch. And if you believe in mission you should watch. If you think you have figured him out then PLEASE do watch!!!

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Jesus, Leadership, Missional-Ecumenism, Pastoral Renewal, Religion, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future | 4 Comments/Likes