This morning ACT3 Network begins a new ministry that is, so far as I can tell, a first. It is certainly a first for our mission. I share this news because I believe it is ground-breaking and because I humbly need your prayers. You can read an excellent article about this coming week in the Daily Herald.
Judson University (Elgin, IL) is located about a half hour northwest of my home in Carol Stream (IL). I have ministered in various contexts and ways on the Judson campus for well over forty years. It is a historically Baptist college. Judson is an evangelical Christian university that says it “represents the Church at work in higher education, equipping students to be fully developed, responsible persons who glorify God by the quality of their personal relationships, their work, and their citizenship within the community, the nation and the world.”
The Judson University website also adds, on it home page: “The Judson community experience challenges graduates to be decisive leaders and active participants in church and society, articulate proponents of Biblical Christianity, persuasive advocates for the sovereignty of God over all life, and effective ambassadors for Christ.”
When I spoke in chapel at Judson last year I shared a meal, a few weeks later, with the new campus chaplain, Christopher Lash. As I talked with this wonderful young man I encouraged the idea of a Week for Christian Unity in chapel. I explored this idea by suggesting that we have three chapels in one week all focused on Christ and unity. I would preach from John 17 on Monday (October 6), at 10:00 a.m. A Catholic priest, my dear friend Fr. Tom Baima, would speak on Wednesday (October 8) at 10:00 a.m. from Matthew 28:18-20. I would introduce Tom and be there all week to connect the lines for Christian unity.
Then on Friday (October 10), at 10:00 a.m., I will introduce our final speaker, Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, an Orthodox priest at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, IL. Fr. Ellsworth, one of my dearest and best friends, has served on the ACT3 board and was the chairman of the board for many years. He will speak from Luke 24 this Friday.
In an email to the various participants in this Christian Unity Week at Judson Chaplain Christopher Lash wrote us the following:
Some points I want to specifically mention:
1) I have met with these gentlemen personally and have corresponded with them regarding the purpose of this series. All who will speak are on board with the vision and are excited to participate.
2) The purpose/vision for the event is to discuss our similarities rather than exalt our differences. It is important for students to see that we stand together on the central creeds and the centrality of Jesus Christ.
From Father Baima’s transcript, “I think I speak for the other preachers when I say that the value of this Christian unity week of chapel sermons lies in recognizing that Christian fraternity extends beyond one’s own community’s boundaries and that in the increasingly hostile, secular environment of 21st century America, Christians of different communities have found sufficient agreement between us to collaborate in mission, even as we continue to engage one another theologically about significant disagreements.”
3) I have asked each minister to speak on the gospel as informed by their tradition. The goal is for students to walk away from chapel this next week seeing that the gospel is rich and deep and that Jesus does, indeed, extend grace, love, mercy, and freedom to men and women. Their discussion of the gospel will certainly be informed by their tradition but will not be dominated by it. The reason I trust these men is because they value seeing Jesus’ name made grand over evangelizing for their tradition, especially in respect to our “conservative, evangelical university in the Baptist tradition” (excerpt from cover letter from Fr. Baima).
Another excerpt from Fr. Baima’s transcript:
Now, I’m not here to tell you about the Catholic Church. I’m here to preach to you about a biblical text, which, of course, I will do out of my experience of knowing and living with Jesus in the Catholic Church.”
4) The format will not be what is usual to our chapel. I have asked Rebekah TenHaken (Chapel Advisor) and Aaron Niequist (Leader of The Practice at Willow) to guide us in opening worship, gearing it towards the tradition we will be hearing from that particular chapel day. Rebekah will open on Monday and Friday and Aaron and Rebekah will lead together on Wednesday. Then the speaker will have 25-30 minutes.
I am looking forward to this series because I believe this will show the Millennials that there is far more unity living in Christianity than dogged points of discord.
The goal for this week is quite modest, but filled with life-changing potential: Introduce students and faculty to the wider Christian tradition and church in a personal way so that they can “see” what it looks like when we stand together in the love of Christ in their community.
Judson has a fair number of Catholic students and a few students who are not Christians at all. Pray that all the students will be amazed at this open demonstration of the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. If God favors this effort it will impact young lives for years to come. By such means ACT3 fulfills its purpose: “To empower churches and leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.”