After a brief overview of the history that led ACT3 Network to the present I now turn to what God is doing in the present and, more importantly, where we believe he may be leading us into a hopeful future. In writing these words I am reminded of the counsel of the Scripture: “People plan their path, but the Lord secures their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It is our task to plan our path and it is God’s to give life; i.e., to bless and secure our steps!
After Your Church Is Too Small was published in 2010 I knew in my soul something was in the wings. I had a profound sense that this something was to be big, at least in missional impact, though not necessarily in size as measured by numbers or dollars. I also had a deep awareness of my vocation and of the Spirit’s work. This made me fear and rejoice at one and the same time. I feared because I did not want to mess this up. I rejoiced because I was quite sure that I was “keeping in step with the Spirit.” These years have been charged with a keen awareness of this renewing grace.
One of the more interesting developments in my recent days has been a growing friendship with many Catholic leaders. This was never a part of my human planning. When I wrote Your Church Is Too Small I knew that the book “might” open some doors for kingdom conversations beyond my evangelical background but beyond this I had no clear idea at all. I never imagined just how much the Spirit would use the book to start a process that has completely transformed ACT3. Now I speak at Catholic events, spend time with Catholic leaders, and meet day-to-day with a growing circle of Catholic friends. My church experience had truly been “too small.” The Spirit pushed me out into the deep where I discovered just how much I had been missing. I now recognize that good theology is done in “ecumenical” friendships precisely because it is here, in the intersection where faith and love truly come together, that we discover much that we have otherwise missed by remaining safely anchored within our own church traditions and social background.
One of the pre-eminent questions addressed by these particular developments has been: “What do my brothers and sisters really believe and how can I come to see their faith with charity even when I disagree with their theological conclusions?” This question strikes me as nothing more or less than what love requires of people who desire to live in the Spirit.
Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, CEV).
If my life’s calling is to be an icon for Christian unity in Christ’s mission then his love would have to mark all my actions and intentions. Even if my actions failed this calling, and they often do, I would have to learn how to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I would have to learn how to confess my sin, even publicly, and then seek the good of others. This included everyone, whether they liked me or not.
I know all too plainly that my love fails but I cannot lower the bar to meet these failures. This reality stands before me calling me to lay down my own agenda and to truly seek the well-being of others. As my Millennial friends put it: “If you want to minister to us effectively then you must learn to check you ego and your logo.” In my case the others were Christians I had never loved until God reshaped my life in the early 1990s. Now I am enjoying “life together” with Catholic brothers and sisters in ways that I would never have imagined possible before I was forty-five years old. When I am asked how all of this happened I answer: “I made myself available to God’s love and prayed for him to introduce me to the people that he wanted me to meet and love.” A large portion of God’s answer to this prayer began around the year 2000 when I started opening myself up to Catholic believers in every way possible. Before long I was being invited to interact in private with numerous Catholic theologians and priests. Today I count so many Catholics among my dearest friends that I cannot count them any longer.
This journey eventually led to me being invited to serve as the Liaison for the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation. Our first meeting was held in April (2013). You can see the one public event of this conversation on our home page. I believe there is much more that will be done in this area once our committee meets to decide what needs to happen next in this extremely important dialogue. (Pray for me and for the Lausanne committee.)
Evangelical Protestants and Catholics are more engaged in ecumenical conversation today than at any time in history. TIME magazine reported in this week’s (July 29) issue that several years ago a gathering of nearly 6,000 Protestant leaders in Argentina invited Cardinal Bergoglio to come forward for prayer in a Protestant meeting. (In this photo you can see that Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, met with two of our Lausanne leaders who helped facilitate our recent conversation in April.) In this large public meeting Cardinal Bergoglio knelt before the entire assembly. Hands were laid on him in prayer and all were the hands of Protestant leaders. I’ve seen the photograph of this prayer gathering. It profoundly moves me every time I look at it. TIME added of this evening that “Conservative Catholics are still shocked over it.” I dare say they are.
Friends, this is a new day! Secularism demands that Christians now stand together in the “great hall of common Christian faith.” We cannot afford to waste our time fighting one another. We need to return to our common, catholic faith stance and agree to work together in love for the good of the world. When the world sees this happening they will then know that God the Father sent the Son into the world because he deeply loves the world. (John 17:21-23). May that day come sooner than later. Soli Deo Gloria.
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Many thanks for this testimony. I guess to learn God’s love we must unlearn the limits we so easily put on our understanding and practice of Christian love.
Very good, John. We tend to take a snapshot of others and think we have captured their whole story. I have also been drawn into Christian friendships and theological discussions with those I once considered outside the line of real Christian community. By the Spirit’s leadership God’s love erased the line and drew a wider circle; one that included the whole bunch.
Reading this made me think mainly of Peter’s dream on the rooftop, and how he was submissive when God told him not to call unclean what He had cleansed. That simple snapshot has always been to me of overcoming sectarianism, racism and divisions in general.
“Friends, this is a new day! Secularism demands that Christians now stand together in the “great hall of common Christian faith.” We cannot afford to waste our time fighting one another. We need to return to our common, catholic faith stance and agree to work together in love for the good of the world. When the world sees this happening they will then know that God the Father sent the Son into the world because he deeply loves the world. (John 17:21-23). May that day come sooner than later. Soli Deo Gloria.” I stand with you John. My participation in the Acton University this summer had put an exclamation point to what you just wrote.
I came to this realization last week as I prepared to preach on Martha and Mary from Luke 10. I thought I could sum up the two women from the few verses presented at the end of that chapter. Many, myself included, have presented Martha in a negative light, not interested in learning at the feet of Jesus. And Mary has been portrayed as one who meditated on the Word’s of Christ. However, I see them differently now. Taking into consideration all that the Gospels say about both women it is clear that they both were serious about hearing God. After all, in the Gospel of John, Martha makes a confession of faith equal to the one made by the Apostle Peter; one that was not revealed by flesh and blood.
Barry, that is what amazes me about the Word of God…it keeps unfolding and unpacking as you read it carefully, seeking the Spirits help to understand it. I once was studying the events that lead to the Fall, and noticed that Adam should have spoken up to protect Eve but remained quiet. I’ve had so many pastors over the years sneer at Eve’s weakness when in fact it should be Adam we level our criticism of. God does take us down paths we never anticipated.
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