It seems to me that the path the church must always follow, and her leaders must therefore seek follow as they lead the church, is to learn how to stay rooted in the Christian tradition, which is both a living and historical reality, while also using innovation when it comes to mission and ministry. This is what my late friend Bob Webber meant by "ancient-future faith" I believe. Protestantism has tended to allow for the innovation part of this equation while Catholicism and Orthodoxy have both remained rooted in tradition and struggled with the innovation part. This is particularly so with many ethnic churches, especially ethnic Orthodox Churches. But it is not limited to these churches. Many Protestant congregations are more defined by the culture than the gospel, in fact most likely are.
Modern evangelicals, on the other hand, have so rejected the role of tradition that they have little or no place for the living and breathing life-giving power of the historic church. Confessional life is held in suspicion. Everything is up for grabs, all the time, in all places. The "Bible Only" rule means we "make it up as we go." It is a very bad theological method that frankly leads to chaos. This is one reason why so many thoughtful evangelicals are leaving their churches and going to Rome or Constantinople. I am not inclined in any way to follow in those directions but I have great sympathy, indeed profound respect, for those who do take such a journey so long as they are following Christ and their conscience faithfully. The same is true for those Protestants who feel led to leave a mainline church for a newer more conservative church. But I believe the real reasons are quite often more about fear than about faith. (God is the judge of this, so I am making only a passing observation not a hard-and-fast conclusion.)
My hope and prayer, every single day, is to personally be a living, breathing, Spirit-filled "bridge" who helps people to love people and thus the whole church. I want to connect people and help them appreciate the breadth and depth of what God has done and is now doing in his whole church. This is one reason why fundamentalists on every side of these debates are so uncomfortable with my journey and what I write. This is also why I am working on my next book, over the course of the remainder of 2007. I am attempting to address these matters in considerable depth. I believe there is a new model ecumenism in the air and we will see it more and more in the century ahead of us. Christians are finding that all those who love Jesus Christ as Lord are really their brothers and sisters and that many of the things that have kept us at odds are not as important as the fact that we mutually love Him. They also have discovered that this does not mean that you have to cease to be an informed and conviction-centered Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox Christian to engage people in love with whom you still disagree.
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This “new model ecumenism in the air” which “we will see more and more in the century ahead of us”…sounds exciting. But can there be any hope for it if it is not marked by a penitence for the *spirit* of division that we evangelicals so easily foster–a penitence called for by Ephraim Radner and the like?
A great and honest question. No, is my short answer. So long as we act with a triumphal spirit, Catholic or Protestant, little can or will happen. What is needed is a true brokenness in all of us regarding the divisions in the church. We have all contributed to them and should begin to see how and what we can do about them. I will address this in my book in a deeply personal way I hope.