Many readers of this blog know that I have been engaged in serious ecumenical conversation and mission for more than a decade now. This led me to visit the Vatican in March of last year. (Blogs about that trip can be accessed in the archives of this blog site from March 2011.) Shortly after I returned from Rome, in mid-March, Francis Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago, was featured on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. In a unique interview he spoke about various things that had been accomplished, and not accomplished, during his time in Chicago. One of his expresed interests was for a greater conversation between the evangelical Protestant community, with its great passion for Christ's mission, and the Catholic Church in Chicago. A member of the ACT 3 board, who had a wonderful friendship with a priest inside the archbishop's office, got a copy of Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church, to his friend who then gave it to the Cardinal. Cardinal George read my book and then contacted me by email to see if I would come to his residence for a personal, private conversation. I went in the summer of 2011 and it was a delightful time for me.
At the end of that lovely visit I asked the Cardinal if he would come to Wheaton and continue to discuss my thesis of missional-ecumenism in a public context. He agreed. But then the details had to be worked out. With profound gratitude I can tell you that Wheaton College allowed ACT 3 to use the largest facility on campus, Edman Memorial Chapel, for this special evening. Thus on Monday, March 26, at 7:00 p.m., Cardinal George and I will meet again but this time we will have our conversation in a public setting. You are cordially invited.
This event is free but seating is limited and we expect a very large crowd. I will say a lot more about this unusual dialogue in the next few days but please mark the date now. If you live far away from the Chicago area then you can see the video of this event on our web site sometime after it is over. (Some friends are flying in for this evening from both coasts!) We even hope to "live stream" the event via Wheaton College's radio station if the details can be arranged in time. I'll keep you posted on everything connected with this important event.
Please pray for me when you think about March 26th. Pray also for Chris Castaldo, director of Gospel Renewal at the Billy Graham Center, who will moderate our dialogue. And pray for Francis Cardinal George, the leader of Chicago's Catholic community and a rightly esteemed leader in the Catholic Church in America. I am uniquely honored to know this man of faith and look forward to our conversation with some degree of fear. My fear is not of the Cardinal himself. He is an extremely gracious brother and will strive to build up everyone in love without flinching on what he believes. I fear that I might fail the task of properly representing the unity of Christ's people in mission, the passion of my life. I also fear that I will not show the love of Christ as I should. My heart is filled with love and regard for all of Christ's flock so I pray this will be evident in my words and actions.
Finally, pray for all the work that goes into this event. We have a huge load of publicity to complete if this event is to be a great success. I need volunteers to do a great deal. A former staff member is coming from St. Louis to assist Stacy, my daughter, in running the evening event and handling the crowd, my books, etc. Pray for each person involved that we will all be safe, full of Christ's love and kind to all.
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That sounds like it is going to be an incredible event. I hope that I will be able to see it. And I will definitely pray for you and Cardinal George.
Dear Dr. Armstrong
I was a Roman Catholic for over 45 years, and by the magnanimous grace of God was saved and released from its bondage in 1993. I read your “Conversation on Christian Unity…” with great sadness. Your quest for ecumenism with an apostate church is exceedingly discouraging to those of us who again, by God’s sovereign grace, were redeemed, saved and released from it. It seems that you are almost giddy with excitement and have great admiration for Francis Cardinal George, “the leader of Chicago’s Catholic community and a rightly esteemed leader in the Catholic Church in America.” You even call him and those in the RCC “brothers.”
This note is not intended to be caustic, for the contrary, this is to beg you to repent from this ignominy, seek truth from God’s Word and instead of joining forces in this great “ecumenical” heresy, seek to present the true gospel of Christ to the illustrious Cardinal and all Roman Catholics.
Perhaps the good Cardinal may enlighten you to this quote from a Roman Catholic Website. “The Congress on Eucharistic Adoration met in Rome for the purpose of encouraging people to spend more time adoring the Eucharistic Christ. Pope Benedict XVI expressed the importance of worshipping the Eucharist when he encouraged everyone to: “Fix our gaze on the holy Host: and thus on God. This is the beauty of true Christianity: The Creator and Lord of all things was made a grain of wheat in order to be sown on our earth. He was made bread to be broken, shared, eaten; he was made our food to give us his own divine life.” He also declared, “The transformation of the world is in the fragile, white, consecrated host – the real presence of Jesus. The only true medicine of immortality and the certainty of being loved by God is the Eucharist.”
Jose, I do not think you are being “caustic.” I think you are being consistent with your beliefs and personal views. I respect that. Obviously I do not see it the way you do or I would agree and stake your approach. Your faith is God’s gift and an eternally precious one. I am not seeking to undermine your faith or that of anyone else. I am seeking to follow John 17:20-24, as is Cardinal George. We do not agree on some doctrinal issues and there will be opportunity to express this in the event but we are talking in this context so that people might see how two men who love Jesus Christ can love one another and promote prayer and mission. As much as you do not agree with me I ask only for your most fervent prayer to the Father for me, a sinner redeemed by grace alone.
Yes, Jose, you have correctly put your finger on the greatest difference between the Catholic/Orthodox churches and the non-Catholic ones: the Liturgy and their interpretation of the Liturgy as the “River of Life” through which the redemption that is in Christ, flows from the throne of God to the Body of Christ on earth.
We non-Catholics have a very different interpretation indeed but if God has given us the desire to love across the walls of our different interpretations and the determination to be obedient to seek to promote the unity of the Body on earth before the watching world, then we will do the work necessary to 1)understand from other faith traditions within the church, how they practice their life in Christ, 2) and we will rejoice when we can, in spite of our differences, find much more of what we do in fact have in common in Christ.
I certainly appreciate your background and your position, but please do not use your own perspective to judge another blood-bought child of God.
John Paul Todd
I don’t know anything about you, but from what I have just read I question your understanding of Biblical truth. Are you familiar with the Protestant Reformation? Do you know what were the bones of contention between the Reformers and the Roman Church? I found this quote from your own letter quite interesting – “He (Cardinal George) is an extremely gracious brother and will strive to build up everyone in love WITHOUT FLINCHING ON WHAT HE BELIEVES.” Do you know what he believes (ex. 1 Tim 4:3)? Do you not know that true Biblical truth is diametrically opposed to what he believes? Do you not know that by his church’s teaching they deny the finished work of Christ (Titus 1:16)? I pray you are not being deceived (Rom 16:18); that you are not associating with him for monetary gain (1 Tin 6:3), and that you might, instead, turn away from this false prophet (2 Tim 3:5).
I hope people will spend some considerable time really getting to know John and his mission on this website. Several of us know John personally and his heart for missional ecumenism and seeking unity while promoting love and truth is very important for the days we live in a divided Christendom.
As I have been listening to these posts, a few comments.
1. Scripture always cuts both ways (self-examination should always take precedence over our use of scripture)
2. Current developments, conversations, and relationships is bringing new insight and better understanding between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox,
and Protestants. For those who are actually building bridges rather than walls between groups, this shows great possible fruitfullness over the barren fruitlessness of fueding and misunderstandings.
3. When people “convert” from one faith tradition to another, there are usually two major responses. One is to see their former spiritual heritage as a stepping stone to where they are currently spiritually. Another view is they see their former spiritual heritage with contempt or anger because they felt it deceived them or is some kind of heretical apostate church.
There are proactive and reactive responses to faith. I pray we can all be charitable to others, even to those we disagree with. Shalom.
Like many others with great head knowledge, John Armstrong has strayed from the gospel and is comfortable with another gospel, which, teaches a man is not saved by grace alone by a foreign righteousness (Christ’s), prayers for the dead are okay, indulgences are okay, praying to spirits of the dead is okay (Saul thought so too) , temporal punishment in a place called purgatory a true teaching, claims Mary was sinless, Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, Mary makes intercession for us, Mary dispenses grace to the world, Mary has the ability to hear the prayers of millions simultaneously, ( this is not the Mary of Scripture, but a pagan Mary and idolatry) The Roman Church also teaches that Allah is the same God as Jehovah, Muslims will be in Heaven, as well as many other groups of people who reject the claims of Jesus Christ, and the list goes on…
Apparently, John Armstrong is comfortable with these beliefs because his theological method has caused him to give up on his epistemological certitude. I guess when Jesus said he was the truth, we can know the truth, the truth lives in us, the spirit convicts us of truth, He really didn’t mean it. And if He did, I guess God didn’t take into consideration that we are finite human beings and He was incapable of leading us to know His truth. Really?
John, why haven’t you gotten in touch with Pastor Gary Scott like you promised him you would a number of years ago to discuss your emerging ecumenical journey? He likes you, considers you a friend and is very concerned about you.
As for Wheaton College, I and many others will be warning thousands of Bible Believing Churches the direction this institution is heading in. According to you, the truth Jesus was talking about is relative and therefore, that makes Jesus Christ and saving faith in Him relative too.
Such are the beliefs of those who travel the road to Rome. Smells like… Universalism.
For His glory alone,
For what it’s worth, I could not possibly disagree with you more.
John Armstrong is one of the most theologically brilliant, pastorally responsible, Christ loving men I know, a man who loves God’s Word and God’s truth.
Anyone who knows John understands that he does not agree with every teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. He has given numerous reasons at different times regarding his own concerns and differences with Catholicism.
John is neither a syncretist nor a relativist, which goes to show how some people simply don’t understand his missional ecumenism at all. I know some people believe every form of ecumenism is code for liberalism.
All I can say to John is many of us love you and hope your tribe increases!
I know some Christians believe that every time other Christians try to work in unity, for example for world peace, this will some how usher in the anti-Christ and a world system that opposes Christ. The irony is that when I read about the Prince of Peace in the Bible, the Savior who wants to unite people into one spiritual family, there are those in his name who think peace and unity are fundamentally bad ideas.
I’ve only met John virtually, but I would second everything you say. Believe me, I know what off-center theology is, and John is not off-center, but centered on the grace of God, respects Scripture and listens to the Spirit.
Chris, I notice you had to give all these qualifiers to show you (and John Armstrong) are NOT a Heretic, Apostate, Traitor, or Thought-criminal. (Or Jesuit Spy.) Like you had to flatter the Witchfinders-General and/or Thought Police with Proofs of Loyalty.
Now THAT tells you something about the state of American Evangelical Christianity. Think about it.
i.e. “I was Catholic but now I’m CHRISTIAN (TM).”
Listen up. The only reason you’ve got a Bible to Believe In (and quote) is that the bishops of the Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox Church (they were one at the time) forcibly prevented all the Shirley Mac Laines of the time from rewriting the Bible in their own image back when years A.D. were in the low three digits.
The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648. It is now 2012. Sorry you never got the word (or decided to ignore it and Jihad against the Other…)