On March 22 we launched my new book Your Church Is Too Small. I presented a ten minute introduction to an evening discussion about the book. My comments, had I used them all, would have taken about twenty minutes, so I cut them short and altered them while I was speaking. Since that evening I decided to post the entire lecture online as a series of shorter blogs. What follows is the opening remarks from that evening:
I want to begin this evening by thanking everyone who has made this event possible. I want to extend a very special thanks to my three brothers who will respond to my book tonight and help us begin a discussion. Notice I said “Begin.” I sincerely mean this. When you read my book you will readily see just how deeply I mean this and how I am inviting you, all of you, into the reality of our unity and catholicity in Christ as Lord. I humbly ask you to hear what I have to say, not for my sake, but for Christ’s sake. I say this not because I believe I have written the last word about what I will call missional-ecumenism, but because I have written a readable, clear and, I hope, compelling narrative of how God has led me into missional-ecumenism. I hope my story will mean something to you as well. God alone will determine that, but I pray that he will glorify his Son through this book. I began thinking about writing this book almost five years ago. I had passed through a difficult transition time in my life and wanted to write about it. I had been powerfully led by the Holy Spirit to embrace the truth that I had been confessing in the Apostles Creed when I said those well-known words: “I believe in . . . one holy catholic church.” This was 1995. Though I had thought about the church since my childhood, I had never thought about these words. As I began to think about them then, suffice it to say that I came to really believe this confessional statement in a powerfully personal way. My life was transformed as I worked out what I plainly believed with all my heart and soul. I continue to work this out thus tonight is another step in the journey.
I must tell you candidly that working out this truth regarding “one holy catholic church” brought some incredible new joys into my life. It also brought with it a few painful experiences. This was all happening right in the middle of a big debate among evangelicals about the now well-known document: Evangelicals and Catholics Together. I had initially taken a dim view of that statement (as you could discover from some of my older writing still on the Internet). When I began to rethink my stance from the standpoint of the confession I had made about the one church, I began to see that I was wrong in my basic reaction. I began to explore the subject of the mission and unity of the church more deeply.
The way this all began is perhaps worth telling. When the second ECT statement on salvation was released several evangelicals were on the list of signers who came into this ECT process after the first document had been released. Not only did my friend J. I. Packer remain involved in the ECT process but now Timothy George and John Woodbridge were involved. (I had been engaged with Jim Packer, in a private way along with other leaders after the first document came out. Through this dialogue I was learning to listen calmly to wise and insightful comments even though some of my peers reacted negatively to Dr. Packer.) I did what I always felt obligated to do. I acted in friendship. I reached out to these three friends (i.e. Packer, George and Woodbridge) and began a serious conversation with each of them in private and all three of them in more public settings. This led to private dialogue with other evangelicals and, eventually, to conversations with Catholic leaders who were directly involved in the ECT process. I even participated in a meeting with Chuck Colson at Prison Fellowship in Virginia during this time. This meeting included six brothers who were all involved in this discussion, both negatively and positively. Out of all this listening and learning I had to admit that I had reacted against this new ecumenism without understanding it carefully.
Tomorrow: Part Two