One of my Missional-Ecumenical Cohort members, in the class of April 2012, is Kevin Jesmer. Kevin is a lay-missionary with UBF serving in DeKalb, Illinois. I am impressed with how well Kevin listened to the conversation last Monday (March 26). On his personal blog he wrote an account of what he heard. I share it here so that my readers can hear about the event through the eyes and ears of someone else. Interestingly Kevin grew up in the Catholic Church but came to personal faith through a UBF Bible Study group. He is learning how to love and respect Catholics and the Catholic Church with new eyes and ears. This is one of my many goals in having such an event.
Before you read Kevin's report let me remind you that the entire event is now available for viewing on our ACT 3 home page.
Here is Kevin's blog about the March 26 event:
On Monday, March 26, 2012, ACT 3 ministry hosted an event at Wheaton College, in the Edman Chapel. It was a called, “A Conversation On Unity In Christ’s Mission.” It entailed a discussion between Francis Cardinal George O.M.I., the Archbishop of Chicago and Dr. John Armstrong, President of ACT 3. The invitation card stated, “An evening of dialogue exploring the common ground and current challenges that face Catholics and evangelical Protestants in Christian faith and mission.” We were all, “cordially invited to share in a Christ centered conversation on unity in the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ in our generation.” In the body of Christ, Catholics and Evangelicals have one Father in heaven and one Savior Jesus. We share common creeds and a common history. We share the Bible and the gospel. We are like siblings in the family of God. But can we serve Jesus together? Yes, we can serve society together, but can we preach the gospel together? Yes we can preach the gospel, but it will take greater efforts at dialoguing. We can unofficially work together to be salt and light. The Holy Spirit is helping us to do this even now. We must also be careful in our dialoguing, that we don’t become so strong headed, that we talk past each other and come to loggerheads. But we must not become so open minded that our brains fall out of your heads and we don’t think any more. We need to find ways to continue the conversation based on the gospel, coupled with mutual respect, love and honor.
Many people say that they love the church. But what they are saying is that they love their particular church and their own people whom they live out their Christian lives with. But their church experience is only a “postage stamp” piece of the Body of Christ. The question that we should be asking ourselves is, “Do we love the entire body of Christ?” There are children of God in other denominations, in other countries, even living down my street, who are children of God. If these folks are His people then they should be my people too. I should have a greater sense of ecumenism and an increased frequency of conversation and dialogue on these matters. There is so much that we don’t agree on, but there is so much that we do agree on. The bottom line is, Jesus Christ is Lord and all of his people make up the body of Christ.
Concerning the greater body, Cardinal George stated that we must set out to repair the wounds that we have inflicted on the body of Christ. We must enter into dialogue and not simply impose our views. We must build friendships and partnerships in dialogue. When we do we can then be the people that the Lord can use to bring peace to the world.
Dr. Armstrong brought up the fact that there are many similarities between us. He defined evangelicalism by the four core markers used by historian David Bebbington. 1. There is a commitment to conversion; 2. There is a commitment to activism; 3. There is a commitment to Bible centeredness; and, 4. There is a commitment to cruc-i-centeredness (The death and resurrection of Jesus). The two groups are not nearly as dissimilar as we might think. Even today we are seeing both evangelicals and Catholics attending joint Bible studies.
I found the Cardinal’s statement, that in the evangelical world, it is hard to find one person to officially talk with about “faith matters” quite compelling. This, he noted, is a structural matter. I believe it also has to do with our mindset about leadership. We don’t submit to the leaders of other churches and sometimes even to our own leadership. But in the Catholic Church leaders are (generally) more respected and listened to by Catholics. Almost all the Catholics at the Conversation on Unity were subjecting their hearts and their minds to what the Cardinal was saying. I think Billy Graham got close to becoming that person for the Evangelical world. Who will it be now? I don’t know, but I thank God for the dialogue that occurred at this conversation. It seems like a small event, but it was the Cardinal’s prayer that God may use it for a greater purpose. (Editor's Note: About 1,200 people attended the event.)
The question is, “What will be the form of unity that Christ wants?” One time, while flying on an airplane, a Pentecostal believer asked the Cardinal if he was saved. He thought this over and said, “Objectively…yes. Subjectively…I am saved but within the community of the church.”
I realized, during this answer, that Catholics equate faith and living out the Christian life with, not only faith in Jesus, but also life in the church. I saw this as a real difference between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics love Jesus and the gospel and the Church. Protestants love Jesus and the gospel, but not necessarily the church. There is a growing trend among Christian young people to bypass the church. A must read on this subject is “You Lost Me.” I am amazed that even those who go to church seem to get in and out as soon as possible. A friend of mine was disillusioned by the fact that people don’t want to stay and talk about the message after the worship service. They just want to leave. If that is the case, why even have a church building? Rent a hall for Saturday and Sunday.
Concerning evangelization, the Cardinal stated that evangelization is done at the individual level and also at the societal level. Catholics think about evangelizing the culture itself. The problem is that we speak of a pre-modern faith in a post-modern culture. How can Catholics now proclaim that Jesus is Lord in this post-modern, post-Christian society? In a secularized world, the church can be a club to motivate people to do good but never mention Jesus to others. The Cardinal conceded that Evangelicals have done a good job at slowing the secularization of America. They kept proclaiming the gospel fervently and kept the voice of the gospel “strong.” He stated that this has a lot to do with the history of Catholics in America. Due to social and political pressures they kept their heads down. For the longest time they thought that they could not freely practice their faith in America. But now things are changing.
I really admired the Q & A section on societal transformation. The church is where we can gather in Christ’s name. But the church must be involved in evangelizing culture. The culture is a normative system. It dictates what to think, how to perceive things and what to prioritize. It even governs certain matters of faith. There are two kingdoms…the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God. The two can never blend into each other. But they can approach each other so that communication can occur. One purpose of the implementation of the church is a part of that. Today cultures are secularizing. They are dialoguing less with the Church. But still the Church stands as a source of hope and life in trying circumstances within every culture.
I realize that we must go beyond just seeking to convert the individual. Catholics have it right. We need to transform societies and cultures. It was the Catholics that changed holidays from Roman/pagan celebrations to Christian celebrations. (i.e. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) They changed society so that the Gospel may interface with the secular world and communicate. Have Protestants given up on the idea of changing culture itself? I think most have, if they ever had that vision in the first place. We must lift up our eyes and have a greater vision.
There was a discussion on faith alone, “Sola Fide.” This is a topic that most people don’t really understand. This issue of faith is linked to our common Augustinian heritage. Cardinal George led the discussion by stating the faith is the beginning of our salvation. (Council of Trent). Faith must go beyond knowledge. Even the devil has knowledge about God, but is he saved? No! Faith must include actions, like trusting God and loving God and loving others. Faith is also a gift of God.
Dr Armstrong confirmed this idea using a reference from the book of James. James 2:17 (and verse 24) reads, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Instead of stopping at the word, “faith” (alone) we should talk about true and living faith. Then when we frame faith in this way we can continue in meaingful dialogue.
Next, there was a discussion concerning sharing our faith. The Cardinal stated that faith is a gift. If you don’t share the faith, then you will loose it. We can’t rest easy receiving the gift. We must share it. His statement on mission seems to be more based on the morality nestled within human relationships. Dr. Armstrong stated that the sharing of our faith is mission. Just as fire is for burning so the church is for mission. The sharing of our faith is based more on truth and how we are created. It is not as “warm” a definition as the Cardinal’s.
The next topic of discussion had to do with our response to God’s impulses and are we active agents or not in his impulses. I confess that I was lost on this discussion. I don’t know the differences on this issue between the two branches of Christianity. I hope this gets clarified.
I was sold on the idea of liturgy. Liturgy is important. Dr Armstrong grew weary with his 35 years of devotionals. He needed more that a few minutes of quiet time in the mornings. His response appeared to be delving deeper into the books of many Christian authors. I also know that he is part of church with liturgy. Coming from a Catholic background, I remembered the peace I felt as a boy going through the liturgy, smelling the incense, hearing the bell ringing of the altar boys, listening to the ancient songs, listening to the simple homilies and looking at the stations of the cross on the walls and imaging the stories in my mind. It was peaceful and edifying and I didn’t have to always engage my mind. I was resting in the things of God. The years spent experiencing the liturgy left me with some basics about faith, like; 1. Jesus is God 2. The Bible is God’s word, 3. I should go to church, 4. Jesus is the way to go to heaven. These basics helped me to accept Bible study. The Protestants should grow in a greater appreciation of liturgy. This could help them to not always focus and concentrate on Bible study as an intellectual exercise. We need to get back to the mystery of the gospel with the whole church.
What would full unity look like? Dr Armstrong stated that today, the idea of unity is not first about the union or reunion of the church. We will see complete union when Jesus comes again. We should strive for it now. But we must take steps right now that move us to what God might be pleased with in the future. The Cardinal stated that unity is a gift. Christ will bring it about. We must think about the opportunities that our present state of disunity can bring about, as a gift from God. If we think of this in positive terms (rather than as the work of the devil), then we can be excited about what God is going to bring about. The Cardinal believes that the Church contains all the gifts from God. The gifts that are present in the Church may not be visible to all, but they will be revealed and shared through continued conversation. Jesus will make all gifts visible. If there is enough love then all things will work out. We can see this principle at work in marriages between Protestant and Catholic spouses. We must realize that the truths of the two faiths don’t completely mesh. But with continued dialogue we can continue to navigate the complexities of our differences with respect, love and honor. Then Jesus prayer in John 17:23 can be further realized among us, “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (NIV 1984)