For some years I have enjoyed a precious friendship with a dear brother by the name of John Paul Todd. John has served the church in many capacities and now lives in Kentucky after some years on the mission field in Latin America. He blogs about unity and Christ's kingdom at a great site. I encourage you to check it out and create a tab. Now and then John and I have shared rich private fellowship. I mention John Paul in my book, Your Church Is Too Small, because he helped me frame several of my ideas for that work. He has been a great personal encouragement. Occasionally we share email correspondence. He recently wrote me a personal email that I wanted to share. With his permission I share it here.
I just returned from a road trip with my daughter & husband to the Southwest — nine states in all. It was great to see some of the major national parks that I hadn't seen before such as the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert. Besides the chance to spend time with my adult children and to visit their son at Prescott College (AZ), I did a lot of meditating, thanking God for all that I saw of His handiwork, not only in breath-taking nature but in other obvious signs of grace in His people in every time and place. I was especially focused on the Native Americans. I rejoiced that we are living in a time when many traditions and heritages are finally getting the respect and justice that is so rightly their's.
Just one example — in Prescott, Arizona, the Yavapai Indian tribe is dominant! The tribe had a tragic history and was almost entirely wiped out at one point. I was able to pick up a brief biography of a lady who was greatly used to stabilize this tribe and then lead it into a position of prosperity. Chieftess Viola Jimulla, who was for 26 years a tribal head of native Indians in the US, was this wonderful lady in this story. She was a strong Christian believer, a Sunday School superintendent in the Presbyterian Mission and a deacon. These are the kinds of stories that we should be learning about and celebrating, stories that demonstrate that God's people, the Church, has had remarkable victories in spite of her failures.
I have followed with interest your ACT 3 Weekly series on the "Churchless Christianity". As always you've given us a lot to think about. You wrote: "These [expressions] present a form of Westernized (American) Christianity that gives the impression that the only choice the Christian can make is between a very bad idea about the church and no church at all. To put this simply, they create a common straw man of stereotypical Western Christianity, with all its significant flaws, and then knock it down. "
From your latest article I'll make this general observation. The above comment sums it all up for me. In every age the sensitive biblical believer has wrestled with the great redemption that God has made for his people on the one hand and the reality of the mixed-multitude with all their failures to live their heritage in Christ on the other. Most Christians, in their more mature moments, realize that this is the nature of things in this present evil age. We are never to condone sin or living in the flesh but we also must recognize that this world is still a battle field and thus this will always require constant, repeated, vigilance by the Church. I think what those involved in this latest fad of attacking the "institutional" church are completely neglecting is 1) the wonderful stories of victory, such as the one I shared above, and 2) the fact that millions are living in traditional church settings all over the world, and for them, the local church is still the center of their Christian faith. These multitudes simply cannot be ignored nor do they show any sign of significant change in the future — they are not going away. Those who have convinced themselves that we are living in a new "reformation," or a some kind of giant shift in Christianity, are simply not viewing the total reality in my view. I've lived long enough (now in my 70th year) to have seen this kind of fad at least twice. If I live long enough I'm sure I'll see it again in the 21st century.
For the most part I agree with my friend. However, I do believe we are seeing new challenges that require new leadership and this leadership needs to understand missional-ecumenism to be more effective in the future. Actually, John Paul agrees with this analysis.