Over the course of the last two weeks I’ve written about the new pope. I have tried to explain why I, an evangelical Protestant minister and mission director, find this new world leader so encouraging for the cause of global evangelization. Today I want to end this series on Pope Francis by telling you about the work of the Lausanne Movement and how this directly work relates to the Catholic Church and Pope Francis.
After my book Your Church Is Too Small was released in March 2010 we did a number of events to tell people about the vision that I sought to cast through my own story of missional-ecumenism. Once these book-launch events were over, and things went back to normal, a “new normal” became the daily norm for me personally. I never expected what followed in the wake of the book.
Let me be very clear about this–the book is not a bestseller. I never expected that it would be. I did pray, however, that it would find hearts waiting and longing for what I wrote about, the oneness of Christ’s church in the mission of Jesus. Once reviews, which were mostly positive, died down the book began to have its real impact. Contacts through the book led to new friendships, friendships built upon my vision of what the church could be when we radically embraced relational oneness in the unity of Christ. My understanding is so simple that a child can grasp it yet it is so challenging that brilliant people find it offensive. When Jesus prayed for us to be one in John 17:20-23 he really meant it. He wanted us to live, as Christians and churches, in radical relational oneness with each other so that the world would see that the Father loved all people by sending the Son to save the world. This does not mean that we will agree on every point of doctrine, or that we will all join the same expression of church, but it does mean we cannot live the way we have lived for centuries. It does mean that when Christ is at the center of our life and community we will work with those who share our common core commitment because they are our brothers and sisters. It means that many of us will have to surrender the fear and folly that has driven our denominations and churches for centuries.
One of the most delightful experiences that followed the publication of my book was a connection with a missionary in Latin America named Nathaniel Bacon. Nate invited me to join with six others for a trip to the Vatican. In March 2011, one year after my book was published, I made this journey, a journey that I never imagined I would be led to make. It was life-changing. I met with professors in Vatican universities, with leaders of various parts of the Catholic Church as well as Protestant leaders working in Rome with the Catholic Church. One morning was spent with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). Another delightful morning was spent with Dr. Mary Tanner, the European head of the World Council of Churches. Mary was a student of my writing/theological mentor, Lesslie Newbigin.
When I came home from Rome I was asked by Acton Institute to go to Mission America in Orlando in April, 2011. Acton asked me to represent them in the “Work as Mission” track at the Mission America gathering. While sitting in a general session I realized that Doug Birdsall, the executive director of Lausanne, was near me in the same room. At a break I went to Doug and introduced myself and asked him if he would take a copy of my book. I also asked him if he wanted to hear what the leaders at the PCPCU in Rome thought of their first (ever) experience at Cape Town, 2010. (Cape Town was the last global Lausanne gathering and produced a remarkable document to guide our efforts..) I told him of the disappointment the Catholic bishop expressed to me regarding the fact that real dialogue did not take place at Cape Town between Catholics and evangelicals. The Vatican leader was pleased to be invited but wondered why more real conversation did not happen. Doug was humble and receptive. Months passed, almost a year, and then Doug asked me to serve on a Lausanne Committee (via conference calls). This committee would pursue a Catholic-Evangelical Conversation. It was to be the first such meeting in Lausanne’s forty-plus years of history. It was also the fulfillment of a commitment made at Cape Town to engage with Catholics in evangelism. After several meetings with this wonderful group of evangelicals I was then asked to be the Liaison for Lausanne Conversation Between Catholics & Evangelicals. I accepted this position with a great deal of joy mixed with some fear because of a sense of inadequacy. I saw God’s hand in these developments and felt that I could not turn this down.
Shortly after returning from Rome I had a friend ask for one of my books signed specifically to Cardinal George. (I thought, “This is nice but it will never be read.” I promptly forgot about him having my book.) Cardinal George read my book and then invited me for a private visit at his residence in Chicago. After we met in August of 2011 I invited him to a public dialogue at Wheaton College on March 26, 2012. You can see the video of this on our ACT3 website.
As one door opens often another follows so this journey has continued. Now the first Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation will happen April 18-20 at Mundelein Seminary (IL), the seminary of the archdiocese of Chicago. 27 people will meet in private conversation for two days. In this group there will be theologians, priests and ministers, heads of missions, emerging millennial leaders, etc. Men and women, from three continents and six countries, will gather. Our goal is simple–build trust and friendship, listen and learn, and through this friendship process foster mission together around the world. As I watched the new pope emerge over the last two weeks you can now see why I was so personally excited. Pope Francis is the friend of such meetings and efforts. I would be so bold as to request that you pray he learns of our meeting and offers prayer for it. I would even pray that someday this small seed that we sow has deep implications for wider and wider missional relationships within the Vatican.
Will this Mundelein meeting be a one-time gathering? We hope not. We believe God will do something that will open more doors. We come from many places and backgrounds and we pray that the seed we sow will blossom globally.
There are two requests that I have for you if you follow the ministry of ACT3 Network. First, pray for this event now and (specifically) during the days of April 18-20. Second, if you live in the greater Chicago area consider attending the one public event we will have. ACT3 Network and the Lausanne Committee invite you to share in our Thursday, April 18, public event at 7:00 p.m. Fr. Edward Oakes, professor at Mundelein, and Dr. Hans Boersma, professor in the J. I. Packer Chair of Theology at Regent College, will speak on “Christ Our Center.” A Q & A time, led by Fr. Robert Barron and myself, will follow. You are welcome to attend but you must register at www.act3network.com. (There is no charge but please register so we can plan the event.)
We are seeing a new day dawn for the Christian church in the early 21st century. During these momentous times many Christians and church leaders see clearly that we can no longer defend the separatism of our past. We need one another and John 17 clearly invites us to pursue this journey into oneness and wholeness. It is a faith journey. We cannot compromise what we believe but we can refuse to lose heart and to love while we continue to talk and pray with one another seeking Jesus as Lord in the one holy catholic church.