Over the latter years of the 1990s people discovered that I was rethinking this issue of Catholics, evangelicals and Christian unity. My name began to show up on blogs, in books and in various media outlets where I was criticized as Exhibit A of the real dangers of this whole ECT process.
So, the first reason for writing this book was to explain my own story. I wanted to write a narrative that showed how I had come to embrace catholicity and the oneness of the whole church. I wanted my people to hear from me what I had experienced and how. The book is the true story of my journey and if someone wishes to oppose me that is fine. If they oppose me in the wrong spirit, or without civility, then I leave to my readers to discern this as they will. I expect reviewers to praise and criticize the book.
Second, I wrote this book because I had come to see something that I felt the church desperately needed to hear and understand. I had wrestled with John 17:20-23 for many decades. I knew something was wrong about the way we continually divided the church into endless groups and tribes. I had studied no portion of Scripture as much as the Gospel of John. (There are several reasons for this. I was named after the apostle so his writings have always been mine in a unique way! I have, in fact, made John’s writings the central content of my biblical study for the rest of my life.)
What I finally came to see in this journey of almost two decades was what I call missional-ecumenism. Let me explain.
By its very nature the church was to be identified with the mission of the Triune God. We are a sent people. We are sent into mission just as the Father sent the Son into mission, through incarnation, human relationship and sacrificial love. This means that our mission as believers and churches is rooted in the very same DNA as this divine 'sent-ness' that we see in Jesus’ relationship with his Father. This is what I mean by the often misused word missional.
But the word ecumenism was a very bad word in my very conservative background. I had never even realized that this word was a biblical one. When I saw what ecumenism really was, especially in the terms of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and Paul’s strong ideas about our oneness in Ephesians 4, I began to put these two concepts, of mission and unity, together. In reality they already were together in John 17 as a careful reading of that prayer will plainly reveal. So I didn’t put them together, I simply discovered them in the Scripture and coined a phrase from my reading of history, missiology and the Scriptures. This is ultimately why I wrote my book—to explain this connection between unity and 'sent-ness,' between ecumenism and the mission of Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow: Part Three
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I love hearing your story. It’s amazing to me how some of our stories may connect but how we got there was totally different.
As I look at my own background, there has been three things that have moved me into this arena of what you call ‘missional ecumenism.’
1. There have been several paradigm shifts that have happened in my life that I would actually call revival-like experiences. One was my ‘Emmaus weekend’ experience where I became much more sacramental, catholic (the issue of catholicity became an important issue for me) and history was barely on the radar (where have I come from and where am I going?).
2. Another major “turning” in my life was the first clergy Promise Keepers which Bill McCartney says was the greatest move of God he’s ever seen in the Promise Keepers movement. The issue was on racial reconciliation which also brings reconciliation in all it forms to the forefront.
I as a German embraced and asked a Hasidic Messianic Jewish pastor for forgiveness. I thought the tears from both of us would never end! Since that time, the Bible is fiercely more Jewish in how I read it. The ministry of reconciliation is not some theory to be taught but a reality to be lived out. Biblical unity and the restoration of all things was back on the table.
3. Finally, it has always been strange that a Southern Baptist like myself ended up in the Stone-Campbell Restoration churches. Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder how I got here? :–) But in the midst of it all, I find a history that strived to be true to both Scripture and unity of God’s people is of paramount importance for the church at large. I find it strange I have to convince restorationist people of this who were born and raised in that tradition.
Sola De Gloria!