More than a few Christians leaders will admit that missional-ecumenism lines up with the teaching of John 13:34-35, John 17:20-23 and John 20:31. But the problem often arises when it comes to praxis, or implementation. The question is rather obvious: “How do we actually put this vision into practice?” The Cape Town Commitment answers this as beautifully and succinctly as anything I’ve ever seen or read.
As I noted yesterday the Cape Town Congress wanted to reaffirm core doctrinal convictions while at the same time it sought to address the oft-neglected practices that should flow from good theology. This is why Part 2 of The Cape Town Commitment is so important for missional-ecumenism.
Part 2 is titled: “For the World We Serve.” It begins: “Our covenant with God binds love and obedience together. God rejoices to see our ‘work produced by faith’ and our ‘labor prompted by love,” for we are God’s workmanship . . .” And then it adds, “As members of the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ, we have sought to listen to the voice of God through the Holy Spirit.” This was done by The Cape Town Commitment by focusing on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians and hearing the voices of Christians from around the world.
The first theme is bearing witness to the truth of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic and globalized world. The second is building the peace of Christ in a divided and broken world. Here we are encouraged to be peacemakers who seek reconciliation and healing in the world. The poor and oppressed are particularly addressed, underscoring the importance of the whole church contributing to this statement. Following this section is the third theme. It is a statement about living the love of Christ among peoples of other faiths and religions. As you would expect of solid evangelical Protestants the fourth theme is the will of Christ for world evangelization. And this is not the “same old kind of statement” from the past. Again it reveals the genius of having many voices in this conversation. There is a part of this theme that deals with “oral cultures.” How I wish I had read this thinking when I was 21 years old. It would have helped me be a better pastor to people who were not well-educated in the printed text and good readers. My ministry was simply too strongly tied to reading and books. The fifth theme we encounter calls the church to humility, integrity and simplicity. Who can argue with the need for this in the modern world after years of being associated with nations and empires?
But it is the sixth, and final, theme that struck me so powerfully because of how it specifically works out the thesis of my own mission and the book, Your Church Is Too Small. This sixth theme is partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission. Since you can read the entire document online I will not simply copy whole sections, with one exception. The opening statements of this final theme are so central to my message that I copy them and make some observations, Here we read:
IIF. Partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission
Paul teaches us that Christian unity is the creation of God, based on our reconciliation with God and with one another. This double reconciliation has been accomplished through the cross. When we live in unity and work in partnership we demonstrate the supernatural, counter-cultural power of the cross. But when we demonstrate our disunity through failure to partner together, we demean our mission and message, and deny the power of the cross.
1. Unity in the Church
A divided Church has no message for a divided world. Our failure to live in reconciled unity is a major obstacle to authenticity and effectiveness in mission.
A) We lament the dividedness and divisiveness of our churches and organizations. We deeply and urgently long for Christians to cultivate a spirit of grace and to be obedient to Paul’s command to ‘make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
B) While we recognize that our deepest unity is spiritual, we long for greater recognition of the missional power of visible, practical, earthly unity. So we urge Christian sisters and brothers worldwide, for the sake of our common witness and mission, to resist the temptation to split the body of Christ, and to seek the paths of reconciliation and restored unity wherever possible (65-66).
The Cape Town Commitment then urges us to establish partnerships in global mission. It says: “The supremacy and centrality of Christ in our mission must be more than a confession of faith; it must also govern our strategy, practice and unity.” Where we can stand together and accept one another in mission as one body we should do this in every possible way. Such partnership is not simply about money and programs since money is often injected into controversies and rivalries, not into unity. I love this statement: “Let us no longer impose our own preferred names, slogans, programs, systems and methods on other parts of the Church. Let us instead work for true mutuality of North and South, East and West, for interdependence in giving and receiving, for the respect and dignity that characterizes genuine friends and true partners in mission.” Working with and for “genuine friends and true partners” could not be a better description of what I live for and seek to teach in every way possible.
The whole document ends on this same missional and ecumenical note:
Three times Jesus repeated, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ Three times Jesus prayed ‘that all of them may be one, Father.’ Both the command and the prayer are missional. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ ‘May they be brought to complete unity so that the world may know that you sent me.’ Jesus could not have made his point more emphatically. The evangelization of the world and the recognition of Christ’s deity are helped or hindered by whether or not we obey him in practice. The call of Christ and his apostles comes to us afresh: ‘Love one another’; ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ It is for the sake of God’s mission that we renew our commitment to obey this ‘message we heard from the beginning.’ When Christians live in the reconciled unity of love by the power of the Holy Spirit, the world will come to know Jesus, whose disciples we are, and come to know the Father who sent him.
I have read no statement which more powerfully reflects my own vision of the church and the mission of our sovereign Lord Jesus Christ than this. The love of Christ compels us to this vision. This surely must be the finest consensus document on missional-ecumenism in print. I urge you to read it and then seek to follow its wise counsel in partnership with every Christian and mission possible.