My dear friend, Father Wilbur Ellsworth, a former evangelical Baptist and now an Orthodox priest, is one of those brothers I want near to me the rest of my life. He always has something to say or do that brings grace and fullness to my life. Now that Father Ellsworth is fully engaged in ministry as a priest he is beginning to tell his story in various places. A few months ago he told it in Oklahoma for an Orthodox parish ministry. He gave me the DVD and I later wrote him a note expressing my appreciation for what he said and how he said it.
There was so much in Father Ellsworth’s story that I identified with, especially since I lived these days of change with him in the love of real friendship. I can still remember being at Notre Dame and me telling him I was going into the Reformed Church in America and I expected him to become an Orthodox priest. He was not quite sure yet, but I saw it and could only affirm what I saw as God’s grace working in him as my friend.
All of Father Wilbur’s story intersects with my life deeply, yet I remain resolute about where God has called me to serve him in the church catholic. This stance has never threatened our friendship for one moment. Many people cannot believe this but it is simply true. It is likely that though we are divided by the sacraments and the way we understand the church on earth we are closer than most Christians could ever be who were in the same communion or local parish.
After watching Father Wilbur’s presentation I told him that my biggest difference with him was simple and clear to me now. He believes that the fullness of the Christian faith is inherent to Orthodoxy, and I do not. I believe the fullness of faith is found in the catholic church, the whole church on earth in all its forms, so long as it remained rooted to the Triune God by faith in Christ as Lord (God/Man) raised from the dead. Father Wilbur responded to my statement with the following gracious words:
I do think the big question underlying so many smaller ones is this "fullness" question. It probably has several ways of being expressed along with the subsequent question of any visible, living church containing (in itself) that fullness. Just as I may not have been fully clear re: my comments about Solus Christus (I do not think the Reformers or their descendants are Christo-monists, but I think a practical Christo-monistic tone is all too commonly communicated in much of present day Evangelicalism), the question of "fullness" is also much more complex than what I was specifically able to say or in you would heard on the DVD.
This all comes together for me in a strange way as I have read your own book, Your Church is Too Small. Frankly, I have been struggling with a sense of deep sadness for the Church of Christ over the past few days with all this swirling about inside of me. I think, and I will say heartily on March 22 at the book launch event, that I hold and promote the spirit of "generous orthodoxy" toward all my brothers and sisters who by grace have entered into relationship with God through the Gospel of Christ and therefore have received the Holy Spirit. That is the mystery and wonder of the New Birth. That attitude is in one sense foundational to everything else. I believe the Father must deeply grieve and be offended by a spirit among His people that disregards and dismisses others who have come to Him in faith. On the other hand, AND THIS IS THE POINT AT WHICH I LABOR WITH SORROW, I find underneath so much of modern "generous orthodoxy" (notice I am using the small "o") a latent and always ready to surface spirit of all kinds of trouble. At times I find it in me (the first and most urgent matter for me to be concerned about), and if I choose to poke around enough I can quite easily arouse it in others. I find the comment that I am "just another convert who attacks evangelicals"