Well, I am back at it. Back at school, that is. I'm still nibbling away at a Master's degree, and it feels like a race against time. I say that because the more 'mature' I become, the greater the struggle to focus on the topic, or to organize a topic. I prefer to think that this happens because I have too many things going on in my head, rather than call it an age thing. At the same time I feel like it is getting more and more important for me to learn. I'm 57, but I still feel like I am just getting started. (Does that feeling ever go away?)
I am driven to learn for several reasons. I think meeting the Lord someday might have something to do with it. I want to discover what is really true and I want to be at rest for the right reasons. I hate the thought of resting on an illusion. Illusory hope works temporarily but it does me no good in the valley. It really isn't about the need for certainty. It goes deeper than that, I think. It almost feels like something organic. To discover those reasons, I feel the need to, at least mentally, extricate myself from my evangelical culture and reach back into history. I'm reading a lot of the Church Fathers, and I am actually reading Roman Catholic Catechism. After all, if I call myself a Protestant, I need to be correctly informed just what it is I am protesting.
I discovered that my former criticisms of the Catholic church were rather shallow, and some of them were straw men. I am just as convinced an evangelical as I always was, but I feel like I can discuss the issues with a bit more credibility now and a bit more irenically.
From October to December I took a theology course that looked at the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement started by men like Charles Colson, J. I. Packer, John Neuhaus and other well know leaders in both denominations. It was very enlightening to read the documents and discuss them together in class. Perhaps I will post some of that work on the blog if there are any requests.
One clear impression was made by all that reading. The scholars involved sure try hard to find language that will accommodate both sides, and one would almost have to be a lawyer to pick up what IS being said, and what IS NOT being said. After all is said and done, the movement does not seem to be turning into anything official. And the unofficial word is that at least one of the major movers on the Catholic side of the discussion admits that a lot less was achieved than what might appear on all that paper.
Having taken that course, my one take-away is this: I still want to know how I can meaningfully connect with churches in our area with whom I do NOT disagree doctrinally or practically. Shouldn't it AT LEAST begin there? Jesus' prayer in John 17 for the unity of his disciples was not meant to remain a mysterious unity that is not to be manifested until we are changed into His likeness. He told us that our unity (which is to be patterned after the unity of the Father and Son) will have tremendous apologetic value.. “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
This haunts me. We reject the throne of Rome but we elevate and exalt individualism instead of Jesus. And I feel alone in these thoughts. Ecumenism is such a dirty word in evangelical circles. The evangelical church is plagued with protectionism. No one talks about it because most of our churches call transfers from one church to another growth. It is one of those elephants in the living room. We rejoice to see new faces at our worship services, but few people ask, “Are the lost and hurting being reached with the message of hope?” (I say this, recognizing that other churches have benefited from people transferring OUT of our congregations into theirs. It's all zero-gain or loss for the body of Christ).
Yet, what would this unity that Christ had in mind look like? Surely it means more than getting together for a joint Good Friday service. And it cannot mean the kind of unity that is often attempted with ministerial associations where meetings are prefaced with “Let's ignore what divides us.” Okay, it isn't stated quite that bluntly. But that is essentially what is meant.
I think one place to start would be to find churches who want to be missional for the sake of the kingdom rather than for their own survival. The thought already makes me weak in the knees. It is a daunting task. I know about board meetings, committee meetings and congregational meetings. I know how difficult it is to share a vision that requires a kind of big gulp faith. And to persuade a group of leaders to take that big gulp step of faith with you is not easy.
That's why it has to start with prayer. What would God have us to as a group of churches that cannot be done unless we do it together? What “big, hairy, audacious goals” would He have undertake, not for the sake of being audacious, but for the sake of the big God whom we serve? What needs doing in our city that would both meet a practical need and at the same time cause people to say, “There is a God after all!”