What do you think? Are Christians making any progress toward the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer, or are we merely becoming more polarized? Do you have any additional suggestions to move us in the right direction?
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I would say a bit of both. There are increasingly more and more believers who are realizing that the artificial lines we’ve drawn between denominations are becoming less and less important. People from a variety of different groups are conversing and sharing impressions of God to gain a better understanding of who He is and how we participate in His mission.
But, along with that, there are a lot of people who are acting out of fear and fortifying their positions within their denominations. Change is scary. It means that we are not necessarily in control. Those things that are comfortable are going away, being replaced with things that are no longer comfortable.
The polarization is happening, not in denomination vs denomination, but in people welcoming the ecumenical missional church and people who want to preserve the comfort of the status quo.
What can we do about it? Other than demonstrating love for each other and praying, there’s not much. God’s Spirit will move as it wills. We cannot force people to change, we can only demonstrate in our own lives what change can bring.
After Biblical Seminary I follow God’s lead to be involved in student ministry in the islands of Micronesia. Missional ecumenism is a huge issue here simply because of the limited options with whom the saints can identify themselves. Island population is small, healthy churches are not many. I appreciate Dave’s simple principled counsel for moving forward towards all things missional.
Islanders are primarily communal in identity; identifying with God’s kingdom is sensed by so few of the believers here. The unique cultural heart/mindset of being provincial and clannish provides strongholds against a truly Christian sense of identity, and, consequentially mission.
I’m energized to be in a kingdom role of influencing the coming generation of church leadership. Hopefully our students see a staff ecumenism and watch secondary doctrinal issues and a diversity of ministry methods moved to the periphery. After six years of being out here I can say that I see God’s hand moving in these matters.
A friend forwarded your message, which rings true to me. I am not a pastor, but a “senior” real estate developer with a legal education who has been discerning a redirected vocational calling. I have prayerfully passed through consideration of enrolling as a full-time seminarian. I am now instead aligning a group of professionals to empower elderly and their families to bridge the stages from independence though skilled care to estate administration. As a Presbyterian who has experienced the divisiveness of social politics, a couple of your themes grabbed my attention.
I was first reminded of the vision of Robert D. Lupton in his book Renewing The City (2005 page 153) where he suggested that the nature of Christian real estate developers should result in them becoming modern day Nehemiahs to rebuild the urban areas of America. Bob Lupton has spent his life living in a most relevant and practical manner for Jesus in Atlanta, ultimately as the leader of FCS Urban Ministries. After being introduced to his message by a friend who has dedicated his post-Katrina life to worldwide disaster response, I met with Bob Lupton to thank him for his challenge, and to suggest a different calling for real estate developers. It occurs to me that, similarly as Jesus exposed and obviated the self-defined limitations of Pharisees, Sadducees and other factions of the Chosen People, the skills of modern day real estate developers (and other Christian entrepreneurs) might be to challenge unnecessary barriers within the Christian faith, and help to articulate a vision which leads to relevant and practical Kingdom Building.
Didn’t the life of Jesus expose and obviate the self-defined limitations of Pharisees, Sadducees and other factions of the Chosen People? And where in the New Testament do the red letters of Jesus warn against homosexuality as a pastoral focal point? How is “the Kingdom which is not of this world” built by defending the orientation of “fundamental or liberal,” “modern or post-modern,” “Presbyterian or Pentecostal” or for that matter “gay or straight?” What is the downside of instead prayerfully considering Paul’s challenge that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)?” How many of His “body parts” has God really called to debate and define who “we” are, instead of focusing on the “do”-ing? Did Jesus give us a hint (Matthew 7: 1-5)?
As a monogamous heterosexual, I otherwise admit that I have recognized and attempted to overcome within my own behavioral patterns what seem to be natural but sinful tendencies. I suppose I should feel grateful or fortunate that that society has been relatively tolerant of my questionable proclivities, which are not sexually related. My soul feels no solace in being on the “right side” of a societal issue if it is at the expense of finding common ground to praise and worship my Creator in the spirit of Christ with a gay neighbor.
For me, the idea that we must become a neighbor to love our neighbors suggests that we must first focus on identifying a concern for common or adjacent ground which will strengthen relationships. Let God be the judge of whether the Presbyterian polity and theological discipline is holier than a Pentecostal approach, or whether a monogamous and loving partnership of two humans is evil because they are of the same sex. Instead of writing Congress (Rome?) and urging that “They” should appropriate money to feed the hungry, a follower of Jesus might instead volunteer personal resources and time to a local food bank and/or develop a supportive relationship with “boots on the ground” in Africa which are teaching and supplying the development of a self-sustaining agriculture economy.
I have heard a rumor that the ministry of Biblical Seminary might soon become more convenient to those who live in the Central Pennsylvania area. I ask to be put on a list of those who are interested in staying in touch with you to receive encouragement and direction to pursue a missiological calling.
“Instead of writing Congress (Rome?) and urging that “They” should appropriate money to feed the hungry, a follower of Jesus might instead volunteer personal resources and time to a local food bank and/or develop a supportive relationship with “boots on the ground” in Africa which are teaching and supplying the development of a self-sustaining agriculture economy. ”
All I can say is “Yea! and Amen!” Too much time is being spent with the churches of various flavors championing political causes, either to legislate morality or legislate socially just policies, when that resource could be better spent being “boots on the ground.”
This is powerful stuff, Dave. Apropos lowering the walls, it is too easy to hear Jesus’ promise to his disciples this way: “On this rock I will build my church and against its walls the hordes of hell will not prevail.” You point out that Jesus would not have regarded this as a victory.
To Dave Nesbit I say: “Go for it!”
I concur with what is said in the article though I would desire clarity on what ‘orthodoxy’ entails, epsecially in relationship to the gospel. There are those who claim ‘orthodoxy’ yet do not believe in justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. Is there a particular understanding of and commitment to the gospel that should create a ‘wall’?
I am an elder in my local church in which there is great diversity in race, background and past church affiliation. What attracts people to our church is not some vague ecumenism but solid biblical preaching and real love. I have found in my experience that brothers and sisters in Christ usually set aside differences of non-essentials and can worship together while holding to their personal convictions. What I see advocated in the new direction of Biblical by the “emergent” “missional” “generous orthodoxy” string reminds me of the battles fought in the United Methodist Church in the ’90’s when I was a part of a local congregation. The left wing of the church’s message to the traditionalists was “Even though we don’t agree on all doctrinal issues, the important thing is that we are united together in mission and we should focus on that.” The emptiness of this statement is shown by the continuing decline of membership even though the church conferences have slowed the radical liberal push of homosexuality, Sophia worship and other non-biblical doctrines.
Todd: Thanks for your contribution. I agree with the problem of what you call “vague ecumenism.” This can be a cover simply for a liberal theological agenda as you point out. But that is not orthodoxy, generous or otherwise. So within the framework of orthodox belief, can we talk about the prayer of Jesus and its implications? That’s what we are trying to do at Biblical Seminary.
I think this is a great entry like your others. There are three things I want to lay out that I hope is helpful to the conversation.
1. In terms of Missional. I think people are more suspicious and more worried about the term then what it actually stands for. I think the reason for this is that critics of Missional cant fully pin point or grasped what missional is all about. I see myself as a missional christian and most of the critics I have encountered with missional are far from describing me. People who criticize Missional and as a result choose to separate from those associated with missional are only criticizing an expression of Missional but not the Missional movement and people as a whole. This is what I love about missional, that you can’t put it in a box and ripe it apart. You can’t master it, but through it the Master (Jesus) wants to change you.
2. Its interesting that as a Hispanic who is still fairly new to Reformed Theology I find the treatment given by many in the Reformed circle to be counter productive to the mission of God. I loved reformed teaching but I am also open to listening and learning from others that don’t fully line up with my views. I guess you could also say I’m a Calvinist but not your typical Calvinist. It seems strange to me that many Christians would choose to caste someone away because there views and beliefs don’t fully line up. Within US Hispanic theology there is what is known as an “interpretive community”. We understand our differences and show respect towards one another and create a dialgoue that benefits the Kingdom and moves us towards praxis. Can Missional Theology be the Catalyst in the US that can foster an “Interpretive community” Between Churches , Denominations , and Christians? I see it starting to happen.
3. In having the honor to work in the Urban Context in a area that is utterly devastated by drugs and violence. The only means of survival is partnerships. We all have to realize that we all have weaknesses and blind spots and within ourselves we are limited in what we can do. We need each other to fully and faithfully carry out God’s mission in the world. Most of the time what prevents partnership in many urban contexts is not theology not differences in praxis. Urban or Suburban we all need to be humbled by the Lord as we continue forward.
Peace and God Bless.
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