Category Archives: Ecumenicalism

It’s more than a sign: ecumenical reflections for today

Church Sign

We put up this sign a while ago.  It tells all those who drive by that Ancaster Village Church gathers at 5pm on Sunday evenings in St John’s Parish Hall.  But for me it represents so much more.  I see it as a reflection of something far greater which is on the move these days.  In simple terms our church rents this space from St John’s Anglican Church.  But for both of our churches this is more than just an exchange of money for the use of space.  We see this as hope and mission.

This afternoon I spent an hour in prayer with the priests of St John’s Anglican.  Praying for this great city with them is positively inspiring. The comedy of me, a sacramentally deprived rebellious Protestant, being welcomed into relationship with them is why, in the words of the Roman Catholic JMR Tillard, I believe, despite everything.

There is something in the ecumenical air these days.  I’m hearing more and more stories which confirm this.  We — as in the Church — are finding partnership, relationship, common purpose, worship, and mission around the highest common denominator.  This is different than my understanding of some past ecumenical dialogues where the commonality was found in the lowest common denominators.  Where the conversation was once founded on the understanding that we couldn’t agree on the big things, so instead we’d look for unity in the small things, we are now realizing that it’s in the biggest thing (person) where our unity is found.  We’re standing around the Table of Bread and Wine with a look in our eyes that says, “this is all we’ve got.  Him.”  In some cases we’re still not comfortable enough to break the bread with each other, but we’re looking at all of those things that exist around that Table of Bread and Wine with a different, more gracious, understanding of each other.

My hunch is that the fall of Christendom has graciously led us to this place.  For that reason, among many others, I welcome our place as the church in exile — the church on the fringe of culture.  Exile helps us remember who we are.  And as we’re remembering who we are, we’re looking around and realizing that we have so many sisters and brothers who might dress a little differently but are on the same team.

A few weeks ago I was honoured to lead communion/Eucharist for a group of ministers and church leaders who reflected at least a dozen different denominations and traditions.  It was Ephesians 4 in real life.  It was beautiful.  We came to the Table together, prayed for each other, and were sent out in mission together.

In three weeks I will once again administer the elements alongside my Anglican friends in their gathering to which they invite our church.  We find commonality at the Table.  It’s incredible.  All of our respective bells and whistles, although they matter and are (mostly) beautifully unique and distinctive, are simply reflections of the one who brings us together and unites us.

There are few things these days which excite me more.

We’ve got a ways to go.  Lord knows there are those within my own tribe who think we ought to tighten up the ecumenical guidelines lest we get too comfortable with those guys.  But whatever.  Redemption is here.  Redemption is coming.  And I’m convinced that one of the greatest ways this world will experience hope is through the church, in and with all her different flavours, coming together as one.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Not becoming Catholic: Forming a love for the church

A few years ago I went through an internal crisis: I wrestled with the idea of becoming Roman Catholic.  (I’m not sure if I’d call this a fad, but I know that my experience is not out of the ordinary.)  I was taking a theology class at Regent College in Vancouver with Hans Boersma.  Hans attended a Reformed church but had immersed himself in the writings and thought of traditions outside of his own.  He had us reading all sorts of great stuff written by the Fathers and Orthodox and Catholic theologians.  At the same time I was taking a church history course at ACTS Seminary with Bruce Guenther.  As providence would have it, it seemed that each week’s class at each respective school overlapped.  For example, while reading St. Basil’s works on the Holy Spirit with Hans at Regent I’d be discussing St. Basil’s life with Bruce at ACTS.  I was drawn into a world with which I had little experience.

Cue the personal ecclesiological whirlwind.

Having grown up in the C&MA (Evangelical Protestant) I was not often exposed to other traditions of the faith.  In fact, I implicitly grew up with a distrust of others, especially those crazy Catholics (sarcasm).  I’d never even heard of the Orthodox Church.  More to the point, I grew up thinking that the church was a nice idea (it provided food on our table because my parents were pastors) and a beneficial place to hang out, but I never thought that it was much beyond that.  My faith was personal.  It was about me and Jesus (after all, Jesus was my personal saviour).  The idea that being a part of the church was somehow essential to my faith, and that the church could exist in other shapes and forms outside of my own tradition, had not crossed my mind.

However, as I began to read people like St. Cyprian of Carthage, Gregory the Great, J.M.R. Tillard, and Henri De Lubac my eyes began to open to the wonder, hope, essential nature, and wideness of the Church (which is kind of odd since each of the previously mentioned guys would likely consider me, a rebellious Protestant, a distant ecclesial cousin).  I felt that I needed to repent of my myopic understanding of Christ’s Body.  I felt drawn into the Tradition (a living entity which I’d never heard of before).  I felt sacramentally and corporately deprived.  And so wanting to run back to the mother ship I considered leaving my Evangelical Protestant home and becoming Roman Catholic.  As I shared this internal crisis with some of my peers and friends I received a variety of responses but mostly looks of “are you crazy?”  Yet it was an internal struggle that kept me awake at night.  I felt lost in the world of church and needing a new home.

However, as I prayed, read D.H. Williams’ book, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants, reflected on my fondness for the tradition in which I was a part, and talked with my mentors and family, I realized that the Spirit wasn’t asking me to leave the C&MA.  Instead, I felt that the Spirit was asking me to re-embrace my tradition and to bring my new found appreciation for the Church, the corporate, and traditions outside of my own, to my tribe’s table.  There is a beautiful freedom that comes with being in the C&MA.  What I realized was that I had the ability to bring C&MA people into contact with other traditions in a way that most of those other traditions would never be capable of doing.  I don’t know too many Orthodox churches that can fashion a corporate gathering to reflect, for example, a Pentecostal-style service (nor would they likely want to).  Whereas I, especially as a church planter, have a wonderful freedom to experiment with all sorts of traditions, rituals, and rites.  For me, it’s a fantastic denominational asset.

I find myself now more in love with the C&MA than before, but with a passion to speak some sacramental and corporate theology into our discussion.  I am completely convinced of the essential nature of the Church, her mission, and the Christian’s role a part of her; the us is equally as important as (if not more important than) the me.  I am also now a lover of Catholic and Orthodox theological discussions.  I think that every Protestant Evangelical pastor should spend some time reading Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Letter, Spe Salvi, the Roman Catholic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and some Vladimir Lossky (Orthodox theologian).

I leave you with J.M.R. Tillard’s response to the question, “What is the local church?” from his book, I Believe, Despite Everything.

It is only to be understood in the function of God’s visitation made in Jesus Christ.  It is the human space — with all the realism of its history, its problems, its projects, its culture, its joys, and its pains — linking its inhabitants in a community of destiny and where the Gospel has taken root.  In it the visitation of Christ continues.  The Church of God is the communion of all these local churches.  Already present in God, in its head, the resurrected Christ, it thus takes form in the flesh of the people and in the realism of the human condition.

Opportunity to discuss:
Have any of you ever read Williams’ book, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants?  If so, what did the book mean to you?  Do you agree with Williams’ “fall paradigm”?  Have you seen or experienced the “fall paradigm” in action?
Do  you go crazy when you read theology texts that only have citations dating back to the Reformation?
Have you ever wrestled with going Roman Catholic?  What was your journey like?  Did you go through with it or stay put?
Have you wrestled with the false-dichotomy between the local church and universal Church?  How do you respond to people who say, “I’m a part of the universal church but not the local church?”  How can we help people understand the inappropriateness of the dichotomy in way that draws them into the hope and experience of the local body of Jesus?