Ecumenical Evangelism

As the five church “families” of Christian Churches Together in the USA met in Pasadena over these last days, we heard very well-done presentations of how each approaches the task of evangelism. Most moving to me was the vulnerability shown by each family in the presence of the others.

I noted that sometimes our very strengths, as Christian communions, also point to our weaknesses. The openness and tolerance of many historic Protestant denominations today, along with their belief in the ultimate sovereignty of God (“God will do what God will do…God will save whomever God pleases…who are we to judge?) may make us timid and tentative in our witness to the Gospel.

The very confidence of the evangelical and pentecostal families in the centrality and necessity of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (“no one come to the Father except by me”) and the exclusive claims that only Christians will be saved may lead to a kind of judgmentalism and narrowness that shuts down rather than opens up the conversation and personal relationships which can mature over time into evangelistic “success.”

The historic reliance of Roman Catholics and the Orthodox in raising their children in the faith, having them grow in grace and understanding over time may be challenged in a culture where fewer people are raising their children in the Faith and where many have never even heard the basic message of the Gospel. How to “present the basic Gospel message” to such people? Churches defined primarily by their racial/ethnic identity may find it difficult truly to welcome in those of other backgrounds — even as the members of these churches have found it difficult, if not impossible, to be welcomed into other churches.      

But these very differences point to the necessity and importance of such ecumenical conversations! By learning from each other and perhaps even finding ways to cooperate in the evangelistic enterprise, maybe we can all find a way to articulate a more coherent expression of the Christian message to a world and society which desperately needs to hear it!  

2 Responses to “Ecumenical Evangelism”

  1. Phil Snyder Says:

    Evangelism is the life blood of the Church. But we must have “Good News” to proclaim. What is your “good news?”

    Mine is that Jesus Christ is God incarnate who came to deal with the forces of death and darkness and won victory over them in the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Because of that (and only because of that), I am able to have fellowship with God and am given a new life. This resurrection life starts now and continues forever. In this new life, I am to live as God desires me to live.

    You, too (not you, specifically Bishop Epting, but “you” in general) can have this new life and new fellowship with God…..

    I suspect that your “good news” is similar to mine. We just disagree on what the parameters of how “God desires us to live” are.

    One major problem I see in TEC is that it has forgotten about individual sin in favor of corporate or communal sins – poverty, injustice, AIDS, etc. These are indeed serious, but they all start with individual sins. People just don’t feel responsible for “corporate sins.” However, they (like Paul) know full well the depth of their own individual sins. I love Romans 7 because it tells everyone’s story: “the good that I want to do, I can’t do and the evil I don’t want to do I do.”

    Jesus Christ is the answer to both individual and corporate sins. His victory over Sin and Death is fulfilled in the Resurrection and we are raised to that new life after we are killed in baptism. The problem is that our sinful desires refuse to die and we must (with the aid of the Holy Spirit) kill them daily.

    Phil Snyder

  2. ecubishop Says:

    Yes, Phil, I expect our understandings of the “good news” is very similar indeed. God’s love for humankind, and the whole creation, uniquely revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

    We probably differ only in our perception of just how radical God’s love is.
    Don’t try so hard to “kill” those sinful desires, my friend. You never will win. Such is the power of sin. Relax into the healing waters of God’s amazing grace. For it is by that grace, and not our own works and good behavior, that we have been saved.

    And, while the root of all sin may be individual (Adam and Eve?), there is now such a systemic dimension to all human sin that personal morality alone will not do it. And we had better start “feeling responsible for corporate sins” — and seeking repentence and amendment of life for those as well as for our individual sins. Only then will we begin to cooperate with teh dawning of God’s kingdom!

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