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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

All One Body We?

Written by: on April 8, 2015

One Body

I am not praying only for these men but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you, I am asking that they may live in us, that the world may believe that you did send me. I have given them the honor that you gave me, that they may be one, as we are one—I in them and you in me, that they may grow complete into one, so that the world may realize that you sent me and have loved them as you loved me. Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am; I want them to see that glory which you have made mine—for you loved me before the world began. Father of goodness and truth, the world has not known you, but I have known you and these men now know that you have sent me. I have made your self known to them and I will continue to do so that the love which you have had for me may be in their hearts—and that I may be there also.

(John 17:20-26)[1]

This morning I met with a fellow teacher to talk about curriculum development. As is often the case, our discussion led in an unexpected direction that brought us to the topic of church. My friend is now with a Lutheran congregation and is in leadership there as the worship minister. Presently, the pastor and he are discussing the importance of the Eucharist and its place in worship. Wanting to be open to the Holy Spirit, one of their considerations for their worship services is that the Eucharist now be included as a part of every Sunday service rather than only being a monthly event. Being Episcopal and seeing the benefit of celebrating the Eucharist weekly, I was very supportive of their musings for the direction of the church. But as we continued to talk, we began to see the potential problems this might cause in the church, even the possibility that this change might cause church members to leave. We agreed that the decisions they are considering be done slowly, carefully, thoughtfully. If not done in this way, there is a likelihood that damage could be done to people in the congregation. But whatever decision is made, someone will not be happy.

As I read this week’s text, Global Evangelism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective[2], the one theme that kept surfacing for me was that of division in the Church. The Body of Evangelicals is very diverse and is hard to pin down. To say that the Evangelicals are “one as we are one” would not be true; in fact, it could even be argued that “unity” is not a value held by many evangelicals. Evangelicals have never been unified, and I doubt if they ever will any time soon. “Evangelicalism is not a religious movement like the Roman Catholic Church, and it has no ‘holy place’ such as Mecca. Rather, it represents an ever-diversifying series of local churches, parachurch agencies, national and international ministries, and interlocking networks of publications, preachers, and personal contacts.”[3] There is no harm in being this way, except for the fact that these diverse networks all have different emphases, which leaves lots of room for divisions and individualism, thus the many faces of denominationalism.

It was interesting to read about the large Ecumenical Missionary Conference that was held in New York City in 1900, which included plenary sessions by J. Hudson Taylor and President William McKinley. The focus of the conference was to proclaim the Good News to the nations. Ironically, it was also at this time that the church was embroiled in divisions as to what was the most important work of the Church at this important time of history. Christians were divided. A struggle between modernists and fundamentalists was brewing into full-scale holy war. The text spells this out well:

Mainstream evangelicals found themselves overshadowed by the drama of the polarization between the social gospel of liberal Protestants and the evangelism-only rhetoric of the fundamentalists. Mainstream evangelicals never accepted either extreme and continued to follow a mission theory that William Carey would have approved. But the historic evangelical vision of a comprehensive gospel was obscured by the intense debate between the modernists and the fundamentalists until after 1945.[4]

And these debates continue until this day – thus, the emergence of new groupings, new churches, and new agencies.

One man in particular, Billy Graham, stood up to take exception to these divisions. Thanks to Graham, several notable national and international evangelical missionary conferences convened after 1966. Billy Graham consistently promoted several concerns that included the following: 1. Encouraging world evangelization; 2. Fostering evangelical unity; and 3. Enabling non-Western evangelical leaders to contribute to world leadership.[5] Billy Graham became, thankfully, a sane voice for Christian unity in the 20th century, not only in the United States but also in international circles. Graham welcomed all Christians to work together for the proclamation of the Gospel. Together with John Stott and others, Graham worked tirelessly on the Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization. This work resulted in the Lausanne Covenant that committed evangelicals to sociopolitical involvement; this bridged the gap between evangelism and social work. And, the Covenant also emphasized transdenominational evangelical unity when it proclaimed, “Evangelism summons us to unity, because our oneness strengthens our witness.”[6] I could not agree more. Finally, the work of Lausanne also emphasized the possibility of indigenization with its statement that “the Holy Spirit illumines the minds of God’s people in every culture to perceive truth freshly through their own eyes.”[7] What a lovely concept!

Finally, because of Lausanne’s interaction with Roman Catholics, it made links with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, which certainly upset many traditional American and European evangelicals. This work has contributed positively to the unification of vision for the evangelical work done outside of the United States and Europe. According to the text, “One of the striking characteristics of Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America was that they tended to support both evangelical and ecumenical initiatives, whereas in Europe and in North America there tended to be more division.”[8] This also warmed my heart.

That they might be one, as we are one.” This was Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane for Believers, for His Church. Has that prayer been answered through the history of the church? If not, what can we do to help to see that happen among us in the 21st century?

 

[1] J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (HarperCollins, 1962)

[2] Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds., Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Dowers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014)

[3] Ibid., 33.

[4] Ibid., 55.

[5] Ibid., 57.

[6] Ibid., 268.

[7] Ibid., 269.

[8] Ibid.

About the Author

mm

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

4 responses to “All One Body We?”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Bill, a wonderful and uplifting post this week. You took the reading this week in a totally different direction than I did. But your focus is one that has been troubling me (and others) for a long time. In fact, the church I am involved in came out of the early 19th Century time period when there were a great deal of divisions in American churches. Everyone from Joseph Smith to Alexander Campbell thought (as you wrote so well about in your blog) that Christ’s Church should be one, unified. But, their contextual thinking (rationalist, Common-sense) lead them down roads that created even more divided churches. So, the Church has struggled for years and I believe has had a terrible witness to the world by its lack of unity. My fear today is with so many issues disrupting the church, that we might see again new divisions. It really challenges us to consider upon what basis can all Christ’s Churches be unified…and stay unified. Can this really happen? I think is worthy goal for God’s people to be one…that the world might know!
    Thanks for your wonderful thoughts, Bill!

    • John,

      Thanks for your input. I certainly do not have the answer to this discouraging situation. I doubt if the Protestant church will ever be unified. Yet, it is unity that makes the difference in how we are perceived and understood. This is why I am so impressed with Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

      As I have studied the history of evangelical awakenings, the one constant that I remember is that when the church gathered in united prayer that is when the Holy Spirit revived the church and was poured out on those who sought the Lord. If you have never read Dr. J Edwin Orr’s message to a Campus Crusade for Christ conference in the 1970’s, I suggest you take a few minutes to read it. You can find the transcript at this link: http://jedwinorr.com/resources/articles/prayandrevival.pdf. Let me know your thoughts.

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Professor, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. This prayer of Jesus is often neglected among our western practices. Too often we tend to compare churches to one another, viewing each other as competition. And certainly as your post illustrates, there is always a tension within individual churches to make choices to try and preserve unity.
    Your question at the end is a profound challenge, but one that I think is valuable to for those in church leadership to consider. Two thoughts – the first geared toward internal workings of a church: we can never keep everyone happy, so let’s be clear on articulating God’s desires, which include the eucharist, local and global evangelism. The second geared toward other churches/denominations: we should be intentional on working together with, praying for and recognizing the Kingdom contributions of other churches in our community.

    Thanks for the challenge!

    • Deve,

      Thanks for your comments on my post. I always appreciate your insights and perspective.

      I agree, we will never make everyone happy. What is God doing in a particular church at a particular time is what is important. Perhaps this is one reason I left ministry so many years ago. Maybe I was afraid of all the people who were unhappy with what we were doing. I need to really think about that.

      Your point about intentionally working together is pivotal to the health of the Church. It is ok to disagree, but it is not ok to break fellowship over minor things, especially over minor doctrines. Unfortunately, this is very common. It is always refreshing to find churches that work together for the good of the Kingdom. Does your church work cooperatively with other denominations? Is that more common in Canada than it is in the United States?

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