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Expanded Ecumenical Tables

What are examples of expanding ecumenical tables?

  • Christian Churches Together in the United States and a Global Christian Forum worldwide have formed to bring together evangelicals, Pentecostals, Catholics, conciliar Christians.
  • Youth, women, and persons with disabilities are seeking wider participation.
  • Evangelical and conciliar Christians join in advocacy and action movements, sometimes together with persons of other faiths.
  • Persons from around the globe provide ecumenical leadership.

| Youth/young adults | Global Christian Forum | Evangelical and Pentecostal participants |

| Non-Western Christianity | Cooperation on social issues | Mission review |

Ecumenical leaders' themes point to expanding ecumenical tables 

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Churches in America, dealt with some of the issues involved in a discussion of expanding ecumenical tables when he spoke ar a symposium about The Future of Ecumenism in the 21st century.

World Council of Churches general secretary Samuel Kobia addressed one of the issues when he spoke about "wounded memories" in Dublin on April 2007. "Christian unity will become meaningful both to Christians and non-Christians alike," he said, when the church leads in the healing and reconciliation of memories that have separated us. Churches in each place and all places need to initiate and promote acts of forgiveness, he said, in order to provide "the possibility of starting afresh and beginning something new." Reconciliation cannot be cheap and requires both repentance and "a will for reparation." Churches will need not only biblical understanding but also recognition of the complex nature of particular conflicts.

Youth and young adult participation

World Council of Churches responds to need for more youth participation

Recommendations were made at the WCC's Ninth Assembly for greater youth participation. In addition to youth delegates to WCC Assemblies, young adults are now found on the central committee, in year-long internships, in their role as stewards at meetings, and in a new youth body. "Youth" in the WCC structure are young adults 18-30 years of age. At present applications are being taken for a February 2008 group of stewards for the next central committee meeting in Geneva.

WCC's youth body taking off

A new youth body within the WCC is made up of 25 young adults (18 to 30 years of age) selected from within the WCC's governing or advisory groups and from church nominees. Its first objectives are to strengthen leadership skills of young ecumenical and church leaders, network with the wider ecumenical movement, and establish consultation and mutual accountability with the WCC.

New journal highlights ecumenical work of younger theologians

A new scholar-reviewed, online journal, New Horizons in Faith and Order, is intended to highlight the academic work of younger theologians engaging ecumenical issues. It is a Faith and Order project of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. and the World Council of Churches. Presbyterian Joe Small is on the editorial board.  

WCC told youth should be focus of interreligious dialogue

During the visit of WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia to Jerusalem, the Maronite Archbishop Paul Sayah said that interreligious dialogue must go to the grassroots level and involve young people. In Palestine / Israel, he said, nine out of ten hours spent on interreligious dialogue / cooperation should be dedicated to young people.

Global Christian Forum

"Why an ecumenical forum?"

Looking at the ecumenical situation today, the WCC's Samuel Kobia says that "for the time being more tentative . . . common platforms such as the Global Christian Forum are the preferred spaces for dialogue and mutual encounter" for churches that are not members of the World Council of Churches. He sees that a new emphasis on ethnic, cultural, and religious "identity politics" seems to grow in proportion to the increased interdependence and mobility of people today. Platforms like the Global Christian Forum balance this need for affirming particular identities with an opportunity for common witness.

Kobia adds from the side of the WCC, "We obviously need to assure those among us who do not have the confidence and trust in conciliar ecumenism in general and the World Council in particular that we respect their needs and want to facilitate the best possible ways . . . to develop the ecumenical dimension of Christian faith within their own communities and in fellowship with other churches. But we cannot compromise or hide our conviction that Christ himself wants the churches to be one so that the world may believe."

Forum Gathering will be in Kenya this fall

The Global Christian Forum is established "to create an open space wherein representatives from a broad range of Christian churches and interchurch organizations, which confess the Triune God and Jesus Christ as perfect in his divinity and humanity, can gather to foster mutual respect, to explore and address together common challenges," according to its provisional purpose statement. Its web site says, "The Global Christian Forum is about bringing into conversation with one another Christians and churches from very different traditions who have little or never talked to each other. It is about building bridges where there are none, overcoming prejudices, creating and nurturing new relationships."

The effort to develop a Forum began quietly when a series of consultations to explore the concept began in 1998.  Now a Global Forum Gathering of some 240 persons from all the main Christian traditions of the world will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 6-9, 2007 -- the first gathering of such a broad representation of all the main Christian traditions in the world.

About half of the Gathering participants will come from evangelical and Pentecostal churches (including African Instituted churches) and from parachurch organizations. There will be some 60 Anglican and Protestant church representatives, about 25 from the Orthodox churches, about 20 from regional bishops' conferences of the Catholic Church and from international Christian organizations.

The meeting theme will be "Our Journey with Jesus Christ, the Reconciler." Speakers will include Cheryl Bridges Johns of the Church of God (Cleveland), Wonsuk Ma of the Oxford [England] Centre for Mission Studies, and Lamin Sanneh of Yale University. Participants will spend significant time in groups sharing their discernment of what God is doing in our churches/organizations and of what our place is in God's mission in the world.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Reformed Church of America) and Cecil Robeck (Pentecostal) of the United States are members of the Forum's continuation committee. Other members include Musimbi Kanyoro (World YWCA) and John Radano (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), and representatives of the Anglican communion, the Church of God (Cleveland), the Baptist World Alliance, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. Hubert van Beek of the Netherlands, retired from service in the World Council of Churches, is secretary of the committee and works as a part-time staff person.

Visit the Forum web site to see its links, its reports of past meetings, and its documents.


Evangelical and Pentecostal participants

The year 2006 was the centennial of the modern Pentecostal movement, and today they are present in both Christian Churches Together and the Global Christian Forum.


Latin American Catholic church responds to losses to Pentecostal churches

When Latin American Roman Catholic bishops met in May, they called for a great mission to win back millions who have left the church to join neo-Pentecostal movements. Parishes and grassroots communities are being asked to care not only for those who usually go to church but also for those who have left it. “Our initiative is not proselytizing," ENI quotes Cardinal Claudio Hummes as saying, "because we are looking for believers who have been baptized in our own church. We baptized them but we have not evangelized sufficiently.” He said the church will not engage in a war of faith or get into conflicts with Protestant congregations. There remain related unaddressed structural issues, such as a clergy shortage.

The Pentecostal movement influences various churches

A Christian Reformed Church (CRC) committee, appointed in 2004 to study the influence of the Pentecostal movement, has issued majority and minority reports. The minority believed that cautions stated by the majority are too serious to warrant their assessment that the movement offers much to the CRC. At issue are practices such as prophesying, healing ministries, spiritual warfare, and deliverance ministries. See the CRC synod agenda book, starting on pages 331-388.

The Southern Baptist media report a study saying that half of Southern Baptist pastors believe God gifts some people with a "private prayer language." The Southern Baptist Convention's international mission board decided in 2005 not to appoint missionaries who pray, even privately, in unintelligible tongues.

The Catholic News Service cites an estimate that nearly ten million Catholics in the U.S. are charismatic. Its article says that Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all supported the movement in various ways.

Pentecostals' worldview does not take a rational western form

An October 2006 ten-nation survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that, in six of the ten, Pentecostals and charismatics together make up the majority of the overall "Protestant" population. See a news summary of the report or read the full report.

A Canadian writer, Jennifer Green, looked at a "tectonic shift around the world" as the centers of Christian population relocate and recognized the large proportion of Pentecostals (also known as revivalists, charismatics, or renewalists). She saw their deep attachment to the Bible as seen with a supernatural worldview and their acceptance of the "dire physicality of human life." While conservative westerners may welcome these believers around the world who seem to support them in the current culture wars of the West, she says, they will discover in them a huge shift from the rational western world view. "[Pentecostalism] tells people over and over that God loves them, has a special mission for them in life, and wants them to be happy and healthy here on earth. God's gifts of the spirit -- miracles, healing, deliverance -- are abundantly available to everyone, not just the chosen few." 

Christianity Today asked, "What Really Unites Pentecostals?" and particularly noted widespread Pentecostal faith in a "prosperity gospel" that is exemplified by a statement such as "God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith." Responding to concerns about the "prosperity gospel," Richard Mouw acknowledges the weaknesses of his own theology for dealing with many occurrences of life.

Pew research looks at Hispanic Americans who are Pentecostal

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, released in April 2007, says Hispanics' distinctive religious practices are having a transformative effect upon American religious life. More than half of Hispanic Catholics and Protestants identify themselves as charismatic -- four times the number within the larger Christian population. Andrea Althoff (Sightings, May 24, 2007) writes about learnings from the Pew study about Pentecostal Latinos. She believes that, empowered by the experience of immigration, they no longer give the same respect to the Catholic Church's institutionalized authority. But those in the Catholic Church are not rebellious and are more likely than others to serve their Catholic parishes as lectors, parish council members, or small group leaders.

Mainline churches asked to address prosperity promises

Saying that promises of prosperity in the church often result in the preacher becoming richer and the congregation's poor becoming poorer, the president of the All Africa Conference of Churches wants mainline churches to establish with the Pentecostal churches the problem of the African masses who are left to "hawks and charlatans."

Evangelical Christians meeting with Muslims look at Israel, persecution

On July 2, fourteen evangelical leaders and a dozen U.S.-based Arab diplomats sat together for a first-time two-hour private meeting. The evangelicals wanted Arab countries to be more tolerant of their Christian populations and wanted permission for more evangelicals to enter the Arab nations; the ambassadors discussed evangelicals' support for Israel and wanted the West to have a better picture of Muslims living in their midst. The meeting grew out of an earlier contact by Pentecostal evangelist Benny Hinn. The evangelicals included Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); Don Argue, a former NAE president; and Ralph Reed, who formerly headed the Christian Coalition.

Non-Western Christianity

Major ecumenical bodies led by Africans for first time

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary says that 62% of the world's Christians are in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Philip Jenkins, a notable scholar of contemporary religion, says that the growth of Christianity in Africa may be the largest shift in religious affiliation ever to occur.

Remarkable shifts have occurred in ecumenical leadership, which was previously sometimes characterized as being dominated by Europeans and Euro-Americans. Heads of world ecumenical bodies now include Samuel Kobia of the World Council of Churches, Ishmael Noko of the World Lutheran Federation, and Setri Nyomi (pictured) of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches -- each being the first African in his position. The World YWCA has recently appointed as its general secretary an African, Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, to follow another African, Musimbi Kanyoro.

Foreign missionaries now come from new sources

A Danish bishop is quoted as saying that a quarter to a third of the people in Copenhagen who are attending church on a Sunday are in a service run by foreigners. He says, "They open our eyes to a more human way of being Christians. . . . a very simple way, a good way, a more pious way and a more open and happy way of worship."

"Crossing all the dividing lines" in the U.S.

Christian Churches Together builds trust, breaks stereotypes

Christian Churches Together, newly launched at a celebration in early February 2007, has been called by Jim Wallis (February 15 blog) a genuinely "ecumenical" or "interdenominational" organization "that crossed all our dividing lines." Wallis comments that "the convergence on the meaning of evangelization was quite incredible" at the February meeting around the celebration. This becomes the foundation for a common understanding of witness in the world, centered around the issue of poverty. See more details.

An evangelical hears why Catholics pray to the saints

Presbyterian Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, has written in the Christian Century about hearing Catholics speak about praying to the saints. What Mouw learned when he listened was that "where Catholics think ecclesiology, Protestants tend to think soteriology. So we often talk past each other, with Protestants thinking about getting saved and Catholics thinking about experiencing the life of the church."

Ecumenical cooperation on social issues

Coalition for immigration reform has strong evangelical component

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, of which the Washington office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a member, is characterized by the New York Times (May 8, 2007) as "a new coalition of more than 100 largely evangelical Christian leaders and organizations," but the spectrum of included organizations is wide -- including, for example, the Church World Service (CWS) immigration and refugee program. Its joint statement of principles -- set in a biblical frame of reference -- and a toolki are tavailable online as is a video of its launch press conference.

Many churches call attention to current injustices related to slavery

The 200th anniversary of the abolishing the British slave trade fell in 2007. Representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), and the Council for World Mission called the slave trade an "African holocaust." The people of Africa and the African diaspora "await an unambiguous apology and clear sign from European nations that acknowledges their participation in this terrible act of colonial history," the WCC's Samuel Kobia wrote.

An expanded ecumenical grouping in the U.S. has been drawn to the issue to the issue of present-day slavery, including a broad spectrum of evangelicals. Both the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) announced a campaign originally tied to the film, Amazing Grace. Some 27 million people today are said to receice no money for their labor and to be locked away and controlled by violence -- perhaps becoming "disposable," not even protected as property. The U.S. State Department estimates that 17,500 new slaves enter the U.S. yearly. Human trafficking today frequently involves women and children.

Attention is also going to other types of economic exploitation. John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, told the UCC synod, "Today the infamous Triangle Trade has been replaced by a global economic system continuing patterns of greed and exploitation that leave much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America burdened by the oppressive weight of poverty, starvation, and violence."

An evangelical environmental movement stays the course

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) reaffirmed its policy priorities -- including the environment, human rights, and poverty -- when it rebuffed leaders of the Christian right who called it to silence their involvement because it may shift emphasis away from the "great moral issues" of our time. The Los Angeles Times said that the very definition of the word "evangelical" is at stake -- some seeing the word as signifying conservative views on politics, economics, and biblical morality. A variety of responses to global warming and climate issues continues.


Micah Challenge, working on Millennium Goals, has broad support

The "halftime" for the Millennium Goals, from commitment in 2000 to their presumed achievement by 2015, is 2007. The Micah Challenge, working on the goals, is an initiative of the World Evangelical Alliance, and the Micah Network, a network of more than 300 Christian relief and development organizations. In the U.S., the challenge has been endorsed by a broad grouping including Bread for the World, the National Association of Evangelicals, and World Vision; its U.K. council of reference includes the Archbishop of York; and in Canada and Australia their national councils of churches are involved.

Mission review: Towards 2010

Planning for 2010 celebrations

The upcoming centennial of the Edinburgh 1910 missionary conference that has led to joint planning for studies and celebratory observance of the event. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) has announced plans to participate by making critical assessments of the past and rethinking world mission for the future. A consultation in July 2006 PDF file requires use of Adobe Reader brought together the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and others. They decided:

  • In addition to events planned by some of the groups individually, a shared celebration will occur in Edinburgh on the exact date of the centenary.
  • A collaborative study process will address mission themes.
  • A common office and a governance structure will be set up.
  • Key conversations will be initiated between mission leaders of the North and the South and East on new mission movements and between representatives of different Christian traditions on mission theology.
  • Guidelines will be developed to help leaders evaluate in their own setting models for mission that are proving successful elsewhere.
  • Networks and alliances will be established to promote collaboration.

The themes chosen for the occasion are foundations for mission; Christian mission among other faiths; mission and postmodernities; mission and power; forms of missionary engagement; theological education and formation; Christian communities in contemporary contexts; mission and unity, ecclesiology and mission; and mission spirituality and authentic discipleship.

"Towards 2010" events are already underway in Scotland and papers have been posted on the web. Also available is a Thoughtful Christian downloadable two-session curriculum by Philip Wickeri of San Francisco Theological Seminary on issues surrounding mission today (Christian Mission Impossible? The Global Role of U.S. Denominations, #TC0056).

Toward 2010 preparatory gathering hears Sam Kobia

The keynote speaker at a preparatory meeting for the hundredth anniversary celebrations for Edinburgh 1910 was Samuel Kobia, the World Council of Churches' general secretary. The 1910 conference has been viewed as the starting point from which the modern emphasis on both unity and mission are inherited. Kobia's reflections on these twin emphases, which deserve a careful reading, look at the 1910 report of commission VIII and what has happened since. He gives attention to the interdependence between mission and church that led to the International Missionary Council (IMC) becoming merged with the WCC and to ensuing debate between "Christians of the evangelical mission family and Christians of the conciliar or ecumenical mission family." 

Questions raised in the 1950s and 60s still have not been dealt with adequately, he says, and several issues are at stake:

  • Ecumenical missiologists believe a structural form that shows that the "ultimate responsibility for mission lies with the church -- and not with particular groups of Christians" (or parachurch organizations) -- is essential.
  • Freedom and responsibility need to be balanced in light of the possibility that church politics can prevent missionaries from taking the necessary risks to carry the gospel across new frontiers, especially when there is conflict from an existing community uncomfortable with new inculturation of the gospel.
  • We need to "unwrap history" to determine how much theological development was really linked to the mission of the church and how much was affected by secular political dynamics in evolving North-South relationships.

In looking at these issues, Kobia points to the 1982 document that remains the official WCC document on mission (and that has guided much of the thinking in the PCUSA), Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation. Kobia says that now Christians should seek healing and reconciliation "in this generation," to use the old mission watchword. He quotes the words of the 1982 document about "a double credibility test":

a proclamation that does not hold forth the promises of the justice of the kingdom to the poor of the earth is a caricature of the gospel; but Christian participation in the struggles for justice which does not point towards the promises of the kingdom also makes a caricature of a Christian understanding of justice. [¶34]

Lausanne III planned for 2010

The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) will partner to conduct the next International Congress on World Evangelisation, which will be known as Lausanne III. The event will be in Cape Town, South Africa on October 16-25, 2010, intentionally within the centenary year of the Edinburgh conference. The Lausanne Bi-Annual International Leadership Meeting met in Budapest, Hungary in June 2007. Douglas Birdsall, LCWE executive chair, spoke about the challenges facing Christians committed to evangelism, including the "scandal of fragmentation" within the body of Christ.

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