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You Are Here: Theology > A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Global Christian Forum
Oct
25

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Global Christian Forum

Ecu­menism, Pen­te­costal­ism, and Evan­gel­i­cal­ism are all roughly the same age, but the lat­ter two have often had lit­tle to do with the for­mer. There are a num­ber of rea­sons for this. One is the long­stand­ing dis­trust between Protes­tants and Catholics, the one group not infre­quently doubt­ing whether the other even qual­i­fies as Chris­t­ian; added to this is the estrange­ment between “main­line” Protes­tants on the one side and Evan­gel­i­cal and Pen­te­costal Protes­tants on the other—ecumenical orga­ni­za­tions have tended to be dom­i­nated by main­line Protestants.

One con­cern Evan­gel­i­cals and Pen­te­costals have often had is the loss of the mis­sion­ary spirit among ecumenically-minded Christians—a ter­ri­ble irony, con­sid­er­ing that ecu­menism was born at the Edin­burgh Mis­sion­ary Con­fer­ence in 1910. The Inter­na­tional Mis­sion­ary Coun­cil that was formed as a result of the Edin­burgh con­fer­ence even­tu­ally joined the World Coun­cil of Churches in 1961; many Evan­gel­i­cals left in protest. 1974 saw the for­ma­tion of the Lau­sanne Com­mit­tee for World Evan­ge­liza­tion, fol­low­ing a Con­gress in the same place and year, at the ini­tia­tive of the Amer­i­can evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham. There 2500 Evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers from 150 coun­tries recom­mit­ted them­selves to world evan­ge­liza­tion in sign­ing the Lau­sanne Covenant. Clearly enough, they weren’t impressed by the WCC’s abil­ity to keep up the mis­sion­ary task of the church.

This non­in­volve­ment of up to half a bil­lion of the world’s Chris­tians in the offi­cial chan­nels of the ecu­meni­cal move­ment was a mat­ter of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to Kon­rad Raiser, who was the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the WCC from 1993 to 2004. In the mid-1990s Raiser began to explore the idea of a “new initiative”—definitely not a new insti­tu­tion, nor a “front” to draw new churches into the WCC, but a place for con­ver­sa­tion and build­ing friend­ships with spe­cial atten­tion to Evan­gel­i­cal, Pen­te­costal, and Inde­pen­dent churches, and also parachurch-type orga­ni­za­tions that have been ecu­meni­cally sig­nif­i­cant, like the YMCA, national coun­cils of churches, and so on.

Nearly annual con­sul­ta­tions took place from the late 1990s into the early years of the new mil­len­nium, even­tu­ally devel­op­ing Raiser’s idea into the Global Chris­t­ian Forum. The Forum has its own dis­tinct meth­ods and strate­gies that are dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent from the WCC. For instance, Pen­te­costals, Evan­gel­i­cals, and Inde­pen­dents are delib­er­ately “over­rep­re­sented” to com­prise at least half of the Forum’s par­tic­i­pants, com­pen­sat­ing for their “under­rep­re­sen­ta­tion” else­where, as well as to demon­strate the will­ing­ness of “ecu­meni­cal vet­er­ans” to be in the minority.

The Forum also focuses largely on per­sonal nar­ra­tives, a style of dis­course more nat­ural to the Pen­te­costal and Evan­gel­i­cal world, often uncom­fort­able for main­line or tra­di­tional Chris­tians. Yet this has been remark­ably effec­tive in reveal­ing the shared Chris­t­ian faith across bound­aries pre­vi­ously thought to be imper­me­able. It is too early to tell, of course, but the signs are promis­ing that Evan­gel­i­cals and Pen­te­costals are becom­ing ready to com­mit them­selves to the repa­ra­tion of the bro­ken church.

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2 Responses to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Global Christian Forum

    Jed Wilson says:

    Inter­est­ing and some­what related post here http://www.faithandleadership.duke.edu/blog/10–27-2010/jason-byassee-cells-the-body-christ

    1 more day for you as I write this!!

    Grace & Peace,
    Love,
    Jed

    Pingback: Ecumenists Cross the Tiber » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

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